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Faith: Lessons from Caleb


By Dr. Bill Korver

 A great deal can be learned from reading about the triumphs and failures of others. I have long enjoyed reading biographies of important leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther. As examples, Lincoln suffered from depression, Churchill craved the attention and approval of his father, and Luther finally discovered what true righteousness was, but another interest of mine is also the study of the men and women whose lives are recorded in the scriptures, the Bible.

One benefit of studying the lives of others is the discovery of examples to follow as well as failures to avoid. In these days of massive cultural change, it is important to have an anchor to help us find and maintain stability in our lives and keep us on course.

Since this is “The Men’s Issue,” I thought it would be appropriate to ask and answer this question: What are some character traits that all men would do well to possess? Clearly the list will not be exhaustive, and these are not exclusive to men.

Caleb is the character we’ll consider. Caleb was born while the nation of Israel was enslaved in Egypt. He spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave, probably helping construct Egypt’s great building projects of that era. In ancient cultures, people were given names that reflected the circumstances or time of their birth. As examples, Moses’ name means, “to draw out,” as in “he was drawn out of the water of the Nile.” Peter’s name means “rock.” His confession of Jesus as the Messiah was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. Do you wonder then what Caleb’s name means? Caleb means “dog.” In that culture, it was the father who chose the name. If we were to ask Jephunneh, Caleb’s dad, “What made you choose that name for your son,” I suppose he would say, “Because, when Caleb was born, as slaves, we were treated like dogs.” 

When Caleb reached forty years of age, God powerfully and miraculously freed Israel from slavery. As the nation journeyed to the land God had promised Abraham, their forefather, twelve leaders were chosen to see what the land and its occupants were like (Numbers 13:1-33). When the twelve returned, everyone agreed the land they had seen was extremely fruitful. It must have been like going from the desert in Arizona to the lush, fertile, black-soil farmland of Iowa. The problem was ten of the twelve said the people of the land were far too big to drive out. Joshua and Caleb, the stark minority, had a different view of the situation. Caleb said, in essence, “Yes the people are big, but the God of Israel, the God of Creation, is far more powerful” (Numbers 13:30).

 What caused Caleb to come to such a conclusion? Hadn’t he seen the same things as the others? I am convinced he believed God’s promises to his ancestor Abraham (Genesis 15:7-15), specifically that God would powerfully deliver Israel from oppression and bring them into the land He had promised. As I see it modeled in Caleb’s life, either you have big problems and a small God or you have a big God and small problems. The first character trait we can learn from Caleb’s life is this: Caleb trusted in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. A man who trusts God’s faithfulness will be greatly used by God.

Years later, 45 years to be exact, we find another episode in Caleb’s life that is instructive. Caleb is now 85 years old and the nation of Israel has entered the land he had spied out 45 years prior. It has now come time to do the hard work of dispossessing people from the land God had given Israel. Caleb passionately asked if he might stake a claim to a certain part of the land. In his plea, recorded in Joshua 14:6-15, Caleb reminded his fellow spy and leader, Joshua, that he had “followed God fully.” In fact, the phrase is used three times in the passage. Put another way, when Caleb had followed God as a 40-year-old leader and was still following God as an 85-year-old.

It was no fad, no flash-in-the-pan sort of season in his life. His was not a New Year’s resolution that was made and promptly broken. After 45 years, he was still going strong and wanted to accomplish great things for God’s glory. This second character trait: Caleb was faithful over the long haul. 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 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 two great lessons and character traits which we can aim to possess and model for others.