Through the Bible in One Year

Day 68

Numbers 13:1-33

As we have gone through the Books of Exodus, Leviticus and now almost half way through the Book of Numbers the people of Israel have left Egypt, that is the Book of Exodus.  We have seen God establish a government and a set of rules for the people of Israel to be governed by, both Exodus and Leviticus.  And then finally in the Book of Numbers it appears that the people of Israel’s quest to finally gain possession of the homeland that God has given to them is about to be completed.  But however, there is a small snag to the happy ending that should be about to happen.  Because in accordance with God’s instructions Moses sends out scouts to bring back to the people of Israel information about their new homeland and that is where we will pick up the story in Numbers 13:1.

The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”

So at the LORD’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites. These are their names:

from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zakkur;

from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori;

from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh;

from the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph;

from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;

from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu;

from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi;

from the tribe of Manasseh (a tribe of Joseph), Gaddi son of Susi;

from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli;

from the tribe of Asher, Sethur son of Michael;

from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi;

from the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Maki.

These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)

When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land. ” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.—Numbers 13:1-25

The Book of Numbers says “the LORD” instructed Moses to send out the spies, but Deuteronomy 1:22-23 suggests that Moses sent the scouts at the request of the people, and as with many Old Testament historical events, the human and the divine involvements go hand in hand.  The mission of of these spies was to scout out the land.  The list of scouts from the twelve tribes introduces a different, presumably younger, group from the elder patriarchal leaders who had led in taking the military census in chapter 1.  This list of scouts contains a number of unusual names, rarely appearing again in the Old Testament, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb.  This gives an indication of the early date of the composition of Numbers, contrary to critics who propose that it was written in the postexilic period, 539-332 BC.

The geographical designations in this critical chapter move from the broader context of the Wilderness of Paran to the more specific citation of Kadesh-barnea in the Zin Wilderness, the starting point of the exploration.  The Zin Wilderness is defined by the desert drainage basin of the Nahal Zin, a subsection of the Paran Wilderness.  Today the Nahal Zin is viewed as portions of Sinai and the Negev in modern Israel.

The Negev in the Old Testament refers to the region south of Hebron, but north of the Zin Wilderness.  In modern Israel “Negev” refers to the region from the Beer-sheba-Arab line southward to Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba.

The scouts Mose sent explored the land from the Wilderness of Zin as far as Rehab near the entrance to Hamath.  This is parallel to the later description of the land as extending from Dan (in the north) to Beer-sheba (in the south), these parameters reverse the order and extend the distance from south of Beer-sheba to Rehob of Lebo-Hammath in southeastern Lebanon, somewhat north of Tel Dan.  Lebo is recounted as a city on the northern border of the promised land and later of the Israelite kingdom of David and Solomon.

Now that we know the expanse of the area that these men were to explore, we can turn our attention to the time of year in which this exploration took place.  And thankful we are given several clues to help us figure out the approximate time of year for this exploration.  In verse 20 we are told that this exploration occurred during the season of the first ripe grapes, and this phrase puts the departure for the exploration in either in August or early September, which is several months after the Israelites departure from Mount Sinai.  In verse 23 we are told that the scouts brought back with them ripe figs and pomegranates, which suggests that the scouts had returned or were in the processing of returning to the main Israelite camp in either late August or early September.  But all this still does not answer the most important question about this mission, and that is: Why were the scouts sent in the first place?

The answer to that question is found in verses 18-20, which says: “See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many.  What kind of land do they live in?  Is it good or bad?  What kind of towns do they live in?  Are they unwalled or fortified?  How is the soil?  Is it fertile or poor?  Are there trees in it or not?”  The scouts were sent out to bring back a report on the promised land and that is exactly what they did.  And here is how that report went.

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan. ”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”—Numbers 13:26-33

As you can clearly see the report that these scouts brought back began on the positive side with the demonstration of the fruitfulness of the promised land.  In fact the phrase “land of milk and honey” would become the classic description of the abundance of natural flora and fauna of the land of Canaan.  However, this positive tenor did not last for long, because the report quickly turned to a negative assessment of the possibility of conquering the heavily fortified cities and the numerous inhabitants which they claimed included giants.  The problem here was that the people focused on their own strength rather than the power of God.  The point of later victories over the Midianites, Amorites, and Canannites was to demonstrate God’s strength.  What this means is that the power of Israel was never in her armies, because victory came at the hands of the Lord of Armies.

To make this point absolutely clear let me put to you in this way.  The unbelief of the ten scouts/spies had two dimensions:

  1. God’s past faithfulness had not won the loyalty of the hearts of these ten men.
  2. These ten men did not trust God and his promises concerning their future.  And this lack of faith was the exact opposite of the confidence and hope in God that Caleb and Joshua showed.

For you see Caleb and Joshua put into practice these words spoken by Jesus thousands and thousands of year later:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”—Matthew 7:24-27

And if we are to conquer the “giants” that we face each and everyday and enter into our own promised land, then we must ensure that our lives are built on a firm foundation.  And that firm foundation is the unshakable faith that God will do what he has promised to do for you.  And tomorrow we will see the results of not having an unshakable faith in God.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Numbers 14:1-15:16, Mark 14:53-72, Psalm 53:1-6 and Proverbs 11:4

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