One man stands out to me when I read about the children of Israel frittering away forty years in the wilderness: Caleb, Joshua’s partner in clandestine operations.
The two of them, along with ten other men – one from each tribe – were commissioned by Moses to explore the territory of Canaan, the Lord’s land of promise for His chosen people.
After a forty-day exploration which started in the dry southern Negev, moved on to Hebron (where King David later ruled for seven years before becoming King of all Israel) and ended in the Valley of Eshcol where the humongous grape branch bearing a single cluster of grapes was cut and carried back on a pole between two men, Caleb was convinced. He was a three-point preacher and a cheerleader: 1) “We should go up…” 2) “…take possession of the land…” 3) “…we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30)
Unfortunately, the rest of the story is that Caleb and Joshua were the only “glass half full and overflowing” reporters from the company of explorers. And because they were persuaded the Lord was with them to conquer and inhabit Canaan, they were the only two of the twelve spies the Lord allowed to live and be brought into the land that indeed “flowed with milk and honey.”
Caleb’s entire story is fascinating. Even more fascinating is the distinction the Lord made about this man. In Numbers 14, after Moses succeeded in averting the Lord’s annihilation of the whole three million or so of them in the desert due to their contempt, disobedience, and testing of God Almighty, the Lord spoke this of Caleb in verse 24…
“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”
Caleb’s “different” spirit literally means he was one who ‘loitered,’ ‘deferred,’ ‘came behind,’ and ‘tarried longer.’ In our natural way of thinking, that’s a list of less-than-complimentary labels. At best, he sounds like a slowpoke and at worst, a real slacker. However, the Word of God is explicit in its phrasing and is rich with meaning. Caleb, instead of charging out in front of the troops, lingered behind. While the others were trying to get through the excursion as quickly as possible because there were great big giants in the land, Caleb delayed his progress.
I’m not a biblical scholar, but Holy Spirit can illuminate the Word to one’s understanding quite well. I believe Caleb took his time and savored this gift of land that God himself had pledged to His people. A bequest that brought with it nuances to fit each tribe’s personality and makeup. Like siblings in a family, each one unique with individual preferences; hardwired, as it were, to live in a certain place and time by God’s design.
Caleb, along with the other eleven, had the privilege of seeing firsthand the lay of the land. But whereas the privilege was debatable by the others given their fearful report, he was the one with a different spirit – breathing, smelling, touching, anticipating, enjoying, accepting, and quickly understanding with a sharpened perception. All that God wished to endow them with was heightened by his five senses. No doubt he did a taste test of those grapes, ripe for harvest. Then it was time to return to the desert.
Generations of history later, you and I know what Caleb had no way of knowing. Because the multitude believed the defaming report of the others who had gone up with him, God pronounced judgment of forty years in the wilderness. No doubt Caleb believed the victory march into the land was just a ‘re-organization of the masses’ away, only to be heartbroken when the verdict was handed down in response to the other leaders’ and people’s rejection of God, His glory, and His miraculous ways.
How many times do you think Caleb longed for that land? He had tasted and seen that it was good. He had given a truthful, honest assessment “as it was in my heart” (Joshua 14:7), yet the majority’s fear ruled and brought God’s sentence upon their heads. He lived every one of those decades, yet a different spirit had pervaded his soul. Thank God he was a man of courage, sensible and a bit feisty. Add to that the currents of God’s holy wind blowing through him and we find a person who would not be moved from the promise made by the Holy One of Israel.
In the end, Caleb not only returned to the land of Canaan, but he was as strong for war at eighty-five as he was at forty when Moses sent him to spy out the land. Though he paid the debt along with his leader brothers who had made the people’s hearts melt with fear, Caleb never forgot what Moses the servant of God swore to him:
“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.”(Joshua 14:9)
When it came time to divide the land, Caleb finally got to stake his claim. He reminded Joshua (though I strongly believe Joshua never forgot it either) that “you know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God concerning me and you in Kadesh-barnea…” (which when translated means, “four decades and a desert ago”…)
“Now give me this mountain that the Lord promised me that day.”
The giants were there, the cities were large and well-fortified, yet he was determined that, with the Lord’s help, he would drive them out just as the Lord had said decades earlier. Caleb prevailed and the land had rest from war.
There are no higher stakes than when our inheritance is from the Lord Himself. May the “different spirit of Caleb” lay hold of our hearts. It begins with believing what the Lord says concerning me and you.