6 Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. 8 But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ 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. 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. 15 Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) And the land had rest from war. (Joshua 14:6–15 ESV)
We first met Caleb the son of Jephunneh way back in Numbers 13, when he is selected to be one of 12 Israelites to go spy on Canaan, spies who come back not completely terrified of what they saw in “the land which … flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27):
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 there. (Numbers 13:28)
Caleb isn’t afraid. “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it,” he tells Moses. But no one else agrees — the Canaanites are bigger and stronger and too much for small Israel to fight.
For this fear, God promises that none who stand in Israel that day — save Caleb and Joshua — will live to enter the land of promise. “Your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore I would make you swell,” God replies.
And thus, Israel is condemned to wander the wilderness for another generation, until all those who were afraid of the task ahead of them — of waging war to conquer Canaan — were gone.
Until the very fear itself that kept Israel in the wilderness was buried.
Today, we have Caleb, now well into his 80s, ready to take his very particular inheritance — all the land that he has trodden, the hills where the cities and forts on the Anakim (עֲנָקִים) — the village of Hebron and all that surrounds it.
His. Because of his faithfulness and courage. Because he followed and trusted God without flinching.
Sometimes, I think of what has happened in the last few years, since the untimely and unpleasant end of my first pastoral internship in Wisconsin (read my book!) as the enforced wilderness wandering of a man condemned to not come into the promise God has given him until all the fear that was in me was burned away. Because I am afraid, and there are days when I am more afraid, and not less, after all that has happened.
There has been manna in this wilderness, water from the rock, and a pillar of cloud and fire. But I am here, in part, because I flinched. And I wonder — will I ever be brave enough to finally shake the fear? Or disgusted enough, or tired enough, to truly trust the promise of God, cross the Jordan, and take what I have been promised.
But I am tired. Weary. There’s been a lot of wandering. Like Israel, I grumble. “I miss the cucumbers and leeks and spices of Egypt! Give me meat!” I want to settle and have a home and earn my bread with my own hands and the sweat of my own brow. I am trying. But it isn’t working, and I grow ever more discouraged.
I would like to be like Caleb, to receive a special city all of my own, in the midst of the land given to the people of Judah. But I think I am a Levite, dependent people among a dependent people, the very living embodiment of what it means to trust that God will provide. My hands don’t so much craft and bake and brew and fashion as they write and pray.
As we consider the promises of God, some do get cities, lands, places to dwell of their own. Others, a portion of that given back.
All have to trust God, however.