October 24, 2016
Numbers 13:1, 2, 25, 31-33
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
You should read the whole story in Numbers, chapters 13 and 14. It concerns the most grievous rebellion of the Israelites yet – a rebellion that led to 38 years of wandering in the Sinai desert, “…until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone.” (Numbers 32:13). Our featured Scripture is condensed, but still expresses the cause of Israel’s extended wilderness trek:
And the LORD spoke to Moses…“Send men to spy out the land of Canaan
…from each tribe…you shall send a man….And they returned from spying
out the land after forty days….And …[they] said, “We are not able to go up
against the people; for they are stronger than we.” And they gave the child-
ren of Israel a bad report of the land…saying, “The land…is a land that de-
vours 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…); and we were
like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
Moses sent out twelve men – one from each of Israel’s tribes – to spy out the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. After 40 days of exploring the country, ten brought back an evil report. Only Caleb and Joshua trusted God to aid the Israelites in conquering the pagan tribes of Canaan! (See Numbers 14:6-9). And only Caleb and Joshua, of the adult population of that whole generation of perhaps three million people, were allowed to enter the Promised Land !
What happened? And what can we learn from this sorry episode in Israel’s history?
I find it interesting that all twelve ‘spies’ first gave a positive description of the land, reporting “…the land where you sent us…truly flows with milk and honey…” (Numbers 13:27). And they showed the people a bunch of grapes they had brought back as evidence – a cluster so large that “…they carried it between two of them on a pole.” (Numbers 13:23). But then they added to their report an increasingly negative view of militarily taking Canaan:
• Numbers 13:28 – “Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong….” Yes, but God had promised to give them victory in conquering that land! (See Genesis 17:8; Exodus 6:8; 13:5; 33:1-3; Leviticus 20:24).
• Numbers 13:28 – “…and the cities are fortified and very large….” Yes, but the LORD had very recently soundly defeated the Egyptians – the most powerful nation on earth at that time! (See Exodus 14:30, 31).
• Numbers 13:28 – “…moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there.” These Anakim were giants, according to our featured Scripture (see Deuteronomy 2:10, 20, 21; 9:2). According to Joshua 11:22, Israel eventually defeated these giants, and “None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel…only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod.” These three cities were in the country of the Philistines. And according to I Samuel 17:23, Goliath – the nine foot, eight inch tall giant – “…the Philistine of Gath…” must have been the last of the Anakim!
• Numbers 13:29 – “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.” In blog XIV of From Egypt to Canaan, I wrote about the Amalekites and how they attacked Israel at their weakest point. Because of this, God told His people, “The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:16). God had miraculously defeated that pagan tribe before (see Exodus 17:8-13), and the Israelites should have known He would do it again!
• Numbers 13:31 – “We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.” All these pagan tribes resident in Canaan might have been stronger than the Israelites, but (as it later says of God in Psalm 89:13): “You have a mighty arm; strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand.” And David wrote in Psalm 60:12 and 108:13: “Through God we will do valiantly, for it is He who shall tread down our enemies.”
• Numbers 13:32 – “The land, through which we have gone as spies, is a land that devours its inhabitants….” Remember what all those who spied out the land said at first? I quoted it above from Numbers 13:27: “…the land where you sent us…truly flows with milk and honey…” But if you don’t want to do something, you can always find reasons to bolster your opinion!
• Numbers 13:32 – “…and all the people whom we saw in it are men of a great stature. There we saw the giants…the descendants of Anak….” (See the third point above).
• Numbers 13:33 – “…and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” Talk about ‘making mountains out of molehills’! Because they chose to view themselves as too weak to obtain what God had already promised, they transferred that perceived opinion into the minds of their opponents – what they must be thinking!
The Israelites were increasingly trying to convince themselves not to go in and take the land God had promised to give them! And because they strongly voiced their beliefs, the vast majority of the people joined in their rebellion! Here is what it says in Numbers 14:1-4:
Then all the congregation lifted up their voices, and cried, and the people
wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses
and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we
had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness!
Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our
wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us
to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader
and return to Egypt.”
No wonder God was upset and angry with His people – angry enough to make them wander in the wilderness for 38 more years! He instructed Moses to tell them,
“As I live,” says the LORD, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I
will do to you: The carcases of you who have murmured against Me shall
fall in this wilderness, all you who were numbered according to your entire
number, from twenty years old and above.” (Numbers 14:28 and 29).
Trust the LORD and obey Him! Murmuring, complaining, and disobedience can carry a heavy penalty!