Its fairly safe to say that half of us know from first experience what a mid-life crisis is all about. The other half knows from second-hand experience and can only anticipate this joyful state. The further I get beyond mid-life the more resolute I’ve become about daily exercise. I’m becoming more diligent about what I eat and drink, more intentional about work outs in the gym. I’ve tried my hand at extreme sport (once and never again), and I confess that I would like my next car to have only two seats…. Apparently all signs of someone well and truly in mid-life.
Yesterday I completed a detailed health survey provided by my insurer in the hope that it might reduce my premiums. They compared me with hundreds of other 57 year olds and worked out when I am likely to need medication or surgery based on my diet, weight and fitness regime. Its designed to motivate me to lose the extra pounds by walking the extra miles and avoiding the extra calories.
According to a recent survey by Virgin, half of all 35-64 year olds resort to a personal trainer at some stage. One in four takes a sabbatical from their career to contemplate their future, and up to a third will turn to Botox or plastic surgery in an attempt to turn back the clock. Last year British men in their forties spent £2 billion on cosmetics and fitness products – from moisturisers and hair colouring to exercise bikes and weights – why? to put off the inevitable and retain their youth. And that’s just the men…. These are some ways we cope with a midlife crisis.
There’s another way to handle growing old. We discover it in the story of Caleb and there’s a very good reason for doing so. The Apostle Paul indirectly refers to Caleb when he says,
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-6)
So what lessons can we learn from the story of Caleb? Here are three from Joshua 14 (please turn to it with me).
1. You are never too young to develop convictions about the purposes of God.
2. You are never foolish to exercise trust in the promises of God.
3. You are never too old to demonstrate courage in the power of God.
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1. You are never too young to develop convictions about the purposes of God.
“Now these are the areas the Israelites received as an inheritance in the land of Canaan … Their inheritances were assigned by lot … as the LORD had commanded through Moses… Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions.” (Joshua 14:1-2, 6-7)
Caleb is recounting what had happened forty years earlier. The events are recorded in Numbers 13.
“The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” (Numbers 13:1-2)
As Israel approached the Jordan River, Moses sent out twelve leaders, one from each tribe, as an advance party, to explore the territory God had promised to give his people.
“They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran… There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said… All the people we saw there are of great size… We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13: 26, 30-33)
What observations can we make?
First, we see there is often more than one perspective on any important issue. The evidence they all brought back was unanimous and convincing. Canaan was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey but… they were divided in their risk assessment about taking on the people already living there. The locals were tall and strong and they felt intimidated. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes.”
Second, we see the consequence of the leader’s unbelief. “And they spread among the Israelites a bad report.” (Numbers 13:32). Remember, these were leaders of Israel, sent by God, yet there is no mention of God in their report, no confidence that God would give them the land promised.
Third, we see the devastating effect among the people. Their faithless pessimism and negative spirit spread like the plague. Not surprisingly, the people question,
“Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:3-4).
The leaders were no longer following God and not surprisingly, the people no longer recognised their leaders. So where does God find a faithful leader? From someone on the outside. In 13:6, you will notice Caleb is listed as of the tribe of Judah. But he wasn’t Jewish. He was a Kennizite. According to Genesis 15:19, the Kenizzites were a tribe already living in Canaan in Abraham’s day. So Caleb’s family was outside the covenant and commonwealth of Israel. He was not Jewish by hereditary. He was a proselyte out of conviction. And you know what his name means? Joshua means “the Lord saves” but Caleb, at least in Hebrew, means “dog”. Bit of a handicap? Intimidated? Caleb was an outsider, a foreigner. He represented a minority in more ways than one. But that did not stop him from completing his God-given assignment.
“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30)
What lessons do we learn? If you want to follow Jesus Christ, if you want to complete your assignment like Caleb, realise there will be consequences.
1. You will often find yourself in a minority. When you are, don’t be intimidated by the majority or those older than yourself.
2. Your values and opinions will not always be welcomed. When you encounter contrary opinions, don’t be afraid to speak up for what you believe is right.
3. You will at times face opposition, even persecution. When that happens, remember it is not about who you are but whose you are.
At Kadesh in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, Caleb and Joshua discovered it is never too soon to develop convictions about the purposes of God. Second lesson?
2. You are never foolish to trust in the promises of God
“Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them. But the whole assembly talked about stoning them.” (Numbers 14:5-10)
The tension was rising, the stakes were high, then “…the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. “ (Numbers 14:10). God vindicated his anointed leaders. God validated the wisdom of believing in his promises – and the folly of treating him with contempt. What were the consequences? We see faith in the words of Caleb, fear in the words of the people and judgement in the words of God. There were four destructive responses from the people resulting from the bad report:
1. It was an emotive response. “the community raised their voices and wept.” (Numbers 14:1)
2. It was a faithless response. “if only we had died in Egypt” (Numbers 14:2)
3. It was an ignorant response. “why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?” (Numbers 14:3)
4. It was a rebellious response. “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4)
The result? The failure of leadership deprived nearly two million people of their inheritance in Canaan. Through their poisonous influence, the Israelites were driven back into the wilderness to die, and God delayed fulfilling his promise for a whole generation. Forty five years later, Caleb looked back and testified,
“…the others who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.’ (Joshua 14:8-9)
What a contrast between the majority and minority report. Joshua and Caleb made the same journey and yet they returned with a positive, enthusiastic report. They never doubted they could take the land. Their assessment was based on God’s track record. He had delivered them miraculously from the Egyptians. He had provided them with food and clothing that did not wear out through their long desert journey. They came back saying, “Yes there are giants in the land, but our God is bigger. God has promised us this land. It is ours if we depend on God’s promises and step out in faith.”
What have we learnt so far? First: You are never too young to develop convictions about the purposes of God. Second: You are never foolish to exercise trust in the promises of God. Third lesson?
3. You are never too old to demonstrate courage in the power of God
“Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly.” (Joshua 14:10-14)
Oswald Sanders says, “No other Bible character presents such an inspiring conception of old age.” What made Caleb different? There’s a word used to describe Caleb. While the other leaders were fainthearted, Caleb, at 85 years old, was still as ‘wholehearted’ as he was the day he responded to God’s call. The word appears at least four times. Caleb himself testifies,
“but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.” (Joshua 14:8).
“The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.” (Joshua 14:9)
But most important of all, the Lord observes,
“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Numbers 14:24)
He was wholehearted because he recognised the Lord’s faithfulness.
“just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years … So here I am today, eighty-five years old! (Joshua 14:10)
He was wholehearted because he was a wise steward of the body God had entrusted to him.
“I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” (Joshua 14:11)
You don’t stay physically strong, mentally vigorous, and spiritually alert at 85 without intentionality – gentle exercise, mental stimulation and faithful service among God’s people. Richard Coekin says, “This veteran was not looking to fade away in retirement. He wasn’t about to waste his years down the bowling club, or in front of Sky Sports, or up at the gardening centre or painting his seaside holiday cottage.”
He was wholehearted because he had a God-given, purpose-driven ambition in life.
“Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (Joshua 14:12)
He had been promised Hebron and for 45 years he had been praying and eagerly waiting for the promise to be realised. He was as ambitious then as when God first promised him the land.
Coekin says, “In our youth-dominated culture, too many retired Christians think they are past their ‘best-before’ date when it comes to serving God. Caleb spent his retirement leading a band of battle-hardened warriors on a glorious mission for almighty God. That’s the way to finish well. To ‘go out in a blaze of glory’ for Christ, not rotting on a cruise ship in the Med!”
Was Caleb unique? When did Galileo write his finest work on kinematics and the strength of materials? 73. When did Goethe write Faust? 82. How old was Benjamin Franklin when he helped ratify the US Constitution? 81. When did Winston Churchill become Prime Minister? 65. And the second time? 76. How old was John Glenn when he flew into space the second time? 77. How do we become ‘wholehearted’ like Caleb? First, remember that, irrespective of your gender, your upbringing, your education, health or nationality, you have a God given purpose in life. Be ambitious in completing your mission. Leave the obstacles, the means and outcomes to God. Second, remember that, irrespective of your circumstances, the majority view, or the size of the opposition, you are never foolish to trust in the promises of God. Third, remember that irrespective of your age, you are never too old to demonstrate courage in the power of God.
“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
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