Why Was It Wrong For The Spies In Numbers 13 To Give A Bad Report? Weren’t They Told To Go Check It Out? Weren’t They Just Being Truthful?
There are two accounts of the spies sent into the Land of Canaan, one in Numbers 13 and the other in Deuteronomy 1:19ff. It is important to read both accounts if one is to have a complete picture of what happened, because the two accounts are complementary. Numbers 13 begins with Yahweh telling Moses to send some men into Canaan to reconnoiter. If we read only this narrative, we might suspect that the initiative for the spying mission was a neutral one and only from God.
Deuteronomy, however, offers some very important information. Before the spy mission was ever ordered, Yahweh had told the Israelites that he already had given them the land. They were simply to “go up and take possession of it as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” It was in response to this direct command from God that the people of Israel suggested the spy mission, asking Moses to organize some men to go in and bring back a report about the route, the cities and so forth. Hence, when the Book of Numbers says that Yahweh told Moses to send in the twelve spies, this was a concession to the people, who already had asked that they might send in an advance spying party. The initiative lay primarily with the people, not God. Further, the people’s request for this mission seems to imply that while they knew what God had promised, they had doubts, or why else send in spies? Their request for the spy mission was in itself an indication of their unbelief and rebellion.
Given their doubts, it is not too surprising that the spies returned with a mixed report, ten of them very negative about the prospect of invasion, and Joshua and Caleb very positive. The response of the people was to grumble against Moses, blaming him for their predicament, and threatening to stone him. Further, the bad report of the ten was at least an exaggeration: “we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” and “they have walls up to skies!”
Afterwards, the response of the people in opposition to God’s direct promise was held up as rebellion. Yahweh said, “How long will this wicked community grumble against me?” God sentenced them to forty years in the desert for their disobedience, a year for each of the forty days the spies had reconnoitered the land. God’s final summation was blunt: “This wicked community has banded together against me!” In the end, the spy mission was not a neutral event. From the very beginning it was prompted by doubt and unbelief in God’s promises. This is why in the New Testament it says, “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert” (He. 3:16-19). In the end, the issue was not about fair reporting but about a direct denial of God’s promises.
Pastor Dan LewisAugust 1, 2013