Friday, October 5, 2012

Caleb the Courageous

    I was brushing up on Joshua 14 for a bible study (with a partner who never showed... you know who you are!), and was struck by the figure of Caleb.  As I pondered him, I was forced to add him to the short list of Biblical figures about which nothing negative is said (aside from our sinless Saviour).  Joseph is the first:  unjustly persecuted by his brothers, stalwart in personal purity, and merciful when given the opportunity to revenge.  Then Daniel is famous for his dedication to God at the age when most of us were "sowing our wild oats", his fearlessness before a pagan emperor, and his quiet refusal to give what is God's to Caesar (his prayers).  I thought the list ended there, but as I read Joshua 14, I had to look at the background for the chapter, back to the first time he's mentioned in Scripture:
"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....  And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, "The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land.  If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them."  Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones... "  (Num 13:30, 14:6-10)
I bet Caleb could have used this guy!
    So to recap, the vast majority of the men sent to spy out the land come to a consensus, and it's Caleb who steps up to correct them.  Not Joshua, the hand-picked successor to Moses (if you read into the repeated divine exhortations in Dt 31:7, Josh 1:6, 7, 9, and even the people's words in Josh 1:18, it's not hard to conclude that Josh was a bit timid!), Caleb is the one to stare down the 10 guys and tell them to shut up, to repeat God's promises and to take Him at His word, and expect everyone else to do the same.  Then the angry mob is infected with the simpering fear and unbelief of the 10, and Caleb faces them down (without riot police at his back, only Joshua!) and tells them to buck up!  As the passage makes clear, that didn't go over so well, and it's only the direct manifestation of the Lord's Presence that defuses the situation (for Caleb and company;  Moses has to plead God to spare the people!).
     Fast forward to Joshua 14:  45 long years later, Caleb has seen everyone he knew die because of that fateful day.  His parents, brothers and sister, the other 10 spies, everyone his age has fallen in the heat of the wilderness, by plague, snakebite, and even being swallowed alive by an earthquake (I bet that was fun!).  Is Caleb sad and lonely, a bitter old man? Think again...
"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."  (Josh 14:6-12)
"I'll knock out those giants with one punch!"
     Caleb is the healthiest 85 year old ever (better than Jack Lelane!), and 45 years of taking God at His word was just the warmup act for this guy;  Caleb asks for the land with the biggest, nastiest defenders (Goliath's forefathers!) in the biggest, nastiest fortresses, because he knows if God is with him, who can be against him?  Did you catch what tribe this Jewish Arnold Schwarznegger is from?  That's right... Judah!  Who else in the Bible is from Judah?.... hmmm, lemme think... Oh yeah, there was another guy from Judah who wholly followed the Lord, who stared down disobedient and unbelieving mobs, who faithfully took God at His word through His whole life, and near the end, when others would be expecting an easy retirement, who persevered to battle the most deadly foes, until all were put down under His feet.  That's why we so desperately need the whole counsel of God, the 39 books that are so often mistaken for filler or entertaining Sunday School stories for kids... the Old Testament shows us Christ!

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