Caleb is one of the interesting personalities we meet in the Old Testament. But he is not just an interesting person from the history; he has something to teach us in our very time. Follow along in a short lession of the history of Israel!
Speaking of that, it is important to remember that the OT is (among other things) this: the history of Israel. Sometimes we focus on it being other things, and of course it is, but it is also important to emphasize this fact, that when we read the OT, we are reading the history book of the Jewish people. The difference from a modern history book is most of all its acknowledgement of God in the historical texts.
So who is this Caleb? Perhaps you have never heard about him before, or you are well acquainted with him. No matter what, we will start from the beginning so that anyone will be able to follow. He is mentioned for the very first time in Numbers chapter 13. The background is this: the children of Israel has made the Exodus from Egypt, being delivered from captivity and slavery in a miraculous way, through the mighty hand of God. He has provided them with food and drink during their walking in the wilderness. Now, they are in the wilderness of Paran, which is located in the southern part of the Sinai peninsula, and as far as God is concerned, they are ready to conquer the land which was promised to Abraham's, Isaac's and Jacob's children from now and forever more. We start reading in verse 1:
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them. And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.
A bit further down in the text Caleb is mentioned, being "of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.". This is where we meet him for the first time. He is forty years old, half the age of Moses at this specific time. And in some way, he is different to the other spies. We read a bit further down (v25 and onwards):
And they returned from searching of the land after forty days. And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. [So far, so good] 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. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.
What had happened? Well, the people, that had all the time since going out from Egypt complained and murmured towards God, had become so full of fear and unbelief that they considered it impossible for God to bring them into the land. They thought this even though God himself had literally said that he would do it! But there were two spies that were different (Joshua is the other one but he is not mentioned in this text which I'm quoting). We keep reading from verse 30:
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
Here we see faith and unbelief being manifested very clearly, and the difference between the two. Caleb, who had the spirit of faith, saw with different eyes than his physical ones. What the people said was true; there were walled, great cities, and the children of Anak (who were giants) in the land. But why would this be a problem for God? He had actually said that they should have it! And if he has said it, well, then we can do whatever he has said. Otherwise God would be a liar.
The people of unbelief, on the other hand, they saw the circumstances and the fact that what God had asked them to do seemed impossible. "They are too strong for us". This might have been true, on a natural, human level of speaking. But the real question is what God has said. Would God say something, but not give them the strength to accomplish it? God forbid!
Once you open your mouth to start speaking unbelief, the result is crying and weeping. We keep reading from the beginning of chapter 14:
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.
And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
Can you see it happening? Once you've opened the door for this kind of unfruitful "impossibility thinking", that God would not do that which he has promised, fear comes in and takes over. Fear starts do draw an image of God being the problem. "Why is the Lord doing this terrible thing?". He is not! That is the very core of it, that you have somehow gotten the idea that things are going very bad and you start accusing God for it, even though he has said something completely different.
However, Caleb was not like the rest. We read from verse 6:
And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.
Do you see the difference? It is as clear as day and night. They had been in the same land as the others, but they described it differently, based on the promises of God. They knew, that if God has said that we will be able to do this, it is actually His problem to let us do it. It is not our problem! Besides, the enemies' defence is departed from them because their iniquity is full, so this will be no problems. In other words, it's as if they were saying: "If you just stop speaking a bunch of nonsense we can go and take the land!"
Now listen to the reaction to this: "But all the congregation bade stone them with stones." (v10) Sometimes, people will react like this towards you as well, when you start speaking based on a bold faith in God and His words. They will be mad at you, because you "think you are someone". But that's not what you're doing! You think that the Lord is someone, and that He is with you, just like He promised to. Anyway, the result of this was that all the congregation of Israel missed the opportunity to enter into the promised land. All except for Caleb and Joshua. The glory of the Lord appeared and He spoke about the people like this (v22):
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
This was also what happened. Of the spies, the other 10 which came back with unbelief died before the face of the Lord. But Caleb and Joshua survived, and they were the only ones coming out from Egypt that actually came in to the promised land. Let's now fast-forward through 40 years of walking in the wilderness and 5 years of conquest of the land and go straight into Jos 14:6
Then the children of Judah came unto Joshua in Gilgal: and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite said unto him, Thou knowest the thing that the LORD said unto Moses the man of God concerning me and thee in Kadeshbarnea. Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadeshbarnea to espy out the land; and I brought him word again as it was in mine heart. Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt: but I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses sware on that day, saying, Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance, and thy children's for ever, because thou hast wholly followed the LORD my God.
And now, behold, the LORD hath kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the LORD spake this word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in. Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the LORD spake in that day; for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.
Isn't it awesome? Caleb, now being an old man, comes forth to Joshua (who was also a bit older than the last time) and asks for what Moses had promised him. He was as strong when he was 85 than when he was 40. What was the secret? The Word of God! God had promised to give him the land. How could you go away and die before God has performed what he has promised? I am convinced that this promise was alive, not just in Caleb's mind but also in his heart and his mouth. He probably talked to his children about it, perhaps every day. "You will soon see that we come to the land which the LORD has promised unto us, and then we will have the mountain that the LORD has promised me. I was there myself when we espied the land, and you will see, that it's a great place to live in. Just you wait, and you will see that the LORD will perform what he has promised unto me!". It isn't such a wonder that he was in good shape, when he was living with such a hope. This is what faith does to a man, who chooses to not rely on his own strength but rather relies on what the LORD has spoken.
"And Joshua blessed him, and gave unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh Hebron for an inheritance." (v13) What happened after this? Did he manage to drive out the Anakims, these giants which the children of Israel were so afraid of? Yes, he did! We don't have time to go through this now but you can read it for yourself in Joshua chapter 15. And you know, this tells me one thing. If an 85-year old could do what these 30-40-year olds thought they could not do, I see that it is actually not about our natural ability at all. Of course, the body of Caleb had grown old during these 45 years. There's no doubt about that. But the inner strength that the Word of God had given him gave strength to every bone in his body. He is a living proof that man shall live not only by bread, but by every word that goes out from the mouth of God! This is one of the things we learn from the life of Caleb. His faith encourages us to not lose hope because of our difficult circumstances, but to remember this simple question: What has God said? He shall surely do it!