Numbers 13 – Spies Are Sent into Canaan
A. Spies are chosen and commissioned.
1. (1-3) The sending of the spies.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.” 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 children of Israel.
a. Send men to spy out the land of Canaan: These men were on a reconnaissance mission; to observe the land of Canaan and bring back a report to the nation. They would investigate the path to Canaan, see if the land was a good land to live in, and judge the military strength of the Canaanites.
b. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them: These spies were chosen from among the people. According to Deuteronomy 1:20-25, the plan to send spies did not directly come from Moses, but came from the people.
i. Deuteronomy 1:21 records the words of Moses: Look, the LORD your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged. Moses told them simply to go and take the land God had promised to them.
ii. In response, the people suggested this plan to Moses (Everyone of you came near to me and said, Deuteronomy 1:22). However, Moses agreed with the plan of the people saying, the plan pleased me well (Deuteronomy 1:23).
iii. This mission of the spies had a bad result. It could be said that Moses was wrong in agreeing to this suggestion of the people. Perhaps the accusations of Miriam and Aaron (petty, false, and self-interested as they were) had made Moses hesitant to take strong leadership.
iv. Since the people of Israel initiated this excursion, perhaps Moses only came to God asking how to send out the spies, not if he should send out the spies. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them describes the method of sending the spies.
c. According to the command of the Lord: Nevertheless, this was in the plan of God. God used the report of the spies as a test of Israel’s faith.
2. (4-16) The men chosen as spies.
Now these were their names: from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; from the tribe of Joseph, that is, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi; from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.
a. Now these were their names: from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur: One was chosen from each tribe, so the spies would represent the entire nation.
b. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua: Joshua was chosen as the leader of the group. His name was first listed as Hoshea, meaning “salvation.” Yet his name came to be Ya-Hoshea meaning, “Yahweh is salvation.”
i. We can even imagine when Moses first met Joshua, and asked who he was. “I’m Hoshea” [“I’m salvation”], Joshua would reply. Moses would have smiled and replied, “Ya-Hoshea!” [“Yahweh is salvation!”]. Joshua became his name – and the name of the Messiah, who is our salvation.
3. (17-20) Moses commissions the spies.
Then Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains, and see what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there 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.
a. See what the land is like: Moses’ direction to the spies was a subtle manifestation of unbelief. Did he really doubt that the land was good? Did he doubt that the land was rich? Did he doubt that there were useful forests? Did it matter if the people were strong or many, or if they lived in strongholds?
i. This was an entirely reasonable pursuit for Moses, and representative of the curiosity of the whole nation. After all, they had never seen this land, nor had any Israelite for some 400 years.
ii. God already told them what the land was like. At Moses’ calling at the burning bush, God told him the land of Canaan was a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8), and Moses told the people of the goodness of the land (Exodus 13:5).
b. Whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak: We wonder what the people of Israel thought they would do if a negative report came back. Would they resolve to return to Egypt?
B. The report of the spies.
1. (21-25) The twelve spies in the Promised Land.
So they went up and spied out the land from the Wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, near the entrance of Hamath. And they went up through the South and came to Hebron; Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) Then they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs. The place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the men of Israel cut down there. And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.
a. So they went up and spied out the land: As these spies toured the land, they saw some of the people and the produce of the land. This spectacular produce included clusters of grapes so big, they had to be carried between two men on a pole.
b. And they returned from spying out the land after forty days: The reconnaissance mission took forty days. When God tested His people, He often used a period of forty (such as forty days or forty years).
2. (26-29) The report of the land.
Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children 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. Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”
a. We went to the land where you sent us: They seemed to sense they were more on a mission from Israel than on a mission from God; we might already sense the report will be given according to a human perspective, not according to God’s perspective.
b. It truly flows with milk and honey – what God had promised about the land was indeed true.
c. Nevertheless: The word nevertheless means “despite all of that.” At that moment, Moses, and every man of faith in Israel should have cried out and said, “Nevertheless nothing! How can one say, ‘We went to the land, found it good, and God’s promise true,’ and then say, ‘Despite all this…’?”
i. Despite God’s faithful promise, the people who dwell in the land are strong.
ii. Despite God’s faithful promise, the cities are fortified and very large.
iii. Despite God’s faithful promise, we saw the descendants of Anak [a tribe of large men] there.
iv. Despite God’s faithful promise, the Amalekites dwell… the Amorites dwell… the Canaanites dwell – all the land is taken up, there are no vacancies!
d. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there: It is hard to imagine a report more unbelieving and unfaithful to God than this; a report that recognizes the faithfulness of God’s promise, the truth of His word, and yet says, “Despite all that…”
i. Whatever the exact nature of God’s testing in the minds and hearts of the twelve spies during the forty days in Canaan, it is clear that they have, as a whole, failed the test!
3. (30) Caleb’s faithful objection.
Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”
a. Then Caleb quieted the people: Caleb – blessed forever! – commanded the people to immediately (at once) trust and obey God and to take the land, because God had made them able.
b. Let us go up at once and take possession: It took great courage for this man to stand against the tide of unbelief, of doubt and “despite all that” attitude. Caleb had the spirit of Romans 3:4: Let God be true but every man a liar.
4. (31-33) The other spies respond to Caleb.
But 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.” And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
a. But the men who had gone up with him said: Their unbelieving response was a potent combination of truth, lies, and exaggeration.
i. It was true from a human perspective that they are stronger than we – but to say, “we are not able to go up against the people” was a lie.
ii. It was true that they had gone through the land – but to say, “a land that devours its inhabitants” was a lie.
iii. Each of the statements, “All the men whom we saw in it are men of great stature” or “the giants” and “we were like grasshoppers” were all terrible exaggerations, plain and simple lies.
b. The land through which we have gone as spies: Unbelief often presents itself as being “factual” or “practical” or “down to earth.” Yet, the most factual, practical, and down to earth thing we can to is trust the word of the living God. Their unbelief was not according to the facts, but despite the facts.
i. Significantly, two men could see the exact same sights – the same grapes, the same men, the same land, the same cities – one can come away singing in faith, and the other is filled with a sense of certain doom. Ultimately, faith or unbelief does not spring from circumstances or environment, but from our hearts, which God must change.