Christian Churches of God
(Edition 2.0 20050122-20061125)
The Lord said to Moses, "Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites." This paper has been adapted from Chapters 38-40 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and covers Numbers chapters 13, 14 and 15 in the Bible.
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(Copyright ã 2005, 2006 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)
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We continue here from paper Complaining and Rebellion (No. CB45).
Moses chooses twelve scouts
The Lord said to Moses, "Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders".
So, at the Lord’s command, Moses chose twelve capable men – one from each of the twelve tribe – for a scouting expedition up into Canaan. "They are to bring back a full report on the land. Then the people will learn from their own respected leaders that it is a good land they are approaching" (Num. 13:1-2).
Among the twelve men picked by Moses was a young man of the tribe of Ephraim called Joshua, who had previously been very helpful to Moses, and a man named Caleb of the tribe of Judah. Joshua and Caleb were chosen as leaders of the expedition (vv. 3-16).
"You twelve are to go up into Canaan as scouts," Moses told them when they were brought together. "It’s up to you to find the best and easiest route there. Carefully observe everything. Notice whether the land is flat or hilly and what kind of crops it bears. Note the people, to find out how numerous they are, whether they are warlike, peaceful, strong or weak. Find out what their villages and cities are like, and what strongholds they have. Be sure to see where the best forests are located, as well as the best grazing and farming areas. Bring back some produce of the land. And don’t fear for your lives, because you can rely on God to protect you as long as you obey Him" (vv. 17-20).
The scouting expedition begins
Going to Canaan wasn’t simply a matter of packing a few things and leaving. The scouts needed some idea of the general layout of the land. This knowledge came from the Kenites— the family of Moses’ father-in-law—and from strangers at Kadesh who had joined the Israelites. From them Moses obtained information concerning the boundaries, mountain ranges, lakes, streams, forests and desert areas of Canaan. The twelve picked men carefully studied this information, and maps were made for them to follow.
When the scouts had said goodbye to their families and friends, they set out northward from Kadesh across the narrow Zin desert. They went through the Negev and came to Hebron.
For the next few days their progress was fairly easy. However, the midday heat was quite intense, and they found that it was wise to travel only in the mornings and evenings.
The Jordan Valley visited
At the north end of the Salt Sea (now known as the Dead Sea) they turned eastward to come to the Jordan River, the main stream emptying into the Salt Sea. In the flat land beside the river they saw that there were many beautiful farms and that the crops were excellent.
The scouts continued northward, sometimes following the Jordan River and sometimes veering off toward the mountain range to the west. They had purposely avoided the country east of the Jordan River and the Salt Sea because the Promised Land was then from the Jordan River westward (Num. 33:51-53; 34:1-2,12 and Deut. 12:10). The people they met stared suspiciously at them, probably regarding them either as wandering traders or robbers.
A few days later they arrived at another body of water called the Sea of Chinnereth, known today as the Sea of Galilee. The scouts then traveled on northward far past this lake to a town called Rehob, on the northern border of the Promised Land, in the land of Aram, known today as Syria. Having knowledge of where they were, the Israelites recognized that they were very close to the northern boundaries of the Promised Land, and so they turned back southward (Num. 13:21).
Moving down through the fertile regions between the Jordan River and The Great Sea (the Mediterranean), the scouts saw even more people than they had seen near the river. Crops looked even better, trees bore more fruit and there were more signs of prosperity.
The Israelites made no effort to visit the people in the cities they passed. It was wiser to keep to themselves than run the risk of getting mixed up with robbers or violent men.
The scouts decided to journey to the eastern shores of The Great Sea. They had heard awesome tales of how warlike the people were in that region. These were the Philistines, through whose land God had kept Israel from traveling when they had first left Egypt, even though it would have meant a much shorter trip.
The scouts meet the Philistines
The scouts were especially cautious as they moved around the towns and villages instead of going through them. Here and there they noticed armed Philistine men who obviously were soldiers or civil officers.
Crossing back to the southeast, they came to Hebron, one of the oldest cities in the world. It had been founded seven years before the founding of Zoan, the first city founded in post-Flood Egypt (v. 22).
At Hebron the scouts were so curious to get a good look at the people and buildings and bazaars that they considered traveling right through the streets.
Scouts report seeing giants
The Israelite scouts sent out by Moses had traveled by foot over much of Canaan. They had looped around to arrive at Hebron, a city not too far from Kadesh. Kadesh was the scouts’ starting point, where the twelve tribes were encamped and awaiting reports from the twelve-man expedition.
The scouts were amazed to realise that some of the people were almost twice as tall as ordinary men. The giant men were descendants of Anak (v. 22).
The scouts were relieved to leave that place. They kept on to the south—where they saw numerous other giant tribes—until they arrived at a fertile valley known as Eshcol, through which ran a small stream. This was grape country, and they arrived at the time for harvesting grapes. The Israelites were astounded at the great size of the grape clusters.
Remembering that they had been instructed to bring back samples of the produce of the land, the men cut down a large cluster of grapes apparently growing wild. They hung the cluster on a pole for two men to carry between them back to Kadesh. The grapes weren’t so heavy that two men were required to lift them. It was a matter of letting the massive cluster hang free so that it wouldn’t be crushed.
The scouts also picked healthy fruits and luscious figs from the area. Burdened with their increased loads, they turned south toward Kadesh.
They arrived at Kadesh just forty days after they had set out. The forty days of scouting was a period of repentance and acceptance of the deliverance of Israel. It was also to represent the forty years from Messiah to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. This was the time given for Judah to repent and to accept their deliverance.
Although many people went out to meet them and to ply them with questions the scouts reported at once to Moses. Knowing that the people were anxious to learn what their spies had seen in Canaan, Moses later called for the people to assemble close to the Tabernacle (vv. 23-25).
Report on the exploration
The scouts then reported to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh. 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 the 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 lived in the Negev; the Hitites, 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, apart from Joshua, the men who had gone up with him said, "We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are." They then proceeded to spread a bad report among the Israelites about the land they had explored. They added, "All the people we saw there are giants. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we looked the same to them" (vv. 26-33).
The people complain
There was much confusion, throughout the crowd. It seemed like most of them preferred to believe what was not true so that they would have an excuse to return to Egypt.
That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt, or in the desert. Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and our children will all die if we follow Moses any further. Wouldn’t it be far better to go back to Egypt?" Then they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (Num. 14:1-4).
Only the most rebellious and rabble-rousing dared suggest ousting Moses. However, it was plain to Moses that this unhappy situation could explode into a worse one within minutes. There was only one wise thing to do. Then Moses and Aaron fell face down in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. In this abject position they called on God to step in and take control of the people.
Angered and shocked at the manner in which their fellow scouts had spoken and acted, Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and said to the entire assembly, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord our God is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and He will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us" (Num 13:5-9).
But the whole assembly talked about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the Glory of the Lord (the Angel of God’s Presence) appeared at the Tent of Meeting before the Israelites. Speaking on God’s behalf he said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miracles I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they."
"But if you destroy all Israel," Moses replied, "the Egyptians shall hear of it. In fact, every nation on Earth will sooner or later know of it. Word has spread, that you O Lord are with these people and lead them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When news goes abroad that these people died in the desert, the nations will believe that you lacked the power to bring them safely into the land you promised them on oath. I beg you to forgive these people of their sins, but I’m not asking you to let them go unpunished, particularly those who have stirred the people into wanting to return to Egypt instead of going on into Canaan" (Num. 14:10-16).
This was actually a test of Moses. Had he agreed to the destruction of the people of Israel, he would have failed the test set for him and perhaps lost the place he would have been given in the Kingdom of God.
There was silence. It was painful to Moses, who couldn’t be certain how the Lord would respond. He realized that his mentioning the preserving of God’s reputation in the eyes of other nations (especially Egypt) wasn’t necessarily a strong point. Finally the reply came, "Because you have prayed as you have for the Israelites, I shall forgive their sins as a nation. I shall not make a complete end of them. My reputation for mercy and power and glory will one day be known in every nation of the world" (vv. 11-21).
Moses was greatly relieved and heartened to hear these words. He remained for a little while with his forehead to the ground. But just as he raised his head and was about to utter his deep thanks, the voice of God’s Angel boomed out at him again.
"I have just told you that I am willing to forgive the sins of the Israelites. At the same time, however, I will refuse them entrance into the promised hand because they have broken their covenant with me. This means that those who have rebelled against me shall never come into Canaan. They shall die in the desert. This curse doesn’t apply to those who are under twenty years of age—the very ones whose fathers complained that they would surely die in the desert because I couldn’t protect them. Neither does it apply to obedient people such as Joshua and Caleb. But it does mean that most of Israel shall wander forty years in the mountains and deserts before reaching the land they have refused and hated. That is one year for every day required for the scouts to search Canaan."
"But we have already spent about a year and a half’ coming to Canaan," Moses said. "Do you mean that we are to spend forty years going to a place that is only a few hours distant?"
"Inasmuch as you have already been nearly two years on the way," the Angel of God replied, "it will require a full thirty-eight more. That is my judgment on Israel because of their rebellion" (vv. 22-35). The punishment of forty years in the wilderness was to represent the forty jubilees (or 2,000 years) of the wanderings until Christ’s second coming.
Just a few minutes previously Moses had felt as though a great weight had been lifted from him when he was assured that the people would not be suddenly blotted out. Now the dismal outlook of leading the Israelites for an extra thirty-eight years in the wilderness was something he could scarcely face.
The ten scouts slain
Meanwhile the men Moses had sent to explore the land, and who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it, were struck dead and died of a plague before the Lord. Of the twelve men who went to explore the land only Joshua and Caleb survived.
"We didn’t have to arrest the ten scouts," Joshua reported, pointing to a knot of people crowded around something on the ground. "They’re all dead!"
"Dead?" Moses repeated in surprise. "How could it be that all of them would die at the same time?"
Moses quickly realised that God had taken their lives because of their false reports, but there wasn’t time just then to be concerned about the scouts and their families. Moses had to tell the people at once what was in store for them (vv. 36-38).
When Moses passed on to people what the Lord had spoken, they received the startling news with mixed emotions. Some were speechless. Others moaned and loudly complained. Most of them were quite shaken by the sudden death of the ten scouts and now they worried for their own future. Many thought God wasn’t fair. Only a fraction of them were willing to admit to themselves that by their bad conduct they had spoiled a wonderful future and had brought hardship down on their children.
The lack of faith of Israel counted against them. The congregation was afraid and complained against Moses and Aaron. Joshua and Caleb, who were the only ones with faith, were unable to convince the people that they should and could take their inheritance by faith. God was angry with them and it was only through the prayers of Moses that they were not destroyed then. The people were therefore condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years for their lack of faith, and only Caleb and Joshua were to be allowed to go into the Promised Land.
Moses was tested and did not fail. God had established His system and His priesthood and His people and He was dealing with them, so that we might understand in these last days what is to come to pass. Judah was given forty years to repent after the death of Messiah, but did not repent and so was destroyed and sent into captivity.
God is not mocked.
The people rebel again
Early next morning the people went up towards the hill country. "We have sinned," they said. "We will go up to the place the Lord has promised."
But Moses said, " Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed. Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, He will not be with you and you will fall by the sword" (vv. 41-43)
Nevertheless, the people went up towards the high country, though neither Moses nor the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah (Deut. 1:44-46).
The slaughter that resulted was frightful. Within only minutes the pass was littered with the bodies of men and women. But because their numbers were so much greater than those of their attackers, some of them escaped and fled back toward Kadesh. Then they set out to try to catch up with the main body of Israelites that had departed to the south of Kadesh.
About sundown the Israelites made camp a few miles southwest of Kadesh. Hours later, when most campfires were either out or very low, there was great excitement from the north side of the camp. Weary, footsore escapees were beginning to arrive. The rebellious ones came back and wept before the Lord but He paid no attention to their weeping and turned a deaf ear to them (see also Deut. 1:42-46).
It was yet another lesson for the people of how bleak and uncertain their lives were without God’s guidance and protection. Not only was the Lord not with them, He was against them (Num. 14:41). Their defeat was another judgment brought down upon their own heads.
The cloud and the pillar of fire were not removed, because it wasn’t God’s intention to entirely forsake Israel (Deut. 1-33; Neh. 9:19-21). It was a case of the Israelites breaking their agreement with God, which meant that God was no longer bound to give them the help, guidance and protection that He had promised to give if they would obey Him.
From then on for nearly forty years God decided the movements of Israel by such things as the lack of abundant water, the presence or absence of grass for their animals, the state of health of the people and many other factors.
The Israelites then continued southward through several more stopping places. From there they moved into the desert area west of the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba and northeast of Mt. Sinai. This was the area where, on their way northeast from Mt. Sinai, so many of them had complained so harshly against God (cf. Num. 11:1-3.) They had said that they would rather die there than go on. This was the place where a great number of them would eventually die.
Laws for offerings and sacrifices
The people were under judgment because they had disobeyed the commands of the Lord. Then the Lord again gave Moses instructions regarding offerings and sacrifices that the people were to make after they entered the Promised Land (Num. 15:1-30). The entire structure of worship and offering was to be the same for both for Gentile and native-born Israelite.
Sabbath broken again
While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done with him.
Then the Lord said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses (Num. 15:32-36). At that time the punishment for breaking the Sabbath was death (cf. also Ex. 31:15; 35:2).
In Romans 13:1-7 the apostle Paul explains that God ordained that criminals be punished. God takes no pleasure in seeing wicked men die (Ezek. 33:11), but He knows that law-breakers are better dead - to await the Second Resurrection - than left around to harm others or lead others to do evil. God in His mercy sees that evil men are better off punished than left alive to make themselves and others miserable and unhappy.
Tassels on garments
The Lord said to Moses, speak to the Israelites and say to them: "Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not sin by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God" (Num. 15:3-40).
Even today we are to wear blue ribbons on the edges of clothing as a reminder of the Commandments. The command of the Lord is that Israel is to wear a symbol of the Ten Commandments that are to be written in their hearts.
(The New International Study Bible was used as a source of reference in various places in this paper.)