Reigniting your Faith - Joshua 14:6-15

The faith of Caleb rekindled at Hebron
 On Sunday, April-10, the Sunday Sermon revolved around the subject of faith. Our Biblical text was Joshua 14. From the unfortunate incident the Ten Spies (Numbers 13 & 14), Joshua and Caleb were given a pledge by the Lord that they would survive to one day enter the land: God said: “…As surely as I live, the glory of God will fill the world. All of the men who saw My glory and My signs that I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness – who nevertheless tested Me these ten times and did not listen to My words – they will not see the land that I swore to their ancestors. All of those that blasphemed Me will not see it. But My servant Caleb who was of a different spirit and followed after Me, him I will bring to the land to which he arrived, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Num. 14:20–24)
I would like to clarify the some of the points I brought up in my sermon based upon some of the “Midrashic” tradition of the ancient rabbinic sages and the Talmud.
While Joshua continued to occupy a prominent role in the account of the wilderness (Num. 27:15–23; 32:28; 34:17) and eventually succeeded Moses as leader of Israel, Caleb passed from the Torah’s narratives until this episode in the Book of Joshua. Although there are two intervening mentions of him in Numbers (26:65; 32:12), both are references to the earlier incident of the spies. How astonishing then to hear from him again, more than four decades after our last encounter!  To be exact, it had been forty-five years since he had embarked on that fateful mission, as he himself relates: “I was forty years old when Moses sent me…. And now, behold I am today eighty-five years old” (Josh. 14:7, 10). Caleb now asks Joshua for a very particular plot of land: “And now, give me this ridge concerning which God spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that there are giants there, and great, fortified cities. Perhaps God will continue to be with me so that I will drive them out, as God has spoken.” Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb, son of Yefuneh as an inheritance. (Josh. 14:12–13).
The ancient city of Hebron, located at the southern end of the range of hills that runs the length of Canaan, is familiar to us as the burial site of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah – the patriarchs and matriarchs of the people of Israel (see Genesis 23). In Joshua 14:1-12, Caleb maintains that Hebron was pledged to him by Moses himself: “Moses swore on that day saying, ‘Surely the very land upon which your foot WALKED shall be yours and your descendants’ inheritance forever, for you followed the Lord my God.’” When Moses recounts the incident of the spies in Deuteronomy, he makes clear that the pledge came from God: “Caleb, son of Yefuneh will surely see it [the land] and I will give to him and to his descendants the land upon which he WALKED, for he followed God” (Deut. 1:36). This is also indicated by the original passage from the Book of Numbers, in which God is the speaker: “But My servant Caleb who was of a different spirit and followed after Me, him I will bring to the land to which he arrived, and his descendants will inherit it” (Num. 14:24).
Mysteriously, however, the travels of Caleb to Hebron are never mentioned explicitly in the original account of the episode of the spies.  Numbers 13:22 states: “They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)”
The actual Hebrew text reads: “They went up [VaYa’alu] from the Negev and he arrived [vayavo] at Hebron, and there were to be found Aĥiman, Sheishai, and Talmai the sons of the giant. Now Hebron had been built seven years before Tzo’an [Tanis] in Egypt. They arrived [vayavo’u] at the wadi of Eshkol and there cut a vine with a cluster of grapes that two of them carried on a staff, and took also from the pomegranates and figs. That place they called Naĥal Eshkol because of the cluster [eshkol] that the people of Israel cut. (Num. 13:22–24) “
In contrast to the other travels that the spies undertook, the arrival at Hebron is phrased in the singular. While this indicates that only one member of the expedition visited the site, nowhere does the text explicitly state that it was Caleb who traveled to Hebron. The matter is left unstated, obscured by the use of the indefinite pronoun. It is only in our passage in Joshua that the necessary clarification is provided: God and His servant Moses pledged to Caleb that he would receive the very land upon which he trod. That was none other than the place of Hebron, for it was none other than Caleb who arrived at Hebron in Numbers 13:22.
Why would the text of the Book of Numbers leave that critical detail unmentioned? Conversely, why does the account of the tribal territories in the Book of Joshua begin with that very detail? It is the Hebraic tradition of the great Rabbinic Sage Rashi (Num. 13:22) and drawn from the Talmud that alerts us to a possible solution: “He arrived at Hebron” – This refers to Caleb who went there alone and threw himself upon at the graves of his ancestors - his grandfathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and grandmothers (Sarah, Rebecca and Leah) - begging God to preserve him from the evil counsel of his 10 brothers who did NOT want to go into the promised land. Thus, God says, “I will give him the land upon which he WALKED” [Deut. 1:36], and it later states that “they gave Hebron to Caleb” [Judges 1:20]. (Sota 34b)
This rabbinic tradition links the visit of Caleb to Hebron, a city inhabited by a race of giants.
Hebron is the burial place of the ancestors of Israel.  Abraham first established a more permanent presence there by purchasing the cave of Makhpela as a family burial place. The relevant passages in Genesis (23:1–20, 25:9–10, 35:27–29, 49:29–32, 50:13) leave no doubt that in the collective consciousness of the people of Israel, Hebron and its cave of Makhpela not only mark the final resting place of our spiritual ancestors, but also signify their intense connection to Canaan. Their desire to be buried in Makhpela’s sand was the final expression of their lifelong trust that God would one day give Canaan to their descendants, who would possess it as a nation and there realize their unique destiny.
Caleb’s visit to Hebron, despite the danger suggested by the presence of the “giants,” was thus understood by the rabbinic tradition to indicate more than a spy mission. Caleb took off from the midst of the other spies due to their negatitivity. Caleb went to Hebron and to the cave of Makhpela, seeking to draw from that place the spiritual strength that he would need to oppose the “bad report.” But from that pilgrimage Caleb also hoped to draw inspiration for the people of Israel to remain steadfast in their faith that God’s pledge to bring them into the land would be realized. In our mind’s eye, we can see him part from his unbelieving brethren and set his sights for Hebron, even as they try to dissuade him with dire warnings of massive armies of giants. But he will not be discouraged. In Hebron, Caleb discovers the promise of Abraham sealed to the land of Canaan in the cave of Makhpela. Hebron is the encounter with Israel’s deepest roots in Canaan. The ancestral tomb signifies an everlasting love for the land and the absolute trust in God’s as-yet unfulfilled promise of nationhood.
The tragedy of the spies preserved in the Book of Numbers is for the most part an exploration of the limits of trust. On the one hand, God indicated to the people that the land of Canaan was beautiful, bountiful, and within reach. On the other hand, the spies surveyed a land that was filled with fortified cities populated by powerful and hostile tribes. How could Israel, scarcely freed from the grip of a prolonged Egyptian bondage that had enslaved the body and crushed the soul, persevere against them, except by believing in God’s promise? The account of the spies, their crisis of confidence precipitated by a lack of trust, is no place to highlight the heroism of Caleb, who was so obviously filled with a “different spirit.” Theirs was a tale of downfall and failure, while Caleb’s story was the story of conviction and triumph. The 10 spies betrayed the traditions of their forefathers who believed God’s word despite all, while Caleb knew in his innermost heart that His pledge to them would be upheld. The counsel of the 10 spies won the day, that generation was plunged into the abyss, and Caleb’s visit to Hebron was therefore concealed by the text.
Our passage in the Book of Joshua is about God as a promise-keeper. For 40 years the people of Israel walked thru the barren wilderness to successfully enter the land and to conquer its powerful Canaanite alliances. They finally stand at the threshold of God’s promise being fulfilled. With the main battles over, they prepare to formally divide up the land among the tribes. What more fitting way to introduce this great undertaking than by emphasizing the unshakable faith of Caleb? The section therefore begins with a moving recollection of Caleb’s visit to Hebron some forty-five years earlier, an expedition that not only offers dazzling proof of his own perseverance, but also provided the people of Israel with a paradigm for the nurture of their own spiritual fortitude. Caleb is still alive to recount those ancient events, standing before them with his vigor undiminished and his trust in God undimmed, while his 10 comrades and their fearful followers have perished long, long ago.
Joshua Chapter 14 tells all believers that Israel’s success in the land will ultimately be a function of adopting not only Caleb’s long-term view point (85+ years of waiting), but also his lifelong trust as the foundation of their own, in order to complete the awesome task of settlement that God now places before them: “Therefore was Hebron given to Caleb the son of Yefuneh the Kenizite as an inheritance until this very day, for he followed after the Lord, God of Israel” (Josh. 14:14).
The character traits we can learn from Caleb’s life are:
  1. Caleb trusted in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. A woman or man who trusts God’s faithfulness will be greatly used by God. It was no fad, no flash-in-the-pan sort of season in his life. Caleb’s commitment was not a New Year’s resolution that was made and promptly broken.
  1. After 45 years, he was still going strong and wanted to accomplish great things for God’s glory. Caleb was faithful over the long haul. To do this, you must constantly remember, rehearse and repeat the promises of God to you from the Word and Spirit of God. Hold it close to your heart, despite the unbelief that currently swirls around you.
Now, how about you? Have you given up on tackling great things for God? Are you still in the game, putting forth your best effort or have you reclined to the bench or sofa to watch the younger generation attempt great things for God? A man or woman who remains faithful to God’s purpose will be greatly used by God.
Though Caleb had a “dog’s life” the first 40 years of his life, during the next 45 years, he still believed God would be faithful to His promises. From his actions, we can learn that nothing is impossible to the one who believes and walks in the Lord’s Word and Way (Luke 1:37) to honor the Lord’s Will for his/her life and community.
  1. Hattin, Michael. Joshua: The Challenge of the Promised Land . The Toby Press.