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8. Caleb: Finishing Strong (Josh. 14:6-15)

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When Vincent Foster, adviser to President Clinton, committed suicide in 1993, Clinton said, “It would be wrong to define a life like Vincent Foster’s in terms only of how it ended.” Nonetheless, that’s how Foster will be remembered—by how he finished the race. And that’s true of most people, isn’t it? – the end of their life defines who they were. I know that is true for my mentor, Dr. Stephen Olford. He was witnessing to the nursing and medical staff in the hospital right up to the moment he went into a coma and died.

We need to be people who finish strong in faith both to glorify the Lord and to be an encouragement and example to those who come behind us. That’s our subject: “Finishing Strong: The Life of Faith.” Our text is Joshua 14:6-15, the end of Caleb’s life. The overall lesson we learn from this passage is that we can finish strong in faith if we wholly follow the Lord.

You’ll remember the story, how Moses had sent 12 spies to look over the land that they were about to conquer, just to find out what they were up against. Their espionage trip took 40 days. When they came back, 10 of the spies brought a negative report but Joshua and Caleb brought a positive report. The fact is that all 12 spies had seen the same land but their reactions were entirely different.

The 10 spies admitted that the land flowed with milk and honey. They even brought back a sample of the land’s lush produce – its grapes and pomegranates and figs (Num. 13:23). Nonetheless, their report was negative, not because the land was no good or problematic, but because the inhabitants were giants and the cities strongly fortified and large (13:28-29). They went so far as to say that32 the land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size… 33 To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them” (13:32-33).

Joshua and Caleb on the other hand saw things differently. They were kindred spirits. They had the same courage and the same faith that God would fulfill his promises and give them the land. They were not intimidated by the majority who sided with the 10 spies (Numbers 13). They were of one mind to “go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” (Num. 13:30). The 10 spies only saw the problems but Joshua and Caleb saw God’s promises. They were very positive about things. They were ready to attack the country. They were confident in their ability, with God’s help, to defeat the enemy.

But as you remember, the negative report won out. The Israelites didn’t go up to take Canaan captive. In fact, the Israelites whined and complained so much so that they actually said, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!” (Num. 14:2). They were so opposed to Joshua and Caleb that they were ready to stone them to death (Num. 14:10)!

It must have been discouraging at the time to see the people turn against them and against Moses and against God, but God judged the rebellious majority by causing them to wander 38 more years in the wilderness until all the adult males (20 years old and up) died without entering the promised land – except, of course, Caleb and Joshua. At that time, God said of Caleb, “Since my servant Caleb has a different spirit and has remained loyal to me, I will bring him into the land where he has gone, and his descendants will inherit it” (Num 14:24).

There is a leadership lesson here. Sometimes leaders need to do what is unpopular, not what the majority want. Indeed, the majority is not always right. The leadership of God’s people is not governed by democratic opinion but by spiritual, godly leaders who seek and act on the mind of the Lord.

Moving forward to our text in Joshua 14, we come to the first principle concerning “Finishing Strong: The Life of Faith” …

I. Those Who Finish Strong Remember God’s Faithfulness (14:6-10)

By now, 45 years have gone by since that spying episode in the life of Israel. Moses is dead, Joshua is now their leader, and Caleb is an 85 year old man. Caleb is evidently the spokesperson for a larger group, the descendants of Judah, who approached Joshua at Gilgal (14:6a).

It seems that Gilgal, on the eastern border of Jericho, was the operational center for Israel after crossing the river Jordan. Undoubtedly, it reminded them of God’s miraculous intervention earlier in parting the Red Sea (Ex. 14). Now again, God had cut off the waters of the river Jordan so that they could cross over into Canaan (Josh. 4:1-18). To celebrate that event and to serve as a permanent memorial to what God had done, they erected 12 memorial stones there (Josh. 4:19-24). This was a special place in Israel’s history, a place to give God thanks and a place to remember God’s intervention and power if they got discouraged, as they fought for possession of the land in the days to come.

What Gilgal was to Joshua, Bethel was to Abraham and Jacob, and Carmel and Shiloh were to Samuel and Elijah. These were watershed places, turning points, where powerful experiences with God took place, where important decisions were made that would affect their futures. We need memorial places and events so that we never forget what God has done for us in the past and what he will still do for us in the future. Isn’t that why Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper, a feast of memorial that reminds us of what He has done for us in the past, when He laid down his life at the cross so that we could live, and of what He is going to do for us in the future when He comes again? We need constant reminders of God’s faithfulness in the past – they enable us to deal with present circumstances and anticipate future blessings.

I remember years ago when I became convinced that God was calling me into fulltime pastoral ministry. The moment was very vivid then and it still is today. It was as though all the lights went on in my head. I knew that this was what God wanted me to do. I related the details of that experience to someone one time, and she said to me, “Don’t ever forget that moment. It will keep you going when the tough times come.” Her words have been ever so true. When you run into rough spots in your life and ministry, look back on how God has led you thus far in your Christian life, how He has provided for you and protected you. Those memories will give you encouragement just when you need it.

So now Caleb comes to Joshua, his old friend and fellow spy, the new leader of the Israelites, and he reminds Joshua of Moses’ promise to him back when he and Joshua had spied out the land at Kadesh Barnea. 6 You know what the Lord promised Moses the man of God at Kadesh-barnea about you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the Lord’s servant sent me from Kadesh-barnea to scout the land, and I brought back an honest report. 8 My brothers who went with me caused the people to lose heart, but I followed the Lord my God completely” (14:6b-8).

Caleb remembers God’s promise that He had made all those years before at Kadesh-Barnea. Undoubtedly, Caleb’s experience of God since that time has reinforced his trust in God’s word back then. Such memories tend to put the present into perspective, reminding us of God’s constancy, faithfulness, goodness and power. In this case, Caleb remembers and reminds Joshua of a past commitment: On that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land where you have set foot will be an inheritance for you and your descendants forever, because you have followed the Lord my God completely’” (14:9). Caleb remembers well the promise that God had made to Moses concerning Joshua and himself (14:6), a promise which Moses in turn made to Caleb and Joshua (cf. Num. 14:24, 30; Deut. 1:36-38), to bring them into the land of Canaan and give them a land inheritance there, “the land where you have set foot.”

Notice that the basis for this promise to Caleb of a land inheritance in Canaan was Caleb’s wholehearted and unswerving faithfulness to the Lord, despite the cowardice and rebellion of the people. He had brought back to the Israelites at Kadesh-barnea an honest report, whereas the other 10 spies had brought back a report that caused the people to become discouraged, to distrust the Lord, and to retreat in fear. Yet, despite the opposition and rebellion against him, Caleb “followed the Lord my God completely.” This is what Caleb remembers from the past, clearly and firmly.

We all love it when someone keeps their promise to us, don’t we? And we know how disappointed we are when someone fails to keep their promise. Well, take heart in this – God keeps his word, always and fully! If we remain faithful to God, persevering in faith to the end, we will have the joy and reward of hearing Jesus himself say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy” (Matt. 25:23).

Caleb continues to reflect on God’s faithfulness: 10As you see, the Lord has kept me alive these forty-five years as he promised, since the Lord spoke this word to Moses while Israel was journeying in the wilderness. Here I am today, eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me out. My strength for battle and for daily tasks is now as it was then (14:10-11).

Now, 45 years later, Caleb attributes his longevity and strength to God: “The Lord has kept me alive these forty-five years as he promised.” Through God’s faithfulness to his word, Caleb still sees the promise to occupy Canaan being fulfilled. Just as God, through all the changing scenes of life, had kept him alive to this moment, so He would continue to keep him alive to secure his promised inheritance. He is as strong this day as he was back then – strong for war, strong for daily tasks. He is still physically able, ready, and willing to engage in battle to secure his inheritance. The fortified cities and giants, which he had seen before, still do not deter him. His confidence is still in God’s word.

Isn’t it encouraging to see that the intervening years of wandering in the wilderness have not dimmed Caleb’s hope or diminished his anticipation of what God is going to do? Nothing has lessened his trust in God’s word. Nothing has discouraged him from moving ahead with this God-given task. That’s amazing, isn’t it? Discouragement is such a powerful tool in the hands of our enemy, Satan. I think it is one of his most potent weapons against the people of God now, just as it was among the Israelites back then.

So, the first lesson we learn here is that those who finish strong remember God’s faithfulness. Second…

II. Those Who Finish Strong Claim God’s Promises (14:12)

Caleb continues: “Now give me this hill country (mountain) the Lord promised me on that day, because you heard then that the Anakim are there, as well as large fortified cities. Perhaps the Lord will be with me and I will drive them out as the Lord promised” (14:12). Notice these attributes of Caleb’s perspective on the future…

An undaunted request. Here is Caleb, in the waning years of his life, requesting that Joshua fulfill the Lord’s promise: “Give me this hill country (mountain) the Lord promised me on that day.” He reminds Joshua that what he heard back then about the Anakim giants and the large fortified cities is still true, but so is God’s promise. And, with the Lord’s help, “I will drive them out as the Lord promised.” God’s promise so many years before is still valid.

In faith, Caleb was still ready to storm a mountain and do battle with these enemies of God. He is as positive now as he was 45 years earlier. The land of giants and the fortified cities still do not discourage him; with the Lord’s help he will defeat them and possess the land that God had long ago promised to His chosen people. Nothing has dampened his spirit or his enthusiasm or courage, or faith. His positive outlook on life and his trust in the Lord remain steadfast.

Sometimes we think that God has forgotten us, or that God is slow in answering our prayers. Sometimes we get discouraged. But not so Caleb. Even though he is 85 years old and has experienced his fair share of opposition, criticism and discouragement, he is still positive and bold. Now, he is receiving the inheritance that God through Moses had promised him so many years before without any indication of bitterness for having to wait so long, no evidence of rebellion or anger, no “where-were-you-God-when-I-needed-you.” No, just quiet acceptance and submission to the sovereign will of God.

This really challenges us, doesn’t it? As we grow older, do we have such a positive perspective on the future? Do we have such enduring confidence in God to fulfill his word, even to confidently wait 45 years, still trusting God in our old age? What a wonderful example of persevering faith we see here in Caleb. What a blessing to have such a positive outlook, even after all that he and the Israelites had been through. What a powerful reminder that God faithfully fulfills his promises, even though it might be years later. Let this be a reminder to us that God does not necessarily act immediately, nor as quickly as, or in the way that, we would like. But in his sovereign purposes God always keeps his word, completing what He began.

I hope my attitude to life will be like that if I reach Caleb’s age. Some of you are closer to Caleb’s age than I am. I hope your outlook is like that. Oh, you may not have the physical strength that Caleb did but you can have his positive and confident attitude. Positive about what God can do. Positive about the prospects ahead. Determined to finish strong in the strength that God supplies. Never wavering in your faith in God. Ready to conquer a mountain. Confident that God is at work and that “he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Confident that Christ is building his church (regardless of what we may see around us) and that He will present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless (Eph. 5:27). Fully convinced that the gospel is as powerful today as it ever was. Encouraging the next generation to take over where we leave off.

I think in our latter years, that’s our calling - to cheer on those who are coming behind us; to leave them a legacy of faith and confidence; to impress on them that the God who has preserved and led us is the one who will preserve and lead them; to set the standard for them to aspire to; to instill in them a sense of hope, joy, peace, faith. John Phillips puts it this way: “As we age we may become weak in body. The important thing is to be strong in spirit, strong enough to say to God, ‘Give me this mountain’” (People of the O.T., 267).

Caleb’s perspective on the future is expressed in an undaunted request and…

An undeterred vision. Forty-five years earlier, Caleb had had the vision of life in Canaan. He had a strong and certain vision of what life would be like in the new land that God was giving them. He didn’t hanker for the “good old days” in Egypt. He had moved on in confidence that God had delivered them at the Red Sea and would lead them into the new land. He couldn’t wait to begin their new life as pioneers in the land that flows with milk and honey. This was God’s provision for them. He didn’t want to go back to a life of servitude under Egyptian taskmasters. What kind of life was that compared with what God had in store for them?

The small taste that he had garnered of Canaan as a spy at Kadesh Barnea years before was enough to make him steadfast, never wavering in his vision of the future. Why would he want to go back to a diet of leeks and onions and garlic in Egypt when ahead of them were grapes and pomegranates and figs hanging off the trees in Canaan, just waiting to be picked and eaten? No, Caleb never wavered in his outlook and his trust in God.

A life that is strong in faith asks for an unflinching request, sees an undeterred vision, and manifests...

An unwavering attitude. Now, forty-five years later, Caleb has lost none of his determination. Years may have passed, but his outlook is still the same. In the meantime they had experienced successes and defeats, victories and failures. They had stormed and destroyed the city of Jericho (Josh. 6) but they had suffered defeat at Ai (Josh. 7). Nonetheless, Caleb was still positive and enthusiastic about the future. He is determined to finish strong. He is still sure of God’s will.

This isn’t a case of physical strength, although undoubtedly Caleb had that. But this is a case of spiritual strength, the spiritual strength to take one more mountain. His attitude was like that of the apostle Paul who could say, 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

The same could be said of Caleb now as Moses said of him earlier, “You have followed the Lord my God completely” (14:9). Can you say that? Maybe there were times in your life when you waivered, times of a double life, times when you found the world attractive. But now you’re here and, by God’s grace, you can say, “I am wholly following the Lord.” You know without a doubt that God is your refuge and strength. You rejoice in the Lord always. You know whom you have believed and you are persuaded that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day (2 Tim. 1:12). How powerful is a life lived for God! How influential our lives can be on others when they see consistency, faithfulness, kindness, hope, love, and joy oozing out of our lives.

As Caleb asked Joshua for this “mountain,” he knew what he was asking for. He knew what it entailed. He knew that it would be an uphill climb, tough sledding. He knew that the battle at the end would be dangerous, after all the Anakim were there. He had seen them with his own eyes. He knew what he was up against. He was under no delusion about the dangers. In Paul’s words, he could say, But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).

A life that is strong in faith asks for an unflinching request, sees an undeterred vision, manifests an unwavering attitude, and rests on…

An unfailing confidence. As Caleb asked Joshua for this mountain, he still rested on the promises of God. “Perhaps the Lord will be with me and I will drive them out as the Lord promised” (14:12). Why was Caleb so positive, so optimistic about the future? It was his relationship with the Lord. He was fully confident in the Lord’s presence. He was fully dependent on the Lord’s power. He was fully trusting in the Lord’s promise.

Is that your strength and confidence as well? His presence, his power, his promises – “the Lord will be with me ... he will drive them out ... as the Lord promised.” I don’t think Caleb ever tired of the Lord’s wonder, the Lord’s work, and the Lord’s word. I don’t think he ever lost sight of God’s glory, God’s greatness, and God’s goodness. I don’t think he ever got over their deliverance from Egypt, their direction through the wilderness, and their destiny in Canaan.

May that be our strength and confidence as well. Looking to the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2). Cleaving to the Lord with steadfastness of heart. Seeing the finish line just ahead, even as we ask him for one more mountain. In the apostle Paul’s words, 13 Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14).

Firstly, we learn here that those who finish strong remember God’s faithfulness. Secondly, those who finish strong claim God’s promises. Thirdly…

III. Those Who Finish Strong Receive God’s Blessing (14:13-15)

Well, Joshua had every reason to grant Caleb’s request. Indeed, he must grant it in order to fulfill God’s promise. 13 Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as an inheritance. 14 Therefore, Hebron still belongs to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite as an inheritance today because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, completely (14:13-14).

There are many forms of blessing in Scripture. We bless God in worship by expressing our praise of him and our devotion to him. One person may bless another in their desire for God’s favor and protection to be upon them. God blesses us spiritually, physically, and, sometimes, materially. All that we have and are is a blessing from God. Generally speaking, when we invoke a blessing for ourselves or someone else, we are asking God for a favor or mercy or benefit. Here Joshua blesses Caleb with his long-awaited land inheritance in Canaan. There is never a question about Caleb’s singular, unswerving devotion to God and his trust in God. This is the recognition of Caleb having faithfully “followed the Lord, the God of Israel, completely.”

Hebron is the place that is granted to Caleb as his inheritance in the promised land. Hebron demonstrates God’s blessing on those who, like Caleb, remain faithful to God in spite of setbacks, unpopularity, criticism, and rejection. Caleb portrays a picture of a patient, faithful, persevering Christian, who believes and acts on the certainty of God’s word. Although Caleb’s true and honest report concerning the land was rejected by the people, Caleb did not abandon them nor did he turn against God. Rather, he stayed at his post, maintained his positive attitude, believed God and, ultimately, entered into the blessing of God in the land. Caleb was patient – he stuck it out, for years! He awaited God’s time to act, even though it was in his old age. Even now, he could face giants boldly with a faith that can move mountains (Matt. 17:20).

Ironic, isn’t it, that Kiriath-arba that formerly belonged to Arba, “the greatest man among the Anakim” (14:15b), became Caleb’s? The place that the 10 spies rejected because of doubt, became Caleb’s by faith and its name was changed from Kiriath-arba to Hebron, the place where the Israelites would move forward unitedly to possess the land. Hebron figures largely in the progress of redemptive history. Joshua leads the people to conquer it (Josh. 10). Caleb drives out the Anakim giants from it (Josh 14:12). Later, Joshua declares it to be the territory of Judah, specifically the Kohathite Levites (21:11). Later still, God himself gives Hebron to king David as the capital of his kingdom (2 Samuel 2:1). And here in our passage, Joshua gives it to Caleb as his inheritance (14:14).

The place of battle with the Anakim became one of the 6 cities of refuge in Israel and after this, the land had rest from war (14:15). It’s as though the writer is saying, “There was one more battle to be fought. One more war to be won. One more mountain to be taken. And Caleb did it. Then the land had rest from war.”

Final Remarks

What a magnificent finale to Caleb’s life. He finished strong in faith. If you had to write a title over Caleb’s life, what would it be? I think it would be: He wholly followed the Lord. I trust that will be said of you and me. I hope that the next generation will say this of us: They wholly followed the Lord.

Steve Green sings a song called “Find us faithful.” It goes like this:

We’re pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace.

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

Chorus:
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

(Songwriter: Jon Mohr. Find Us Faithful lyrics © Birdwing Music, Jonathan Mark Music)

This is my prayer for my life. Is it yours as well? Remember, we can finish strong in faith if we wholly follow the Lord.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life

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