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Numbers 14

[24]But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it.

In the above text only Caleb is singled out for praise even though it was him & Joshua who had brought good report

Again in Deutoronomy when Moses recounts their journey in the wilderness Caleb is praised ahead of Joshua even though Joshua is promised to lead the Israelites to the promised land

Deuteronomy 1

[36]except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and to his sons I will give the land on which he has set foot, because he has followed the Lord fully.'

Did Caleb conduct himself better than Joshua?

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    @enegue,Enoch only appeared 6 times but was highly favoured,does the number count? Apr 7, 2018 at 10:10
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    The number of times in not the important thing. It merely drew my attention. Have you read the passages?
    – enegue
    Apr 7, 2018 at 11:04
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    The book of Joshua is not in the Pentateuch.
    – enegue
    Apr 7, 2018 at 11:49
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    @PerryWebb and therefore what?
    – user22655
    Apr 8, 2018 at 3:21
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    @PerryWebb (in general, it is better to ping a user with an @ if you want them to get your messages). That is a fair point, however, there are various other verses that list them together (e.g. Numbers 14:6, 32:12), so I'm not terribly convinced. Additionally, I'm not sure that even an older Caleb would be the leader of Joshua, who himself later led the entire nation into the land.
    – user22655
    Apr 8, 2018 at 17:15

3 Answers 3

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Various commentators address this question, in one of two ways. Either Caleb did do something better than Joshua (1), or that Joshua is not mentioned for some reason here (2). I have focused on the (classic) Jewish commentaries, which can be found in Hebrew at this link.

Approach 1 - Caleb conducted himself better than Joshua in some way:

Ibn Ezra points to Numbers 13:30 as the answer to this question, saying that the reward came for Caleb's silencing of the nation, and stating his confidence that the nation would be able to conquer the promised land.

Luzzatto, Berlin and others note the opinion of Rashi (and others) in Numbers 13:22 (the translations ignore the singular verb; see Ellicott and Gill at that link) that Caleb was the only spy that entered Hebron, which was particularly dangerous, and therefore, he was rewarded by receiving that piece of land.

Approach 2 - Joshua is not mentioned here for some other reason:

Hizkuni says that since Joshua was the one leading the nation into the promised land, it did not need to mention that he would be entering it, however, since Caleb was not (such) a major character in the entering and conquering of the land, it was necessary to mention here that he would also be entering the land.

Hizkuni suggests that alternatively, the main reward was that Caleb's descendants would take possession of Hebron, and since Joshua did not have children, he was not included here.

Nahmanides suggests that Joshua's reward was the leading of the people into the promised land, and that the place for that is "elsewhere" in the Pentateuch, as it would be inappropriate to tell Joshua that he would be leading the nation into the land while Moses was still the leader.

(An additional factor to consider is that Joshua was already known as Moses' assistant, but I'll leave the answer as is for now.)

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  • How did I overlook the donkey! Maybe we need another question about whether prophetic donkeys can sin. Oct 21, 2022 at 4:16
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Caleb's quieting of the the people in defense of Moses is the most likely reason for God speaking of Caleb so approvingly. The Talmud provides some details that shed light on the the opinion of later rabbis such as Ibn Ezra and Rashi cited by @user22655. In this passage the people silence Joshua, but Caleb succeeds in speaking out and convinces them to support Moses. From Sotah 35a:

The verse states: “And Caleb stilled the people toward Moses” (Numbers 13:30). Rabba says: This means that he persuaded them with his words... How did he do so? Joshua began to address the people, and as he was speaking they said to him: 'Should this person, who has a severed head, as he has no children, speak to the people about entering Eretz Yisrael?'

Caleb said to himself: 'If I speak they will also say something about me and stop me from speaking.' He began to speak and said to them: 'And is this the only thing that the son of Amram, Moses, has done to us?' They thought that he wanted to relate something to the discredit of Moses, and they were silent. He then said to them: 'He took us out of Egypt, and split the sea for us, and fed us the manna. If he says to us: Build ladders and climb to the heavens, should we not listen to him? We should go up at once, even to the heavens, and possess it.' (Numbers 13:30)

The opinion of Rashi is based on Sotah 34b

It is also stated with regard to the spies: “And they went up into the south, and he came to Hebron” (Numbers 13:22). Why is the phrase “and he came” written in the singular form? The verse should have said: And they came. Rava says: This teaches that Caleb separated himself from the counsel of the other spies and went and prostrated himself on the graves of the forefathers in Hebron. He said to them: My forefathers, pray for mercy for me so that I will be saved from the counsel of the spies.

Interestingly Rava also gives the opinion that God praised Caleb because he was willing to change his mind. Here "having another spirit with him" is interpreted as having once sided with the faithless spies.

As it is stated: “And Moses called Hoshea son of Nun Joshua” (Numbers 13:16), meaning: 'God will save you' from the counsel of the spies. And this is the meaning of that which is written: “But My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and has followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land where into he went” (Numbers 14:24), which implies that Caleb changed his mind over time. Joshua, however, was opposed to the intentions of the other spies from the outset.

Summary: the rabbis of the Talmud explain God's praise of Caleb as the result of

  • Caleb's quieting the people after Joshua had been effectively silenced

  • His prayer at Hebron at the graves of the forefathers

  • His willingness to change his mind after at first having the wrong opinion

Since the first of these is supported by the clearest biblical evidence [Numbers 13:30], this explanation deserves the most weight.

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First, to put things in perspective a bit here, Caleb was likely a foreigner and not even an Israelite. Furthermore, Caleb is most likely not even the name of a particular person but the name of a particular tribe or clan which dwelled in the Negev. Proof of this can be found in 1Samuel 25:3 where Nabal is identified as a Calebite. Then again later in chapter 30 David talks about the "Negev of the Calebites". Even if one were to insist that those references do not necessarily prove the existence of a Calebite clan, there are other biblical texts (see below) which identify Caleb with the Kenizites, and those were clearly a distinct tribe that dwelled in Canaan (Gen. 15:19). All these clues suggest that the man named Caleb in the bible was a foreigner which joined the Israelite cause to conquer the land of Canaan. Though he clearly represented the tribe of Judah in Num. 13:6, it does not necessarily imply that he came from this tribe. It is possible that he married a Judahite and through his marital relationship was associated with this tribe, or that he and his clan may have been allied with Judah, thus allowing Caleb to represent them in their expedition to Canaan (It is also possible that he came to be associated with Judah only after the conquest when Judah's lot included the Negeb where the Calebites dwelled).

This answers your question; namely, why is Caleb singled out for praise when Joshua also followed the ways of God and did not protest to the conquest of Canaan. Since, as we have shown before, Caleb was a foreigner, it was unusual for foreigners to inherit land which was promised to the Israelites exclusively (though not unheard of, see Judges 1:16 regarding the Kenites); that is why the text repeats again and again that Caleb, since he was loyal to God and his word, will inherit Hebron and will be allotted a portion of Canaan alongside the Israelites, although he is a foreigner. Joshua, on the other hand, was an Israelite, so it is taken for granted that he will inherit the land and that a portion will be allotted to him. Moreover, it was expected of him to participate in the conquest of Canaan and be courageous. Caleb, however, was a foreigner and nothing was expected of him, but as it turns out Caleb the valiant warrior performed even better than his sissy Israelite friends who were scared and terrified of the Canaanites. For this reason he was promised a nice chunk of land, though this was unusual protocol with foreigners; and that is why he is singled out for praise and his inheritance is always mentioned alongside his name whenever it is mentioned.


Note that Caleb's lineage is not entirely clear from the bible. Though he is mostly identified as a Kenizite (Num. 32:12; Joshua 14) a tribe which are said to have dwelled in the land of Canaan (Gen. 15), he is also said to have been the brother of Othniel son of Kenaz (Judges 3:9), the latter which some scholars identify as a descendant of Esau in Gen. 3:11 (see also 1Chronicles 4:15 where the name Kenaz appears in Caleb's Genealogy as well); and then the name itself suggests that he was a Calebite. See here for more on this. It is not my objective now to offer reconciliation of these texts, but I think, judging from the few biblical texts we have, we can safely assume that Caleb was not an Israelite but a foreigner.

Note: "Caleb, son of Jephunneh (Numbers 13:6) is not to be confused with Caleb, great-grandson of Judah through Tamar (1 Chronicles 2:3-9). This other Caleb was the son of Hezron, and his wife was Azubah (I Chronicles 2:18,19)." (Wikipedia/Caleb)

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    "Though he clearly represented the tribe of Judah in Num. 13:6, it does not necessarily imply that he came from this tribe, but that he and his clan may have been allied with Judah, thus allowing Caleb to represent them in their expedition to Canaan." - that is exceedingly weak. See also mg.alhatorah.org/Full/Bemidbar/34.19#e0n7, where he takes on another leadership role for Judah. He is also listed as an exception to the rule that the entire nation will die in the dessert, and if he is simply an ally, he should not be included in this group.
    – user22655
    Jun 15, 2018 at 19:49
  • And he's also mentioned in Chronicles in a section of Judah's lineage. Your answer really seems like a stretch here :(
    – user22655
    Jun 15, 2018 at 20:00
  • @רבותמחשבות I am aware of chronicles. Yet no where is he listed as a descendant of Judah but is merely included there, most probably because his lot was close to the lot of Judah and may have been allied with them. I don't see why you found my arguments weak as I support them from biblical verses, and I certainly do not deserve a downvote for that. My arguments are mostly based on this article thetorah.com/what-was-caleb-the-kenizzites-connection-to-hebron see for yourself. Perhaps it is controversial but certainly not weak but very well supported!
    – bach
    Jun 15, 2018 at 22:53
  • related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/32495/…
    – bach
    Jun 15, 2018 at 23:04

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