It’s not fair to have to suffer on account of others.
It’s not fair when you’ve sacrificed to obey the law and are then forced to suffer the consequences of those who haven’t. Just think of how much lower insurance rates, taxes, and medical costs would be if all people were law-abiding, worked to earn a living, and lived responsibly.
No, life isn’t fair. It seems as though our world is filled with givers and takers. The givers contribute to society. The takers detract and become a burden to others. Obviously, there are times when “taking” is appropriate. For instance, the human stages of infancy and childhood represent phases when “taking” is necessary. Periods of serious illness and injury also diminish one’s ability to contribute to family and society. But the overall goal of life should be to give to others, to contribute to society, and to bless other people.
Some people, however, live at the other extreme. They never seem to be able to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. Their entire life is one of serving others, deferring to others, and laboring to advance the wellbeing of others. Certainly, they have goals and dreams of their own. But repeated disappointment in life teaches them that the purpose of their very existence is to serve and to give. For them life just doesn’t seem fair.
Caleb the Scout
When recently reading through the Old Testament books of Numbers and Joshua, the life of Caleb struck me as one of these people. First, Caleb was cursed with a rather uncomplimentary name. In Hebrew, Caleb means “dog.” That’s not a name which inspires high expectations in the minds of others. He appears to be the only person in the Bible who bears this name.
Caleb also spent the best years of his life in slavery. He was nearly forty years old when God delivered himself and all Israel from Egypt.
But perhaps Caleb’s biggest setback was that he had to suffer for the unfaithfulness of others. He was chosen to be one of the twelve scouts to explore the land of Canaan before the entire nation of Israel entered it. After forty days of surveying the land’s benefits and challenges, the twelve scouts returned and presented their report to Moses and the Israelites (Num. 13:1–24; Deut. 1:22–25).
Caleb and Joshua (also one of the scouts) gave an encouraging report and inspired the Israelites to obey God by taking possession of the land (Numbers 13:30; 14:6–9). However, the other ten scouts spread fear among their countrymen. They overstated Canaan’s challenges and discouraged them from trusting and obeying God. They particularly expounded on the gigantic “Sons of Anak” whose stronghold at Hebron dominated the land (Num. 13:27–29, 31–33).
Tragically, the nation paid more attention to the ten cowards than to the two faithful. The Israelites rebelled and sought to kill Moses, Caleb, and Joshua and appoint new leaders for themselves (Num. 14:10).
God, however, intervened and saved these men of faith. But in judging the rebellious nation for their cowardice and unbelief, these three men would suffer along with Israel. God determined that none of the older generation—all those twenty years and older—would ever enter the Promised Land. They would all die in the wilderness—in which they were condemned to wander for forty years. Only Caleb and Joshua would enter Canaan, but they’d have to wait for the forty years to pass (Num. 14:20–24).
Finally, Caleb, now eighty years old, got his chance to enter the Land of Promise. Five years would pass before Canaan’s major kingdoms would fall to the Israelites and the land would be distributed among the Twelve Tribes (Joshua 11:18). Judah, Caleb’s tribe, received the southern tip of Canaan as an inheritance. This was the portion dominated by the fearsome Sons of Anak in Hebron.
And which portion did the eighty-five-year-old Caleb ask for? Caleb asked Joshua for the fortress of Hebron (Josh. 14:6–15). As if to prove the ten faithless scouts wrong and validate his own testimony, Caleb targeted the very city that inspired such fear in Israel. And God made him victorious. Caleb and his family conquered the giants of Hebron (Josh. 15:13–19). Now, the old man of God could finally enjoy the fruits of his labor and faithfulness.
But that’s not the end of the story. You see, forty-eight cities in Canaan would be selected as Levitical cities—cities that would belong to the tribe of Levi. The Levites were in charge of worship in the Tabernacle and Temple. Thirteen of these Levitical cities would be specifically belong to the Levitical priests, most of them in Judah.
And guess which city was taken from its rightful owner and given to the priests? Hebron. Hebron and all the land which extended 3,000 cubits from its walls—about ¾ of a mile—was taken from Caleb and was given to the priests. All that Caleb had waited and worked for became the property of God’s priests (Josh. 21:1–19).
We are not told of Caleb’s reaction. Was he embittered? It’s possible. It’s likely that Caleb experienced some profound disappointment over the transaction. But I also suspect that, at this stage of his life, Caleb had resigned himself to the role of a giver. He probably had learned to be content fulfilling God’s purpose for his life. That purpose was to serve and bless others, to disadvantage himself in order to advantage other people.
This was the mission of our Lord Jesus. When he rebuked the selfishly ambitious disciples, He reminded them, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:20–28). At another time Jesus explained, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Instead of selfishly clinging to life and never allowing His life to benefit others, Jesus sacrificed Himself completely to save humanity. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus humbled Himself to the point of dying the humiliating and excruciating death on a Roman cross (Phil. 2:4–8).
As a result of His supreme sacrifice, Jesus achieved eternal salvation for all who trust in Him (John 3:16; Heb. 5:9). What’s more, God the Father exalted Him high above the heavens for His humble obedience (Phil. 2:9–11). And He will do the same for all who humbly follow in Christ’s steps (Prov. 18:12; Luke 18:14; James 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:6).
And whenever life is cruelly unfair to us, we need to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and the exalted glory which followed. We need to recall Caleb and the multiplied millions who have gone before us. They, too, gave and gave again—only to benefit others. But isn’t that the very purpose of our lives? Isn’t that God’s plan for us? And doesn’t God promise to reward us for all the sacrifices we have made for His sake (Matt. 5:10–12; 6:19–21; 10:40–42)? “Therefore, … be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor for the Lord is never in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Dear Father in heaven, help me to focus on Jesus Christ and all which He has done for me, lest I grow weary and embittered by life’s disappointments. Help me to keep eternity’s values in mind and to seek the praise and reward which only comes from You. Amen.