Joshua, perhaps enjoying a well-deserved respite from the violence and blood of five long years of war to claim the Promised Land, may have been surprised at the visitor who traveled to Gilgal to make a special request. Forty-five years before, Joshua spent forty days in his company, spying out a land that grew everything large and in abundance. Besides grapes that grew in bunches so big, two men were needed to carry them, men descended from legendary giants lived in cities with walls equally large and formidable.
Would Joshua even recognize Caleb? Surely both men formed a bond during their spying adventure. When the party of twelve spies returned to Israel to report to Moses on the land they were supposed to conquer, Caleb and Joshua alone stood up to proclaim their belief that God would bring Israel to victory, no matter the obstacles. When the other spies worked the Israelites into a frenzy of cowardice, Joshua and Caleb mourned, tearing their clothes, not backing down from their beliefs even when Israel threatened to stone them.
Now, 45 years later, Caleb stands in front of Joshua to ask for the chance to redeem the promise made by Moses to reward Caleb for his unwavering belief in God. As this chapter of Caleb’s story unfolds, several lessons become apparent. Here are four of them:
1. God honors ALL who honor Him
Caleb’s genealogy identifies him as being descended from Esau through Kenaz. The Kenizzites were a non-Israelite group, making Caleb just a generation removed from a non-Israelite family. Even though Israel laid claim to being the sole beneficiary of God’s favor, God proves He offers grace to anyone who shows faith in Him, a precursor to the grace that Jesus offers to all of those who believe. “Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, not one of you shall enter the land in which I swore [an oath] to settle you,” God tells Moses (Numbers 14:30).
For forty years, as long as it takes for the remainder of those who stood in judgment of Caleb and Joshua to die, Israel wanders in the desert, learning the lesson of lacking faith the hard way. Now, Caleb comes to Joshua, the only other survivor, to claim the gift his faith granted.
No matter where we’ve come from or what we’ve done, God’s grace is big enough to defeat our evilness, our otherness–as long as we believe.
2. God overcomes ALL things
When the spies come back to report to Israel, they tell them the land they have been promised is great indeed, including being great in danger. The men they would be fighting stood so large, “we were like grasshoppers in our own sight,” they claimed (Numbers 14:33).
Caleb has seen the same sights as his companions. Imagine his nights around the campfire during forty days of sleuthing around the countryside. Perhaps the arguments the men gave to Moses had been honed during many nights of arguing with Caleb and Joshua over the same topic.
Unlike most of his companions, Caleb chooses to believe in God’s ability to defeat the enemy, just as God has proven Himself in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and so far on their journey. The book of Numbers explains, “Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession of it; for we will certainly conquer it'” (13:30).
No matter how big an obstacle may seem, or how impossible a goal, if God has promised, He can and will deliver. Facing trouble with an attitude of faith in God’s ability to overcome lay at the core of Caleb’s success, both at this crucial point in his story and throughout his life.
3. God’s timetable requires our patience
Caleb spent a lifetime waiting for God to bring His personal promise to fruition. For forty years, he wandered with his people, watching an unfaithful generation struggle and die. Then, he fought with the current generation for five long years to begin the overthrow of the Promised Land.
Finally, at the ripe, old age of 85, Caleb comes to Joshua to ask for the fulfillment of God’s promise. He reminds Joshua of the bond they share. Of the twelve spies who wandered into the land of milk and honey, they alone escaped God’s wrath and sentence of death (the other ten died shortly after their return to Israel). Now, Caleb proclaims the promise he’s carried so close to his heart through all the long years:
“So Moses swore [an oath to me] on that day, saying, ‘Be assured that the land on which your foot has walked will be an inheritance to you and to your children always, because you have followed the Lord my God completely.’ And now, look, the Lord has let me live, just as He said, these forty-five years since the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, look at me, I am eighty-five years old today” (Joshua 14:9-10).
The fulfillment of God’s promise to Caleb reminds us that He always follows through on His word, even if our wait for that fulfillment makes us impatient. By refusing to grow weary, we will know the great gift of faith because our God keeps His promises.
4. Faith overcomes fear
As an old man, one who has waited decades for God to come through on His promise, Caleb has every reason to be afraid now that he is so close to the finish line. The giant-like Anakim still possess the land of Hebron, the place Caleb holds in promise. No one could blame Caleb if he hesitated to claim his inheritance. After so many years of getting nothing, who could be sure that God still planned to give Caleb victory?
But Caleb is an expert at letting his faith overcome his fear. He tells Joshua:
“I am still as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so is my strength now, for war and for going out and coming in. So now, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke that day, for you heard on that day that the [giant-like] Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:11-12)
As Joshua tells us, Caleb’s descendants indeed receive the inheritance of Hebron “to this day,” bringing a land at such unrest for so long to peace. By letting faith rather than fears guide him, Caleb receives a gift only superseded by the gift of salvation due all those who believe in our Savior Jesus Christ.
In a book filled with larger-than-life heroes and adventures, Caleb may be a minor player, but he proves that even the smallest of us can do great things if we choose to walk by faith. We can all agree that accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation is the most important lesson of all.