Numbers 13:1-14:45 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

Note: For more information relevant to this present passage of Numbers thirteen and fourteen, see the accompanying Appendix (PDF download) that provides the complete Scripture text of Numbers 13:1-14:45.

1. According to Deuteronomy 1:20-22 (printed below) why were the spies sent into the land of Canaan? Who requested them to go in ahead of the people and spy out the land?

Then I said to you, You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, that Jehovah our God is giving us. (21) See, Jehovah your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as Jehovah, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (22) Then all of you came to me and said, Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns to which we will come. (Deuteronomy 1:20-22)

From Numbers 13:1-3 we get the impression that it was the Lord’s command to send the twelve spies into the land to check it out—actually it was the Lord’s concession to a timid, hesitant people (note Deuteronomy 1:20-22). When they reached the border of Canaan Moses exhorted the people to take possession of the land that the Lord promised them. But the people hesitated, they wanted to have more knowledge and assurance: What route will we take? What are the cities like? What can we expect to encounter? They were governed by a spirit of apprehension and timidity, instead of confidence in Christ.

2. Upon returning from the land of Canaan what kind of report did the majority of the spies give? See Numbers 13:26-29,31-33 (printed below)

They came back to Moses and Aaron and to the whole congregation of the children of Israel encamped at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. (27) They gave Moses this account: We went into the land to which you sent us, and it certainly does flow with milk and honey! This is its fruit. (28) However, the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. Furthermore, we saw the descendants of Anak there. (29) The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan River… (31) … the men who had gone up with Caleb protested, We are not able to attack those people, for they are stronger than we are. (32) So they gave the children of Israel a negative report concerning the land they had explored. They said, The land we explored devours those who live in it; and all the people we saw there are men of great size. (33) We also saw the Nephilim there. (The descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim.) Compared to them, we seemed like grasshoppers to ourselves and to them as well. (Numbers 13:26-29,31-33)

The majority of the spies were intimidated by the strength and size of the enemy and his fortifications (Numbers 13:28). By their report they dissuaded the people of Israel from obeying the commandment of the Lord to enter the land. Those ten spies thought that they were sparing themselves and their children from an awful consequence: being annihilated by their enemies.

3. What judgment does the Lord pronounce against those spies and why? See Numbers 14:21-23 (printed below)

Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah, (22) be sure that all those men who have seen my glory and my signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, but still have tested me these ten times and have not paid attention to my voice, (23) shall not see the land I pledged to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt shall see it. (Numbers 14:21-23)

The ten spies, by succumbing to ungodly intimidation and thereby recommending the “safe” course of retreat, were exposing themselves and Israel to the divine and severe consequences imposed by the Lord. The Lord declares that none of the ten spies, or the men of Israel whom they persuaded to be intimidated with them, would see the Promised Land (Numbers 14:22-23). These men would not be permitted to see the Promised Land because, although they saw previous displays of the Lord’s power against Egypt and in the wilderness, they still would not heed His command to trust and obey. On the contrary, by allowing themselves to succumb to intimidation, they were actually despising the Lord—treating Him with contempt: by not trusting Him (their attitude was: the Lord cannot or will not take care of us) and by not fearing Him (their attitude was: we have greater things to fear than God.)

4. What is the minority report given by Caleb and Joshua and what is their reasoning? See Numbers 13:30 and 14:6-9 (printed below)

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, Let us immediately go up and take possession of the land; for we are fully able to succeed! (Numbers 13:30)

Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes in grief (7) and addressed the whole congregation of the children of Israel, saying, The land which we explored is a very good land. (8) If Jehovah is pleased with us he will bring us into this land and give it to us. It is a land that flows with milk and honey. (9) Only do not rebel against Jehovah, and do not fear the inhabitants of the land. We will consume them like bread; their protection has been removed from them and Jehovah is with us. Do not be afraid of them! (Numbers 14:6-9)

Caleb stands up and gives the minority report: “Let us immediately go up and take possession of the land; for we are fully able to succeed!” (Numbers 13:30). He and Joshua explain to the people the source of their confidence: “If Jehovah is pleased with us he will bring us into this land and give it to us. It is a land that flows with milk and honey.” (Numbers 14:8) “If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land”—the Lord is pleased with those who trust and obey Him. Together they urge the people neither to rebel against the Lord nor to fear the inhabitants of Canaan (Numbers 14:9).

5. What were the people afraid would happen if they entered the land of Canaan? See Numbers 14:1-3 (printed below) Because they succumbed to intimidation and thereby rejected the Lord’s command, what would be the consequence? See Numbers 14:26-35 (printed below)

The whole congregation raised their voices and wailed, and that night the people wept. (2) All the children of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, We wish that we had died in the land of Egypt, or that we had died in this wilderness! (3) Why has Jehovah brought us to this land, so that we might be killed with the sword? Our wives and our little children will be taken as plunder! Is it not better for us to go back to Egypt? (Numbers 14:1-3)

Jehovah said to Moses and Aaron, (27) How long shall I put up with this wicked congregation that grumbles against me? I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel that they make against me. (28) Tell them: As surely as I live, declares Jehovah, I will do to you the very things I heard you say. (29) Your corpses will fall in this wilderness—everyone of you twenty years old or older who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. (30) You certainly shall not enter the land that I pledged to give you as a dwelling place—except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. (31) But your little children, whom you said would be taken as plunder, them I will bring into the land, and they shall enjoy the land you have rejected. (32) As for you, your corpses will fall in the wilderness. (33) But your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness for forty years, they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness until your corpses have been consumed by the wilderness. (34) For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your iniquities, and you shall know what it is like to have me against you. (35) I, Jehovah, have spoken. I will surely do these things to this whole wicked congregation who have assembled themselves against me. They will be consumed by this wilderness and there they shall die. (Numbers 14:26-35)

The people, influenced by the majority report brought back by the spies, were so intimidated by the inhabitants of Canaan that they said they would rather die in the wilderness than contend with the present inhabitants for the Promised Land (Numbers 14:2). The Lord now declares that He will subject the people to the very alternative they requested: the Lord sentences them to die in the wilderness and forfeit the privilege of entering the Promised Land of Canaan (Numbers 14:28-29). The Lord further declares that their children shall bear the effect of their transgression: the children shall suffer for the unfaithfulness of their fathers; they will have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until the former generation has died off (Numbers 14:33-34). When the present generation has passed away, then the Lord will bring their children into the land and cause them to inherit it.