INTRODUCTION: The lesson will focus on Caleb and his effort to seize the land promised to him once the tribal allotments had been determined. See the introduction to the June 3rd lesson for additional help with the context of the book of Joshua within the flow of biblical history. Keep in mind that while Caleb’s story serves as an illustration of godly character, his story demonstrates a quality God’s people need to possess in order to fulfill the mission God had given them in this world.
Chapters 13-22 tell a story. They may not seem to tell a very interesting story, since most people do not enjoy reading about tribal boundaries, but it is an interesting and important story nevertheless. God promised to Abraham that his people would inhabit the land of Canaan. Ultimately, that promise was only part of the larger calling to bless all nations, a calling that was fulfilled in Jesus. Still, it was a significant milestone in God’s history with his people. After the Joshua’s army subdued the people of Canaan and had political control, the task of inhabiting the land became primary. Several points ought to be noted:
Even from these passages (and especially in Judges) it is evident that God did not intend Joshua to wipe out every single Canaanite or Canaanite settlement. That is often misunderstood by the average Bible reader. Joshua’s campaign was strategic. There were still significant pockets of Canaanites that the individual tribes would need to conquer and destroy. The task was not completed, though Joshua’s role was nearing its end.
Inhabiting the land required a plan. Once the land was subdued, the process of surveying the land in detail, determining tribal boundaries, and assigning clans to specific regions within each tribe began.
The Levites required special attention. They were supposed to be scattered throughout the land and not have a territory of their own. Still, they needed homes and thus land. Moreover, God had provided for cities of refuge in the cases of accidental manslaughter. The Levites’ settlements had to be allotted appropriately, with special attention to the location of cities of refuge.
The eastern two and a half tribes would be returning home, and naturally they were concerned about their relationship with the western tribes who inherited the land actually promised to Abraham.
All of these considerations were significant for Joshua and this story is told in these pages.
Within this larger story, a subplot emerges. Since God’s people still have a job to do, a job on which Joshua will not be taking the initiative, the question at hand is whether or not God’s people will fulfill their calling. The book of Joshua is a tale of God’s people on mission. In order to accomplish that mission, his people must faithfully execute God’s revealed will. The challenges may be significant, but God has already promised his presence. Why would his people shrink back?
CALEB, THE EXAMPLE OF FAITHFULNESS:
Caleb’s Urgency (14:6-12)
6: Caleb approached Joshua in connection with the descendants of Judah. As the text explains, Judah and Joseph were given their allotments first among the tribes inheriting the conquered territory west of the Jordan. They were evidently the two most numerous tribes. As Judah dealt with Joshua regarding the tribal allotment, Joshua’s old companion Caleb put himself forward with an urgent request. Caleb is called a “Kenizzite.” The name Kenaz and its gentillic, “Kenizzite” are associated with descendants of Esau (Gen 36:11) and with a people group who inhabited Canaan during the time of Abraham (Gen 15:18). However, Caleb is treated as a member of Judah in this passage, and his descendants are listed along with the descendants of Judah’s son Perez in 1 Chronicles 4. It is possible, maybe even likely that Caleb had genealogical roots outside of Israel and that his family became part of the people during the wilderness wanderings. It is also possible that he has an ancestor that shares the name “Kenaz” with a non-Israelite people (c.f. Joshua 15:17). The emphasis is not on Caleb’s family background, but on his personal history of serving the Lord. Caleb was resting upon past promises. “Faith,” as it is defined in the Bible, is partly a matter of resting on the surety of past promises. God had promised Caleb and Joshua an inheritance. Now, as Caleb understood it, that promise would be fulfilled. Caleb believed that God had delivered.
7-9: Here Caleb rehearses why God blessed Caleb with this promise in the first place. Caleb’s statement here is important. In a time of great challenge, Caleb had proved that he “wholly followed” the Lord (HCSB reads “remained loyal”). After an intense experience surveying the land of Canaan, 10 of the spies returned in fear, not believing that they could take a land God had already promised. Caleb interpreted his response not as courage, but as faithfulness. The Hebrew word translated in the ESV as “wholly followed” is a word often used for “fulfill,” as in “God fulfills his promises.” The emphasis seems to be on the fact that Caleb determined to do exactly what God instructed no matter what. Why was Caleb commended by God? Why was Caleb blessed by God with a blessing that only one other person in his generation experienced? The answer is found here: Caleb remained faithful to God’s command because he believed in the certainty of God’s promises.
Caleb’s attitude is instructive for his generation, for those that followed, and for us today. What quality does God expect of his church as we seek to experience his blessing and fulfill his mission today? Faithfulness. But faithfulness always requires sacrifice. Caleb disregarded the opinions of the other 10 who accompanied him and Joshua and disregarded the opinions of the elders of Israel who doubted as well. Courageously, he followed the Lord wholly, even though no one else seemed to see things his way. Consider the challenges to faithfulness that face the church. Remember that Caleb’s faithfulness was grounded in his conviction about the certainty of God’s promise. It was never about his or the people’s military ability. If we truly believe in the sovereignty of God, why do we not act courageously based on our faith in his sovereign provision, especially when we are certain of what his word commands?
10-12: Caleb looks to the present, but his attitude is the same. Our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God not only made a promise to Caleb, He has been active in preserving Caleb for this very day. Caleb relates that God preserved his health to such an extent that even at the advanced age of 85 we was still capable of taking on a significant physical challenge. Caleb eyed the challenge that awaited him, but it did not daunt him. The Anakim were there. The Anakim were a family of very tall, physically intimidating people who inhabited the land of Canaan during the time of the conquest. The 10 spies had been intimidated by the sons of Anak, but Caleb did not share their concern. Despite the physical obstacles, God would be faithful to his promises. Because of this, Caleb remained faithful to execute his responsibility. God would provide.
Caleb’s Challenge (14:13-14; 15:13-14)
The text makes clear that Caleb was successful, and it underscores the point of the passage in verse 14: Hebron has belong to the descendants of Caleb “to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord.” If God’s people are going to fulfill his mission, they must wholly follow the Lord. They must respond to God’s call with confidence, knowing that God will work effectively through them to accomplish his will. Anything less is faithlessness. And faithlessness is illustrated in the next passage.
EPHRAIM AND MANESSAH, THE EXAMPLE OF WEAKNESS:
The Lifeway material does not use this passage, but I think it serves as a nice and intentional contrast to the story of Caleb. The author of Joshua used the story of Caleb to highlight the quality of faithfulness that pleases God as his people work to accomplish his mission. On the other hand, though, faithlessness shows the weakness of one’s faith, and such weakness does not please God.
17:14-18: The tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, descendants of Joseph, had a complaint. They did not have enough territory. What exactly was the nature of their complaint? The hill country was not enough for them. Joshua had not only given them the hill country within their allotted boundaries, but obviously gave them the entire territory. However, by their own admission, the tribes were not occupying the valleys because the Canaanites were deeply entrenched there. They had superior technology and an imposing fighting force, and the Israelites responded by taking the path of least resistance. Take the hill country and go complain to Joshua for more land. Joshua, however, saw the weakness of their complaint: “You shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they were strong.” Since when did military strength hinder the purposes of God? Had not God commanded them to conquer Canaan and promised his presence? The tribes of Joseph did not possess the faithfulness of Caleb. They would not believe God’s promise and would not act courageously in response to it. The result was embarrassing. How were they any different than the 10 spies God condemned?
Consider the importance of faithfulness for the people of God. Faithfulness is a response to the gracious provision of God. It is, in fact, the only appropriate response to the gracious provision of God. If God has chosen us for salvation, given us new life in the Lord Jesus, given us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and promised his presence with us, how can we shrink back from God’s calling upon our lives? Thank God for the faithfulness of Jesus and pray that the Lord would increase our faithfulness.