Book of Numbers Chapter Thirteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
These events in Numbers were recorded as they occurred or soon after, whereas the Book of Deuteronomy was written later, added as God's epilogue, a reminder to the people of occurrences in the history of Israel and God's laws for the nation. The events here in Chapter 13 may also be seen in abbreviated form in Deuteronomy 1:22-40. The Deuteronomy account indicates that men from the various tribes came to Moses, suggesting that spies be sent into Canaan (Deuteronomy 1:22), whereas this section in Numbers reveals an additional basis for that decision, as seen in Verses 1-3: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 2 'Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.' 3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran at the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the sons of Israel." Behind the outward decisions of nations, individuals, corporations and churches, the Lord Himself is the invisible Hand that directs our actions. Nations rise and fall, spies are sent, battles waged and economic decisions are made because He has ordained it. And we will see that the Lord used the events of this chapter to test the faith of His people and their representatives.
Verses 4-16 "These then were their names: from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; 5 from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; 6 from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; 7 from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; 8 from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; 9 from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua." The order in which sons were born was extremely important in most ancient cultures, since the oldest often inherited everything, and if he died, the inheritance passed on to the next survivor. Considering that, it is interesting that the genealogies of the sons of Jacob that became the tribes of Israel, have important differences, depending on where you find them in Scripture. Their actual births are seen in Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24, and Genesis 35:18-20. Reuben was first born, followed by Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Napthali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin, in that order. As we have seen, Moses, a Levite, learned to follow the Word of the Lord in what he did, and the differences within various Scriptures have meaning. Levi was not listed, for it was a tribe of priests and Temple workers. Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob's grandsons, were added. Hoshea, now called Joshua by Moses, would later write the Book of Joshua, after the death of Moses.
Listings in Scripture of Jacob's sons are essentially the "begats" of the King James Version, as they relate to the families of Israel. Each genealogy is a historical record, and Israel itself is a parable of God's dealings with mankind. He raises up nations out of nothing, He has people of faith in the Lord everywhere, even in those historical and present nations of the world that never heard of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. We know so much about God, and yet it is not information, but instead faith in the Lord that saves all who cry out in honesty: "Help me, Lord." And He does help even those who have little if any information. Abraham never heard the names Yeshua or Jesus, he did not know what a Messianic Jew was, a Jew of any kind, or a Christian would be, and yet that Iraqi gentleman "believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). Abraham had simple, honest faith in the Lord.
Verses 17-20: "When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, 'Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. 19 How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? 20 How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.' Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes." Have you ever been a spy? That was my assignment in the military, many years ago, and I note that life itself is like that because just about everyone is spying on everybody else: What are they wearing? Should I wear it, too? New words come continually into all languages and our tendency is to spy out words and phrases, copying them as though they are our own. In this case, an invasion would occur. Israel was to invade Canaan and the quesion was: What is the place like? Are the people strong? How many soldiers are there? Are the cities fortified? Does the land produce good crops? Are trees abundant there? And Moses noted it was the time of early harvest in Canaan. The spies were directed to find out what everybody in Israel was wondering about anyway.
Verses 21-22: "So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, at Lebo-hamath. 22 When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)." The spies were to examine and report on a very large area within the land God had promised them. In Deuteronomy 1:22-40, it was the people who wanted the spies to be sent, and here in Numbers it was the Lord who ordered them to go. The nation was weak in faith, a common ailment among God's people. God had promised them the land, He had assured them it was a fertile place, filled with "milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8), which was among God's initial promises to Moses, but fear within the heart of Israel necessitated this look into the land. It was a test for them, and just as they were tested, we will be, too. Our tests will reveal much about us—will we remain in fear and unbelief?—or will we trust in the Lord?
The fertility of the land was without question, as seen in Verses 23-24: "Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs. 24 That place was called the valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the sons of Israel cut down from there." We are not unlike judges—judging one another and incredibly judging God—Is He real? Will He help me? Can I rely on Him? Does He really love me? Will He send me somewhere I don't want to go? And more. Just as He gave the spies plenty of proof that this land contained more than ample provision, He has given us eyewitness testimony in Scripture that God will provide for His people. He is with us and He is more than able to save us from the enemy, give us our daily bread, and provide victory in HIS strength, which is infinitely greater than ours. Israel should have seen it just as we should, but in unbelief, they did not see.
The report of the spies to Israel begins in Verses 25-27: "When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, 26 they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Thus they told him, and said, 'We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.'" If God has touched and blessed us in one area, it should occur to all concerned that God is able to deliver us in everything. Even death is victory for us because we enter a land, a circumstance of joy in which we will never die. Separation from our loved ones is only temporary and we will be with them in a perfected state with no misunderstandings or disagreements—forever. Jesus, our Creator, entered this world for our benefit, already knowing our nature. He saw our fears and said, "he who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live..." (John 11:25-26), adding, "Do you believe this?" What about you?—Do you believe this?
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 1:9, correctly observed about humanity, "There is nothing new under the sun." Our gadgets may change but our attitudes aren't new, and just like it was then, unbelief is rife in our world today. Verses 28-29: "'Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.'" What the spies reported was very important. Israel had become a large, nomadic nation. They had no experience in attacking walled cities. They were of relatively small stature compared to some in the land of Canaan, so humanly speaking, they didn't think an attack would succeed. They made the mistake we have made—they forgot that "When God calls you to it, He will bring you through it." Jesus reported, "Many are called, but few are chosen," (Matthew 20:16) because many are afraid and won't go. We do well to adopt 1 Thessalonians 5:24 as a life Scripture—"He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." God can and will do what we cannot do.
Caleb, one of the spies, spoke up at the moment of Verse 30: "Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, 'We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.'" We learn from Numbers 14:6-8, that Joshua, Moses' underling and another one of the spies, agreed wholeheartedly with Caleb. There may be giants in our future, but God is with us.
We have two amazing witnesses, freely given to those who place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: 1) Scripture, which is full of eyewitness testimony written by those who have actually SEEN the deliverance of God, and 2) God's Holy Spirit, who lives inside those who trust in the Lord, revealing the truth of His Word and helping us understand what we could not otherwise know. However, too many are unbelievers like the other ten spies, as seen in Verses 31-33: "But the men who had gone up with him said, 'We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.' 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, 'The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 33 There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.'" To believe in God is to have faith in His character. He who loves You will keep His word. You are safe with Him.
Yes, your problems can be like giants greater than your ability to defeat them, but God is greater than any "giant" we will ever meet. We cannot go back in time and undo our sins, but the Lord who does not live in time, is in the past of the faithful, atoning for what we have done. We do not know what the future holds, but He is already in the future and has made provision for your future and mine. We are never alone in the present, for He is here. You and I are like those spies, looking at the circumstances around us and reporting what we think to others. Will the Lord deliver us? Yes He will and it's time for a good report—He is WITH you and me.
Lord, I am so sorry for my discouraging, unbelieving words in the past. It is not any strength, intelligence or ability I have that will deliver me, but instead, YOU are my Deliverer and YOU will bring me through. Please forgive me, show me the way I should go, and help me to walk in Your ways. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.