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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 13

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-25

The sending of the 12 spies into Canaan 13:1-25

When the people arrived at Kadesh the Lord told them to go up and take possession of the land He had promised them (Deuteronomy 1:19-21). Kadesh stood in the Desert of Zin, which was a section of the great Paran wilderness. The people asked Moses if they could send spies ahead of them. They did so, "that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up, and the cities which we shall enter" (Deuteronomy 1:22). Moses allowed this (Deuteronomy 1:23) with God’s permission (Numbers 13:2). Clearly the Israelites were not rebelling against God by sending the spies, but neither were they stepping forward in bold obedience with strong confidence in God, as they should have done. Why did God not lead Moses to record here (Numbers 13:1-3) the fact that the sending of the spies was the people’s idea (Deuteronomy 1:22)? The reason may be that this was not the sin that resulted in God’s postponement of their entrance into Canaan. Their reaction to the spies’ report caused that result. The mission of the spies had some genuine value to the Israelites (Numbers 13:18-20), but it also opened the possibility of fear and failure to obey God.

Verses 1-33

The failure of the first generation chs. 13-14

The events recorded in chapters 13 and 14 took place while Israel was at Kadesh.

Verses 3-16

The men named as the spies were not the same as the tribal princes (conveners; Numbers 1:5-15; Numbers 7:12; et al.). Their personal qualifications for this mission may have been the basis for their selection.

"The name [Joshua, Numbers 13:16] describes a special role that Moses wished Joshua to have when he renamed him in Numbers 13:16. Joshua’s earlier name, Hoshea, simply means ’he has saved’. In the name Hoshea, the person or god who saves is not made clear. Moses specified the LORD as the source of salvation by renaming Joshua." [Note: Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 17.]

Verses 17-20

The Negev (lit. south) was the arid area of land to the south of Canaan that formed a transition between the desert to the south and the cultivated fields of Canaan to the north. Rainfall averages 8-12 inches per year in the Negev making it semi-arid. The hill country (Numbers 13:17) refers to the more mountainous sections of Canaan generally here. Later Moses used the term more specifically of part of the territory God gave the tribes of Ephraim and Judah. The time of first-ripe grapes (Numbers 13:20) would have been late July or early August.

Verses 21-25

The spies surveyed a very large area. Lebo-hamath (Numbers 13:21) stood about 50 miles north of Damascus, 100 miles north of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee). [Note: Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, pp. 72-73.]

The Anakites (Numbers 13:22) were a tribe of very tall people who lived in Canaan (Numbers 13:33).

Hebron was a large fortified town. Moses gave it special emphasis here because it was near Hebron that God had promised to give Abraham the land (Genesis 13:14-18). From there Abraham had set out to defeat a coalition of kings (Genesis 14:13). The only piece of real estate Abraham possessed in Canaan was in Hebron, and there he and the other patriarchs lay buried. The spies, of course, knew these historical facts, and memories of these patriarchal events should have strengthened their faith in Yahweh as they passed through Hebron.

Zoan (Numbers 13:22) is another name for Tanis, the capital city of Egypt from which the Israelites had come. [Note: See N. Na’aman, "’Hebron Was Built Seven Years before Zoan in Egypt’ (Numbers xiii 22)," Vetus Testamentum 31:4 (1981):488-92.]

The valley of Eshcol was apparently just north of Hebron on the way to Jerusalem. [Note: The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. "Eschol," by R. C. Ridall, 2:364.] The Hebrew word translated "Eshcol" refers to the stalk or stem of some fruit or flower. From this it came to mean a whole bunch or "cluster" (of grapes). A huge cluster of grapes carried on a pole between two men has long been a symbol of the land of Israel. This figure illustrates the great agricultural productivity of the land. It still is a popular symbol of modern Israel today and is the logo of Israel’s Department of Tourism.

Verses 26-33

The report of the spies 13:26-33

The spies reported that the land was indeed as fruitful as they had heard (Numbers 13:27), "nevertheless . . ." (Numbers 13:28). Everything the spies said from this word on was uncalled for. [Note: See J. A. Beck, "Geography and the Narrative Shape of Numbers 13," Bibliotheca Sacra 157:627 (July-September 2000):271-80.] Their commission had been to view the land and to report back on what they saw. It was not their job to determine if the Israelites could overcome the Canaanites. God had promised that He would give the land to His people.

It was the people and cities in Canaan that discouraged the spies (Numbers 13:28). These Hittites (Numbers 13:29) were probably one of the native tribes in Canaan, not the great Anatolian Hittites (cf. Joshua 1:4; Judges 1:26; 2 Samuel 11:3). As they had despised God’s provisions and plans (chs. 11-12), the 10 spies now disbelieved God’s promises that He would give the land and its people into their hands. They reckoned only on their own natural ability and failed to rely on God’s supernatural ability (Numbers 13:31).

They described the tall Anakites as Nephilim (Numbers 13:33).

The Nephilim were, "the demi-gods who lived on the earth before the flood (Genesis 6:4)." [Note: G. Wenham, p. 120.]

The word "Nephilim" means strong ones or tyrants, not people of gigantic stature, though it came to imply superhuman giants. The spies concluded that the Anakites were relatives of the Nephilim.

"The use of the term Nephilim seems to be deliberately provocative of fear, a term not unlike the concept of bogeymen and hobgoblins." [Note: Allen, p. 812.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/numbers-13.html. 2012.
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