Numbers 13

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said to Moses, 2“I want you to send some men to explore the land of Canaan which I am giving to the Israelites. Select someone who is a leader from each of the tribes.” 3So Moses did. He sent them from the desert of Paran as the LORD ordered.

4These are the men he chose: Shammua son of Zaccur from Reuben; 5Shaphat son of Hori from Simeon; 6Caleb son of Jephunneh from Judah; 7Igal son of Joseph from Issachar; 8Hoshea son of Nun from Ephraim; 9Palti son of Raphu from Benjamin; 10Gaddiel son of Sodi from Zebulun; 11Gaddi son of Susi from the Manasseh section of the tribe of Joseph; 12Ammiel son of Gamalli from Dan; 13Sether son of Michael from Asher; 14Nahbi son of Vophsi from Naphtali; 15Geuel son of Machi from Gad. 16Moses chose these men to explore Canaan; he changed Hoshea son of Nun’s name to Joshua.

17Moses sent them to explore Canaan. He said, “Go up into the Negeb region and into the hill country 18and look over the land. Find out who lives there. Are they strong or weak? Are they few or many? 19Is the land they live in good or bad? Are the towns they live in walled or guarded? 20Is the land fertile or barren? Are there trees? Be bold enough to bring back some of the produce of the land” (it was the season for grapes to ripen).

21The men went and looked over the land, from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob near Lebo-hamath. 22They traveled into the Negeb and visited Hebron – the Anakites, Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, were there. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. 23When they came to the valley of Eshcol they cut a large cluster of grapes and tied it to a pole to be carried between two of them. They also gathered some pomegranates and figs. 24They called the area the valley of Eshcol, which means ‘cluster,’ because of the cluster of grapes they got from there.

25They were gone for forty days. When they returned 26to the Paran wilderness at Kadesh they reported to Moses and Aaron and all the people and displayed the fruit of the land they had brought back with them. 27They said, “We went through the land you sent us to explore. It is indeed a land abundant with food and resources. Here is some of its fruit. 28But, the people who live there are strong, and the towns are large and heavily guarded. And what’s more, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29The Amalekites live in the Negeb; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites dwell in the hill country, and the Canaanites are settled near the sea and along the Jordan River.”

30Caleb, however, silenced the murmuring among the people and said, “We should go there at once and take possession of the land because we can certainly do it.”

31But the other men who had gone with Caleb said, “We can’t challenge these people. They are stronger than we are.” 32They gave a negative assessment of the land they had explored. They said, “The land we have traveled through and looked over is a land that eats up people. The people who live there are huge. 33We saw the Nephilim (the ancestors of the Anakites) over there. We felt like grasshoppers, and that’s certainly the way we looked to them.”

Commentary

1-16: Inspired by God, Moses chooses 12 men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan. The 12 he chooses are altogether different from the twelve leaders picked in the first chapter. I wonder if the stories of the people complaining have anything to do with the original leaders not being chosen for this honor. Perhaps, though, Moses has decided not to send the leaders since the mission would be too dangerous or too physically taxing for older men. Note that the spy from Ephraim is named Hoshea son of Nun. This is actually none other than Joshua, who will succeed Moses as the leader of the people (see 14:6).

17-20: He tells them to go through the Negeb wilderness into the hill country, which will take them as far north as Hebron. He asks them to bring back specific information: Are the people who live in the land strong or weak? Are the inhabitants few or many? Is the land fertile or not so? Are the towns walled or open? Is the land rich or poor? Are there trees there? The information is clearly designed for military considerations.

21-25: They travel through Canaan for 40 days (the number 40 is often used to refer to a time of training or testing). They bring back clusters of grapes, pomegranates, and figs.

26-29: They report that the land is rich in natural resources, but that the inhabitants are too strong to be challenged.

30-33: Caleb disagrees with the others, and counsels that they immediately invade the land. The other eleven then change their story to make the territory seem almost uninhabitable and the people there like giants.

Takeaway

Whenever a difficult task is set before us, there are some who will too eagerly pursue it and some who will see all kinds of difficulties. The leader’s task is to discern the correct action. In this case, Israel’s conquest of the land will be delayed by forty more years. God has decided they’re not ready yet.