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Lessons from a Great Leader of the Past

A great deal can be learned from personal observation or reading about the triumphs and failures of others. I have long enjoyed reading biographies of great leaders of the past such as Lincoln, Churchill, and Luther. As examples, Lincoln suffered from depression, Churchill craved the attention and approval of his father, and Luther finally discovered what true righteousness was…and it was not found in his efforts.

Another related interest of mine is the study of the men and women whose lives are recorded in the the Bible.

One benefit of studying the lives of others is the discovery of examples to follow as well as failures to avoid.  In these days of massive cultural change, it is very important to have an anchor to help us find and maintain stability in our lives and keep us on course.

Who is this great character from the past?

Caleb is the character we’ll consider.  He was born while the nation of Israel was enslaved in Egypt.  He spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave, probably helping construct Egypt’s great building projects of that era.

In ancient cultures, people were often given names that reflected the circumstances of their birth or the times in which they were born.  As examples, Moses’ name means, “to draw out”, as in “he was drawn out of the water of the Nile”.  Peter’s name means “rock”.  His confession of Jesus as the Messiah was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church.

Wonder what Caleb’s name means?  Caleb means “dog”.  In that culture, usually it was the father who chose the name. If we were to ask Jephunneh, Caleb’s dad, “What made you choose that name for your son?”  I suppose he would say, “Because we were treated like dogs as slaves when Caleb was born.”

Trait #1

When Caleb reached forty years of age, God powerfully and miraculously freed Israel from slavery.  As the nation journeyed to the land God had promised their forefather, Abraham, twelve leaders from among the people were chosen to go into the land God had promised to give them to see what it and its occupants were like (Num. 13:1-33).  When the twelve returned, everyone agreed that the land they had seen was extremely fruitful.  It must have been a bit like going from the desert in Arizona to the lush farmland of Iowa with its fertile black soil.

The problem was ten of the twelve said the people of the land were far too big to drive out of the land.  Joshua and Caleb, the stark minority, had a far different view of the situation.  Caleb said, in essence, “Yes the people are big BUT the God of Israel, the God of Creation, is far more powerful” (Num. 13:30).

What caused Caleb to come to such a conclusion?  Hadn’t he seen the same things as had the others?  I am convinced he believed God’s promises to his ancestor Abraham (Gen. 15:7-15), specifically that God would powerfully deliver Israel from oppression and bring them into the land He had promised.  As I see it modeled in Caleb’s life, either you have big problems and a small God OR you have a big God and small problems.

Character Trait #1 from Caleb’s life: Caleb trusted in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises.  Making it personal: A MAN WHO TRUSTS GOD’S FAITHFULNESS WILL BE GREATLY USED BY GOD.

Trait #2

Years later, 45 years to be exact, we find another episode in Caleb’s life that is instructive.  In Act Two, Caleb is now 85 years old and the nation of Israel has entered the land he had spied out 45 years prior. It has now come time to do the hard work of dispossessing people from the land God had given Israel. Caleb passionately asked if he might stake a claim to a certain part of the land.

In his plea, recorded in Joshua 14:6-15, Caleb reminded his fellow spy and leader, Joshua, that he had “followed God fully.”  In fact, the phrase is used 3 times in the passage.  Put another way, when Caleb had followed God as a 40-year old leader and was still following God as an 85-year old. It was no fad, no flash in the pan sort of season in his life. His was not a New Year’s resolution that was made and promptly broken within weeks or months.  After 45 years, he was still going strong and wanted to accomplish great things for God’s glory.

Character Trait #2 from Caleb’s life: Caleb was faithful over the long haul.  How about you? Have you given up on tackling great things for God?  Are you still in the game putting forth your best effort, or have you reclined to the bench or sofa to watch the younger generation attempt great things for God? A MAN WHO REMAINS FAITHFUL TO GOD’S PURPOSE WILL BE GREATLY USED BY GOD.

Though Caleb had a “dog’s life” the first 40 years of his life, the next 45 years he believed God would be faithful to His promises and Caleb followed God fully for more than four decades.  Two great lessons to learn and character traits to possess and model to others.

by Dr. Bill F. Korver
CCBS President

This article was originally published as an article directed at men for a local magazine. It has been slightly revised for today’s blog.