A Dog Among Lions by Ray Haynes
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. William Shakespeare
That famous line is from Romeo and Juliet, and it’s essentially posed to make us consider why there is so much struggling in life – why can’t a love story just be a love story – why must there be conflict that can’t be resolved – why do our highest hopes and dreams get dashed against the rocks – why is there always a mountain to climb – but most of all, what do we do when faced with the impossible?
Our story begins in the Valley of Elah, in the Judean hills near Hebron, three thousand years ago. A ruddy shepherd boy brought lunch to his brothers near the battle lines. Hearing the taunts of a Philistine giant named Goliath, the boy did not waver or join his skulking army and king hiding in their tents. He leaned down and drew out five smooth stones from a nearby brook, took his staff and sling in hand, and charged toward Goliath. The massive man-beast jeered the brave boy with a taunt that made him charge even faster, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”
This Dog Doesn’t Chase Sticks
How could such an odd taunt about a dog inspire the young shepherd boy to victory? It’s lost in translation to English, but the very ground the giant and David stood upon was conquered by a mighty warrior from David’s tribe, whose name and story lead us back in time five hundred more years to the greatest giant killer in the history of Judah. His father named him Dog, or technically “Mad Dog”, which in Hebrew is Kaleb or Caleb.
Caleb wasn’t a likely hero. He was a fifth generation slave, born in Egypt at a time when courage was rare. But then Moses arrived, and God’s plagues began to fall on their Egyptian oppressors; and suddenly the day arrived when the slaves plundered their masters, turned their back on the land of their sorrows, and took the hand of God as they walked into the wilderness. It’s in that wilderness that we first meet the forty-year-old Caleb when he’s chosen by the tribe of Judah to spy out the promised land for forty days along with Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim, and ten other tribal leaders. It’s worth noting that these men were probably chosen for their courage.
When Guard Duty Never Ends
It’s hard to imagine the seven-week, one-thousand-mile journey through hostile territory filled with fierce tribes of Canaanite giants known for their evil and ferocity. They controlled all the land in the deep south wilderness, and along the five-hundred-mile pathways that wound through the far north mountains. The spies were twelve small foreigners, trying not to be noticed, while walking, cooking, and sleeping day after day and night after night, as they traveled the depth and breadth of the strange foreign land. Every mile could have been their last. Sleep was probably rare, if at all. At least ten of the spies were living in absolute terror, longing for the days they could escape their nightmare journey. When they arrived back to the safety of their own people in the southern Wilderness of Paran, they breathed a deep sigh of relief that they were even still alive.
Their one job was to discover strategic insights to prepare the land’s conquest and report back; but they had no intention of going back. The report of the ten: “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants…” Joshua and Caleb insisted that the Lord was with them, but all of the people picked up stones to stone them. God put a stop to the stoning when the ten cowardly spies, “died by the plague before the Lord.” As for the former slaves, the stones fell right out of their shaking hands when God condemned everyone twenty years old and above to wander the desert forty-years until they all died there.
Here’s where the story enters the Shakespeare-like realm for me. I can’t help but wonder how the brave hearted Caleb, Joshua and Moses felt at the news of spending the next forty years in the desert. What was it like to obey God perfectly – to be full of faith and arrive at the moment you are supposed to receive your reward, only to be told “Not yet…come back later”? Instead of inheriting the promises of God, you must spend the next forty years wandering in the desert, waiting for the last of the faithless to die, so you can bury the very ones who trampled your dream.
So, how did Caleb face and defeat the impossible? What made Caleb so different from the millions of other former slaves that God led out of Egypt? When the twelve spies first laid eye on Hebron, their minds were probably remembering their life of slavery in Egypt, and as they looked at all the crops and houses in the distance they probably were rejoicing that God was giving them the settled land that lay before them to inherit. And then as they drew closer to the mountain, for the first time in their lives, they knew the meaning of the word giant. Ten of the spies looked for a place to hide, but Caleb stood transfixed as he stared at a place that he had heard about only in stories. And he found his purpose and destiny at the crossroads of the promises of God.
At The Crossroads of a Promise
When Abraham came to the area over four-hundred years before and set up his tent, it was at Hebron that the Lord appeared to him for the first time, promising his descendants the Land of Canaan. Abraham made his home there and later buried his wife Sarah in a cave in Hebron. Both Isaac and Jacob lived in Hebron, and when Isaac and Rebecca died they were buried in the cave. Joseph traveled all the way from Egypt to bury his father Jacob there. When Joseph was near death he asked his brethren to carry his bones from Egypt to Hebron when God delivered them. Caleb probably grieved the forty-year delay in accomplishing that.
Caleb knew immediately that the mountain graveyard was his desired inheritance. So it’s really no surprise that when faced with the task of digging graves for decades, Caleb embraced it. I can imagine Caleb burying his uncle Mordechai, with his aunt looking on, “Why are you digging the grave so big – he wasn’t that tall?” But Caleb just kept digging until the grave was about ten feet long and extra wide. When he finally looked up and wiped away the sweat from his forehead he might have said, “I’m only digging this grave because these faithless people were afraid of fighting giants. But me, I’m going to spend my time in this wasteland getting ready to bury those giants. For now, your husband can lay here, but surely the giant Anak has an uncle too. And one day I’m going to kill him and dig his grave. This was just practice.” He had forty years to teach his own children how to bury cowards, to prepare them to one day take the land he had visited.
Just As My Strength Was Then
I can’t help imagine what it must have been like as Caleb wandered and dug graves year after year, probably circling back to the Wilderness of Paran on occasion to stare across the sand and yell out to Anak on top of Hebron. “I’m still here Anak. I’m still coming for you. I’m counting the days.” When the forty years had passed and the last faithless man was buried, the new generation followed God across the Jordan and then obeyed Him when they were told to march around a massive walled city and then shout. The towering walls fell down and crushed their enemies. But it was just the beginning of God showing up strong on their behalf.
Even after waiting forty years, Caleb’s focus and pursuit of God’s promises shine brightly when talking to Joshua: “So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God…Just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the Lord spoke in that day…And Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as an inheritance.”
When Caleb and Joshua led their army to Hebron, they faced a confederacy of five Amorite kings and countless giants. Joshua 10 tells the story of the battle, “So the Lord routed them before Israel, killed them with a great slaughter at Gibeon… the Lord cast down large hailstones from heaven on them…There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword.” The faithlessness of the ten spies robbed them of ever seeing the mighty miracles that God had planned to destroy the giants that intimidated the former slaves. As for the now eighty-five-year-old spy, “Caleb drove out the three sons of Anak from there.” And there wouldn’t be another giant killer until that young shepherd boy stood in the same valley.
A Heart Set On Pilgrimage
So, how can we be more like Caleb and Joshua, and less like the other spies? We all face our giants. They are the battles we didn’t plan, but can’t escape. Maybe we stay pure dreaming of a happy Godly marriage, but then the giant of disappointment arrives and our heart hardens within us. We faithfully labor for a lifetime and as we retire to rest and enjoy, cancer comes calling. We work and work and work but the bills far exceed the paychecks. We determine to serve the Lord but then struggle with one battle after another and eventually fear becomes our constant companion. Whenever we pause to look back at our slavery in sin, the memories seem enticing.
Mathew Henry said, “Discontent is a sin that is its own punishment and makes men torment themselves; it makes the spirit sad, the body sick, and all the enjoyments sour; it is the heaviness of the heart and the rottenness of the bones.” To walk as Caleb walked, we must fix our eyes on destiny and dig the graves of our sorrows as practice for the day the promises become reality.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A.W. Tozer expounded, “Faith is seeing the invisible, but not the nonexistent.” I imagine Caleb had to dig hundreds of thousands of giant-sized graves before he ever buried Anak, or thousands of his giant kinsmen. Psalm 84:5 says, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” We are never alone when walking with God. The victory and battle are not in our hands. Fear and doubt are the encouragement to refuse to trust God. If we choose fear, we lose. So let’s set our minds on digging graves as we face our giants, until the promises of God become our inheritance.