THEME: Observations and Lessons from Hebron
This week’s lessons teach us about Joshua’s companion in the conquest of Canaan, and what it was that made Caleb a great man.
Now when Numbers 13 begins to tell us about the work of the spies, it doesn’t give us very much detail as to how they went about their work. We don’t know, for example, whether they toured around in a body or whether they divided up. We might suspect that they divided up so as not to attract too much attention. One thing I suspect as I read about this is that whether they divided up or whether they went around as a group, Caleb must have expressed some particular interest in Hebron. Hebron is the only one of the cities of the land that’s described in any detail in Numbers 13. It tells that they explored the land from the desert of Zin all the way up to Rehob. It says in verse 22 that they went through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. I suspect that Caleb must have had a special interest in seeing Hebron.
You ask yourself, “Well, why did he have any special interest in Hebron?” The answer is that Hebron was the closest thing to a sacred site for the Jewish people in all the land of Canaan. That is where Abraham had lived. That’s where Sarah had died and was buried in the cave of Machpelah that Abraham had purchased. It was the only portion of all the land of Canaan that Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, actually owned. And when Abraham died, he was buried in Hebron. Isaac was also buried there; and although Jacob died in Egypt, he, too, was brought back and buried in Hebron, as well as their wives. And Joseph, when he was dying, gave instructions that his bones were to be taken to Hebron.
That must have meant something special to Caleb. Caleb had been a foreigner, but with this new citizenship among the Israelites, he probably wanted to go to this place which was so important to the Jewish people. I think he looked at that town of Hebron during those days or weeks of spying out the land and said, “Now, when God gives us the land, this is the place I want to come to. This is the portion of the land I want to have for myself.”
There was something else interesting about this land of Hebron, though the spies reacted differently about it. There were giants there. The spies saw that and came back with their report. Ten of the spies said to the Israelites, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there. The descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes. And we looked the same to them.”
There were lots of things the spies agreed on. They agreed that the land really was a good land just as God said it was. It was a land flowing with milk and honey. Oh, they would love to live there. And they agreed that it had a lot of great cities and that they were strongly fortified. Even Caleb and Joshua didn’t disagree with that. Moreover, they agreed that there were lots of people there. But the ten spies said, “Yes, and there are giants. And we can’t overpower them.” Now when they said that all the people there were giants, they were exaggerating. All the people weren’t giants; but it doesn’t take a whole lot of giants to scare you. Compared to these giants, the ten spies saw themselves as grasshoppers. Yet, that wasn’t the way Caleb looked at it. Caleb said, “Oh, it’s true that it’s a great land, and there are great cities, and the cities are strongly fortified. And, yes, there are giants there. But we can certainly take that land.”
We know what happened. It’s the same thing that often happens. The timid opinion of the majority prevailed. The people said, “Well, I guess we can’t do that. It’s all been a false dream. God has brought us up here for nothing.” And so, they decided not to go. Consequently God judged that generation. They had to spend the next 38 years wandering in the desert until everyone of their number who was 40 years of age or older at the time had died. And it was a new generation led by Caleb and Joshua, the only ones who were not judged, that finally entered the land. That’s the history of this magnificent old man.
Why did Caleb show such interest in the city of Hebron?
What else do we learn about Hebron? What were the different attitudes about the spies’ discovery? What decision was made by Israel as a result, and what happened afterward?