His name means "dog," which intimates just how much of an outsider he had been all his life. Dogs in the ancient Eastern culture were not pets; they were curs, scavengers - wild and unwanted. For his parents to saddle him with such a name suggests that he did not fit in with their plans, that he was inconvenient or unattractive or difficult, and therefore rejected. And that boded badly for anyone in that day. To be turned out by your own family meant the loss of all claim to inheritance or privilege in keeping with the family name. And when this was taken from you, you were, in the truest sense, a man without a country.
There's no knowing exactly how he came to be so named. All we know is that one day, Caleb - "Dog" - was adopted into the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe from which the kings of Israel came. It is one of those wonderful ironies of the amazing grace of God that can surprise you with sheer joy! God loves to take the outcasts and make them belong to Himself and to His covenant people.
But in Joshua 14, the irony ripens more fully, for this non-Jew now comes to claim a part of the Promised Land. And not just any part. He wants Hebron, the place commonly known as the best piece of real estate in Canaan. It was a heavily wooded area, about 3,000 feet above sea level, giving a spectacular view of the countryside.
But what really made it prime property was the history that had transpired there. Hebron was the place of the patriarchs, the very spot where Abraham had received the covenant promise from God that Canaan would belong to his descendants. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried up there atop Hebron, along with their wives. It was a national treasure, destined to be a much-visited memorial for generations to come. And now this nationalized foreigner wants it for himself.
On the surface, we would be inclined to ask some hard questions of Caleb. "Who do you think you are? You have received all the benefits of being a part of Israel for years. You are welcomed as a proselytized Jew. But there is a limit!" His request is audacious! He is staking his claim on the choicest parcel of the land God promised His people! By what right does Caleb make such a request?
I. Caleb's credentials
Go back 45 years with me now to a tent aglow in the night. Inside are the most important leaders of Israel getting final instructions from Moses. Over the previous two years, Israel's leaders had come to trust Moses' leadership as from the Lord. They well remembered how God used Moses to deliver them from Egyptian slavery. They heard him read the 10 Commandments and the other laws which he had received from Yahweh Himself. Now Israel camps on the brink of promises fulfilled.
Hundreds of years of Jews had dreamed of this day, when Israel would lay claim to what God had long ago pledged to Abraham. Canaan lay just beyond the Jordan River now, and in every tent in the camp of Israel, the same question was being asked: "Exactly how are we going to do this?"
By God's grace, Moses was a step ahead. He passed on the instructions God had given him to the elders: they were to appoint from each of the 12 tribes a leader to enter Canaan covertly and scout it out. They agreed together on 12 choice young men that night, whose names were announced the following day.
Among them was one who would be the future leader of the entire nation, a young prince named Joshua. There was also another impressive front runner from the tribe of Judah - a foreigner who had been grafted into the covenant; a man whose past memories were full of rejection, but who now was a well-respected part of Israel's life. His name was Caleb. These eager men apparently divided different regions among themselves to explore. Guess which region fell to Caleb? That's right: Hebron!
Let me summarize the report these leaders brought back to Israel with a song anyone who has ever been to Vacation Bible School knows.
Twelve men went to spy in Canaan
Ten were bad and two were good!
What do you think they saw in Canaan?
Ten were bad and two were good!
Some saw giants big and strong
Some saw grapes with clusters long
Some saw God was in it all
Ten were bad and two were good.
That's a fair rendition of what happened. All twelve spoke with wonder regarding the productivity of the land. It was all they ever longed for and more. Only one hitch: there were giants in the land. The giants were the sons of Anak, who had been well-entrenched in the land for hundreds of years. They were renowned for their fierceness. The Moabites called them the "Emim" - "the terrors;" "the horrible ones." Another common nickname was the "Rephaim" - "the shadowy ones; the mysterious ones."
They were a terrible nemesis to any opposing force. Recall Goliath, measuring 9' 9," a mercenary for the Philistines in David's day. I mean these guys were bad news! In the London Museum, there is a femur (upper leg bone) from an individual estimated to be nine feet tall, which was excavated from this region of the world. Archaeologists have uncovered a whole civilization in this area of Canaan whose buildings were made of massive stones, vastly oversized to normal people. "There were giants in them thar hills!"
You know the old joke that goes, "Where does an 800 pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to"? Well, where do the sons of Anak live? Why on the high ground, the choicest land, a mountain called Hebron!
Ten out of twelve of the scouts had this advice to give the million or so Israelites: "Our dream of the Promised Land is an impossible dream! We're like grasshoppers up against them - just bugs under their boots." Someone in the crowd was about to call for the question and move directly to a vote when the only two scouts who hadn't reported spoke up. You know what happened. They alone chose to believe God before they believed their eyes. They boldly went against the tide by calling the people to believe in the promises of God and take the land!
It's interesting, by the way, that only two of the twelve scouts are named in the text. The other ten would die in the wilderness, unnamed and unheralded. Only Joshua and Caleb dared to plead with Israel not to measure what can be done as man would measure it - how large are the obstacles, how much will it cost, how long will it take. "Do not fear the people of the land," these two scouts said. "The Lord is with us!" But when the vote was cast, sight won over faith.
That did it! Israel had scorned the Lord and His Word. Their unbelief would pose not threat to God's promise of the land - He would surely give it to Israel. But those who had refused to obey Him would never see it. God sentenced everyone over the age of 20 to death in the wilderness within the next 40 years. They would be nomads, wandering around in a barren wasteland they had already crossed. They would embrace the monotony and futility and difficulty of the life they had chosen, pondering "what might have been" every day.
There were two notable exceptions to God's ruling. Caleb and Joshua would survive their generation. What is more, the region they scouted in Canaan was to be theirs. They would be the only senior adults who would make it into the Promised Land. Once Joshua led Israel across the Jordan, the 85-year old Caleb stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the young warriors of Israel at Jericho, and fought valiantly against the coalition of Canaanite armies. For five years, he was the grey head among the troops as they waged the campaign to drive the Canaanites from fortified cities and territories.
And now he looks up to the high mount that only he and one other in Israel have seen before, over forty years before. He looks at Joshua and says, "I want the mountain of God's promise, first given to Abraham and then to me. If God is with me, not giant can keep me from possessing Hebron!"
So this foreigner, whose name and heritage made him a loser, comes forward to make Hebron his. By what right did he claim it? By right of faith in the promises of God. By right of boldness when it nearly cost him his life. By right of perseverance when the passing of the years could have dulled his zeal. But mostly, by right of the faithfulness of Caleb's God. There are some important lessons here for us all about walking by faith.
II. Ancient words from Caleb to you
A. Your past can dictate your future if you let it. Let it go!
Paul's testimony makes it clear: Brothers, I do not [c] consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, all who are mature should think this way.
Paul had a freeing philosophy about the past that flows from His God-inspired pen: "In all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us…thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (Romans 8:37 [HCSB] and 2 Corinthians 2:14 [ESV])
But long before Paul, there was a man named Caleb who lived this. He did not let his past shape his present or control his future. He let God write the script!
Listen! You can step into a new kind of future right now by acknowledging that whatever the past has been, and however good or bad the present seems, God holds out unspeakably great and precious promises to you that cannot be broken about your future.
Through Jeremiah, He said, "'For I know the plans I have for you' - [this is] the LORD's declaration - 'plans for [your] welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'" (Jeremiah 29:11). Hand over your past to God; you can't change it anyway. Give up your present to Him; you can't manage it without Him. Receive your future from Him; He's already written it in a way that brings Him glory and you good.
B. The greatest danger you will face as a Christian is choosing between faith and sight
Trust the Lord! Caleb saw what everyone else saw when he scouted the land. But he would not let what his senses were telling him override the Word of God. Listen to Caleb's own words! Verse 6: You know what the LORD promised Moses). Verse 10: As you see, the LORD has kept me alive [these] 45 years as He promised, since the LORD spoke this word to Moses. Verse 12: Now give me this hill country the LORD promised [me] on that day…I will drive them out as the LORD has promised.
Over and over, Caleb emphasizes his confidence in God, His firm conviction about God's Word. His faith and actions are anchored in the rock of an unbreakable promise, made by a faithful God.
It is possible to be so close and yet so far away from realizing God's best for your life. What makes the difference is believing God. Fight worry, fear, doubt, and despair with promises! He will not fail you. You have His Word on it!
C. Circumstances and the passing of time will threaten your zeal
Cling to the Vision! Do you still want what you wanted when Jesus was new, and Christianity was fresh? Are you holding on to hope, as you did before? Caleb did! Listen to the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16: Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
One of the most famous speeches of the 20th Century was perhaps the shortest. It was delivered on October 29,1941 by Winston Churchill. In that voice that captivated a generation, he stood before the student body of Harrow College and said, "Never give in! Never give in! Never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense! Never give in!" And he sat down.
You have a longing of seeing a lost loved one saved. Never quit praying! You sense God's calling to ministry, but have put it off and now think it's past. It's never too late! You once believed that God could use you, but your past keeps crawling up, making you feel unworthy and unqualified. Never doubt the Potter, who can take the clay of your life and make something beautiful from it.
Caleb the "Dog" lived out his days on Hebron because he gave his past up to God, let God call the shots in the present, and believed God for his future. May God increase his tribe!