“Give me this mountain”. This request recorded in Joshua 14:12 comes from the mouth of an 85-year-old man. It was made by Caleb to Joshua when the latter was allotting the yet to be possessed land of Canaan to the Israelites. However, what Caleb wanted was not owning a property for his retirement scheme, nor was he driven by covetousness behind a fight for inheritance, but by a heart that kept on looking forward positively. When a man reaches this age, he is likely to be facing the loss of working ability and financial income, deteriorating health and mobility, as well as relationship issues in the family. This is no small challenge. On the one hand, he has to learn to accept his own limitations, even to the point of finding himself useless; on the other hand, he needs to learn to step down and pass the baton to the next generation.
Caleb, however, was not in such a situation. Instead of shying away, he stepped forward; and instead of feeling lost, he fully embraced life.
Caleb was described as a man who “followed the Lord wholeheartedly”. This clause is repeated three times in Joshua 14:6- 15 (vv. 8, 9, 14). In fact, there is something special about the way this is written in the original text. This description appears eight times in the entire Bible, seven of which are related to Caleb. The original meaning of “wholeheartedly” is actually “full” ( מלא ) (see Lu Chen-Chung’s Chinese translation as “full heart and soul”; NASV’s translation of “fully”). The word “followed” is only a preposition in the original text, meaning “following behind”. It gives us the impression that Caleb responded to the Lord with the “abundance” of his heart, to a point that he devoted himself wholeheartedly to God. This is a sharp contrast to the state of frustration and inadequacy usually associated with old age as mentioned above.
Perhaps this word can actually help us understand how Caleb’s commitment to follow God enabled him to stand against severe trials and persist till the end to receive the desired mountain. What exactly is the “abundance” in the old man’s heart? Notice that when the Bible repeats three times Caleb “followed the Lord wholeheartedly”, every time “the Lord” is immediately followed by an indication of whose God the Lord is, and each time it is different. This could possibly give us a few insights into what we can learn from the life of Caleb.
The first time it is “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly” (v. 8). This is Caleb’s selfdescription as he recalled the history of Kadesh more than forty years ago when he was a spy. By calling the Lord “my” God, Caleb disclosed his loyalty to God, unlike the other ten spies. At the age of 85, he reflected on his life story – not to relive or boast about his glorious past, but only to affirm his perseverance before the Lord whom he had served at such challenging times in the past. It was this sense of “abundance” and affirmation that enabled Caleb to inherit the promised blessings of the mountain.
The life of the elderly is itself an invaluable treasure. It represents a rewarding accumulation over years of numerous struggles in life: extensive experience, tenacious endurance and unwavering convictions. Even with deteriorating physical strength day by day, these valuable resources hidden in the inner life will not be lost with time, but can become great examples for the next generation.
The second time it is “you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly" (v. 9). This is Caleb quoting Moses’ vow in response to his faithfulness. Here the Lord refers to the God of Moses, emphasizing the covenant and promises God gave to the Israelites. Caleb’s words following this revealed the fact that he did not dwell in the past, but was living in the reality of the present. Faced with the situation before him, he knew very well that he could not rely on Moses' vow, but on the unfailing promise of the Lord. 85 years of stormy life, lonely without a true comrade, and finally not chosen for succession to Moses’ leadership. The situation for Caleb was anything but easy. Yet he drew strength from the providence and grace of the faithful God and remained true to his convictions. It was this simple reliance that enabled him to strive forward courageously and eventually acquire the mountain as his inheritance.
Undoubtedly we all need to adapt to all kinds of hardships in every stage of our life. Nevertheless, we can still learn from Caleb’s indefatigable tenacity. We do not have to succumb to the environment or our own limitations. We can still be ambitious and inspired while listening and responding to the call from above.
The previous two verses relate to the past and the present, while the third focuses on the future. At the end of this passage, the author points out that Caleb finally received the mountain because “he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly” (v. 14). Israel was mentioned here to emphasize that it was no longer about an individual, but the whole community. The significance of Caleb receiving the land is far beyond the blessings of his own family, but needs to be put in the context of Israel’s history as a whole. By acquiring this mountain, Caleb did not only fulfill God's promise to him, but also occupied the inheritance for the descendants of Israel; more importantly, it became part of God’s overall plan for Israel.
The request to “give me this mountain” was definitely not a light matter, as Caleb would still need to go to war to fight for it. According to verse 12, this land belonged to the Anakites, the giants who once intimidated the ten spies. The original text of verses 12 and 15 use the same word “great” ( גּדל ) to describe the city and the people there. It was Caleb, the eldest person, who had to fight this most challenging and difficult battle. Resolutely, he took up this formidable task with the promise of the Lord’s presence (note that the last clause of v. 12 should start with “as long as”), just as he did over forty years ago. In the end, he earned a place in the promised land as well as in God's historical plan for Israel.
We may not have Caleb’s brilliant achievements, but if we learn to accept and cherish what we have, even amidst limitations, hardships and regrets, we can still live a fulfilling life with God's grace and strength.