They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’
Now then, just as the Lord promised, He has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time He said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as He said.
Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. (Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites.) Then the land had rest from war.
Some characters in the Bible make only brief appearances, but there is so much we can learn from their stories. Caleb was such a person. Although he is a central character in the books of Numbers and Joshua, there is very little mentioned of him elsewhere in the Bible.
The New Testament refers to many heroes of the faith from the Old Testament, but for some reason Caleb is not one of them. But what a hero he was. Without doubt, the most outstanding quality in his life was his unswerving faith. Caleb had the kind of faith that made people sit up and notice. He was an unshakable optimist in a time when he was surrounded by pessimistic people.
The Israelites had escaped Egypt after a succession of miracles and God’s intervention. He led them through the Red Sea and into the wilderness, to Mount Sinai where they remained for about a year before marching toward Canaan. From Kadesh Barnea, Moses sent 12 men to spy out the land. Among these 12 were Caleb and Joshua, and they returned from their reconnaissance mission with conflicting reports – we picked up part of that report in our reading from Numbers 13 today.
“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey.” Then comes the but – “BUT the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” Ten of the spies, although they’d seen how fertile the land was, concentrated on the frightening presence of the Amalekites, the Jebusites and the Amorites. They were particularly alarmed at the Anakim - giants in the land.
Caleb though, was adamant. “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
But as so often happens the negative majority was louder than the optimists.
We read on in chapter 14, “Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, ‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
But the peoples’ hearts weren’t in it, Caleb and Joshua were shouted down, and they even threatened to stone them. These people had seen for themselves just how mighty and powerful God was, but because of their fear and subsequent disobedience, the Lord sentenced the entire nation to years of wandering in the desert.
Now we fast forward 45 years to our second reading from Joshua 14. A new generation of the Israelites finally entered Canaan and waged war on the pagans in the land. As was the custom at the time, the land was divided up and allocated to the different tribes, but just before this happened, Caleb (who was now 85 years old), went to Joshua and said, “Before this allotment begins, I have something to say. A promise was made. Though it may not be written in stone, it is engraved in my heart.” And he then remembers and retells the events of years earlier, and explained how God had made a promise to sustain him and bring him into the land his descendants would inherit.
Caleb intended to collect on that promise of God because he was a man of faith, but he also made an interesting choice of land. He didn’t ask Joshua to give him prime estate on the banks of the Jordan. Instead he chose to go Mount Hebron, more than 50km away, to the very place which was the cause of all that strife 45 years earlier. This is what he said in Joshua 14:12 – “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as He said.”
This was nearly half a century after his own life was threatened by his own people. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of people saying, “It can’t be done. You’re too young or too old, you don’t have the qualifications, so and so can do a far better job than you…”
Sadly we’ve all been there, and we have a pretty good idea of the despair and sadness Caleb must have experienced then. We wouldn’t blame him for forgetting that part of his life, but he didn’t. It just made him more determined, and more faithful. Caleb remembered the promises of God, and he was determined to trust that God would deliver on those promises. That is why Caleb is rightly remembered as a hero of the faith, and it is from people like him that we can learn so much in our journey of faith.
The physical battles that we read about in the Old Testament are a foreshadowing of our own spiritual battles.
In a very real sense we are fighting the “Canaanites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites” today - the unbelievers of this world; those who challenge our faith in Christ. This is very much a part of the spiritual warfare I spoke about a couple of weeks ago. The difference though (and it’s a very important one!) between our battles and those of people like Caleb, is that we aren’t trying to put our enemies to death, but rather to bring them to life. That essentially is the definition of Christian evangelism – to show to the world through our words and deeds that there is a better life and a better hope to be found in Jesus.
But of course, the battle is hard. As we engage in spiritual warfare, we still encounter giants. And we need people in the Church today who aren’t afraid of the “Anakim.” Caleb had an amazing faith, but what can we learn from him?
Firstly, Caleb’s faith was based on the promises of God. During his conversation with Joshua which we read this morning, he repeatedly says “The Lord said, the Lord promised.” Now we can come to Church week after week for years, but we must learn how to put our faith in God, and apply or appropriate His promises to our own lives, in a very personal way. Caleb took hold of those promises for himself, and we need to do the same.
Our God is a very personal God. You will have heard this many times – Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship, and a relationship by its very definition is an intimate, personal thing. Our faith is not in some concept or ideology, but in a personal God who knows us better than we know ourselves and who loves us more than we will ever understand.
The second lesson we can take from Caleb’s faith is that it resulted in a Godly life. He was transformed because he believed and followed God. Numbers 23:12 says “Caleb followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” In Deuteronomy 1:36 God is speaking about the Promised Land and He says about Caleb “He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”
And twice more in our second reading today we are told that Caleb ‘followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’ This is all about obedience and submission to the will of God in our lives.
Jesus says in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
Being a true Christian disciple means that we take to heart what God calls us to do, and as we obey Him more and more, so the process of sanctification continues. This isn’t about coming to Church regularly or reading our Bibles every day. This is about pursuing Christlikeness in every aspect of our lives.
The third point I want to look at is Caleb’s words in Joshua 14:10-11. “Just as the Lord promised, He has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time He said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.”
He discovered through faith the secret of perpetual youth, but the lesson for us here is not about living longer in this life. This is a spiritual lesson. In the spiritual realm, through faith we find ‘perpetual youth’ through the eternal life we now have in Jesus Christ. In Revelation 21 we find this wonderful prophecy and promise: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Can you imagine such peace and joy for all of eternity? That’s the promise we have.
Do we have the faith to hold onto a 45-year-old promise and do we have the faith at age 85 to claim it? Caleb wanted to claim a mountain in Hebron that had been promised to him many years before he began all the battles to take the land for his fellow believers. With the conquest done, he remembered what was promised him, but it was now occupied by giants. So he told Joshua, “I want that mountain!” There was one good fight left in the heart of this aging warrior, and he accomplished it with God’s help.
Standing before Joshua was his old friend, fellow spy and warrior, 85 year-old Caleb. Together they looked back to that day, 45 years before.
It was the day when the two of them stood alone against the other ten spies and the cowardly mob that believed the report of the other fearful spies after having spied out the Promised Land. When they returned from their mission, ten men said they could not conquer the land. Caleb, however, dared to disagree. As the fears of the people grew, Joshua stepped up to Caleb’s side and agreed with him that they should trust God for the victory. But the fear in the mob was against them. That day they were turned away from entering the Promised Land and wandered another 40 years in the wilderness.
Now, finally, forty years of wandering and five years of fighting are behind them. Of the entire nation 45 years ago, only Joshua and Caleb were left.
And Caleb remembered God’s promise to him. When writing these words, Joshua looked back and remembered the day when his friend Caleb took Hebron just as he said he would. He concludes his story by saying “Then the land had rest from war.”
What does this story do for you in your walk with God?
Do you just find it an interesting story, or does it increase your faith?
What battles are you facing in your life? Are there giants in the land which terrify you, or are you, like Caleb, able to say “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
We so easily forget the promises of God, but if we are determined to follow Him and obey His call on our lives as a Church, and as individual believers, then who knows what God can and will accomplish through us.