That Magnificent Old Man - Part Three

THEME: The First Reason for Caleb’s Greatness

This week’s lessons teach us about Joshua’s companion in the conquest of Canaan, and what it was that made Caleb a great man.

Joshua 14:6-15

Now it’s worth asking at this point what the secret of this man’s greatness was. In fact, it was no great secret. Caleb had total faith in God, and he gave himself to God utterly. It’s not hard to see his faith. That comes out very simply in this matter of the spies' initial report. You know, it’s the case that real greatness is not complicated. Great people are not complicated. It’s generally the weak people who are complicated. They always have dozens of mutually contradictory ideas floating around in their minds and dozens of mutually contradictory courses of action. They see that this might be something that would be worth doing. But then again, they’re not quite sure about it. It might be more valuable to do something else. Perhaps they could go about the task this way, and that might work. But then again, there might be another way that would be better. 

The great leaders are not like that. It’s not that they’re na├»ve; they do see the difficulties. They probably see the difficulties more clearly than the others. It's one reason why they succeed as leaders. But they are single-minded. That's to say, although there are many goals, there is one that is chiefly worth pursuing. And although there are many ways of getting there, there is one path that is best. And this is what Caleb was like. 

Athanasius was like that. Athanasius lived in the years of the Trinitarian controversies, when people were trying to decide whether the Lord Jesus Christ was fully divine and, if so, how He was related to God the Father. But through all the complicated theological arguments, Athanasius understood that the chief thing was to preserve the deity of Jesus Christ. The theological terminology only mattered to the extent that it preserved that central thrust. He kept on in that work and eventually was vindicated. It was the theology of Athanasius that won the day, and it’s embodied in a number of our creeds. 

Martin Luther was single-minded. Luther lived in a very tempestuous age. There were all kinds of things going on around him. If you read the historians, they can point out all the complexity of the age of the Reformation. But Luther understood that the crucial thing in his time was this matter of justification by faith. It's what the Roman church in the Middle Ages had lost and Luther came to realize that if you lost that doctrine, you lost it all. The church falls if justification by faith falls. He said he was willing to die for that doctrine. He stood his ground, and he, too, was vindicated.

William Wilberforce was also a great leader. He fought against slavery in England. He knew the arguments. People said, “Look, the whole economic fabric of the British Empire is wrapped up with slavery. If you tear it down, you’ll destroy England.” But Wilberforce saw that the central thing here was the moral issue involved. It would be far better to be weaker as a country but do the right thing because that’s where the real strength is. He fixed his eye on that, and he kept at it until eventually slavery was eliminated from the British Empire. 

For Caleb the central thing was that he could trust God totally. He knew that God was certainly able to do and would do what He promised. This comes forth very clearly in the report of the spies. The spies came back and they talked about these giants. Compared with the giants, they saw themselves as grasshoppers. What was wrong with their report? Why didn't they have faith in God totally as Caleb did? The answer is very simple again. They weren’t looking at God; they were looking at the giants. If you stand there and look at the problems, the problems are always overwhelming because all you have as a point of reference is yourself. It's you and the problems. And if the problems are big, you seem small. And you begin to tremble and say, "Well, I can never overcome those problems." But this wasn't the way it was with Caleb. Caleb, above all else, had his eyes on God. And when Caleb had his eyes on God, well, compared to God, the giants seemed like grasshoppers. Caleb said, “We can certainly do it.”


  • What is the first characteristic that made Caleb a great leader?
  • From the lesson, what three people from church history were also great leaders, and how did they demonstrate it?
  • The lesson showed that there are two angles from which to look at our problems.  What are they, and how does each one perceive the problem at hand?


Perhaps you are facing a difficulty right now that is so large it seems you will never be able to overcome it.  Ask God to increase your trust in him, and to work his perfect will to your best.  What promises from Scripture can you find that are meant to deepen your confidence in the Lord?


Caleb, above all else, had his eyes on God. And when Caleb had his eyes on God, well, compared to God, the giants seemed like grasshoppers. Caleb said, “We can certainly do it.” 

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