Caleb: “We Are Well Able to Overcome”

6 min

We often relegate pessimism and optimism to the realm of personality, attitude, and feelings. There is a kind of optimism that is a result of unrealistic expectations. This optimism often disappoints. But genuine optimism is not based merely on feelings but rather on facts (truth). No matter one’s personality type or spiritual gifting, any Christian can develop genuine optimism. A Biblical optimist lives by faith and not by sight, taking the Word of God as his guide.

Long ago, a critical decision was made by a nation. Their information was based on the reports of some optimists and pessimists. The account begins at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran . . .

Twelve dusty and weary warriors approached the edge of the Israelite encampment. For forty days, these twelve men had been scouting in enemy territory, in the land that the children of Israel knew as the “Promised Land.”

Previously, at the request of the people and the commandment of the Lord, Moses had selected one man from each tribe of Israel (see Deuteronomy 1:22–23 and Numbers 13:1–3). These twelve men were to be “spies”; they would traverse the land to scout out the inhabitants, their farming practices, the strength of their fortifications, and the quality of the water. They would also observe the land, the plants, the animals, and the nature of the soil. Now, forty days later and their mission accomplished, they were returning to report their findings.

The leaders and the people eagerly gathered to hear the report of the twelve spies. It quickly became apparent that the spies had not just brought back verbal reports but also physical evidence of the land God described as “flowing with milk and honey.” Since the time of the scouting mission was when summer fruits were ripe for harvest, two spies carried a giant cluster of grapes hoisted on a staff suspended between their shoulders. Other scouts carried pomegranates and figs as tangible, tasty evidence of the land’s fruitfulness.

The spies began their report: “We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it” (Numbers 13:27).

But the spies quickly turned from good news to bad news. “Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan” (Numbers 13:28–29).

The children of Anak (plural, Anakim) were famous giants who were feared across the region. The children of Israel were not soldiers nor did they have an army. They were not armed for warfare nor have military training. The thought of fighting hostile enemies in mighty walled cities was disheartening to the multitude of former slaves and herdsmen.

What do we do in our day when pessimistic news reports, podcasts, radio talk shows, or even friendly conversations at church direct our attention to problems rather than to God, the Problem-Solver? Do we look to God’s Word and then seek to solve the problems? Or do we forget God’s promises and only see our circumstances and become fearful and despairing? Are we possibly listening to the voices of the ten spies with an evil report?

Upon hearing the ten spies’ negative report, the people responded loudly in despair and discouragement. But in the midst of all the clamor, one voice called out. It was the voice of Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, the spy chosen from the tribe of Judah. The Bible says, “And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30). Caleb saw the same fortified cities that the other spies saw, but he viewed those cities through the eyes of faith. Rather than a false witness, this man gave a faithful and true testimony based upon the foundation of God’s promise.

The name Caleb is usually translated generally as “dog.” However, when this Hebrew word is broken down further, the word for dog is derived from two roots that signify “whole-hearted”: כל (kol) which means “all” and לב (lev) which means “heart.” Caleb certainly lived up to his name as a wholehearted follower of Jehovah, both in this account and later in his life.

When the other spies insisted, in spite of Caleb’s testimony, that the inhabitants of the land were too strong for the Israelites, the feeling of despair and gloom soon spread throughout the camps of Israel as evening settled into darkness. Murmuring even began among the people that a new leader should be sought who would lead them back to Egypt!

But another faithful spy, Joshua, joined Caleb. Together they were firm in their affirmation of God’s power and presence. “And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not” (Numbers 14:6–9).

At that moment, a dramatic but often overlooked event occurred in the camps of Israel. As the disgruntled multitude threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb, “the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel” (Numbers 14:10). The magnificent, shining presence of Jehovah gave testimony that the witness of Caleb and Joshua was true. Due to the children of Israel rejecting Caleb and Joshua’s optimistic report based on God’s faithfulness, the nation was condemned to wander in the desert until they died. Only Joshua and Caleb were exempted from this judgment. These two men were promised that they would one day enter into the land they had scouted and so ardently desired to claim for God’s glory.

Later, the Lord said of Caleb, “Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed the LORD” (Deuteronomy 1:36). In this eulogy, the Lord used the meaning of Caleb’s name—Caleb was “wholehearted.”

The ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” applies not only to the relation of actual facts but also to our perspective when considering those facts. The ten unbelieving spies reported some true facts, but their unbelief gave them a pessimistic perspective of those facts, making their witness of the truth false. According to Scripture, theirs was an “evil report” (Numbers 13:32). Caleb saw those same walled cities. He saw the Anakim and their mighty fortresses. But his perspective of the evidence gathered in the Promised Land was conditioned by his firm belief in the truth of God’s promise and the knowledge that “the LORD is with us” (Numbers 14:9).

By God’s grace, Caleb lived to see his firm expectation that God could and would give His people the Promised Land. Caleb lived to see the walls of Jericho fall down before the Israelites and the formidable city seized. He lived to see the miracle of the sun standing still for a day in the valley of Ajalon so God’s people could overcome the enemy in battle. After the major campaigns of the conquest were finished, an eighty-five-year-old Caleb announced to his friend Joshua, “Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the LORD spake in that day; for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said” (Joshua 14:12).

Caleb and his sons did indeed drive out the Anakim. Caleb took the enemy’s walled city and restored the hill country of Hebron to Israel. This was the ancient burial ground of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah. Caleb and his sons took the mountain. Even Caleb’s daughter, Achsah, inherited her father’s wholehearted spirit, as revealed in her belief in God’s blessing and promise of land. “And she [Achsah] said unto him [Caleb], Give me a blessing: for thou has given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs” (Judges 1:15). Caleb’s family carried on his spirit of wholehearted faithfulness to God in a new generation of leadership. His daughter was married to Othniel, who became the first judge of Israel (see Joshua 15:16–17 and Judges 3:9).

Today, we are bombarded with facts, news, statistics, trends, and all sorts of information—some true and much false. We need to be mighty men like Caleb who will give true witness of the facts from God’s perspective of absolute truth. Truth is unchanged by time. Truth is unaltered by circumstance. Let’s stand firmly and follow the Lord wholly as Caleb did, knowing that God’s Word is certain and His promises are sure. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (II Corinthians 1:20).

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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