The Twelve Spies

Tuesday: The Twelve Spies

Scripture: Numbers 13:1-14:45 In this week’s lessons, we look at the story of the twelve spies who went into Canaan, and learn about faith and unbelief from the two different reports that were given.
Theme: The Report of the Spies

The spies also investigated Hebron. Abraham had lived at Hebron, and is where God had first promised him all the land that he could see; everywhere he could plant his foot would belong to him and his descendants. And it was from Hebron that he later went out to chase the kings that had carried off his nephew Lot and the people from Sodom and Gomorrah. Still later, Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah, by Hebron, where he buried his wife, Sarah. He himself was buried there, and so were some of the other patriarchs. If there was ever a shrine for Israel, it was at Hebron. That’s why, when Joseph was dying in Egypt long before the Israelites’ years of slavery, he made the people swear that when God visited them to take them up out of Egypt and bring them into their own land, they would take his bones with them and bury them at Hebron along with the other fathers of the people. As the nation now stood there at the very border of the land, they had somewhere among them on that day the bones of Joseph. All they had to do was move forward, and God would give them Hebron. We know, of course, that’s not what happened. 

The heart of the story is the report of the spies, which begins in verse 26. First, the majority report is given. This is told very well, with great, dramatic writing. And then the minority report is given by Caleb. Joshua’s report is held for later, probably for dramatic effect. Some also suggest that since he was the right hand of Moses, probably they knew what Joshua would say.

In one respect, the report of all twelve spies was alike: the land really was a good land. It was a prosperous, fruitful land—they had brought back grapes as proof of that. It was extensive. It had wonderful walled cities, so that they wouldn’t even have to build their own cities for their defense. And it was filled with people, which is where their problems began, of course. It had within it Amalekites. Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites. However, this shouldn’t have surprised them at all, since God had told Abraham that He would send them into a land possessed by all these people.

Ten spies looked at the cities and the people, and they said we’re never going to be able to drive those people out of those strong cities. They reported, “All the people we saw there are of great size” (Num. 13:32). The people they found in Palestine couldn’t have been much bigger than they were, probably no bigger at all. So their report was probably something of an exaggeration. But there was a germ of truth in what they reported because they had seen something that frightened them. They saw the descendants of Anak—Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai—who were said to have come from the Nephilim (vv. 28 and 33), who were presumably giants. There’s some debate about what the word Nephilim refers to. It also occurs in Genesis 6:4, where these Nephilim are said to be “heroes of old, men of renown.” It was like seeing three Goliaths all in one place! And it scared them enough that they reported, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (v. 31). 

It’s too bad the ten spies didn’t have the faith of young David when he faced Goliath. He was just one young man, but when he spoke to King Saul he said, “Your servant has killed a lion and a bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine is going to be like one of them because the Lord is going to give him into my hand” (see 1 Sam. 17:36). And when David went out to face Goliath, he said “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you had defied” (1 Sam. 17:45). That’s the spirit these ten spies should have had. They should have come back saying, “Yes, there are giants in the land, but by the arm of the Lord we are going to overthrow them!” The sad thing is that they didn’t. 

At this point, the report of Caleb is brought in, and it’s very short and simple—the kind of report a soldier might give. He said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” He had faith that God was going to give them the land. Caleb is a fascinating man. If you go back to verse 6, you find that he was the representative of the tribe of Judah, and if you look at Joshua 14:6, 14, you will find that he was actually the son of a man named Jephunneh, a Kenizzite. Now, the Kenizzites weren’t Israelites; in fact, the Kenizzites were some of the people who were living in the land and who had to be driven out. This man Caleb was not a member of one of the twelve tribes by birth. At some point along the way his family had become attached to the tribe of Judah, and he had a great loyalty to his adopted people. Caleb had come to have a special interest in this historical city of Hebron, and when he got there, he seems to have been overcome with the desire to conquer it and put it in Hebrew hands. He was sure it could be done. It must have been a tremendous disappointment to him, when he got back with his good report, to find that ten of the spies were against him, and then to see the people actually fall in line with those who were unbelievers.

Study Questions
  1. What is important about Hebron?
  2. What were some observations about the land that all the spies agreed upon?
  3. How did the report of the ten spies differ with the report that Caleb gives?

Reflection: When we are afraid or doubtful concerning our circumstances, what does that reveal about ourselves? What does it reveal about our view of God?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “How to Become a Christian.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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