4.) Numbers‎ > ‎

c) Scouting the Promised Land


Key Scriptures

13:1-20   The Lord spoke to Moses, saying “Send a group of men to explore the land of Canaan that I am giving to the Israelites as their inheritance. A leader from each of the twelve tribes should be included in the expedition.” Following the Lord’s instructions, Moses dispatched the men from their encampment in the desert wilderness of Paran. He sent them off with the following directives: “Travel through the Negev region to the hill country of Canaan. There you are to assess the land and the people who dwell in it.  Is it productive land with fertile soil and trees? If so, attempt to bring back some of the produce that grows there since it is harvest time.  And what of the inhabitants? Are they numerous and do they appear well-armed? …Are their towns fortified with high walls or do they live in the open countryside?

13:21-32    So the scouting party set out…eventually arriving in the Valley of Eshcol in Canaan. There they cut the branch of a grapevine that was heavy with a huge cluster of grapes. Two men carried it on a pole between them along with pomegranates and figs the party had come across. …For forty days the men explored the land before returning to Moses in Paran. …The whole community of Israel greeted them and listened to their report, which was a mixed assessment. “The land to which we were sent is abundant beyond belief—it flows with milk and honey. The fruit we brought back is just the beginning of it. However, the inhabitants are imposing and live in large, well-fortified walled towns. And giants live there—the descendents of Anak!” …At that point Caleb …of the tribe of Judah, interrupted the account and said, “Nevertheless, there is no reason we should hesitate to go there now and conquer the land and its people.” But the other men argued, “We don’t have a chance against those people who are so much stronger than we.” And the men persisted in repeating their frightening description.

14:1-19   By nightfall the whole community was crying out in distress. They directed their angst toward Moses and Aaron, saying, “…Is there one good reason God led us to this place, other than to kill us? The best thing would be to return to Egypt immediately.” The uproar drove Moses and Aaron to their knees and they prayed fervently to the Lord before the whole congregation of Israel. …Joshua…and Calab…rent their clothing in anguish…and spoke out to the nation: …“We all know that if our hearts are right before the Lord, he will guide our steps into Canaan…and give the land to us. But you must not resist his will with your rebellious ways; don’t let your fear of the Canaanites lead you into disobedience.” …But the people were angry and just when they were considering stoning Joshua and Caleb, the glory of the Lord manifest around the tent of the tabernacle in full view of everyone. At that point the Lord spoke to Moses: “Will these people continue to treat me contemptuously, refusing to put their faith in me in spite of all the miraculous works they have witnessed? Their rebellious sin deserves my wrath…” But Moses pleaded with God on their behalf, saying “…Oh merciful God, out of the depth of your great love please forgive these people’s egregious sin, just as you have done since the day we departed Egypt.”

14:20-25   The Lord replied to Moses, “For your sake I will forgive them. But mark the words of the Living God whose glory knows no bounds, not one person who witnessed my majesty through the many miracles I performed in Egypt and the desert wilderness will see the Promised Land for themselves; for they tried me through their contemptuous ways and refused time and again to listen to my voice. …But Caleb has proven he has a servant’s heart and a willing spirit, so he will enter the land of promise. The land he explored will belong to him and all his descendents. None of the others will even enter it…only Caleb…and Joshua… Tomorrow you are to lead the people back into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea route.”

14:39-45   When Moses broke the news of their planned return to the wilderness, the Israelites moaned with great despondency. Then they decided to take matters into their own hands, so the next morning the people organized an attempt to go into the hill country of Canaan and take possession of it. The group declared, “Surely we sinned by doubting the Lord’s promise to give us Canaan. But now we’re ready to make things right and go claim the land God is giving us.” Moses, however, confronted them all, saying, “Just as you disobeyed the Lord before, so you are doing it again. You will fail. Don’t go attack the Amalekites and Canaanites, for the Lord is not with you in this endeavor and you will surely be defeated.” …But they did not listen to Moses and proceeded to go anyway,  leaving both Moses and the ark of the Lord behind. And just as Moses had warned, the inhabitants of Canaan counterattacked the Israelites and soundly defeated them, chasing the invaders far down out of the hill country they so desired.


Basic Message

God sent one man from each Israelite tribe to go into Canaan and scout out the land and people. For forty days they traveled, bringing back fruits and frightening reports of well-armed populations and fortified cities. Only two men, Joshua and Caleb, insisted that the Israelites could, with God’s help, overtake the people of Canaan. They argued their case before the Israelites, but they failed to convince them. Consequently, the people became fearful and starting complaining to Moses that he had brought them all there to perish. They called for a new leader and said they wanted to return to Egypt.

Moses and Aaron began to pray and God appeared at the tent of the tabernacle, angry and threatening to wipe out the Israelites for their disobedience. Moses intervened and asked God to forgive the people, which he did. However, God vowed that none of them, except for Joshua and Caleb, would enter the Promised Land. God then gave Moses the order to return to the wilderness with the people of Israel, who would die there without ever seeing Canaan. Only their children would eventually enter the Promised Land. Realizing their mistake, the Israelites determined to go into Canaan against Moses’ command. Moses remained in camp with the ark and the inhabitants of the hill country soundly defeated the intruding Israelites, chasing them back out into the desert wilderness.



*   The land indeed looked like it flowed with milk and honey to the scouts but it appeared impossible to obtain due to the strength of its inhabitants. Most of the scouts did a risk-assessment of the situation and determined that it was too dangerous to attempt. They judged by what their eyes saw and not by what God had promised. That is the same situation all people of faith face virtually every day. We evaluate our world and our calling to be God’s people in it by derisory human standards. Faith seems to require us to put aside our logic-based assessments to do something counter-intuitive. Trusting God generally entails stepping out of our comfort zone and going forward despite the machinations of the mind that tell us to be always cautious and sensible. We seem prone to fear-based decisionmaking (a method inculcated in us by relentless advertising, among other things), and find it so hard to make choices according to what we know God’s word to be. Perhaps that is why we so often find ourselves back in one of life’s “wildernesses,” learning once again to walk by faith and not by sight.

*   When the Isrealites began to complain after hearing the fearful scouting reports, the scriptures say Moses and Aaron were driven to their knees in prayer before the entire congregation. Modern leadership techniques would find such behavior abhorrent. Leaders today are taught to be bold, decisive and to project confidence no matter the situation. But that is the way of the world and Moses would have none of it. His strength was in his humble faith in God, and he had no interest in mere appearances. Often his response to defiance and accusation was to remain silent before his accusers, taking the situation to God in prayer. God always answered, and until he did so Moses refused to offer a response. That is the kind of confidence and strength that issues out of true character and deep spirituality. It takes strength to appear to be weak before others. And many times people who attempt to project an image of strength are in fact masking a deeply felt weakness. Moses knew who he was before God; he knew that God had called him to lead the people of Israel, and he knew that in his own strength and wisdom he was inadequate for the task. But he trusted God fully and that was his true strength. God never let him down, because God honored the faith and trust Moses placed in him no matter the situation.

*   There is a difference between being forgiven, as God did numerous times for the wayward Israelites at Moses’ request, and suffering the natural consequences of sinful actions. Though God forgave the Israelites for their refusal to trust him and enter the Promised Land, they still faced the consequences of their actions by spending the rest of their lives in the wilderness. Forgiveness entails a clean slate and right relationship with God, which provides its own benefits both now and in the future. But generally we must deal with the consequences of whatever sin brought us to the need for forgiveness in the first place. An alcoholic who has found forgiveness for his choices and behavior will still have to cope with a damaged liver lest God, in his infinite mercy, heals the body along with the soul. But a person who has been forgiven is in a place where he or she can then, in concert with God, begin the joint process of healing whatever has been damaged by past sin, whether in one’s body or one’s relationships with others. Once right with God, we not only become whole again, we can become partners with him to help heal a broken world—part of the solution rather than part of the problem.


Biblical Themes

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 15