12 Spies Sent To Investigate The Promised Land!


As the people of Israel near the end of their journey, they come to Kadesh Barnea, a place where their faith is to be tested. The leadership decides to send twelve spies into the Promised Land to investigate the land.


So God’s anger is kindled when Israel refuses to enter the land promised to them by God. Despite the pleas of Moses, the personal desires of the people, not faith, lead them into a battle they lose with the Amalekites and the Canaanites.


Pay close attention to this section of Scripture as it provides insights into what can happen when people allowed themselves to focus on the enemy and lost sight of God.


Spies Sent into Canaan


And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers 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 men who were heads of the children of Israel. Now these were their names: from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; from the tribe of Joseph, that is, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi; from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.
These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.
Then Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains. ~Numbers 13:1-17


Like the story of Joseph, a pattern and type are set up here that is at once real and historical with meaning and poignancy all to itself. As well as being prophetic and a metaphor; a type that will (in so many ways) be repeated not just by the Israelites in later eras but by the Church.


What we witness here is nothing less than (if it were a novel) an event we could call “The First Fall of Israel.” What should have been an excellent story about triumph and prosperity, a tale of Israel inheriting the Land and all the goodness that the Lord had prepared for them, instead turns into a tragic narrative about


  • Disbelief,
  • Failure,
  • Weakness, and a
  • Direct repudiation of God’s grace.


In its effect, this story is not completely unlike the Fall Of Man with Adam and Eve. The Master Potter had no sooner created Adam and Eve than they succumbed to their evil inclinations, and fell from grace.


In our story Israel had only days and weeks earlier been consecrated by the Lord, given His Torah, and were basking in the constant presence of God; but now they throw it all away to obey their fears and desires. So please grasp that we are reading one of those history-changing moments in the story of humanity.


Israel had trekked right up to the edge of fulfilling centuries of promise, and then they quit. Just as the victory was in their grasp, they drew back in fear. They turned back and refused to enter into that promise. Oh how on a razor’s edge we all had lived until that moment we accepted God’s Messiah; and have no idea of the danger we were in.


Our account opens with the Lord instructing Moses to send a group of men to scout out the Land of Canaan. And that group was to consist of but ONE man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Immediately, however, we run into a bit of a Scriptural dilemma. Because, later in Deuteronomy, we’re told this:


“And every one of you came near to me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, and let them search out the land for us, and bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up, and of the cities into which we shall come.’
“The plan pleased me well; so I took twelve of your men, one man from each tribe. ~Deuteronomy 1:22-23


Do you see the dilemma? Numbers 13 says God told Moses to send spies yet Deuteronomy 1 says that the PEOPLE of Israel approached Moses and stated that they wanted to send spies, and Moses thought it was a good idea, so he handpicked the 12 men. What are we to make of this?


The answer according to a rabbinical writing is contained in a key Hebrew word used in Numbers 13 verse 2: the Hebrew, word for “send”. In Hebrew the word is Shelah-lekha; which means, “Send for yourself.”


In other words, God is telling Moses, “If you want to send some spies, you have my permission.” What we see in verse 2 is not God, on His impetus, just suddenly saying: “Hey, Moses, come here a minute…I want you to send out some scouts..”


Rather it is that God was responding to a request from Moses, and Moses was replying to the request of the people by taking the matter to the Lord; so the Lord tells Moses to go ahead and satisfy himself (and the people’s request) by sending out these scouts. After all, God knew what was there in the Land of Canaan. It was the people of Israel who were unsure.


Let’s be clear on something: there is a difference between spying and scouting. Some Bible versions say the 12 were scouting, others spying. It’s a little like the difference between shoplifting and shopping.


What was instructed in Numbers was to go scout out and see the land to reassure the people. It was like searching for a new community to buy a house, not like the preliminary to a military operation.


And if it had been a military action, most certainly the leaders of the tribes would not have gone.  And they wouldn’t have sent twelve.  Two or three would have been more appropriate because stealth would have been key, and later in the Bible when we see actual military spying it will indeed usually be 2 or 3 men at most.


Now the leaders chosen for this mission are great leaders, but not necessarily THE prince, or Chief, of each tribe. But, notice that there is ONE tribe that is left completely out of the mix: Levi. And this is but further confirmation that the split between the priestly tribe of Levi and the other tribes of Israel was complete; complete enough that Levi wasn’t referred to as a regular part of Israel anymore.


In verse 16 we get this interesting little aside, that one of the tribal leaders eventually had his name changed by Moses: Hoshea, son of Nun. Hoshea became known as Joshua or more accurately in the Hebrew, Yehoshua.


So what’s the difference between Hoshea and Yehoshua? Well in some ways it is quite astounding. Hoshea means “God saves.” Yehoshua means “Yehoveh saves.”


Part of the reason for the name change is that Hoshea was born in Egypt, obviously well before the Exodus. What we learned back in the book of Exodus was that God did NOT reveal His personal name, YHWH, Yehoveh, UNTIL later, when He gave it to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Therefore, the name Joshua, Yehoshua, could not have existed when Israel was in Egypt because God’s name wasn’t even known, yet.


And of course our Savior’s given Hebrew name was Yeshua, which is just a contraction of Yehoshua, Yehoveh saves. Jesus, Joshua, Yehoshua, and Yeshua are all the same name, just in different dialects and languages, from different eras.


And looking ahead to the book of Joshua it will be Yehoshua (Joshua) and NOT Moses that leads the people into the Promised Land. Moses leads them up to it, but not INTO it. In a direct parallel, The Torah of Moses leads people up to the ultimate Promised Land, but not INTO it, for that it took Yeshua, Jesus the Christ.


Moses instructs the group of 12 to go up through the Negev (a barren desert) into the hill country. In essence, they weren’t scouting out the Negev, as it was merely a place that they had to go through to reach their goal, the hill country. Or it is indicating the general area surrounding Hebron. And their mission is to determine several things as referenced in Numbers 13 verses 18 – 20.


In my next blog post , we will continue with the rest of this chapter.


Holman Old Testament Commentary



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