Scouting the Land

On the first occasion the Israelites were potentially ready to enter the promised land, God did not simply send Israelite troops into the land to conquer it. Instead, the Lord told Moses to send out men into Canaan—one from each tribe—to observe it. Numbers 13 records the names of the men Moses sent. Of special note were “Caleb son of Jephunneh from the tribe of Judah” (v. 6), and “Hoshea [Joshua] son of Nun from the tribe of Ephraim” (v. 8). These two men were noteworthy because they stood up against the majority of the spies after returning to give reports. All 12 spies agreed it was a land “flowing with milk and honey” (v. 27; 14:8). Ten of the spies reported that the Canaanites looked big and powerful. They added, “We even saw the Nephilim—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim. To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them” (13:33). In other words, they advised against moving out in faith to take the land, for they believed they would be soundly defeated.

Caleb and Joshua, however, offered a minority report. Outnumbered five to one, they nevertheless insisted that God would honor their efforts to take the land if they moved out in faith: “If the LORD is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!” (14:8-9).

Immediately the people spoke of stoning the two, but God intervened. Initially the Lord threatened to destroy His people with a plague and to make of Moses a mighty nation, but Moses pled for his fellow Israelites and asked God to forgive them. God did as Moses requested, but He stated that no one who had disrespected Him with fear and a lack of faith would ever enter the promised land. God declared, “Your corpses will fall in this wilderness—all of you who were registered in the census, the entire number of you 20 years old or more—because you have complained about Me. I swear that none of you will enter the land I promised to settle you in, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. I will bring your children whom you said would become plunder into the land you rejected, and they will enjoy it. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds in the wilderness for 40 years and bear the penalty for your acts of unfaithfulness until all your corpses lie scattered in the wilderness. You will bear the consequences of your sins 40 years based on the number of the 40 days you scouted the land, a year for each day. You will know My displeasure. I, Yahweh, have spoken. I swear that I will do this to the entire evil community that has conspired against Me. They will come to an end in the wilderness, and there they will die” (vv. 29-35).

Thus, God plus two (or even just one) makes a majority! In Numbers 26:63-65 and 32:12 (see vv. 1-38 for the entire context), the Bible reiterates that because of their faithfulness, Caleb and Joshua were spared the punishment placed on the rest of the community.


Copyright © 2016 B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Image: “The Spies with the Grapes of the Promised Land” by Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665).