Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Numbers 13

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-33

The Fall of the Old Generation in the Wilderness of Paran. The Spies. The Despondency, the Stubbornness and the Judgment

Numbers 13:1 to Numbers 14:45

In this section we read the history of Israel in the wilderness in the narrower sense, the tragic history of their first cardinal and temporary rejection. God never rejected His entire people, though He did reject single generations of the nation in a conditional sense. This first time one generation died in the wilderness; another time two generations died in the Babylonish captivity; and after the destruction of Jerusalem and later, countless generations fell under the sentence of dispersion. Moreover, individual tribes more or less detached themselves from the total of Israel before the deportation of the Ten Tribes to Assyria. But never did the entire nation go to destruction. Again and again the prophets renew the promise of salvation to a pious remnant, an election, and that in a form ever greater and more glorious. But as, on the one hand, the entire nation is never meant, so also, on the other, the single individual as such is never meant. Even the vacillating, lost multitude is indeed judged as a nation, but not in the relation of the individual to Jehovah, and in the end there shall issue from each visitation a fruit of righteousness. It is the history of humanity on a reduced scale. It is characteristic, that several modern critics, from goethe on, have desired to eliminate this providential central point of the wanderings of Israel, the proper theocratic idea of it, in order to make prominent in the history what remains almost an insignificant military caravan expedition through the desert.


The Spies and their Report

Numbers 13:1-33

1And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 1Send thou men, that they may 22search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a 3ruler among them. 3And Moses by the commandment of the Lord sent them from the wilderness of Paran: 4all those men were heads of the children of Israel. And these were their names; 5Of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur. Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori. 6Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. 7Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph. 8Of the tribe of Ephraim. Oshea the son of Nun. 9Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu. 10Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi. 11Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, 12of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi. Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli. 13Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael. 14Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi. 15Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel 16the son of Machi. These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun, Jehoshua.

17And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way 4southward, and go up into the mountain: 18And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many. 19And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in 5tents, or in strong holds; 20And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes.

21So they went up, and 6searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath. 22And they ascended 7by the south, and came unto Hebron; 8where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23And they came unto the 9brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. 24The place was called the1brook 10Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence. 25And they returned from 11searching of the land after forty days.

26And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. 27And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. 28Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are 12walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. 1329The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. 30And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. 31But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. 32And they brought 14up an evil report of the land which they had fsearched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are 15men of a great stature. 33And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.


[Numbers 13:22. It is generally thought that instead of וַיּבֹא we should read וַיָּבֹאוּ, “for a plural precedes, and such is the reading of the Sam., 2 Codd. K, and all the ancient versions except Onkelos and Gr. Ver.” Maurer.

“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 imperf. with Vav consec,” Keil. See further in Exeget. and Crit.—Tr.].


1. The sending out of the spies, Numbers 13:1-20. The occasion of this is, on the one hand, the desire of the people (Deuteronomy 1:22), on the other the command of Jehovah. The locality from which the sending proceeds is the wilderness of Paran (Numbers 12:16), or, more exactly defined, Kadesh (Numbers 13:26; Deuteronomy 1:20). On the site of Kadesh see Keil in loc. [and Translator’s note below]. The men who were chosen for the expedition were required to be princes of the branch of a tribe from the individual tribes, (not the princes of the several tribes themselves), men of importance and reliable.16 They are definitely enrolled according to the particular tribes. All twelve tribes are represented, except Levi, which is omitted according to its destination. But Knobel is at pains to make it appear that Ephraim, too, is without representation, or that, according to one source, Joshua was not among the spies, while, according to the other, he was (see the note in Keil, in loc.).

The official change of the name Oshea to Joshua, which Moses effected on the occasion of this expedition, was already prepared by previous significant things, just as the official naming of Peter in the Evangelical history. The significant thing is that such names grow up by degrees until they are punctuated. One may still distinguish from this the author’s prolepsis.
2. The instruction to the spies, Numbers 13:17-20. (a). Whither? Into the south-land (Negeb) of Canaan, and then to the mountains. Against Knobel, who thinks that only the mountains of Judah are meant, Keil justly maintains that all the mountain land of Canaan is meant, the mountains of the Amorites (Deuteronomy 1:7; Deuteronomy 1:19). [See Translator’s note below]. As a matter of course, Knobel’s aim is to detect a discrepancy.

(b). For what object? To inspect the land, (1) the people; (2) the cities (whether fenced or encampments); (3) the vegetation. They were to bring back with them samples of the fruits of the land. It was about the season of the first ripe grapes. “In Palestine the first grapes ripen in August, partly even in July (comp. Robinson, II., p. 100), whereas the vintage takes place in September and October (comp. V. Schubert, R. III., p. 112 sq.; Tobler, Denkblætter aus Jerusalem, p. 111).”

3. The journey, Numbers 13:21. The most northern part of the wilderness of Paran was the wilderness of Zin (in the Talmud: low palm). From this latter (the Wady Murreh) they started and came as far as Rehob, “to come to Hamath,” i.e., from where one comes to Hamath. In any case this Rehob lay in the extreme north of Palestine, for Hamath, called later Epiphania, was situated on the Orontes. Robinson supposed he identified Rehob in the place Kalat Honin which Keil disputes [see also Smith’s Bib. Dict., sub. voc.—Tr.].

Here connects the statement of their return, Numbers 13:25.

At this point Keil makes a very appropriate remark with reference to Ewald, where see his note. It is a peculiarity of Hebrew historic narrative that it places the end and result of events as much as possible at the head of the account, and then afterwards brings in the details of the more important accompanying circumstances. Keil cites as examples 1Ki 6:9; 1 Kings 6:15; Joshua 4:11 sqq.; Judges 20:35 sqq. In poetry this is the character of the novel as distinguished from the form of the romance. In this way Genesis 2:0 is related to Genesis 1:0 Thus here the narrative in Numbers 13:22-24 is overtaken, because with the antithesis: “the large grapes, but the children of Anak, too,” the tragic knot is tied. Thus then they came to Hebron (union), there were Ahiman (brother of the gift?), Sheshai (the white?) and Talmai (abounding in furrows? fruit-land), the sons of Anak an ancient giant race (long-necked), Deuteronomy 9:2 Goliath is an example of there being straggling remnants of these in later times. They were descended from Arbah, from whom Hebron was called Kirjath Arbah; but Anak designates the people, see Joshua 15:14; Judges 1:20. Hebron was a very ancient city (see on Genesis 13:18); it was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt, Numbers 13:22. “Zoan, i.e., Tanis of the Greeks and Romans, San of the Arabians, Dschane in the Coptic writings, was situated on the east side of the Tanitic arm of the Nile, not far from its mouth, and was the residence of Pharaoh in Moses’ time,” Keil, see Genesis 13:18; Genesis 23:2 sqq.

It is still a question whether וַיָּבאֹוּ is to be substituted for ֹוַיָּבא. The narrator says: “and one came also.” And what reason could he have for that? It seems to be wholly assumed that the twelve spies always remained together. Verily not a good method of scouting. Moreover, at a later period, Joshua sent out only two spies to Jericho. One may assume that these twelve also subdivided themselves variously. Thus, then, a few in particular came to Hebron.

Thus, also, after another episode they came to the brook Eshcol (cluster of grapes, grapes) Numbers 13:23. And they cut down the great cluster that two men bore on a pole. This could only be on their return home. Their motive for so carrying it was to preserve it fresh. They took in addition some pomegranates and figs. It has been conjectured that a valley to the north of Hebron is meant, where grow the largest and most beautiful grapes of the land, also pomegranates, figs and other fruits in abundance (Keil with reference to Robinson, I. p. 316 compared with p. 314, and II. p. 442). In that case the spies with their great cluster needed care to get by the children of Anak unobserved (see Keil on a double derivation of the name). [On Eshcol see Translator’s note below].

4. The Report of the Spies, Numbers 13:26-33. The spies give confirmation before the assembly of the people, that the land agrees with the old promise, and they exhibit their fruits; then, however, there immediately follows a but, but—the אֶפֶם כִּי: a strong nation; fenced cities; sons of Anak are there; Amalekites in the south; Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites in the mountains; Canaanites in the lowlands by the sea and by Jordan (Genesis 20:1). Caleb seeks to soothe the excited people by resolute confidence of conquest. That Joshua does not make a speech confirms Knobel in the assumption that he was not one of them. The rest of the spies, of course, oppose Caleb. The land, they say, eateth up its inhabitants. The strange expression would say: they so press one another for its possession that they grind each other up. A second exaggeration: all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And still further they contradict themselves: we also saw giants there; of course they would make the impression that these children of Anak were like the dreadful giants that lived before the flood. In the last exaggeration was manifested the extravagance of the cowards: we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. Truly an expressive type of the lying fear with which worldly-mindedness has ever depicted the difficult approaches to the kingdom of God.

[Kadesh, Numbers 13:26. In a copious note at the end of chap. 13, the Editor of The Bible Comm. maintains that “Kadesh is to be identified with Ain-el-Weibeh, which lies in the Arabah, about ten miles north of the place in which Mt. Hor abuts on that valley.” Robinson (II., § 12., June 2) leads in this view, and is followed by many. The view commended by Lange in referring to Keil, and which is maintained by Ritter, Kurtz and Mr. Thrupp, the original writer on Numbers in the Bib. Comm. and many others, is that advocated by Messrs. Rowlands and Williams (Holy City, I. 463 sqq.), and by Mr. Wilton (Negeb. pp. 79, 80). This view identifies Kadesh with el-Ain, which is about sixty miles west of Mt. Hor, and twenty miles further north (according to the map in Palmer’s Desert of the Exodus), or about fifty miles west of Ain-el-Weibeh. In this view E. H. Palmer concurs, who says: “The name Kadesh (though belonging more particularly to the open space immediately below the cliff (Sela) in which Ain Gadis, or the spring of Kadesh, rises, might easily have been extended to the whole region, as the name of the spot in which the most important events took place. This would account for the apparent discrepancies in the Biblical references to the locality, which at one time is said to be in the wilderness of Paran (Numbers 13:26), at another, in the wilderness of Zin (Deuteronomy 32:51), and again, is defined with Heshmon as being one of the uttermost cities of the tribe of Judah southward [Joshua 15:3-4; Joshua 15:27].

“I concur with Wilton (The Negeb., p. 124) in believing that the wilderness of Paran comprised the whole desert Et Tih, and that Mt. Paran was the southernmost portion of the mountain plateau in the northeast, at present inhabited by the Azazimeh Arabs and known as Jebel Magrah. To one encamped in the wilderness of Kadesh, that is the open plain into which Wady Gadis debouches, Jebel Magrah would be always the most conspicuous object in the scene, and would completely shut out the view of the more fertile mountains beyond.…

“The Israelites were encamped, according to my theory, at the foot of the line of cliffs in which Ain Gades takes its rise, and their intention was evidently to march straight upon Palestine by the short and easy route which skirts the western edge of the mountains. The spies were to get them up by the way of the Negeb [south-land], not by the plains in which the Canaanites were assembling, but to go up into the mountains. This they could only do by skirting the southern end of the Azazimeh mountains, and striking into the heart of the plateau at Wady Ghamr. Having then penetrated into Palestine by this road, and searched the country as far as the plain of Cœle-Syria, they returned by way of Hebron, and explored (as coming from the North, they might now do without suspicion) the route by the western edge of the mountain. In one of these extensive valleys (perhaps in Wady Hanein, where miles of grape-mounds even now meet the eye [not more than sixteen miles north of Kadesh.—Tr.]), they cut the gigantic cluster of grapes, and gathered the pomegranates and figs.”—Desert of the Exod., chap. xxv.—Tr.]


[1]Send for thee.



[4]in the South.



[7]in the South.

[8]and there were.

[9]Or, valley.

[10]That is, a cluster of grapes.



[13]Amalek dwells.


[15]Heb. men of statures.

[16][Dr. Lange inserts in the Scripture text in loc. the meanings of the names, Numbers 13:4 sqq. For convenience they are added here. Shammua=announcement, message. Zaccur=a male. Shaphat=judge. Hori=elder and prince. Caleb=one who attacks. Jephunneh=a way paved. Igal=he will redeem. Oshea=help. Nun=posterity. Palti=deliverance. Raphu=healed. Gaddiel=happiness of God. Sodi=confidant. Gaddi=my happiness. Susi=horseman. Ammiel=of the people of God. Gemalli=camel-owner? avenger. Sethur=veiled, secret. Michael=who is as God. Nahbi=hidden. Vophsi=a rich one? prince. Guel=highness of God. Machi=a poor one. Joshua=whose help Jehovah.—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 13". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/numbers-13.html. 1857-84.
Ads FreeProfile