“Then Caleb quieted the people towards Moses, and said to him, 'No, but let us go up at once and take possession of it, for we are well able to overcome them.'” (OSB)
Who is stronger, almighty God or “giants”? It is an absurd question, and yet we “who are of little faith” find ourselves constantly entertaining it, unable to lift our eyes and “see” and “believe” and “live” the truth of God’s all-powerful, all-loving, and providential rule and guidance over all things (2 Kgs 6:15-17).
As we read these stories, we must continually bear in mind what St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:11:
Now all these things happened to them in figure, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
We in the New Covenant Church are the true subject and meaning of these Old Testament narratives. What is presented in type, figure, and shadow in the Old Testament is really about us and for us.
The story of the “12 spies” here in Numbers 13 is, for us, one both of warning and encouragement. When we contemplate the 10 men whose names are immortalized in Scripture (Num 13:4-16), who through their lack of faith brought about the destruction of the first generation of Israel, we might recall Proverbs 10:8 (OSB):
The memory of the righteous is with eulogies; but the name of the ungodly man is extinguished.
Only Joshua and Caleb emerge as “the righteous”—testifying to an enduring reality in the experience of God’s people, that it often falls to the “minority” (e.g., Sts. Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, Mark of Ephesus) to uphold and preserve the truth. The “righteous” Saints are graced with the ability to look beyond appearances, to look beyond the “giants” and “fortified cities” that are hostile to God’s people, and to live by faith, to “follow closely after the Lord” (Num 32:12), to live as if what we confess and believe about God and His promises were actually real. As if something could be “more real” than that!
Caleb in particular, who is from the tribe of Judah (as is our Lord according to the flesh), is set front-and-center as the exemplar of faithfulness to God. He says, in effect, “Be still, and know” that the Lord is God (Ps 45:11), that “the Lord is with us” (Num 14:9). The “whole congregation” (synagogue) of Israel takes up stones to stone the righteous prophet Caleb and Joshua, foreshadowing Jesus’ rejection by “his own” (John 1:11; 10:31; Matt 23:37).
In the context of the Old Testament story itself, Caleb’s (and Joshua’s) courage to take on the “giants,” the “descendants of Anak,” foreshadows Righteous David’s “conquest” of Goliath of Gath, where some Anakim remained after Joshua’s war (Josh 11:21-22).
May we too continue the conquest of the “sinful passions” that linger in our hearts, threatening to make us come up short of the eternal inheritance God has in store for us!