Joshua 14:6-15 – Caleb Is Not About Us

Joshua 12 gives an overview of the Canaanite kings defeated by both Moses and Joshua.
  • In chapters 13-21, the land is distributed to the tribes of Israel by lot.
  • Joshua 19:51 (ESV) — 51 These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land.
  • By lot” is meant to reveal the “active role of Yahweh” – EBD.
  • Israel was the steward of the land; God was the owner – EBD.

The Levites were also allotted cities and pastureland per Moses’ instruction.
  • Joshua 21:2 (ESV) — 2 And they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, “The Lord commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock.”

Sprinkled within these chapters are a number of other narratives; we will unwrap one of them.
  • Joshua 14:6-15 deals with Caleb’s special request.


Who is Caleb?
He was the son of Jephunneh from the tribe of Judah.
  • He was one of the spies Moses selected to spy out the promise land in Numbers 13.
  • Numbers 13:2 (ESV) — 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.”

The spies report –
  • Numbers 13:27–28 (ESV) — 27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak [the Nephilim giants] there.
  • Numbers 13:31 (ESV) — 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”

Caleb and Joshua’s report –
  • Numbers 13:30 (ESV) — 30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
  • Numbers 14:6–9 (ESV) — 6 And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

All of Israel rebelled against Caleb and Joshua and sought to stone them.
  • God intervened to save them and condemned Israel to wandering for 40 years.
  • Numbers 14:22–24 (ESV) — 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.

God promised to give Caleb the land “into which he went”; the land he spied on.
  • This brings us to Joshua 14:6-15.

His Request:
The tribe of Judah comes to Joshua and Caleb makes a request.
  • “…You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me.” (vs. 6)

He continues…
  • Joshua 14:10–13 (ESV) — 10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” 13 Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance.

Couple of interesting observations:
  • It appears that the length of the Conquest to this point was about 5 years.
  • The Anakim were still present – the “giants” that brought such fear to the Israelites.
  • Caleb’s response to this – “I shall drive them out just as the Lord said”.

Why did Caleb spy out/want Hebron, the land of the Anakim?
  • James Boice has some pretty good speculation.

Hebron had a significant connection to Abraham.
  • “It was the only piece of Canaan that Abraham actually owned in his lifetime” – James Boice.
  • Genesis 13:18 (ESV) — 18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.
  • As we will see later, it also had a covenant significance.

Moreover, many significant people were buried at Hebron.
  • Sarah was buried there.
  • Abraham was buried there.
  • Isaac was buried there.
  • Rebekah was buried there.
  • Jacob was buried there.
  • Joseph was ultimately buried there.

Whatever was behind Caleb’s affinity for Hebron, Joshua granted his request (vs. 13).
  • Joshua blessed him
  • he gave Hebron to Caleb
  • It was “for an inheritance

The concept of blessing is “rich one in in biblical thought” – David Howard.
  • The idea behind the blessing was the bestowing of:
    • Long life
    • Children
    • Land
  • And significantly, the blessing also involved “an inheritance” of Abraham’s very own land.
    • We will hit on this again in a moment.


What does the author of Joshua mean to convey with this narrative about Caleb?
An example of Christian living?
  • Before we investigate, we need to hear a warning.

I completely agree with Marten Woudstra when he warns:
  • “The example element is present, but it is embedded in a story which conveys the history of the progress of God’s redemption. The events that happen in that historical context are nonrepeatable and unique. They cannot be simply lifted out of that context for purposes of a message today.”

In other words –
  • The Bible is not about us; it is about God working out His plans of recreation, redemption and reconciliation in history.
  • This fact obviously impacts us, but it is not about us.
  • We aren’t at its center.

For example, “How to Be a Caleb” would be lifting this story out of context “for purposes of a message today”.
  • This takes all the attention off of God and the text and puts it on us.
  • The text simply becomes a means for some clever application and it loses its primacy.
  • The underlying message becomes – Scripture only has “real” meaning when we “subjectify” it.

What is the context/background that makes Caleb’s story significant?
  • Genesis 13:14–18 (ESV) — 14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

God covenanted with Abram in Genesis 12 (and 15).
  • He repeated the covenant in Genesis 13:16.
  • The covenant immediately found fulfillment when Abram “settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron”.
  • In response, Abram “built an altar to the Lord”.

So Hebron had some powerful symbolic significance.
  • It was a place of revelation from Yahweh.
  • It was a place where Yahweh began the now and not yet fulfillment of His covenant to Abram.
    • Just as Isaac was.
  • It was a place where Abram built an altar and worshiped Yahweh.

What this means is that Caleb’s inheritance of Hebron is a kind of “hyper fulfillment” of God’s covenant promises to Abram.
  • It is a specific instance of God’s continuing covenant faithfulness.
  • It is a specific instance of God continuing to work out His redemptive history.
  • It is part of the “scarlet thread” of the Abrahamic covenant of grace.
  • And because of this, it points to the ultimate covenant fulfillment,  “the inheriting of salvation in Christ” – Marten Woudstra.

Covenant Participation:
But wait…there is more!
  • Caleb’s story also shows how he was able to participate in God’s redemptive history.
  • Caleb was both a man of faith in God (he was counted as righteous) and an obedient follower of Yahweh (he was a recipient of the blessings of obedience).
  • How do we know?
    • His words
    • His actions
    • How he was described.

Caleb’s Words and Actions:
We saw in our OT Gospel lesson that the faith of Abram by which he was counted as righteous had two dimensions to it.
  • (1) Believing/Acting on what God has done.
  • (2) Trusting in the surety of God’s future promises.

By Caleb’s word and actions we see these two dimensions of faith expressed.
  • Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” – (Num. 13:30)
    • Acting on what God has done.
  • “If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land – (Num. 14:8-9).
    • Trusting in God’s promises

Caleb, having experienced the covenant faithfulness of God in the Exodus, trusted that God would continue to do what He had promised.
  • Caleb’s faith acted courageously “upon the promises of god” – Richard Hess.
  • Israel cowered at the presence of the Canaanites…
  • BUT – Caleb looked to God’s promises.
  • Caleb’s eyes were on God’s word and promises to Abram, not on men’s doubts.

And this trust in God’s promises is clearly expressed in our Joshua 14:10+ text:
  • “‘And now, look how Yahweh has kept me alive, as he promised, these forty-five years … and now look how I am today eighty-five years old, yet I remain as strong today as the day when Moses sent me off; my strength is the same now as then for war and for going out and coming in.’ This is the way of biblical faith—it remembers what Yahweh has done, and remembers in gratitude” – Dale Davis.

BTW – It must be pointed out that Caleb’s trust also rested squarely in God’s word.
  • what the Lord said to Moses” – (vs. 6)
  • the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said” – (vs. 10a)
  • the Lord spoke this word to Moses” – (vs. 10b)
  • give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day” – (vs. 12)

“True faith always functions that way; it pleads God’s promises; it anchors itself upon the word of God. There can be no other foundation for faith” – Dale Davis.
  • This was the faith of Caleb.

Caleb Described:
Joshua 14:14 (ESV) — 14 Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.
  • The NIV translates “wholly followed” as “wholeheartedly”.
  • …he has a different spirit and has followed me fully” – Numbers 14:24.
  • …he has wholly followed the Lord” – Deut. 1:36.

What does it mean to have “wholly followed the Lord”?
  • It is another expression of Caleb’s two-dimensional faith.
  • But it goes beyond that.

The phrase “wholly followed” carries with it some significant connotations.
  • (1) To be a disciple
  • (2) To be spiritually faithful instead of an adulterer or idolater

BTW – Most of the insights into this phrase come from LXX’s translation of “epakoloutheo”.

Caleb the Disciple:
  • The LXX has verse 14 as “following” or “followed after” the Lord – Lexham Interlinear LXX.
  • The BDAG translates the LXX Greek as, “to apply oneself to someth. with eager dedication, follow after, i.e. devote oneself”.
  • The DBL also has “to devote oneself to”.
  • The idea here is one of a consistent, faithful follower and all that that would entail.
  • Denying self, obedience, etc.

Caleb the Faithful:
  • The TDNT also suggests that there is an important contrast being made between one who goes after other gods with one who goes after Yahweh.
  • The idea is that there are those who commit spiritual adultery and idolatry and then there is a faithful covenant member – Caleb.

This concept of spiritual adultery is a common theme in the OT.
  • Numbers 25:1–3 (ESV) — 1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
  • Hosea 1:2 (ESV) — 2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”
  • Hosea 2:13 (ESV) — 13 And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord.

But Caleb didn’t seek “her lovers” or forget the Lord.
  • He remembered and acted upon God’s promises.
  • Deuteronomy describes such a person.
  • Deuteronomy 5:32–33 (ESV) — 32 You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.

Caleb was able to participate in God’s redemptive history because –
  • He believed and trusted in God’s work and promises.
  • He stood upon the truth of God’s word.
  • He was a devoted, obedient disciple of God.
  • He was faithful, not a spiritual adulterer.

Caleb’s faith had the following qualities –
  • “He did not minimize the problems—the giants and the fortified cities—but he magnified God” – BKC.
  • Trust in God does not bury its head in the sand.
  • Caleb still had to fight to secure Hebron – “I shall drive them out” (vs. 12).
  • His faith withstood 40 years of wandering in the desert and watching his peers die because of their disobedience.
  • God’s promises sustained him.
  • Romans 8:6 (ESV) — 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.