Lesson: The Mission of Twelve Spies

By Rev. Leo H. McCrary II – October 24, 2021
Taught From – Numbers 13:1-3, 17-20, 25-33

Introduction

At the end of our lesson last week, we saw the children of Israel make their way to the wilderness of Paran which is where we see them located in our lesson this week.  We have been taking a look at God’s faithfulness over the past three weeks and this week’s lesson will be the last lesson of this unit in seeing God’s faithfulness.  A couple of weeks ago, we saw God’s faithfulness towards the children of Israel confirmed when He fed them with quail.  Our lesson this week is going to see the Lord’s faithfulness confirmed, again, when it comes to keeping promises.  Our lesson this week is being taught from Numbers 13:1-3, 17-20, 25-33.

The Promised Land

Our lesson opens with the Lord commanding Moses to send spies into the land of Canaan (vss. 1-3).  Let us take note that the Lord says of this land that He was giving it to the children of Israel.  The land of Canaan we must remember is the land that the Lord promised to Abraham.  God told Abraham to go to this land long before Moses and the children of Israel reached this point of their journey.  When God had guided Abraham to the land of Canaan, He promised Abraham that his descendants would be given the land (Gen. 12:1, 7).

So already in our lesson this week we see that God is faithful in keeping the promises that He makes.  Actually, Abraham dwelt in this land, along with Isaac and Jacob.  However, Jacob, his sons, and their families had to journey to Egypt because of a great family.  Joseph was already in Egypt after having been sold into bondage by his brothers.  Over time, we know that the children of Israel ended up being in bondage in the land of Egypt for quite some time until the Lord sent Moses to Egypt to free them.

Yes, it may have taken many years for Abraham’s descendants to come back to the land of Canaan but the fact of the matter is that they did come back to the land.  Though, I do want to point out that at this point in our lesson the children of Israel had not inherited the land just yet.  Moses was to send twelve spies, one man per tribe, to scout the land.  We skip a few verses in our lesson to see that the spies were sent into the land to scout the land itself, the people dwelling in the lands, and to see what the cities in the land were like (vss. 17-19).

I do want to make a note here that Moses tells the spies to “be of good courage (v. 20).”  Having courage, we should understand, is a sign of being faithful to the one that is faithful to us.  So, Moses was encouraging the spies to be faithful in the Lord and have no fear.  We should not be fearful of anything because the Lord is faithfully always with us.  As Moses would tell the children of Israel in the future when they were going into the Promised Land, God will never leave nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6).  So, because God is always with us, we have absolutely nothing to fear.

Spies Report on the Promised Land

So the twelve spies went into the land to scout the land, the people, and its cities.  They were also to gather fruit – specifically grapes – since it was the season of the first ripe grapes.

Land of milk and honey

So, the spies returned back to the wilderness of Paran to Moses, Aaron, and the congregation of Israel after forty days (v. 25).  (This number of forty actually comes back around to haunt the children of Israel later on but we will not see that play out in our lesson this week.)  This return back to the wilderness of Paran would include a report of the land along with fruit from the land as well (v. 26).

The initial report of the land is really good.  The spies say to Moses, “It (the Promised Land) truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit (v. 27).”  This confirms exactly what the Lord told Moses when He spoke to Moses from the burning bush.  God told Moses, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites (Ex. 3:8).”

So, the expectation which was set by the Lord was that He was going to take the children of Israel from Egypt to a land that was going to be good and large land flowing with milk and honey.  Remember, the children of Israel had been complaining about the food they were no longer eating while journeying to the Promised Land.  The plan the whole time was for God to take them from one land where they thought they ate well to a land where they could live freely and be well taken care of by what the land provides.   

Let us remember, the Promised Land was something that God considered to be a blessing to the children of Israel.  We could liken Egypt to living in our world – the land is good but many people live in the bondage of sin until they commit their hearts (their way) to the Lord.  Jesus, just as Moses did, came to the world with the goal of taking those who were once in bondage from this land to the promised land of heaven.  You see, God, I believe, is always moving us on to better even when it feels like things aren’t getting better for us.

The people’s fear of Canaan

Now, while the report confirms the Lord’s promise about the land, we see that the spies began to speak against the land.  They said to Moses that the land was occupied by the descendants of Anak, the Amalekites, Hittites, and Jebusites (vss. 28-29).  We see later in this passage of scripture that the descendants of Anak descended from giants.  The spies were very afraid of the giants as they compared themselves to be grasshoppers to the giants (v. 33).  We then see the spies report to Moses the people of Canaan were strong and lived in large and fortified cities.

Let’s understand that the spies are essentially reporting their fear of Israel being able to take the land.  Now, I want to remind you that God specifically stated that He was giving the land to the children of Israel.  Giving implies that the land and the people dwelling in the land was already theirs for the taking.  As we have seen, when Joshua and the children of Israel entered into the Promised Land, it was just a matter of them being faithful and trusting in the Lord delivering them the land and the people dwelling in the land.

So, the spies came back with a report of fear where they lacked the courage (that, again is faith in God) to be able to take the land.  Moses, I remind you, told the spies to be of courage.  They were lacking in courage after seeing the people and we find that this is leading them to speak against the Promised Land – a blessing from God. Caleb, realizing what the other spies were doing, immediately spoke up and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it (v. 30).”  

Caleb was one of the spies that went into the Promised Land for those forty days.  In fact, in the next chapter of Numbers, you will see that Joshua was also one of the twelve spies that went into the land and they both spoke against the report of the other ten spies.  Both Joshua and Caleb had a different kind of spirit compared to the other ten spies that were beginning to speak against entering the Promised Land.  These were men who were of courage and faith in the Lord so they very much believed that the land was good and could be taken (Num. 14:6-8).

The bad report of the ten spies

Though Caleb adamantly spoke against the report of the other spies, they spoke louder and said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we (v. 31).”  The ten spies go a step further and say, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants (v. 32).”  This is very interesting because we saw earlier where the spies reported that the land flowed with milk and honey.  So, are they contradicting themselves here?

I believe a few things are possible here.  It could have been people like Caleb and Joshua saying that the land did flow with milk and honey; they could have been the ones carrying the grapes.  We could also consider that in past times, we know that the land of Canaan did suffer from famine at times.  Now, I don’t believe the spies actually witnessed a famine because they came back with fruit from the land.  Lastly, I believe they could have been talking about the terrain of the land itself – the terrain could have been harsh.

Caleb’s firm stance

Yet, with this bad report from the ten spies, Caleb stood firm in his faith in God.  Caleb believed that the children of Israel were well able to take possession of the land because he was putting his faith in the Lord.  Again, God had promised a land of milk and honey and so far as Caleb was concerned, he saw that promise confirmed with his own eyes.  

I believe Caleb had recalled in his heart the Lord’s faithfulness in not forsaking the children of Israel when they were in bondage while also delivering them from that bondage.  I believe he also recalled the Lord’s faithfulness to guide, provide, and care for the children of Israel while they were journeying to the Promised Land.  So, I believe that Caleb’s mindset was that the Lord had not failed him or the children of Israel so far, so why would God fail them now?  This is a mindset that many believers living in our world today should also adopt as well.

Fear makes everything seem a great deal more difficult than they actually are if we simply stand firm in our faith.  Ten of the spies thought that they, along with the children of Israel, were nothing but grasshoppers compared to the people of the land of Canaan.  Let me just say that there is no problem – whether big or small – that the Lord cannot solve.  Fear gets us nowhere, but faith in God will take you places!  Fear would not allow the children of Israel to enter the Promised Land at this point, but faith on the other hand, would allow them to enter and take possession of the land in the future.