Several spiritual wildernesses ago, I found myself a new scripture hero. Caleb, from the Old Testament, was one amazing, tough dude: faithful, honest, courageous and determined. In the second year after escaping Egypt, Caleb and Joshua – at the direction of Moses – go exploring into the Promised Land¹. Ten others went with them, all twelve being a representative of each of the tribes of Israel. When they all returned and told of what they’d seen, only Caleb and Joshua reported positively on the land they had explored.
Joshua and Caleb said “The land is flowing with milk and honey! Huge grapes! Pomegranates! Figs! It’s amazing, let’s go right now” but the remaining ten started freaking out, saying “Nope, no way, the dudes who live there are HUGE and they’ll squash us like bugs!”
Cue the wailing and whining of the camp of Israel, who then moaned at God and Moses that it would’ve been better to stay and die in Egypt than out in the awful wilderness with stupid Moses.²
God was not impressed by this behaviour. Behaviour which had been going on in the same petulant vein for the previous two years, despite manna, quails, parting of seas, freedom from enslavement, water fountains and other assorted miracles keeping them all alive. So God promises that not a single adult from that moment would see the Promised Land, except for Joshua and Caleb.³
Cue lots more wailing, moaning, belligerence and wandering in the wilderness, for forty more years.
Years ago, I thought it was so incredibly spectacular and encouraging that not only did God promise Caleb the particular land that Caleb touched when he went obediently exploring, but that God delivered on that promise. Back then, when I first found Caleb, I was in the initial furnace of separation/pending divorce, and God had promised me that “all of it will work out for your good” despite all enormous, overwhelming evidence (that I could see) to the contrary. So I thought I would try and be like Caleb: patient, and wait for God to deliver.
Turns out, I suck at patience. However now, years later, Caleb is still my favourite scripture hero, although for very different reasons. My perspective has significantly shifted, on all sorts of subjects and relating to Caleb, patience and promises.
Caleb was amazing. Turns out (after many readings, ponderings and a bit of math), Caleb was forty when he was chosen to represent the tribe of Ephraim and go check out the Promised Land. Forty! After a life of slavery, forty must have sat heavily on Caleb’s bones on cold desert mornings, but he still went out for forty days exploring at his prophet’s direction. Then Caleb’s effort and dedication seems to come to nothing when it’s suddenly a 2:10 vote for:against going into the Promised Land.
To me, patience is calm, polite and likes to make centerpieces and gorgeous, delicate lace. Which is great if you are that way inclined and capable, but me? I’m stubborn. To me, stubborn is feisty, at times foul-mouthed and wears muddy work boots as it digs out boulders and tree stumps. Caleb was forty when he heard he was one of the two adults present in the entire camp of Israel who would make it into the land dripping with milk and honey. He was eighty-five when he came before Joshua, who was now the leader and prophet of God’s people, and asked that the Lord’s promise be made manifest. This is where Caleb proves to me that he was not patient; he was stubborn.
And now, behold, the Lord hath kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the Lord spake this word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old.
As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in.
Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the Lord spake in that day…
Caleb was eighty-five. He would have watched his friends die, his wife die, all of his children over the age of twenty die, travelled and worked with the people of Israel for thirty-odd years before they entered the Promised Land. He hadn’t sat and waited: he had followed and served the Lord and Moses and then Joshua. He was still strong, was even ready for war, to go and fulfil the Lord’s promise. He continued to show his determination in doing what is required to receive the promise, when he continued, saying:
…for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims [the giants!] were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the Lord said.
“Give me this mountain” Caleb said. Demanded. For decades he’d been dreaming, not about a lovely plain or meadow, but a mountain. Eighty-five years old and ready to go kick giants off his property, just like he’d been waiting forty-five years to do. And then, he went and did exactly that. His stubbornness didn’t end with the permission to go to his own personal promised land: instead, it was just the beginning. Caleb then began again by fighting uphill against giants. Caleb was a very stubborn, incredible individual.
All those years ago, I thought I’d be like Caleb, calm and patient. I didn’t understand him, definitely didn’t understand myself, and started a stopwatch for waiting on God’s delivery. Patience seemed like a good idea, though in reality quite unsuited to my wanderings and situation.
A couple of years ago, I thought Caleb was insane, not patient, to be waiting forty years for a promised blessing; I’d long ago thrown away the mental stopwatch. Time passes and we age, we sag, we endure and we’re not even halfway towards forty years, or the goal in our hearts. But the stubborn keep the goal in mind, in their thoughts, twisted through and around their efforts, and keep going.
“Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt: but I wholly followed the Lord my God.” – Joshua 14:8
Today, I have a greater appreciation for what stubbornness towards a righteous goal can do to a person. It changes you (as I said, we age, we sag, we have lines on our faces and scars that pull deep), but stubborn determination can get you to the end of the path, and directly to the Promised Land, just as God promised. The stubborn have mud on their boots, fire in their bones, and they kick giants when the time finally comes.
Stubbornness was one of Caleb’s virtues, and I want to make it one of mine. I already have a head and heart full of stubbornness in my every day activities, choices and personality, but I want to be like Caleb, to have it all sharpened and focused towards the promises of God.
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.*
Give me this mountain. Giants and all. Bring it, every last speck of dirt. It’s mine.
Who is your scripture hero, and why? Have you ever done math or read in detail about a person’s life? What weakness do you hope the Lord will make into strength for you?