The Faith of Elderly Caleb

Joshua 14:6-15
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, April 03, 2005
Copyright © 2005, P.G. Mathew

“So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly.”

Joshua 14:14

As Christians grow older, they should grow in faith. The classic example of persevering faith is that of the eighty-five year-old Caleb ben-Jephunneh. God himself certified Caleb to be a man of great faith, one who obeyed God fully. He is an inspiration to all true believers-not just older people, but everyone who is maturing in Christ.

The Scriptures do not speak of Caleb’s death, but they do tell us that when he was eighty-five, he was still a strong warrior. He personally conquered Hebron by defeating the ancient race of giants who dwelt there. Although Caleb was old, he was vigorous and mighty in battle. He illustrates the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, as recorded in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 17, articles 1 and 2:

Section 1: They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

Section 2: This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

This should give us great hope. If we are eternally chosen unto salvation and effectually called, then we will be justified, sanctified, and glorified. Like Caleb, we will persevere to the very end.

Faith Leads

By faith, Caleb was a leader of Judah. We first meet him in Numbers 13:6, which tells us that he was one of the twelve leaders of Israel chosen to spy out the land of Canaan. Born in Egypt, Caleb lived thirty-eight years as a slave of Pharaoh. Like his fellow Hebrews, he was abused by Pharaoh, consigned to making bricks, even without being given the straw to do so.

Then came the exodus. Through Moses, God delivered Israel from their Egyptian slavery through ten supernatural plagues. Caleb was an eyewitness to those miracles and heard the cries of the Egyptian parents whose firstborn sons were killed. Additionally, he witnessed the miraculous parting of the Red Sea and walked through the sea on dry land. He saw the bitter waters of Marah become sweet and drank the cool, clear water that came out of a flinty rock. He personally gathered manna and ate the honey-flavored bread made of it. With his own eyes he daily saw the presence of God in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. He personally fought against the Amalekites and saw God give Israel victory. He was at Mount Sinai when God gave the Ten Commandments and he agreed to abide by God’s covenant law. When others were worshiping the golden calf, Caleb refused to join in, and remained faithful to the God of Israel. Caleb was a leader by faith.

Faith Speaks

Second, Caleb was a spokesman for God. Active faith speaks God’s word. When ten of the spies discouraged Israel from going in and taking possession Canaan by conquest, even though God had told them to go, Joshua and Caleb spoke for God (Numbers 13 and 14). The ten spies spoke out of their unbelief, declaring that the people of Canaan were giants, stronger than them, and that, compared to these giants, the Israelites were like grasshoppers. They described how the Canaanite cities were very large and fortified. They said, “We cannot attack them; we cannot defeat them; we cannot conquer them. We should all go back and surrender ourselves as slaves again to Pharaoh.”

Theirs was the speech of unbelief, but Caleb, in faith, said, “The covenant Lord, the infinite personal God, the God of miracles who delivered us from Egypt, is pleased with us.” That was absolutely true. Because God was pleased with his people, he appeared to Moses in the burning bush, disclosing his plan to deliver his people from their Egyptian bondage, bring them into the Promised Land, and give them the land as an inheritance.

So Caleb told his fellow Israelites, “The Lord is pleased with us. He will lead us into the land. He will fight for us and give the land to us. Only do not be afraid.” He said, “If the Lord is for us, who can be against us?” He said, “No walls, no fortifications, no giants, and no foreign gods can withstand us when the Lord is with us.” That is faith speaking. An unbeliever sees only giants, but a true believer also sees God.

In 2 Corinthians 4:13 Paul says, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.” When we believe God’s promises, we will speak for God as Caleb did. Let me ask you: Do you see God? Do you speak of his power to save, redeem, help, guide, and fight our battles? Or do you simply shrink into a grasshopper? We should listen to the speech of the eighty-five year-old Caleb. He speaks for God.

Faith Believes

Caleb also believed in the promises of God. Because of Israel’s unbelief, the Lord swore to destroy all the fighting men of Caleb’s generation except two-Caleb and Joshua. We can thus calculate that God killed 603,548 men of Israel during their wanderings in the desert. Why did these have to die? Because they refused to mix God’s promise with faith and, thus, they did not enter into the rest that God had promised to them. God killed them in the wilderness for their unbelief.

Like Caleb, all these people saw God’s miracles with their own eyes; yet they rebelled against God, while Caleb believed God’s promises. So God said in Numbers 14:24, “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to,” which is Hebron. Then God added, “and his descendants will inherit it.” When we believe God, our children will also benefit, but when we do not obey God, our children will suffer.

Caleb had a different spirit from those who were killed; he had the Holy Spirit. And because he believed God, Caleb always obeyed God. Therefore God gave Caleb a special, personal promise that he would inherit the city of Hebron. And throughout the intervening years, Caleb by faith kept this promise in his mind. Nothing could shatter his conviction that one day he would conquer Hebron and live in it.

God called Abraham when he was seventy-five years old and promised him children, but Abraham had to wait twenty-five long years before Isaac was born. Caleb also had to wait patiently-for forty-five years-to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise. Yet Caleb persevered.

Caleb was not a covenant-breaker or a quitter. As troubles came, he grew stronger, bolder and more confident in God. Let us understand this truth: If we are Christians, we will have even greater troubles than unbelievers because we stand for truth and Christ. But those who are regenerate will persevere to the very end because God will help them.

Faith Argues for Truth

Next, we see Caleb making his case before Joshua (Joshua 14:6-15). True faith cannot be discouraged; it argues for its cause. Caleb’s argument that he should receive Hebron as his inheritance revolved around the promise the Lord made to him forty-five years earlier. And not only did the Lord promise that Caleb would enter Canaan and inherit Hebron, but God commissioned Caleb to help divide up the inheritance to Israel: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘These are the names of the men who are to assign the land for you as an inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun. And appoint one leader from each tribe to help assign the land. These are their names: Caleb son of Jephunneh, from the tribe of Judah. . . .'” (Numbers 34:16-19).

So as the second generation crossed the mighty Jordan, fought the battles, and conquered the land, the old Caleb fought alongside the younger soldiers. And now, after seven years of fighting, the time arrived to divide the land among the various tribes. When Judah’s turn came, the people came forward, but before the land could be assigned, Caleb stepped up and told Joshua, “Wait! You cannot assign Hebron to anyone else. I have a claim to it. God promised it to me forty-five years ago.”

What was the heart of Caleb’s argument? “The Lord promised.” Caleb was telling Joshua, “Hebron is already spoken for. You don’t need to cast lots or pray. God has already revealed his will in this matter: Hebron is mine!”

Notice Caleb’s emphasis on “the Lord” in Joshua 14: “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me” (v. 6); “My brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly” (v. 8); “So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly'” (v. 9); “Now then, just as the Lord promised. . .” (v. 10); “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day . . . the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said” (v. 12). Joshua could not deny Caleb’s petition, for it was based on the Lord and his promise. So Joshua blessed him and gave him his portion, the hill country of Hebron.

The basis of Caleb’s petition to Joshua was the promise the Lord had made to him. That ought to be the basis of our prayer as well: “Lord, you have promised; now do it for me.” This is how David prayed in 2 Samuel 7:25: “And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised.” What a mighty argument! This is the essence of powerful, prevailing prayer. We should pray according to the will of God, according to what God has promised. And every promise in the Bible is ours.

Faith Fights

Notice also that Caleb, by faith, fought for his inheritance; Caleb was not one to flee from the prospect of fighting. We also should be fighters. We must be unafraid, confident, and unshakable.

Hebron was the place where the patriarchs had lived and died. In Caleb’s time, it was occupied by a race of giants about thirteen feet tall. It must have been terrifying to see such creatures walking about. But Caleb was not afraid. He gloried in the opportunity to fight and defeat the inhabitants of Hebron.

God had preserved Caleb so that, even though he was eighty-five years old, he was still physically and spiritually vigorous. While others would have retired to pursue quieter interests, Caleb was ready to fight! Forty-five years earlier he told the unbelieving sons of Israel, “The Lord is pleased with us and he is with us. Therefore, we can swallow up these giants.” Now, after forty-five years, the aged Caleb, a giant of faith, was ready to do exactly that. He was not merely self-confident. In Joshua 14:12 he says, “The Lord helping me, I will drive them out.” That is the secret of every believer’s success. Caleb was proving true the words of Paul, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). We also must declare with Caleb, “The Lord helping me, I will drive out the giants from my inheritance.”

Was Caleb successful? Joshua 15:14 says, “From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites-Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai-descendants of Anak.” Judges 1:20 tells us, “As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak.” And Judges 1:10 says, “They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron . . . and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai.” Caleb’s faith was fighting faith, bold faith, conquering faith. Such faith will move the mighty mountain.

So Caleb defeated the giants in the name of the Lord, just as David killed the giant Goliath. How did Caleb do it? The Lord was with him. And Caleb added faith to the Lord’s word in Deuteronomy 9:1-3: “Hear, O Israel. You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall-Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: ‘Who can stand up against the Anakites?’ But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.” Such is the language of faith. When we believe God, then we also can say, “I can resist the devil, and he shall flee from me in the name of the Lord.”

The book of Judges states that there were some people the Israelites could not drive out: “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements” (1:27); “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer” (1:29); “Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol” (1:30); “Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Aczib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob” (1:31); “Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath” (1:33) and so on. Why were God’s people unable to drive these Canaanites out? Unbelief. Because the Israelites did not believe in God’s promise, they did not put up a fight. They were seeking peace and affluence, as Francis Schaeffer would say.

That may be true of some of us also. Are you living a defeated life, and have you gotten used to it? Let me assure you, that is not God’s purpose for you. (PGM) God’s purpose is that we live victorious Christian lives. But if we do not believe God’s promises, then we too shall fail to enjoy our inheritance.

Faith Obeys

Of Caleb alone the Bible declares six times that he obeyed the Lord fully. How many people say, “Because we are Christians, we do not have to obey”? But such declarations are proof that they are really not God’s people! True believers “are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Obedience to the covenant Lord is proof of our relationship with him. How can anyone call Jesus Christ “Lord” and not do his will?

False believers call Jesus “Lord,” yet they refuse to obey him. But not so Caleb. God himself certified that Caleb was fully obedient to him: “My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me fully wholeheartedly” (Numbers 14:24). We find the same idea in Numbers 32:12, Deuteronomy 1:36 and Joshua 14:14. Caleb himself declared to Joshua, “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly” (Joshua 14:8, 9).

God calls us “my servants” and is pleased when we fully obey him as Caleb did. Yet we must understand that Caleb was not sinless. Only Jesus is sinless; no one else can ever be sinless in this life. But we must never use our fallen nature as an argument to walk in disobedience. Caleb’s life shows that full, wholehearted obedience is the norm for the Christian life, not unachievable idealism. Though Caleb was a man just like us, he fully obeyed the Lord.

Caleb loved the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, as commanded in Deuteronomy 6:5. He did not turn aside to the right or to the left. That is what it means to be led by the Spirit. The Bible says that those who are led by the Spirit are alone the sons of God. We who are regenerate enjoy the freedom of posse non peccare, the freedom not to sin, because we have a new nature, we have the Holy Spirit within us, and we have God’s revelation that tells us which way to go. God made us who were bad trees to be good trees, and therefore we will produce good fruit.

Faith Rests

Finally, Caleb rested in his inheritance. Earlier, he was persecuted for his faith. When the majority report of the spies came in, the whole congregation grumbled against the Lord. They would have stoned the Lord, but they couldn’t do that, so they threatened to stone Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua. Only because the Lord intervened in all glory were they prevented from doing so.

Let me tell you, such things still happen today. If we are faithful to God and keep his covenant, we will be persecuted, not only by people of the world, but even by those who profess to be children of God. We will not be popular, but will always be in the minority. We will be slandered and vilified. So we must be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. By faith we must fix our eyes on eternal, invisible realities and persevere to the very end.

Not only was Caleb persecuted for his faith, but he also had to wait forty-five years to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise to him because of the unbelief of his fellow Israelites. But faith does not give up. Faith waits patiently to see God fulfill his promises, because faith knows that the almighty, immutable God does not lie. Second Corinthians 1:20 tells us, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” Therefore, faith waits.

Finally, then, the promise was fulfilled. Joshua granted Caleb his inheritance, and Caleb conquered Hebron, destroying its giants by divine power. He entered into his inheritance, resting in it, and enjoying it. The name “Hebron” means communion and fellowship with God. It is the place where Abraham built an altar and worshiped God (Genesis 13:18).

What Is Our Inheritance?

Hebron was Caleb’s inheritance; what is ours? What is our rest, our enjoyment, our treasure? It is good to ask that question. Is it a piece of real estate? Is it great wealth or power? Do not misunderstand me-God certainly provides for our needs, for he said he would, and material things are included in that provision. But real estate is not the sole inheritance that Christians look forward to.

The Scriptures describe the inheritance we should hope for: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26); “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:21-26).

We find our rest in God alone. It is he who said, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” Thus, let me ask you: Is the Lord your portion? Is the Lord your treasure? If so, then you will love him with all your heart and keep his commands as Caleb did.

Suppose you are about to die. Your accountant may come to encourage you by saying, “You have made a lot of money this year. I just want to let you know that.” Another person will come and say, “I know you are about to die. But listen, there is an article in the paper about you-such a wonderful, glowing article. Doesn’t that lift your spirit?” Then someone else may come: “I understand that you like this certain type of food. Well, I have brought you some, and cooked it just the way your like it.” Do you think these things will matter, when you are dying? No. None of them can bring any kind of true encouragement. Such things recede into the background.

In John 14:21 Jesus told us how to have true rest: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” That is what a true believer will be excited about-that communion, that Hebron, that fellowship with God. In verse 23 he continues, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” We are delighted, nourished, and invigorated through fellowship with God. Nothing else can make us happy.

Human beings were created to have communion with God, but sin disrupted this communion. By his obedience to the death of the cross, Jesus reconciled us to God that we may again have communion with him. So once we are born of God, we will fix our eyes on invisible things. We will fix our eyes on Jesus, who is seated on the right hand of God. We will come to the heavenly Zion to worship him, to sing his praise, and to enjoy his presence.

Even the vigorous Caleb had to die, and we shall die also, unless the Lord comes first. In the meantime, we may waste away outwardly, but we do not lose heart because “inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). We are refreshed and invigorated by our holy communion with the Lord. The Lord shows himself to us, and he is our great delight.

God is our portion and our cup. He who became flesh and dwelt among men dwells in us to reveal his glory, majesty, and power to us, that we may delight in him. We feast on him and our souls are nourished. We do not need real estate, fame, or power in this world; rather, we seek the kingdom of God and God himself, who first sought us and found us. He is our life and our hope, and soon we shall be with him forever. But the Lord only shows himself to those who love and obey him; we cannot enjoy this communion without obedience.

So whether you are young or old, learn from Caleb. Follow his example. Be faithful to the covenant Lord. Persevere in the faith. Trust in God’s promises. Do not seek ease, but fight the Lord’s battles in the Lord’s might. Say, “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengtheneth me.” Say, “He is my treasure, my inheritance, my all in all.”

God is with us; therefore, we have nothing to fear. In Isaiah 46:4 God tells us, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” And Psalm 92:12-15 says, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.'”

At the end of his life, Paul calls himself an aged man (Philemon 9). But he also says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Like Caleb, he trusted in God and followed him wholeheartedly.

May we also be like Caleb from this day forward. May we fight the good fight and live in Hebron, enjoying our inheritance. May we fellowship with God and his people, and persevere in the faith until we are granted our full inheritance when he comes again. Amen.