The Twelve Spies

Wednesday: 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: Belief or Unbelief

Caleb was forty years old at this time when he went into the land, and it would be another thirty-eight years before he saw Canaan again. Furthermore, the battle to take the land took seven more years, meaning that at the end of the campaign, Caleb was eighty-five years old. All this while, for forty-five years, this man had remembered Hebron. And so when the fighting was nearly at an end and Caleb had the opportunity to go and take a portion of the land for himself, he asked Joshua, his friend and commander-in-chief, if he could conquer Hebron. Forty-five years earlier, Caleb had said that they could take it, and he was determined to show that it could be done, even though now he is eighty-five years old. In Joshua 14, he gave a great speech to Joshua. 

You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions…. So on that day Moses swore to me, “The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.” Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Amalekites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out, just as he said (Josh. 14:6-7, 9-12).

And he did it. Caleb’s speech wasn’t braggadocio. He really did it because he trusted God. 

We’re told that Caleb was given two main cities in the hill country. One was Hebron, the city he had remembered all those years, and the other was Debir. He wanted to take Hebron for himself, so he attacked it and he drove out the three descendants of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. They were a good bit older at the time as well, but he drove them out because he knew it could be done. Then he offered his daughter to the man who should be able to conquer Debir. A man named Othniel did, and so Caleb’s daughter was given to him. They were married and all of them settled down together in the hill country (see Joshua 15:13-19). 

That’s a great story. It’s set over against the unbelief of the people, and the unbelief is tragic. However, in the midst of the tragedy of their unbelief something happens that is quite humorous, which has to do with the second report of the spies. After the ten spies described the Nephilim, they said, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num. 13:33). None of the twelve spies had disagreed with what they had seen. They had seen the fruitful land and fortified cities and many people and giants. But you see, where they differed was in their awareness, or their lack of awareness, of God. The ten looked at the giants and when they saw the giants compared to themselves, they seemed to be like grasshoppers in their own eyes. But Caleb and Joshua had their eyes fixed on God rather than on themselves or the circumstances. From that perspective, it was the giants who look small. It all depends on where you have your eyes. That’s why they said, “Don’t be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up.” The ten spies said, “The land swallows up the people who are in it.” Caleb and Joshua said, “Their protection has gone and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them.” Alan Redpath writes, “The majority measured the giants against their own strength. Caleb and Joshua measured the giants against God. The majority trembled; the two triumphed. The majority had great giants but a little God. Caleb had a great God and little giants.”1

It might be a turning point in your life and make all the difference in the world that you would just decide that you are going to stand there with Caleb and Joshua, and take that approach to life as you go through it. If you look at the problems in life, you are always going to say the problems are greater than I am (unless you are absolutely arrogant). The problems are great, and it’s probably the case in your situation that they are greater than you are. You’re going to say “How in the world can I possibly overcome them?” The answer is, you can’t. But you see, if you put your eyes on God, it’s altogether different. You can’t do it, but God can. Now the question is, do you have a big God and little giants? Or do you have big giants and a little God? That really marks a fork in the road for many, many Christians. 

Now this was a tense moment. The people at the very beginning seemed to have been undecided, and they are all gathered around to hear the spies’ reports. Ten spies give their report. Caleb gives a contrary report. The ten exaggerated in order to carry the day. The people follow along with the ten. Finally, Joshua speaks up, but Joshua can’t sway them either. The people are ready to elect a new leader to take them back to Egypt. 

1Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1955), 197-98; quoted in James Montgomery Boice, Joshua: We Will Serve the Lord (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1989), 144.

Study Questions
  1. How much time passed from when Caleb first spied out the land and when he actually was able to possess his portion? In all those years, how had Caleb remained the same in his thinking?
  2. After the two reports were given, with whom did the people side and what were they looking to do next?

Application: Do you feel as if you are facing a situation that makes you feel so small because your problems appear to be insurmountable? What can you learn from Joshua and Caleb?

Prayer: Whatever the difficulties you may be experiencing, come before the Lord daily in prayer, asking Him to work in your heart by His Spirit, that you might be encouraged and emboldened as you trust Him in all things and to live for Him.

Key Point: Now the question is, do you have a big God and little giants? Or do you have big giants and a little God? That really marks a fork in the road for many, many Christians.

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

For Further Study: These stories have much to teach us about the Christian life, including our need to trust the Lord at all times. God has promised not to forsake us, but to lead us and provide for us. Order your hardback copy of The Life of Moses, and receive 20% off the regular price.

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