Caleb stands out in the Bible as a great hero of faith. Six times we are told that he “wholly followed the Lord” (Num. 14:24; 32:12; Deut. 1:36; Joshua 14:8–9, 14). Caleb was “an overcomer” (1 John 2:13–14 and 5:4), a man who surrendered wholly to the Lord and fully obeyed His Word. We may trace his spiritual history in four stages.
I. Caleb the Sufferer
Since Caleb was forty years old at Kadesh-barnea (Josh. 14:7), he had to have been born in Egypt while the Jews were enduring great suffering (Ex. 1–2). He was born a slave, yet he died a hero! His parentage is given in Josh. 14:13–14. Some think that Caleb (whose name means “dog”) was of mixed parentage, his father being a Kenezite and his mother from the tribe of Judah (Josh. 15:13). If so, this makes his faith an even greater wonder! However, 1 Chron. 2:18 makes Caleb the son of Hezron, a descendant of Pharez (1 Chron. 2:5); and this would put him in the ancestry of Christ (Matt. 1:3). In either case, Caleb was redeemed by the blood of the Passover lamb, delivered from Egypt, and given the prospects of a great inheritance in Canaan. He would have had no inheritance under Joshua had he not first experienced redemption under Moses.
II. Caleb the Defender (Num. 13–14)
The rebellion of Israel at Kadesh-barnea has already been discussed in previous studies. The nation had been out of Egypt about two years when they arrived at the entrance to Canaan. Instead of believing God’s Word and immediately claiming their inheritance, they asked for a report from twelve spies (Deut. 1:21ff). Caleb and Joshua were among those spies, which shows the position of confidence they held in the nation. When the report was given, only Caleb and Joshua defended Moses and encouraged the nation to enter Canaan. The ten spies despised the land (14:36), while Caleb and Joshua delighted in the land. The nation wanted to go back; the two men of faith wanted to go ahead. The majority was walking by sight; the minority was walking by faith. The rebellious nation saw only the obstacles, the problems; the believing leaders saw the opportunities, the prospects. What was the result? The ten spies and the unbelieving generation died in the wilderness! But Caleb and Joshua lived to enter and enjoy the Promised Land. “To be carnally minded is death” (Rom. 8:6). It took courage for Caleb to stand against the whole nation, but God honored him for it.
III. Caleb the Wanderer
Caleb did not die in the wilderness, but he still had to suffer with the unbelieving nation during their nearly forty years of wandering. Think of what this godly, believing man had to endure! Every single day he saw people die and miss out on their inheritance. He had to listen to the murmuring and complaining. This man of faith had to put up with the unbelief of his fellow Israelites. He loved Moses, yet he had to listen to the Jews as they criticized their leader and opposed him.
How was Caleb able to maintain his spiritual life when surrounded by so much carnality and unbelief? His heart was in Canaan! God had given him a wonderful inheritance (read Josh. 14:9–12), and though his body was in the wilderness, his heart and mind were in Canaan! He is a perfect illustration of Col. 3:1–4. He possessed what Rom. 8:6 refers to as “the spiritual mind.” Caleb was able to endure the trials of the wilderness because he knew that he did not have to fear death, that he had an inheritance, and that God would not fail him. How much more we have in Christ! Yet we give up so easily and fail in our pilgrim journey.
IV. Caleb the Conqueror
This brings us to our study of Joshua 14–15. Joshua is giving each tribe its special inheritance, and Caleb comes to claim his share. He reminds Joshua of God’s promise (14:6–9), for it is only on the basis of God’s Word that we can claim our blessings. Note the glorious testimony of strength Caleb gives (14:10–11). The person of faith is the person with strength. Forty-five years after the nation’s failure at Kadesh-barnea, Caleb is eighty-five years old, yet he is anxious to claim his inheritance to the glory of God. It is sad when believers allow “old age” to make complainers out of them when they ought (like Caleb) to be conquerors.
“Give me this mountain!” (14:12) Caleb was a man of spiritual vision as well as spiritual vitality, and these two qualities led to spiritual victory. God had promised him the inheritance, and Caleb had faith that what God promised He was able to perform (see Rom. 4:20–21). Caleb was able to drive out the inhabitants of his inheritance (Josh. 15:13–14), the very “giants” that the ten unbelieving spies had feared (Num. 13:28, 33). Unbelief looks at the giants; faith looks to God. Unbelief depends on man’s “common sense”; faith rests wholly on the Word of God.
Caleb’s nephew Othniel helped him in one of his conquests (Josh. 15:15–17) and gained Caleb’s daughter for a wife. This man later became the first judge of Israel (Jud. 3:9ff), and thus carried on the family leadership. Caleb’s daughter illustrates a wonderful spiritual truth. After her marriage to Othniel, she returned to her father to ask for a further blessing (15:18–19). Caleb had given her a field, but she also wanted the springs of water to nourish the field. The Christian should joyfully continue to ask the Father for greater blessings, especially for the “spiritual springs” that water the fruitful life. The field that God gives us will never produce fruit apart from the springs of water (John 7:37–39).
What a difference it makes when believers “wholly follow the Lord” and exercise faith in the Word. Caleb’s dedication and faith saved his life, gained him an inheritance, overcame the enemy, and enabled him to enrich his own family for years to come. The Lord certainly expects Christians today to be conquerors; in fact, Paul claims that we are “more than conquerors!” (Rom. 8:37) Joshua and Caleb conquered with physical weapons and claimed a material inheritance, but we conquer with spiritual weapons (2 Cor. 10:3–5) to claim our spiritual inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Christians are supposed to be overcomers through faith in Christ (1 John 5:4). We are to overcome the world (1 John 5:5), false doctrine (1 John 4:1–4), and the wicked one (1 John 2:13–14). Christ has already overcome Satan (Luke 11:21–22) and the world (John 16:33), so that we need only to claim His victory by faith. Note in the letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3) the many promises to those who overcome. “He who overcomes shall inherit all things!” promises Rev. 21:7 (NKJV).
We overcome the enemy and claim the inheritance the same way as Caleb: (1) we must be wholly yielded to the Lord; (2) we must know His promises and believe them; (3) we must keep heart and mind fixed on the inheritance; (4) we must depend on God to give the victory. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57, NKJV).
Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.