"And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 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. 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.” Joshua 14:11
Caleb stood before Joshua, an old soldier declaring that he is as fit to make war now as he was forty-five years earlier. His gnarly fist clenched, his toothless jaw jutting out, wisps of white hair are all that is left to cover his wrinkled head. It sounds very much like the rantings of an old man who has finally lost his grip on reality. He is a withering shell of his former self - - his weak and frail frame refuses to agree with his demented ranting.
Caleb is old. His body is worn. The steel in his spine has evaporated and it would appear that his wits have left him as well. The old man is surely in the throes of senility. Poor fellow, he is still living in the glories and the victories of a day long since past. Or, is he?
Caleb is one of the twelve spies who crept into the heart of the land of Canaan which God had promised the Hebrews when they escaped slavery in Egypt. The men were overwhelmed by the beauty and the bounty of this “promised land.” It was everything God had promised it would be. However, there was something else. There were giants.
The land was filled with fortified cities, powerful armies, and powerful defenders. How would they ever conquer this place? Ten spies came back with the sad report: We can’t do it . . . the cities are too strong, the armies too large, and their warriors too powerful. We will not be able to drive them out and possess the land. However, two of those spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a different report - - “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.”
The people chose to believe the word of the ten faithless spies who looked only at their physical strength and refused to enter into the land. The result was that they were forced to languish in the trackless desert for another 38 years, while everyone who left Egypt’s slavery died. Now, forty-five years later only Joshua and Caleb remain of all the pilgrims who trudged through the wilderness. The land has been largely taken and Joshua is dividing up the land for an inheritance to each family. Moses had promised the area around Hebron to Caleb and his family, and the old man stands ready with his sons to lay claim to the land they will possess long after he is dead.
I am almost seventy-five years old and I think about these things a lot. I think about Caleb at eighty-five declaring that he is as strong now as he was then, and able to go in and make war and sometimes I think he was surely out of his mind. It has been more than fifty years since I moved my young wife from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to the Green Mountains of Vermont and I am certainly not as strong now as I was then. I have a bad heart, weak eyes, and stiff joints and just standing up from my chair sometimes reminds me that I am not the man that I once was. I want so much to latch on to a spiritual inheritance for my children and for those I have been called to shepherd, but truthfully, some days it’s hard just to get in and out of my car. If I am honest I will admit that there are days when I feel more like those ten unfaithful spies than Caleb.
It is in those moments that the Holy Spirit reminds me of the words of that forty year old Caleb: “If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into the land and give it to us.” In these words I realize a grand truth: Caleb was not basing success on the power of his arm or the steel of his sword, but upon the power and faithfulness of his God. It did not matter to that young man how great the cities were or how powerful the armies might be, nor even the size of their giants. In the shadow of the delight of the Lord their strength was irrelevant. The thickness of the walls, the power of their bows –– not even the size of their footprints mean anything when the strength of God is wielded on behalf of His people.
As that old man stood before Joshua, wizened and bent, hairless and worn by the passage of time, Caleb was ready to stand in the same strength as he had so long ago. He knew that while time had eroded his natural strength God’s strength had not waned. He knew that while his arthritic hands might scarcely grip his sword, the sword of the Lord would be unsheathed against his enemies and he and his sons would dine at the table prepared for them by a faithful God in the inheritance promised. His strength truly was now as it had been then.
In these days of my life, I look to Caleb and draw from his wisdom and faith. The same source from which I drew my strength fifty years ago is still mine and I am able now as I was then to go in and make war against principalities and powers, spiritual wickedness in high places.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. - Psalm 21 -