SPIES IN THE PROMISED LAND
Proverbs 3:5, ESV
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
NUMBERS 13:1-3, 17-20, NIrV
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to check out the land of Canaan. I am giving it to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of Israel’s tribes.”
3 So Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. He sent them as the Lord had commanded. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.
17 Moses sent the 12 men to check out Canaan. He said, “Go up through the Negev Desert. Go on into the central hill country. 18 See what the land is like. See whether the people who live there are strong or weak. See whether they are few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Do the towns have high walls around them or not? 20 How is the soil? Is it rich land or poor land? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” It was the season for the first ripe grapes.
Hundreds of years had passed since God appeared to Abraham, the first father of the Israelites. Way back then, God made two promises: to grow the old man’s tiny family into an uncountably large nation and to give his family a great land to live in. 650 years later, it was clear God had kept his first promise. Abraham’s family had exploded to more than a million people! Now it was finally time for God’s promised people to move into their promised land. But before those million men, women, and kids moved into their new home, God wanted twelve of them to sneak in and spy it out!
+ Read vs. 17-20. What three questions did Moses want the spies to answer?
NUMBERS 13:21-24, NIrV
21 So the men went up and checked out the land. They went from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob. It was in the direction of Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev Desert and came to Hebron. That’s where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai lived. They belonged to the family line of Anak. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan. Zoan was a city in Egypt. 23 The men came to the Valley of Eshkol. There they cut off a branch that had a single bunch of grapes on it. Two of them carried it on a pole between them. They carried some pomegranates and figs along with it. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol. That’s because the men of Israel cut off a bunch of grapes there.
The job of a spy is easy to understand, but not so easy to do. You need to sneak around and see everything without anyone seeing you! And if you get caught, you’re a goner! For forty days, twelve Israelite spies traveled all over Canaan, the land God promised to give them. They did their best to stay hidden. Sneaking from city to city for that month and a half, the spies walked over 200 miles. Along the way, they took a good look at how crops and plants grew in Canaan’s soil. And whenever they came near a city, they secretly took note of how strong its people and walls were.
+ What did the twelve spies carry back from the promised land? (vs. 23)
+ Verse 22 says they went to Hebron. Read Genesis 13:18. Who used to live in Hebron?
NUMBERS 13:25-33, NIrV
25 At the end of 40 days, the men returned from checking out the land.
26 The men came back to Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel. The people were at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There the men reported to Moses and Aaron and all the people. They showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses their report. They said, “We went into the land you sent us to. It really does have plenty of milk and honey! Here’s some fruit from the land. 28 But the people who live there are powerful. Their cities have high walls around them and are very large. We even saw members of the family line of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev Desert. The Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the central hill country. The Canaanites live near the Mediterranean Sea. They also live along the Jordan River.”
30 Then Caleb interrupted the men speaking to Moses. He said, “We should go up and take the land. We can certainly do it.”
31 But the men who had gone up with him spoke. They said, “We can’t attack those people. They are stronger than we are.” 32 The men spread a bad report about the land among the Israelites. They said, “The land we checked out destroys those who live in it. All the people we saw there are very big and tall. 33 We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes. And that’s also how we seemed to them.” The family line of Anak came from the Nephilim.
The spies were sent to answer two questions: “What is the land like?” and “What are the people like?” After 40 days of sneaking, the spies returned with answers to both questions. The land was so good, it was “flowing with milk and honey.” That’s like saying, “The land is filled with ice cream and candy!” But the good land of Canaan was swarming with big, bad people! When Caleb said, “We can surely conquer the land!”, ten of the other spies said, “No way! They’ll squash us like bugs!” These fearful spies had totally forgotten that the same God who parted the Red Sea would fight for them.
+ Why do you think Caleb was so confident they could conquer the land? (vs. 30)
+ What did the ten spies go and tell the people of Israel? (vs. 32-33)
NUMBERS 14:1-10, NIRV
1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices. They wept out loud. 2 The Israelites spoke against Moses and Aaron. The whole community said to them, “We wish we had died in Egypt or even in this desert. 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land? We’re going to be killed by swords. Our enemies will capture our wives and children. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 They said to one another, “We should choose another leader. We should go back to Egypt.”
5 Then Moses and Aaron fell with their faces to the ground. They did it in front of the whole community of Israel gathered there. 6 Joshua, the son of Nun, tore his clothes. So did Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. Joshua and Caleb were two of the men who had checked out the land. 7 They spoke to the whole community of Israel. They said, “We passed through the land and checked it out. It’s very good. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he’ll lead us into that land. It’s a land that has plenty of milk and honey. He’ll give it to us. 9 But don’t refuse to obey him. And don’t be afraid of the people of the land. We will swallow them up. The Lord is with us. So nothing can save them. Don’t be afraid of them.”
10 But all the people talked about killing Joshua and Caleb by throwing stones at them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting. All the Israelites saw it.
Think about all the amazing things the Israelites had seen the Lord God do. He demolished Egypt with powerful plagues. He split the Red Sea in two. He fed them manna bread from heaven and brought water out of a rock. And when he met them on Mount Sinai, all his rumbling and thundering and smoke and fire made the people too scared to listen to him speak for a single second! But instead of trusting in their mountain-shaking God to help them conquer the promised land, they came up with their own foolish plan: "Let's kill Moses, pick a new leader, and head back to Egypt!"
+ Who were the two spies who believed God would win the battle? (vs. 6-9)
+ As the people came to kill Moses with stones, what happened to stop them? (vs. 10)
NUMBERS 14:11-19, NIRV
11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people not respect me? How long will they refuse to believe in me? They refuse even though I have done many signs among them. 12 So I will strike them down with a plague. I will destroy them. But I will make you into a greater and stronger nation than they are.”
13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it. You used your power to bring these people up from among them. 14 And the Egyptians will tell the people who live in Canaan about it. Lord, they have already heard a lot about you. They’ve heard that you are with these people. They’ve heard that you have been seen face to face. They’ve been told that your cloud stays over them. They’ve heard that you go in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day. They’ve been told that you go in front of them in a pillar of fire at night. 15 Suppose you put all these people to death and leave none alive. Then the nations who have heard these things about you will talk. They’ll say, 16 ‘The Lord promised to give these people the land of Canaan. But he wasn’t able to bring them into it. So he killed them in the desert.’
17 “Now, Lord, show your strength. You have said, 18 ‘I am the Lord. I am slow to get angry. I am full of love. I forgive those who sin. I forgive those who refuse to obey. But I do not let guilty people go without punishing them. I cause the sin of the parents to affect their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.’ 19 Lord, your love is great. So forgive the sin of these people. Forgive them just as you have done from the time they left Egypt until now.”
If these verses made you think, “Haven’t I read this before?”, you’re kind of right! As the people prepared to kill their leader, God spoke to Moses. And their conversation was almost an exact copy of the one they had after the Israelites worshiped a golden calf statue. Both times, God was angry with his people. He was ready to wipe them all out and start over with Moses. And both times, Moses was a man caught in the middle, between his good God and his sinful people. Moses begged, “You’re a God who’s slow to anger and overflowing with love. Prove it by forgiving my stubborn people!”
+ What did Moses think the other nations would say if God destroyed his people? (vs. 15-16)
+ What did Moses say about God? (vs. 18)
NUMBERS 14:20-34, NIRV
20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, just as you asked. 21 You can be sure that I live. You can be just as sure that my glory fills the whole earth. 22 And here is what you can be just as sure of. Not one of these people will see the land I promised to give them. They have seen my glory. They have seen the signs I did in Egypt. And they have seen what I did in the desert. But they did not obey me. And they have tested me ten times. 23 So not even one of them will ever see the land I promised to give to their people of long ago. The person who has not respected me will never see it. 24 But my servant Caleb has a different spirit. He follows me with his whole heart. So I will bring him into the land he went to. And his children after him will receive land there. 25 The Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys. So turn back tomorrow. Start out toward the desert. Go along the way that leads to the Red Sea.”
26 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 27 “How long will this evil community speak against me? I have heard these Israelites talk about how unhappy they are. 28 So tell them, ‘Here is what I am announcing. I am the Lord. You can be sure that I live. And here is what you can be just as sure of. I will do to you the very thing that I heard you say. 29 You will die in this desert. Every one of you 20 years old or more will die. Every one of you who was counted in the list of the people will die. Every one of you who has spoken out against me will be wiped out. 30 I lifted up my hand and promised to make this land your home. But now not all of you will enter the land. Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, will enter it. So will Joshua, the son of Nun. They are the only ones who will enter the land. 31 You have said that your enemies would capture your children. But I will bring your children in to enjoy the land you have turned your backs on. 32 As for you, you will die in the desert. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for 40 years. They will suffer because you were not faithful. They will suffer until the last of your bodies lies here in the desert. 34 For 40 years you will suffer for your sins. That is one year for each of the 40 days you checked out the land. You will know what it is like to have me against you.’
Moses' own people wanted to kill him with stones. Despite that, he still begged for God to forgive them. And after Moses stood in the middle for them, God forgave the Israelites. No longer did they need to worry about being wiped off the face of the planet. However, their refusal to trust in the Lord God still cost them big time!
God sent Moses to break the bad news to the Israelites. Only Joshua and Caleb would be allowed to enter the land God promised to give to them. Anyone twenty years and older would instead roam around in the desert for 40 years. This was one year for every day the spies were in Canaan. During those thousands and thousands of days of wandering in the wilderness, all of them would grow old and die. Only after every single one of them had dropped dead would their children finally enter the land.
Why did God give them such a harsh punishment? He tells us right there in verse 22. Those who cried, “Let’s kill Moses, pick a new leader, and return to Egypt!” were the same people who had lived through his wonders. They had seen plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, dead animals, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. They experienced the night of the Passover. They walked on dry ground through the center of the Red Sea. They ate bread from heaven, drank water from a rock, and shuddered at the sight of God’s power on Mount Sinai.
If those people didn’t trust that God had the power to save them, even after seeing all those wonders, they were never going to trust him! And because they didn’t trust in him, they missed out on enjoying the goodness of the promised land.
You and I were born about 3,500 years too late to see God’s wonders in Egypt, but we can read about them all in the pages of the Bible. In fact, we know even more about God’s power to save than they did. Why? Because we have the entire Bible (and they didn’t). We can read the stories of Jericho, David and Goliath, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and many more. Every one of these bits of history is more evidence that our God has the power to save us from any danger!
Best of all, we have the greatest story of all: the story of God’s Son Jesus. We know about his miracles, how he died on a cross to pay for our sins, and how he raised himself back to life on the third day! Like the people of Israel, it would be crazy to not trust that the water-walking, storm-stopping, rising-from-the-dead Jesus can save us!
The Israelites didn’t trust that their powerful God could defeat the enemies that stood in their way. And because of that, they missed out on enjoying the promised land. But there’s good news for us. If we trust that Jesus has defeated our enemy of sin, we can spend forever in the promised land of God’s good kingdom!
+ Why were Joshua and Caleb still allowed to enter the promised land? (vs. 30)
+ For those of us who trust in Jesus to save us, what is our “promised land”?