|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
13:1-20 A memorable and melancholy history is related in this and the following chapter, of the turning back of Israel from the borders of Canaan, and the sentencing them to wander and perish in the wilderness, for their unbelief and murmuring. It appears, De 1:22, that the motion to search out the land came from the people. They had a better opinion of their own policy than of God's wisdom. Thus we ruin ourselves by believing the reports and representations of sense rather than Divine revelation. We walk by sight not by faith. Moses gave the spies this charge, Be of good courage. It was not only a great undertaking they were put upon, which required good management and resolution; but a great trust was reposed in them, which required that they should be faithful. Courage in such circumstances can only spring from strong faith, which Caleb and Joshua alone possessed.
Verse 2. - Send thou men, that they may search the land. If this account of the mission of the spies be compared with that given in Deuteronomy 1:20-25, it may be seen in a striking instance how entirely different a colour may be put upon the same circumstances by two inspired narratives. No one indeed will affirm that the two records are contradictory, or even inconsistent, and yet they leave an entirely different impression upon the mind; and no doubt were intended to. It is important to note that the Divine inspiration did not in the least prevent two sacred authors (cf. 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1), or even the same author at different times, from placing on record very distinct and even strongly contrasted aspects of the same facts, according to the point of view from which he was led to regard them. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses reminds the people that on their arrival at Kadesh he had bidden them go up and take possession; that they had then proposed to send men before them to examine the land; that the proposal had pleased him so well that he had adopted it and acted upon it. It is unquestionably strange that facts so material should have been omitted in the historical Book of Numbers. It is, however, to be considered -
1. That there is no contradiction between the two accounts. We may be certain from many a recorded example that Moses would not have acted on the popular suggestion without referring the matter to the Lord, and that it would be the Divine command (when given) which would really weigh with him.
2. That the recital in Deuteronomy is distinctly ad populum, and that therefore their part in the whole transaction is as strongly emphasized as is consistent with the truth of the facts.
3. That the narrative of Numbers is fragmentary, and does not profess to give a full account of matters, especially in such particulars as do not directly concern the Divine government and guidance of Israel. It is not, therefore, a serious difficulty that the record only begins here at the point when God adopted as his own what had been the demand of the people. If we ask why he so adopted it, the probable answer is that he knew what secret disaffection prompted it, and to what open rebellion it would lead. It was better that such disaffection should be allowed to ripen into rebellion before they entered their promised land. Miserable as the desert wandering might be, it was yet a discipline which prepared the nation for better things; whereas the invasion of Canaan without strong faith, courage, and self-restraint (such as they showed under Joshua) could but have ended in national disaster and destruction. Of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man. This was not part of the original proposition (Deuteronomy 1:22), but was agreeable to the general practice in matters of national concern, and was no doubt commanded in order that the whole people might share in the interest and responsibility of this survey. Every one a ruler among them. This does not mean that they were to be the tribe princes (as the names show), for they would not be suitable in respect of age, nor could they be spared for this service. They were "heads of the children of Israel" (verse 3), i.e., men of position and repute, but also no doubt comparatively young and active, as befitted a toilsome and hazardous excursion.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Send thou men,.... Which is rather a permission than a command; so Jarchi interprets it,"send men according to thy mind, I do not command thee, but if thou pleasest send;''this he observed was agreeable to Moses, and to the Israelites, and therefore granted it, or allowed them to take their own way, and which issued badly, as it always does, when men are left to their own counsel:
that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel; called the land of Canaan, though it consisted of seven nations, from the principal of them; this God had given in promise to the children of Israel, and had now brought them to the borders of it; nay, had given them orders to go up and possess it; but they were for searching it first, to know what sort of a land it was, and which was the best way of entering into it, which is here permitted them, see Deuteronomy 1:21,
of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man; excepting the tribe of Levi; the reason of which was because they were to have no inheritance in the land, Deuteronomy 10:9; but then, to make up the number twelve, the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, are reckoned as two tribes:
everyone a ruler among them; a prince in his tribe; so were men of honour and credit, of power and authority, of prudence and probity, and who might be trusted with such an affair, and their report believed: they were not indeed princes of the highest rank, not the same that assisted in taking the numbers of the people, who were captains over their several tribes, as in Numbers 1:4, &c. but were inferior princes and rulers, perhaps rulers of thousands.
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