Numbers 13:1

I. THE ORIGIN OF THE MISSION. We know from Deuteronomy 1:22 that this commandment of God followed on a resolution of the people. It was their wish that spies should go forth and tell them something of the way beforehand. And even Moses fell in with them. It would seem an easier thing to be meek than to take no thought for the morrow. Even Moses the servant of God must be taking up to-morrow's burdens before the time. How much better it would have been patiently and trustfully to wait upon the cloud and the trumpets! (Numbers 9:15-23; Numbers 10:1-10). But since the people's hearts are so, God sends the spies. The unfitness of Israel for immediate entrance into the promised land was showing itself more and more, and God sent these searchers, that in their searching both they and the people they represented might also be searched. May we not as it were detect a tone of rebuke and remonstrance in the words, "which I will give unto the children of Israel"? The Israelites by demanding this mission were trying to guard themselves on a side that really needed no defense, while leaving' themselves more and more exposed to all the perils of an unbelieving mind.

II. THE MEN WHO WERE SENT. Whether by choice of Moses or the people we are not told, but probably there was much careful consultation on the matter, according to human wisdom. Doubtless they seemed the best men for the purpose; chosen for physical endurance, quickness of eye, tact in emergencies, and good judgment of the land and people. Yet some very important requisites were evidently not considered. Out of the twelve, only two were men of faith in God and deep convictions as to the destiny of Israel. A great deal depends on the sort of men we send in any enterprise for God. Believing and devout spirits can see prospects others cannot see, because they have resources which others have not. Perhaps in the whole nation there were not twelve men to be found of the right stamp in every particular, and even if they had been found, they might have failed in commanding popular confidence. We can easily imagine that Caleb and Joshua had not a very comfortable time with their colleagues, and that it was not a very easy matter to agree upon a report. But such as they were, they went forth. The people had come to depend on twelve limited minds like their own, each with its own way of looking at things, instead of on him who had already done such great things - the unchangeable One, the ample Providence, the sure Defense.

III. THE INFORMATION REQUIRED. Moses gives them their instructions (verses 17-20), and they come from a man who is acting rather in accordance with the wishes of the people than in strict harmony with previous revelations from God. Had not God said to Moses, or ever the chains of Egypt were loosed, that he would bring his people into the land of the Canaanites, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land promised in solemn covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when as yet they were strangers in it? (Exodus 3:17; Exodus 6:3, 4). It was the people who, in their unbelief and carnal anxiety, wanted something in the way of human testimony. Let them, therefore, indicate such details of inquiry as in their opinion were necessary. They were like a suspicious buyer, who, not content with the word of the person from whom he makes his purchase, though he be a man of tried integrity, hunts round for all sorts of independent testimony, even from those who may have very doubtful capacity as witnesses. "A land flowing with milk and honey, is it? See then if it be such a good land. See if the people appreciate its fertility by their cultivation of it. Observe the climate and the people themselves, if they be a strong, stalwart race, and numerous. Do they live peacefully among themselves, or in strongholds?" There was not a sentence in these instructions but threw some doubt on the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of Jehovah. When God sends out people to do such work as delights his heart, it is in a very different spirit; as he sent out the single stripling, unaccustomed to war, against the giant; as Jesus sent out the twelve on their gospel mission, encumbered with as few material resources as possible. The land to be searched was the ]and in which their honoured progenitors had lived; but there is no word to say, "Tell us of Bethel, and of the plain of Mature, and the cave of Machpelah in Hebron." And to crown all, the result shows that they took all this trouble and waited these forty days for useless information. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. - Y.

Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan.



1. The children of Israel were sent back to the wilderness on account of their sin.

2. While they are sent in judgment, they go back of their own accord.

3. Though the fruit of sin, and the token of God's righteous displeasure, all was overruled for their good.

4. Though chastened they are not cast off.

(1)They are Divinely delivered.

(2)They are Divinely sustained.

(3)They are Divinely guided.

(4)They are Divinely chastened.


1. Let young believers be not high-minded, but fear.

2. Let backsliders remember and weep.

3. Let tried and troubled saints take fresh courage.

(Islay Burns, D. D.)

I. THE ORIGIN OF THIS EXPEDITION (cf. Deuteronomy 1:20-25).

1. God had Himself declared to them the excellence of the land (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 33:3).

2. He had promised to guide them to the land (Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2, 14). Moreover, He was visibly present with them in the majestic pillar of cloud and fire.

3. He had promised to drive out the heathen nations and give them possession of the land (Exodus 23. 20-33; Deuteronomy 1:8).

4. He commanded them to "go up and possess" the land (Deuteronomy 1:8, 21).

5. Yet their answer was, "We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the laud," &c. (Deuteronomy 1:22). Clearly their duty was not to send men to search out the land, but trusting in God, to obey His voice and go and take possession of the land. God may allow us to carry out our unbelieving plans to our own confusion. If we will "lean unto our own understanding," He will let us take our way until we find what utter folly our fancied wisdom is.

II. THE AGENTS IN THIS EXPEDITION. "Of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them," &c. (vers. 2-16). Three points here require notice.

1. The wisdom of this arrangement.(1) in sending one man from each tribe. By this arrangement every tribe would have a witness of its own.(2) In sending a leading man from each tribe. They were approved men of influence, and therefore their testimony would be the more likely to be credited.

2. The scarcity of worthy leaders. We see here that a large proportion of even these leading men, these "rulers" and "heads of the children of Israel," were unworthy of the position which they occupied.

3. The diversity of human fame. The names of these twelve men have been handed down to the present time; but how different are the positions which they occupy! History perpetuates the memory of Nero as well as of St. Paul, of Judas Iscariot as well as of Jesus Christ. We are making our posthumous reputation now; let us take heed that it be of a worthy character.

III. THE AIMS OF THIS EXPEDITION. They were to report as to the condition of —

1. The land, whether it was fertile or barren, whether it was wooded or bare, &c.

2. The towns, whether they were walled and fortified or open and unprotected, &c.

3. The people, whether they were strong or weak, whether they were few or many, &c.


(W. Jones.)


1. One from each tribe. That each tribe, without preference or distinction, might be represented.

2. Each was a man of mark. "Every one a ruler." "Heads of the children of Israel." Men of judgment and discretion. This the more needful —

(1)Because the journey was perilous.

(2)Because the object was important. Men able to judge of the soil, and inhabitants.

3. They were chosen and sent by Moses. Their various characters prove the impartiality of Moses. He could doubtless have found in each tribe a man after his own heart. Probably he allowed the people of each tribe to have a voice in the matter.


1. They were to spy out the whole land. Not to give a report upon some few favourable or unfavourable aspects of it.

2. They were to observe the people, and note especially their numbers, character, habits, and strength.

3. They were to bring particulars of the dwellings of the people

; whether cities, tents, or otherwise. From this, their habits and power of resistance might be inferred.

4. They were carefully to examine the soil, whether fit for pasturage or tillage, whether it was fat or lean.

5. To confirm and illustrate what they might say of the soil, they were to bring of the fruit of the land.

6. They were to be fearless. God would have them in His keeping.


1. In the glorious summer-time, thus commissioned, they set out on their enterprise. Time when the country looked most beautiful.

2. They passed up through the whole country, from the south to the extreme north; even to Hamath.

3. Returning, they visited Hebron. Should not the remembrance of him who dwelt there (Abraham) have encouraged them to believe in their conquest of the country?

4. At a place afterwards called Eshcol (the place of grapes, or the cluster), they cut down a large bunch of grapes; and collecting also some figs and pomegranates, they returned with much information after forty days.


1. Things in which they agreed. Concerning the country, soil, fruit, people. They showed the fruit they had brought.

2. Things about which they differed. Their ability to conquer this wonderful country.

3. Effect of their representations.(1) Immediate. People discouraged and tumultuous (ver. 30; 14:1-5). They began to rebel. Were for returning to Egypt.(2) Ultimate. Delayed the stay in the desert, and the conquest of Canaan for many years.

4. Only Joshua and Caleb faithful; these were silenced and out-voted. Minorities have often been in the right. Reason: goodness and wisdom generally with the few.

(J. C. Gray.)

To us at this day the use may be twofold. First, to such as travel to see foreign countries, that they observe fit things in them, so make good use of their travel, not neglecting things profitable, and sucking up all venom, that the corruption of those places may yield, as too many do, to their own, not only temporal, but eternal woe, and to the poisoning of many others when they return. Secondly, to magistrates, ministers, and all of good disposition, it may be a pattern of care and endeavour, according to the places and power they have, to work liking in men of the true Canaan that shall endure for ever, and a daily disliking of the pleasures of Egypt, this transitory and sinful world, that bewitcheth so many to their endless woe and confusion.

(Bp. Babington.)

We have a heavenly Canaan, towards which we are journeying; and we are told by an oracle, even more sure than the Urim and Thummim, "There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God." This, then, being the case, can we do better than apply to ourselves the injunction in the text, and "search out the land" which is our promised abode? True it is, we cannot send men as the Jews did, for "who shall ascend into heaven, save the Son of God which came down from heaven?" The city which we seek is no fancy of the imagination. But shall we open the book of their record, and note what inspired lips have spoken concerning the New Jerusalem? Shall we tell you of the gates, each made of a single pearl, and the foundations of twelve manner of precious stones? When the gates of that city shall close upon the ransomed spirit, will it be on these things that the undying eye will be fixed, or rather upon the face of "Him who sitteth upon the throne," the triune Jehovah, the glorified Jesus? He who hath "washed us in His own blood, and made us kings and priests to God and to the Lamb," will be the supreme object of our admiration and worship. Such is the land towards which we are hastening — an inheritance not doubtful, but secured to us by two "immutable things, by which it is impossible for God to lie." And now, having heard this good report, shall we gird on our swords and prepare, as disciples of the Lord, to "fight the good fight of faith," and declare in the heart-stirring words of Caleb, "Let us go up and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it." Press forward, then; the voice of our Captain is cheering us onward — "Fear not, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Angels are rejoicing at our progress; and not only so, but fighting on our side; Satan and his apostate legions are fleeing before the triumphant cross. Shall we plead our terrors at the Anakim, while the sword of the Eternal is drawn on our behalf? Away with the thought; "though they hedge us in on every side, in the name of the Lord we will destroy them." Yet let us not go on this warfare "without counting the cost"; the enemies against whom we have to contend are giants indeed. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." These our foes are watchful as well as powerful; they are most malignant; they know our weak parts, and can tempt us most craftily; they are in league with the corruption of our own nature, and are often most dangerous when least suspected. Are we prepared, against such antagonists as these, not only to draw the sword, but to cast away the scabbard?

(H. Christmas, M. A.)

Moses called Oshea... Jehoshua.
Originally called Hoshea, or Salvation, this name was changed, when he led the spies, to Jehoshua, or The Lord is Salvation. And it has never ceased to seem significant to the Christian that this name of Joshua should have been that by which our Lord was called. In its Greek form, "Jesus," it was given to Him because He was to save His people from their sins. By His distinctive name among men He was linked to Joshua, and in the salvation He accomplishes for His people we are therefore led to expect the same leading characteristics as distinguished the salvation of Israel by Joshua.

1. We are, in the first place, reminded by this parallel that the help afforded to us in Christ is God's help, and this in a fuller sense than was true in Israel's case.

2. Again, we are reminded by this parallel, that as in the conquest of the land by Joshua, so in our salvation, is there a somewhat perplexing mixture of miracle and hard fighting. Sometimes the rivers that flow deep before us open at our approach, and we pass over dryshod. At other times we are allowed to fall into ambuscades. And just as the Israelites, when they found the Jordan open before them and the walls of Jericho fall down, supposed that the conquest of the land was to be completed without their drawing their swords, and were in consequence defeated before Ai, so are the great mass of those who enter the Christian life presuming that God will give them the land of uprightness, purity of heart, and holiness of life, with scarcely an effort on their part. And therefore, though there was miracle on the side of Israel, yet this rule was distinctly laid down as the rule by which the territory was allotted to the tribes, that each was to have what each could take, and hold against the enemy. This is the law of our acquisitions also. What becomes really ours is what we fight for inch by inch, killing as we go, slaughtering the obstinate foe on his own soil, so that the property be left to us uncontested. God's grant is useless to us if we will not draw the sword and conquer it, if we will not wield the axe and clear it. These two united form the strongest of titles, God's grant and our own conquest.

(Marcus Dods, . D. D.)

Numbers 13:1 NIV
Numbers 13:1 NLT
Numbers 13:1 ESV
Numbers 13:1 NASB
Numbers 13:1 KJV

Numbers 13:1 Bible Apps
Numbers 13:1 Parallel
Numbers 13:1 Biblia Paralela
Numbers 13:1 Chinese Bible
Numbers 13:1 French Bible
Numbers 13:1 German Bible

Numbers 13:1 Commentaries

Bible Hub
Numbers 12:16
Top of Page
Top of Page