When I think of the word “courage”, the pictures that pop up in my mind are of soldiers on a battlefield, police officers on a call where weapons are drawn, or firefighters responding to a raging fire with people inside. Courage isn’t limited to those situations. It can be displayed at any time or place. It isn’t limited to those wearing a uniform and it doesn’t have to be a matter of life and death. Courage is when one does what the Lord would have them do, often taking the difficult instead of the easy road, even though they are scared silly.
The Bible provides many stories having the ingredient of courage. One of them is the story of Joshua and Caleb. It is a dramatic and powerful tale of two who did the right thing surrounded by those who chose to give in to fear and doubt.
The Israelites led by Moses had fled Egypt to their destination of the promised land of Canaan initially promised by God to their forefather Abraham. Joshua and Caleb’s story begins where the Israelites were at the threshold of this Promised Land.
Moses sent Joshua, Caleb, and ten other spies into the Promised Land to check out who the enemy was and report back what they saw. The spies returned after scouting the land for 40 days. All twelve agreed that Canaan did flow with milk and honey and it possessed bountiful fruit. They all reported the inhabitants were powerful, their cities fortified, and they even saw descendants of Anak there. (The Israelites felt like grasshoppers in the presence of the sons of Anak who were endowed with height). The people focused more on the strength of the enemy than the milk, honey, and fruit.
There was not full agreement among the spies on what to do about it. The majority believed the enemy was a mountain too high to climb. Joshua and Caleb were of the opinion that the land was conquerable because they had the Lord on their side and the Canaanites did not. That made all the difference. They stated:
“‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’” (Numbers 14:6–9).
Although Caleb and Joshua were outnumbered, they didn’t change their minds to appease the majority. Their belief in going forward to battle wasn’t based on what they saw, but on what they couldn’t see. It’s called living one’s faith.
The people didn’t listen to the courageous two, but to the fearful ten. They even turned on their leader, Moses, and complained about being led out to the wilderness to come this far only to die. It was a bad day for Moses. It seemed that sometimes the hardest part of Moses’s job was not dealing with the enemy or the physical challenges of traveling a multitude of people, but the “people” themselves who may have kept Moses up many a night with their complaining.
God threw up His hands so to speak. The punishment of the people’s lack of faith was making them wait forty years to enter the land (a year for every day the spies were spying out the land). He also promised that every person 20 years old or older would die in the wilderness. Think about that! All those 20 and above knew they had no more than 40 years to live and would never leave the wilderness alive. If one was 20, one knew they wouldn’t live past 60 and would only see the land flowing with milk and honey in their dreams.
There were two exceptions. Numbers 14:38, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”
After the death of Moses 40 years later, Joshua led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He won every battle and thus possessed the land that God had initially promised Joshua’s forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Oh, and Caleb? Well, he received an inheritance in the Promised Land in his ripe old age (Joshua 14).
Courage isn’t limited to adults. I can think of another place where I have personally witnessed courage while on my job as a substitute teacher’s aide. A child is alone amidst a host of classmates on a playground. The child is perceived by the other children to be different. Maybe it’s the child’s different skin color, or a brace on their leg, or doesn’t speak or talks too much, flaps his hands, spins in circles, or their legs are useless to them. One of their classmates joins the child. He or she is pointed at and snickered for giving attention to the “different” one. But the one who stands alone pays their snickering classmates no mind. That child who is putting into practice Jesus’s command to love one’s neighbor as thyself is displaying courage. Just as Joshua and Caleb did when they stood alone amidst the fearful ten.