In Numbers 13, the Israelites have escaped the land of Egypt and are set to conquer the land of promise, Canaan.But when Moses selects a spy from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to do some reconnaissance in Canaan, the reports aren’t encouraging. Ten spies point out that the cities are well defended and that the people themselves, including the fierce Hittites and sons of the giant Anak, are rather intimidating.
But then Caleb, the representative from the tribe of Judah, quiets the murmuring crowd and says,
Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. – Numbers 13:30
Caleb foreshadows David here: both facing literal giants, they insisted that they could still come out on top.
And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause? David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. – I Samuel 17:29, 37a
In both stories, the crowd thinks our heroes are more than a little crazy. As Numbers 14 begins, the Israelites get so worked up that say it would have been better if they had died in Egypt, and they demand a new leader who will take them back there. This echoes their response to the hunger they faced earlier in their journey.
And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. – Exodus 16:3
Apparently, they haven’t learned much.
It’s as though all of Israel has completely abandoned their faith in God, who had gotten them safely through the Exodus (plagues, crossing the Red Sea, hunger and thirst, and more).
In response, Moses and Aaron fall on their faces in front of the people, and Caleb and Joshua (fellow spy and Moses’ right-hand man) tear their clothes as an expression of their anger and frustration. When they try to convince the people that God will help them conquer the land, the people threaten to stone them.
God responds in a way that reveals his great sense of justice and fairness. He declares that none of the people twenty years old and older will ever see the Promised Land, except for Caleb and Joshua, the only two of that generation who remain bold and steadfast in their faith. Even Moses himself, because of another transgression, never crosses into Canaan, though he views it from a distance.
Fast forward forty years, and sure enough, Caleb and Joshua are the only men left of their generation that will enter the Promised Land.
For the Lord had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. – Numbers 26:65
But Caleb’s story doesn’t end quite yet.
In Deuteronomy 1, Moses promises,
…to [Caleb] will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed the Lord. – Deuteronomy 1:36
Caleb reminds Joshua of this promise in Joshua 14, after the Israelites have been on the warpath in Canaan for quite some time, conquering cities such as Jericho and Ai.
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. – Joshua 14:9-12
It intrigues me that at age 85, Caleb doesn’t ask for retirement-ready pastureland beside a flowing river. Still bold, still vigorous, still zealous for Jehovah, he asks for a mountain upon which giants live, so that he may have another opportunity to glorify God.
In the following chapter, he does just that, driving out the three sons of the giant Anak. Heroism ran strong in his family; soon thereafter, his younger brother Othniel defeated another nearby town and went on to become Israel’s first judge, and some say, its greatest.
The lessons we can learn from Caleb are obvious, but certainly make him a tough act to follow: his boldness, unerring faith, and unflagging service. I don’t know if I’d have the faith to say, as he did, “Give me that mountain!” But I pray that I might have Caleb’s steadfast courage to face the mountains that may arise in my life.
A big thanks to T.R. Noble of Inside Cup for suggesting Caleb as a character for Lives that Inspire. Studying his life was a blessing and a true (if somewhat daunting) inspiration! Do you have a suggestion for Lives that Inspire? I’d love to hear from you.