Caleb

Pastor Craig Carter

Like many adults, I enjoy some good summer reading. I took a couple of books on a recent vacation, one of them being Greenlights, the autobiography by actor Matthew McConaughey. It was an interesting read as he is a fascinating character, to say the least. 

Another fascinating biography is found in our Summer Book Club readings – Caleb. His story is told in Joshua chapters 14-15, but to understand what we’re told about Caleb there, we must first be familiar with the prequel which is contained in the Old Testament Book of Numbers, chapters 13-14. 

The Israelites had been set free from their Egyptian bondage and were on the way to the Promised Land of Canaan. Before going in to possess it, 12 spies were sent to see what awaited them there. One leader from each tribe was selected with Caleb representing Judah, the tribe from which King David and Jesus traced their lineage. 

After exploring the land for 40 days, the men returned with their report. They all agreed the land was indeed excellent…with bountiful fruit to prove it. But they disagreed on another matter and divided into two distinct groups. 

Ten of the spies conceded the land was excellent but they added, “The people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!” (Numbers 13:28 NLT) Compared to the inhabitants of Canaan, they concluded, “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are! The land…will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers.” (Numbers 13:31b-33 NLT)

Because of this “bad report” the Israelites grumbled against their leaders, Moses and Aaron, plotted to overthrow them, and considered retreating to Egypt. But the other two spies, Caleb and Joshua, came to a different conclusion. They didn’t deny the fierce opposition awaiting them in Canaan, but they pointed out, “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will surely bring us safely into that land and give it to us…[So] don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us!” (Numbers 14:8-9 NLT) 

Why the vastly different reactions to what they had witnessed? 

Later we’re told in a conversation God had with Moses: “My servant Caleb has a different spirit than the others have.” (Numbers 14:24a NLT) 

That different spirit was one of faith. Caleb believed God would provide and fight for them so he was ready, willing, and able to move forward and invade. 

We tend to think of faith as a mental exercise. While there is a rational element to it, faith is really an action word. It is a matter of what we’re willing to do because we trust in God and His power. 

I like the way one author describes Caleb: “Caleb was not a man of great faith, he was a man of faith in a great God!” And because of the faith he and Joshua possessed, they alone were allowed to enter the Promised Land. The rest of their generation (including the other ten spies) wandered aimlessly in the wilderness for 40 years until they all died off as an act of God’s judgment. 

That brings us to where Caleb’s story picks up in Joshua chapter 14. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel was allotted a portion of their new homeland. As Joshua, the leader of the nation, divided up the land, Caleb came to his old friend and said, “Moses, the Lord’s servant, sent me to spy out the land where we were going. I was forty years old then. When I came back, I told Moses what I thought about the land. The other men who went with me frightened the people but I fully believed the Lord would allow us to take the land. So that day Moses promised me, ‘The land where you went will become your land, and your children will own it forever. I will give you that land because you fully believed in the Lord, my God.’ Now then, the Lord has kept his promise. He has kept me alive for forty-five years. So give me the mountain country the Lord promised me that day long ago.” (Joshua 14:7-10, 12 EXB)

In response… Joshua blessed Caleb and gave him the city of Hebron as his inheritance. Hebron still belongs to the family of Caleb … because he had faith and obeyed the Lord, the God of Israel. (Joshua 14:13-14 EXB)

What we find in the story of Caleb is a picture of authentic faith. And since we, as God’s people, are to live by faith and not by sight, we’d do well to learn from Caleb and follow his example. I’d like to share three ways in which Caleb demonstrated his faith in God, and, since it’s Father’s Day, I’d like to use my own dad as an example of what that looks like in modern practice. 

As I’ve shared previously, I was blessed to be raised by godly parents. You may or may not have had the same privilege, but regardless you can be a Caleb and others can learn from your biography, or life story.

1) Caleb had faith to FORGET the past.

According to its Hebrew etymology, the name Caleb means “dog.” His parents may have hung that label on him because he was born into Egyptian slavery and was destined to be treated like a dog the rest of his life. But Caleb shed that derogatory title and chose instead to give a different meaning to his name. 

An alternative translation of his name is based on the fact that Caleb is a compound Hebrew term made up of two root words: “all or whole” + “heart”. Caleb lived up to this character trait because it’s mentioned on five separate occasions that Caleb “wholeheartedly followed” the Lord (Numbers 32:12; Deuteronomy 1:36; Joshua 14:8, 9, 14 NLT). 

So, for the first 40 years, Caleb lived a dog’s life; but for the next 45 years, he exercised faith in God, trusted in His promises, and wholeheartedly followed the Lord. He had the faith to forget his past as painful as it might have been. 

Others wanted to return to Egypt when faced with difficulties, but Caleb left that old way of life behind…for good. His fellow Israelites remembered the “good old days” in slavery, but their memories weren’t correct. In contrast, Caleb forgot the past and trusted God for the present and the future. 

We tend to remember what we ought to forget and forget what we ought to remember, don’t we? Caleb did the opposite. He forgot the 40 years of hardship in Egypt, the 40 years of wandering in the Sinai desert, and the 5 years of arduous battles against the Canaanites. Instead, he remembered that through it all, God was with them. 

The truth is: we can’t go back in time, so we may as well forget about it – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, it gets easier when you’re Caleb’s age. 🙂

My dad exercised this Caleb-like trait in several important ways. My dad grew up in the Great Depression, served in the Army during World War II, and did not become a Christian until his late 20s. But rarely, if ever, did I hear him mention those times. He didn’t dwell on the difficulties of the past nor did he long for the “good old days,” because he believed the best was yet to come. 

More importantly, my dad forgot past failures – both his own and others’. I only knew my dad as a good and godly Baptist deacon. But, before coming to Christ, he didn’t live that sort of lifestyle. I heard that years later from my mom, not him. He didn’t talk about it and he didn’t beat himself up about it. He forgot his past, accepted God’s forgiveness, and lived as a new creature in Christ. And he treated others with the same sort of attitude. He didn’t hold grudges. He forgave, he forgot about it, and he moved on. 

I’m thankful that I grew up in a household that had 3 predominant phrases: “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” I don’t know what you’ve lived through in the past (it may have been awful) and I don’t know what you’ve done in the past (it may have been even more awful), but I do know it’s in the past. Through faith in God and with His help, forget it and move on. 

The Apostle Paul, as a New Testament man of faith, once said, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:13b-14a NLT). That’s a Caleb-like attitude to have that will serve us all well.

2) Caleb had faith to FOCUS ON the present.

When Caleb first spied out the land, he was ready to invade, right then and there. “They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:9b NLT) But because of the others’ disobedience and distrust in God, he had to wait.

When the opportunity came again — 45 years later when he was at the ripe old age of 85 — Caleb was willing to tackle the giants that lived in the hill country of Hebron, knowing that the fierce Anakites dwelled there in walled cities. “Today I am eighty-five years old. I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then.” (Joshua 14: 10b-11 NLT)

While probably a bit of exaggeration, it suggests Caleb took care of himself. He was as fit as he could be at the present time in his life. The reason for Caleb’s optimism wasn’t his own abilities, but the Lord’s: “But if the Lord is with me, I will drive them out of the land…” (Joshua 14:12b NLT). 

And that’s exactly what he did. Caleb drove out the three groups of Anakites…From there he went to fight against the people living in the town of Debir…[and] conquered it. (Joshua 14:14-16 NLT)

Caleb had faith to focus on the present because he knew that God is omnipresent – always present, in the present. 

Many, if not most, of us spend a lot of time in the past and in the future. Living in the past brings regret, resentment, anger, and depression. Living in the future brings anxiety, fear, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Sound familiar? 

As my wife likes to tell me, “Be where your feet are.” In other words, your mind and body should be in the same place. 

And you know what? Life is much better when we live where we actually are. I think the main reason is because that’s where God is – eternally present. 

My dad definitely demonstrated this Caleb-like quality. As I already mentioned, Charlie Carter didn’t dwell on the past nor did he worry about the future. He didn’t have to because my mom took care of that! She was the self-designated family worrier. But my dad was really good at being present. He was actively involved in his church and community as a deacon, Sunday School teacher, Training Union Director, political party county chairman, school board candidate, village council member, and the list goes on. He wanted his life to count! 

More importantly to me, he was fully present in his family’s life. My dad was a great listener (he had to be since my mom talked all the time). And he was actively engaged in my life. He always took an interest in what interested me. Dads, I don’t know the best gift for you for Father’s Day but I do know the best gift you can give your kids anytime, and that’s yourself, by being present. 

You and I become like Caleb when we put our faith and trust in God TODAY. Then tomorrow we do it again, and the day after, and the day after. And since life is all relationships, we must focus our attention, not just on the Lord, but on those around us and become fully present in their lives. 

3) Caleb had faith to FACE the future. 

While Caleb lived one day at a time, he always kept an eye on the future (even at age 85). In particular, he loved his family so he wanted the choice land of the highlands to leave to his children as a legacy. That land was the best for crops and easiest to defend. 

Moses promised me, “The land where you went will become your land, and your children will own it forever…So give me the mountain country the Lord promised me that day long ago.” (Joshua 14:9, 12a EXB)

The King James Version states it this way: “Give me this mountain!” 

He wanted what was best for the next and subsequent generations. After conquering it, Caleb gave Hebron to his daughter as an inheritance, along with two valuable springs of water. As a result, his descendants were set up for future success. 

As people age, they sometimes spend more and more time thinking about the past. But as we grow older, even though our time on earth may be short, as God’s people, we should take the long view and ensure our primary perspective is future-oriented. 

I’m thankful that I had a dad (and a mom) who approached life like Caleb. My dad wanted something better than he had for his children – higher education, more comfortable lifestyle, life-long Christian faith. And the faith that he passed down to me is the most valuable inheritance I received from him. I’m thankful that he did all he could to make me eternally secure by helping me find Jesus and showing me how to live as Christ’s disciple. 

He knew there was something more important than a good education, a respectable job, and a wonderful family, though of course those are all valuable things to have. But, one day, those things won’t matter while our faith in Jesus Christ will. 

In 2002 my dad had surgery and developed complications from it. He never left the hospital and died exactly four weeks later. During that time I went back to Missouri to see him. I went with his best friend, Charlie Davidson. After visiting my dad, Charlie D. and I had a long conversation. He told me how thankful he was that I was a pastor and he shared the heartache he felt because one of his sons was not walking with the Lord (it was devastating to him). Charlie D. expressed some jealousy of my dad because his kids (me and my sister) were devoted followers of Christ. I have to believe my dad died a very happy man as he knew his future was secure and, just as importantly to him, so was the future of those he loved. 

Interestingly, shortly after his death, his daughter/my sister left her profession as a university professor and became an Episcopal priest. If he were here today, he’d also be proud of what his children and grandkids are doing with their lives, but he’d be more interested about where they are spiritually. 

I thank God for a whole bunch of Caleb-like men and women whose faith compelled them to do all they could to help me secure my future inheritance stored up for me, and all who believe, in heaven. 

That’s what I want for my children and every subsequent generation — to set them up for success in spiritual terms. I’ve dedicated my life and ministry to the cause. 

How about you? Do you want to be a person of faith like Caleb? Do you have faith like his to forget the past, focus on the present, and face the future?

Will you join him in his battle cry and say, “Give me this mountain!”?