Growing up, I heard many bible stories as a child. Many of those stories left long-lasting impressions on me. To this day, as a husband and father, some of those impressions still stick with me. I cannot read about the faithfulness of men like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego, David, Joshua, and many others without seeing in my mind’s eye the felt board used in my Sunday school class to teach me those stories. I can vividly recall the feelings of awe and inspiration I felt as I listened to the stories of how those men trusted completely in Adonai and how He used them to glorify His name in the midst of difficult circumstances.
One such story I remember so well is the account from Numbers chapters 13 and 14 of the men who were selected from among the tribes of Israel to go and spy out the land Adonai had promised to them. These men were instructed to survey the Promised Land and bring back a report. These men were selected to represent their tribes. It is said of them that they were “leaders” (13:2) and that all of them were considered to be “heads of the sons of Israel” (13:3). The word used in verse 2 translated as “leader” is the Hebrew word nasi. If this word sounds familiar to you, it should. It is typically translated as “prince” in Scripture. The word used in verse 3 translated as “head” is the word rosh, and it should sound familiar as well. It means “first, prominent, foremost,” and it is the root of the very first word in Scripture B’reshit, “in the beginning.” These words being used to describe these men clearly indicates for us that they were men held in very high esteem.
These highly esteemed men were charged by Moshe with the task of spending 40 days spying out the land of Cana’an. I can still picture the scene where they come back after their 40 days of surveillance burdened with huge clusters of grapes and other fruit of the good and wonderful land that Adonai had promised His children. Of course, these men brought back a lot more than just produce: they also brought back with them doubt, lack of faith, and dissension, that they then sowed among their brethren, informing them that the inhabitants of the land were too many and too great to be overcome. But there were two faithful men among them who brought back a different report. Among the men who were selected to go spy out the land were Joshua, the son of Nun, from the tribe of Ephraim, and Caleb, the son of Yephunneh, of the tribe of Judah. Their response reveals the character of these men and we would be well served to carefully examine their example.
When the 10 men who were with Joshua and Caleb gave their bad report, the people responded with much complaining, murmuring, and general whining. Caleb, however, intervened. It is said in verse 30,
“Then Caleb quieted the people before Moshe and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.”
This statement reveals several things to us about the man, Caleb. First, he held enough influence to be able to garner the attention of the entire mass of wandering Israelites and address them. Second, his passion and his faith are prominently displayed, as he makes a statement that lacks any doubt or hesitation.
Despite Caleb’s passionate plea, the 10 men who had brought back the negative report continued to discourage the people and the response of the children of Israel is highly disappointing. They suggest, in Numbers 14:1-4 that they should abandon Moshe and Aharon and appoint new leadership who will take them back to Egypt, the land of their bondage. Upon hearing this declaration, Joshua and Caleb respond by tearing their clothes and they plead with the people, saying,
“If Adonai is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against Adonai, and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and Adonai is with us; do not fear them.” Numbers 14:8-9
But the people were unmoved. In fact, they decided to stone Joshua and Caleb, but verse 10 states that Adonai caused His glory to appear in the Tabernacle, which stopped them dead in their tracks. Adonai then responds to the griping, whining, and complaining the people did due to their unbelief by announcing that everyone over the age of 20 years old would never see the Land of Promise. They would all instead die in the miserable wilderness of their wanderings until they were all gone. Their children would then be given the opportunity to make things right by entering the Promised Land in faith and trust, believing in His faithfulness.
There was, however, one noteworthy exception to this decree. It says in Numbers 14:24,
“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it.”
Wow! What an honor! What a privilege! What a responsibility! The trust and honor Adonai bestowed upon this man, Caleb, was tremendous. Who was this man, Caleb, and how was he worthy of such a distinction and such a glowing description from The Father? What can we glean from the Scriptures about this man in order to understand what qualities he possessed that led to this declaration?
Looking back at chapter 13:6, we are given a little insight into who this man, Caleb, was.
“from the tribe of Judah, Caleb, the son of Yephunneh,”
While this might seem like a seemingly innocuous bit of information, just a statement of fact, it actually reveals something that is quite important to investigate, as it will lead to a very important revelation. If we look a bit deeper, we will discover that close to the end of the book of Numbers, this information is expanded upon and we gain some insight into who this man is and where he came from.
“None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; for they did not follow me fully, except Caleb the son of Yephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed Adonai fully.” Numbers 32:11-12
Several important things to note here: First, it is repeated that Caleb “followed Adonai fully.” Second, he is identified as the son of Yephunneh “the Kenizzite.” Third, although Joshua is also named, his father, Nun, didn’t have a qualifying term associated with his name the same way Yephunneh, Caleb’s father did. Why is that? Joshua’s father, Nun, is identified in 1 Chronicles 7:26-27 as the son of Elishama, who was the son of Ammihud, of the lineage directly descended from Ephraim, the son of Joseph, son of Jacob. This is further confirmed in Numbers 1:10, listing Joshua’s grandfather, Elishama, as being the leader of the tribe of Ephraim. All this said, Joshua’s lineage was impeccable, directly descended from Ephraim himself.
But what about his partner, Caleb, the man of whom it is said that he “followed Adonai fully?” His father, Yephunneh, is identified as a “Kenizzite.” Why is this important? Because it gives us a huge clue into the background of Caleb. You see, the Kenizzites were a people that were native to the land of Cana’an before Abraham even journeyed there. It says in Genesis 15:18-21,
“On that day Adonai made a covenant with Avram saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates; the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”
Did you catch that? The Kenizzites were not a people group that was descended from Abraham. They pre-existed Abraham. This tells us that Caleb was not a descendant of Jacob, like his friend Joshua was. Further, this means that this man, Caleb, who was not of the bloodline of Jacob, was nonetheless not only considered a part of the tribe of Judah, but was considered a “prince” of Judah! How did this foreigner rise to such a prominent position in one of the most prominent tribes?!?
To answer that, let’s expand our search a little. If we fast forward in Scripture a little towards the end of Caleb’s life, we find some more clues about this man’s character. Caleb says in Joshua 14:7, and verses 10-12,
“I was forty years old when Moshe the servant of Adonai sent me from Kadesh-Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought word back to him as it was in my heart…Now behold, Adonai has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years, from the time that Adonai spoke this word to Moshe, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eighty-five years old today. I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moshe sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in.”
From this passage we are able to pick up quite a few more facts about this man, Caleb. First, in the story that took place in Numbers 13, we now know that Caleb was 40 years old when he was sent out to spy the land. After 40 plus years of wandering in the wilderness and helping the children of Israel conquer the land, we now see Caleb requesting a certain portion of land within the borders of the tribe of Judah’s allotment. Second, we know by his confession that he is now 85 years old. Third, he claims that he has lost none of his strength that he had when he was 40 years old. Now, I don’t know about you, but I highly doubt that I will be able to make that same claim if and when Adonai allows me to reach my 85th year of life. In fact, I hope I can say at that point that I am at least HALF as strong as I was when I was 40. I’ll be happy with that. But not so with Caleb. He is convinced that he hasn’t lost a thing. Fourth, to prove that he hasn’t lost a thing and is still just as strong as he was 45 years ago, he is requesting the portion of land that is inhabited by the most intimidating group of people within the allotted portion of land Judah would face. Yet he approaches it with the same brash boldness that he did 45 years prior to that moment when he had said “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” His faith in Adonai’s ability to deliver and prosper him had not wavered even a little.
So we know that Caleb was a man of unwavering faith. He was a man that believed that, with Adonai leading him, he could “do all things through Him Who strengthens us.” That’s easy enough for us to say, but this was the way Caleb LIVED. No wonder Adonai described him as being a man who “followed Him fully.”
What is really interesting about the story of Caleb is that in the chapter in Numbers that comes directly after the story of the spies, we see this instruction…
“If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to Adonai, just as you do so he shall do. As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before Adonai. There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.” Numbers 15:14-16
This verse essentially reflects the fact that Caleb is the poster child for being grafted into Israel. This foreigner, this Kenizzite, was not only considered a full member of the tribe of Judah, but he even represented them as their leader, and he inherited land within Israel when they conquered the inhabitants there! This should be extremely exciting for those of us who are from among the nations, for we were formerly separate from Adonai, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope. But through Messiah, we who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah (Ephesians 2:12-14).
We were at one time foreigners and strangers, just like Caleb’s family, with no claim to being in covenant with Adonai. But in His goodness, He has provided a way for us, through Yeshua our Savior, to be grafted in, to become fellow partakers in those promises (Romans 11:17). This is an AMAZING example of the great goodness and the immeasurable grace of our benevolent King! To think that He would consider us, strangers and outsiders, that He has brought near to Himself and allowed us to become fellow heirs with His Son (Romans 8:17) is unfathomable! What a great Master we serve!
While Caleb was a very special example of a grafted-in member of Israel, he was not entirely unique in this respect. He was one of many examples over the course of the history of the nation of Israel. His example, however, is one that many of us who have come to this faith should regard highly. But there is another, perhaps even more important factor that we should draw out of the life of this man, Caleb.
“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed Me fully…” Numbers 14:24
Caleb is a great example of living out a very commonly recited prayer, the Shema. It states in Deuteronomy 6:5,
“You shall love Adonai your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Caleb certainly did this. Even well into his later years, his great faith in Adonai was unshakeable and he lived a victorious life walking in a faith that was completely devoted to Adonai.
Further, Caleb “following Adonai fully” fits perfectly with who he was because of the nature of his name. In Deuteronomy 6:5, when it says “with all your heart,” that Hebrew phrase is בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ (b’kal levav’cha). This phrase consists of two Hebrew words, kol, meaning “all,” and lev, meaning “heart.” When you combine these two words, you get the name Kalev (Caleb), the name of our hero in this story. The reason why it is said of Caleb that he had a “different spirit” and that he “followed fully” was because he did so with all his heart. He had determined within his innermost being that there was not going to be any challenge, any obstacle, and problem that would prevent him from trusting in Adonai and in His power to save. Caleb’s example is one we should all be following with exactly the same type of determination he displayed. Imagine how we might affect the world around us if we all approached life this way!
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “dog” is spelled exactly the same way as Caleb’s name is. Why is that? Because it is a great description of a dog’s behavior towards his master. Every time I walk in my front door (after my dog is done barking in her attempt to “fiercely” defend our home) she runs to me, her entire body shaking with excitement. It doesn’t matter if I have only been gone for 5 minutes. Every time, without fail, she is overjoyed to see me. It’s no wonder that in the Hebrew language they call a dog “all heart.” A dog doesn’t sit and rationalize its choices and weigh the consequences. They simply react by instinct combined with the training it has received from its master.
In the same way that a dog responds to his master with unabashed joy at seeing him, and in fierce loyalty to defend his master and his master’s territory, we can learn from the example Caleb gives us. That example is to possess within us a “different spirit,” one that follows Adonai fully, with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our strength.
May we be like Caleb, boldly claiming the territory that was promised to us, conquering and overcoming all our enemies, challenges, and obstacles in Adonai’s name without any fear or hesitation. If we are serving Him in such a fashion, we will be completely unconcerned with the giants in the land that stand in our way, because we will know that the One Who is more than a conqueror goes before us. He is our front and our rear guard, and He has already given us the victory through His Son, Messiah Yeshua.