Friday, April 27, 2007

Numbers 13

Numbers 13: The Israelites reach the border of the Promised Land, and send in spies to check it out


In this chapter, the Israelites make it to the land the LORD has promised them will be their land. It’s currently called Canaan, but it will become the nation of Israel, when the Israelites move in and take it over. But first, they decide to send in some men to check it out.

So they send in twelve men, who are all leaders from their tribes. I was going to put their names here, but the only one I’m really concerned with is Caleb, since we’ll hear about him later. Moses instructs the men what to look for, as they travel through Canaan:

  • Are the people strong, or weak? Few, or many?
  • Is the land itself good, or bad? Is the soil fertile, or poor? What are the trees like?
  • What are the towns like? Are they walled, or fortified?
(This is paraphrased from verses 17–20.) He also asks them to bring back some fruit from the land.

The men go, and for forty days they explore the land. They go all through it (I think; geography’s not my strong point), and even get some of the fruit from the land, which they carry out with them. (They actually create a pole, and hang the fruit from the pole, which is carried by a couple of men. Seems a bit over the top, to me, but I guess they wanted to have a sense of ceremony about it.)

When they get back, though, there is some disagreement as to how they should proceed:

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.”

(verses 27–33)

This is where the chapter ends, so we’ll see how the people proceed in the next chapter. (Hint: They fail the test.)


In this chapter we see the beginning of a big problem the Israelites have: lack of faith in God. “Sure, He has done a lot of great things for us so far, but there’s no way He could help us defeat these people! It’s too much even for Him to do!” It’s only the spies—aside from Caleb—who have a lack of faith in this chapter, but in the next chapter, we’ll see that it spreads to the rest of the Israelites, too.

I write this all the time, but I never get tired of writing it: The problems the Israelites faced, and the mistakes they made, are simply a larger example of my own types of problems, and the mistakes I make. The Israelites didn’t trust the LORD to get them into the Promised Land, just like I don’t trust Him day after day, to get me through much simpler tasks. It’s always tempting to judge them, for not following God as they should have, but anyone looking at my life would have the same judgements.

And one final thought: I love the phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey,” which is often used to describe the Promised Land. To my ears, it’s very poetic, and beautiful.
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