Faith Rewarded: Caleb and Joshua, Five Hundred Years Later

3 minute read

God is always playing the long game. Here’s an example I’ve never noticed before.

As the Israelites approach Canaan on their flight from Egypt, Moses sends twelve scouts to spy out the land, one from each tribe (Numbers 13:1–20):

Tribe Scout
Reuben Shammua
Simeon Shaphat
Judah Caleb
Issachar Igal
Ephraim Hoshea
Benjamin Palti
Zebulun Gaddiel
Joseph/Manasseh Gaddi
Dan Ammiel
Asher Sethur
Naphtali Nahbi
Gad Geuel

The tribes are listed roughly in birth order, but I recognize the names of only two scouts: #3, Caleb of Judah, and #5, Hoshea of Ephraim (if he’s not familiar to you, we learn in Numbers 13:16 that Moses called Hoshea “Joshua”, the one that fit the battle at Jericho.)

The rest of the story is important, but not for the purposes of this article. All you need to remember is that the scouts encountered a lush land full of amazing food and vineyards… and giants.

So when they returned, ten of the scouts said just that: “Yep, Moses was right, it’s awfully nice over there, but also there are giants, and if we invade, we’re all going to die.”

The other two scouts, Joshua and Caleb, have a different opinion1:

If Yahweh delights in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it to us: a land which flows with milk and honey. —Numbers 14:8

Now skip forward five hundred years or so, to just after Solomon’s death. David has, through years of war, conquered most of Israel’s enemies, a job that Joshua started. Solomon, David’s son, has made Israel a prosperous, peaceful kingdom. But after Solomon dies, his son Rehoboam starts making bad choices. Specifically, instead of easing the burden of labor on the people, he threatens to increase it (1 Kings 12).

As a result, the kingdom splits apart: a northern kingdom, made up of ten tribes, and a southern kingdom, made up of two.

Over time, those kingdoms acquire nicknames so people don’t have to keep saying “North Israel” and “South Israel”2. Throughout the rest of the Bible, the northern kingdom is called either Israel or Ephraim, and the southern is called Judah.

Ephraim is the tribe of Joshua, and Judah is the tribe of Caleb. The two scouts whose faith in God made them say, “Let’s go!” when the other scouts came back afraid are somehow the same tribes that stand for the entire kingdom of God from about 1000 BC until today.

What’s Really Going On?

Even as I write this, I’m conflicted. On one hand, most of these little coincidences in Scripture aren’t actually coincidences but evidence of the hand of God. On the other hand, while Joshua gets his own book and leads the army that originally conquers the Promised Land, Caleb is much less prominent.

The northern kingdom doesn’t exactly cover itself in glory, either—its kings are weaker and generally more evil than the southern kingdom; it makes worse choices; and it’s destroyed much earlier. Is it really an honor for Joshua?

Maybe not. In the split kingdom, Ephraim occupied the central hill country of the northern half. Much of the action of Genesis takes place in and around what becomes the territory of Ephraim. It’s not much different than using Dallas (population: 1.4 million) to refer to the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex (population: 7.5 million). So maybe it was an accident of geography and history.

And of course the tribe of Judah is dominant among all the tribes of Judah, and Caleb is not the most important member of the tribe by far—surely it’s not Caleb who is remembered by that naming.

But it’s also true. Joshua and Caleb, Ephraim and Judah, were faithful when the other tribes counseled fear.

Here are two truths about God, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

  1. God consistently has supernatural purposes for natural consequences.
  2. God remembers the faithful for thousands of generations. (Exodus 20:6)
  1. Joshua and Caleb have obviously read a super-advance copy of James 4:15, fifteen hundred years before it was written. 

  2. Although I suppose the Carolinas, the Dakotas, and the Sudans don’t have that issue.