At first glance, it’s probably not apparent as to why Judges 1:10 would prompt a devotional titled, “Lessons from the Life of Caleb.” After all, Caleb’s name isn’t even referenced in this verse. Well, while an exposition of this verse does not directly provide lessons from Caleb’s life, it does incite a walk down memory lane, biblically-speaking. And as we travel back in redemptive history we will be reminded of the faith of a man that, while imperfect, heartily followed the LORD (cf. Num. 14:24). Let’s see how we get there…
First, Judges 1:10 comes at the front end of a flashback of Judah’s victories during the time of Joshua. So as to create a little context, here’s a brief synopsis of the verses that precede the flashback. The Book of Judges begins with the LORD telling the children of Israel that Judah should be the first to go up against the Canaanites (vs.2). Judah responded to the call and asked Simeon to go with him (vs.3). Together they killed 10,000 men at Bezek (vs.4), captured Adoni-Bezek (vs.5), and brought him to Jerusalem where he later died (vs.7). Then, in the verses that follow, a flashback begins and we see a few references to Caleb. In Judges 1:10, he is referenced indirectly; in verses 12 through 15 he is one the main characters in a short story involving his daughter and her husband; and in verse 20 his victory at Hebron is recalled. Our attention, however, will be directed to the indirect reference of verse 10, where we read:
“Then Judah went against the Canaanites who dwelt in Hebron. (Now the name of Hebron was formerly Kirjath Arba). And they killed Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai.”
It’ll take a moment to see the Caleb connection but hang in there and you’ll see it shortly. First, Kirjath Arba is translated “city of Arba” and he (Arba) was the father of Anak (Josh. 15:13b). Second, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, who are named at the end of Judges 1:10, were the children of Anak (Josh. 15:14). Third, in the Book of Joshua, Caleb is credited with driving them out of the land – “Caleb drove out the three sons of Anak from there: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak” (vs.14).
That is the background behind Judges 1:10 – the victory won by Judah was spearheaded by Caleb – and it was no small feat! Not to mention it was somewhat nostalgic. The twelve spies sent out by Moses saw these very sons of Anak when they surveyed the land years earlier (Num. 13:22)! Remember the event? Ten of the spies brought an evil report of unbelief back to the congregation and only Joshua and Caleb believed that it didn’t matter who inhabited the land because God had already promised Israel victory. Here is what the report of the ten spies sounded like:
“We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.” (Num. 13:27-29)
Caleb was the one who quieted them and responded, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (vs. 30).
Even back then, before he drove out the sons of Anak and took possession of the land God allotted for him, Caleb modeled the kind of behavior that all of Israel should’ve exhibited. The first readers of the Book of Judges would have done well to remember the Book of Numbers and the Book of Joshua. Both, but particularly the former, show why this man would be set forth as a kind example in the opening chapter of Judges of what the Israelites should have done, in contrast to what they failed to do. So while we’re here, seeing how a single verse from Judges weaves through both Joshua and Numbers, let’s consider what we can both observe and learn from the life of Caleb in those early days that came well before the victory alluded to in Judges 1:10.
Caleb and Joshua were ready to stand against the wave of public opinion. In Numbers 14:10 the congregation was ready to stone Joshua and Caleb for exhorting and warning them. They didn’t take well to being confronted and corrected. But Joshua and Caleb stood firm. And even when the congregation wanted to stone them the LORD preserved them. They are examples for us today who live in a culture that rejects the exclusivity of Jesus’ claims, feels threatened by moral absolutes, and increasingly pushes a pluralistic agenda that is, ironically, increasingly intolerable to the Christian faith. It should be of no surprise to Christians that we, too, will have to stand against the wave of public opinion and declare that faith in the person and work of Christ is the only way of salvation and that no matter how many things our society champions as “okay” and “normal” (i.e. lying, fornication, adultery, filthy language, bitterness, homosexuality, idolatry, abortion, witchcraft, etc.) God calls them sin.
Caleb’s faith seemed unnoticed by Israel but it was incredibly noticed by God. God told Moses, “My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him, has followed Me fully (Num. 14:24).” Caleb was rejected by men but honored by God. Imagine that? God spoke to Moses about Caleb. It’s not the only time in Scripture we see God do such a thing. In Job 1:8 the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” Knowing such things are recorded in Sacred Scripture ought to compel us and be an incentive for us to live thinking more about what God thinks as opposed to what people think.
Caleb was spared discouragement. This observation is a simple one. While the congregation of Israel lifted up their voices and wept through the night, dejected and discouraged that they would die in the wilderness (Num. 14:1), Caleb and Joshua believed God would do what He had promised. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it wasn’t easy having a congregation wanting to stone them; nevertheless, the peril they faced was different than the discouragement that the children of Israel faced. They were persecuted for righteousness sake and spared from the discouragement that came from sin and unbelief.
Caleb believed God. He didn’t magnify the enemy or his own weakness; he magnified God. That principle is one we ought to keep reminding ourselves of. Too often we can be tempted to attribute seemingly insurmountable power to our struggles so that we magnify the struggle, magnify the enemy, and magnify the flesh; instead, we ought to magnify the LORD who is infinitely stronger than them all! Just as Caleb believed that God would do what He promised to do concerning the land of promise, we ought to walk in faith and confidence that God will do that which He has promised to do in our lives; namely, conform us to the image of His Son and bring the work He began to completion.
So Judges 1:10, properly understood, takes us down memory lane – from Judges to Joshua, and from Joshua to Numbers, with a number of lessons to observe. Above are only four. But if you see the background of Numbers 14, you can better understand how Judges 1:10 (cf. Josh. 15:14) happened.