New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Num 13:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
This was in response to Israel's desire to send men to spy out the land (Dt. 1:22). Had they believed God's promises, they wouldn't have needed this human reassurance. But because that was what they wanted, like the Father giving the prodigal son what he wanted, God gave it to them. Even though it was to lead to their collapse of faith and rejection. In essence, we often get what we want. The critical thing is therefore to desire the right things. Because Divine concessions to human weakness often only lead us into more acute temptation. But He makes the concessions because that is what we ask for. And we get what we want, in essence. If we wish to be in the Kingdom above all, then we shall be.

Num 13:2 Send men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel. Of every tribe of their fathers, you shall send a man, every one a prince among them-
"Which I give..." was God's desperate attempt to remind them that whatever the spies reported about the nature of the land, God would give it to His people. "Spy out" is the word used of how the ark and Angel in the cloud were ever going before Israel to "search out a resting place" (Num. 10:33; Dt. 1:33), and that resting place ultimately referred to the inheritance of Canaan. It was God Himself who had spied out the land for them (Ez. 20:6 s.w.). But they insisted upon empirical, human spying out. This insistence upon empirical evidence is not the stuff of faith, and led to their spiritual failure in this context. "Of every tribe" excluded Levi, because they were not going to inherit any land possession. 

Num 13:3 Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran according to the commandment of Yahweh: all of them men who were heads of the children of Israel-
Dt. 33:2 comments about this incident, that Yahweh "
shone forth from Mount Paran, He came with ten thousands of holy ones". They failed to walk in step with the Spirit. There were ten thousands of Angels going with them in glory in order to give them the Kingdom, but they were faithless and turned back. It is stressed that Yahweh commanded this- but as discussed on :1, it was in confirmation of their own weakness of faith in wanting spies to go and check out God's word of promise- instead of believing it without empirical evidence.

Num 13:4 These were their names. Of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur-
None of these names occur elsewhere, except those of Caleb and Joshua. They were to be chosen by the initiative of Israel (:2). And because unbelief was never far from the hearts of the people, we suspect they chose men who were not known for their faith nor leadership; but who rather were likely to speak to the unarticulated fears of the people.

Num 13:5 Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori-
The names of the unfaithful spies are very negative, e.g. Shaphat ben Hori is understood by Jewish midrash as meaning 'Judge of a hole in the ground'. And I will generally give the meaning of the names of the unfaithful spies as found in the midrash. I have often commented that the names we read of in the Old Testament are often reflective of later developed character and historical actions in the lives of the person. They are not therefore their birth names, and often a person would have more than one name. The fact these names of the unfaithful spies aren't found elsewhere would confirm my suggestion that these were the names they came to be known by after their terrible faithlessness. And likewise Hoshea was renamed to Joshua (:16) after his faithfulness.  

Num 13:6 Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh-
Caleb was head of a household within the tribe of Judah. It could be argued that he was directly related to Judah through Hezron and Pharez (1 Chron. 2:5,18,25). But "Kenizzite" (Josh. 14:6; Num. 32:12) could refer to the Gentile tribe of Gen. 15:19; or to a man called Kenaz, memorialized by Caleb naming his son with that same name (1 Chron. 4:15). And Jud. 1:13 could mean that Caleb's father was called Kenaz. Caleb means "dog", and this is apparently alluded to when he is commended for faithfully following Yahweh, as a dog would follow its master (Josh. 14:8; Num. 14:24). The genealogies are constructed in such a way that they don't preclude Caleb having been a Gentile who was fully accepted into the tribe of Judah

Num 13:7 Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph-
"Igal", 'putter forth of evil speech'. See on :5. They slandered the land.

Num 13:8 Of the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun-
Hoshea, 'saver', was changed to 'Joshua', 'Yah's salvation' (:16). His faith was that Yahweh would save. Despite all the obstacles to attaining the Kingdom, he believed that Yahweh would save from them all. And this is the essence of faith in Jesus, the Greek form of 'Joshua'.

Num 13:9 Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu-
Remover of good deeds', son of 'weak hands'. See on :5.

Num 13:10 Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi-
Harsh words'; for he slandered the land. See on :5.

Num 13:11 Of the tribe of Joseph, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi-
Thrower of words, son of grief'. Several of these names have reference to words, because these men became known for their slander of the land. See on :5. As so often, the word of man triumphed over the word of God in the minds and fears of men.

Num 13:12 Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli-
Soured strength' (cp. Num. 13:31). See on :5.

Num 13:13 Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael-
'Contradictor', for his lack of faith contradicted the Divine promise of the Kingdom; see on :5.

Num 13:14 Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi-
'Hider of the truth'. The ultimate truth was and is that God's people can inherit the Kingdom; see on :5.

Num 13:15 Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi-
'The majesty of God [Geuel] now pining away [Machi]'. See on :5. 

Num 13:16 These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun ‘Joshua’-
As discussed on :5, the idea may be that these are the names they became known by, just as Hoshea was now to be renamed Joshua. See on :8. In Dt. 1:23, Moses seems to admit he had been unwise in this: "The thing pleased me well and I took twelve men of you, one man for every tribe". In In this time of final spiritual maturity, Moses was keenly aware of his own spiritual failings (as Paul and Jacob were in their last days). This is one of the great themes of Moses in Deuteronomy. He begins his Deuteronomy address by pointing out how grievously they had failed thirty eight years previously, when they refused to enter the good land. He reminds them how that although God had gone before them in Angelic power (Dt. 1:30,33), they had asked for their spies to go before them. And Moses admits that this fatal desire for human strength to lead them to the Kingdom "pleased me well". It seems to me that here Moses is recognizing his own failure. Perhaps he is even alluding to his weakness in wanting Jethro to go before them "instead of eyes", in place of the Angel-eyes of Yahweh (Num. 10:31-36). Moses at the end was aware of his failures. And yet he also shows his thorough appreciation of the weakness of his people. Moses admits at the end that Israel’s faithless idea to send out spies “pleased me well”- when it shouldn’t have done (Dt. 1:23,32,33). He realized more and more his own failure as he got older.

Num 13:17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, Go up this way by the South, and go up into the hill country-
If their intention was genuine military reconnaissance, they would have focused upon the areas immediately in front of them. And this is where Moses sent them, to the hill country of Judah which was immediately where they would enter Canaan. But by going instead throughout the entire land, they were showing they wanted to check out God's word of promise about the land- they wanted empirical evidence rather than showing faith. See on :25.

Num 13:18 and see the land, what it is, and the people who dwell therein, whether they are strong or weak, whether they are few or many;-
These requests seem to be Moses' weakness or at least, concession to Israel's weakness. God told them to simply search the land, presumably in order to be able to divide it up for conquest and inheritance. Moses instead asks the spies to assess whether the land is good or not, how strong the opposition will be, etc. And this weakness was the undoing of Israel. Indeed Dt. 1:22 says that Israel asked God to send out the spies before them- even though God had promised that the Angel in the pillar of cloud would go ahead of them. God grants such concessions to human weakness, but making use of them often leads us into greater openness to temptation and likelihood of failure. Or Moses may have asked them to go and check that indeed the land was full of "many" people, as God had said; and that they were now weakened. But asking people to check God's word against empirical evidence tends towards unbelief, as we see here. This has relevance to the various invitations made to check the claims of God and His word against "science" and empirical evidence.

Time and again in the Biblical record, Abraham is held up as a very real example, in whose steps all God's people are to tread. For example, as Abraham was bidden leave Ur and go and "see" the "land" of promise which God would "give" him (Gen. 13:15), so the spies were told to go and "see" the "land" which God had "given" them (Num. 13:18; 32:8,9- the same three words as in the promises to Abraham)- yet they lacked the faith of Abraham to believe that really, they could possess that land. They did "see" the land, yet they were punished by being told that they would not now "see the land" (Num. 14:23; Dt. 1:35). They saw it, but they didn't "see" it with the eyes of Abraham. And so it can be with our vision of God's Kingdom. Remember that Moses was the author of both Genesis and Numbers- such connections aren't incidental. Moses wished the people to see themselves as going forward in the spirit of Abraham- and hence he wrote up the Genesis record for Israel's benefit an inspiration.

Num 13:19 and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad; and what cities they are that they dwell in, whether in camps, or in fenced cities-
They disbelieved God's simple statement that He was bringing them to a "good land" (Ex. 3:8 s.w.). They felt they had to check out the truth of His word for themselves; and concluded the land was "evil"; see on :32. God's clear statements and promises must be allowed to trump our own perceptions and  empirical conclusions. This is what faith is all about.  

Num 13:20 and what the land is, whether it is fat or lean, whether there is wood therein, or not. Be courageous, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first-ripe grapes-
But this appeal to "be courageous" was not an appeal for the courage of faith; see on :19. It was a merely human, secular appeal. The courage asked of Joshua later was to believe it was God's good pleasure to give His people the Kingdom (Lk. 12:32). The note about time means this would have been in early August.

Num 13:21 So they went up, and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, to the entrance of Hamath-
As discussed on :17, they were asked to explore just the area immediately ahead of the Israelite advance. Instead they explored all of Canaan. This is a parade example of when a concession is made to human weakness (see on :1), we tend to misuse and abuse it.

Num 13:22 They went up by the South, and came to Hebron; and Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were there- 
Although not recorded in Num. 14:24; Dt. 1:36, it appears Caleb was specifically promised Hebron at that time. Caleb had explored that area as a spy (Num. 13:22) and taken a special liking to it. We see therefore his spiritual ambition; 'this shall one day be mine'. And we can do the same, as we in this life spy out our future inheritance.  

Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt
The idea may be that it was "built up" seven times greater than Zoan, which the Hebrews may well have laboured as slaves to build up.

Num 13:23 They came to the valley of Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a staff between two. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs-
The idea seems to be as GNB "as far as Eshcol". Perhaps the two who carried this were the faithful Joshua and Caleb. The valley of Eshcol is near Hebron, which was visited by Caleb (see on :22). So it seems quite safe to assume that he brought back this cluster of grapes from the area he had fallen in love with and had been promised. "Staff" is s.w. "bar" used of how the tabernacle fittings were carried (Num. 4:10). They saw in this a kind of tabernacle. If they also carried pomegranates and figs, we can assume they had no room to carry much else, including weapons. They went in faith.

Num 13:24 That place was called the valley of Eshcol because of the cluster which the children of Israel cut down from there-
The faith and vision of Joshua and Caleb (see on :24) is graciously counted to all Israel. The Biblical record constantly reflects the grace of its ultimate author. The valley of Eshcol may well have been named after Abraham's supporter (Gen. 14:24), but the meaning of the name now became reflective of the cluster of grapes found there.

Num 13:25 They returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days-
I have made the point that they were originally told just to explore a limited area in southern Canaan (:17). But by going instead throughout the entire land, they were showing they wanted to check out God's word of promise about the land- they wanted empirical evidence rather than showing faith. And because of this more extensive searching of all Canaan, it took them 40 days. And they suffered for this, because on the basis of a day for a year, they had to wander 40 years in the desert. 

Num 13:26 They went and came to Moses and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, to the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh, and brought back word to them, and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land-
To 'bring back a word' is used of communicating God's word (Num. 22:8; 23:5,16; Josh. 22:32). The word of God was clear- they could enter the land and take it. But here we have the word of man being allowed to triumph over the word of God in the hearts of men, as happens so often. To return a word also means to answer a question- s.w. "what answer shall I return" (2 Sam. 24:13; 1 Kings 12:6; Neh. 2:20). There was a question as to whether they could inherit the Kingdom- and that question should never have been, if they had believed God's word. 

Num 13:27 They told him, and said, We came to the land where you sent us and surely it flows with milk and honey and this is its fruit-
Israel came to describe the Egypt they had been called out from as the land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 16:12), and denied that it was possible for to enjoy this in the Kingdom of God. And so we have the same tendency to be deceived into thinking that the kingdoms of this world, the world around us, is effectively the Kingdom of God, the only thing worth striving after. And His Kingdom is somehow unattainable.

Num 13:28 However the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. Moreover, we saw the children of Anak there-
Rahab informed the later spies that the cities were fortified from fear of Israel, and the Canaanites were weak and fearful before Israel at this time (Josh. 2:10,11). Those obstacles to our inheritance of the Kingdom which seem to us huge and too strong for us may actually be very weak and far easier to overcome than we imagine. The spies were sent to find out whether the people in the land were many or few. But they were being asked to confirm the truth of God's statement that although the people were indeed many, God would give Israel victory against them (Dt. 9:1,2). But they focused upon the obstacle rather than the solution- which is the way of the flesh in every context.

Num 13:29 Amalek dwells in the land of the South; and the Hittite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, dwell in the hill country; and the Canaanite dwells by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan-
As noted on :28, they focused upon the obstacle rather than the solution- which is the way of the flesh in every context. And they almost relish in giving all the details of those obstacles. There was not a word of faith from the ten spies.  

Num 13:30 Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it-
The Bible often records the immediacy of response in faithful people. Procrastination and endlessly weighing up the difficulties often leads to failure to act as we should.

Num 13:31 But the men who went up with him said, We aren’t able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we-
Caleb and Joshua perceived that Israel were “well able” to overcome the tribes and inherit the land, seeing that the Angel-hornet had gone ahead and prepared the way; and yet due to Israel’s disabling of this possibility at the time, it was in some ways so that God Himself was “not able” to give them the inheritance, because they judged that they were “not able” to take it (Num. 13:30,31; 14:16).

Num 13:32 They brought up an evil report of the land which they had spied out to the children of Israel, saying-
The Hebrew word for "spied out" in Dt. 1:24 also means 'to slander' (s.w. 2 Sam. 19:27; Ps. 15:3). Their slander of the land was in that they misrepresented the strength of the people there, who were in fact fearful of the Israelites. They brought up an evil report of the land (Num. 13:32), characterizing it as not "good" but "evil", as if inhabited by insuperable forces of cosmic evil. They disbelieved God's simple statement that He was bringing them a "good land" (Ex. 3:8). Moses therefore repeatedly calls the land a "good land", denying their wrong idea that the land was inhabited by 'evil spirits' (Dt. 3:25; 4:21,22; 6:18; 8:7; 9:6; 11:17). We see here how belief in 'evil spirits' or 'demons' militated against their faith in God and His eagerness to give His good Kingdom to His people. That continues to be His "good pleasure" (Lk. 12:32) toward us, but like Israel, we are tempted to disbelieve this and allow our own perceptions and empirical conclusions to lead us away from simple faith in this.

If their intention was genuine military reconnaissance, they would have focused upon the areas immediately in front of them. But by going throughout the entire land, they were showing they wanted to check out God's word of promise about the land- they wanted empirical evidence rather than showing faith.

The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people who we saw in it are men of great stature-
This was effectively calling God’s descriptions of the promised land untrue. If we don’t believe we can inherit the Kingdom prepared for us (Mt. 25:34), then we are effectively calling God a liar. Ps. 106:24 says that they didn’t believe God’s word of promise that they would possess the land (Gen. 15:18; 17:8; Ex. 23:30). These promises were clear and unambiguous; but the immediate and the visible seemed more true to them than the promises of God’s word. Perhaps they had forgotten those promises, not recited them to themselves, not bothered to attend Moses’ sessions of instruction, of which the Pentateuch is likely a transcript. Unless God’s words of promise are regularly in our consciousness, we will likewise fail to believe it when we come up against the human obstacles in our paths.

If they had accepted the power of God, then whatever ‘adversary’ was in the land, in whatever form, was ultimately of no real power (Num. 13:32; 14:36; Dt. 1:25). And yet it was not God’s way to specifically tell the people that there was no such dragon lurking in the land of Canaan – instead He worked with them according to their fears, by making the earth literally open and swallow up the apostate amongst them (Num. 16:30) – emphasizing that by doing this, He was doing “a new thing”, something that had never been done before – for there was no dragon lurking in any land able to swallow up people. And throughout the prophets it is emphasized that God and not any dragon swallowed up people – “The Lord [and not any dragon] was as an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel” (Lam. 2:5 and frequently in the prophets). The people of Israel who left Egypt actually failed to inherit Canaan because they believed that it was a land who swallowed up the inhabitants of the land (Num. 13:32), relating this to the presence of giants in the land (Num. 13:33). As Joshua and Caleb pleaded with them, they needed to believe that whatever myths there were going around, God was greater than whatever mythical beast was there. And because they would not believe that, they failed to enter the land, which in type symbolized those who fail to attain that great salvation which God has prepared.

Num 13:33 There we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight-
They made the common mistake of assuming that our view of ourselves is how others also see us. The Israelites were seen as grasshoppers by their enemies- and so this is how they came to perceive themselves (Num. 13:33). Prov. 23:7 RV observes: “As he reckons within himself, so is he”. We are defined by our own self-perception. We must come in the end to perceive ourselves from God’s perspective and not according to how men perceive us. We must see ourselves from outside ourselves, and thereby “guide your own heart in the way” (Prov. 23:19). According to how they felt that the world perceived them to be, so they felt themselves to be. As it happened, they were wrong; the Canaanite nations were terrified of them, according to Rahab’s inside account. If Israel had perceived themselves as those made strong by the Lord, more than conquerors, so indeed they would have been. Self-perception was and is vital for God’s Israel.

The people were frightened by the "giants" they met in the land of Canaan (Num. 13:33), likely connecting them with superhuman beings. These nephilim [LXX gigantes] had their origin explained by Moses in Genesis 6 (see on Gen. 6:4)- the righteous seed intermarried with the wicked, and their offspring were these nephilim, mighty men of the world. Note in passing how Ez. 32:27 LXX uses this same word gigantes to describe pagan warriors who died- no hint that they were superhuman or Angels.  According to Jewish traditions (as reflected in 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees), the supposedly sinful Angels ("the Watchers") morally corrupted human beings in the lead up to the flood by teaching them to do evil, astrology, weapon making and the use of cosmetics (1 Enoch 7-8, 69; 10; 21.7-10; 64-65; 69; Jub. 5:16-11; 8:3). Yet the Genesis record simply states that the descendants of Cain started to do all those things, their wickedness increased, and so they were punished through the flood (Gen. 4:20-22). Constantly in the Jewish Apocryphal writings there is a shifting of blame from humanity to Angelic beings.