GRAPES OF ESHCOL
"When they came to what is now known as the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them!" Numbers 13:23
We reach the valley of Eshcol through a humbling path. Before we touch its clustering grapes, let the dark steps be traced. The story shows, how vile is man–and how gracious is our God! It proves our proneness to transgress. It then presents an emblem of the heavenly bliss.
When Sinai is left, the march of Israel advances prosperously. There is no check. No enemy annoys. No difficulties hinder. Each day the intervening wilderness decreases; and the desired land is neared. And now the very borders are in view. A few more steps will plant the pilgrim-host in Canaan.
Surely courage will now brace each nerve—joy will beat high in every heart—and with triumphant praise they will plant conquering banners. But is it so? Alas! they pause—they hesitate. Jehovah's ancient covenant fades from their view. The pledged support—the daily help—the experienced favor—are forgotten, as an unsubstantial dream. The unworthy thought creeps in—perchance the nations are too strong for us—their walled cities, and their iron gates may beat back our assault.
Thus they distrust—and tremblingly propose to search the country by spies. They take weak counsel with their carnal minds. They follow sight—not faith. They cast behind their backs the oath to Abraham—the repeated promise to their fathers—and the rich map of the luxuriant plains, so often drawn by God's describing hand.
Such are the workings of vile unbelief. And that dark monster is not dead. Yet—yet it lives. It lurks in corners of each heart. It ever watches to bring its disguise to every eye—its poison-draught to every lip. It is crafty to whisper, that perhaps God's many promises may fail; that faith may be pursuing a vain shadow; and may lie down at last misled—deceived—undone.
Reader, beware—look inward. If you discern the slightest trace of this beguiling serpent, oh! spare it not—seize it and slay it on the altar of revealed truth. Take for the solid pavement of your steps, "It is written." Then manfully advance. Grasp tight the promises; and boldly march toward your pledged inheritance. Let nothing tempt you to test heaven's counsels at the bar of human sense. He is the fool of fools, who tests divine assurances in the scales of mortal vision.
But this timid policy befools Israel's camp. The spies are named. They are sent forth to ascertain, whether their God be true. They pass from place to place. They view the mountains and the valleys. Then in their progress they reach Eshcol's brook. Here fruit before unknown for size, for beauty, and for luxuriant juice, meets their admiring gaze. They pluck one cluster from the vine. The treasure needs two men to bear it. Upon a staff they prop it up. And thus they seek the camp, laden with a trophy of the country's wealth.
Here let the spies be left. Here let a curtain fall on their sad errand and their sin. Their sin—for they bring back a false report—and while they show the fruit, they largely dwell upon the walled towns, and monster-forms, and other formidable sights. But from such conduct let us turn. It is more solacing to contemplate that cluster, which they bear—that pledge of rich fields.
The Spirit teaching, we may draw hence a foretaste of the full riches of our celestial land. These grapes are proof of Canaan's exuberant fertility. The giant-produce testifies abundance. So, too, there is a heavenly Eshcol before faith's eye. It shows delicious clusters. And should we not delight to walk in the enchanting ground, and cheer our spirits with the glowing prospect? Surely Eshcol's luxuriance portrays our glorious Canaan. It pictures heaven—our looked-for rest—the mark, to which we press—the haven of our storm-tossed voyage—the end of weary pilgrimage—the soul's eternal home—the land of every delight. This Eshcol should be ever in our view.
The joy before Christ cheered His heart. The joy before us should gird up our loins. The racer bounds, when he discerns the goal in sight. The mariner is alert, when land is seen. The soul spreads swifter wings, when heaven seems to open.
Reader, come, then, in Eshcol's grapes, read faith's amazing prize.
But here thought flags—mind fails—all words seem emptiness—all images fall short. No angel's tongue can adequately paint the brightness of those realms. Mortal powers shrink into very nothingness. None can describe heaven, but those who enter it. And those who enter it, find their delight an ever-swelling flood—an ever-brightening day—an ever-opening flower—a volume, which eternity cannot read through!
Heaven! It is the palace of the great Eternal. Salvation is its walls—its gates are praise. Its pavement is purity's most golden luster. Its atmosphere is perfect love. Heaven! It is the home prepared by God before the worlds were made, for His redeemed children. It is the mansion, which the ascended Jesus still labors to make fit. Heaven! It is so attractive, that all Jehovah's skill cannot increase the beauty—so full, that nothing can be added—so rich, that it can hold no more.
But Eshcol's luxuriance allures us to more close examination. Let us draw nearer. This cluster was the vine's perfection. So, too, perfection is the essence of our heaven. Nothing can enter there to stain—to soil—to vex—to humble. Oh! what a contrast to our present state! We would be holy—but, alas! a treacherous adversary rolls us in the mire. Our hearts are daily pierced. We loathe and we abhor ourselves. But our high home is barricaded against sin. Never—never—never—can iniquity again intrude. The soul forever joys—righteous, as God is righteous—pure, as God is pure. Reader, seek heaven. But heaven is more than this.
Here on earth, the foul tempter all day long is spreading nets. There is no saint too saintly for his vile approach. In Eden he approached the innocent. To Jesus he said, 'Worship me'. His whispers, his bold lies, as keenest anguish, haunt the regenerate heart. And while life lasts, there is no respite. He watches every dying bed. But in heaven this misery has ceased. No serpent crawls along that pavement! Satan is outside—far off—the bottomless pit has shut its mouth upon him. Reader, seek heaven. But heaven is more than this.
Here on earth, fears rush in. The ground is slippery. A precipice is near. We tremble on the brink. Fiery darts fly round. We shudder, lest some poison penetrate our veins. The torturing thought breaks in, 'Will my frail bark hold out! Will even God's own grace endure my daily provocations! May I not, after all, fail of salvation! May not my end be with the lost!' But fear dies at heaven's gate! The happy company realize, that they are lofty above injury. Their throne is safety in the highest. They know it—what then can they fear? Reader, seek heaven. But heaven is more than this.
Earth is affliction's home. A troop of sorrows compass us about. Tears stream. The bosom sighs. The brow is furrowed by the lines of care and worry. Death tears away the much-loved friend. Sickness invades the frame. The home is desolate. The table is destitute. We look to the right-hand, and there is trouble—on the left, and still fresh troubles frown. But heaven is a wide sea of bliss without a ripple. All tears are wiped away. All faces beam with one enraptured smile. All lips confess, 'The cup of happiness overflows'. We bathe in oceans of delight. Reader, seek heaven. But heaven is more than this.
Here unbelief often gathers, as a chilly cloud. It mantles the soul in darkness. It suggests apprehension, that His love has ceased, and that desertion is, or may be, our lot. This is a miserable condition. When God is felt to be a God at hand, woe ceases to be woe, and burdens are all light. But in heaven a present God is always everywhere. We cannot move beyond the sunshine of His love. His countenance is universal brightness. Reader, seek heaven. But heaven is more than this.
Here ignorance leads us in a floundering path. We thirst for knowledge, but we reach it not. How much concerning God is utterly beyond our grasp! Blindness curtails our perspective. Clouds narrow our view. But heaven is a realm without horizon. We know God, as we are known. We love intelligently. We understand, whom we adore. Reader, seek heaven. But heaven is more than this.
Sin is shut out—temptations banished—fears buried in an unfathomable grave—sorrow and unbelief have fled away—knowledge is perfect—our souls are purity—our bodies are imperishable beauty—we completely share the glory of our all-glorious Lord. How much is this! But yet this is not all.
In the true Eshcol's cluster there is this richer fruit—Jesus is seen. This is the crown of heaven. This is the pinnacle of bliss. The rising of the sun makes day. The presence of the king constitutes the court. The revelation of the Lord, without one intervening cloud, is the grand glory of the endless kingdom. Heaven is full heaven, because Christ shines there exactly as He is—seen and admired of every eye.
Faith searches for Him now in types, and shadows, and prophetic forms, and sacraments, and holy emblems. This sight is precious—gratefully to be enjoyed—devoutly to be improved. But these are faint outlines of the eternal vision. These often are obscured. But in heaven Jesus ever stands conspicuous in one undiminishable blaze.
Believer, what will it be to gaze on the manifested beauty of Him, who is so altogether lovely! What! to read clearly all the deep mysteries of His redeeming will! What! to dive down to the vast depths of His unfathomable heart! What! to fly upward to the very summit of His boundless love! What! to trace clearly all His dealings in providence and grace! What! to comprehend all that Jesus is! What! never to lose sight of Him—no, not for a moment! What! to be ever drinking fresh raptures from His present smile! What! to feel, that this joy is mine forever! What! to shout, 'Come on, you ages of eternity, you never part me from my Lord!' This—this is heaven. This—this is Eshcol's full cluster.
Reader, are you a traveler towards this heaven? When you behold the grapes of Eshcol, do you know, that the vineyard is your sure heritage? The question may be solved. This kingdom is for the subjects of the King—this palace is for His sons. Are you, then, His by faith? They, who are in Him now, will dwell with Him forever. They, who live Christ on earth, go to Him in the upper world. Then ask, "Is your soul knit to Him? Are you a branch engrafted in the heavenly stem? Are you the bride espoused to the Lamb?" Conscience well knows.
The link, which thus connects, is faith. This is that precious grace, which sees His worth—flees to Him—embraces Him—and holds Him tight. This is that heaven-given power, which, with glad hand, receives the title-deeds of heaven. This is that Spirit-implanted confidence, which looks to Eshcol, and claims all Canaan, as a promised home.
Reader, never rest, then, until, standing on firm Gospel-ground, you can look up and cry, "Lord, I believe." Then daily feed on Eshcol's grapes. Then daily move towards Canaan. You soon will hear, "Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Matt. 25:34.