God requests an intel assessment
The LORD said to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I give to the sons of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a leader among them.”
A little background on this order from on high. The Israelites had been led out of bondage and freed from slavery by the hand of God. They have been given the Ten Commandments and made a covenant with God. They are now marching across the Sinai desert to take possession of the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Did the all powerful God, Creator of all things visible and invisible, really need twelve men to tell Him what was across the river in the land of Canaan? If He didn’t then why send them in the first place? As with a lot of the stories in the Old Testament, this was a test of the people’s faithfulness to God and thier level of trust in His promises. And also like lots of other Old Testament stories, there are more than a few lessons that we can learn from it, even 3500 years later.
Moses selects his scouts
So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Par’an, according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the sons of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Sham’mu-a the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Sha’phat the son of Ho’ri; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephun’neh; from the tribe of Is’sachar, I’gal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of E’phraim, Hoshe’a the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Ra’phu; from the tribe of Zeb’ulun, Gad’diel the son of Sodi; from the tribe of Joseph (that is from the tribe of Manas’seh), Gaddi the son of Susi; from the tribe of Dan, Am’miel the son of Gemal’li; from the tribe of Asher, Seth’ur the son of Michael; from the tribe of Naph’tali, Nahbi the son of Voph’si; from the tribe of Gad, Geu’el the son of Machi. These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.
Just as Jesus selected His twelve Apostles and sent them out to world, Moses has selected twelve scouts and sent them out too.
If you’ve read the story of the Exodus before, then the name most well know to you out of this list would be Joshua. Joshua was a very important figure in the book of Exodus, he was with Moses when he first went up mount Sinai, he led the Israelites in thier first battle after escaping Egypt, and he would later be chosen as the successor to Moses as the leader of the Israelites.
Theologians identify Joshua as a typological foreshadowing of Christ; he would lead the Israelites out of their wandering in the wilderness and into the promised land, and Christ would lead His church (the new Israel) out of the slavery of sin (the wilderness) and into the promised land of heaven.
As a side bar here I’d like to point out that just as other pivotal people in the Bible, Joshua received a new name for this mission. His name Hoshea meant “save us” or “desire salvation”, but his new name Joshua meant “Yahweh saves”. This name would be given to another Israelite some 1500 years later, but you probably know Him better by the English version of His name; Jesus.
The lesson to be learned here is that when given the opportunity, we must pick the right people. Although we aren’t told in the text, Moses most likely gave it some thought before picking these twelve scouts. It’s unlikely that he just drew thier names out of a hat, or any other random method, but of the twelve only two put thier complete trust in God.
The Scouts Are Given Thier Orders
Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up into the Neg’eb yonder, and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there is wood in it or not. Be of good courage, and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.
Moses instructs them as to what kind of intelligence report he’d like back. He admonishes them to “be of good courage.”
This is the second lesson to learn from this story. We must trust in God, and His promises. Even when things look terrible, and we face many trials and tribulations, we have to remember the words of Christ to His apostles; “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
The scouts return
After scouting out the land for 40 days (Numbers 13:25), the scouts return to Moses carrying fruit from the land and an Intel report (Numbers 13:26-29).
In this report they quickly gloss over the good of the land, and they focus on the negatives. They tell of how strong the people are, how fortified the cities are, and even that they seen giants in the land.
Until Caleb stands up and says enough!
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.”
Caleb believed that God not only could deliver them, but that He would conquer thier enemies and allow them to possess the land that was promised to thier ancestors. But the rest of the people were not so easily convinced and decided to believe the bad news rather than the good news.
When confronted with bad news do we dispair over it, like the 10 unbelieving scouts? Or do we stand up and say “Jesus I trust in you”? To give up hope in God and His promises is the son of dispair, we cannot loose hope and give into despair.
To give into despair is to doubt the omnipotence of God, and His mercy. It may not be a conscience decision, but to remain in despair is contrary to the theological virtue of hope. The catechism has this to say about despair:
CCC 2091: The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:
By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.
After giving thier report to Moses and Aaron, the scouts brought it to the people. After hearing the report, the people said they’d rather be slaves in Egypt that face what was ahead in the promised land.
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry; and the people wept that night. And all the sons of Israel murmured 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 does the LORD bring us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”
All of these people had seen the plagues brought upon Egypt, the Red Sea parted, and God leading them by a pillar of smoke and fire through the desert. It would’ve been more forgivable for them to doubt God had they been a later generation of Israelites, but to have seen all this and still doubt was unforgivable.
To be so afraid of the future that they’d rather live in the past is something that still happens today. Lots of Christians whither away at the first sign of conflict or strife. Don’t be one of them, push forward and know that as long as we strive to do the will of God, He will be by our side.
Joshua and Caleb give thier report
And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephun’neh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes, and said to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel.
When Joshua and Caleb stand up and declare that even thought there will be a struggle that they will overcome it and possess the land. They declare that God is with them, and that God will keep His word.
This speech didn’t go over very well, and the people attempt to stone Joshua and Caleb. It took divine intervention to save thier lives.
The people being mad at having to endure any hardship, and preferring slavery to freedom, has a strong parrellel to Christians of today. How many Christians fall away when things get tough? Jesus said there would be some like that in His parable of the sower (Matthew 13) and the seeds that fell on rocky ground.
The entire nation of Israel- except Joshua and Caleb- had been sown on rocky ground, and here thier faith was whithering and dying because it had no root. Despite the miracles that they’d witnesses they still didn’t trust fully in God, just like St Thomas on Easter Sunday didn’t believe until he had seen, even though he’d witnessed countless miracles.
This is the final lesson to be learned here; don’t loose faith in the hard times. When we face obstacles and hardships we can choose to give up and give in, or we can call upon God and the intercession of His saints. We can be like the Israelites in the desert and wish we were stil slaves, or we can be like Caleb and say “we can overcome this” with the help and grace of God. Caleb didn’t trust in his own power or ability to overcome all that stood in thier way, but he did believe in the power and ability of God.
The consequences of disbelief
This was a test, a test of the people’s trust and faithfulness, and just like any test, there are passing and failing grade. The Israelites failed miserably, not only did they fall into despair but they even lamented the things that God had already done for them.
They tried to rebel and pick new leaders for a journey back to Egypt. This infuriated God, and the people were only spared because of Moses and Aaron’s intercession on thier behalf.
Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness; and of all your number, numbered from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephun’neh and Joshua the son of Nun.
God tells Moses that nobody over the age of 20, except Joshua and Caleb, will live to see the promise land.
The Israelites would go on to wander the wilderness for 40 more years, and this is analogous to our wandering in the wilderness of this world until it’s time to enter the promise land of heaven.
God has a plan for every one of us, just as he had a plan for the Israelites, but God will not force His will on you. It is our job to seek His will, and to strive to be faithful and believe in His promises, and especially in His divine mercy.
(For all posts in this series go to this page; The Story of Salvation)