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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 14

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-5

Joshua 14:1-5

By lot was their inheritance.

The tribes apportioned

As the whole inheritance was the gift of God, so each one’s share was assigned to him by His appointment. Not even Joshua himself in a display of the greatest wisdom and impartiality could have yielded satisfaction in a matter where so many, and all of one family, were concerned. Only the authority of the Father, who had entailed upon them as His redeemed children this common patrimony, could decide the portion of each tribe and of each family. This may yield great satisfaction to the heirs of promise, who are looking for a share in the heavenly inheritance. There, whatever degree of station, difference of capacity, or diversity of possession may exist, no one but will find his inheritance all he could desire and enjoy, and for ever beyond the possibility of becoming a cause of dissatisfaction to himself or of envy to others. To animate the hopes of the believer, and quicken his desires after it, an outline is presented in the descriptions of heavenly promise. Oh, for a realising faith, that elevation and meekness which characterise the high-born sons of God, and which by present hopes wean the heart from earthly bliss and sublimate its affections to highest joys. The portion of inheritance that fell to the members of this great family was, agreeably to previous instructions in the wilderness, determined by lot; and was to be viewed not as the result of chance, but as the wise and gracious appointment of their heavenly Father. No one but had reason to be satisfied with his portion, and to consider it assigned him with the indisputable exactness of last will and testament. What a sweet thought to the true spiritual Church of God, the heirs of grace and glory, both with respect to their present condition and their future inheritance! He who did not overlook one tribe or family in the earthly Canaan, but provided for them as few or many, now, though the lot is differently determined, as minutely fixes the bounds of His people’s habitations, and manages all their affairs. Nor less exact will appear the eternal consummation of His goodness, in the final results of providence, and completion of His covenant purpose. (W. Seaton.)

Verses 6-15

Joshua 14:6-15

Caleb . . . said . . . the Lord hath kept me alive, as He said.

Caleb’s reflection on the goodness and faithfulness of God to him

. It is God that keepeth us alive. The Scriptures often remind us of this, and urge it as a motive to religious fear, gratitude, and obedience. They teach us “that in Him we live and move and have our being: that in Him is the breath of every living thing and the spirit of all mankind”; that He gave it at first and that He taketh it away. More particularly, God preserveth us from many accidents that would be fatal to us. “He giveth His angels charge over us, to keep us in all our ways.”

The aged have peculiar reason to make this acknowledgment. When any arrive at old age, it is proper to do this, with peculiar seriousness and gratitude; considering that, like Caleb, they have been wandering all their days in a wilderness. Dangers surround us on every side. The aged cannot but often reflect upon this; what numbers they have survived! Their own infirmities render the acknowledgment of God’s preservation of them almost natural and peculiarly proper.

It is a great satisfaction to aged christians to reflect on their obedience to God, and the accomplishment of his promises to them. They recollect with gratitude and delight, that grace, which began, maintained and improved the Divine life in their souls, amidst innumerable temptations, from without and within; and though they have fallen into trouble, they have been prevented from making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. It is pleasant to them to trace up all these streams to the fountain; to consider them as the displays of rich and free grace; as the accomplishment of the promises of God, and proofs of His fidelity. Their mercies were sweet in the enjoyment, and are sweet in the reflection, when they consider them as founded on the covenant of grace, made with all true believers through Christ Jesus.

The experience which aged saints have had of God’s goodness and faithfulness is a strong encouragement to them to hope and trust in him. Application:

1. Let us all re, member our constant dependence upon God, and learn those useful instructions which that is adapted to teach us.

2. What hath been said should be an inducement to young persons to follow the Lord fully. Instead of “possessing the iniquities of your youth,” you will have unspeakable pleasure in being able to appeal to God, with Hezekiah, “that you have walked before Him in truth, and with an upright heart, and have done that which was good in His sight.”

3. The example of Caleb is worthy the imitation of aged Christians. When, like Caleb, you are mentioning your age, your contemporaries, or what happened in the former part of your lives, let it be done with seriousness, with an humble and thankful acknowledgment of God. Further, let the remainder of your lives be faithfully devoted to God’s service. One important branch of this is humbly to relate your own experience for the instruction and consolation of others. (J. Orton.)

Caleb’s confession

We meet with old men who are continually asking us, with a slight twinkle in their eye, “How old do you think I am?” and the answer, of course, is meant to bring out that you never would dream that they were such veterans in years, they are so fresh, and sprightly, and springy. That is an evil thing, and would have been evil in Caleb but for this saving clause, “Behold, the Lord hath kept me alive.” That is the saving clause, my green and vigorous aged friend, with whom all things have prospered. See to it that boastfulness be not found in your heart. Let not that “dead fly” spoil your ointment, Do not give to yourself the credit and glory of your strength and prowess of body, and brain, and mind. Give all the glory where all is due. “The Lord hath kept me alive.” I want you to notice this also about Caleb. He says, “I have wholly followed the Lord my God”; and in the Hebrew that is quite a striking word--more striking than in the English. It is a pictorial word in the Hebrew, and describes a ship going out at full sail. Why, that is the very keynote of Caleb from beginning to end. He was the man he was, from the beginning to the end, because he was out and out--because there were no limitations and provisions with him. He was not a man who, as Paul would say, “made provision for the flesh for the lust thereof”; but having been called by God to His service, he made it his meat and his drink. He “went in” for God and His cause, like a ship in full sail. He flung every power of body, and soul, and spirit like a free sheet to the winds of God’s grace, and God’s Spirit, and God’s Providence. He “let go.” Young fellow, it is the ruin of you that you are holding back. You will never be a Caleb; you will never be a Joshua; you will never be a David--never, never--at this rate of it; hanging back and saving your life, and therefore losing it; taking so much of the programme because it fits you, and scoring out certain other items that you do not like. Go in for a full programme, if you would enjoy Christian life. (John McNeill.)

Joshua’s grateful retrospect

A great Alpine climber was asked about the ascent of a high mountain, and said, “I was very weary before I got to the top, and found the best plan was just to follow the guide in front of me. At the summit I turned round, and when I saw the grand view, and the dangers through which the guide had brought me, I felt I could have fallen down on my knees to thank him for having led me to such a wonderful place.” (Our Own Magazine.)

I am as strong this day as I was.

Caleb--youth in old age

A life built on God’s promise. Five times in his short speech does he refer to the word which “the Lord spake.” The word of promise to Caleb dealt with two things--his prolonged life and his possession of the land “whereinto he went” (Numbers 14:24). For five and forty years he had kept this word “hid in his heart,” and now he puts out a hand, unweakened by age and long-delayed fulfilment, to grasp the realisation--a grand example of steady, persistent faith, which waits for the vision, though it tarry, and buoyantly welcomes it when it comes at last! A life thus filled with trust in God’s faithful word has ever present instalments of accomplishment, as brooks by the way, to keep its hope fresh. The prolongation of Caleb’s life was the pledge to him of the fulfilment of the remoter promise. Such a life is consciously surrounded with Divine operations, too plain to be ignored, and when looked at in retrospect, presents one solid and homogeneous mass of preserving providences, which are all summed up in saying, “Behold, the Lord hath kept me alive, as He spake . . . while Israel walked in the wilderness.” Such a life has hope burning as a guiding star to the very end. The hopes of age are few and tremulous, if they be limited to earth. When the feast is near an end, appetite is dulled, and there is little to do but to get up and go away. But if we set our hope on God, our hope is immortal. He keeps the good wine till the last.

A life which bears being remembered. We may freely admit that the tone of this retrospect savours of an earlier stage in the process of revelation than ours, and that, if this were a complete account given by a man of his life, we should miss in it the voice of humble penitence, which must always sound through a Christian autobiography. But still, a life of trust and following Christ, however imperfectly, does yield calm remembrances, which nothing else does, and for the lack of which nothing can compensate. If we would lay up for ourselves against old age the treasure of such calm and humble memories, we must in youth and manhood choose God for our God, and Lake heed to follow Him, though we may be singular; and to do it wholly.

“I backward east mine e’e

On prospects drear,”

said poor, brilliant Robert Burns, whose youth of riotous pleasure burnt itself out before he was forty, and had been full of self-reproach and bitterness long before the end. Many a life which grasps at delight and spurns the slow-going puritanical ways of God-fearing, sense-coercing Christians, comes at last to be gnawed by memories sharp and poisonous like a serpent’s tooth. The only way to secure that at the end we may be able to say, “I have fought a good fight,” is to become Christ’s soldier. Recruits for His army are most surely enlisted in youth.

A life-preserving youthful vigour to old age. This “old young man,” as Thomas Fuller calls him, followed the Lord wholly; therefore he “brought forth fruit in old age,” and the aged tree was “full of sap and green” in all its gnarled branches. In a very true sense a man may keep himself young all his days. A youth and manhood of Christian sobriety and self-restraint, temperate, chaste, and free from the “sins of youth,” which rot “the bones” and “lie down with” their victims “in the dust,” is likely to conserve physical vigour, A life of Christian devotion and faith will keep its spring flowers blowing till late autumn, and blossom and fruit will hang together. The buoyancy, carelessness, hopefulness, cheeriness of youth are not far away from the aged heart, which lives by faith, and therefore dwells at ease, and is glad and secure, though the shadows of evening be falling.

A life still eager at last for further enterprise. That is the true temper of the Christian soldier, seeking the hardest, not the easiest, work, and finding in danger an attraction. How nobly it has been exemplified in many a mission field, to which, whenever disease has smitten down one, two have been ready to go! An old Highland legend tells how his foster-brothers made a ring round the chief in a battle, and how, as each that shielded him with his own body fell, the foster-father cried, “Another for Hector,” and another strode into the fatal empty place. The annals of the Church are full of like incidents. The call for another to stand in some deadly breach for the sake of the elder brother has never been sounded in vain; and to-day American and English Christianity is showing that the old heroic fire burns yet, in the men who, on the Congo and elsewhere, have hazarded their lives for the name of Jesus, and been drawn to the field by its very dangers. (A. Maclaren. D. D.)

Caleb’s vigour of mind in old age

was equal to his vigour of body in youth. As his strength was in the day that Moses sent him, so was his strength then for war, both to go out and to come in: yea, he had waxed stronger and stronger, and, as is said of the righteous, “brought forth fruit in old age.” As all other graces, true faith increases in its exercise, and becomes mightier by conflict. They who are strong in faith when young, and have the word of God abiding in them, are not likely to become weak in faith when old. Interesting sight, to behold one grown old in the service of God, still a veteran in the ranks, with a resolution never to yield or return his sword, while an enemy remains unsubdued. One had thought it now time for this old warrior to leave the field, and quietly to enjoy his earthly portion; and had his mind been affected less with things future than things present, had he sought rest only in Canaan, and not rest in heaven, he would have so thought himself. It is a lovely sight, and what must command admiration from all, to see an old believer to the very last ready to testify his faith in God and hope of the promise by a sacrifice of ease, and even at the hazard of life. But they may well be inspired with the fortitude of unyielding valour, and fight even till they die, who are under the command of Jehovah and the banner of the Cross; for a crown of life and eternal triumphs await the slain--they shall rise and reign for ever in the kingdom of glory. The Christian, whose brightest portion lies beyond this world, must not wonder if, as age creeps on, new conflicts arise, and if at last, before he take possession of his eternal settlement, the Anakims, a people tall and great, should still be to be conquered. They are all an easy conquest through Him that hath loved us, so that he may say as Caleb (Joshua 14:12). (W. Seaton.)

Give me this mountain.--

Caleb’s choice

1. In this choice we find a revelation of a sturdy character. There is a powerful individuality about the man who chooses a mountain as his ideal possession. It means climbing and hard work. I knew a veteran who, late in life, bought a rugged mountain, built his house in one of its hollows, cultivated a portion of its slope, and let his sheep wander for a living over the remaining portion. He was as happy in breathing the clear mountain air, and in climbing the mountain steeps, as Adam was in Paradise. There was wonderful congeniality between him and his surroundings. There was a great deal of rugged grandeur about him. To come into contact with that man was as bracing as to climb his mountain, and to breathe the pure inspiring air upon its summit. In Caleb we have a man of similar robust make--a man who not only chose the mountainous district of Hebron while others sought the plains, but also chose that mountain while as yet every crevice in its fastnesses bristled with foes of giant stature. Caleb was charmed with the thought of a possession which involved most of faith and heroism in making his own.

2. This choice further reveals to us the continuity of his character. It is the brave man who stood before Israel and the ten spies who brought depressing news of the land, and exclaimed, “Let us go up at once and possess it,” that now, forty years later, claims it as his privilege to drive the sons of Anak out of their last fastness. He had done enough to wear out half a dozen ordinary men. There seemed to be endless wear in him. This is the speech of an old soldier. You trace the same man, and he affirms--and gives proof of his affirmation subsequently--that he has the same vigour as of old. Throughout his life we trace one master-feeling, one supreme purpose, one distinctive personality. This unity running through life is one of the glories of a great character.

3. Caleb’s choice shows his hopefulness and faith. We are not so surprised that when forty-five years of age he should have taken such a bright view of things, as that now in prospect of such a difficult task he should say, “If so be that the Lord be with me, then”. This is not the “if” of doubt, but the “if” of great possibilities, of a large hope, and of a mighty faith (R.V.). “It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive,” &c. He is willing to risk all upon that “may be.” He bases all upon what the Lord had promised.

4. This choice shows Caleb’s wisdom. The mountain fastnesses of the land were the most difficult to win, but having been once won could best be held, and would finally become the greatest centres of strength. It is a general rule of life that what is hardest won is worth the winning most, and is the most lasting good when won. The strength of a life as well as of a country is in its mountain fastnesses and passes, and not in its broad and luxuriant plains.

5. The whole incident reveals the sacredness which Caleb and Joshua attached to a promise given by Moses forty years previously. Moses was dead, but the promise lived. Caleb repeated it, and Joshua honoured it.

6. Observe how the name of a comparatively unknown father is connected with the choice now made by a noble son. Caleb is usually designated as the “son of Jephunneh.” Jephunneh seems to have belonged to an Edomite tribe, the Kenezites, but all that we know of him besides is that he was the father of Caleb. All that we know, too, of Nun is that he was the father of Joshua. These were two noble sons who made their fathers famous. Young men, take note of that I How largely the father’s reputation is in the hands of his son! “A wise son maketh a glad father.” (D. Davies.)

Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb . . . because that he wholly followed the Lord.--

God rewards His faithful followers

. What is implied in” Caleb’s following the Lord wholly. Though this may imply a great deal, yet it cannot imply absolute perfection.

1. It implies that his heart was renewed. He had a filial, dutiful, submissive spirit, which the Scripture calls a perfect heart.

2. It implies that he paid an external respect to all the intimations of His will. If he had allowed himself in one sin, or habitually offended in one point, he would have been guilty of all. It is essential to the character of a good man to follow the Lord in all His precepts and appointments. “This is the love of God that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous.”

3. This amiable character implies that he persevered in obedience under every trial and temptation. Such a sincere, uniform, and constant course of obedience, for forty or fifty years, fully verified the Divine declaration that “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.” But this is not all. God not only approved, but rewarded his obedience.

Why the Lord rewarded him for following him wholly.

1. Because his wholly following the Lord was a strong expression of his supreme love to Him. Obedience is the natural expression of love. “Ye are My friends,” says Christ, “if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Neither the hosts of Pharaoh, nor the absence of Moses, nor the defection of Aaron, nor the giants of Canaan, could cool his zeal or warp his resolution. He determined to endure unto the end; and unto the end he endured. He loved God sincerely and supremely, and he meant to express his love to Him, by uniform obedience, under the most trying circumstances. This God saw, approved, and rewarded, agreeably to His own declaration, “I love them that love Me; and those that seek Me early shall find Me.”

2. Caleb greatly promoted the glory of God and the good of His people, by his uniform and persevering obedience. This rendered him one of the principal instruments in the hand of God of conducting His people to Canaan, and of executing His wise and gracious purposes respecting them. By walking with God, and observing His wise and holy providence, he became a man of great experimental and practical knowledge, which enabled him to be very useful in guiding and instructing an ignorant and refractory people. It is natural to suppose that he had a principal hand in forming the lives and manners of that generation, which was educated in the wilderness, and eventually prepared for the promised inheritance. And his great and extensive usefulness was a good reason why the Lord God of Israel should reward his signal services, agreeably to His own maxim, “Them that honour Me, I will honour.”

3. There was something very distinguishing in Caleb’s conduct. None but he and Joshua persevered in their allegiance to God. This singularity of his obedience not only displayed, but really enhanced, the worth of his virtue and piety, and laid a proper foundation for God to reward him with peculiar marks of His favour.


1. What great encouragement have all true saints to persevere in the ways of well-doing!

2. What great benefit may those, who follow the Lord wholly, derive from the evils and burdens of their wearisome pilgrimage! Caleb acquired a beautiful character, and a distinguished reward, by properly improving a series of great and complicated trials. He learned obedience by the things which he suffered.

3. How will saints hereafter admire the distinguishing grace of God by which they were conducted to heaven!

4. Does God speak respectfully of those who follow Him wholly, and graciously reward their faithful labours? Then we must justly conclude that we ought to honour those whom He delights to honour. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Following the Lord

What is included in the expression, “wholly following the Lord”? It is impossible to take the words in their strictly literal sense. There are so many slips, so many wanderings, so many shortcomings, that the strict perfection of obedience is unattainable by any of the children of Adam. But the expression is one which, nevertheless, can be applied to those who honestly and simply give themselves up through Divine grace to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

1. A realisation that the will of God is paramount.

2. A resting upon the Word of God as clear and authoritative.

3. A laying hold of the promises of God as sure.

The circumstances under which it is said of Caleb that he wholly followed God.

1. Caleb wholly followed God, though others who were in the same position of influence with himself deserted the side of God and of His truth.

2. Caleb wholly followed God, though the whole congregation feared to walk in the right way.

3. Caleb wholly followed the Lord in spite of opposition. The current of excited feeling set dead against him, and threatened to bear him down. And you will observe that it was not the mere opposition of abuse, insult, and prejudice; it assumed a far more dangerous form (Numbers 14:10). His life was perilled. Yet no degree of violence, however determined, could drive him from the position which he had been enabled to take up. Oh, what encouragement there is here for those who find themselves in the midst of difficulties and trial for the sake of the Gospel! Caleb was a man of like passions with ourselves. Naturally he had the same aversion to the will of God that others have; but in his case grace was strong, faith triumphed. And what a glorious sight it is to see, when you behold one thus meeting any storm of indignation, coldness, or scorn from man, rather than forsake the way and truth of the Lord Jesus! (C. D. Marston, M. A.)

Caleb the soldier

Caleb’s fidelity. Fidelity is one of the first properties of a soldier; and it were well that every good cause, and especially that of Christ, could boast of such fidelity as gallant men have often shown in the ranks of war. Mere boys have bravely carried the colours of their regiment into battle; and to save them from falling into the hands of the enemy they have been known, when they themselves fell, to wrap them around their bodies and die within their encrimsoned folds. An incident more heroic still occurred on one of those fields where Austria lately suffered disastrous defeat. When the bloody fight was over, and the victors were removing the wounded, they came on a young Austrian stretched on the ground, whose life was pouring out in the red streams of a ghastly wound. To their astonishment he declined their kind services. Recommending others to be removed, he implored them, though he might still have been saved, to let him alone. On returning sometime afterwards they found him dead--all his battles o’er. But the mystery was explained. They raised the body to give it burial; and there, below him, lay the colours of his regiment. He had sworn not to part with them; and though he clung to life, and tenderly thought of a mother and sisters in their distant home, he would not purchase recovery at the price of his oath and the expense of a soldier’s honour--“he was faithful unto death.” The property of a good soldier was eminently illustrated by Caleb.

Caleb’s courage. Courage, which has in all ages won the praise of poets and admiration of mankind, is a property for which our seamen and soldiers have been long and eminently distinguished. Descended from ancestors who met the Romans on the sea-beach, and those brave Norsemen who ploughed the stormiest oceans with their warlike prows, our countrymen have proved themselves worthy of their sires; and the repute of a courage which has been tested in many a hard-fought field has proved, under God, the strongest bulwark of our island-home. It is remarkable, and highly creditable to the resolution and bravery of our soldiers, that, notwithstanding all the wars in which they have engaged, no foreign nation flaunts a flag of ours as the trophy of its victory, and of our defeat. No British banner, so far as I know, hangs drooping in dusty folds from the walls of foreign castle or cathedral to make us blush; nor in that proud pillar the great Napoleon raised, whose bronze, formed of the cannon taken by him in battle, commemorates his victories, is there an ounce of metal that belonged to a British gun. I have heard indeed how cowards, probably drawn from the scum of the people, hung back when the bugler in the trenches sounded a new assault, and refused to cross ground so strewed with their fallen comrades as to resemble a field carpeted with scarlet cloth. Yet, whatever may be their defects, our soldiers have been commonly as much distinguished for their courage when the battle raged as for their clemency when the victory was won. For that courage, true, calm courage, which does not lie in insensibility to danger, nor in the violent animal passion which may bear a coward forward as a whirlwind does the dust, or a wave the seaweed on its foaming crest, Caleb presents the very model of a soldier. How bravely he bears himself when the other spies prove traitors! The source of Caleb’s courage, of a bravery so admirable and dauntless, is not far to seek. In him, as in those noble Christian soldiers whom I have mentioned, and in others also who have maintained their religion in the camp, courage, if it did not spring from, was sustained by piety. He had faith in God. Therefore he did not fear the face of man, though that man were a giant, nor of death itself. From the same lofty source, and none other, the soldier of the Cross, he who fights with foes more formidable than giants--the devil, the world, and the flesh, that trinity of evil--is to draw his courage. More of it may be needed to face the jeers of an ungodly world than a blazing battery of cannon. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Caleb’s history--piety portrayed and piety promoted

. Piety portrayed: Caleb “wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.”

1. Genuine piety is the sublimest of all pursuits.

2. Genuine piety accords with the constitutional cravings and powers of the human soul.

Piety promoted: “Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb.” (Homilist.)

The inheritance of Caleb

Caleb is one of those men whom we meet with seldom in Bible history, but whenever we do meet them we are the better for the meeting. Bright and brave, strong, modest, and cheerful, there is honesty in his face, courage and decision in the very pose of his body, and the calm confidence of faith in his very look and attitude. It is singular that there should be cause to doubt whether his family were originally of the promised seed. On the whole, the preponderance of evidence is in favour of the opinion that Caleb’s family were originally outside the covenant, but had become proselytes like Hobab, Rahab, Ruth, and Heber. Their faith was pre-eminently the fruit of conviction, and not the accident of heredity. It had a timer basis than that of most Israelites. It was woven more closely into the texture of their being, and swayed their lives more powerfully. It is pleasing to think that there may have been many such proselytes; that the promise to Abraham may have attracted souls from the east, and the west, and the north, and the south; that even beyond the limits of the twelve tribes many hearts may have been cheered, and many lives elevated and purified by the promise to him, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Caleb and Joshua had believed and acted alike, in opposition to the other ten spies; but Caleb occupies the more prominent place in the story of their heroism and faith. Caleb was evidently the man who led the opposition to the ten, not only asserting the course of duty, but manifesting the spirit of contempt and defiance toward the faithless cowards that forgot that God was with them. In his inward heart Joshua was quite of his mind, but probably he wanted the energetic manner, the ringing voice, the fearless attitude of his more demonstrative companion. Certain it is that Caleb reaped the chief honour of that day. It is beautiful to see that there was no rivalry between them. Not only did Caleb interpose no remonstrance when Joshua was called to succeed Moses, but he seems all through the wars to have yielded to him the most loyal and hearty submission. His affectionate and cordial bearing on the present occasion seems to show that not even in the corner of his heart did there linger a trace of jealousy toward the old friend and companion whom on that occasion he had surpassed, but who had been set so much higher than himself. He came to him as the recognised leader of the people--as the man whose voice was to decide the question he now submitted, as the judge and arbiter in a matter which very closely concerned him and his house. And yet there are indications of tact on the part of Caleb, of a thorough understanding of the character of Joshua, and of the sort of considerations by which he might be expected to be swayed. “Thou knowest the thing that the Lord said unto Moses the man of God concerning me and thee in Kadesh-barnea.” “Moses the man of God.” Why does Caleb select that remarkable epithet? Why add anything to the usual name, Moses? The use of the epithet was honouring to all three. That which constituted the highest glory of Moses was that he was so much at one with God. God’s will was ever his law, and he was in such close sympathy with God that whatever instructions he gave on any subject might be assumed to be in accordance with God’s will. Moreover, in calling him “the man of God” when addressing Joshua, Caleb assumed that Joshua would be impressed by this consideration, and would be disposed to agree to a request which was not only sanctioned by the will of Moses, but by that higher will which Moses constantly recognised. Having fortified his plea with this strong reference at once to Moses and to God, Caleb proceeds to rehearse the service which had led to the promise of Moses. “Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me,” &c. Why does Caleb put the matter in this way? Why does he not couple Joshua with himself as having been faithful on that never-to-be-forgotten occasion? The only explanation that seems feasible is, that from the pre-eminent position of Joshua this was unnecessary, perhaps it might have appeared even unbecoming. A soldier making a request of the Duke of Wellington, and recalling some service he had done at the battle of Waterloo, would hardly think it necessary, or even becoming, to say how the Duke, too, had been there, and what surpassing service he had rendered on that day. “I brought him word again, as it was in my heart.” The statement is made in no boasting spirit, and yet what a rare virtue it denotes! Caleb, as we now say, had the courage of his convictions. To break away from your own set, from the comrades of your campaign, to upset their plans, and counsel those in power to a course diametrically opposed to theirs, is one of the most difficult of social duties. The men that have the courage of their convictions are often social martyrs, shut out from the fellowship of their brethren, shut out from every berth of honour or emolument, and yet, for their courage and honesty, worthy of infinitely higher regard than whole hundreds of the time-servers that “get on” in the world by humouring its errors and its follies. Nevertheless, though most of us show ourselves miserably weak by not speaking out all that is “in our hearts,” especially when the honour of our Lord and Master is concerned, we are able to appreciate and cannot fail to admire the noble exhibitions of courage that we sometimes meet with. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” Caleb believed, and therefore he was patient. Five-and-forty long years had elapsed since Moses, the man of God, speaking in the Spirit of God, had promised him a particular inheritance in the land. It was a long time for faith to live on a promise, but, like a tree in the face of a cliff that seems to grow out of the solid rock, it derived nourishment from unseen sources. It was a long time to be looking forward; but Caleb, though he did not receive the promise during all that time, was persuaded of it and embraced it, and believed that at last it would come true. It seems that when acting as one of the twelve spies, Caleb had in some emphatic way taken his stand on Hebron. “The land on which thy foot hath trodden will be an inheritance to thee.” Perhaps the spies were too terrified to approach Hebron, for the sons of the Anakim were there, and, in the confidence of faith, Caleb, or Caleb and Joshua, had gone into it alone. Moses had promised him Hebron, and now he came to claim it under circumstances that would have induced most men to let it alone. The driving out of the Anakim was a formidable duty, and the task might have seemed more suitable for one who had the strength and enthusiasm of youth on his side. But Caleb, though eighty-five, was yet young. Age is not best measured by years. He was a remarkable instance of prolonged vigour and youthful energy. “As yet I am as strong,” &c. As one reads these words of Caleb, one recalls the saying of a well-known physician, Dr. Richardson, that the human frame might last for a hundred years if it were only treated aright. There is something singularly touching in Caleb’s asking as a favour what was really a most hazardous but important service to the nation. Rough though these Hebrew soldiers were, they were capable of the most gentlemanly and chivalrous acts. There can be no higher act of courtesy than to treat as a favour to yourself what is really a great service to another. Well done, Caleb! In the spiritual war fare, too, we do not want instances of the same spirit. We recall Captain Allan Gardiner choosing Tierra del Fuego as his mission sphere just because the people were so ferocious, the climate so repulsive, and the work so difficult that no one else was likely to take it up. We think of the second band who went out after Gardiner and his companions had been starved to death; and still more, after these were massacred by the natives, of the third detachment who were moved simply by the consideration that the case was seemingly so desperate. Or we think of Living stone begging the directors of the London Missionary Society, wherever they sent him, to be sure that it was “Forward”; turning aside from all previous missionary stations, and the comparative ease they afforded, to grapple with the barbarian where he had never begun to be tamed; his eyes thirsting for unknown scenes and untried dangers, because he scorned to build on the foundation of others, and thirsted for “fresh woods and pastures new.” We think of him persevering in his task from year to year in the same lofty spirit; disregarding the misery of protracted pain, the intense longings of his weary heart for home. A crowd of noble names comes to our recollection--Williams, and Judson, and Morrison, and Burns, and Patteson, and Keith-Falconer, and Hannington, and Mackay--men for whom even the Anakim had no terrors, but rather an attraction; but who, serving under another Joshua, differed from Caleb in this, that what they desired was not to destroy these ferocious Anakim, but to conquer them by love, and to demonstrate the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change the vilest reprobates into sons of God. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

Caleb the Kenezite

. In all probability Caleb was a proselyte. In Genesis 36:42, Kenaz is named as one of the Edomite “dukes.” In 1 Chronicles 2:50, Caleb is called “son of Hur.” Many critics assume that this indicates that he was adopted into the family of Hur. This foreigner had the true faith of an Israelite. Sometimes those whose early years have been spent in heathenism, home or foreign, become noted in Christian circles for their moral virtues and foremost in every good work.

Caleb had the courage to be in a minority of two (Numbers 14:1-10). The secret of this courage was--

1. His faith in God’s promise.

2. That the Lord put His fear upon their enemies (Numbers 14:9).

3. His sense of the Divine presence.

Caleb’s whole conduct was consistent. “I wholly followed” may mean--

1. The full measure of his days.

2. The whole-heartedness of his life.

At the end of his career he receives his reward.

1. A happy old age.

2. An unfailing faith in God.

3. The people acknowledge his faithful service.

4. The seed of Caleb received the benefit resulting from the father’s fidelity. (Henry Smith.)

Caleb’s inheritance

An old man’s inheritance. Old age has its benedictions, its redeemed pledges, its inheritance. The faithful, tireless servant of God has his portion, though he has not gathered, sold, and joined field to field. Caleb had been seeking for a country, not scattering an estate.

An old man’s request. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”; but the life approaching the grave with a weight of honourable service is alike cherished by the Lord. It must have been so with Caleb, His strength was as great for war as when he received his commission. The old man does not ask for land he may cultivate, on which to raise choice varieties of those grapes whose single clusters weary two men to bear them on a staff. He has led the life of a soldier His service for the Lord he thinks still lies in that direction. Those giants who frightened his comrades forty years ago have been on his mind ever since. The Israelites are not likely to become more warlike in this rich country where they can till the soil. He therefore proposes to take care of those enemies of God himself. When Herod the Great wished to rid the cliffs of Arbela of robbers, he caused Roman soldiers to be let down in cages to fight the outlaws in the mouths of their caves. Caleb did not ask for a Hebrew regiment to help him manage those sons of Anak. Hebron, that ancient city built seven years before Zoan in Egypt, ought not to remain longer in the hand of the infidel. Alien born or Hebrew, he cannot bear that God’s people should be defied in their inheritance. In after-years, when crusading knights took this city, it was not with more righteous purpose than that which stirred the heart of this ancient servant of Jehovah.

An old man’s request. Caleb’s first work was to purify his inheritance. He got the iniquity out of it. He did not levy tribute on the brigands and live luxuriously on the income of robbery. This veteran was not a man of compromises. The enemies of God and righteousness could get no terms with him. His hands were not soiled with the revenue or the rents of a nefarious business. They did not close around the rewards of iniquity. Something of the spirit which in after-years stirred the heart of the Master as He drove the money-changers from the temple now rested on this old man. The spirit of reform was strong in him, and it had fuel to keep it burning, for it was fed by the Spirit of God and of righteousness. That mountain was not first cleared of timber, and lawns, parks, and terraces laid out and built on its slopes. There was perhaps no summer-house commanding a view of the distant Mediterranean, but there was some honourable estate to pass onward. There was a remainder which, according to Divine promise, would go to his descendants. It was cleared of the enemies of God. Whoever received it would get an inheritance without any bill of attainder against it for treason. Such a man as Caleb does not impoverish his estate, though he lessen it in behalf of righteousness. The bare mountain was to him a better property than a large rent-roll of criminal tenants. (W. R. Campbell.)

Caleb’s reward

Caleb’s reward illustrates the immense difference between a full and a partial following of God. It is the difference between the river and the sea. Both are water, and the river is all well in its way and is useful to man and beast in small services. The sea is something more than mere water, for it is infinite; and as we gaze upon it a sense of its immeasurableness comes over us as never is the case when we behold the largest lake or the Mississippi river. You cannot measure a wholly following servant of the living God, and you can too easily take the dimensions of a half-and-half Christian. You come to form an idea of about how much money he will give to a needy enterprise, about how much time to a pressing work, how long he will stay to push a fresh project in the kingdom, and what pleasures and business engagements he will surrender to help revival efforts. We get tired of these easy measurements. But take a Caleb, and you cannot tell what Divine energies are locked up within him to come forth when needed..

One with Caleb’s spirit sees clearly the good things which God has promised. He has sight and insight. Twelve good men go over the same country, but on the whole they see differently, and so report what they see. Ten, with a common-sense vision of the greatness of the foes, and making no allowance for hidden and supernatural factors, did not see things as they were. On the other hand, Caleb saw all that they did, but he had a power of seeing Him who is invisible, and so of seeing truly. The man who followed fully had a clear eye, a single eye, and his whole body was full of light. In this way he perceived the essential weakness and rottenness of confederated evil. All achieving men have the same vision, and so they persist and wait and return to the same attack until they win the day, and the people that once bade stone them bring out garlands for their graves.

Men of Caleb’s spirit, wholly following the Lord, have the power of standing alone. The mass move with the stream. The few stand like a rock. No one knows who has not tried it what it costs the soul of self-searching, fear, doubt, sorrowful parting with loved friends, and the crushing weight of popular disapproval. In one of his noblest odes Horace speaks in admiration of him who can resist the heated demands of citizens who call for evil things,

Those who are like Caleb have the patience of faith. It was a long and wearisome time before the word of God to His trusty servant was fulfilled--more than a whole generation. No doubt sometimes, for he was human, he wondered when God would arise and His enemies be scattered. Have you seen some new possession in the things of the Spirit? Repeat the promise. Though it tarry, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not tarry. We get tired and run away from our own prayers, so that when the answer comes some one else lives where we did when we prayed. Oh, let us seek the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ!

Men of Caleb’s spirit have to fight the good fight of faith. Hebron was beautifully situated upon the hills to the south of Jerusalem, where even to-day there is a luxuriant vegetation and the grapes as of Eschol are gathered. From it one looks over a wide expanse of country, eastward, westward, northward, southward, towards Edom. There David was crowned and reigned seven years. It was a splendid reward after forty-three years’ delay. Perhaps on the great expedition with the spies Caleb marked the place and made a vow that, if the people entered in, he would have that abode, and the picture may have dwelt in his memory to cheer him in long years, just as the heavenly hills glow before the eye of Christian faith. But even at last the prize did not drop into his hands like a ripe apple. No; he must draw his sword and expel the sons of Anak who were in possession, for they also loved the high places. It costs to get the best, but it is wise economy to be satisfied with nothing less. Faith, the patience of faith, the fight of faith, the reward of faith--these come before us in this ancient story with the freshness of the Word of God. And now it remains to be said that there is a peculiar need of Calebs to-day, when great things are offered us in the providences of God and we have not far to go to enter into them. Make it personal. Sometimes the Spirit shows you while you are praying or reading or listening to others an attainment beyond all you have ever reached. It is your Hebron. No matter what the precise form of the blessing, if you have had it clearly set before you, it is a call to possess it by faith, just as Caleb went up to his reward among the hills of Palestine. All that your feet press is yours. Saints are more to blame for not walking upon the high places as children of the heavenly King than sinners are for not turning to God in penitence. Saints have great promises made to them and great helps offered them. Make it more general. Before the whole Church to-day there is a promised world to be won for Christ by prayer and toil. Our charter gives it to us for a possession, and the doors are wide for our entrance therein. Another field for faith is the deeper Christianising of the already Christian nations of the earth. Dr. Herren says in his little book, “The Larger Christ”: “The realisation of heaven upon earth is more than a mystic ideal. It is the crowning fact of history. It is the solid reality with which God is displacing the insubstantial materialism underlying the rude social structures of human selfishness. It is the Divine errand upon which white-souled prophets have walked serene through a world ablaze with scorn. The pledge of God is behind it, and the victorious forces of the universe are allied in its behalf. The Bible is its written warrant and the Cross its seal which none can break. It may take us with violence, but it advances to conquer. And the saints shall judge the world!” (Edward N. Packard.)


Introduction to chaps. 15-19

The law of distribution

We come now in earnest to the distribution of the land. The narrative looks very bare, but important principles and lessons underlie it. These lists of unfamiliar names look like the debris of a quarry--hard, meaningless, and to us useless. But nothing is inserted in the Bible without a purpose--a purpose that in some sense bears on the edification of the successive generations and the various races of men.

1. There is something to be learned from the maintenance of the distinction of the twelve tribes and the distribution of the country into portions corresponding to each. In some degree this was in accordance with Oriental usage; for the country had already been occupied by various races, dwelling in a kind of unity--the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Hivites, Jebusites, Perizzites, and Girgashites. What was peculiar to Israel was that each of the tribes was descended from one of Jacob’s sons, and that their relation to each other was conspicuously maintained, though their dwelling-places were apart. As in the case of the separate states of North America, or the separate cantons of Switzerland, it provided for variety in unity; it gave a measure of local freedom and independence, while it maintained united action; it contributed to the life and vigour of the commonwealth without destroying its oneness of character or impairing its common purpose and aim. It promoted that picturesque variety often found in little countries, where each district has a dialect, or a pronunciation, or traditions, or a character of its own; as Yorkshire differs from Devon, or Lancashire from Cornwall; Aberdeenshire from Berwick, or Fife from Ayr. As in a garden variety of species enlivens and enriches the effect, so in a community variety of type enriches and enlivens the common life. In the case of the Hebrew commonwealth the distinction of tribes became smaller as time went on, and in New Testament times the three great districts Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee showed only the survival of the fittest. A larger individuality and a wider variety would undoubtedly have prevailed if a good spirit had continued to exist among the tribes, and if all of them had shown the energy and the enterprise of some. But the wrong spirit came in, and came in with a witness, and mischief ensued. For distinctions in race and family are apt to breed rivalry and enmity, and not only to destroy all the good which may come of variety, but to introduce interminable mischief. For many a long day the Scottish clans were like Ishmael, their hand against every man and every man’s hand against them; or at least one clan was at interminable feud with another, and the country was wretched and desolate. Among the twelve tribes of Israel the spirit of rivalry soon showed itself, leading to disastrous consequences. Many arrangements of our modern civilisation that conduce to our comfort when in good order become sources of unexampled evil when they go wrong. The drainage of houses conduces much to comfort while it works smoothly; but let the drains become choked, and send back into our houses the poisonous gases bred of decomposition, the consequences are appalling. The sanitary inspector must be on the alert to detect mischief in its very beginnings, and apply the remedy before we have well become conscious of the evil. And so a vigilant eye needs ever to be kept on those arrangements of Providence that are so beneficial when duly carried out, and so pernicious when thoughtlessly perverted. What a wonderful thing is a little forbearance at the beginning of a threatened strife! What a priceless blessing is the soft answer that turneth away wrath!

2. Again, in the allocation of the tribes in their various territories we have an instance of a great natural law, the law of distribution, a law that, on the whole, operates very beneficially throughout the world. In society there is both a centripetal and a centrifugal force; the centripetal chiefly human, the centrifugal chiefly Divine. Men are prone to cluster together; God promotes dispersion. In the early ages they clustered about the plain of Shinar; the confusion of tongues scattered them abroad. And generally, in any fertile and desirable spot, men have been prone to multiply till food has failed them, and either starvation at home or emigration abroad becomes inevitable. And so it is that, in spite of their cohesive tendency, men are now pretty well scattered over the globe. And when once they are settled in new homes, they require adaptation to their locality, and begin to love it. It is a proof of Divine wisdom that a world that presents such a variety of climates and conditions has, in all parts of it, inhabitants that enjoy their life. The same law operates in the vegetable world. Everywhere plants seem to discover the localities where they thrive best. There is always a place for the plant, and a plant for the place. And it is so with animals, too. The elephant in the spreading forest, the rabbit in the sandy down, the beaver beside the stream, the caterpillar in the leafy garden. Some of the great deserts that our imagination used to create in Africa or elsewhere do not exist. Barren spots there are, and “miry places and marshes given to salt,” but they are not many. The earth has been replenished, and the purpose of God so far fulfilled. And then there is a distribution of talents. We are not all created alike, with equal dividends of the gifts and faculties that minister in some way to the purposes of our life. We depend more or less on one another; women on men, and men on women; the young on the old, and sometimes the old on the young; persons of one talent on those of another talent, those with strong sinews on those with clear heads, and those with clear heads on those with strong sinews; in short, society is so constituted that what each has he has for all, and what all have they have for each. The principle of the division of labour is brought in; and in a well-ordered community the general wealth and well-being of the whole are better promoted by the interchange of offices than if each person within himself had a little stock of all that he required. The same law of distribution prevails in the Church of Christ. It was exemplified in an interesting way in the case of our Lord’s apostles. No one of these was a duplicate of another. And throughout the history of the Church the distribution of gifts has been equally marked. Chrysostom and Augustine, Jerome and Ambrose, Bernard and Anselm, were all of the same stock, but not of the same type. At the Reformation men of marked individuality were provided for every country. The missionary field has in like manner been provided for. India has had her Schwartz, her Carey, her Duff, and a host of others; China her Morrison, Burmah her Judson, Polynesia her Williams, Africa her Livingstone. The most unattractive and inhospitable spots have been supplied. Greenland was not too cold for the Moravians, nor the leper-stricken communities of India or Africa too repulsive. And never were Christian men more disposed than to-day to honour that great Christian law of distribution--“Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” It was a great providential law, therefore, that was recognised in the partition of the land of Canaan among the tribes. Provision was thus made for so scattering the people that they should occupy the whole country, and become adapted to the places where they settled and to the pursuits proper to them.

3. Still further, in the allocation of the tribes in their various territories we have an instance of the way in which God designed the earth to minister most effectually to the wants of man. We do not say that the method now adopted in Canaan was the only plan of distributing land that God ever sanctioned; very probably it was the same method as had prevailed among the Canaanites; but it is beyond doubt that, such as it was, it was sanctioned by God for His chosen people. It was a system of peasant proprietorship. The whole landed property of the country was divided among the citizens. The extremes of wealth and poverty were alike checked and discouraged, and the lot eulogised by Agur--a moderate competency, neither poverty nor riches--became the general condition of the citizens. It is difficult to tell what extent of land fell to each family. The portion of the land divided by Joshua has been computed at twenty-five million acres. Dividing this by 600,000, the probable number of families at the time of the settlement, we get forty-two acres as the average size of each property. For a Roman citizen, seven acres was counted enough to yield a moderate maintenance, so that even in a country of ordinary productiveness the extent of the Hebrew farms would, before further subdivision became necessary, have been ample. When the population increased the inheritance would of course have to be subdivided. But for several generations this, so far from an inconvenience, would be a positive benefit. It would bring about a more complete development of the resources of the soil. The great rule of the Divine economy was thus honoured--nothing was lost. We in this country, after reaching the extreme on the opposite side, are now trying to get back in the direction of this ancient system. All parties seem now agreed that something of the nature of peasant proprietorship is necessary to solve the agrarian problem in Ireland and in Great Britain too. It is only the fact that in Britain commercial enterprise and emigration afford so many outlets for the energies of our landless countrymen that has tolerated the abuses of property so long among us--the laws of entail and primogeniture, the accumulation of property far beyond the power of the proprietor to oversee or to manage, the employment of land agents acting solely for the proprietor, and without that sense of responsibility or that interest in the welfare of the people which is natural to the proprietor himself. It is little wonder that theories of land-possession have risen up which are as impracticable in fact as they are wild and lawless in principle. Such desperate imaginations are the fruit of despair--absolute hopelessness of getting back in any other way to a true land law--to a state of things in which the land would yield the greatest benefit to the whole nation.

4. In the arrangements for the distribution of the land among the twelve tribes we may note a proof of God’s interest in the temporal comfort and prosperity of men. It is not God that has created the antithesis of secular and spiritual, as if the two interests were like a see-saw, so that whenever the one went up the other must go down. Things in this world are made to be enjoyed, and the enjoyment of them is agreeable to the will of God, provided we use them as not abusing them. In ordinary circumstances God intends men to be fairly comfortable; He does not desire life to be a perpetual struggle, or a dismal march to the grave. The very words in which Christ counsels us to consider the lilies and the ravens, instead of worrying ourselves about food and clothing, show this; for, under the Divine plan, the ravens are comfortably fed and the lilies are handsomely clothed. The characteristic of a good man, when he enjoys a share of worldly prosperity, is, that he does not let the world become his idol--it is his servant, it is under his feet; he jealously guards against its becoming his master. His effort is to make a friend of the mammon of unrighteousness, and to turn every portion of it with which he may be entrusted to such a use for the good of others that when at last he gives in his account, as steward to his Divine Master, he may do so with joy, and not with grief. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/joshua-14.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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