This is a sermon recently preached at our church from a missionary to a restricted access Central Asian country. It is long but worth the time to read and re-read.
Acting Like Heirs
Joshua 14:6-15 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 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. 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. 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. 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.” Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 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. Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) And the land had rest from war.
Today we’re going to talk a bit about inheritance. My dad is a trust officer at a bank, so I realize that “inheritance” isn’t always an exciting topic. In fact most of us, if we picked up a book on property law, might consider it downright dull. But inheritance should be an exciting topic for God’s people. Land certainly was a big deal for early Israel. “Land” is the 4th most used word in the OT. And if we read our Bibles well, we’ll know that the concept of inheritance becomes even more developed in Christ. And so while the last half of Joshua may seem tedious to some, I believe it does hold great riches for us.
One preacher titled this section “The Aspirations of a Geriatric General.” An 85 year old charging against huge warriors defending a hill. It seems kind of freakish, doesn’t it? Almost laughable. But I think that as we take a closer look at the passage we’ll see a lifestyle modeled for us that not only is admirable, but should be normative for us as followers of Jesus.
First, let’s think about who Caleb was before this incident. It’s not the first time he’s mentioned in Scripture, and he’s done much in the past to distinguish himself as well.
Caleb’s great moment of faith is found Numbers 13: “At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, ‘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… But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Later Caleb, along with Joshua, pleads again with the people, saying that the Canaanites “will be bread for us,” or in our vernacular, “Will be a piece of cake.” Only do not rebel against the Lord, Caleb insisted. Of course the people refused to listen, but only heard the fearful warnings of the ten faithless spies. As a result of the attempted coup that follows, the LORD pronounces, “As I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers…. 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.”
Imagine being Caleb, standing alone with Joshua in faith during that generation. As the congregation of Israel turned against his testimony, he was completely isolated, and in fact in danger of being stoned by them as we read in Numbers 14. Nevertheless, the Lord vindicates him. He and Joshua would receive a unique inheritance, while all others of their generation would die in the wilderness. So for 45 more years Caleb was able to watch this coming to pass. Surely he had reflected back on other great testimonies of the Lord’s faithfulness – the judgment of plagues on Egypt, the opening of the sea, the giving of the law at Sinai. Surely Caleb had realized the significance of the manna and quail specially provided by the Lord all those years. And as he with all these youngsters finally crossed over Jordan (another miracle) and he saw the walls of Jericho fall by no human hands, he could have added up in his mind all the many reminders of God’s saving power, and lavish generosity toward his people, for his own name’s sake. And it is with that tested and tried faith that Caleb would have approached Joshua with his request.
Caleb’s request to Joshua is simple: “So now, give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day.” He’s seeking permission to set off this military expedition. He’s probably also seeking a blessing from the Lord through Joshua. And we see that Joshua does just that for Caleb in verse 13. “Then Joshua blessed him and gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance.”
We know that Hebron was indeed a rich reward. Its springs and wells provide ample water for grape and olive production. Because of that, Hebron would become a great city in Israel. In fact it was there that David was originally named king, and reigned there for seven years before moving to Jerusalem. Though formerly known by its pagan heritage and named for the line of godless giants, Kiriath-arba, the area would receive a new name, and forever be associated with the line of Davidic kings.
And we know that this land grant wasn’t just given to Caleb in a hypothetical way, the way that rich people can pay to have newly discovered stars named after them, even though they’ll never even live in the same galaxy. No, we see the concrete results of the request in Joshua 15:13-14: “According to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, he gave to Caleb a portion among the people of Judah. And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak.”
How was Caleb able to go through with it? What was his reasoning, what was going through his mind as he made the request and set off on his military expedition?
Well the first thing he had been thinking for years was that God’s word is trustworthy. Caleb believes God’s word – he keeps coming back to it: verse 6 “You know what the Lord said,” verse 10 “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,” verse 12, “so now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day,” “it may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”Caleb is utterly obsessed with what God has said! It’s as real and as sure to him as this pulpit in front of me, or the chair beneath you. And when God’s word is that absolutely trustworthy, we can move forward even when all appearances are to the contrary of what he has promised.
Another aspect of Caleb’s reasoning that I’d like to point out is his humility. Notice what he says in verse 12: “it may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.” Is this a faithless maybe? Come on Caleb, I thought you trusted God? Why not say “certainly I will drive them out?” Well, even in Numbers 14, he told the people, “If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us.” You see, Caleb trusts that the LORD is sovereign and good. But he knows that we can’t give God orders or somehow earn his action on our behalf. God’s promises are true, but they are not mechanical. And God fulfills them in his way and in his timing. There is a line between faith and presumption. Caleb is God’s servant and submits to a free and unsearchable God. It’s that very humility that ensures that as Caleb goes out to do this impossible thing, he’s relying on the LORD’s strength and not his own.
So Caleb takes God at his word, he humbly submits to God’s mysterious provision, and thirdly, Caleb is appropriately restless. Appropriately restless – what do I mean? Well, let me here pause and talk a bit about the structure and themes of the book of Joshua.The first 12 chapters are incredibly action-packed, as the unified army of Israel wins a series of major battles under the Joshua’s leadership. But then in chapter 13, the storyline shifts to the parceling out of the land to specific tribes and families. Not all of God’s enemies were purged from the land at the conclusion of Joshua’s military campaign. To be sure, Joshua broke the back of the enemy, so that the land would undoubtedly belong to Israel. But smaller battles still remained in which individual clans would need to take ownership of the inheritance assigned to them. And if we go on to read the book of Judges, we see that many clans didn’t want to continue the holy war. Instead they were content to have only part of their inheritance. As a result, pockets of pagan peoples would infect Israel for generations to come. They would be a bane to Israel, corrupting the people toward idol worship.
This is why Caleb is appropriately restless. Though he is 85 years old, he is not ready to quit until he has seen the wholeness, the resolution of all that Yahweh has promised. And he would rather die trying for that inheritance than to live a peaceful life of compromise. May the same be said of all of us.
Caleb is definitely a great role model. But we don’t read the Old Testament just to study role models. We need to go further in applying this narrative to our lives. As we interpret each part of the Old Testament we need to ask not only, “What did this mean to the original audience,” but then “What does this mean to us in Christ?” The Christ-event changed everything. We no longer live in the age of types and shadows, but in a world where Kingdom is being realized, prophesies are being fulfilled. What is our inheritance as the New Covenant people of God? Maybe a good way to answer that question is first to ask, what does our captain, Christ, lead us into?
Let’s start by seeing how all of Israel’s story points to Christ. You see, Jesus is the greater Moses – leading us out of slavery to sin, through the baptismal waters of his own death and resurrection, through the wilderness wanderings of this Christian life as we are tested and learn to trust him, not just giving but fuliflling the law, building not a physical tabernacle but a spiritual one called the church, and bringing us to the very brink of our inheritance. Jesus undoubted is the greater Moses. But then, Jesus is also the greater Joshua! In fact, they share the same name in Hebrew: Yeshua – meaning “God saves” or “YHWH is salvation.” Jesus is the true captain of the Lord’s army. Through his counter-intuitive victory at the cross and through the Resurrection, the enemy’s back has been once and for all time broken. What was enemy territory will belong to true Israel. We have only to claim responsibility and take our inheritance.
So many elements of the OT story are enlarged and made transcendent for us in the New Covenant. Instead of manna from heaven, Jesus is the bread of life. Instead of water from a rock, the Holy Spirit is living water flowing through us. Instead of a yearly passover lamb we have the once-and-for-all lamb of God, a perfect sacrifice in the true heavenly temple.
So what inheritance has Jesus led us into? In what way is our inheritance enlarged, and more transcendent than what Caleb’s generation was expecting? Well, in the New Testament, it seems that there are at least three ways in which inheritance is spoken of . Our inheritance first could be described simply as “life in Christ forever.” This inheritance is a participation in the heavenly realm even now. Thus Paul says things like “In him we have obtained an inheritance…so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Or in Colossians: “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” So this first focus of inheritance is on aspects of redemption and communion with God that we mystically experience even now, since we are already counted as citizens of heaven.
A second way to speak of the inheritance of those who are in Christ is that of a heavenly country – a place toward which all Christians are pilgrims, much in the way portrayed by Pilgrim’s Progress. This inheritance is the kingdom of New Jerusalem of which the author of Hebrews speaks so beautifully – the homeland, the better country, the city prepared for us, the unshakeable kingdom. Thoughts of it conjure up warm feelings of a noble legacy far surpassing King Arthur’s Camelot or Tolkien’s Minas Tirith. So the focus of this second category of inheritance is not so much what we enjoy now, but rather the healing, the belonging, the perfect justice and joy that await when we reach those healthful shores.
Now I could stop here and finish the sermon by letting Caleb’s example lead us into a full experience of our inherited blessings in Christ now, or using his capture of Hebron as a picture of the perseverance we need to reach our inheritance in heaven. And those would both be good directions to go. But since I’m a missionary, I’m instead going to take us toward the third theme of inheritance for the saints that I see in Scripture.
You see, that inheritance of Christ’s reign now in our hearts will one day become his physical reign in a physical place. And that inheritance of a heavenly country won’t stay in heaven – Revelation paints a picture of heaven coming down to earth. And so after the it passes through fire, the new earth will be covered with the glory of God, and his presence will be like water or nourishing sap for the healing of the nations. In settling a dispute in Corinth, Paul tells them all things are yours, not only the apostles, but also the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” As the people of God there is absolute nothing that we don’t get, if we are willing to be fools with Christ until the appointed time. Of Christ it is said that “all things were created through him and for him.” And of us the Spirit testifies that we are children and heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him, in order that we might also be glorified with him. In Romans 8 that role as coheirs with Christ has a distinct influence on the land. The planet earth, though put under a curse by God, knows that it will be one day freed from corruption and given over to those in the line of the truer Adam – Jesus. And so the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; it groans as if in the pains of childbirth, waiting for the renewal that will come with the glorification of those who possess the new earth as vice-regents under Jesus.
Yet the emphasis isn’t only on the physical ground, but also on the legacy of peoples that inhabit it. In Psalm 2, God says to Jesus, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” But in Revelation 2:28, Jesus tells the persecuted church, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.” The nations should have belonged to Adam’s descendants, but he gave power over to Satan. Satan tempted Jesus to take back all the nations and their glory simply through bowing to him. But Jesus chose the humble path of suffering and won them back God’s way at the cross. This is the great cause for worship in Revelation 5: “Worthy are you to open the scroll that brings this old world history to its close, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and they shall reign on the earth! Jesus will share the inheritance of New Earth authority with all who, by faith, are counted as his descendants. This is why Jesus states in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!” No longer is our inheritance a thin strip of Palestine. The promise in Christ has been enlarged and made transcendent. But in another sense, Yahweh’s purposes have been global from the beginning. That’s why in Romans 4:13, Paul summarizes God’s promise to Abraham as this: that he and his offspring would be heirs to the whole world.
Our Request in Christ
If then, the nations are the Christian’s inheritance, they won’t disappear, but in some sense will be renewed and transformed as heaven comes down to earth, what request shall we make of our leader, the true Joshua? Christ our captain has given us every blessing we need to claim the inheritance of the nations!
But we need to be clear about what exactly that means. We’re certainly not driving anyone out of the land, certainly not slaughtering populations. That was the mistake of the Crusades during the time of Biblical ignorance, and it’s the mistake of Muslims wherever the Quran is truly obeyed. But that is not the method of Christ who told Peter to put away his sword. No, what we do is like conquest, but it is not military conquest. Ours is the same melody as the book of Joshua, only put into a higher key. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So instead of sharpening our swords and charging a hill full of giant warriors, we instead give ourselves over to suffering for the sake of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, there are still Anakim in the hill country. They have to be faced with the sword of God’s word, in the power of the Spirit through prayer. God is pleased when we respond to his promise of an inheritance with steps of faith-motivated risk. He wants us to be gripped by the vision of the nations belonging to Jesus, to be grieved by the enemy’s influence in those places, and to boldly, humbly, and consistently respond like Caleb. 2 Timothy 1:7-8 reminds us: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.
Where are the people who, like Caleb, are praying, Lord, give me northwest China, give me Japan, give me Belarus, or Sudan, or Iran? Areas of the world that previously were known for the greatness of their hostility toward God’s people will be renewed, and become places that name Jesus as king. I’ll never forget a certain story about the reformer John Knox. Once in the middle of the night his wife awoke and heard him not in bed, but in the next room over. She stood outside the door, and heard him weeping, and crying out earnestly to God, “Give me Scotland, or I die!” He was zealous for Christ’s inheritance there to become a reality.
So let’s boldly take responsibility for the still dark corners of the globe. And I don’t just mean move to the other side of the world with the gospel. I also mean go and give money even more sacrificially than you have been, trusting God even more for his provision. Go and devote yourself to radical, faithful prayer and fasting, trusting God with that sacrifice of your time. I truly believe that the person making the biggest impact for the Great Commission today is not a missionary at all. It’s a humble widow somewhere who prays for missions every day; someone in the heritage of Anna from Luke chapter 2.
So what about you? Whether in going, training, giving, or praying, I truly believe that God has more for everyone in the room to experience. Like Caleb you’ve seen great acts of the Lord’s faithfulness over the years. So like Caleb, take risks based on God’s word that others in your generation think are insane. Caleb didn’t have a slightly better spirit than the generation of rebels, he was said to have a different spirit. He was wholly devoted to the Lord – no reserves. Caleb’s boldness is exhibited in part by the fact that even in his old age he is undertaking seemingly impossible projects. What an encouragement for elderly saints – these can be your most effective years. Psalm 92 says “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.
And for young people – think about where you want to be when you’re 85! The more you exercise faith, the more your faith will grow. Start now! if your goal in life is ease and comfort until you go to the saint’s rest when you are old, then you are old now. Even in your 20’s or 30’s, you are old. And if you are 85 and long to take risks for the glory of God, then you are young like Caleb!
-So go boldly, but also go humbly: In this passage there is a contrast set up between Arba, the lord of the Anakim, and Caleb, the new head of Hebron. The Anakim relied on their physical stature, weaponry, and fortified cities. Caleb relied on the power of God to whom he submitted himself. Remember that may be of faith – “It may be that the Lord will be with me.” It makes me think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who proclaimed, “God is able to deliver us, and he will save us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you that we will not serve your gods.” These guys were taking their stand even if the Lord didn’t show up to save them. How many people burn out on ministry – even missionaries who have spent years preparing for this work – they walk away from it all because God did not show up according to their timetable, or bless their specific ministry plan that they had put so much effort into? And so then they bow to the gods of success and pragmatism and go home. A humble charge into the lands of darkness must be bathed in prayer, expressing constant dependance on the Lord’s power. And when a strategy is made, it should be held loosely. We should say, “if the Lord wills, we will live, and do this or that.” We know that Christ will have his inheritance of nations. We don’t know when or precisely how. It might be through our own blood or exhaustion or humiliation. Let us take Caleb’s faith-filled maybe and say, “I will go build relationships with Muslim families in Dearborn. It may be that the Lord will bring awakening in that neighborhood.” Or “I will try to start a lunch-hour Bible study at work. It may be that the Lord will grant new life to my coworkers.” Or “I will move my family to Asia for the sake of the gospel. It may be that the Lord will give us richer lives than if we had remained in the States.” Never will we regret such humble faith. God may not finish the story the way we would, but he will reward you in other ways.
So go boldly, go humbly, and start with a restless record of faithfulness. Develop a long-standing habit of dissatisfaction with ease in the face of an unbelieving world. Caleb was faithful in testifying about God first among the congregation of Israel long before he went out to take the land. So be a Sunday school teacher with a global vision. If you’re grieved by those in darkness on the other side of the world, start by sharing your life with your unbelieving next-door neighbor. Start a prayer gathering in your home to plead for your city and for the nations. And then for some, the church will testify, “God has given you Caleb-like qualities of faith, humility, and audacity. We want you to claim such and such a people group on on Christ’s behalf.” And they will only be the point people for the whole faith-filled Perry clan. They will go out well-trained, well cared for, well supplied, and covered in prayer. When we have culture of faith-filled restlessness, it’s easy to send out and sustain Caleb-like missionaries.
And we do it all because our captain, the greater Joshua, has already given the victory – he has broken the back of the enemy. And now he has sent us out to complete the conquest of various parcels of the world saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
As you go, remember most of all Caleb’s obsession with God’s words. You don’t catch Caleb’s faith without meditating and praying through God’s promises. And we’ve been given promises far greater than the promise of Hebron to Caleb. We’ve been told “This gospel will be preached as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” We’ve been told, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We’ve been told “No weapon formed against you will prosper,” and that even in tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness, danger, and under the sword, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “And the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death; he will eat from the tree of life and I will confess his name before my Father.”
Clinging to these promises will produce men and women like the two Moravians who in 1732 left their homes in Copenhagen to sell themselves into slavery in the West Indies for the sake of the gospel. As the ship set out into the bay, they shouted back what would become the slogan for a missionary movement: “May the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering” – an inheritance of all nations. Today billions of people lie behind a veil where the gospel is not known. They are blinded and deceived by Satan’s demonic minions, through systems of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or humanism. Let’s stand with Caleb and declare to ourselves and to those around us, “The Lord helping me, I will drive them out, just as he said.”