Series: Counter-culture, by Rosie Moore.
“And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming” (Joshua 14:10-11).
Age is no obstacle to serving the Lord! Caleb, at age 85, is a great role model. Even forty-five years after God had promised him a personal inheritance of land, his trust was unwavering (Numbers 14:24). He was willing to finish the job of conquest, believing all that God had promised He would do in the future. Caleb remembered his inheritance, instead of being crippled by his old age.
Although his inheritance was still occupied by giants, Caleb was willing to wield a sword in the Lord’s strength. Caleb didn’t allow himself to dwell on past accomplishments or sink into despair, but remained in active service to God.
This portrait of an octogenarian is very counter-cultural! Old age is seen today as a time to relax and take it easy, secure a nice comfortable spot to live and indulge in only what you enjoy until you fall off the perch. Pass the time with hobbies, entertainment and healthcare, with only yourself to please and your own aches and pains to worry about. After all, you’ve earned your retirement!
Not everyone lives to a ripe old age in good health, like Caleb did. But I believe that Caleb teaches Christians many important principles about old age, which are instructive for young and old alike. Here are three lessons that we can learn from Caleb:
- Old age is harvest time.
As the Psalmist says, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon…They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Ps 92:12, 14). Caleb exemplified this.
In old age, Caleb was like a rocket on the launchpad, ready to be released into God’s service! But he didn’t just become bold and faithful overnight. At 85-years old, he was reaping a harvest which had been cultivated throughout his life– as a teenager, young man and middle aged man.
A major growth point was when Caleb was much younger, as leader of the tribe of Judah, when he dared to stand out and speak the truth against the majority of his own people (Num 13:30; 14:30). He’d learned to fear God more than man.
- Caleb dared to defy the crowd.
If there’s one thing that makes our knees tremble, it’s standing up alone against the majority opinion! It’s why cancel culture is so powerful, especially when the herd is vocal, emotional and furious. Yet, Caleb and Joshua dared to stand alone against all the congregation of Israel:
In Numbers 13, Caleb was one of the original ten spies sent into the promised land, but only he and Joshua showed faith in the Lord and his promises. Their outspokenness almost led to them being stoned to death by an outraged mob (Numbers 14:10).
Caleb’s great awe of the Lord overcame his fear of man.
Picture how hard it must have been for Caleb to have spoken up in front of the hostile, frightened people and their fear-mongering leaders, as they gave their report to Moses. Note Caleb’s steady confidence in verse 30:
“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
Verse 30: But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:27-33).
After this, there was lament and rebellion in the camp. The people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, threatening to choose another leader to take them back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:1-4). But for a second time, Caleb and Joshua challenged the majority not to rebel against the Lord because of their fear of man:
“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel” (Numbers 14:7-10).
Mob justice can be a terrifying thing, but Caleb focused on the “exceedingly good land”, which God had promised as an inheritance (Num 14:7). He pointed the people to God’s promises.
- Caleb focused on pleasing and serving the Lord (Num 14:8).
- He reminded the people that their enemies were not to be feared, because they lacked God’s protection (Num 14:9).
- He pleaded with the people not to rebel against God by giving in to fear of man (Num 14:9).
- He reminded them that God was with them and would protect them (Num 14:9).
Caleb’s words of truth infuriated the crowd, but his boldness was fortified by a right understanding of God. Because Caleb feared God more than man, he had the courage to stand up against the majority, and this boldness of spirit continued to flourish into old age.
- Caleb was full of hope.
While the other spies were full of pessimism and cynicism, Caleb’s attitude to the very same challenges was full of hope. His hope was in God’s sure promise to give them the land as an inheritance, not in Israel’s ability to defeat their enemies.
The young Caleb saw the same great cities and giants as the other spies, yet he did not view the Israelites as mere ‘grasshoppers’. He knew that the Lord would help his people conquer the land. Caleb was not so much a man of great faith, but an ordinary man who believed that God was great.
As a result of Caleb’s faithfulness, God promised him a personal inheritance (Num 14:24; Deut 1:34-36) and allowed him to enter the promised land. Whereas the Lord judged the vocal majority who buckled to fear rather than believing God, the Lord commended Caleb’s willing and obedient spirit:
“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it” (Num 14:22-24.)
At the end of our race, every faithful Christian will hear our master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:23).
As Christians, our inheritance is secure in Christ— “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Jesus is the gateway to the exceedingly good and fertile country that He has promised to all those who love him. It is called the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1-5; 22:12-14).
“He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7).
Wisdom for the old…
If you are getting older, with diminishing capacity and energy, you may wonder, “How can I serve the Lord in this season of my life? Am I redundant and irrelevant? Must I just look forward to heaven now and retire from earth?”
The Bible’s answer is an emphatic NO! Remember, the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong” (Eccl 9:11). The race is finished well by those who serve God with hearts fully committed to him (2 Chron 16:9). It’s the strength of the heart that counts, not the strength of the body. This is radically counter culture.
But there are unique temptations to resist as we grow older. These hazards are cynicism, pessimism and self-absorption.
Instead, our old age should be rich in grace, generosity, wisdom, love and service poured out to others, particularly younger people in our sphere of influence. The longer we’ve spent trusting Jesus, the more credible and helpful our witness will be.
Just as Caleb was involved in finishing the job of conquest, Christ has given all his followers the task of welcoming sinners into the ‘promised land’ of his kingdom, not with a sword to wage war, but with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The gospel conquest includes mentoring and teaching believers to walk in His ways (Matt 28:19-20).
Conquest is not just the job of the young and the strong, but also the old (1 John 2:12-14). And so, offer your time, wisdom and experience to your local church. Ask your pastor where you can serve and ask the Lord to give you opportunities to love people and share your hope in Christ. When God or your pastor gives you an opportunity, respond with an eager “Yes!”, knowing that God will strengthen you to do it. Be assured by the words of Caleb and Christ:
Here are four R’s of good fruit in old age:
Resist the natural urge to become self-absorbed.
Reach out and ask young people to share their struggles, so you can support and pray for them better.
Resolve to be an optimistic encourager rather than a prophet of doom and gloom!
Remember that young people have been ordained by God to live in this world, in these times, so cheer them on and give them hope!
Wisdom for the young and middle aged…
If you are young or in mid-life, remember that it’s unbiblical to think that old people should be put out to pasture! Out with the old, in with the new, is a cultural lie that should be boldly rejected as ungodly and unspiritual.
And so, be patient with older people and cherish them; seek them out as counsellors; ease their loneliness and suffering, and treat them as fellow workers in the kingdom. Remind them that the best is yet to come!
Remember that Caleb developed his boldness over many years. So, if you’re a teen or young person, do not be afraid to stand alone against the majority. Get to know the character of God and focus your energies on pleasing the Lord, trusting in his promises and protection. Get in the habit of fearing God rather than man. That way, you’ll grow into a brave, hopeful old trooper like Caleb!
You In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
I will ever praise you.
Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
As for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
of your saving acts all day long—
though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your mighty acts to all who are to come. Amen (excerpts from Ps 71).