Caleb’s second wind

A few weeks ago I noticed an interesting man across the room in a restaurant. I was early to a meeting and sitting by myself; while I waited on my lunch date the man ordered his food and sat down near me.

I noticed a few peculiar things about him; he was an older gentleman wearing a plain T-shirt, shorts from the 1970s, and black socks pulled up to the knees. Grey hair topped his head, wrinkles decorated his face, but at the same time it was obvious that he had kept himself in shape. He moved about the room quickly and sat down easily, thin and spry despite his age.

I’ve made it a habit to interview people I admire so I struck up yet another conversation with a stranger, saying something like “Hi there, you seem to be in great shape for your age, give a few pointers to someone wanting to follow your example.”

We shook hands and exchanged names. He told me he was 74 years old and kept himself alive by walking, lifting weights, and dancing downtown. Wow. May I have the grace to still dance at that age.

The reason this interaction so fascinated me was because most folks who make it seven decades aren’t doing much dancing. Health problems, a sedentary lifestyle, or a simple lack of oomph can couch us at any age. Heck, most forty-year-olds these days seem to have lost their will to do much more than survive the grind of life.

Perhaps another reason this experience so moved me is because lately I’ve been stuck on a story I call “Caleb’s second wind” in the Bible. A brief biography of Caleb: As a young man, he and Joshua, along with ten other men, were sent by Moses on a recon mission into what would become the land of Israel. The inhabitants there were fearsome and large, and the ten others brought a bad report, saying that there was no way they could take the land for their own.

Joshua and Caleb were different. They saw the challenge but believed that God was bigger and would give them victory. Eventually an entire generation of Jews died for their unbelief, but decades later Joshua and Caleb made it into this promised land, led by their faith. The next years were spent making Israel into the nation that has been the center of the last few thousand years of history.

All very interesting, yes. But something even more curious happens next, and it serves as a beautiful bookend to the life story of Caleb. Joshua chapter 14 tells us that at age 85 Caleb approached Joshua, recalled the promises of God, and still had some fight in him. That strength was more than the ability to fight – is was something deep in his soul, a strength of faith and courage.

He said, “I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, my strength is now. Now then, give me this hill country which the Lord promised, perhaps he will be with me.” Joshua blessed him, and Caleb followed through. The land became his because, as the text reads, “he followed the Lord fully.”

Here we have a man who has lived a full and hard life, one that mostly went against the grain of everyone and everything around him. Still, he looked forward to following the Lord faithfully. It is interesting to me that the Scripture mentions that this was “hill country” – nothing easy by any means, yet doable if God is present.

I read this story, close my Bible, and reflect on Caleb and the dancing septuagenarian I met at the sandwich shop. Hmm, that’s thirty years away for me, but I want it. I will grey and wither, yes; but can the heart inside still be afire for God? Can I push through the exhaustion and jadedness that plagues us in these times and somehow stay fresh and eager in my life and faith?

As we look to a new year, may we all discover this vigor that so inhabited an 85-year-old man named Caleb. May we, like him, push through the muck and filth and opposition that is normal to life here on earth – but may there still be a glimmer in our eye and a smile on our face as we take the hill country.

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