Joshua 14:6-15; 15:13-19

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. 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. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. 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. [1]

With the major military coalitions broken, and the allotment of lands West of the Jordan to be settled, the narrator now focuses his attention on Caleb. He and Joshua are the oldest men left in the nation, having survived the wilderness wanderings because of their unshakable trust in God’s promises. That makes both of them unique in their record of faithful devotion and service to the Lord.

Before the allocation of land to the tribe of Judah can be made, Caleb comes forward to mention the prior promise God made that now must be fulfilled. The scene looks back 45 years to Kadesh-barnea when Caleb was a relatively young man of 40. He was chosen to be the representative of his tribe of Judah, along with Joshua from the tribe of Benjamin and ten others, to spy out the land of Canaan. The details of that story are recorded in Numbers 13 and 14.

At that time Israel had been out of Egypt for about one year. They had experienced God’s saving power from Pharaoh’s tyranny in the exodus. They had also learned what it meant to be rescued from the righteous wrath of God against sin through the provision of the Passover lamb. In the year that followed, they had seen the pursuing elite Egyptian troops drowned in the Red Sea, had experienced God’s provision of water and daily food, had won a great victory over the Amalekites, and had been brought to meet with God at Sinai where they received the Law.

At that point, the Israelites traveled to Kadesh-barnea, to the very edge of the promised land. They had experienced a year of astonishing progress mixed with unbelief, discontentment, and grumbling. Many of them often looked back over their shoulders, wistful for what they had known in Egypt. Through rose colored glasses they glossed over the slavery and the cruel burdens, instead recalling the food supplies and the stability of their lives in slavery. Now that they are on the edge of the land they were about to receive, surely their trials and triumphs would all be worth the privation and testing.

Moses sent the 12 spies to gather information on Canaan. Their mission lasted six weeks, following which they returned to give a report to Moses and the tribal leaders. “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 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…. We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13: 27, 28, 31).

10 spies signed off on the majority conclusion. But Caleb and Joshua offered a contradictory minority view. “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30). The majority fight back by multiplying the challenges and magnifying the horrors: The land will devour us; everyone who lives there is a giant, and we are like grasshoppers.

Those listening in begin weeping and grumbling, longing for Egypt, but Joshua and Caleb are undaunted. They restate and develop their case with careful reasoning. The land is indeed “exceedingly good,” flowing with milk and honey, and God will bring his people in (Numbers 14:6-9). “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” (Numbers 14:9).

The reaction of the increasingly angry mob is brutal. “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones” (Numbers 14:10). Likely, Joshua and Caleb would have been stoned to death on the spot had not God’s Shekinah glory-cloud filled the tent of meeting at that moment. God’s judgment falls as he pronounces that none of this unbelieving generation we’ll see or enter the land because they have despised his word of promise and tarnished his faithful character. “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.[2]

At last, the time for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Caleb has come, 45 years later, the vast majority of which he spent in the wilderness with a rebellious, grumbling people who were kept from entering God’s rest because of their unbelief. They trusted their own observation. But Caleb had been granted miraculous unshakeable trust in God’s revelation. Their eyes were on the giants, but Caleb’s eyes were on the Lord. That refrain recurs three times in Joshua 14 (8, 9, 14): Caleb “wholeheartedly followed the Lord” [NIV]. That is the primary ingredient in the rest of his story that follows.


Modern church-speak is heavily sprinkled with the word “vision.” Pastors often refer to themselves as vision-casters. Churches often craft what they call vision statements. But Caleb’s vision was not some mystical projection of his own wishful thinking, nor was it a creation of his own imagination. Spiritual vision means being able to see a situation from God’s perspective, based on his self-revelation, his Word.

It means possessing the ability to move into that situation with confidence that God’s purposes will be fulfilled. It means trusting into him and expecting him to work. It means seeing the invisible God, by means of his inspired inerrant Word and the work of the Holy Spirit through it and in us. It means reckoning on his secret power and sovereign will to do things that no one could ever begin to ask or imagine apart from his means of grace.

Caleb was realistic. Vision is a great quality, but it is often in short supply. When it is absent, other alternatives fill in the vacuum, falsely bearing the same name. Vision is not pretending things are other than they are. Vision is not psyching ourselves up to believe that God has said something he has not said or is committed to do what he has not promised to do. Vision is not seeing in my mind’s eye what I would like to do and trying to “believe” hard enough to make it happen. God is not a cosmic vending machine or a personal genie.

Caleb followed God “wholeheartedly.” Vision starts with the heart, which in biblical thinking is the control center of our personality where we decide on choices in life and formulate our plans and make our decisions. His consistent God-centeredness kept Caleb constant when everyone around him was losing their way and turning aside into appalling faithlessness.

The 10 spies who opposed him would surely have argued they were simply being realistic, but only because their hearts were not fixed on YHWH and his clear promises. Their perspective was distorted because their hearts were divided. But by the grace of the Holy Spirit alone, Caleb was the true realist. He and Joshua saw exactly the same challenges as the others, but they saw them through the lens of trust into the promises of God, a great God committed to his people, to whom giants are nothing.

That faith was not of themselves, but a gift of God so that no one could boast in anything other than the grace of their Creator. Joshua and Caleb had been given hearts wholly committed to the Lord. They had that for which the psalmist prayed, “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). Or, as the NIV renders it, “give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

There is a great deal of application for the contemporary church in this passage. Conquering Canaan was an impossibility in human terms. But the spies were unrealistic when they left God out of the equation. The church often commits that same error today. Realism recognizes we live in a world of cause and effect, in which, as people turn their backs on God, there will inevitably be negative effects in society that will prove very hard to change.

Biblical realism recognizes that returning to an era of nominal Christendom and outward moralism has nothing to do with true spiritual revival. Any spiritual capital from that bygone era (if ever such existed) has largely disappeared and we must be realists about that fact. A mere flesh-based realism would be inclined to give up the fight and live like the pagans around us, something many of the Israelites would do after they moved into the land. It’s something that nominal Christians still do in our day.

So, the issue is whether we measure the giants in our lives by our own strength or by God’s promises, because the results are polar opposites. The undivided heart is realistic about the dimensions of the challenge of sin both in our own lives and all around us, but its focus is on the dynamic power of the gospel to transform human lives, sometimes in ways that impact neighborhoods, communities, or even regions.

It is easier for us to observe the condition of the world and work up a good holy self-righteousness than it is for us to look inside ourselves and seek out the sins we must battle and uproot based on the promises of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. An undivided heart craves to purge its own land of indwelling sin. A divided heart becomes discouraged and cannot see beyond the problems to the promises and seek a mighty work of God in faith.

A second aspect of Caleb’s vision of the person and work of God was his humility. The first step on the path to humility is to realize that we do not have it, and that it is too big a step for most of us. But because Caleb had been blessed with a strong trust, he had a deeper understanding of who God was and who he was in relationship to God. “If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land” he said on that day at Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 14:8).

Proper spiritual vision does not dictate to God what he is to do or how he is to do it, under the delusion that this is evidence of great faith. It is not. That is simply sprinkling Jesus language on our idolatry. The wholehearted believer knows the greatness of God’s infinite wisdom and inexhaustible power and submits unreservedly to the Lord. Such vision recognizes that everything depends on God’s grace and favor, so it rests peacefully, obediently in the sovereignty of God. Obedience does not earn God’s blessing. Rather, it is an expression of the humility the Holy Spirit works in us to keep the channels open for God’s grace to flow in our lives.

Arrogance is an enemy of the undivided heart. Thinking I have a hotline to God, a special word, or a particular gifting can easily divert my fickle heart from humble trust into pious self-assertion. But Caleb realized his hope was in his total dependence on the Lord and in the Lord’s “delight.” Caleb had the same confidence as the prophet Zephaniah, who would later sing:

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. [3]

Only because he has first loved us are we able to love him in any measure at all. The heart of his great plan of redemptive love is to restore his image within his people and for them to be his delight. This is why he called Israel his “treasured possession” back at Sinai (Exodus 19:5). Humility is a key to our enjoyment of all that God delights to give us. Caleb grasped that resting in God’s delight it was a crucial way to enjoy God’s grace and favor.

Of course, the greatest element of Caleb’s vision, his faith, was expressed in a simple trust that God would be all that he declared himself to be and so would keep the promises he made. That fact comes through clearly in Numbers 14. There is no doubt in Caleb’s mind that God’s promises are true. He argues that the Lord will give them the land because it is already God’s to give. The Canaanites had no protection before their sovereign Creator.

His faith never diminished, so that 45 years later he could still say to Joshua, “you know what the Lord said to Moses… concerning you and me” (14:6). For over 4 decades his faith had been in the Word of God and so in the God of the Word. He kept on believing that he would see the land since God is the one who gives life and breath, and that he would not only see it but possess his inheritance. “So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day” (14:12).

Faith is the antidote to fear. The 10 spies were focused on the giants and the human impossibilities of their task, but Joshua and Caleb had their eyes on the God of promise, living their lives in simple trust of his Word. Fear said, “We cannot,” but faith replied, “God can and will!” This is a simple and clear biblical principle taught throughout the scriptures, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than Isaiah 51:12, 13.

Israel is mired in unbelief and consequently despondent over the coming Babylonian exile. They are unable to believe that God has gracious purposes behind it that will lead to more glory than anything they have known. God addresses them through Isaiah:

I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, 13and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, and you fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor, when he sets himself to destroy? [4]

Israel has observed the great Babylonian war machine and their observation brings trepidation. But God says they have forgotten who he has revealed himself to be, they have forgotten his part in their lives. The natural consequence is they will soon capitulate to the fear of man. Fear of circumstances and trust into God cannot coexist. Faith may be assaulted by doubt, as with the father of the demon possessed boy who cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The very act of turning to God in trust begins to dispel fear.

Our natural human reaction to Caleb’s story is to elevate him to a position above ourselves, granting him superhero status. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a faith like Caleb’s,” becomes our Sunday school answer. But then we either settle back into our comfortable mediocrity or we go on a quest to try and find a greater “faith,” as if it were an abstract entity that we can acquire, maybe through some overwhelming emotional experience.

But faith is like a muscle. The more it is exercised and stretched, the stronger it will become. That is the point of Saint Author of Hebrews when he writes that God trains those whom he loves. He allows us experiences that strain our faith muscles. But in the end, it is the object of faith, rather than its exercise, that determines our spiritual fitness. We do not need greater faith or subjective confidence, but trust in the greatness of God. The essence of faith is holding on to a God who is faithful. Our grip may be very weak, as tiny as a mustard seed, but it is to whom that feeble faith looks that determines the outcome.

If I go somewhere with my grandkids and we are walking through a parking lot, I want them to be safe. There are plenty of distractions to cause them to wander off or come to harm. So I make them hold Grumpa’s hand. They always hold my hand loosely and distractedly, but I hold their little hands much more firmly. Their safety and delight depend on the firmness of my grip, not theirs. By all means hold on to the God who is faithful. But know that his grip is infinitely stronger than yours. So faith’s outcome is to know and prove that he is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). That was the essence of Caleb’s vision of God.


It’s an inspiring part of Caleb’s story to read of him stepping forward to claim what God has promised and for what he has fought. In fact, he will yet have to fight to make it fully his own. Even knowing that there is much more battle to come for him to secure his portion of the land, he still proclaims, “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” (14:11). He is 85 years old and still determined to enter into the fulfillment of the promised blessings.

The secret to that kind of vitality was his wholehearted following of the Lord. Spiritual vitality is one of the fruits of an undivided heart. The physical strength he enjoyed was a spiritual gift of God, shared by Joshua himself, in order to preserve them for the conquest and to fulfill their special roles at this unique point in God’s redemptive history. It is certainly not the case that all who follow the Lord wholeheartedly will find physical strength and health in their old age.

Paul’s observation in 2nd Corinthians 4:16 reflects the normal Christian experience: “our outer self is wasting away.” Our bodies do age, and many of our faculties decline. But in that same context, Paul also writes, “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” That is why, Paul writes, “we do not lose heart.” Rather, our heart is to be devoted to wholly following the Lord. Wholeheartedness is a daily spiritual battle, as it no doubt was with Caleb. But if we are truly dependent on the Lord, whatever our physical limitations, there is no reason for a believer to spiritually slip downhill.

Caleb’s statement is not an idle boast. He’s not trying to keep a positive outlook on life. He knows there are still pockets of the giant Anakim to be driven out from his inheritance. But he is also resolute entrusting God’s promise to “give me this hill country” (14:12a). He proclaims, “It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said” (12b). The phrase “may be” does not express fear or doubt. Usually it signifies hope while recognizing the struggle to come.

The outcome of Caleb’s taking the land is recorded in 15:13-19. Caleb drives out no less than three descendants of Anak, the legendary warrior of the giant race (15:13). These are the descendants of the men feared by the 10 spies, but not by Joshua or Caleb. They had been previously driven out as 11:22 told us. However, during the seven years of campaigning through the country, many of these mighty men had returned and Caleb had to drive them out again. From Hebron, he pushes on to Debir. When his battles are won, we see him distributing land and water rights to his family.

Our biggest danger in summing up Caleb’s story is our tendency to use him as an example, moralizing or allegorizing the text. We have to remember the fundamental principle that God is the hero of the narrative and not rip it out of context to become a merely motivational story. It is God who gave Caleb’s loyalty and uses that loyalty to bring about the realization of his promise of the land.

The story that starts here has its ultimate fulfillment in the inheriting of salvation in Christ. That is our necessary perspective as we travel on through this book. It is a much more dynamic and effective application than the example method or the hero approach. The main focus of any biblical text is the development of the history of redemption. Caleb’s story has value as an example, but it is also set firmly in the wider redemptive context.

We don’t have to identify ourselves with Caleb since our circumstances and experiences are so different. But we can and should identify with Caleb’s God in whom he placed his trust, which enabled him to follow wholeheartedly. For us, our greater and greatest example is our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us far greater victories and the more lasting inheritance and who is the object and the content of our faith.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.[5]














[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 14:6–15.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Nu 14:24.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Zep 3:17.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 51:12–13.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 9:11–15.