Numbers 11-13 Send men to spy out the land of Canaan

From Numbers 11-13

04 Numbers thumbMoses sends out twelve spies to check out the land of Canaan. When they return they give a mixed report. Their trust in the LORD or lack there of is revealed in the report. Some trust in the LORD and will go into the land. But the majority will not. In the gospel Jesus says everyone who hears his word and does them are wise and will not be shaken.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

The people of Israel have left mount Sinai and are on their way to the promised land.

A journey still has to be made, battles have to be fought. They have to trust God to lead them there.

As they approach the LORD commands Moses to send out some spies into the land. The spies will learn what the land will be like to live in and see the people who live there.

13 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” 3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. (Num 13:1-3)

The LORD identifies the land as the current possession of the Canaanites. Moses is to send a man from each tribe to go into the land. Representatives and leaders from each tribe, they are asked to go and when they return they can each tell their own tribes of what they found.

4 And these were their names:

From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur;

5 from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori;

6 from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh;

7 from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph;

8 from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun;

9 from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu;

10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi;

11 from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi the son of Susi;

12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli;

13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael;

14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi;

15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.

16 These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua. (Num 13.4-16)

The tribe of Levi is not mentioned.

Joshua is renamed. ‘Hoshea’ means salvation. ‘Joshua’ means the LORD is salvation. That’s a fairly impressive name change. Moses honoured Joshua to do so.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes. (Num 13:17-20)

They are spies. They are meant to check out the promised land because they are intending to invade it. In the Old Testament it is not unusual for foreigners to investigate lands as spies for later engagements (Josh, 2 kings). They are instructed to report on the land, the people, their cities and fortifications.

A journey still has to be made, battles have to be fought. They have to trust God to lead them there.

Brisco, T.V., 1998. Holman Bible atlas, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Brisco, T.V., 1998. Holman Bible atlas, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there. (Num 13:21-24)

They spy out the land.

They learn some challenging things about the people who live there. The descendants of Anak (Anakim) were the ancestors of a race of giants in old Canaan. They were tall, built like tanks and strong. Which means hard battles ahead.

They also take back a souvenir of what the land is like. A large cluster of grapes which had to be carried by two people.

So how would they respond? What message would they take back?

25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.

27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.

28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” (Num 13:25-29)

This first view represents the majority. They love the land, but are intimidated by the inhabitants. Their report suggests they want to give up.

30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” (Num 13:30)

An argument must have ensued because Caleb had to quiet the people. Later we find out that Joshua sided with him as well (Num 14.6).

Caleb is quite confident they can take the land.

The LORD has promised to them, he has commanded the to go in and take it. They only have to obey.

31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Num 13:31–33)

Caleb doesn’t win them over. They go out and spread a bad report to all the people. Weakening their resolve and trust in the LORD.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

In the next chapter the story continues. But we’ve jumped into the next set of readings.

The people rebel. The Israelites grumbled (i.e. ‘complained’), and this was nothing less than rebellion (9). The nature of their sin is amplified through this chapter: complaining against the Lord (27, 29, 36); rejecting the land, which amounts to a rejection of the covenant (31); and turning away from the Lord (43). They questioned the purpose of God (3) and rejected Moses (4). Notice that their foolish wish that they should die in the desert (2) is granted (28). This reminds us of the later warning that men will have to give an account for every careless word they speak (Mt. 12:36–37). Joshua and Caleb were clear-sighted enough to understand the enormity of Israel’s sin; they tore their clothes as a sign of their grief and anger. It is as if they were mourning for the dead. They reaffirmed their conviction that God would do what he had promised and lead them into the land (8). (Carson, D.A. et al. eds., 1994. New Bible commentary: 21st century edition 4th ed., Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.)

Story of Jesus

A journey still has to be made, battles have to be fought. You have to trust God to lead you there.

I’ve repeated this expression several times throughout the passage because the we too are on our own journey. We have yet to receive what the LORD has promised us.

The spies gave a mixed report. It seems to me some people want God to give them everything he has promised without them having to follow his instructions. They complain if they have to do something because they don’t think they can.

Some others are keen and ready to trust in the LORD’s promises and see his instructions as the means by which they are fulfilled.

Sadly those who did believe in the LORD and did not want to listen to the LORD’s instructions won the day and the nation paid for it.

In the gospel Jesus asks us to follow him and through him we are saved and inherit the promises. But he commands and instructs us also through his word.

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Mt 7:24–27)

How do you sit with Jesus directing your life? Will you trust him?


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