Understanding the Old Testament

Spying on Canaan

All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

When the Israelites left Mount Sinai early in the second year after the Exodus from Egypt, they again failed several tests of faith.

First, at Taberah, they complained of “adversity,” and the Lord sent fire to burn part of their camp. (Numbers 11:1-3)

Then they came to Kibroth-hattaavah and complained about the lack of variety in their diet: “There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6) Never mind that "this manna" had kept them alive for more than a year. So the Lord sent them thirty days of quail—and a plague as punishment for their constant griping and ingratitude. (Numbers 11:18-20, 31-33)

The Israelites arrived at Kadesh-barnea, and Moses sent twelve men—one from each of the tribes other than Levi—to explore the land of Canaan to the north. He directed them to report back on the nature of the land, the cities, and the people. (Numbers 13:1-20) Forty days later, the spies brought a mixed report: the land was indeed beautiful and fertile, but the cities were walled and well defended, and the people tall and powerful. (Numbers 13:25-29)

Of the twelve men, only two—Joshua and Caleb—expressed confidence in God’s ability to bring them victory. (Numbers 13:30 and 14:6-9). So the Israelites sided with the ten who forecast gloom and doom, and thus again failed a test of faith. They threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb for their optimism. (Numbers 14:1-4 and 14:10)

The Lord must have decided at this point that the generation of Israelites who had followed Moses out of Egypt was hopeless. They would never have the kind of faith that He required. So the Lord delayed the entry into Canaan for forty years, until that generation—everyone age twenty and above—had died out. (Numbers 14:26-35)

Then that generation failed yet again. Instead of accepting and obeying the word of the Lord, they attempted to invade Canaan anyway, without the Lord’s blessing or approval—and were of course soundly defeated. (Numbers 14:40-45)

Questions to ponder or discuss: After hearing the Lord’s rebuke for their lack of faith in the matter of the spies, the Israelites apparently repented—see Numbers 14:39-40. Why do you think the Lord did not accept their change of heart and allow them to enter Canaan? How does Numbers 14:22 affect your answer?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson

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