Oswald Sanders, who has done a series of character studies from both OT and NT, calls Caleb as ‘the old man who never stopped growing.’ It is my prayer that we will be able to learn some spiritual lessons from Caleb’s life.
Before I outline some of Caleb’s significant spiritual qualities, I think a few introductory words about him is necessary. Unfortunately, not much is known about Caleb’s childhood or early years. All that we know is that he was born in Egypt when the Israelites were still in bondage and he also witnessed God’s mighty hand delivering his people. The first time we read about him is in Numbers 13:6. There we see him as a leader from the tribe of Judah. By then, he was probably already in his early forties. Moses selects him as one of the twelve spies who would go into Canaan to explore the land. This brings us to the first outstanding quality of Caleb’s life.
1) Caleb’s Different Spirit (Num.14:24)
This is no ordinary remark. These are the very words God himself – “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit…” To understand this we need to go back to the previous chapter. The Israelites in their journey towards the promised land had reached a crucial juncture. After travelling for about a year, they had now come closer to their destination. They were in Kadesh Barnea. Another two weeks of journey would take them into the mainland of Canaan. It is then we read that God commanded Moses to select twelve men to spy the land (Num.13:1-3). So, the twelve men went into the promised land and explored the various sections. After forty days, they returned with their reports. And this is what they said (Num.13:27), “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it flows with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large…” If you notice, there was absolute unity in their reporting. However, their interpretations of the data widely differed. The majority said (Num.13: 31-14:4), “We can’t attack those people, they are stronger than us; we saw the Nephilim there; in comparison to them we looked like grasshoppers. The best thing we can do is to get back to Egypt as soon as possible.” In response to this, Caleb said (Num.13:30, 14:8-9), “We should go and take possession of the land, we can certainly do it, God would enable us, Do not be afraid of them.” What a difference in perspective? When ten of them saw the impossible and decided to retreat, Caleb and Joshua stood there challenging the people saying, “is there anything too hard for the Lord?” No wonder, God remarked, “My servant Caleb has a different spirit.”
Caleb is a powerful role model for us. We live in difficult times. Here in our nation, the political and religious scenario is not encouraging. The church of Christ is intimidated all the time. Generally speaking, the future of the Indian church looks bleak in the light of the recent attacks and persecution. It is in this context we need people like Caleb who will stand up and challenge the much prevalent pessimism – people who who will look beyond impossible – people who will dream greater things for God.
A few years back I read an amazing story that talked about faith. It happened in Romania. The nation of Romania was ruled by a Communist dictator called Nicolae from 1965. Right from the beginning, he was ruthless in his attacks against the Christians. The church went underground. Several Christians were imprisoned and tortured. During the early 1970s, a group of pastors gathered for prayer regularly in a place called Timosora. A man called Paul Negruet was one of them. It seems he used to pray like this – “Lord, open our nation for the gospel. Let it be preached from the stadiums, let it be heard from the Romanian radio stations, let it be taught in the universities…and so on.” People who heard him pray like this decried him saying, “We cant even carry our Bibles in public; What makes you pray like this? Be realistic, Be a little more sensible in what you ask God.” Negruet was not discouraged, he continued to pray like that. Guess what? Communism was overturned in 1989 through a revolution and Nicholae had to flee the nation. The Gospel was welcomed by the new political leaders. Thats not the end of the story. In 1991, the united Christian federation of Romania invited Luis Paulo, an international evangelist from Brazil and conducted country wide gospel preaching. It was held in huge stadiums attended by large crowds. Soon gospel radio stations were opened and the nation was flooded with love of Christ. To cut the story short, all that Negreut once dreamed became a reality in his own life time. He was a man who had a different spirit.
2) Caleb’s Spiritual Maturity
I would like to point out three instances from Caleb’s life which elucidates his maturity. First, he stood for his convictions in the midst of ridicule and opposition. Caleb’s proposal to conquer the land was not only rejected by the majority but they were also trying to harm him (Num.14:10). I am doing a bit of speculation here. During the next forty years, whenever the Israelites faced a crises, the majority would have pointed their fingers at Caleb and Joshua – “It is all because of you, if you had allowed us to return to Egypt, we need not have faced this.” Caleb was willing to be singled out. He withstood the pressure to compromise. He stood for his convictions. A sign of spiritual maturity.
Second, Caleb had no grudge against God for making him wander in the wilderness for forty years along the with the disobedient Israelites. We read that the wilderness experience was because of people’s unbelief. The question is, Should Caleb the faithful also reap the consequences of the sin of the majority? It looks totally unfair. But Caleb has no complaints about that. A sign of spiritual maturity.
Third, when Moses steps down from the leadership, Caleb’s colleague Joshua was made as the leader of the Israelites. Why was Joshua chosen over Caleb? We don’t have answers for that. But what strikes us is the way Caleb behaved himself after that. He was neither irritated nor disappointed. He continued to work alongside Joshua joyfully as he did under Moses. This again is a sign of spiritual maturity.
Friends, spiritual maturity is something that the Holy spirit brings into our lives as we yield ourselves to him on a day to day basis. We need to realize that our academic excellence, professional skills, smartness, eloquence, cutting edge techniques and so on, can never replace the much needed spiritual qualities in our lives. The people among who we minister more than anything they look for spiritual maturity in us. That is the only way by which we can truly impact others.
3) Caleb’s Endless Passion
Right from the beginning Caleb was passionate about reaching the Promised Land. He did not allow this passion to subside even in his old age. When the Israelites finally reached the Promised Land, after forty of years wandering, Caleb was about eighty-five. While Joshua was dividing the land among the tribes, Caleb approaches him with a demand. The scripture records a conversation that occurred between them. Num.14:6-12. What an amazing account! “Josh, don’t count me off, I am not yet done.” And God honored Caleb’s passion. In Josh.15:14 we read that he was able to drive the inhabitants from his territories and that part of the land had rest from war.
One of the real dangers in ministry is to lose the initial vigor and passion half way through. Once that happens, ministry then becomes a mechanical and meaningless activity. It will not bring joy to the one who is ministering nor blessing to the ones who are being ministered. There are several why people lose their passion – it may be due to continues discouragements, maybe due to unfulfilled expectations, may be due to lack of resources or support, may be due to opposition from outside, maybe there are other reasons. The life of Caleb challenges us to pursue our service for God with passion till the end. One of the secrets for the sustenance of this passion in Caleb’s life was his wholeheartedness. He did not allow anything to distract him from his goals. His loyalty for God was intact. For us today it means to submit ourselves wholly to the Lordship of Christ.
By Sam K John.