An 85-year-old member of the congregation urged, "Let me tackle that job! I've been a part of this work for 45 years, and I'm not about to quit now!"
This octogenarian was indeed a member—of the Old Testament congregation of God. Many of you will recognize his name, but perhaps not his entire story. He was Caleb, one of those sent by Moses to survey the land of Canaan.
Only a little over a year after they had realized the impossible, being snatched from certain death at the hands of a well-armed force of Egyptians by crossing the Red Sea, Israel's 12 tribes were in position to take the land God had promised to them. Here's where we meet Caleb.
History Changes Course
Numbers 13 recounts that Moses chose one proven leader from each of the 12 tribes. Caleb was the 40-year-old chief who represented the tribe of Judah. The only other person we would recognize was Hosea the Ephraimite. (You know him by the name Moses gave to him—Joshua!) Presumably each scout was selected on the basis of the skills needed to conduct his important mission successfully.
Much was riding on their effectiveness. God had guaranteed them the land—that was why He had brought them out of Egypt, to bring them into Canaan. However, the Canaanites weren't about to give up their homes, their lands, their crops or their gods to this band of nomads. Neither was God going to give the land to the Israelites without work, lest they not appreciate it.
The elite squad conducted their dangerous task, covertly surveying the land. It truly was "flowing with milk and honey"—a rich, ideal home for the millions of Israelite refugees. But it was also more . . . The team witnessed how deeply entrenched the mountain dwellers were. They saw the well-armed tribes with implements of war.
So 10 out of 12 of the advance squad reported their appraisal: It's impossible to take the land. Pandemonium broke out in the assembled Israelites. Before the congregation turned into a mob, one man stood to quiet them—Caleb. Gesturing for quiet, he contradicted the majority opinion with his positive assessment: We can make it! We can take the land!
Then the 10 delivered the final blow to the 12 tribes' already shaken confidence. The physical size and strength of some of the Canaanites dwarf us like a man dwarfs a grasshopper, they said. An already uneasy crowd turned into a mob. Shouting and wailing gave way to ugly rebellion, threatening a return to Egypt.
Caleb, along with Joshua, again quieted them and testified that their 10 comrades' conclusion was wrong, because of the one factor they overlooked—God. God brought us here to give us the land. His blessing gives us the edge over the greater training, the better battle positions and the superior size of the people of the land. Our faith must not fail! This is the promised land.
Caleb and Joshua could not stem the uprising. That's when the One the people forgot stepped in. God changed the course of Israel's history, returning them to wander in the wilderness where all the people over 20 years of age would die, except for two men who caught God's eye-Caleb and Joshua.
Joshua also caught Moses' eye. Moses made him his adjutant, and, under God's direction, ordained him as his successor to lead Israel into Canaan.
Pattern for Christians
Joshua's calling was a type of Christ, who will lead us into the Kingdom (Hebrews 4:8-9). Even his name, "Joshua" (variant of "Jesus") foreshadowed the Messiah.
God supernaturally called us out of the world, inviting us to become His people. Through repentance and faith, accompanied by baptism, we were freed from the slavery of the sin into which our worldly tainted natures led us. God brought us out of the present evil world, intending to bring us into the world to come.
It is His "good pleasure to give you the Kingdom," Christ said. The Kingdom is our promised land. We, like Israel poised to enter Canaan, learn, "We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Israel's experience parallels the Christian calling and the taking of the Kingdom by force (Matthew 11:12).
Our spiritual journey isn't complete until Jesus Christ leads us as spirit-born sons and daughters of God into the Kingdom. We must resist the discouraging voices and circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us with a sense of doom. Instead, we must hear the courageous voices of the "Calebs and Joshuas" among us.
No Time to Retire
God directed Moses to promise a segment of Canaan to Caleb: "And to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the LORD" (Deuteronomy 1:36).
So after 45 years, after Joshua had brilliantly led an organized and seasoned Israelite army to conquer most of Canaan, Caleb's name resurfaces in Joshua 14. At God's order, Joshua apportioned the land to the respective tribes as their "inheritance." When Christians are poised to enter the Kingdom, Christ will say, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
At this historic moment, Caleb stepped forward to remind Joshua of God's promise, which was publicly recited by Moses. "You know the word which the LORD said to Moses. [He] swore on that day, saying, 'Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children's forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God" (Joshua 14:6, 9)
In essence, he said, "Let me continue the work I've been given." There was no demand, no puffing. Despite his lengthy service in God's work, Caleb remained humble. He downplayed his heroism, saying that when he stood against the majority opinion of his fellow spies, he simply spoke what was in his heart (verse 7). He believed God. It was as simple as that-simple to say, but not easy to do or to maintain.
What a figure he must have been, standing there at 85 years of age, older by 20 years than other Israelites except Joshua! Far from the weakness that besets many by his age, Caleb was still ready for war when he was 85! In his words, "I am this day, eighty-five years old . . . I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war" (verses 10-11).
Endure to End, Not Coast Across Finish Line
Was he asking to retire finally, claiming his inheritance and expecting Joshua to hand him a comfortable section of peaceful land? Hardly! In essence he said, "Remember that mountain where the giants live in their highly fortified cities? Give that to me, and I will lead the troops personally to clean them out and live in their territory!"
He did not assume his experience diminished his part in the crusade to take the land by force. Rather, he believed that his longevity obligated him to set the pace. And set the pace he did!
Yet he had not forgotten the lesson he so eloquently voiced to Israel's tribes 45 years earlier. Yes, he still had to fight, and yes, he was filled with confidence that the battle could be won. His confidence didn't come from his long experience in the work of God. It came from the faith that, if God were with him, the battle would be won.
"Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim [giants] were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said" (verse 12).
Caleb, the colorful general, led his clan into battle again, vanquished the giants from their embattlements and captured their principal city, Hebron.
What an outstanding example Caleb set for Christians who have long soldiered in the work of God today. There was no retiring from the work, so long as he drew breath! There was no diminution of faith, even after more than 40 years of fighting the fight!
Soon we will be privileged to participate in the sober Passover memorial of the death of our Redeemer, the same God who led Israel from Egypt (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). By Christ's death, we were freed from the slavery of sin. Following the memorial of the Passover, we will celebrate joyously the festival of living spiritually unleavened lives. That feast stands as an eternal reminder that freedom begun at baptism is only the beginning, that the Christian journey is then begun, a trek that will end only when we have finally entered the promised land.
Christ's death freed us, took us out from under the penalty of sin, so that He could lead us into the promised Kingdom of God. "He who endures to the end shall be saved," said our "Joshua" (Matthew 24:13).
Do we have the heart of Caleb? Will we continue the Christian fight until the last giant is slain and the last fortress falls?