Who was Caleb in the Bible?

Caleb was an Israelite leader known for following God whole-heartedly. After leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God told Moses to send a leader from each tribe into Canaan to explore the Promised Land. Caleb, age forty at the time, was chosen as the leader from the tribe of Judah to go on this reconnaissance mission. Eleven other men, including Joshua, from the eleven other tribes joined him on this mission. They took forty days to traverse the land, assessing the soil, people groups, and city fortifications throughout the region before returning to the place where the Israelites were camped to give their report. The men reported that the land "flows with milk and honey" (Numbers 13:27). However, they also testified that "the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large" (Numbers 13:28). Of the twelve men, only Caleb and Joshua believed God would give them victory if they entered the Promised Land. Caleb stepped up and "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 13:30).

However, the Israelites were too afraid and actually planned to return to Egypt, lamenting that they had ever left and wishing they had died in the wilderness. Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb, grieved by the people's response, "tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, '…If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us… Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land... Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them'" (Numbers 14:6–9). Because these four leaders insisted on trusting the LORD, the people planned to stone them to death. God appeared at the tent of meeting to prevent their stoning and rebuke the people. Moses interceded on the people's behalf, begging God to forgive their lack of faith and rebellion. God decided "what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness… from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun" (Numbers 14:28–30). God then had the Israelites wander in the wilderness shepherding their flocks for forty years, one year for each day the leaders had spent exploring the land. During these forty years, the entire generation of Israelites over the age of twenty passed away except for Caleb and Joshua.

Finally God gave this new generation permission to start dispossessing the local inhabitants of their land and taking possession of it for themselves. As the Israelites gained control of the land, they needed leaders to divide the inheritance among the tribes. So this job was assigned to Joshua, Eleazar the priest, and one leader from each tribe. Again, Caleb was selected as the representative leader from the tribe of Judah (Numbers 34:17–19). As the Israelites crossed from the east side of the River Jordan to the west to continue conquering the land, Caleb remarked, "And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years… 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" (Joshua 14:10–11). Caleb asked for the land around Hebron as his inheritance and was granted this request "because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel" (Joshua 14:14). Caleb then drove out the Canaanite leaders in that area including the three sons of Anak and took possession of the land. Joshua 14:15 then records that "the land had rest from war."

Caleb's life journey sets an example of trusting God's promises even in the face of unlikely circumstances, mounting peer pressure, and actual physical and personal peril. While God often dealt with the Israelites as a people group as a whole, Caleb's story shows that He sees individual's hearts and honors individual's faith when it is lived out in practice. Caleb did have to wait forty-five years to enter the Promised Land due to his people's sin, but God miraculously preserved his strength and vitality during that time so that he could fully participate in and enjoy the Promised Land. Caleb is an example of lifelong faithfulness to God and of God's everlasting faithfulness to His people and to keeping His promises.

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