Some thoughts on Caleb following my recent morning studies at home. It will probably take 3 blogs… but I will keep going until they are finished as I believe there is some great stuff to be learned here.
“The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders… from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh” (Num. 13:1-2 and 6).
Here’s what we know about Caleb at the point he appears in the Bible narrative.
- He is about 40 years old, which means he was a slave in Egypt and has witnessed the whole Exodus.
- He comes from the tribe of Judah, which will later produce David and Jesus.
- He is a respected and trusted leader in his family tribe.
Caleb is chosen, with 11 other men who are leaders from the 11 other tribes of Israel (among whom is Joshua, son Nun, who becomes leader after the death of Moses 40 years later), to spy out the promised land. The people of Israel have walked pretty much directly from Egypt to Canaan at this point (although with well over a million people, it has taken some time).
Canaan is a land described as ‘flowing with milk and honey’ and God’s plan is clearly that the people of the Exodus will go in directly to take possession of the land that God has promised to them. The only delay being for a quick scout around.
When the spies return with a massive bunch of grapes about 40 days later, they declare that the land is indeed rich and flowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27). But they also point out that there are powerful people living in Canaan already, in cities with high walls.
This report means that fear starts to grip the people, so Caleb stands up;
“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” (Num. 13:30)
What is it that we act upon? Do we believe that the word of God is real and act upon it, or do we do as the people did?
The people of Israel stand on the brink of having their own homeland by the promise of God. Yet, when they find out that they are not going to be able to wander nonchalantly into Canaan and take up residence, they say; “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites” (Deut. 1:27).
I love Caleb, because he sees things entirely differently. His are words of faith, not fear. He too has seen the opposition that they face in moving into the land of God’s promise, but he chooses to believe only in God’s promise. He says, “God promised us, so lets go. We can certainly do it if God says we can”. Caleb believes God’s words and is willing to act upon them, even though the things that he sees suggest that the process might be harder than expected.
Let’s remember something. Nowhere does God promise the people that they will simply walk into a vacant land flowing with milk and honey. Rather, God tells them that they will be led to a rich land and that the land is theirs. He does not say that it will simply fall into their lap. Further, the results of the spy mission does simply lead to a conclusion that the task is impossible. Why would they believe that?
The God that these people are following has sent plagues on Egypt (the most powerful nation in the world at that time), parted the red sea, fed and watered the people in the middle of a desert, defeated enemies and given the people a faith and purpose. This is the God who stands with them on the edge of the Jordon having promised that the land is for them… and the people question whether he can give it to them?
Compare the words of Caleb above with the words of the 10 other spies.
“We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num. 13:33b)
These are words of fear. They define the feelings of the people and lead them away from God’s plan. “We fell small and our enemy looks big… we are stuffed.” These words assume that, because they see themselves as small, the enemy sees them as small. Despite the proof of God’s power and love over many months, the people choose to believe something else.
The words of Caleb are words of faith. He believes what God says and is convinced by the evidence of the power of God, that he has seen ever since Moses turned up in the brick pits of Egypt and told them that it was time to go. 40 year old Caleb has been there all along and, together with Joshua and Moses, he is the only person who believes that God can do what he has promised.
We need to have faith in the word of God, build ourselves up with testimony about God and act as if God’s word is true even when we do not understand it.
What follows is heartbreaking. The people of God ignore the men of God (Moses, Joshua and Caleb) and convince themselves that it will be impossible for them to take the land. They miss the opportunity to take hold of the wonderful promise of God because they fear.
This God, who is real, responds (perfectly understandably) in anger. “How can they not believe? Have they not seen what I have done for them?”
Moses asks God to forgive the people, and God does so, but He responds to their faith. Since the people believed that God would let them die, He did let them die in the Desert (Num. 14:28). He does not withdraw His promise of Canaan, but He delays it until the generation without faith has died and a new generation rises up. – Except for Caleb.
“Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord whole-heartedly” (Deut. 1:35-36)
God acts on the faith of the people, since their faith is failure and death, but he also acts on the faith of Caleb who believed that God is good for His word. Caleb believed with the same faith as Abraham, who left his home to go somewhere he was not sure was possible. Caleb trusted the word of God and was willing to go into a land that was occupied by strong people. Caleb was unsure how things might work out, but he was full of faith that they WOULD work out one way or another.
The BIG IDEA! – God responds to the faith of His people.
What is our faith in? How often is our faith defined by our fear rather than the Word of God? What do I believe? The inheritance of the people of God is that which they have faith for.
This is not a gospel of prosperity, since we do not define the actions of God by our faith. Rather, it is a gospel of faith. We receive from God that which He has promised, if we have faith for it. If we do not have faith for it, then we receive less than he promised. God always promises more than we can imagine or hope for (Eph. 3:20). If we are satisfied only by our own hope and imagination we will receive less that we are promised. Faith in God’s promises will always be a stretch because God’s promises are so much more than we can imagine.
I want conviction of faith like Caleb!