15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Numbers 13

Spies Sent Out. Murmuring of the People, and Their Punishment - Numbers 13 and 14

When they had arrived at Kadesh, in the desert of Paran (Numbers 13:26), Moses sent out spies by the command of God, and according to the wishes of the people, to explore the way by which they could enter into Canaan, and also the nature of the land, of its cities, and of its population (Num 13:1-20). The men who were sent out passed through the land, from the south to the northern frontier, and on their return reported that the land was no doubt one of pre-eminent goodness, but that it was inhabited by a strong people, who had giants among them, and were in possession of very large fortified towns (Numbers 13:21-29); whereupon Caleb declared that it was quite possible to conquer it, whilst the others despaired of overcoming the Canaanites, and spread an evil report among the people concerning the land (Numbers 13:30-33). The congregation then raised a loud lamentation, and went so far in their murmuring against Moses and Aaron, as to speak without reserve or secrecy of deposing Moses, and returning to Egypt under another leader: they even wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb, who tried to calm the excited multitude, and urged them to trust in the Lord. But suddenly the glory of the Lord interposed with a special manifestation of judgment (Numbers 14:1-10). Jehovah made known to Moses His resolution to destroy the rebellious nation, but suffered Himself to be moved by the intercession of Moses so far as to promise that He would preserve the nation, though He would exclude the murmuring multitude from the promised land (Numbers 14:11-25). He then directed Moses and Aaron to proclaim to the people the following punishment for their repeated rebellion: that they should bear their iniquity for forty years in the wilderness; that the whole nation that had come out of Egypt should die there, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua; and that only their children should enter the promised land (Numbers 14:26-39). The people were shocked at this announcement, and resolved to force a way into Canaan; but, as Moses predicted, they were beaten by the Canaanites and Amalekites, and driven back to Hormah (Numbers 14:40-45).

These events form a grand turning-point in the history of Israel, in which the whole of the future history of the covenant nation is typically reflected. The constantly repeated unfaithfulness of the nation could not destroy the faithfulness of God, or alter His purposes of salvation. In wrath Jehovah remembered mercy; through judgment He carried out His plan of salvation, that all the world might know that no flesh was righteous before Him, and that the unbelief and unfaithfulness of men could not overturn the truth of God.

(Note: According to Knobel, the account of these events arose from two or three documents interwoven with one another in the following manner: Num 13:1-17a, Numbers 13:21, Numbers 13:25-26, Numbers 13:32, and Numbers 14:2, Numbers 14:5-7, Numbers 14:10, Numbers 14:36-38, was written by the Elohist, the remainder by the Jehovist, - Numbers 13:22-24, Numbers 13:27-31; Numbers 14:1, Numbers 14:11-25, Numbers 14:39-45, being taken from his first document, and Numbers 13:17-20; Numbers 14:2-4, Numbers 14:8-10, Numbers 14:26-33, Numbers 14:35, from his second; whilst, lastly, Numbers 13:33, and the commencement of Numbers 14:1, were added from his own resources, because it contains contradictory statements. “According to the Elohist,” says this critic, “the spies went through the whole land (Numbers 13:32; Numbers 14:7), and penetrated even to the north of the country (Numbers 13:21): they took forty days to this (Numbers 13:25; Numbers 14:34); they had among them Joshua, whose name was altered at that time (Joshua 13:16), and who behaved as bravely as Caleb (Numbers 13:8; Numbers 14:6, Numbers 14:38). According to the Jehovistic completion, the spies did not go through the whole land, but only entered into it (Numbers 13:27), merely going into the neighbourhood of Hebron, in the south country (Numbers 13:22-23); there they saw the gigantic Anakites (Numbers 13:22, Numbers 13:28, Numbers 13:33), cut off the large bunch of grapes in the valley of Eshcol (Numbers 13:23-24), and then came back to Moses. Caleb was the only one who showed himself courageous, and Joshua was not with them at all (Numbers 13:30; Numbers 14:24).” But these discrepancies do not exist in the biblical narrative; on the contrary, they have been introduced by the critic himself, by the forcible separation of passages from their context, and by arbitrary interpolations. The words of the spies in Numbers 13:27, “We came into the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey,” do not imply that they only came into the southern portion of the land, any more than the fact that they brought a bunch of grapes from the neighbourhood of Hebron is a proof that they did not go beyond the valley of Eshcol. Moreover, it is not stated in Numbers 13:30 that Joshua was not found among the tribes. Again, the circumstance that in Numbers 14:11-25 and Numbers 14:26-35 the same thing is said twice over-the special instructions as to the survey of the land in Numbers 13:17-20, which were quite unnecessary for intelligent leaders, - the swearing of God (Numbers 14:16, Numbers 14:21, Numbers 14:23), - the forced explanation of the name Eshcol, in Numbers 13:24, and other things of the same kind, - are said to furnish further proofs of the interpolation of Jehovistic clauses into the Elohistic narrative; and lastly, a number of the words employed are supposed to place this beyond all doubt. Of these proofs, however, the first rests upon a simple misinterpretation of the passage in question, and a disregard of the peculiarities of Hebrew history; whilst the rest are either subjective conclusions, dictated by the taste of vulgar rationalism, or inferences and assumptions, of which the tenability and force need first of all to be established.)

Verses 1-20

Numbers 13:1-17

Despatch of the Spies of Canaan. - Numbers 13:1. The command of Jehovah, to send out men to spy out the land of Canaan, was occasioned, according to the account given by Moses in Deuteronomy 1:22., by a proposal of the congregation, which pleased Moses, so that he laid the matter before the Lord, who then commanded him to send out for this purpose, “ of every tribe of their fathers a man, every one a ruler among them, i.e., none but men who were princes in their tribes, who held the prominent position of princes, i.e., distinguished persons of rank; or, as it is stated in Numbers 13:3, “ heads of the children of Israel, ” i.e., not the tribe-princes of the twelve tribes, but those men, out of the total number of the heads of the tribes and families of Israel, who were the most suitable for such a mission, though the selection was to be made in such a manner that every tribe should be represented by one of its own chiefs. That there were none of the twelve tribe-princes among them is apparent from a comparison of their names (Numbers 13:4-15) with the (totally different) names of the tribe-princes (Numbers 1:3., Numbers 7:12.). Caleb and Joshua are the only spies that are known. The order, in which the tribes are placed in the list of the names in Numbers 13:4-15, differs from that in Numbers 1:5-15 only in the fact that in Numbers 13:10 Zebulun is separated from the other sons of Leah, and in Numbers 13:11 Manasseh is separated from Ephraim. The expression “ of the tribe of Joseph, ” in Numbers 13:11, stands for “of the children of Joseph,” in Numbers 1:10; Numbers 34:23. At the close of the list it is still further stated, that Moses called Hoshea (i.e., help), the son of Nun, Jehoshua, contracted into Joshua (i.e., Jehovah-help, equivalent to, whose help is Jehovah). This statement does not present any such discrepancy, when compared with Exodus 17:9, Exodus 17:13; Exodus 24:13; Exodus 32:17; Exodus 33:11, and Numbers 11:28, where Joshua bears this name as the servant of Moses at a still earlier period, as to point to any diversity of authorship. As there is nothing of a genealogical character in any of these passages, so as to warrant us in expecting to find the family name of Joshua in them, the name Joshua, by which Hosea had become best known in history, could be used proleptically in them all. On the other hand, however, it is not distinctly stated in the verse before us, that this was the occasion on which Moses gave Hosea the new name of Joshua. As the Vav consec. frequently points out merely the order of thought, the words may be understood without hesitation in the following sense: These are the names borne by the heads of the tribes to be sent out as spies, as they stand in the family registers according to their descent; Hosea, however, was named Joshua by Moses; which would not by any means imply that the alteration in the name had not been made till then. It is very probable that Moses may have given him the new name either before or after the defeat of the Amalekites (Exodus 17:9.), or when he took him into his service, though it has not been mentioned before; whilst here the circumstances themselves required that it should be stated that Hosea, as he was called in the list prepared and entered in the documentary record according to the genealogical tables of the tribes, had received from Moses the name of Joshua. In Numbers 13:17-20 Moses gives them the necessary instructions, defining more clearly the motive which the congregation had assigned for sending them out, namely, that they might search out the way into the land and to its towns (Deuteronomy 1:22). “ Get you up there ( זה in the south country, and go up to the mountain.” Negeb, i.e., south country, lit., dryness, aridity, from נגב , to be dry or arid (in Syr., Chald, and Samar.). Hence the dry, parched land, in contrast to the well-watered country ( Joshua 15:19; Judges 1:15), was the name given to the southern district of Canaan, which forms the transition from the desert to the strictly cultivated land, and bears for the most part the character of a steppe, in which tracts of sand and heath are intermixed with shrubs, grass, and vegetables, whilst here and there corn is also cultivated; a district therefore which was better fitted for grazing than for agriculture, though it contained a number of towns and villages (see at Joshua 15:21-32). “ The mountain ” is the mountainous part of Palestine, which was inhabited by Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites (Numbers 13:29), and was called the mountains of the Amorites, on account of their being the strongest of the Canaanitish tribes ( Deuteronomy 1:7, Deuteronomy 1:19.). It is not to be restricted, as Knobel supposes, to the limits of the so-called mountains of Judah (Joshua 15:48-62), but included the mountains of Israel or Ephraim also (Joshua 11:21; Joshua 20:7), and formed, according to Deuteronomy 1:7, the backbone of the whole land of Canaan up to Lebanon.

Numbers 13:18-20

They were to see the land, “what it was,” i.e., what was its character, and the people that dwelt in it, whether they were strong, i.e., courageous and brave, or weak, i.e., spiritless and timid, and whether they were little or great, i.e., numerically; (Numbers 13:19) what the land was, whether good or bad, sc., with regard to climate and cultivation, and whether the towns were camps, i.e., open villages and hamlets, or fortified places; also (Numbers 13:20) whether the land was fat or lean, i.e., whether it had a fertile soil or not, and whether there were trees in it or not. All this they were to search out courageously ( התחזק , to show one's self courageous in any occupation), and to fetch (some) of the fruits of the land, as it was the time of the first-ripe grapes. In Palestine the first grapes ripen as early as August, and sometimes even in July (vid., Robinson, ii. 100, ii. 611), whilst the vintage takes place in September and October.

Verses 21-22

Journey of the Spies; Their Return, and Report. - Numbers 13:21. In accordance with the instructions they had received, the men who had been sent out passed through the land, from the desert of Zin to Rehob, in the neighbourhood of Hamath, i.e., in its entire extent from south to north. The “ Desert of Zin ” (which occurs not only here, but in Numbers 20:1; Numbers 27:14; Numbers 33:36; Numbers 34:3-4; Deuteronomy 32:51, and Joshua 15:1, Joshua 15:3) was the name given to the northern edge of the great desert of Paran, viz., the broad ravine of Wady Murreh, which separates the lofty and precipitous northern border of the table-land of the Azazimeh from the southern border of the Rakhma plateau, i.e., of the southernmost plateau of the mountains of the Amorites (or the mountains of Judah), and runs from Jebel Madarah ( Moddera) on the east, to the plain of Kadesh, which forms part of the desert of Zin (cf. Numbers 27:14; Numbers 33:36; Deuteronomy 32:51), on the west. The south frontier of Canaan passed through this from the southern end of the Dead Sea, along the Wady el Murreh to the Wady el Arish ( Numbers 34:3). - “ Rehob, to come (coming) to Hamath,” i.e., where you enter the province of Hamath, on the northern boundary of Canaan, is hardly one of the two Rehobs in the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:28 and Joshua 19:30), but most likely Beth-rehob in the tribe of Naphtali, which was in the neighbourhood of Dan Lais, the modern Tell el Kadhy (Judges 18:28), and which Robinson imagined that he had identified in the ruins of the castle of Hunin or Honin, in the village of the same name, to the south-west of Tell el Kadhy, on the range of mountains which bound the plain towards the west above Lake Huleh (Bibl. Researches, p. 371). In support of this conjecture, he laid the principal stress upon the fact that the direct road to Hamath through the Wady et Teim and the Bekaa commences here. The only circumstance which it is hard to reconcile with this conjecture is, that Beth-rehob is never mentioned in the Old Testament, with the exception of Judges 18:28, either among the fortified towns of the Canaanites or in the wars of the Israelites with the Syrians and Assyrians, and therefore does not appear to have been a place of such importance as we should naturally be led to suppose from the character of this castle, the very situation of which points to a bold, commanding fortress (see Lynch's Expedition), and where there are still remains of its original foundations built of large square stones, hewn and grooved, and reminding one of the antique and ornamental edifices of Solomon's times (cf. Ritter, Erdkunde, xv. pp. 242ff.). - Hamath is Epiphania on the Orontes, now Hamah (see at Genesis 10:18).

After the general statement, that the spies went through the whole land from the southern to the northern frontier, two facts are mentioned in Numbers 13:22-24, which occurred in connection with their mission, and were of great importance to the whole congregation. These single incidents are linked on, however, in a truly Hebrew style, to what precedes, viz., by an imperfect with Vav consec., just in the same manner in which, in 1 Kings 6:9, 1 Kings 6:15, the detailed account of the building of the temple is linked on to the previous statement, that Solomon built the temple and finished it;

(Note: A comparison of 1 Kings 6, where we cannot possibly suppose that two accounts have been linked together or interwoven, is specially adapted to give us a clear view of the peculiar custom adopted by the Hebrew historians, of placing the end and ultimate result of the events they narrate as much as possible at the head of their narrative, and then proceeding with a minute account of the more important of the attendant circumstances, without paying any regard to the chronological order of the different incidents, or being at all afraid of repetitions, and so to prove how unwarrantable and false are the conclusions of those critics who press such passages into the support of their hypotheses. We have a similar passage in Joshua 4:11., where, after relating that when all the people had gone through the Jordan the priests also passed through with the ark of the covenant (Joshua 4:11), the historian proceeds in Joshua 4:12, Joshua 4:13, to describe the crossing of the two tribes and a half; and another in Judg 20, where, at the very commencement (Judges 20:35), the issue of the whole is related, viz., the defeat of the Benjamites; and then after that there is a minute description in Judges 20:36-46 of the manner in which it was effected. This style of narrative is also common in the historical works of the Arabs.)

so that the true rendering would be, “now they ascended in the south country and came to Hebron ( ויּבא is apparently an error in writing for ויּבאוּ ), and there were הענק ולידי , the children of Anak,” three of whom are mentioned by name. These three, who were afterwards expelled by Caleb, when the land was divided and the city of Hebron was given to him for an inheritance (Joshua 15:14; Judges 1:20), were descendants of Arbah, the lord of Hebron, from whom the city received its name of Kirjath-Arbah, or city of Arbah, and who is described in Joshua 14:15 as “the great (i.e., the greatest) man among the Anakim,” and in Joshua 15:13 as the “father of Anak,” i.e., the founder of the Anakite family there. For it is evident enough that הענק ( Anak) is not the proper name of a man in these passages, but the name of a family or tribe, from the fact that in Numbers 13:33, where Anak's sons are spoken of in a general and indefinite manner, ענק בּני has not the article; also from the fact that the three Anakites who lived in Hebron are almost always called הענק ולידי , Anak's born (Numbers 13:22, Numbers 13:28), and that הענק בּני (sons of Anak), in Joshua 15:14, is still further defined by the phrase הענק ולידי (children of Anak); and lastly, from the fact that in the place of “sons of Anak,” we find “sons of the Anakim” in Deuteronomy 1:28 and Deuteronomy 9:2, and the “Anakim” in Deuteronomy 2:10; Deuteronomy 11:21; Joshua 14:12, etc. Anak is supposed to signify long-necked; but this does not preclude the possibility of the founder of the tribe having borne this name. The origin of the Anakites is involved in obscurity. In Deuteronomy 2:10-11, they are classed with the Emim and Rephaim on account of their gigantic stature, and probably reckoned as belonging to the pre-Canaanitish inhabitants of the land, of whom it is impossible to decide whether they were of Semitic origin or descendants of Ham. It is also doubtful, whether the names found here in Numbers 13:21, Numbers 13:28, and in Joshua 15:14, are the names of individuals, i.e., of chiefs of the Anakites, or the names of Anakite tribes. The latter supposition is favoured by the circumstance, that the same names occur even after the capture of Hebron by Caleb, or at least fifty years after the event referred to here. With regard to Hebron, it is still further observed in Numbers 13:22, that it was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. Zoan - the Tanis of the Greeks and Romans, the San of the Arabs, which is called Jani, Jane in Coptic writings - was situated upon the eastern side of the Tanitic arm of the Nile, not far from its mouth (see Ges. Thes. p. 1177), and was the residence of Pharaoh in the time of Moses. The date of its erection is unknown; but Hebron was in existence as early as Abraham's time (Genesis 13:18; Genesis 23:2.).

Verses 23-24

The spies also came into the valley of Eshcol, where they gathered pomegranates and figs, and also cut down a vine-branch with grapes upon it, which two persons carried upon a pole, most likely on account of its extraordinary size. Bunches of grapes are still met with in Palestine, weighing as much as eight, ten, or twelve pounds, the grapes themselves being as large as our smaller plums (cf. Tobler Denkblהtter, pp. 111, 112). The grapes of Hebron are especially celebrated. To the north of this city, on the way to Jerusalem, you pass through a valley with vineyards on the hills on both sides, containing the largest and finest grapes in the land, and with pomegranates, figs, and other fruits in great profusion (Robinson, Palestine, i. 316, compared with i. 314 and ii. 442). This valley is supposed, and not without good ground, to be the Eshcol of this chapter, which received its name of Eshcol (cluster of grapes), according to Numbers 13:24, from the bunch of grapes which was cut down there by the spies. This statement, of course, applies to the Israelites, and would therefore still hold good, even if the conjecture were a well-founded one, that this valley received its name originally from the Eshcol mentioned in Genesis 14:13, Genesis 14:24, as the terebinth grove did from Mamre the brother of Eshcol.

Verses 25-29

In forty days the spies returned to the camp at Kadesh (see at Numbers 16:6), and reported the great fertility of the land (“ it floweth with milk and honey, ” see at Exodus 3:8), pointing, at the same time, to the fruit they had brought with them; “ nevertheless, ” they added ( כּי אפס , “ only that”), “ the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are fortified, very large: and, moreover, we saw the children of Anak there.” Amalekites dwelt in the south (see at Genesis 36:12); Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites in the mountains (see at Genesis 10:15-16); and Canaanites by the (Mediterranean) Sea and on the side of the Jordan, i.e., in the Arabah or Ghor (see at Genesis 13:7 and Genesis 10:15-18).

Verse 30

As these tidings respecting the towns and inhabitants of Canaan were of a character to excite the people, Caleb calmed them before Moses by saying, “ We will go up and take it; for we shall overcome it.” The fact that Caleb only is mentioned, though, according to Numbers 14:6, Joshua also stood by his side, may be explained on the simple ground, that at first Caleb was the only one to speak and maintain the possibility of conquering Canaan.

Verse 31

But his companions were of an opposite opinion, and declared that the people in Canaan were stronger than the Israelites, and therefore it was impossible to go up to it.

Verses 32-33

Thus they spread an evil report of the land among the Israelites, by exaggerating the difficulties of the conquest in their unbelieving despair, and describing Canaan as a land which “ ate up its inhabitants.” Their meaning certainly was not “that the wretched inhabitants were worn out by the laborious task of cultivating it, or that the land was pestilential on account of the inclemency of the weather, or that the cultivation of the land was difficult, and attended with many evils,” as Calvin maintains. Their only wish was to lay stress upon the difficulties and dangers connected with the conquest and maintenance of the land, on account of the tribes inhabiting and surrounding it: the land was an apple of discord, because of its fruitfulness and situation; and as the different nations strove for its possession, its inhabitants wasted away ( Cler., Ros., O. v. Gerlach). The people, they added, are מדּות אנשׁי , “ men of measures, ” i.e., of tall stature (cf. Isaiah 45:14), “ and there we saw the Nephilim, i.e., primeval tyrants (see at Genesis 6:4), Anak's sons, giants of Nephilim, and we seemed to ourselves and to them as small as grasshoppers.”

Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Numbers 13". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.