The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
CALEB was a prince of the tribe of Judah, and before the allotment of the land was proceeded with he said, in effect, I have something to say about this; the allotment ought not to proceed until I have been heard: whether the word was written or not, Caleb said, in effect, I cannot tell, but it was surely written in my heart; I will tell thee what it was: A distinct promise was made to me some five-and-forty years ago, and that promise was to this effect. Then Caleb quoted the words or their substance, and set the case before Joshua, who, as prince of the host, listened kindly and answered generously and justly. How wonderfully the Past affects the Present! We must not think that affairs are lying upon the surface and are open to the handling of anyone; that the business of life is superficial, easy, requiring no reference to the historical past, and no reference to unwritten, but eternal law. There is nothing so simple as it often seems to be. Sometimes simplicity is but the last result of complexity. Beware, therefore, of all counsellors who treat life in an off-hand, easy fashion, as if things could be set up, and pulled down, and changed without much anxiety or without appealing to the deepest affections and sometimes the tenderest memories of the soul. Caleb referred to the past; Caleb said, A promise was made to me in this matter, and I will tell you what that promise was. Mark the wonderful consistency of Caleb"s spirit. He is the same at forty and at eighty-five. At forty he was a man of chivalrous spirit: a tall man did not affright him; he looked upon walled cities as upon paper castles. He returned with Joshua, saying to Moses, The work can be done. All the other princes or heads of houses had "melted" hearts; their courage had gone out of them; they said, The people are very tall, and the cities are very strong, and there is no more spirit in us. But Caleb was a man of "another spirit." That spirit kept him young to the last day of his life. King David was called "very old" at seventy. We saw in our last reading that the word "old" is not a time-word; it is a word that relates to work, and to the effect of work upon the worker. The wear and tear of work tells terrifically upon some natures; they are so intensely devoted: there is nothing trifling to them; every moment brings its own judgment, every day its own solemn sense of destiny. David was old because his work had been heavy. It is trouble that makes men old. Where is there a man that says he has been overborne by mere work, mere labour? But a thousand men could stand up and challenged to reply to the question whether trouble does not wear down the spirit, take out the very strength of the Prayer of Manasseh, and make him old at five-and-twenty, aged and venerable at half a century. So it was with Joshua. He took hardly to the work; it was a great study to him; he did nothing perfunctorily or within the limits of the moment for the moment"s sake; all he did, drew blood—"virtue"—out of his interior nature. So it was with king David—"very old" at seventy. Other men are younger as the years pass on! They have a happy way of working; they are blessed with the inestimable blessing of cheerfulness; they are able to take everything, as it were, with a light hand and yet not frivolously; they are so buoyant, so happy, so cheery altogether, that, whatever comes, they approach it almost with friendliness, and they pass through controversy as if it were but a variety of life"s pleasantness. The man who is now speaking in the text is eighty-five years old, and he says he is as strong as he was nearly half a century ago. May we not be so in our degree? Why do we so soon give up the work? Why this whining after rest, this desire to be let go, to be let alone, and to be permitted to flee into the wilderness or "some boundless contiguity of shade"? To touch such men as Caleb, is to receive new life, new hope. The cheerful man comes into history, bringing a warming influence with him, helping men to carry their burdens more resolutely and more hopefully.
But perhaps Caleb was simply asserting this youthfulness in order that he might claim the inheritance. Did he affect juvenility? Was he for the moment buoyed up with a false hope? The answer is very distinct, and there is no escape from it. In the eleventh verse he says,—
"As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now" [what for?] "for war, both to go out, and to come in." ( Joshua 14:11)
Who can estimate the indirect influence of such an example? Indirect influence is a subject we do not perhaps sufficiently consider. There is a direct influence which is much spoken about and highly valued, and not improperly so; but who can tell all the mystery of radiation? Who knows in what direction the warm rays shoot? Who can follow all the palpitation of heat, and say it begins here and ends there? Who can tell the indirect influence of Scripture well read, of a Gospel well preached, of a life well lived? There are observers on the outskirts. The prisoners were listening whilst the apostles were singing. Taking into account indirect influence as well as direct service, many a life will in the judgment be surprised because God attributes to it the outworking of so many and such gracious results. Who could refuse the better portions of Canaan when Caleb said, "I will take the hard part. Let the old man grapple with the difficulty. As for these young people, they will get younger as they grow older perhaps; they will become more courageous as the years come and go. Meanwhile, I will take the land that is now peopled by the giants; and in the strength of God I will subdue the land and make it part of the inheritance of heaven "? We want to hear such voices. We are tired of the moaning word, the despairing note, the sign of dejection, the cowardice that betrays itself even in the voice. Many persons can follow a tune who cannot raise one. We must have leaders, captains, mighty men. Who knows what influence Lebbus had in the first discipleship? He is a man of no historical account; he does not figure among the three mighties; but "Lebbus" means "hearty, cheerful." Who can tell what influence the man had by virtue of his cheeriness? We are not all speakers; we do not all go to the front and lift up an ensign; but many help the good work who stay at home and make the house glad, make every window face southward, wherever the builder has made it turn, to catch all in the sunshine. Who can estimate the influence of home music, home love, home encouragement? When we go home, carrying life"s burden with us, and say we are now exhausted and can return no more, who knows the effect of a cheerful word, an encouraging expression? These things are pointed out that many may be encouraged who suppose they are doing nothing. Apparently they are not engaged in much public work of any consequence; but they do so much good to us at home or on the highway: we never met them in the dark night but they brought all the stars out; we never spoke to them in the storm but within the tempest there was a great calm. Let every man discover what his gift Isaiah, and his vocation, what he can do, and let him do it in the name and fear, the sight and love of God.
Who could give up when the senior was willing to go forward? We are shamed into some good deeds. Who would give anything to a collection if the congregation was not present? Who would really give in the dark? Some people would: the darkness and the light are both alike to them; but is it any libel upon human nature to say that there are some other people who would not do it? We are moved by example. There is a subtle contagion in social unity and action. We thought we would not go out; but seeing Caleb arraying himself for the night and going out into the storm, we cannot for very shame stay at home. So we look to our leaders, our senior men, to be young to speak the glowing word, and to show that what they say is not sentimental, but real, because they themselves are willing to keep the door, to watch the gate, to stand outside, or to accept the most difficult position. Are there not some secondary heroes in the Bible? Very little is said about Caleb. There are three men of the name of Caleb in the Bible, and if you put all the three Calebs together the space required for the record of their deeds would not be a large one. There are under-heroes, men who are not of the stature and volume and force of Elijah, who fills the whole space of the time he lived in: but there are Calebs, men who are less, and yet of the same quality; men who have accepted Heaven"s vocation and are working it out with a rare courage and a sweet patience. May such a word as this touch many a man who is wondering what he is doing, and help many a woman to believe that in quietness and in peace in household privacy she may be touching with helpfulness some of the boldest and bravest lives of the time.
What was the secret of this continual cheerfulness? It was a religious secret. Caleb says,—
"Nevertheless, my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt: but I wholly followed the Lord my God" ( Joshua 14:8).
So Caleb"s cheerfulness was met by a buoyancy equal to itself, and Hebron was given to him with a blessing breathed from the sincere heart. Is not many a blessing kept from us because we have not been like a ship in full sail? Have not our iniquities kept good things from us? How can we claim the inheritance if we have never been ready, for the battle? And why should we sit in contemptuous judgment upon the Calebs of any age, when we have not known the stress that was put upon them, or entered into their labour, which made their lives oftentimes a great burden? Understand that we have come into an inheritance of history. We enjoy a Hebron that has been made for us. The civilisation round about us today is none of our handiwork; at the best we have only put a kind of top upon it. To-day gathers up into its throbbing heart the energy of all the centuries that have gone. Blessed are they who live under the inspiration of this idea. They will be grateful to their forefathers; their forefathers will not be spoken of as dead men, but as men who are now living and historically ruling the sentiment of their age. One thing is certain: God will not forsake a man who has been "wholly" devoted to him. God knows the number of Caleb"s years, and the promise shall be redeemed. O poor heart, wondering when the good time is to come, when Hebron is to fall in as part of the inheritance, thinking the time is long, long in coming, and there may not be many days left in which to enjoy the heritage, take courage! God knows every word he has spoken. He is not unfaithful or unrighteous to forget our works of faith and labours of love. When he does bring in the inheritance, he will surprise us by it. It will be no mere handful of mud, no little measurable Canaan, but all heaven"s blessedness, all heaven"s purity, all heaven"s music. Cheer thee! He is faithful who hath promised; he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
Almighty God, we are not discomfited because the lot is cast into the Up and the disposing thereof is of the Lord; instead of being disquieted, we are at rest: this is right, this is best; not our will, but thine, be done. We would desire to dwell on the sunny side of the hill, and to find out where the rivers flow all the year long, and where the soil is garden-land; but thou dost put some men in the wilderness, and some upon the mountain-top, and some in stony and rugged places. The earth is the Lord"s and the fulness thereof. Every place is praying-ground, every stone is an altar, and everywhere there are paths straight up to heaven. We desire to see in our lot God"s law, God"s will. We are here,—we want to be there; but thou dost say, No, abide on thy lot unto the end of the day; be a good and faithful servant, and heaven shall find thee room. This is thy sweet word. It makes us glad and strong; it fills the night with great stars; it makes the winter a kind of summer. Once we did not understand all this, and we chafed as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; now our eyes are opened: we see that God is King, and Lord, and Father, Shepherd, Friend, Companion, that there is but one throne, and that it is established upon righteousness. Now, come weal, come woe, we are not far from God. The cup is sometimes bitter, but thou canst help us to drain it every drop; sometimes the cross is heavy, but thou dost send a friend to lift it for us, at least for a day or two; sometimes the road is all roses and song and joy, the very dust of the ground leaping up in praise, and then all is heavenliness;—whether it be thus or otherwise, guide us with thine eye, preserve us by thy grace, give us comfort in all sorrow, and chastening in highest ecstasy. Work within us all the good pleasure of thy will. Give us the joy that comes of rational obedience, and the higher joy that comes of loving faith. Give us some touch of heaven even upon the earth; surprise us by some little flower that cannot have grown under these cold skies, some leaf from paradise, rich with fragrance from above; then we shall be young again, and strong and mighty, and though the enemy have chariots of iron we shall drive him out, and God shall have the praise. Help every man to see life broadly, clearly, and hopefully; enable every one of us to lay hold of it with a strong man"s hand; keep us from all fear, fainting, dejection; take not the spirit of hope from us: may it dwell within us, and sing to us, and make us glad. We can ask all this in the name of Jesus, who carried our sorrows, who bore our sins in his own body on the tree. He taught us to call thee Father, and to ask great things of thee, yea, even to ask the Holy Ghost—all gifts in one. Jesus is our Saviour; Jesus died for us. We know not all the meaning of this Cross of his, but in the night-time of tempest and sorrow and loneliness, there is nothing so grand, so good, so comforting. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 14". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25