I recently made the comment to my oldest son, “I haven’t written about your name yet” (having already written about Joshua and Jonathan). I am pretty sure that, at some point in the process of naming him, I saw this meaning. Whether I knew it at one point or not, I had since forgotten. If we had been selecting a name based on the meaning, Caleb would not seem to be a top choice. The Hebrew word keleb means dog, and comes from the root klb which may be the equivalent of “woof.” Maybe we should have named him Bark.
No, in naming my oldest son Caleb the meaning held held no value. The attributes of the biblical Caleb, however, held tremendous weight. (We also thought we were choosing a less popular name, only to find out within five years how wrong that was.) Caleb, along with Joshua, is known for giving a good report to the Israelites concerning the Promised Land. It is not so much that he gave a good report as much as he reported a good expectation. He trusted.
Here were the Israelites, freed from the tyranny of Egypt. The story of their exodus is well-known. No longer were they slaves; their identity as God’s chosen people had been restored. Passing through the Red Sea, following God’s pillar of fire, and receiving daily manna, the Israelites had every reason to trust God. That is, until, they saw the descendants of Anak. Upon hearing of Anak, a potent mixture of truth and legend clouded the eyesight of the Israelites. In other words, fear became a four-letter word.
You have probably heard that fear and faith both look ahead to the future. Both confront an unknown. And both create certain responses. Fear can generate a fight-or-flight response, one of our earliest and most primitive responses. Faith, however, creates a fight-for-right response. Here’s what the Israelites heard when the twelve spies, one from each tribe, returned:
They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.”
So far, so good. They continue.
“But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw the descendants of Anak there.”
The teeter-totter is swinging back down to earth, and those two little words “but” and “even” carry most of the weight. And then the crash landing.
“The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea along the Jordan.” (Numbers 13:27-29)
Now who is this Anak, and why is this such a big deal? Why does he receive special mention? If we look ahead to verse 33, we see that Anak’s descendants “come from the Nephilim.” So who are the Nephilim? Well, they are certainly a strong and numerous group of people. They made some of the spies feel like “grasshoppers” (v. 33). They were also mentioned before The Flood, in Genesis 6:4.
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward – when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
Some scholars believe that this means angels or spiritual beings (Nephilim means “fallen ones”) had children with humans. Wow. For some reason it makes me think of the ridiculously ripped army in the movie “300,” but let’s try a different analogy.
Suppose my dog, a lab/shepherd mix of decent size wants to go for a walk around the neighborhood. And I, his master, have promised him that we will go. But, before going for the walk, he (the dog) sends out the cats to spy out the route. One cat (the one I don’t especially care for) comes back saying, “It looks great out there – everything that you could want – but, there are two Great Danes around the corner. You should stay here!” That’s not a completely illogical conclusion, right? Great Danes can be huge! (And there really are two around the corner, but the part about my cat talking is made up.) So, should my dog never go for a walk?
What do you do? You have seen God work in your life. You know He can deliver you from very difficult circumstances. You have seen Him remove enemies from your path. You have likely even heard His promise. But there are still some really big obstacles out there. Does that mean it is time to sit tight, or does that mean it is time to fight-for-right?
Many of the writings on the meaning of the name Caleb work really hard to clean it up. They try, almost desperately, to put a positive spin on the meaning. I get it. People probably have reservations about having a name that means “dog,” especially since that almost always has a negative connotation in the Bible. But that is alright. I see a connection between my Caleb, my dog, and the Caleb of Numbers 13, and it is absolutely beautiful. They all trust like nobody’s business.
My son Caleb has placed an almost unnerving amount of stock into my guidance. We are engaging in discussions about making choices as he grows older, but wow, does he trust my opinion. For example, we often have pizza on Friday nights. I will call my sons to the kitchen to grab some pizza. And, more often than not, I hear this question from Caleb, “Dad, can we get some pizza now?” It’s not that he did not hear me. It’s not that he doubts. He is simply making sure that his steps match my plans. Hmm.
My dog loves walks, but he used to be a big fan of leading them. He pulled, sniffed, stalled, wherever he chose. It was no fun for me, and not great for him. Then we started using a gentle leader on our walks. It gives him some freedom, but it also makes him more dependent on my guidance. Some day he will be such an expert about knowing my plans, his steps will match mine. Hmm.
Caleb, son of Jephunneh, of the tribe of Judah, watched God in action. He knew God could deliver. He knew God’s promise. So, when the Anak report came in, this happened:
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30)
Caleb simply wanted his next steps to match his Master’s plans.
Now back to my spying, talking cats. We heard the report of one. But the second one (the one I like better) says this to my dog, “Yes, there are Great Danes out there, but remember, you will be walking with your master and it will go as planned.” At that point, besides finding the cat to be impressive, wouldn’t you say that my dog should go? If my son has heard from me that it will work out, shouldn’t he go forward? If God had revealed the Promised Land, shouldn’t the Israelites go take it?
You likely know that the Israelites did not go up to take it. Not right away. And not one of the doubters was allowed in when the Israelites eventually claimed the land. But Caleb and Joshua did; they saw the land God had promised. And the best part about when they did? Caleb was given the city of Hebron. Hebron was the city of the great and powerful Anak, and Caleb drove them out. God is a powerful Master, much more powerful than those obstacles in your way.
It is not always easy to compare ourselves to something like a dog, but my dog teaches me so many lessons about God. One of the biggest reminders that he gives me is in how he always follows me, and always trusts me. In that way I would like to be more and more like him and my son Caleb, trusting and following the One who leads.
What can we learn?
*Our next steps are very often determined by fear or faith. Have you evaluated which one is guiding you?
*If you trust God as your Master, you need only to walk along with Him to receive His promise.