Why Were 12 Spies Sent to Canaan?

Numbers 13:25-33 & Numbers 14:1-9 illustrate the power of perspective. On another occasion we will mine some of the many nuggets in the passage, but for now, let us examine the foundation of the entire exercise. Why were spies sent to explore the land?  Whose idea was it, and what was the motivation?

Read Numbers 13:1-3, and it will appear that God directed Moses to send spies to explore the land. But read Deuteronomy 1:22-23 and it will appear that it was from the people that the idea originated. Both are true, and it would not be uncommon for an idea to come from a person, and then for God to agree or disagree with it. He agreed with Jethro’s idea to have Moses appoint Judges among the people to help in their overall management.  But God disagreed with the idea of the Israelites to appoint a King over them (1 Samuel 8:7). But relevant, to our present issue, note that even when God disagreed with the appointment of a King, He presided over the process, as He did in the case of the spies. The sequence of events and the logics involved clearly indicate that the idea originated with the people, who took it to Moses, who then took it to God and subsequently received a command to proceed as requested. But if we dig just a little deeper, we discover the pivotal problem which was the motivation for the request in the first place.

In Deuteronomy 1:20-21, Moses announces to the people that it is occupation time. At this stage, there is every reason to believe that they were still being guided by the Cloud in which the presence of God resided, and in which a fire was visible by night (Exodus 40:38).  This means that apart from the incidents of God’s guidance and protection in crossing the Red Sea, sourcing water in the middle of a dry desert, manna to eat that was provided by providence, and quails to rot in their mouth as punishment, God was visibly guiding them throughout their journey. Moses had earlier made the on-going guidance of God a condition for moving forward, and refused to move when God in His anger threatened to send His angel, but to withhold His presence from them after Aaron led the people into the idolatrous worship of the Golden Calf.  The response of the people should have been like anxious little children on the night before Christmas who cannot wait to open their gifts under the Christmas tree – a tradition which you may or may not support.

It is against this background that we must now read Deuteronomy 1:22. This is not a strategic military reconnaissance, as in Joshua 2:1. There is nothing aggressively distrusting in the recommendation, and even Moses agreed with them, but not with the same motivation. In their recommendation were the seeds of doubt about God’s ability to lead them in the Promised Land, despite the fact that He had lead them to the Land He promised them.  Notice Moses’ summation of the results of the spy mission, despite the people’s decision to be influenced by the negative perspective of the majority of the spies.   – “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us!” (Deuteronomy 1:25).

God requires child-like faith from us to serve Him, but we are free to use our intellect and God encourages us to do so. We are welcome to reason, and think, and evaluate and investigate. But let us always remember to interpret all our findings in the context of God’s overarching provision, protection, direction and love for us, His chosen people.

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