Brethren Archive
Numbers 13

The Grapes of Eshcol

by C.H. Mackintosh

The grand principle of the divine life is faith — simple, earnest, wholehearted faith that just takes and enjoys all that God has given, faith that puts the soul in possession of eternal realities and maintains it therein habitually. This is true in reference to the people of God in all ages. “According to your faith, so be it unto you,” is ever the divine motto. There is no limit. All that God reveals, faith may have. All that faith can grasp, the soul may abidingly enjoy.

It is well to remember this. We all live very far below our privileges. Many are satisfied to move at a great distance from the blessed Center of all our joys. We are content with merely knowing salvation, while at the same time, we taste but little of holy communion with the Person of the Savior. We are satisfied with merely knowing that a relationship exists, without earnestly and jealousy cultivating the affections belonging thereto. This is the cause of much of our coldness and barrenness. As in the solar system the further a planet is from the sun the colder its climate and the slower its movement. So in the spiritual system, the further one moves from Christ, the colder will be the state of his heart toward Christ and the slower his movement for Christ. Fervor and rapidity will ever be the result of felt nearness to that central Sun, the great Fountain of heat and light.

The more we enter into the power of the love of Christ, the more we realize His abiding presence with us, the more intolerable we shall feel it to be away from Him. Everything will be dreaded and avoided which would tend to withdraw our hearts from Him or hide from our souls the light of His blessed countenance. The one who has really learned anything of the love of Christ cannot live without it; yes, it can part with all else for it. When away from Him, nothing is felt except the gloom of midnight and the chilling breath of winter, but in His presence the soul can mount upward like the lark as he rises into the bright blue heavens to salute with his cheerful song, the sun's morning beams.

Nothing exhibits more the deep-seated unbelief of our hearts than the fact that, while our God would have us enjoying communion with the very highest truths, few of us ever think of aspiring beyond the mere basics. Our hearts do not sigh after the highest walks of spiritual scholarship. We are satisfied with having the foundation laid, and are not as anxious as we should be to add layer after layer to the spiritual superstructure. Not that we can ever do without the foundation. This would be impossible. The most advanced scholar must carry the basics along with him, and the higher the building is raised, the more the need of a solid foundation is felt.

Let us look at Israel's case. Their history is full of rich instruction for us. It is “written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10: 11). We must contemplate them in three distinct positions — as sheltered by the blood, as victorious over Amalek and as introduced into the land of Canaan.

Now, clearly, an Israelite in the Land of Canaan had lost nothing of the value of the first two points. He was not the less shielded from judgment or delivered from the sword of Amalek because he was in the land of Canaan. No, the milk and honey, the grapes and pomegranates of that goodly land would but enhance the value of that precious blood which had preserved them from the sword of the destroyer and afford the most unquestionable evidence of their having passed beyond the cruel grasp of Amalek.

Still no one would say that an Israelite ought to have sought nothing beyond the blood-stained lintel. It is plain he ought to have fixed his steady gaze on the vine-clad hills of the promised land and said, “There lies my destined inheritance, and by the grace of Abraham's God, I shall never rest satisfied until I plant my foot triumphantly thereon.” The blood-stained lintel was the starting post; the land of promise, the goal. It was Israel's high privilege not only to have the assurance of full deliverance from the hand of Pharaoh and the sword of Amalek, but also to cross the Jordan and pluck the mellow grapes of Eshcol. It was their sin and their shame that with the clusters of Eshcol before them, they could ever long after “the leeks, the onions and the garlic” of Egypt.

But how was this? What kept them back? Just that hateful thing which, from day to day and hour to hour, robs us of the precious privilege of treading the very highest stages of the divine life. And what is that? Unbelief! “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3: 19). This caused Israel to wander in the desert for 40 tedious years. Instead of looking at Jehovah's power to bring them into the land, they looked at the enemy's power to keep them out of it. Thus they failed. In vain did the spies, whom they themselves proposed to send (Deut. 1: 22*), bring back a most attractive report of the character of the land. In vain did the spies display in Israel's view a cluster of the grapes of Eshcol, so luxuriant that two men had to bear it upon a staff. All was useless. The spirit of unbelief had taken possession of their hearts. It was one thing to admire the grapes of Eshcol when brought to their tent doors by the energy of others, and quite another to move onward in the energy of personal faith and pluck those grapes for themselves.

{*It is important to note that the proposal to send the spies originated with Israel. "And ye came near unto me, every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come" (Deut. 1: 22). An artless faith would have taught them that the One who had conducted them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and across the desert, could and would lead them onward into Canaan, show them the way, and tell them all about it. But, alas! they wanted an arm of flesh. The chariot of Jehovah, moving majestically before the host, was not sufficient for them. They would "send men before them." God was not sufficient, Ah! what hearts we have! How little we know and hence how little we trust God!

Some, however may ask, "Did not the Lord command Moses to send the spies?' (Num. 13: 1-3). True; and the Lord commanded Samuel to anoint a king over Israel (1 Sam. 8: 22). Did this clear them of the sin of asking for a king and thus rejecting Jehovah? Surely not. Well, then, the same holds good with respect to the spies. The unbelief of the people led them to ask for spies, and Jehovah gave them spies. The same unbelief led them to ask for a king, and Jehovah gave them a king. "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul" (Ps. 56: 15). How often this is the case with us!}

And if “twelve men” could get to Eshcol, why not 600,000? Could not the same hand that shielded the one, shield the other likewise? Faith says “Yes.” But unbelief shrinks from responsibility and recoils before difficulty. The people were no more willing to advance after the spies returned than before they set out. They were in a state of unbelief, first and last. And what was the result? That out of 600,000 which came up out of Egypt, only two had sufficient energy to plant their foot in the land of Canaan. This tells a tale. It utters a voice. It teaches a lesson. May we have ears to hear and hearts to understand.

It may be said by some that the time had not yet arrived for Israel's entrance into the land of Canaan inasmuch as “the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full.” This is but a one-sided view of the subject and we must look at both sides. The apostle expressly declares that Israel “could not enter in because of unbelief.” He does not assign as a reason “the iniquity of the Amorites” or any secret counsel of God with respect to the Amorites. He simply gives as a reason, the unbelief of the people. They might have got in if they would.

Nothing can be more unwarrantable than to make use of the unsearchable counsels and decrees of God to throw overboard man's solemn responsibility. It will never do. Are we to fold our arms and lie back in the indolence of unbelief because of God's eternal decrees about which we know nothing? To say so can only be viewed as a piece of monstrous extravagance, the sure result of pushing one truth to such an extreme as to interfere with the range and action of some other truth equally important. We must give each and every truth its due place. We should not run one truth to seed while some other truth is not even allowed to take root. We know that unless God blesses the labors of the farmer there will be no crop at the time of harvest. Does this prevent the diligent use of the plough and the harrow? Surely not, for the same God who has appointed the crop as the end, has appointed patient labor as the means.

Thus it is also in the spiritual world. God's appointed end must never be separated from God's appointed means. Had Israel trusted God and gone up, the whole assembly might have delighted themselves on Eshcol's luxuriant clusters. This they did not do. The grapes were lovely: this was obvious to all. The spies were constrained to admit that the land flowed with milk and honey. But there was sure to be a “nevertheless.” Why? Because they were not trusting in God. He had already declared to Moses the character of the land and His testimony ought to have been amply sufficient. He had said in the most unqualified manner, “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3: 8). Should not this have been sufficient? Was not Jehovah's description much more trustworthy than man's? Yes, to faith, but not to unbelief. Unbelief can never be satisfied with divine testimony, it must have the testimony of the senses. God had said it was “a land flowing with milk and honey.” This the spies admitted. But hear the additions. “Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land and the cities are walled and very great; and moreover, we saw the children of Anak there .... and there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight” (Num. 14: 28).

Thus it was with them. They only “saw” the frowning walls and towering giants. They did not see Jehovah because they looked with the eye of sense and not with the eye of faith. God was shut out. He never gets a place in the calculations of unbelief. It can see walls and giants, but it cannot see God. It is only faith that can “endure as seeing Him who is invisible.” The spies could declare what they were in their own sight and in the sight of the giants, but not a word about what they were in God's sight. They never thought of this. The land was all that could be desired, but the difficulties were too great for them. They had not faith to trust God. The mission of the spies proved a failure. Israel “despised the pleasant land” and “in their hearts, turned back again into Egypt.”

This is the sum of the matter. Unbelief kept Israel from plucking the grapes of Eshcol and sent them back to wander for 40 years in the wilderness. These things, be it remembered, “were written for our admonition.” May we deeply and prayerfully ponder the lesson! Out of 600,000 who came up out of Egypt, only two planted their foot on the fruitful hills of Palestine! Israel passed the Red Sea, triumphed over Amalek, but drew back in fear and retreated before “the sons of Anak,” though these latter were no more to Jehovah than the former.

Now, let the Christian reader ponder all this. The special object of this paper is to encourage him to arise and in the energy of a full, unqualified trust in Christ, tread the very highest stages of the life of faith. Having our solid foundation laid in the blood of the cross, it is our privilege not only to be victorious over Amalek (indwelling sin) but also to taste of the old corn of the land of Canaan, to pluck the grapes of Eshcol and delight ourselves in its flowing tide of milk and honey: in other words, to enter into the living and elevated experiences which flow from habitual fellowship with a risen Christ with whom we are linked in the power of an endless life. It is one thing to know that our sins are cancelled by the blood of Christ. It is another thing to know that Christ has destroyed the power of indwelling sin. And it is a still higher thing to live in unbroken fellowship with Himself.

It is not that we lose the sense of the two former when living in the power of the latter. Quite the opposite. The more closely I walk with Christ, the more I have Him dwelling in my heart by faith, the more I shall value all He has done for me, both in the putting away of my sins and in the entire subjugation of my evil nature. The higher the superstructure rises the more I shall value the solid foundation beneath. It is a great mistake to suppose that those who move in the higher spheres of spiritual life could ever undervalue the title by which they do so. Oh! no; the language of those who have passed into the innermost circle of the upper sanctuary is, “Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” They talk of the love of Christ's heart and the blood of His cross. The nearer they approach to the throne, the more they enter into the value of that which placed them on such a delightful elevation. And so with us; the more we breathe the air of the divine presence, the more we tread in spirit the courts of the heavenly sanctuary, the more highly shall we estimate the riches of redeeming love. It is as we pluck the grapes of Eshcol in the heavenly Canaan, that we have the deepest sense of the value of that precious blood which shielded us from the sword of the destroyer.

Let us not, therefore, be deterred from aiming after a higher consecration of heart to Christ by a false fear of undervaluing those precious truths which filled our hearts with heavenly peace when first we started on our Christian career. The enemy will use anything and everything to keep the spiritual Israel from planting the foot of faith in the spiritual Canaan. He will seek to keep them occupied with themselves and with the difficulties which attend upon their upward and onward course. He knows that when one has really eaten of the grapes of Eshcol, it is no longer a question of escaping from Pharaoh or Amalek. Hence he sets before them the walls, the giants and their own nothingness, weakness and unworthiness. But the answer is simple and conclusive. It is this: trust! trust! trust! Yes, from the blood-stained lintel in Egypt to the rare and exquisite clusters of Eshcol, it is all simple, unqualified, unquestioning trust in Christ. “By faith they kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood” and “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down” (Heb. 11). From the starting post to the goal, and at every intermediate stage, “The just shall live by faith.”

But let us never forget that this faith involves the full surrender of the heart to Christ, as well as the full acceptance of Christ for the heart. Reader, let us ponder this deeply. It must be wholly Christ for the heart and the heart wholly for Christ. To separate these things is to be “like a rowboat with only one oar, which goes round and round, but makes no progress. It only drifts with the stream, whirling as it drifts. Or like a bird with a broken wing, whirling over and over, and falling as it whirls.” This is too much lost sight of. Hence, the uncertain course and fluctuating experience. There is no progress. People cannot expect to get on with Christ in one hand and the world in the other. We can never feast on “the grapes of Eshcol” while our hearts are longing after “the flesh pots of Egypt.”

May the Lord grant us a whole heart, a single eye, an upright mind. May the one commanding object of our souls be to mount upward and onward. Having all divinely and eternally settled by the blood of the cross, may we press forward with holy energy and decision “toward the mark, for the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

“O wondrous grace! O love divine!
To give us such a home;
Let us the present things resign,
And seek the rest to come;
And gazing on our Savior's cross,
Esteem all else but dung and dross:
Press forward till the race be run;
Fight till the crown of life be won.”

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