Message: The Caleb Effect, Pt 2 | Scripture: Joshua 15:13-19; 17:3-6 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
When I was a kid, there was a book company called Scholastics, and every month they would publish a flyer with all of the new books that they were selling and recommending to kids. At my school, teachers would hand out these flyers to us knowing that we’d bring them back to our parents and ask them to buy us all the latest and greatest that this company had to offer. I remember running home every time I received one, asking my father and mother to get me all the same books that my friends wanted.
The problem for me was that I didn’t read very much as a child, and my parents knew this. So, they would only let me purchase a book on rare or special occasions. And so special were those occasions to me that when I received the book in the mail, I’d treat that possession like it was the finest of treasures. When I walked around with it inside or outside of the house, I would hold the book in such a way where my fingers would grip the four corners, holding the binding of the book parallel to the ground, so that even if I was clumsy and walked into a wall, the corners and the general integrity of the book would stay intact.
If and whenever I actually went to read the book, I would only open it enough so that I could see the words, even if I had to strain my eyes, because I didn’t want to crack the binding or bend the cover. I would never write anything in the book, not even my name. I made sure to always store the book either on its back, or if I placed it on a bookshelf, I’d meticulously create the right amount of pressure between books to ensure it’s structural longevity.
Now, I hope it goes without saying that you shouldn’t treat your books this way. Books are meant to be read. Their binding meant to be cracked. Their pages meant to be lined with a reader’s notes. Their corners frayed because the content inside is more profitable and enticing than the maintenance of its structure. And yet, my concern, which I warranted as a good concern in my mind, was in protecting those things that I had waited long and fought hard to receive. These books were special to me because they weren’t given haphazardly. My parents put thought and their earnings into every purchase that they allowed me to make, and I didn’t want to squander or destroy what had been entrusted to me.
Our passages this morning carryover this idea both from our illustration and from our sermon two weeks ago of protecting what’s been entrusted to you. I shared with you then that chapters 15-17 broadly serve as warning passages—land is being distributed for the possession of the Israelite tribes of Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh, but they do not go in and possess the land as they ought to. Those were passages that teach us not to give into the greed and lusts of our sinful desires, to see God and his prerogatives as sufficient for us, and thereby to find in him the courage to pursue his ends and purposes for our lives, even when the world seems to stand against us in all its impressiveness and presumption.
And this week, our passages show us the other side of the coin—they come to us not as warnings but as encouragements. Here in the midst of chapters 15-17 come two narratives that serve to jolt us out of the despairing and depressing attitudes of the Israelites. Where we learned two weeks ago how not to protect the lineage that God’s entrusted to us (don’t be greedy and fearful), we learn this morning about how to protect that lineage—how to rightly honour him as the true God over all other gods—how to love him as we are meant to love him. And the first way we are meant to protect that lineage—the great treasure of our lives—is:
1) By Setting a New Pattern for the World
We’ll be reading our passages in reverse order today, and I’ll explain why as we work through our outline, but would you read with me, first, from Joshua 17:3-6? TWoL: Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, had no sons, but only daughters, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 4 They approached Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the leaders and said, “The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.” So according to the mouth of the LORD he gave them an inheritance among the brothers of their father. 5 Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the people of Manasseh.
The context of our passage is set in the distribution of land to half of the tribe of Manasseh—the third tribe to be instructed on the land allotted for them in Canaan. You’ll remember that Judah was the first tribe, Ephraim, the second, and Manasseh, the third. These three tribes are the most venerated out of all Israel. These three are supposed to set the gold standard under Jacob’s blessing for what it means to fulfill and bring about God’s original promises to Abraham.
And yet, what we’re told in the chapters surrounding this text is that these tribes do not satisfy the standard—they don’t truly fulfill the promises of Abraham—they willingly and intentionally leave portions of the land inhabited by Canaanites. They do the exact opposite of what God desires them to do, and thus, they set the stage for their own, future demise.
Nevertheless, in the weariness of these three chapters, two stories provide us with respite, and the first is this story of the daughters of Zelophehad. Now, to properly understand the significance of this story and these daughters, we have to know something about their history. If and when you have the time tonight, or sometime after service, I invite you to read for yourselves the account of their tale in Numbers 27:1-11 and Numbers 36:1-12, but for now, let me detail for you what happens in those passages.
Zelophehad was a descendant of Manasseh and an Israelite who died, probably, from old age. The text tells us he died not as one who gathered together against the Lord in the company of Korah but for his own sin, which simply means that he wasn’t one of the cursed rebels in Israel. Instead, he died like anyone else dies: as a result of the fall—as a result of his own sinfulness. So, this man, having died, never received his inheritance as one of the people of God—as one in Manasseh—one to whom the promise of Abraham for land still applied.
The problem for him is that he had no sons. He had five daughters, and because this is a patrilineal society—where women are given dowries at marriage and men inherit the estate of their fathers, his inheritance, due to his death, would have been distributed evenly to his brothers in lieu of having sons. So, in Numbers 27, the five daughters, who, I would have you note, are not married at this point, meaning they’re young—probably in their low to upper teenage years—they do this outrageous thing—some might say, “this foolish thing.” They walk up to the entrance of the tent of meeting, which, if unchecked—if approached in sin without proper atonement—usually meant judgment and death, and they not only walk up to the tent of meeting, but they ask for something that no woman, child or full grown, would have dared to ask at that time in history. It’s not forgiveness for their audaciousness as one might expect. They ask for the inheritance of their father—they ask for his land.
Now, if Israel was at first afraid for the lives of these young women, they would have been even more terrified now if not utterly shocked and appalled. Because what was taking place in front of their eyes was a scandalous thing. How dare they make this request, let alone approach the priest and the tent of meeting without sacrifice. It is possible that the people of Israel thought these five young women to be ignorant, as I’m sure many women in that day were assumed to be.
Worse yet, those watching, other than Moses and Eleazar, probably thought them to be impetuous and greedy because property laws back then didn’t require women to inherit land. It was assumed that women would get married, and in getting married, they would receive and be responsible for the land of their husbands—that is, as long as the husbands were alive. So, why are these women concerned with receiving their father’s land now, even before they’ve entered the land itself? Nothing’s been conquered/distributed yet—why fret? Their day was coming—perhaps, they should just let their uncles take care of them.
But in verse 4 of Numbers 27, we’re told why it is that they ask for the land. They ask because they do not want the name of their father to be forgotten—to be taken away from his clan. It’s not greed that fuels them. It’s not impetuousness or impatience. It’s their concern for the name of their father—it’s concern for the name of their tribe—it’s concern for the thing that their ancestors were promised by their God.
Now, we know this was the attitude of their hearts because later in Numbers 36, the main concern of the daughters’ request is brought up by the other Manassites, namely, they were concerned with what happens to the land if these daughters marry outside their clan or outside their tribe? You see, based on property laws, these husbands from other tribes and their sons who would have been assumed to be a part of the tribe of their father would get what these daughters received. Said differently, other tribes stand to profit by coming in and wooing these daughters while assuming, into their own clans, land that was meant for the descendants of Manasseh. Said one other way, the tribe of Manasseh was afraid that these five young women would mess everything up for them and decrease Manasseh’s presence in the land. They, ironically, were afraid that these women would set the precedent for their eventual downfall.
So, Moses comes up with a law for these daughters and the daughters of other tribes who are in a similar situation—that is having a father who has died leaving no sons to inherit—they are to marry whomever they want as long as they marry within the clan of their father. And what does the end of Numbers 36 tell us these daughters do? Each of them marry a man from the clan of the tribe of their father. This was not about greed. This was not about impetuousness. This was about honouring their father. This was about not shrinking the great line of Manasseh—making sure that the tribe remained intact. This was about keeping the tribe great as God meant it to be great.
And what’s more is that these daughters made this request well before the land was even conquered, which shows the astounding nature of their faith. They knew the land would be conquered, they knew it would be assigned, and they wanted to ensure that their father’s name might be remembered in all of it. So, while the rest of the tribe of Manasseh is worried about these daughters messing everything up for them, it turns out that they’re the only ones who get it right. And they get it right not because of their greed or impatience, but because their eyes are fixed on their father. Their eyes are fixed on their people. Their eyes are fixed on the plans, purposes, and desires of God for them.
This story in the midst of Manasseh’s failure to possess the land about these daughters of Zelophehad is a story about how things unexpectedly go right in the midst of everything else going wrong. This is a story about the faith of certain Israelites setting an example for all the rest of God’s faithless people. Most indicting to Israel’s context is the fact that it’s young women putting old, self-proclaimed wise heads to shame. It is people normally treated as outsiders eclipsing those who are on the inside. A reversal takes place here.
Now, is this not how God works in the world—to use the foolish to shame the wise—to use the very plans and sinful intentions of man against them while also showing his greater plans and perfect intentions in his own, extraordinary, and unexpected kind of way? Who is it, in the Bible, that God ends up showing his greatest favour to? Is it to those who fix their eyes on the things he has to give them or is it to those who fix their eyes on him? Is it to those who arrogantly assume their value and impose their rights or is it to those who humble themselves, lay down their rights and worldliness, and come before their God desperate, meek, and poor?
Perhaps, Matthew was right when he quotes Christ, who says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” I hope you aren’t mishearing me. This isn’t a sermon about how women are always right, and how men are always wrong. That may be true in the Choy household, but that is not the point of our text.
The point of our text is that these daughters of Zelophehad unexpectedly exemplify for Israel and for us Christians how we are called to protect the lineage—the deposit of faith—that God has entrusted to us. They exemplify the heart of the gospel for us. They display the depth of true love for us. They provide the type of honourable, humble worship that we are called to have by casting aside our care for the world, even when it causes our families and friends to think less of us, all for the sake of the name by which all other names will be measured—all so that we might be known as the people of the most-high God—those that belong, by name, in his hallowed halls.
In a world where honouring your parents means very little compared to your own happiness—in a world where caring for the lost, broken, and helpless is done only for the sake of personal gain, admiration, and fame—in a world where doing what’s right and professing the gospel at every turn is only worthwhile based upon the type of person we think is worthy of our effort to save—we are called to be different. We are called to be better.
We are called to be set apart because God sent his own Son to be different, to show us better, and to set us apart by dying for the wages of our sin when we were least deserving. When we were on the outside, he brought us in. And he does so by the blood of Jesus. He shows us mercy instead of judgment, just as he does for these daughters of Zelophehad, and he gives us the promise of our inheritance without reservation as if we were his own child. So, then, don’t waste the deposit of his blood. Protect the lineage that God’s Entrusted to You by setting a new example—a new gospel-shaped pattern—for the world to see.
2) By Securing the Succession of Our Faith
Turn with me now to Joshua 15:13-19. Would you follow along as I read it to you. TWoL: According to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, he gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh a portion among the people of Judah, Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron (Arba was the father of Anak). 14 And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. 15 And he went up from there against the inhabitants of Debir. Now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher. 16 And Caleb said, “Whoever strikes Kiriath-sepher and captures it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter as wife.” 17 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife. 18 When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she got off her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 19 She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
The reason why I structured this sermon to unpack the passages in reverse order is because the property laws revealed in the story of the daughters of Zelophehad are integral to what takes place here in chapter 15. As I explained a few weeks ago, Caleb sets the foundation for what possessing the land is supposed to look like. He is by comparison the standard under which Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh’s failures are measured.
So, what makes our passage here in Joshua 15:13-19 interesting is the fact that there seems to be a shift in his intention and zeal to go into the land and possess it. What I mean by this is that in chapter 14, we leave Caleb with a full head of God-fueled steam—the kind of passion and courage that God’s been telling Israel to have since the very beginning of this book. He’s ready and rearing to take out all the Anakim still dwelling in his allotment of land. But here, in the middle of chapter 15, after taking out the first three-quarters of the Anakim, he makes an offer for any man—some man to come in and capture what remains of the land, and in exchange, he offers his daughter’s hand in marriage.
This is off-putting for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it looks like Caleb is not who he first portrayed himself to be. It seems like he’s tired and willing to pass off the dirty work to another so that he might claim the glory of faithfulness. This hardly sounds like a man who believes his own claim that God is with him. And the second reason why it seems off-putting is because it sounds like he’s auctioning up his daughter to the highest bidder—anyone can take her—anyone can have her, if only they do the work he’s supposed to do.
Lastly, it’s off-putting because, not only does Caleb offer up his daughter to what seems like the highest bidder, but it also seems like he’s willing to part with some extremely valuable land along with her hand in marriage. Right? If we just read ahead a little, not only does Othniel get Achsah, he also, through her, receives the land of the Negeb (the southern region of Judah) and two springs of water. I’ll discuss the significance of this in a minute, but this is crazy!
Remember, this is a patrilineal society, which means Caleb’s sons were supposed to inherit this land, and it’s likely that he had sons. And not only were his sons supposed to inherit the land, but by offering to any man his daughter’s hand in marriage, he opens up the possibility of people outside the tribe of Judah—the tribe that Caleb belongs to—to come in and appropriate the land to that different tribe—nullifying Judah’s ownership of it under Israel’s property laws, just like the problem we faced with the daughters of Zelophehad.
So, what in the world is Caleb doing here? Has he lost faith in God? Has the zeal left his bones due to the excruciating toll of battle? Did he bite off more than he could chew? Absolutely not. Let me try and be as clear about this as I possibly can be. What’s happening here is not a loss in Caleb’s faith. He’s not trying to pass-off the work that he’s supposed to be doing. No, if anything, the fullness of his faith is on display here because he’s securing his lineage. He is setting apart his people—his family—from the rest of Israel as those who not only get the job done, but who keep the line going. The people who make up his family will be, without hesitation and without compromise, people who fear God and destroy idols.
This is why we went over with such detail the story of the daughters of Zelophehad—because those property laws are everything to Israel. This land is equivalent to Israel’s possession of God. To have the land is to be with God. To be with God is to dwell in his place as his people. And Caleb is not going to leave to chance the opportunity to have that in his family for generations to come.
Sure, he could simply go in and defeat the inhabitants of Debir himself, wait till he dies, and let his sons—men who have had a silver platter handed to them—take over and possibly squander everything he’s been given. This is, in fact, what happens in Israel. The fathers of Israel sin, and their sons, more or less, follow the pattern of their fathers’ faithlessness only in greater ways until all the inheritance is squandered. Caleb can decide to go that route, or he can beget a son—a man who shows himself faithful to God—a man who will not let this inheritance go to waste—by marrying him to his daughter. Trusting throughout all of it that the man that God brings to him—the man that God intends to be a husband to his daughter will be the right man—a man from the tribe of Judah. And this is exactly what happens.
So, when Achsah tells Othniel to go and ask Caleb for land, after defeating the inhabitants of Debir, Caleb gives him the entire South portion of Judah—the Negeb. And when she condescends herself, as a woman—as someone who no longer has any claim to anything because she is married to a man who has land—when she has the audacity to get off that donkey, go to her father, and ask him for a double portion—not just land but springs of water in a place teeming with wilderness and desert. What does he say? He says, “yes, absolutely, yes!” Why? Because his land is secure! His lineage is safe. Through this man, Othniel, whom is now his begotten son and Othniel’s new bride, the true Israel as God meant it to be shall persevere through the clan of Caleb of the tribe of Judah. God’s presence is with him, with his family, with his children’s children, and they shall have it in perpetuity.
How do I know this? Well, if you have your Bibles, turn with me to Judges 3:7-10, where we read this: And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. 9 But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.
In Othniel, Caleb found himself a deliverer for the people of Israel, one of the tribe of Judah. And in Jesus, God has found us one far better, one from that very same tribe of Judah, and one who’s been entrusted with an inheritance far greater than the Negeb and a few springs of water.
And who are we in that family? We are the bride who can now approach the Father because of His love for His own, eternally begotten Son—the second person of the Trinity—because of what that God-Man did to deliver and save us from the guilt of our sin and the penalty of His wrath upon a cross—he now looks upon us not as we deserve, not as outsiders or outcasts—not as those to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, but as His most beloved child.
And when we humble ourselves and ask him for that double portion, he looks at us in joy and says, “Yes, absolutely, yes!” You can have all of it because the land is secure! The lineage is safe. The eternal bride has been purchased by the spotless blood of the Lamb who was slain, and she shall persevere. God’s presence is with His Son and with His Son’s bride and with their children’s children, and they shall have it forever.
This is the gospel of our Faithful Deliverer from Judah who went into the land to destroy the enemy of the world and of our own sin with his own hand. This is the gospel of our Bridegroom—our beloved Saviour. He has secured the lineage that God entrusted to him, and he has brought us in so that, by his Spirit, we might do the same. So that scores of generations that follow us might know the name of Jesus Christ high and lifted up. Let the effect of Caleb’s foresight and desire to see the glory of God extolled throughout the earth be the testimony of your life. Set a new pattern for the world. Secure the succession of your faith. Protect the lineage that God has entrusted to You through his Son, our Messiah, Jesus Christ.