September 22, 2019, Numbers 13; 14:1-10a


We are going to spend two weeks considering this episode in the Israelites trek to Canaan. This week we will take Numbers 13 and Numbers 14 through the first half of verse 10, and next week we take up with the second half of Numbers 14:10 through verse 20.  

I have often been frustrated by Scripture studies in which a writer or editor leaves out what to me seems important in our seeing the full setting of a passage.  Just ask some of the members of our Sunday School class how I object. And here we are asked to take Numbers 14:10a one week and wait a week to pick up with 10b.

But, I have to admit as I read through these chapters, I do see wisdom in this division.  I find a natural break in verse 10 that justifies this structure for these lessons.

It is also helpful to recall that the chapter and verse division of Scripture did not occur until the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries.  While the verse numbering might be helpful in finding specific passages, it can get in the way of letting the Scripture speak for itself without these artificial breaks.


Let’s read about the adventure of the 12 spies in Canaan.

Notice what they saw in the land, what they brought back to the camp of the Israelites, and report what they found.  Then we can turn our attention to the response of the people to the report.

And, please don’t get bogged down in the list of spies and tribes.  It is more important to try to walk with them into Canaan, notice what they saw and experienced, how they processed that and what they all had to say when they got back. 


Numbers 13 (New Revised Standard Version)

The Lord said to Moses,  “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.”  So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them leading men among the Israelites. These were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zaccur;  from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu;  from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi; from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi son of Susi; from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli; from the tribe of Asher, Sethur son of Michael; from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi; from the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Machi.  These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses changed the name of Hoshea son of Nun to Joshua.

Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up there into the Negeb, and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many,  and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the towns that they live in are unwalled or fortified, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be bold, and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now it was the season of the first ripe grapes.

So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath.  They went up into the Negeb, and came to Hebron; and Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the Anakites, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)  And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. They also brought some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Wadi Eshcol,[a] because of the cluster that the Israelites cut down from there.

At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.  And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.  And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”  Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size.  There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

Numbers 14:1-10 

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the Israelites. And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” But the whole congregation threatened to stone them.


So who should the Israelites listen to?

No one seems to doubt the land is good, rich, and a good place for someone to live.

But who?  Is it the place for the Israelites to move to, or is it best for them to leave it alone.

Should they take a vote?  Does majority rule? Many important decisions have been made by the vote of a majority.

Does that guarantee a decision is right? Or, Is the best course for those involved?

Who wins the day?  The vote of the 10 or the vote of the 2?  Do we count the votes of Moses and Aaron?


“Then all the congregation raised a loud voice … and wept … and complained … and said ‘Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.’”

Seems the vote of the 10 spies carried the day.  They are ready to turn around and go back to … slavery in Egypt?  We they don’t say they want to go back to slavery only that they want to got back to Egypt.

But then two raise their voices and tell the Israelites to go on, “… the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

And … “the whole congregation threatened to stone them.”


What those folks, like Joshua and Caleb, the ability in the face of opposition to say “do not fear … have faith … trust God … go on”?

What did they have that the rest of the folks did not have?

It’s easy to say, “Well, they trusted God.  They had faith.”

Easy to say, but only always easy to do that?

How do you and I leave to trust the call we hear from God?  How do we get beyond the fears we may have? How do we know who to listen to and who to ignore?

I don’t have a quick and easy answer for myself or for you.  

The best I can offer is – Practice.

Practice seeking the way of God?  Practice looking for it? Practice asking for it?  Does practice make perfect. Probably not always. But the more we practice seeking God and seeking the things of God and the way of walking with God, the more likely we are to see it.


Does that make sense to you?

Is that too easy to say and too vague to be profitable?

Or, should we start practicing today?

Let’s talk later,


{uib caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

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