After the story of Achan and his sin, the story in Joshua continues to describe the conquest of the land of Canaan. The next few chapters describe the victories of Israel given by the Lord and the distribution of the conquered land to the tribes of Israel. In Joshua 14 we are told more information about a man named Caleb. We have not seen much about Caleb since the days of Moses, 40 years earlier. Recall that after Israel came to Mount Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments, the people went to go conquer the land of Canaan. Moses sent in twelve spies. Only two of those twelve spies returned with a favorable report that they can conquer the land with God’s help. The other twelve spies said that they could not take the land. The two spies who said they could take the land were Joshua and Caleb. Israel listened to the other ten, rather than Joshua and Caleb. Caleb quiets the crowd and says, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30). But the people of Israel did not listen to Caleb so God did not allow them to take the land, allowing the generation to die in the desert. Joshua and Caleb were the only men of war that lived because they believed that God would give them the land. “For the LORD had said of them, ‘They shall surely die in the wilderness.’ And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun” (Numbers 26:65). Forty years have passed by and it is this next generation that has conquered the land with Joshua as their leader. We pick up the story in Joshua 14:6-15 and we will look at some important lessons from the words of Caleb.
Strong, Wholehearted Service To God.
Notice how many times we are told that Caleb wholly followed the Lord. In verse 8, in the face of the people of Israel turning against the Lord and desiring to go back to Egypt, Caleb says, “yet I wholly followed the Lord my God.” Caleb is not speaking arrogantly about himself or making up a story. In the very next verse, Caleb recalls the words of Moses who said the same thing: “because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.” God said these very words himself when the decree was given that Israel would not enter Canaan for their disobedience: “But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it” (Numbers 14:24). Caleb received his inheritance in verse 14 “because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.”
This was not an easy time to be serving the Lord wholeheartedly. Caleb served the Lord even when all of Israel wanted to go back to Egypt and appoint a new leader. Caleb continued to serve the Lord for the 40 years of wandering in the desert. I have to believe that was very difficult to deal with for Joshua and Caleb. Forty years of their lives could not be spent in the promised land but wandering in the desert because the rest of the nation rebelled against the Lord. Yet we do not read about griping or complaining out of Caleb. He faithfully continued to serve the Lord though he suffered because of other people’s sins.
We do not like this fact, but it is a reality of life. Why do we experience suffering? Many times the reason we suffer is because of the sinful actions of others. Joshua and Caleb had to suffer 40 years of walking in the desert, not because of their own actions, but because of the sins of the people. We so often fail to think about how the sins of others affect our lives. Last Sunday morning we talked about how the sin of Achan affected the lives of other people. We saw how far-reaching the effects of sin truly are as Achan’s family and the men of war of Israel died because of Achan’s sin. We suffer because of other people’s bad decisions. We suffer because of other people’s sins. But this was not cause for Caleb to give up on God. Caleb does not throw in the towel because he is suffering for the sins of others. Caleb wholly served the Lord throughout his life.
Volunteered For The Difficult Course.
I greatly appreciate the work that Caleb volunteers to undertake. Caleb does not ask to receive his inheritance from the land that was already conquered so that he could take his ease. He certainly would have deserved to take the easy road at this point. He had made the sacrifices many times up to this point for the Lord. But Caleb does not ask for the land that has already been conquered. Nor does he ask for some easy land to conquer. Caleb asks for the hill country, which is difficult to conquer. Not only does he ask for the hill country, but he asks for the hill country where the Anakim live.
The Anakim were powerful warriors that caused Israel to have great fear. “Listen, Israel: Today you are about to cross the Jordan to go and drive out nations greater and stronger than you with large cities fortified to the heavens. The people are strong and tall, the descendants of the Anakim. You know about them and you have heard it said about them, ‘Who can stand up to the sons of Anak?’ (Deuteronomy 9:1-2). The Anakim were the ancestors of the Nephilim, from which the Philistine giants like Goliath came from (Numbers 13:33). It was because of the Anakim that the spies gave the bad report about the land in the first place, causing Israel to be too afraid to enter the land. Caleb volunteered to do the hard work.
I believe we have lost that kind of attitude in godly service today. We have become minimalists, trying to do as little as possible for the Lord but still not going to hell. Caleb does not try to get by with the bare minimum. He does not ask for the easy route. We do not find any example in the scriptures of a person trying to get away with the bare minimum and being the God’s good favor. Yet how often do we act this way! We do not want to teach Bible classes because that would mean we would have to put in a few hours a week of preparation. We do not want to serve in the worship in a public way. We do not want to set aside time in our schedules to read and study our Bibles. We do not want to go to a gospel meeting, especially if it is in another city where we might have to drive for 30 minutes or an hour. We do not want to even sign up to clean the building for one month! We want to show up at 10:35am, sliding into a back row and leave on the “Amen.” Don’t ask me to do anything else. Yet we are full of ideas what we think a church ought to be doing in the community and for other people, but don’t ask us to lift a finger to do any of it. We just want to ride the coattails of other people’s work. We like seeing the building full of people, but we do not want to do any work to contribute to that effort. Where is the attitude to volunteer to do the work? It should not be so hard to get Bible class teachers. It should not be so hard to get people to participate in worship. It should be so hard to get people to volunteer to clean the building and do it well. Caleb was not lazy toward the Lord, and neither can we be lazy with our service and worship to the Lord. Caleb wanted to conquer the toughest enemies in Canaan. We do not want to get out of bed for 9:30am Bible class and sit in air conditioning for two hours.
Age Was Not A Factor.
When Caleb says that he is ready to go whip the Anakim, how old would you suppose he is? I think we would have figured he is in his twenties, thirties, or maybe forties. Can you believe he is 85 years old! Look at what Caleb says: “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” (Joshua 14:10-11). Can you believe what Caleb just said! Caleb does not say that he is old and that it is time to hang up his boots. Caleb does not say that it is time to retire from serving the Lord. He does not say that he has put in his 85 years and so it is time for him to take his rest.
When you look at Caleb’s words, do you think his physical body was just as strong at 85 as it was when he spied out the land at the age of 40? I do not think I have found any person who is 85 years old who is as physically strong as he or she was at 40. I think Caleb is saying two things to Joshua. First, Caleb is still mentally strong to serve. He has not mentally or spiritually given up on God. He is just as strong in his fervor and love for the Lord at 85 as he was at 40. Caleb is just as on fire to serve God at the end of his life as he was at the beginning of his life. His zeal for the Lord had not waned. Too often the disciples of God do not continue to keep their spiritual strength in the Lord over the years. Recall that this was Jesus’ criticism of the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2. They had lost the love they had at the first. Caleb had not.
Second, I believe Caleb is saying that he is strong enough to conquer the Anakim now just like he could have at 40 years old because the Lord was with him. In fact, Caleb says those very words: “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” (14:12). God was with Caleb and because the Lord was with him, he would be able to drive out these difficult enemies.
This was not the ravings of an old man. Caleb was right that God would be with him and give him the victory. Caleb received as an inheritance the land which included Hebron. The very last verse of Joshua 14 tells us about the victory of Caleb. Hebron was formerly known as Kiriath-arba. Kiriarth-arba means “the city of Arba.” Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim. Caleb volunteered to conquer this land and possess for the glory of the Lord. The greatest man among the Anakim was conquered by the 85 year old Caleb by the strength of the Lord. When God is with us, age does not matter. We cannot say we are too young or we are too old to make an impact for the Lord. Not only can we continue to serve in our old age, we can still make a dramatic impact for the Lord. There is no retirement from God’s army. We need to serve with fervor until the day we die.