BaptistWay: Caleb's wise leadership

• The BaptistWay lesson for July 21 focuses on Numbers 13:1-2, 17-33; Joshua 14:6-10.

Israel was on the cusp of entering Canaan in Numbers 13. All they had to do was move north and they would have been in the land promised to them by the Lord. God instructed Moses to choose 12 spies, one from each tribe, to spy out the land. They were given specific instructions (Numbers 13:17-20):

• Go to the Negev and hill country.
• See what the land is like.
• See whether the people are strong or weak, few or many.
• See whether the land is good or bad.
• See whether the towns are unwalled or fortified.
• See if the land is rich or poor.
• Does it have trees in it or not?
• Be bold!
• Bring some of the fruit of the land back with you.

It must have been fall, since it was the time of the fruit harvest (v. 20). So, the spies went forth with all the promise of a bountiful land before them.

The spies' report

Forty days and nights passed, the typical Old Testament way of saying, “a significant amount of time,” and the spies returned. Their report started off with one positive statement: “The land flows with milk and honey” (v. 27); that is to say, the land would support shepherding and farming. However, after this initial positive, the report turned negative: The people are strong. The towns are fortified and large. The descendants of Anak live there. And the land is filled with Amalekites, Jebusites, Amorites and Canaanites (vv. 28-29). In other words: Yikes!

I’m not sure what the spies expected to find in Canaan. Did they think they would simply march into the land and be welcomed by the inhabitants? Did they expect to find Canaan in disarray, unable to defend itself? Regardless, their report deeply disturbed the people, and Caleb had to silence them. Unlike the other spies, Caleb was not discouraged by the report. Instead, he stated what he thought was obvious since God was with them: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (v. 30).

Caleb's voice stood alone

But Caleb’s voice stood alone (Joshua’s role in the story only comes out in chapter 14). Conventional wisdom would say the other spies were right. Considering the vast disparity between Israel and the inhabitants of Canaan, the odds Israel would prevail were small. Thus, the people chose to believe the majority report. Caleb’s dissent took great courage in this overwhelming atmosphere of fear. He recognized what the others could not. Israel would overcome the land not because they were militarily stronger. Israel would overcome Canaan because they trusted in God.

But, like a herd of Eeyores, the rest of the spies presented a dismal and terrifying appraisal. “The land devours its inhabitants! The people are giants! We saw the Nephilim and we looked like grasshoppers to them and to ourselves!” (vv. 32-33). The spies’ report snowballed into hysteria, and fear poisoned trust.

If you read the rest of the story in Numbers 14, you discover God was unimpressed by the 10 spies’ assessment and Israel’s melodramatic reaction (vv. 1-12). By the end of the chapter, the older generation of Israelites is told they will not enter the Promised Land but instead wander in the wilderness 40 years until they all die off.

Only the younger generation and Joshua and Caleb will survive to see the land promised by God to Abraham (vv. 26-35). And, just to let everyone know who was right and who was wrong, God strikes the 10 spies dead (vv. 36-37).

Wandering years

Forty years pass. By the time we arrive in Joshua 14, the older generation is dead (including Moses), and the major campaigns led by Joshua are complete. Joshua sends the tribes to their inheritances and instructs them to expel any remaining Canaanites from the land.

Caleb didn’t wait to be told. He approached Joshua and reminded him of his role in the spy episode, “I wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God!” (vv. 6-8). Moses promised Caleb a special inheritance, the city of Hebron, and Caleb now demanded it. But notice Caleb did not request a portion of land already completely conquered.

Rather, he asked for a portion of land that would require him to face the remaining Anakim and their fortified cities. He didn’t ask for a gift. He asked for a challenge—and a daunting and uncertain one at that (vv. 10-12). “It may be that the Lord will be with me and I shall drive them out” (v. 12). Ultimately, Caleb did drive out the Anakim (Joshua 15:13-14) and settled in Hebron. He earned his reward; it was not conferred on him.

Caleb most certainly offered Israel wise and courageous leadership. Yet his wisdom and courage were found not in military prowess, but in trust in God. He was a solitary voice of hope in a chorus of fear. And he was a man who recognized that gifts from God require us to trust and to take action.

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