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Sermon on the Mount
Lesson 6 - Joshua 14:6-15; 15:13-19
Caleb's fortress-taking faith
Give Me This Mountain
an exposition by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Part of a study on the Book of Joshua
The first time we meet him the people of Israel are encamped at Kadesh Barnea, an oasis in the Negev desert south of the Promised Land. It has been only a year or so since they have come out of Egypt. The people have seen many miracles in that time -- the Red Sea opening, water from the rock, manna. They've fought the Amalakite raiders and won. Moses has received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and destroyed the golden calf. They've built the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant. The essentials of their nationhood under God as their King have been established. It is now time to enter the Promised Land.
One of the 12 Original Spies (Numbers 13-14)
We first meet Caleb when he is about 40 years old, and a recognized leader of his tribe, the tribe of Judah, largest of the 12 tribes. The Lord has given Moses this directive: "Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders" (Numbers 13:2).
And so Caleb and eleven of his peers are sent on a reconnaissance mission into Canaan. They go north along the ridge of mountains that provide the backbone of the country, through Hebron in the south all the way to Rehob at the north end of the land. Perhaps they are posing as traders, we don't know, but along the way they observe carefully what they see: the nature of the cities and villages and their fortifications, the produce of the land and its potential. Since they will be dividing up the land between the 12 tribes, it is important that representatives from all the tribes be in on this initial survey of the land.
But they are particularly impressed with the city of Hebron, a walled city in the south, perched nearly at the crest of the mountain chain at about 3,000 feet elevation. It is an ancient city, built seven years prior to Zoan in Egypt (which places its founding at about 1700 BC). What the spies see sobers them. For in this strongly fortified city live a race of giant men called the descendents of Anak or the Anakim (the "-im" suffix in Hebrew usually indicates the plural).
When the spies return, they carry a huge cluster of grapes -- the fruit of the land -- on a pole between them. They talk about the abundance of the land, "it does flow with milk and honey." But ten of the spies are clearly frightened by the prospect of conquest. "The people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendents of Anak there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (Numbers 13:28, 33).
The "bad report" of the 10 spies is contagious. By nightfall their report has spread throughout the camp, and with it the infectious fear of these tribal leaders. "That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud" (Numbers 14:1). Women were sobbing that their husbands would be killed in battle and their children left fatherless. Across the camp that night you could hear the sound of weeping and anguish. By morning the men were ready to rebel, select another leader, and return to Egypt.
Faith in Caleb
But in the midst of this fear and unbelief two men stood firm in faith and hope -- Caleb and Joshua. When the 10 spies were sharing their tale of terror, the scripture reports, "Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, 'We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it" (13:30). The next day, too, Caleb and Joshua try to sway the gathered Israelite crowds with their faith:
"The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them'" (14:7-9).
Notice the positive attitude. Notice the explicit mention of the LORD in their words. The 10 spies don't even mention the LORD, only what they have seen that terrifies them. Joshua and Caleb have seen the same giants and the same heavily fortified cities, but they are looking through lenses of faith. They see the LORD enabling them to conquer these people.
But that day fear prevailed. Without a people united in faith behind Moses, any enterprise would be doomed to failure. The unbelief which had spread throughout the camp resulted in disunity and rebellion -- as fear and unbelief always do. The LORD was angry with the people and vowed that none of their generation would enter the Promised Land, only Caleb and Joshua.
"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" (14:24, cf. 30).
We see a similar quotation in Deuteronomy, where Moses recounts for the children of these rebels what God has said:
"... except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendents the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly" (Deuteronomy 1:36)
Caleb followed the LORD "wholeheartedly" (NIV) or "wholly" or "fully" (KJV). What a testimony! So often we follow the Lord when it suits us, but when things get tough and we must lean on faith rather than sight we balk. Fear sets in, and we follow our fears instead of our faith. That's what I like about Caleb: he looks at life as what Robert Schuller terms a "possibility thinker," one who sees himself walking into the future, not alone but leaning on the strong arm of his God. Friend, are you following God fully right now? If not, what in you needs to change so you can align yourself with him?
Was Hebron Reconquered by Caleb? (Joshua 14)
When we come to the section on Caleb taking Hebron, a question arises. It seems like Caleb is reconquering Hebron after it had already been conquered by Joshua. Look at the relevant passages:
Ten spies report to Moses that the inhabitants of Canaan are too fearsome, but Caleb, along with Joshua, says, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."
King of Hebron joins an Amorite confederation with four other kings to destroy the Israelites. The king is captured and many in his army are killed, though some escape to their city.
Joshua's army attacks Hebron, Debir, and the surrounding villages, and kills their inhabitants.
Joshua destroys the Anakites from Hebron and the hill country, only a few flee to the Philistines.
Caleb drives out the Anakites from the hill country around Hebron and inherits the city.
Caleb's son-in-law takes Debir.
How do we explain this? Was it taken once, or twice, or more often than that? None of us was there, of course. First, let's examine how the Book of Joshua is laid out. This is the division of the central portion:
Conquering the Land
The 5 Amorite kings are defeated
Southern cities conquered
Northern cities conquered
Defeated kings listed
Dividing the Land
Land still to be taken
Division of the land east of Jordan
Division of the land west of Jordan
Appointing Cities of Refuge and Levitical Towns
First, the writer of Joshua tells the stories of the conquering of the land; then he describes the division of the land. I see two possibilities about the sequence of events:
Possibility One: that Hebron was conquered by Joshua's army initially, but the inhabitants returned when the armies left, and needed to be dislodged again by Caleb when he was ready to take possession.
This apparently happened to Jerusalem (which was called Jebus). The king of Jerusalem was captured and killed by Joshua (11:22-26), though some of the fleeing army were able to reach the fortified city of Jerusalem (11:20). But in Joshua's time the Israelites were not able to take Jerusalem (15:63; Judges 1:21); the city was only occupied by David centuries later (2 Samuel 5:6), though Jebusites still owned property in the city after its capture (2 Samuel 24:18-25).
We are told that some of the Anakite giants escaped to the Philistines (11:21-22). So it is possible that they and other scattered residents returned to Hebron and occupied it again after Joshua's army left.
Possibility Two: that the account of Caleb's driving out of the Anakites (14:12; 15:14) took place under Joshua's generalship. Joshua is given credit, though his lieutenants fought the actual battles. (Woudstra, p. 197, footnote 14, considers this a possibility, though he sees a reconquering of Hebron.)
This scenario is attractive to me, since it would underscore the completeness of Joshua's victory (11:21-23). Nor is Hebron listed among the land still to be taken (13:2-5).
According to this explanation, the reason why the account of Caleb taking Hebron is given later is because it relates to Caleb's claim on the hill country around Hebron, rather than to the conquest of the land.
I think it is probable that:
- The land was not taken in just a year or two. This was an extended campaign that went on for a number of years. Joshua 11:18 indicates that "Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time." If the Israelites wandered in the desert 38 years (Deuteronomy 2:14), and Caleb was 40 at the time of the spy mission, and 45 in 14:10, then the period of the Conquest was about seven years, though we can't be certain. (So Woudstra, Joshua, pp. 195-196)
- All 600,000 men weren't constantly at war. Many of them had to be involved with farming to provide for their families and for the army.
- The land was probably occupied as it was conquered, at least with garrisons of troops. We aren't told about this in the Scriptural account, however.
In the final analysis, it doesn't matter greatly which way it went. We know in our own personal spiritual battles, that sometimes ground that we conquered early in our Christian lives is lost because we failed to occupy it fully, and must be re-won. The battle is not over until we have fully occupied the ground. Then we must continue to watchfully defend it.
Caleb's Bold Claim (14:6-15)
We read in 14:6, "Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, 'You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me....'" Caleb was the spy-leader from the tribe of Judah 40 years before. He is still his tribe's spokesman as he speaks to his old comrade-in-arms, Joshua.
Before the land west of the Jordan is distributed by lot, Caleb stakes his own claim, based on the promise made to him by Moses and confirmed by oath (though we do not have a record elsewhere of Moses' promise).
"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." (14:9)
Joshua blesses Caleb and gives him Hebron as his inheritance (14:13). Apparently, the grant involved the whole hill country surrounding Hebron, including the city of Debir (15:13-19; archaeologists are not certain of the location of Debir). When the lot was cast for Caleb's tribe Judah (15:1), the tribal land assigned by lot providentially included the portion already given to Caleb.
Bragging Faith (14:10-12)
Caleb's faith is showing in vss. 10-12. From one perspective he might seem to be bragging, but look closer.
- "Just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years ... so here I am today, eighty-five years old!" (10a).
- "I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then" (11).
- "Now give me this hill country (NIV; KJV "mountain") that the LORD promised me that day" (12a).
- "You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said" (12b).
Notice that in three out of the four statements in this section, he mentions the name of Yahweh. "The LORD promised... The LORD promised... the LORD helping me." Here is a man who has learned to trust in the promises of God and stake his whole future on them. He knows what it is like to have the LORD help him, and he is trusting that the LORD will continue to do so. This is exultant, powerful faith prior to the event. It sounds like bragging, but it is faith bragging on the power of God to keep his promises. I like that kind of faith!
"Give Me This Mountain" (14:12)
But why Hebron? The Hebron district, especially around the great tree of Mamre, had been the home of Abraham for many years (Genesis 12-25), and there he purchased the cave of Machpelah for a burial place. Caleb and the other spies had walked hundreds of miles up to the northernmost part of Canaan and back again. His feet had trod on the whole country. Of all Palestine that could have been his for the asking, why did he pick Hebron? I think he wanted Hebron because there were the Anakite giants that had so terrified his fellow scouts 40 years ago. "We looked like grasshoppers in their eyes," they whimpered. "Bring them on," says Caleb. "They're no match for the LORD!" Forty-five years before he had counseled, "Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us" (Numbers 14:9). Now he had a chance to prove it as leader of "the men of Judah" (Judges 1:10). The giants represent the enemies of Conquest, and Caleb is ready for them
Ambition and Faith
I've sometimes wondered where is the fine line between bald ambition and bold faith. Certainly Caleb cherished a forty-five-year-old ambition to defeat the Anakite giants. He had something to prove. He had a score to settle with them. Was this ambition of God? I believe so.
Look at Moses. Moses didn't want to lead the people out of Egypt, but when he finally accepted this commission -- and God didn't take "no" for an answer -- he put all his heart and soul into the job. He personally identified his cause with God's and his ambition with God's. When God wonders aloud about destroying the unbelieving Israelites, Moses knows God's heart and soul well enough to speak boldly about God's interests.
Sometimes, the people around godly leaders misunderstand. They mistake strong leadership for pride. Even those closest to Moses -- Aaron and Miriam -- accused him of pride:
"Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 'Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?' they asked. 'Hasn't he also spoken through us?' And the LORD heard this. (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)" (Numbers 12:1-3).
Moses has internalized God's desires so that God's desires become Moses' ambitions. Men may see it as pride, but God sees Moses as a man after his own heart, one to whom God speaks "face to face."
Caleb, too, had developed a bold faith, but when he is bragging, he is bragging on God, and exalting God, not himself. He is so identified with God's cause that his ego is subsumed in God's.
Of course, we need to examine our hearts to detect any self-exaltation we see there. But our boldness can and should be in the LORD.
"'Let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,' declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 9:24)
Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (15:14)
"From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites -- Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai -- descendants of Anak" (Joshua 15:14).
Why does the Scripture give their names? Because their names were well known; the giants were what legends are made of. You only name great opponents, and these giants were great enemies with great reputations to match. But Caleb fearlessly drove them out. Doubtless the story was told again and again around the campfires, "Do you remember when Caleb...."
A Faith-Filled Son-in-Law (15:15-16)
In the West these days, fathers and mothers don't have too much to say about whom their daughters marry. Love is blind, and love reigns. But in Caleb's day -- and to the present day in the Near East -- fathers decide who their daughters will marry, and try to find their daughters men who will do good by them.
How better to select a son-in-law for your daughter than to offer her in marriage to the man who leads in the attack and capture of a fortified city? Debir (Kiriath Sepher) was also in the territory given to Caleb (though we're not sure of its location today). Caleb had his city, he had defeated the giants whom he had been ready to fight for forty-five years. But Debir? Let another man get the glory. Othniel, Caleb's younger brother (Judges 1:13), took the challenge. He, too, was a man of faith, and no doubt desired Acsah, whose name means "woman's anklet." Though we might question marrying one's niece, it was not forbidden by the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 18), and was therefore allowable.
A Faith-Filled Daughter (15:17-19)
Like father, like daughter. Acsah seemed to possess the boldness that characterized her father. The first thing she does when she marries Othniel, is to ask her husband to request a field from her father Caleb, who presumably controlled the land outside of the city of Debir proper. (The Septuagint, on the contrary, indicates that Othniel asked Acsah to ask her father). But she doesn't wait for her request to go through channels. As soon as she sees here father, while alighting from her donkey, Caleb can see that she has something on her mind (perhaps Othniel has warned him that she wants the field), so Caleb asks her, "What can I do for you."
"She replied, 'Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev [desert], give me also the springs of water.' So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs" (15:19). What good is arid land without water. If she was going to live there, she needed water. So she came boldly to her father and asks for what she needs. And he grants it to her without a quarrel.
Caleb knows the LORD and the LORD'S willingness to fulfill his promises. And Acsah knows her father and doesn't hesitate to ask for what she needs. She knows he will grant it. That, too, is faith. When we know our Father, we aren't afraid to ask for what we need, for we know that he loves us and delights in blessing us.
A Faith-Filled Heritage
We, too, like Caleb, Othniel, and Acsah, are part of a faith-filled family of God's people throughout the ages. Exemplars of faith are found on the pages of the Bible -- as well as among the mature men and women in our churches. For our children, and for the next generation, you and I are the exemplars of faith. We are the ones who need to take hold of God with a tenacious boldness and not let go, that we might raise up children in the faith after us.
"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith...." (Hebrews 12:1-2a, KJV)
Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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