We have been following the descendants of Jacob on their journey out of Egypt to the Promised Land. They left Egypt by crossing the Red Sea and traveled across the wilderness to Mt. Sinai. They stayed at Mt. Sinai 11 months and 5 days as God gave the law. Moses went up and down the mountain several times meeting with God. From Mt. Sinai, they traveled toward the Promised Land and camped at a place called Kadesh Barnea. (Numbers 32:8)
It has been quite an adventure. The people have seen the presence of God in an unprecedented way. The miracles they have seen are incredible. For example, they saw Egypt devastated with plagues. They saw the waters of the Red Sea part before them. They saw water come out of a rock. They saw bread from heaven every morning and flocks of quail every evening. They saw the mountain shake and felt the earth tremble. On top of all of this, there was the pillar of fire that stood in the camp day and night. These people were living daily with the presence of God in their camp.
It has been an adventure in another way as well. At every step along the way, the people have rebelled, resisted and complained. They sound like a broken record, repeating the same thing over and over. They complained about Moses and blamed him for taking them out of Egypt. Along the way they said, “Is the LORD here with us or not?” (Exodus 17:7[i]) In view of His presence and His miracles, this was especially offensive to God.
At the beginning of Numbers 13, when at the Lord’s command Moses sent out twelve men to spy on the land of Canaan, it had been two years since the people left Egypt. They traveled two years to this point, and experienced the mighty hand of the Lord. Moreover, Moses sent out men who were leaders of their tribes. These experienced leaders spent 40 days traveling through the land of Canaan gathering information. They all saw the same things.
First, they saw the abundance of the land. They picked a cluster of grapes so large it took two men to carry it. I have never seen anything like this, and could not find anything comparable in Google images. In addition, they brought back samples of pomegranates and figs. Here is what they said, “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Numbers 13:27)
Second, they saw the cities of the land. They said, “Their towns are large and fortified.” (Numbers 13:28)
Third they saw the people of the land. Their report on their findings included, “But the people living there are powerful. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!” (Numbers 13:28)
All 12 spies report these three things. They all saw the same things. However, they reached two different conclusions.
These men were all leaders of their tribes. There were twelve tribes. For this reason there were twelve spies. Each tribe originated from one of the sons of Jacob, and each tribe was named for the son it was descended from. The tribe of Reuben was named after Jacob’s son Reuben and was made up of those descended from Reuben. The spy or leader from the tribe of Reuben was Shammua son of Zaccur as we are told in Numbers 13:4. Given that these men were leaders of their tribes, it is only natural that they should go beyond reporting their findings and give their opinions about those findings. Thus, the conclusions they reached are reported. Furthermore, it was for this reason the conclusions they reached were so influential.
First, Caleb son of Jephunneh of the tribe of Judah gave his conclusion. Joshua son of Nun of the tribe of Ephraim was in agreement. They said, “Let’s go at once to take the land. We can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30)
However, the other 10 leaders who had explored the land disagreed. They said:
We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are! The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too! (Numbers 13:31-33)
These 12 men all saw the same things and yet arrived at opposite conclusions. If we go with the majority view, then it would seem that this thing is impossible since 10 out of 12 said, “It can’t be done.” Why did the majority arrive at such a conclusion? Why did they seem like grasshoppers in their own eyes?
There are two things that will help us understand. First, we will understand their thinking if we look at their complaint. In addition, we will further understand their thinking if we look at God’s judgment.
First, let us look at their complaint. Numbers 14:2-5 tells us about the people’s complaint. It says:
2Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. 3“Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”
When we look at this in order to understand the conclusion they reached in their report on the land, we see that this complaint is very similar to the complaint they had each time they encountered difficulty. It is the same complaint they have made over and over. Their two years of experience have not changed their attitude. Attitude is the issue. The challenges changed. However, the response and attitude did not.
God’s judgment on their attitude also helps us to understand. God says, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11) We see two things in this. One of these things is their stubborn refusal to believe God. They had every reason to believe God, but they refused. In addition, a second thing we see is their contempt for God. Although God provided everything they needed and proved continually that He had their best interest at heart, it was not what they wanted. They wanted to go back to Egypt. Egypt was wealthy. Egypt had spicy, delicious food instead of Manna and camp food. Egypt had houses and beds instead of tents. Egypt was known instead of unknown. 1 Corinthians 10:6 tells us that they craved evil things.
From their complaint and God’s judgment, we understand that the conclusion of the 10 spies was arrived at based on their attitude. In addition, we understand that their attitude was shaped primarily by what they desired.
This is true of us as well. Our conclusions are based on our attitudes and our attitudes are shaped primarily by what we desire.
Let’s consider the conclusion reached by Caleb and Joshua. They started with the same information. They saw the same thing. However, they reached the opposite conclusion. They said, “Let’s go at once to take the land. We can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30)
When the people complained and started talking about going back to Egypt, Joshua and Caleb defended their conclusion. In their defense and in God’s judgment, we understand the difference in attitude that brought the different conclusion.
First, Let’s consider their defense. They said:
The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! 8And if the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. 9Do not rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:7-9)
In their defense, Joshua and Caleb focus on the Lord and what the Lord would do. They had spiritual eyes with which to see the truth of the situation. Therefore, their conclusion was completely different. We understand then that their attitude was informed or shaped by their faith in God. Where the others refused to believe God, they accepted the evidence of God’s presence and leading and believed that God was at work.
In addition to the understanding we gain from their defense, we also gain understanding by God’s judgment. God says of Caleb, “My servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored.” (Numbers 14:24) This is God’s judgment of the attitude of Caleb and Joshua that led to their different conclusion. Where the NLT has translated the statement as, “He has remained loyal to me,” other translations have rendered it, “He has followed me fully.” Here, like the case of the ten, the issue is primarily the desires of the heart. In contrast to those who desired the things of Egypt, Caleb and Joshua desired the things of God.
We understand then, that it was the desires that shaped the attitudes that determined what they concluded from what they saw.
This could change your life. Do you seem to be a grasshopper in your own eyes? What is your response to the challenges that face you?
My default response is “Oh no, I am going to die!” It really does not matter the challenge. The water pipe breaks. “Oh no, I am going to die!” The car blows an engine. “Oh no, I am going to die!” You name it. “Oh no, I am going to die!” Whenever I revert to the default response, I have to check my desires. What is my heart set on?
Do you know what the Bible says? It says, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
The people who died in the desert because of their unbelief asked the wrong question. The question is never, “Can I do this?” The question is, “What does God want me to do?”
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.