It is in connection with the sending of the spies to search out the land of Canaan that the name of Caleb first appears. From the account given by Moses in Deuteronomy 1, it is very clear that this mission was the fruit of the people's unbelief. Commanded to go up and possess the land (compare Deut. 9:23), they came near and said to Moses, "We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come." (vv. 21, 22.) The Lord met the people in their unbelief, and commanded Moses to send the men (Numbers 13:1, 2), not as approving the desire of the people, but as permitting them to carry out their purpose, so that, knowing all the consequences involved, He might use these for their chastisement and instruction. The folly of unbelief was never more manifest. The Lord had guided His people by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and now they will trust to the information the spies may bring as to the way they shall take. After so long an experience of the Lord's faithfulness, they think more of the wisdom of men than of His perfect knowledge. Alas! how often have we fallen into the same snare.
The spies were chosen at the commandment of the Lord, and among them were Caleb, for the tribe of Judah, and Joshua, the son of Nun, for the tribe of Ephraim. For forty days they "searched" the promised land, and brought back with them a cluster of grapes from the brook of Eshcol, together with pomegranates and figs, in token of its fruitfulness. All the congregation were assembled to hear their report. At the commencement they confirmed in every particular the word of Jehovah: "We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it." So far it was well; but no sooner had they stated what they could not deny, than the unbelief, which was lurking in their hearts, broke forth. "Nevertheless," they proceeded to say, "the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover (reserving the greatest difficulty to the last) we saw the children of Anak there"; and in a few additional words they sketched the location of the several nations. Remark, that they had not added anything to the information given them already by the Lord Himself; they had only looked upon the obstacles to the conquest of the land with the natural eye instead of with the eye of faith. The consequence was they left Jehovah out, and measured the foes to be encountered by their estimate of their own strength instead of the Lord's. Instead of saying, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" the thought of their heart was, "How can we overcome such powerful adversaries?"
The effect was disastrous; for their words evidently produced a dangerous agitation among the congregation. At this juncture Caleb stepped forth, and, dissociating himself from his companions, "stilled the people before Moses." He did not, indeed could not, contradict the testimony which had been rendered; but he said, "Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." As the subsequent history shows, this was the language of faith begotten by confidence in Jehovah and His word. He knew that the God who had brought them out from under the power of Pharaoh, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, could bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of His inheritance. The utterance of his confidence in the Lord only intensified the opposition of the natural mind, and the men that went up with him said, "We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we." As boldness in testimony gives increased certainty, so the expression of unbelief augments its power. Caleb and the ten spies are striking illustrations of these principles.
The increase of the unbelief of the ten is most marked. They now brought up an evil report of the land, which they had before described as flowing with. milk and honey; and they magnified through their fears the greatness of the enemy. In the presence of the sons of Anak, they were in their own sight, they said, as grasshoppers, "and so," they added - what could be only a matter of conjecture - "we were in their sight." Unbelief, which is always contagious, infected all the congregation, and they "lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night." They murmured moreover against Moses and against Aaron; they bitterly complained that they had not died in the land of Egypt; they reproached Jehovah for all the straits and dangers which existed only in their fears; and, finally, they broke out into open rebellion, saying, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt." On the borders of their inheritance, a land on which the eyes of the Lord always rested, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year (Deut. 11), filled with doubts and apprehensions, they were ready to sacrifice everything in their forgetfulness of their God and Redeemer. Moses and Aaron, helpless in the presence of such a manifestation of evil, could only fall on their faces, in silent appeal to God, before all the assembly.
Joshua and Caleb were God's chosen instruments to stem, and to testify against, this torrent of unbelief. Expressing their horror at the sin of the people, they rent their clothes, and, raising their voices above the din and confusion that reigned in the congregation, they courageously reiterated their declaration that the land they had searched out was "an exceeding good land." They thus boldly contradicted the "evil report" of their fellows, and, in so doing, separated themselves morally from their company, and took their stand on the Lord's side. They also stated plainly the conditions of possessing the land. First, "If the Lord delight in us," they said, "then He will bring us into this land." In this they showed that they were in communion with Jehovah's mind. He did delight in His people, and they knew it, and consequently that all depended upon what He was, and upon His power, and not upon what the people were, or could do.* Secondly, they said, "Only rebel not . . . neither fear ye the people of the land." The children of Israel had only to follow their divine Leader. And, lastly, they declared (what was the source of all their strength) that the Lord was with them, and therefore fear of the enemy was needless.
* Compare the apostle's argument in Romans 5:8-10.
Such were the simple conditions (conditions which are as applicable today as when they were propounded) under which alone the possession of the land could be obtained. Let them be well pondered, for they unfold the pathway into all spiritual blessing. If they be forgotten or refused, believers now, as well as the Israelites, will either turn back in heart to Egypt, or wander aimlessly in the wilderness, to their own sorrow and loss. But faithful testimony, when rendered before carnal minds, is never acceptable. Indeed, it cannot fail to arouse the bitterest hostility. The Lord's servants are apt to forget this, and to expect the favour and approbation of His people. So enraged were the congregation with Joshua and Caleb that they bade "stone them with stones." As with those who listened to Stephen, cut to the heart, and filled with hatred, they would fain have murdered the faithful witnesses. But the glory of the Lord appeared, in vindication of His servants, and for the punishment of His stiff-necked and rebellious people. What a contrast, as ever, between the Lord's estimate and that of man's! His favour rested on those whom the children of Israel would stone!
Passing over the details of the judgment pronounced upon Israel for their unbelief, our attention may be arrested by the approbation expressed as to Caleb.* "My servant Caleb," said Jehovah, "because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went, and his seed shall possess it." (Chapter 14:24.) This reveals how grateful to the Lord's heart Caleb's faithful testimony had been, pattern as he was of the remnant of another day who should keep the word of Christ, and not deny His name. He also exemplified the spirit of devoted discipleship in an evil day; he followed fully, and this became his distinguishing characteristic - a characteristic which Caleb himself delighted to accept and recall. Surely he was the Paul of the Old Testament in his whole-hearted fidelity and devotedness. Would that the consideration of his example might be used to stir up many of us to tread in his steps!
*The reason that Caleb is so often mentioned alone, though Joshua had been equally faithful, is that Joshua becomes afterward a type of Christ as the leader in spirit of His people in their conflicts.
Caleb and Joshua, spared in the judgment that was visited upon the guilty people, lived still; and both, according to the word of the Lord, crossed the Jordan, and shared, in their respective positions, in the victories of faith, when engaged in conflict with the enemy for the possession of the land. Coming to Joshua 14, Caleb is again brought to our notice. He came unto Joshua in Gilgal to apply for the inheritance which the Lord had promised to him. His address is full of interest. First of all, he recalled the past (vv. 6 - 8); then he reminded Joshua (showing how he had treasured it up in his heart) of the promise made to him by Moses (v. 9); next, he testified to the Lord's faithfulness in preserving him alive, and in continuing to him his strength, through all his lengthened and varied experiences; and lastly, requesting the possession of his inheritance, he expressed his confidence that, if the Lord should be with him, he would be able to drive out the Anakim, and to take their cities, notwithstanding they were great and fenced, as the spies had reported. The assurance of the Lord's presence always adds courage to faith, and thus Caleb confidently anticipated the conquest of the enemy. Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to him as his inheritance "because that he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel." The man of faith must ever be foremost in the conflict with the enemy; but his victory is ensured.
Once more Caleb is seen in the history of God's people. In the next chapter the narrative is given of his expelling from Hebron the three sons of Anak, and of his giving his daughter Achsah "to wife" to Othniel his nephew, who had smitten and captured Kirjath-sepher. At her instance, and at the request of her husband, Caleb gave her a field, "a south land." Emboldened by his grace, on his further asking, "What wouldest thou?" she said, "Give me a blessing; for thou hast given me a south land give me also springs of water." Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs. In the land, warring in the power of the Spirit, and victorious over the enemy in the energy of faith, he walked in the truth of grace, and could thus be a giver. Springs of water would be, typically, life in the power of the Holy Ghost; and consequently, in figure, Caleb's gift would comprise heavenly and earthly blessings - blessings characteristic of the heavenly and earthly people. The lesson for us is, that the one who maintains fidelity to God in walk and testimony, the one who rises to the level of his calling, is kept in spiritual power and becomes the most faithful representative of God - the God of grace - to all with whom he comes into contact. Indebted himself to grace for all that he possesses and enjoys, he will, being formed by it, become the exponent of grace in his walk and ways. He will be in the energy of the Spirit whether for communion, or for walk and testimony on the earth. All things, moreover, are possible to him that believeth.