A New Look at Caleb
For whatever reason I got to thinking about Caleb this morning. Maybe it has something to do with things I am processing myself right now. Anyway, I decided to look up every reference to Caleb in the Bible and see in very condensed form what I might learn about the whole story of this interesting character.
What I found was even more than what I was already suspecting. This man is truly an inspiration and a model of humility and courage all in one.
By what I can gather, Caleb and Joshua could have been friends early on. Maybe they had hung out together around the time of the exodus from Egypt or maybe they had even gone through some experiences previous to that time together, there is no way of knowing for sure. But it does appear from some clues that Joshua may potentially have been as much as twenty years younger than Caleb, or maybe not so much. But this dynamic reveals an interesting potential aspect of their relationship. Somehow I feel that Caleb could have been a mentor for Joshua along with Moses who took Joshua under his own wing and made him a very personal and most trusted servant and friend of his own.
The parallel stories of Joshua and Caleb make for some very compelling dynamics that can suggest a number of lessons for all of us today, especially myself in some areas. As I review the various factors in these relationships and the events that transpired, I see important elements that are crucial for staying focused on my relationship with God no matter what is going on around me. One thing that really jumped out at me as I read about Caleb is that it is repeatedly mentioned that he followed the Lord God of Israel fully.
I don't think that is a phrase that should be easily passed over unless one is willing to remain shallow in their spiritual understanding. There must be a significant reason that this phrase shows up more than once in these passages. Caleb went through some experiences that would severely challenge that quality in his character. Yet throughout pressures from outside and most likely from the inside, he kept glued to his devotion to God through it all and refused to allow anything or anyone to plant a seed of bitterness or fear in his heart.
The first time Caleb is mentioned in Scriptures is just before the first opportunity Israel had to move directly into Canaan, the land promised to them by God. Both Caleb and Joshua were chosen as part of a group of twelve spies to be sent into the land to bring back a report of how exciting it was going to be and what it looked like. Caleb was chosen to represent the tribe of Judah and Joshua was to be the representative for Ephraim. Yet even though these men were possibly as much as twenty years apart and came from two different tribes, they somewhere along the line formed a close bond of friendship that lasted and deepened all of their lives.
Certainly during this reconnaissance maneuver these two men must have bonded much more closely than they had ever done before. Whether this was the initiation of their relationship or whether it was a tightening of something already in place, from this point on they were almost inseparable. But then, having your lives threatened by millions of very angry people who despise you for contradicting their emotional unity and exposing their lack of trust in God would be an event that would bond anyone together for life.
If anyone had reason to cry 'not fair!' is was Caleb. Time and again events apparently turned against him. Even after literally spearheading the counterattack on God's behalf single-handedly when the whole assembly of Israelites was being turned against God by evil and malicious reports full of unbelief, Caleb found his arguments resented and his efforts defeated. Had it not been for direct intervention by God Himself all of the people left in loyal leadership would have been stoned to death and total mutiny would have prevailed. Yet Caleb was forced to return to the desert with all of those who hated him and wanted to take his life to live with them for forty years of trouble.
Caleb doesn't show up again until the next time they approached Canann forty years later. By that time a number of important factors had changed among the Israelites including the passing away of every person over the age of twenty who had been around the first time they showed up at the edge of the promised land. A number of times in this story the text says that only Caleb and Joshua survived the forty years of painful wandering around in the wilderness of Saudi Arabia while millions of people died off during that same period. Because of the rampant unbelief induced in the people by the spirit of the negative, unbelieving spies they all were destined to die until the next generation fully replaced them leaving only Joshua and Caleb alive.
Even Moses and Aaron were not allowed to enter into the promised land, but for other reasons that God made clear to everyone. But even those experiences must have been a source of deep embarrassment and pain for both Caleb and Joshua as they saw the pressure of people's complaints and bitterness induce Moses to sin by misrepresenting God as an angry deity. But finally, as the nation of Israel chose to believe that God could do what He said He could do for them, Caleb and Joshua found themselves the senior elders of this vast multitude of troublesome followers.
But something else came to my attention this morning that may only be inferred from the context of these stories. I noticed that when the spies originally returned from scoping out the land that it was Caleb who took the initiative and boldly took a stand against the debilitating reports of the unbelieving spies. It was Caleb who risked his life and reputation and firmly declared that conquering this wonderful land with its incredible odds was nothing to be afraid of as long as they were willing to believe in the power of God that had brought them out of Egypt. During this initial presentation I don't even find a reference to Joshua. It was not until later that it is seen that Joshua took his stand on the side of Caleb and Moses.
After the tension amplified to a crisis state is it mentioned that Moses, Aaron and Joshua are involved. Then both Caleb and Joshua are seen pleading with the people to view reality differently than what they were used to doing. The words and reasons that they used are so important and needed yet today but most of us still find ourselves more in line with the unbelieving multitude than with the bold logic of Caleb and Joshua. They insisted that in spite of all the apparent evidence of overwhelming odds, the really important thing to remind themselves of was that God wanted to give them this good land and that if He was pleased with them there was no obstacle that could stand a chance against His authority and power.
Even more importantly, Caleb and Joshua reminded the people of the real dangers they were up against; and those far more dangerous enemies were not in the land of Canaan at all but were inside their own hearts. "Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them."
But how effective are these words with us today? It is easy to read these and to quote them to each other from a superficial standpoint, but when it comes right down to facing our giants, either externally or more important internally, how willing are we to believe that God is pleased with me, that God is well able to overcome anything in my life that obstructs His plans for me?
Someone has said so succinctly, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” How very true, and Caleb might add rebellion as well. Rebellion is really the natural outgrowth of allowing fear to dominate our thinking and convince us that God is not enough for us. Rebellion is really more of a symptom of a much deeper problem more than a problem of its own. Rebellions grows out of fear and so it is fear that we need to avoid most of all. Yet how much of our religion today is still founded mostly on fear?
Very clearly Caleb exhibited leadership qualities of fearlessness, boldness and confidence in both God's abilities and in God's desires to bless and protect his people. Repeatedly throughout the story of Caleb he is seen as a very bold individual willing to stand up against all odds and to take fearless action in the face of overwhelming obstacles. These are the qualities that most of us look for when selecting a potential leader to inspire us. This kind of person, for most people anyway, would be the no-brainer choice to be the best man fit to lead a nation to victory.
But as we all know, it was not Caleb who was chosen to lead Israel into the promised land – it was Joshua. I think that this point is too often overlooked in our rehearsal of these stories but may contain significant insights and lessons for us today. What comes to my attention in this story is what must have been going on in the mind and emotions of Caleb when God bypassed him in selecting Joshua as the successor for Moses. It might be easy to assume that Caleb thought nothing of it, but given the readiness of Satan to always insinuate doubt and resentment into a person's mind every opportunity he can do so, I can't believe that Caleb was not at least tempted with strong urgings to feel miffed about God's selection of a younger and less assertive man to take the role of leadership when the obstacles ahead were so intimidating. Here is yet another clear excuse to feel that he was being treated unfairly.
Yet the very fact that there is no mention of any clue of resentment on the part of Caleb reveals to me how Caleb must have dealt with that inevitable temptation pressured on him by the enemy. The Bible says of Caleb that he followed the Lord fully, and that would include when he was tempted to feel slighted emotionally by being bypassed for leadership as well as when being threatened publicly by millions of very angry people ready to kill him for opposing their feelings and decisions. What a way to reward someone who had risked everything for God's reputation.
After Israel crossed over into the land of Canaan and were starting to settle in, another incident shows up in the life of Caleb that highlights the fact that he was still fully in harmony with Joshua and was not harboring any ill feelings. His focus was still as always, fully on God and His power and His disposition of favor toward His chosen people in spite of their many mistakes and rebellions. At eighty-five years old he comes to God's appointed leader of his people and requests from his good friend the opportunity for his kind of 'revenge' for the way they had both been slighted and misunderstood years before during that traumatic showdown with the other spies. His idea of 'getting even' and 'settling the score' was to personally take on the epitome of what the faithless spies had used in their excuses as to why it was impossible for them to capture this land. They had declared that the giants in the land made it impossible for them to capture it, so Caleb now asks Joshua for permission to allow him – now as the oldest man in the whole nation – to personally attack and capture and claim for his own family the very land where the strongest of these giants were known to live.
Again, Caleb demonstrates before everyone his unflinching faith in God's heart and God's power to bless and support all who will put their full confidence in Him and follow His ways fully. Caleb wants to set the record straight once and for all time. I believe that Caleb had been irritated so deeply by the unbelief of the negative spies that he determined to not give up or die until he had personally refuted their false reasoning. The excuses used by these spies to terrify the people had condemned the whole nation to a wasted forty years of desert life and continual death when they could have had such a different history if they had only trusted God as Caleb had urged them to do. Now Caleb wanted most of all to vindicate God's reputation and for him this was like the last score he needed to settle to be able to feel completely at peace again.
When he came with this brazen request to his old friend and best companion Joshua, God's chosen new leader of Israel had no hesitation in giving permission for his old friend (and possibly mentor) to once again assert himself to take a bold and public stand on God's behalf. Caleb was so confident in God's blessing and power for those who would believe that he say his old age not as a liability but as an even more effective proof of the goodness of God and the power of God to overcome all odds.
I believe that Joshua had quite a different personality from that of Caleb and he had possibly been somewhat in of awe at times at Caleb's boldness both in and out of trouble. Now Caleb wanted to take one last chance to really demonstrate what God could do with overwhelming odds from both sides of an equation and Joshua did not hesitate to let him have a go at it.
Caleb indeed does capture and drive out the strongholds of the giants through personal bravery, total dependence on God and some wisdom as well. He uses the natural magnetism of his daughter to invite anyone willing to join in with him who had a similar spirit, to help him drive out the enemies. Rather quickly one of his nephews takes him up on the offer. I suspect that Caleb's daughter was quite a character herself that many men would be quick to crave as a valuable wife and her cousin may had his eye on her for a long time. When this opportunity came along for someone to finally get a chance to marry her he was not going to let anyone else preempt him so he jumped at the chance and was willing to do whatever it took to win her from Caleb's hand. Of course, I suspect he had also been inspired by observing the life of Caleb himself and most likely had to imitate the same dependence on God that Caleb had been demonstrating all his life as he attacked this enemy city.
Immediately after the city is won and Othniel, Caleb's nephew, wins the hand of Achsah, Caleb's captivating daughter, Achsah demonstrates how much she reflected the personality of Caleb herself. The Bible says that she worked on her new husband immediately to request from her dad more land than was originally promised as the reward for his conquest. Apparently she succeeded in convincing her new husband, but then with a strange twist of phrasing it says that she was the one who came to Caleb to make the request, not her brave husband. This really makes me wonder about who was really the bravest in this marriage after all. This man doesn't mind taking on a whole city of warriors to win the beautiful maiden, but the girl is the one who is bold enough to take on her champion father with a request while her husband stays in the background.
There are other interesting details about the life of Caleb that can be filled in to round out the picture a little more. But what seems most compelling about the life of Caleb is the complete absence of any negative references whatsoever. God only has good things to say about Caleb, and Joshua is always ready to cooperate with and support him as well. Caleb had to go through the whole forty years of punishment and endure all of the rebellions and intimidations and disappointments that occurred during that time. Through all of those depressing years he must have clung to the promises of God to him and Joshua and not allow all the negativity around him to poison his heart or his perspective.
Caleb did have to suffer the same punishment of wilderness wandering just as everyone else did even though he had not participated in the cause that brought it on. That alone would be enough to make most of us very bitter. Evidently Caleb was aware of the great danger of bitterness and refused to allow it to poison his life. Instead, he kept his focus on God alone as his steadfast hope and in the end his life became one of the greatest, yet maybe most overlooked examples of true integrity and faithfulness.
It says that Caleb's wife died and he married another wife and had more children. Quite possibly his wife died during the forty years of wandering for whatever reason, but Caleb just kept on looking forward. It also mentions that Caleb had children by two concubines which well may have been the servants of his two consecutive wives which was a very common practice in that time.
I find the story of Caleb a good reminder for me of the attitudes and choices that I need to make in situations I find myself in that may parallel some of his. And most of all I need to be alert and wary of the ever-present danger of allowing bitterness to poison my spirit and ruin my chances to reveal the real character of God and vindicate God's reputation. Caleb was a wonderful and inspiring model to emulate in his faithfulness, his total trust in God's power and God's heart and his refusal to allow any odds to dampen his implicit confidence in what God can do in any situation or against any and all odds.