In Numbers 13:1-3, God tells Moses to send spies to look over the land He had promised them. Moses chose one man from each tribe. He selected Caleb from the tribe of Judah (v6). The spies were given their instructions in verses 17-20:
“Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, ‘Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.’ Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.”
And so Caleb and the other eleven spies spent 40 days looking over the land. Upon their return, the spies acknowledged the richness of the land, but 10 of them fearfully warned the people (vs 28-29) “…the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” Before the people could be dismayed, Caleb broke in to offer encouragement: vs. 30 “But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’” Caleb’s faith in God’s power hadn’t wavered as he viewed those fortified cities.
Num. 13:31-33 “Then the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.’ So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’”
The first four verses of chapter 14 tell us that the people believ in the doubting spies, rather than in God. Joshua joins Caleb in exhorting the people to follow God (vs. 6-9), but the people threaten to stone them. God then shows His Glory and pronounces judgment upon the faithless people: none of them older than twenty would see the Promised Land, other than Caleb and Joshua. Instead, they’d wander in the wilderness for 40 years waiting to die. (14:28-35)
Think of what that meant to Caleb for a moment. His faith in God had never wavered. He had contended earnestly, trying to lead God’s people in faith to the Promised Land. He would have to wait 40 more years to see that land again. He had done nothing wrong, and yet he had to bear the punishment with the sinners around him. When I try to picture myself in Caleb’s place, I think I’d be wailing “God! This isn’t fair!” There is no evidence that Caleb reacted in this way. He faithfully followed God through the wilderness for the next forty years. And that is the first lesson we can learn from Caleb. Sometimes bad things happen to good people for no other reason than there is sin in the world. Why did Caleb have to wait another four DECADES to enter the Promised Land? Because he was in the midst of a sinful people. Like Caleb, bad things will happen to us sometimes. Not because we’ve sinned. Not because God is punishing us. Simply because we are on a sinful planet surrounded by sinful people. Like Caleb we need to quietly follow God in faith until He finally leads us to our Promised Land.
Caleb did eventually see the Promised Land again when Joshua led the next generation into Palestine. Caleb faithfully followed the leader of God’s people and at 80+ years old he continued to fight God’s battles. When the conquest was complete and the land was being divided among the various tribes, Caleb stood up and claimed the reward he had been promised for his faithfulness.
Joshua 14:6-14 “Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, "You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, 'Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.' And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said." Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel.”
Caleb was 85 years old. He had been faithfully following God his whole life. When his reward was delayed because he was surrounded by a sinful people, he waited patiently. Now, at the end of his life, it was time for Caleb to claim his prize. What did he ask for? The hardest fight that remained, that’s what. He wasn’t ready to take it easy, he wanted to prove the power of God, and prove his doubting neighbors wrong, by taking the strongest city yet remaining. Caleb was still ready to fight for God.
Reading this leads me to ask myself how ready I am to fight God’s battles? Am I reluctantly willing if forced into it, or am I eager to fight for God? One reason I bring this question up has to do with some comments I’ve heard about James 1:2-4. This passage famously says we should rejoice when faced with tribulations because such things lead to patience. I’ve heard multiple people (including preachers) from several different congregations and across all age ranges say things like “Be careful about praying for patience, because you know God will send you tribulations to build your patience.” Well, yes, probably. That is how patience is developed. “But it will be painful and hard!” Yes, but is it really better to not have patience?
In 2 Pet 1:5-7, in the famous list of “Christian virtues,” patience stands right in the middle. In verses 8 and 10 we are told that having these qualities will keep us from being ineffective and that if we have them we will never fall. So, we can’t be complete Christians without patience. Considering the rewards we are promised, isn’t it worth the effort and pain of growing patience? How much are we willing to fight for God?
A similar concept comes with the growth of faith. Someone asked me, based off Luke 17:5, if we could ask God for an increase of faith. This person’s idea was that it is their own responsibility to grow their faith, that God wouldn’t reach down and touch them and infuse them with greater faith. We discussed it and I said that the prayer for faith wouldn’t lead to a magical increase, but that God would put them in situations that would force them to grow their faith all the while supporting them in their efforts. The statement was made, “Well, it seems that if I ask for faith that God will just put me through the ringer.” Ok, that may be true. Even if it is, isn’t a greater faith worth it? If we are saved by grace through faith, don’t we want our faith to be strong? It may be hard, but am I willing to fight God’s fights like Caleb, or am I afraid, like the Israelites?
Again, Hebrews 12:8 says that if we are in the family of God we will be chastised so that we will grow. While chastisement is never fun (vs 11) isn’t being a part of the family of God worth it?
The life of a Christian is not easy. It is a life of fighting for self-control, of earnestly contending for the faith, of enduring tribulations and trials. The promises of reward are great, but the fight is tough. We have to decide if we, like Caleb, are willing to fight God’s fights, or if we are too fearful, and maybe lazy, and want to take the easy, wide path.