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Bible

Caleb

‘Give Me This Mountain!’ (Text: Joshua 14:6-13)

CALEB is one of my biblical heroes. We don’t know very much about him,
but the few clues we are given tell us of a very impressive man.

Caleb was a person who never stopped growing. His name, suggests one
Bible scholar, means ‘all heart’ – he reminds us of John Bunyan’s
character Mr Greatheart.

M. Scott Peck’s best-selling book about grace and maturity, The Road
Less Traveled, begins unforgettably with the words ‘Life is difficult’.
It is. Caleb knew that, but ‘took life by the throat’ and confronted
difficulties head-on. At age 85 he comes to Joshua asking for the
personal allotment of land promised by Moses. He had a right to sit down
and take it easy – take off his army boots and put on his slippers. He’d
survived 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and then the invasion
of Canaan. Of the thousands who left Egypt, he and Joshua were the only
ones the Lord allowed to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

What do we know about this remarkably complete man that can help us
understand how to live to a godly old age?

1. CALEB WAS A RISK-TAKER FOR GOD, WHO REFUSED TO BE DISCOURAGED.

Caleb is a living example of the old adage ‘If you can’t beat ’em join
’em.’ Apparently the Israelites picked up various groups and clans as
they journeyed towards their Promised Land – one of these was Caleb’s.
He was a Kenizzite, an Edomite, which means he was a descendent of Esau
rather than Jacob, and he and his clan got assimilated into the tribe of
Judah.

Although this might seem opportunistic, don’t forget Caleb would have
had to live with the disapproval of his fellow-Edomites: ‘What?
Deserting us to join the enemy?’ In times of war this is called
‘treason’, and Caleb and his clan would have had to be careful to watch
their backs!

But despite his adverse pedigree Caleb, rose to a position of some
prominence among the tribes of Israel. He refused to be ‘a prisoner of
his scripting’. In the Lord’s work today there is a desperate need for
leaders like Caleb, particularly among Australians, who are not noted
for nurturing ‘tall poppies’.

According to Deuteronomy 1:22, Moses was urging the people to go into
the Promised Land and conquer it, claim it. Moses had told them over and
over that God would be with them, and the land was good (see Exodus
3:8). But they did what many groups do who don’t want to do anything –
they set up a committee to investigate: let’s send twelve spies into the
land to search out the best route. Numbers 13 and 14 tell the story. The
person chosen remarkably enough to represent the important tribe of
Judah was this Gentile Caleb. Joshua and Caleb and ten others explored a
land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. They brought back a bunch of grapes
so huge it took two men to carry it. In the desert they’d probably never
seen grapes. In their wildest imagination they hadn’t conceived of
grapes like these.

But there were two problems – giants, and the walled cities they lived
in. So the committee was divided ten to two. Ten of the spies measured
the giants against themselves: we can’t do it, they said. They are
stronger than we are. We’re like grasshoppers compared to them. The
spies had gone to Hebron, the very place where Abraham received the
promise of the land of Canaan (Genesis 13:18). But all the promises of
God to their great forefather, the power God had displayed so many
miraculous times, were all forgotten as they saw those high walls and
those giants.

Two – one of them Caleb – measured the giants against God. To a great
God those giants were very puny. Caleb was prepared to do what leaders
are supposed to do – lead. But the people were restive, afraid of this
mammoth new venture, and what followed is a good example of what happens
when leaders let the crowd write the agenda. Fear degenerated into
panic.

Caleb at this point was a man in his prime, aged forty-five. ‘Yeah, we
can do it! Let’s go! The Lord is with us – that’s all that matters!’ The
trouble was the Israelites listened to the pessimists – and as a result
spent 40 years wandering around the Sinai desert until a whole
generation died off.

The problems, the obstacles, were huge but Caleb was the sort of person
who saw problems as opportunities, difficulties as challenges.

One of the characteristics of ‘statesmen/women’ over other leaders is
that they usually hold a minority opinion about something very
important, and have to wait until the tribes catch up. They are strong
enough to be comfortable in the minority: if they believe their position
is right, they’ll stick to it, albeit showing patience and love to
others who don’t yet see reality their way. There’s nothing much worse
than the ‘idolatry of the majority’.

The ten spies may have been perfectly accurate in their comparison: the
people perhaps were like grasshoppers compared to the Canaanite giants.
There’s no argument against being realistic. However those Canaanites
might also have been ordinary people whose size was magnified by
cowardice and weakness. The size of the enemy is always relative.

Today our secular culture seems a huge obstacle against the preaching of
the Christian gospel. Australians are supposed to be unresponsive to the
Christian gospel: we’re reckoned to be the most secular nation on earth;
our public institutions less pervaded by religion than anywhere else. My
belief is that Australians are very responsive when our message is both
faithful to the biblical Good News and communicated appropriately within
our culture. We’ve used excuses where we should have been more open to
the wonderful opportunities all around us.

Where you stand determines what you see. Only half the facts will lead
you to the wrong conclusion. Instead of comparing the giants with
themselves the ten spies should have compared them to God. The unbelief
equation is simply ‘facts without faith equals despair’.

So our task is to assess realistically the world in which we live, in
the light of what God wants us to do in it. There are enemies – the
world created by our sovereign Lord has been hijacked by an enemy, whom
Jesus calls ‘the evil one’. But there are milk and honey too. The
creation mandate has never been revoked: God saw that creation was good:
and if you see it with the eyes of faith it’s still good. Creation’s
sinfulness and fallenness is not its essence; goodness is. The Dominican
scholar Matthew Fox is teaching us that Western Christendom has for too
long been infected with a Pharisaic mind-set: defining human reality
primarily in terms of its sinfulness rather than the ‘imago dei’, our
likeness to the Creator-God. Reminds me of the classic example of
surrealist art: a painting emphasizing the manure heap in the corner of
the field, rather than the flowers all over it.

As a result of his faithfulness in bringing back a positive report Moses
promised Caleb a mountainous area near Hebron. Because of the negative
recommendation of the other ten spies Caleb with all the others was
sentenced to ’40 years hard labour’ in the desert. But there was no hint
that he was discouraged by that. He could have thrown up his hands in
angry despair and adopted a ‘What’s the use, with this mob?’ or ‘I told
you so’ attitude, particularly when people started dropping dead all
around him.

But all the great leaders in the Bible had their leadership skills honed
in deserts (or, if not deserts, prisons). Neither Caleb nor we are
exempt from that rule. Every leader has to find a desert somewhere for
retreat and reflection and renewal.

And each of us gets disappointed in other people from time to time: they
don’t live up to our expectations. Joseph was sold into slavery by his
brothers – but he didn’t give up. Paul, writing with a sad heart told
how one of his friends had forsaken him to follow the world. However
Paul didn’t cease preaching the gospel because Demas did. James says
facing trials produces the ability to endure, the kind of patience that
makes you perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:3,4).

And after all that Caleb knew what he wanted: ‘give me this mountain.’
He didn’t ask for an easy job. It was the most hilly part in the area,
infested by giants. Israel’s enemies were strongest here – the most
difficult part of the whole Promised Land to subdue. But Caleb at 85
said ‘give me that.’ Caleb feared no foe and desired no rest.

There’s a saying that a person of vision and faith does the most
difficult thing now and leaves the impossible until later. That was
Caleb. Let’s get on with God has called us to do and refuse to be
discouraged. ‘Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will
reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up’ (Galatians 6:9).

2. CALEB WAS A MAN OF FAITH AND HOPE.

Fear looks at the problems, faith claims the opportunities. Sure there
are problems. This life is not for the faint-hearted. The giants are
big, their strength superhuman, their reputation terrifying. We’re just
like grasshoppers compared with the great tasks lying before us. How
desperately we need more Calebs with their faith and courage and
know-how to lead us into the Promised Land. And now forty years after
the abortive spying mission, this giant of faith was still hanging in
there. Despite the huge problems, Caleb plus God was a majority. When we
understand God’s faithfulness and power the difficulties assume their
true proportions.

Faith and hope (and love) are the keys to knowing God.

There are two kinds of faith: fides, faith or belief that, and fiducia,
faith in. Both kinds of faith are gifts from God, available to everyone
(Ephesians 6:23, 2:8,9). Belief about God is necessary before we can
have faith in God. So God is graciously revealed to us in nature,
history, the prophets, the redeemed community, and supremely in Jesus.
When we read the Bible or hear the preacher and become convinced in our
minds that this God is worth entrusting one’s life to, we make the big
commitment: we commit ourselves to God, with our hearts, our wills, our
whole life.

Then we begin to nurture and exercise our faith to make it grow. The
apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5). Jesus said
‘Everything is possible to the one who has faith’ (Mark 9:23). What we
need is not so much great faith in God but faith in a great God! You
don’t have to have all the answers (like you don’t have to know all
about electricity before you switch on the light).

Faith is trusting the Lord, even when we do not understand all that is
happening to us.

But faith doesn’t mean switching off your reason. In 18th century Europe
many churches had to make a fearful decision: should they install
lightning rods or pray to God to protect them? Some opted for prayer,
and attempted to appease the Almighty by ringing the church bells during
thunderstorms (and 12 German bell-ringers died in a 33 year period). The
congregation of the church of San Nazaro in Brescia, Italy, not only
rejected the protection of lightning rods but also had sufficient faith
in the sanctity of their church to store 100 tonnes of gunpowder in its
vaults. In 1767 lightning struck the church and ignited the gunpowder,
causing an explosion which destroyed one-sixth of the city and killed
3000 people. (Snake-handlers in rural America have died for similar
silliness!). Jeremiah told his compatriots not to believe they were safe
simply because ‘this is the Lord’s Temple, this is the Lord’s Temple,
this is the Lord’s Temple’ (Jeremiah 7:1-4).

But as our faith grows, and we know the God in whom we trust is loving,
and utterly faithful, we sometimes have to trust God when our ‘reason’
can’t supply all the answers.

Have you heard of the man who was mountain-climbing in the American
Rockies, along a very rugged track? Suddenly he slipped, falling over a
cliff. He grabbed the roots of a tree and hung there. When he got his
breath back he looked down and saw an enormous drop. If he fell, he’d
certainly be killed. Looking up, the cliff top was so far above him he
couldn’t climb back. In desperation, although he knew he was alone, he
cried out ‘Is anyone up there?’ He was startled to hear a booming voice
say ‘Yes!’ ‘Can you help me?’ ‘Yes’ came the response. ‘What must I do?’
The voice answered ‘Let go!’. There was a long pause, then finally the
man called out ‘Is anybody else up there?’

How does faith grow? A step at a time. In my files there are about 200
stories of people who’ve had a strong faith. They all had these features
in common:

# Their faith grew because they had a particular view of God – a God who
is always available, who loves us, who desires the best for us. So their
faith is in a God who believes in us, as well as our believing in God!
This God is powerful, and is always trustworthy. So they fed their faith
on the stories in the Bible, reading them over and over again: if God
did it for them, God will do it for me!

# They noted the importance of faith in the teachings of Jesus (Matthew
8:10/Luke 7:9; Matthew 9:2/Mark 2:5/Luke 5:20; Matthew 9:29; Matthew
15:28; Mark 11:22; Luke 7:50; Luke 8:25/Mark 4:35-41/Matthew 8:23-27).

# They used the faith they had, not the faith they didn’t have. And they
were obedient in their use of that faith. In Luke 17 Jesus says we
should forgive someone who sins against us seven times in one day! The
disciples ask – reasonably enough we might think – for more faith to do
this. Jesus brushes off the request, saying, in effect, ‘What you need
isn’t more faith, but using the faith you already have! Your problem
isn’t faith or the lack of it, but obedience!’ To grow stronger, you
don’t need a muscle transplant, but to exercise the muscles you have!
Trust and obey says the old hymn – and that’s still good advice.

# They think of possibilities. Just as Augustine wrote the biography of
sin in four words: a thought, a form, a fascination, a fall, so faith
begins with your thoughts of faith. Faith-full people ‘image’
possibilities, believing ‘all things are possible to the one who
believes’. They link their faith to a vision.

# They verbalize this commitment to a dream – they talk to themselves
about it, and to others! They repeat faith-formulas in their prayer: ‘I
can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Phil.4:13).
‘Perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18). (Find a few more).

# But they aren’t off-the-planet idealists: they analyze situations;
they research the whole thing; they get all the facts together; they
find a need and fill it; they become consumed with this vision; they
organize and plan to reach their God-inspired destiny.

# Once they’ve used their minds in all these ways, they are prepared to
take risks (the story of Abraham, leaving his secure home and country to
ride off into the west appeals to them greatly!).

# They follow Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8: ‘Whatever is true,
noble, right, pure, lovely and honourable… keep on thinking about
these things.’ Just as a clean engine gives more power, so a clean life
is more in tune with the infinitely powerful God.

# They feed their faith by discipline and hard work.

Unfortunately for many in our churches ‘the faith’ is a body of beliefs
they affirm in the creed – ‘faith about’ God but not yet faith in God.
The church is thus a social club with a religious flavour. It is very
dangerous when such a church elects spiritually uncommitted people to
high office. A church that’s alive will be stretching their people’s
faith all the time.

The pastor of a dynamic church in England was preaching about the
wonderful opportunities all around their parish. His text: Deuteronomy
1:19 ff. ‘Look, there is the land. Go and occupy it as the Lord your God
commanded. Do not hesitate or be afraid. The Lord your God will lead
you.’ To press his point he gave out 800 seedless grapes to the people
(seedless in deference to the caretaker!). ‘God is leading us!’ he
preached that day. ‘Men and women of faith – lead, conquer, win – take
these grapes to others!’

Now ‘fides’ faith includes an ingredient of optimism, but biblical faith
is more than optimism. So is the biblical idea of hope. The New
Testament talks about the ‘patience of hope’. Christian hope is deep;
mere optimism may be shallow. Optimism may be a good natural trait – and
have no religious connections at all. ‘Hope’, says John Macquarrie is
his little book The Humility of God, ‘is humble, trustful, vulnerable.
Optimism is arrogant, brash, complacent… Our hope is not that in spite
of everything we do, all will turn out for the best. Our hope is rather
that God is with us and ahead of us, opening a way in which we can
responsibly follow.’

Hope is not conditional upon trouble being removed. Hope means God is
with us in trouble and in triumph. Resurrection hope means God is with
us in life and death. Hope means the God who was with faithful people in
the past will be with them always.

Hope is a primal human need. Victor Frankl was a young psychiatrist who
had just begun his practice when the Germans took over his native Vienna
and shipped him and his fellow-Jews off to a concentration camp. Then
began the awesome task of survival. With his trained psychiatric eye he
noted that many prisoners simply crumpled under the pressure and
eventually died. But some didn’t, and Frankl made it his mission to get
to know these special people and discover their secret. Without
exception, those who survived had something to live for. One man had a
retarded child back home he wanted to care for. Another was deeply in
love with a girl he wanted to marry. Frankl himself aspired to be a
writer, and was in the middle of his first manuscript when he was
arrested: the drive to live and finish the book was very great. Frankl
did survive, and has contributed greatly to our understanding of the
human ‘will to meaning’. He developed a process called ‘logotherapy’,
which, expressed as a simple question is: ‘If the presence of purpose or
meaning gives one the strength to carry on, how do we human beings get
it touch with it?’

Caleb’s answer was, in one word, HOPE. Human persons are ‘hopeful
beings’. Where there’s hope there’s life. That’s because our God is a
‘God of hope’ (Romans 15:13); those who don’t know God are ‘without
hope’ (Ephesians 2:12).

Once when Martin Luther was feeling depressed, his wife asked if he’d
heard God had died. Luther replied angrily that she was blaspheming. She
retorted that if God had indeed not died what right had he to be
despondent and without hope!

Hope, says Martin Buber, is ‘imagining the real’. It is not fantasy or
wishful thinking – like Mr. Micawber’s ‘hoping that something will turn
up’. It’s not ‘she’ll be right mate’! Hope deals with imagining
possibilities, then having the faith to work hard to see those
possibilities realized.

3. CALEB WAS A MAN OF ENERGY and SELF-DISCIPLINE.

‘Faith’ and ‘hope’ don’t mean expecting God to do for you what you can
do for yourself. As we said before, Caleb could have adopted the
attitude ‘Now I’m 85 I’ve earned the right to take it easy. I know Moses
offered me that mountain country around Hebron, but how about switching
to ‘Plan B’ – a nice fertile valley that’s already been conquered so I
can settle down?’

Caleb fought the great battle with the ‘sons of Anak’. The story is
described simply in a few verses in Joshua 15. Now I’m not suggesting
you do this to people who oppose your goals: the kind of militarism that
pervades the Old Testament must be viewed now through the prism of the
more perfect revelation we have in Jesus.

We too have gigantic opportunities. Our task is to fulfil Jesus’ mandate
to care for the poor and liberate the oppressed (Luke 4:16-19) and obey
his commission to disciple the nations (Matthew 28: 18-20). Our task is
to conscientize this lucky country, without diluting our Christianness
as we communicate to pagans and the church Jesus’ message of love,
forgiveness, compassion and justice.

With God the giants are vulnerable. Caleb was no fool, not blind or
stupid. Fighting giants in mountain country is difficult. Fighting
ordinary-sized people in mountain country is difficult when they don’t
want you invading their territory. (Ask the Russians about
Afghanistan!).

Note one more thing about Caleb. He wasn’t part of the rebellion against
the leadership of Moses and Aaron. There’s no hint about a leadership
struggle between himself and Joshua: he was willing to be accountable.
He wasn’t even elected second-in-command of the army when Moses died.
But when he came to Joshua to claim his inheritance they had the sort of
relationship that led Joshua spontaneously to bless him. Isn’t that
nice?

Caleb’s eulogy (Joshua 14:14): he ‘faithfully obeyed the Lord’ (GNB); he
‘wholeheartedly followed the Lord’ (NRSV); or as the Jerusalem Bible
translates it he ‘scrupulously obeyed the Lord’. I wonder if they’ll say
that about me, about you? Obedience means that when our Lord, our
Master, our King asks us to do something we jump to it!

So in the story of Caleb you have in contrast the fear of people who
look at difficulties, and the faith of those who look to the Lord. Just
as he inherited the place where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah,
Jacob and Leah were buried, may we follow in his footsteps.

It is a sobering thought that just ten people in the whole company of
the people of Israel were able to infect the rest with their faithless
unbelief. May God give us something of Caleb’s strong faith hope and
courage, so that we might fulfil our God-ordained destiny.

Let us get to know our God, get to know the world in which we serve our
God, and let’s get these two in proportion. With the help of Caleb’s God
who is our God, we can conquer these mountains. Let us go forward
together in God’s power, giving courage to those who go with us…


DISCUSS:

# Tell the story of a ‘Caleb’ you know: someone who has kept the faith
and their vitality until well into their senior years. How did that
person get to be like that?

# What is likely to get you discouraged? How do we tap into the
resources Caleb had access to?

# Share your faith-struggles with your group. How does the example of
Caleb inspire/help you?

# ‘The Western World is not good at preparing its people for inevitable
trouble.’ Agree/disagree? Why?

# Discuss Macquarrie’s distinction between hope and optimism. Where do
‘positive/possibility thinking’ ideas fit in with this distinction?

# Caleb’s eulogy: ‘he faithfully obeyed the Lord’. Here’s an interesting
exercise. Imagine your funeral. Someone who knows you well presents to
the mourners a eulogy about you. Write down – honestly – what it might
say! Share it with your Spiritual Director.

Rowland Croucher

February 1999.

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