Lectionary Calendar
Friday, May 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Numbers 13

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-33


Numbers 13:1-2. And the Lord spake unto Moses, &c.

It appears from Deuteronomy 1:22-23, that the sending of the spies to search out the land was suggested by the people and approved by Moses; and here it is permitted by the Lord. God had commanded them to go and take possession of the land; and the motion to send the spies was an expression of their unbelief.

Everyone a ruler among them. By a comparison of the names of these “rulers” with those of “the princes of the tribes” (Numbers 1:5-16), we see that they were not the same in any one case. These now sent forth were doubtless selected from the chiefs of each tribe for their fitness for the work entrusted to them. In Numbers 13:3 they are spoken of as “heads of the children of Israel;” i.e., heads of families.

Numbers 13:16. And Moses called Oshea … Jehoshua. Oshea, Hoshea, or Hosea signifies help or deliverance. To this Moses added a syllable of the sacred Name, and made it Jehoshua, contracted into Joshua, which signifies Jehovah is help, or deliverance; or, “whose help is Jehovah.” This verse does not imply that the alteration in the name was made at this time. It was probably made at the time of, and in consequence of his victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16).

Numbers 13:17. Get you up this way southward. Or, “Get you up there in the south country.” The Negeb (south country) primarily signifies a dry, parched district, from nagab, to be dried up, to be withered. This name was applied to the southern and least fertile district of Canaan, which “extended northward from Kadesh to within a few miles of Hebron, and from the Dead Sea westward to the Mediterranean (cf. especially Joshua 15:21-32).”

And go up into the mountain. The hill-country of Palestine, including the mountains of Judah and Ephraim or Israel. The expressions “the south” country and “the mountain” seem intended to set forth the whole land of Canaan.

Numbers 13:19. In tents, or camps, i.e., in open or unwalled villages.

Numbers 13:20. The time of the first-ripe grapes. The first grapes ripen in Palestine as early as August, and sometimes even in July; and the vintage takes place in September and October. It appears to us most probable that the spies were despatched early in August. Dr. Kitto, however, conjectures that “probably they set out early in September, and returned about the middle of October.”

Numbers 13:21. The wilderness of Zin. The north-eastern portion of the great desert of Paran, and part of the southern border of the Promised Land (Numbers 34:4; Joshua 15:1-3). (See notes on “The wilderness of Paran,” Numbers 12:16).

Rehob as men come to Hamath, or “at the entrance of Hamath,” i.e., at the commencement of the territory of that name, on the northern boundary of Canaan. Rehob was probably the Bethrehob of Judges 18:28, near to Dan-Laish, the modern Tell el Kady.

Hamath, the principal city of Upper Syria, from the time of the Exodus to that of the prophet Amos. It is situated on the Orontes. Antiochus Epiphanes changed its name to Epiphaneia. Hamah is its present name.

The spies went through the whole land from the southern to the northern frontier.

Numbers 13:22. Came unto Hebron. Hebron signifies an associate or friend. A most ancient city, situated amongst the mountains (Joshua 20:7), 20 Roman miles south of Jerusalem, and the same distance north of Beersheba. It was a well known place when Abram entered Canaan about 3800 years ago (Genesis 13:18). Trapp points out that at Hebron “lay buried those three reverend couples: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah (Genesis 49:31) Here David began his reign over Israel (2 Samuel 2:1), and hither came Mary to visit Elizabeth (Luke 1:39).”

The original name of Hebron was Kirjath-Arba, the city of Arba, so called from Arba, the father of Anak and progenitor of the Anakim (Joshua 15:13-14; Joshua 21:11).

Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak. Probably the names not of individuals, but of tribes of Anakim; for we meet with them again fifty years or more after this time (Joshua 15:14).

Anak, the name of the ancestor of the Anakim, signifies long-necked.

Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. “Some think,” says Dr. A. Claire, “it was to humble the pride of the Egyptians, who boasted the highest antiquity, that this note concerning the higher antiquity of Hebron was introduced by Moses.”

Zoan, an ancient city situated near the eastern border of Lower Egypt, and called by the Greeks and Romans Tunis. At the time of the Exodus the Pharaoh dwelt at Zoan (Psalms 78:43).

Numbers 13:23. The brook of Eshcol, or, The valley of the cluster, or bunch; a fertile wady, probably about two miles north of Hebron, where the largest and best grapes in the whole of Palestine are grown, besides apricots, figs, pomegranates, &c., in abundance.

One cluster of grapes and they bare it, &c. Not simply because of the size of the cluster did they carry it in this way, but chiefly to prevent its being bruised. Clusters of grapes of great size are found in Palestine. “Phny mentions,” says Dr. A. Clarke, “bunches of grapes in Africa each of which was larger than an infant. Paul Lucas mentions some bunches which he saw at Damascus that weighed above forty-five pounds. I myself once cut down a bunch of grapes nearly twenty pounds in weight. Those who live in cold climates can scarcely have any conception to what perfection both grapes and other fruits grow in climates that are warm, and where the soil is suitable to them.”

Numbers 13:26. Kadesh signifies the Holy Place or Sanctuary. Great uncertainty exists as to the situation of Kadesh. Dr. Robinson identified it with Ain el-Weibeh, on the western side of the Arabah; and this identification has been generally accepted by English geographers as the most probable. Dean Stanley (Sinai and Pal., pp. 93–96) identifies Kadesh with Petra. But Petra was in the heart of Edom, while Kadesh is said to be “in the uttermost border” of that land (Numbers 20:16). And in Numbers 33:37 an encampment at Mount Hor is mentioned as quite distinct from the encampment at Kadesh, and Mount Hor is situated close to Edom. Moreover, in Numbers 34:4, and Joshua 15:3, Kadesh is reckoned as part of the land of Canaan. Keil and Del. are of the opinion that “the name Kadesh embraces a large district of the desert of Zin, and is not confined to one particular spot.” The conclusion of Mr. Hayman (Smith’s Bible Dict., arts. “Kadesh” and “Wilderness of the Wandering”) seems to us satisfactory: “It seems that Kadesh probably means, firstly, a region of the desert spoken of as having a relation, sometimes with the wilderness of Paran, and sometimes with that of Zin (comp. Numbers 13:21; Numbers 13:26); and secondly, a distinct city within that desert limit.”

Numbers 13:32. A land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof does not mean “that it was so barren and unfruitful that it did not produce food sufficient for the inhabitants of it.” Keil and Del. give what we regard as the correct interpretation: “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.”


(Numbers 13:1-20)

The people have now arrived at the border of the Promised Land; and there seems to be no reason why they may not, if they will, speedily enter and take possession of it. But instead of this, they propose to send spies into the land to investigate it, and bring back a report to them. The results of this in the subsequent history were both great and disastrous.

I. The Origin of this Expedition.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, send thou men,” &c. (Numbers 13:1-2). But we find, from the history as given in Deuteronomy 1:20-25, that the proposal to search the land originated with the people themselves, and was an expression of their unbelief, and, at the least, a failure to render prompt obedience to the command of the Lord. Let us see how the case stood at this time.

(1) God had Himself declared to them the excellence of the land (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 33:3).

(2) He had promised to guide them to the land (Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2; Exodus 33:14). Moreover, He was visibly present with them in the mysterious and majestic pillar of cloud and fire.

(3) He had promised to drive out the heathen nations and give them possession of the land (Exodus 23:20-33; Deuteronomy 1:8).

(4) He commanded them to “go up and possess” the land (Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 1:21).

(5) Yet their answer was, “We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land,” &c. (Deuteronomy 1:22). Clearly their duty was not to send men to search out the land, but trusting in God, to obey His voice and go and take possession of the land. Their proposition involved a sinful distrust of the presence of God with them and of His promises to them; it also involved a failure in their obedience to Him. Moses did not suspect the unbelief which had suggested their proposal; and approving it himself, he asked counsel of the Lord, who permitted it. God may allow us to carry out our unbelieving plans to our own confusion. If we will “lean unto our own understanding,” He will let us take our way until we find what utter folly our fancied wisdom is. (a). In this way in after years when they demanded a king, God directed Samuel to “hearken unto their voice, and make them a king” (1 Samuel 8:5-22). Our business is not to suggest alterations in or additions to the Divine plans, but heartily to trust and promptly to obey the Divine Word.

II. The Agents in this Expedition.

“Of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them,” &c. (Numbers 13:2-16). Three points here require notice:

1. The wisdom of this arrangement.

(1) In sending one man from each tribe. By this arrangement every tribe was represented, and would have a witness of its own.
(2) In sending a leading man from each tribe. They were approved men, men of influence, and therefore their testimony would be the more likely to be received and credited.
2. The scarcity of worthy leaders. We see here that a large proportion of even these leading men, these “rulers” and “heads of the children of Israel,” were inferior men and unworthy of the position which they occupied. Here are the names of twelve men, and ten of them seem to have been feeble and common-place men, and (as we shall hereafter see) deficient in faith, in enterprise, and in courage. How many of the world’s heroes and leaders are mentally weak and morally inferior, or even corrupt men! The true hero and the worthy leader often fail of recognition except by a superior few. Hitherto in the world’s history the majority of the leaders of men have been feeble and cowardly, and very often base and corrupt. (b)

3. The diversity of human fame. The names of these twelve men have been handed down from generation to generation, and at the present time the record which contains them is to be found throughout the whole of the known world; but how different are the positions which they occupy! Two of them, Joshua and Caleb, are in the foremost rank of saints and heroes: while the other ten are known as the chief agents in arresting the progress of the nation for more than thirty-eight years. History perpetuates the memory of Nero as well as of St. Paul, of Judas Iscariot as well as of Jesus Christ. We are making our posthumous reputation now; let us take heed that it be of a worthy character. (c)

III. The Aims of this Expedition.

“And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up,” &c. (Numbers 13:17-20). They were to examine and report as to the condition of—

1. The land, whether it was fertile or barren, whether it was wooded or bare, &c.

2. The towns, whether they were walled and fortified or open and unprotected, &c.

3. The people, whether they were strong or weak, whether they were few or many, &c.

Their investigation was to be thorough. “Get you up there in the south country, and go up into the mountain.” They were to search the whole land of Canaan. Partial investigations are apt to prove misleading.

Their report was to be verified. “And bring of the fruit of the land.” They were charged to bring of the fruit as a confirmation of their testimony.

IV. The Spirit appropriate to this Expedition.

“And be ye of good courage.” The mission with which they were entrusted would require firm and fearless hearts; for if the object of their journey had been discovered by the Canaanites, it would have fared ill with them. They needed courage, too, in order that they might view things hopefully, and bring back an inspiring report. Want of courage in its leaders is a sore hindrance and calamity to any people. The courage they needed could spring only from faith in God, and could he sustained only by faith in Him. Faith in Him is the soul of all true heroism. (d)


(a) A man sets his mind on standing on some high place; he points to a pillar and says that if he could ascend to its summit he would see from that lofty elevation glimpses of heaven, and he determines that he will stand upon that summit, whatever hazards he may incur. At length God grants him his request, and when the man has ascended to the eminence which he coveted, what does he find? Sand, sand, sand! Mile on mile of sand—sand for mile on mile! And now he wishes to descend; but how to get down is his great difficulty. There may be no way down but that which involves suicide. Yet the man was determined to reach that elevation; nothing could stand between him and his wish; he urged God to grant him his request; with importunate desire he besought that he might have his way; and there is no punishment heavier than that which falls upon any man when God allows him to take his own course.—Joseph Parker, D.D.

(b) The servile imitancy of mankind might be illustrated under the figure, itself nowise original, of a Flock of Sheep Sheep go in flocks for three reasons: First, because they are of a gregarious temper, and love to be together: Secondly, because of their cowardice; they are afraid to be left alone: Thirdly, because the common run of them are dull of sight, to a proverb, and can have no choice in roads; sheep can in fact see nothing; in a celestial Luminary, and a scoured pewter Tankard they would discern only that both dazzled them, and were of unspeakable glory. How like their fellow-creatures of the human species! Men, too, are gregarious; then surely faint-hearted enough, trembling to be left by themselves; above all, dull-sighted, down to the verge of utter blindness. Thus are we seen ever running in torrents, and mobs, if we run at all; and after what foolish scoured Tankards, mistaking them for Suns! Foolish Turnip-lanterns likewise, to all appearance supernatural, keep whole nations quaking, their hair on end Neither know we, except by blind habit, where the good pastures lie: solely when the sweet grass is between our teeth, we know it, and chew it; also when grass is bitter and scant, we know it,—and bleat and butt: these last two facts we know of a truth and in very deed. Thus do Man and Sheep play their parts on this nether Earth; wandering restlessly in large masses, they know not whither; for most part, each following his neighbour, and his own nose.—Thomas Carlyle.

(c) Posthumous influence invests life with enhanced dignity. While Bunyan lived he was but as a mustard-seed; now he is as a great cathedral tree, in which ten thousand voices are lifted up in laudatory and grateful song! “Thou fool! that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.” No living man is complete. While your heart beats you are undergoing a process. Time will mellow you; age will tone your character. Do not urge society to give you a verdict just now. Society is too heated and confused to pronounce upon you with the accuracy of deliberation and the dignity of repose. Death will befriend you. A most solemn and righteous estimation of character is often introduced by death. The green hillock in the yard of the dead is a judgment-seat which might appal an unjust judge. Your appeal, then, under all misapprehension and misrepresentation, must be to the new hours which Time has yet to strike from her bell, and which shall chime out many a reversal of condemnation, and many a fulfilment of expectation long deferred.—Joseph Parker. D.D.

(d) The courage that can go forth, once and away, to Chalk-Farm, and have itself shot, and snuffed out, with decency, is nowise wholly what we mean here. Such courage we indeed esteem an exceeding small matter; capable of co-existing with a life full of falsehood, feebleness, poltroonery, and despicability. Nay, oftener it is cowardice rather that produces the result: for consider, Is the Chalk-Farm pistoleer inspired with any reasonable Belief and Determination; or is he hounded on by haggard indefinable Fear,—how he will be cut at public places, and “plucked geese of the neighbourhood” will wag their tongues at him a plucked goose? If he go, then, and be shot without shrieking or audible uproar, it is well for him: nevertheless there is nothing amazing in it. Courage to manage all this has not perhaps been denied to any man, or to any woman. Thus, do not recruiting sergeants drum through the streets of manufacturing towns, and collect ragged losels enough; every one of whom, if once dressed in red, and trained a little, will receive fire cheerfully for the small sum of one shilling per diem, and have the soul blown out of him at last, with perfect propriety. The Courage that dares only die, is on the whole no sublime affair; necessary, indeed, yet universal; pitiful when it begins to parade itself. On this Globe of ours, there are some thirty-six persons that manifest it, seldom with the smallest failure, during every second of time. Nay, look at Newgate: do not the offscourings of creation, when condemned to the gallows as if they were not men but vermin, walk thither with decency, and even to the scowls and hootings of the whole universe give their stern goodnight in silence? What is to be undergone only once, we may undergo; what must be, comes almost of its own accord. Considered as Duellist, what a poor figure does the fiercest Irish Whiskerando make, compared with any English Game-cook, such as you may buy for fifteen pence!

The Courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently, but to live manfully. This, when by God’s grace it has been given, lies deep in the soul; like genial heat, fosters all other virtues and gifts; without it they could not live. In spite of our innumerable Waterloos and Peterloos, and such campaigning as there has been, this Courage we allude to, and call the only true one, is perhaps rarer in these last ages, than it has been in any other since the Saxon Invasion under Hengist. Altogether extinct it can never be among men; otherwise the species Man were no longer for this world: here and there, in all times, under various guises, men are sent hither not only to demonstrate but exhibit it, and testify, as from heart to heart, that it is still possible, still practicable.—Thomas Carlyle.


(Numbers 13:1-2)

I. The search.
II. The retreat.
III. An emblem of God’s dealings with His people.

1. The children of Israel were sent back to the wilderness on account of their sin.
2. While they are sent in judgment, they go back of their own accord.
3. Though the fruit of sin, and the token of God’s righteous displeasure, all was overruled for their good.
4. Though chastened and afflicted they are not cast off.
(1) They are Divinely delivered.
(2) They are Divinely sustained.
(3) They are Divinely guided.
(4) They are Divinely chastened.

IV. Improvement.

1. Let young believers be not high-minded, but fear.
2. Let backsliders remember and weep.
3. Let tried and troubled saints take fresh courage.—J. Burns.


(Numbers 13:21-25)

I. The exploration of the Promised Land by the Spies was thorough.

“So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, at the entrance of Hamath.” They went quite through the land from the Negeb in the south to Rehob on the northern border. In this they are worthy of imitation by inquirers into Divine realms. It is the shallow and superficial students of Nature, of Providence, and of the Bible who carp and cavil at the discoveries which they make; for such investigators can only make obscure, partial, one sided discoveries. If man would be admitted into the secrets of Nature, of Providence, or of the Bible; if he would discover the power, the wisdom, and the grace which are enshrined in them; if he would be brought into communion with the mind and spirit of their Divine Author, he must investigate them thoroughly, patiently, and reverently. (a)

II. The exploration of the Promised Land by the spies led to the discovery of difficulties.

1. They discovered formidable enemies to their taking possession of the land. “And they came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were.” Before they entered upon the Promised Land the Israelites would have to conquer these mighty tribes. We cannot attain unto a large and correct acquaintance with the revelation of God in Nature, Providence, or the Bible, without battling with and overcoming many and grave difficulties. We cannot attain unto self-conquest, self-possession, without patient, persistent, and courageous warfare. We cannot inherit the Promised Land of Divine privileges without determined struggles with powerful foes. Our own unbelief, carnality, worldliness, and selfishness; the corrupt influences of society; and the temptations of the devil,—these are the Anakim with which we must contend, and which we must conquer if we would enter into full possession of our Promised Land. No true kingdom is ever entered except “through much tribulation.” (b)

2. They discovered these formidable enemies where they least expected them. It was at Hebron that they found the Anakim. Now Hebron was sacred in the annals of the greatest of their ancestors. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah all found their last resting place there (Genesis 23:19-20; Genesis 49:31); yet there they find the tribes that are likely to offer the stoutest resistance to their taking the land. “In that place where they expected the greatest encouragements they met with the greatest discouragements. Where the bodies of their ancestors kept possession for them the giants kept possession against them.” So with us in Christian life and enterprise, it is not where we feel there is danger and are guarding against it that our real foes and grave perils are; but in places and in circumstances where we least expect them. How often have godly men failed where they seemed most strong! Abraham was preëminent for faith; yet he fell into sin more than once through the failure of his faith in little trials. Peter deemed his courage unquestionable and invincible; yet it was his courage that gave way in the hour of trial.

III. The exploration of the Promised Land by the spies led to the discovery of rich treasures.

“And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence,” &c. (23–25).

1. The discovered treasures were rich. The valley of Eshcol was celebrated for its abundant and choice fruits. One very large and rich bunch of grapes they cut and conveyed from thence to the people. “They cut down from thence a branch with one cluster, and they bare it between two upon a staff,” &c. (c)

How rich are the fruits of that inheritance of Divine privilege to which God calls us! What satisfaction, peace, hope, joy! &c.

2. The discovered treasures were various. “Grapes, pomegranates, and figs.” How various are the treasures and delights God bestows upon His people! They have joy in the new discoveries of truth; joy in high and holy fellowships; joy in Christ-like service; joy in loving and being loved, &c.

3. Specimens of the discovered treasures were carried to the people by the explorers. “They cut down a branch with one cluster,” &c. The probability is that Caleb and Joshua brought this cluster; for the other explorers were not disposed to encourage the people to attempt to to take possession of the land. The knowledge and enjoyments we now have of Divine things are but specimens and foretastes of what is reserved in heaven for us. The “fulness of joy,” and the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” await us in the hereafter.

4. The discovered treasures deeply impressed the mind of the explorers and of those who saw the specimens. We see this from the fact that the valley from which the bunch of grapes was cut was henceforth called, “the valley of the cluster.” “The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.” Were we not blinded and prejudiced by sin, the rich treasures of Gospel grace would so impress our hearts that we should eagerly seek Him in whom they are stored and through whom they are bestowed.


(a) Only those who wait upon the Bible through a life-time of prayer, study, and patience, can be rewarded with an intelligent and beautiful reverence for it, as for “the Wisdom of God in a mystery.” Think! it is not simply Wisdom, but the Wisdom of God, and not simply the Wisdom of God, but the Wisdom of God in a mystery.

Very notable is the agreement between the Book, and every man’s deep nature. “Deep calleth unto deep.” The Bible is the only profoundly human thing in the world. The world, and all that is in the world, are in agreement only with our shallow nature. When conscience awakes from its sensual slumbers, there is a marvellous agreement between its suspicions, its fears, its dark utterances, and the Old Testament. The true Mount Sinai is in the human soul. But there are also deep and far-reaching longings in man, as well as conscience, and the New Testament is a complete answer to all these longings.

The Bible seems to be the law of my own being out written. It meets every difficulty, it throws light on every mystery, it supplies every want, it leaves nothing to be desired.
There is much in the Book to exercise both patience and hope; and I need both. I need patience, under the present dark and corrupt condition of nature, and I need hope, that the mystery of God will be finished. It is finished in our Lord Jesus Christ. When all the redeemed shall have the Spirit of Christ for their spirit, and when all matter shall be like unto His glorious Body, then the mystery of God will be finished also in the universe.—John Pulsford.

(b) Any service for God, if it be done at all, should be hard work. If you want to be feather-bed soldiers, go and enlist somewhere else; but Christ’s soldiers must fight, and they will find the battle rough and stern. We, of the Church militant, are engaged in no mimic manœuvres and grand parades; our life is real and earnest; our battle, though not with flesh and blood, is with spiritual wickedness in high places, and it involves hard blows and keen anguish. You must look for real fighting if you become a soldier of Christ, and O, Sir, if the excuse for fainting be that the work is toilsome, that it is too much a drag upon you, why did you begin it? You ought to have known this at the first. You should have counted the cost. But, ah, let me add, the work was not toilsome when your heart was loving, neither would it now be so hard if your soul were right with God. This is but an unworthy excuse. Ardent spirits love difficulties; fervent love delights in making sacrifices; they would not wish to swim for ever in smooth seas of pleasure; they know that manhood’s truest glory lies in contending with and overcoming that which is hard. Give to the child the easy task, but let the man have something worth the doing to perform. Instead of shrinking because the work is tedious, we ought to gird up our loins and push on the enterprise with all the greater force.—C. H. Spurgeon.

(c) In conformity with the text before us, the size and richness of the clusters of the grapes in many parts of Palestine excite more astonishment than even the size and richness of the grapes. An Italian traveller, Mariti, avers, that in different parts of Syria he saw clusters that would be a sufficient burden for one man. A German traveller, Neitzschutz, declares, with some solemnity of assertion, that in the mountains of Israel he had seen and eaten from vine clusters that were half an ell long, and the grapes of which were equal to two finger joints in length. A very intelligent French traveller, Nau, is still more particular. He declares that one who had seen the vine only in the vine countries of France and Italy, could form no just conception of the size to which the clusters attain in Syria. He had himself seen clusters weighing ten or twelve pounds; and he had reason to believe that in the Archipelago clusters of thirty or forty pounds were not uncommon. A still older traveller of the same nation, Doubdan, tells us that, travelling near Bethlehem, he found himself in a delighful valley, replete with rose-trees and aromatic plants, and planted with vines. This was that which tradition regards as the valley of Eshcol, from which the spies obtained their cluster. Not being there in the season, he did not see the fruit himself; but he was assured that clusters of ten and twelve pounds were not seldom gathered from these vines. We share the doubt, however, that this was the vale of Eshcol, which seems rather to have been near to Hebron. It was in this neighbourhood that Nau saw the large vine-clusters of which he makes mention. In this quarter the hill-sides are still thickly planted with vineyards, the vines of which are laden with large clusters of delicious grapes. It is beyond a doubt that the cluster in question was gathered in the south of Palestine; for as the spies had seen these grapes in their outward way, it would have been absurd for them to gather any but at the last available point towards their own encampment. As striking an instance as any that we have quoted, has occurred in our own country, in regard to the produce of a Syrian vine at Welbeck, the seat of the Duke of Portland. A bunch from this vine was sent, in 1819, as a present to the Marquis of Buckingham, which weighed nineteen pounds. It was conveyed to its destination, more than twenty miles distant, on a staff, by four labourers, two of whom bore it in rotation; thus affording a striking illustration of the means adopted by the explorers in transporting the Eshcol cluster. The greatest diameter of this Welbeck cluster was nineteen inches and a half; its circumference four feet and a half; and its length nearly twenty-three inches.—John Kitto, D.D., F.S.A.


(Numbers 13:23)

“They came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes.”
We reach the brook of Eshcol through a humbling path. When Sinai is left the march of Israel advances prosperously. There is no check. And now a few more steps will plant the pilgrim-host in Canaan.
Surely courage will new brace each nerve, &c. But is it so? Alas! they pause. The unworthy thought creeps in—perchance the nations are too strong for us, &c. Thus they distrust: and tremblingly propose to search the country by spies. They follow sight—not faith. And unbelief is not dead It lurks in corners of each heart, &c. Beware—look inward.… He is the fool of fools, who tests Divine assurances in the scales of mortal vision.
The spies are named. They are sent forth to ascertain whether their God be true, &c.
Contemplate that cluster which they bear—that earnest of rich fields. These grapes are proof of Canaan’s exuberant fertility. So, too, there is a heavenly Eshcol before faith’s eye. It shows delicious clusters. The joy before Christ cheered His heart. The joy before us should gird up our loins. The racer bounds when he discerns the goal just won. Come, then, in Eshcol’s grapes read faith’s amazing prize.
Heaven! It is the palace of the great Eternal. Salvation for its walls—its gates are praise. Its atmosphere is perfect love. It is the home prepared of God before the worlds were made, for His redeemed children. It is the mansion which the ascended Jesus still labours to make fit. It is so fair that all Jehovah’s skill cannot increase the beauty.…
This cluster was the vine’s perfection. So, too, perfection is the essence of our heaven. Nothing can enter there to stain, &c. Oh! what a contrast to our present state!… But our high home is barricaded against sin.
Here the foul tempter all day long is spreading nets. There is no saint too saintly for his vile approach. In Eden he approached the innocent. To Jesus he said, Worship me.… But in heaven this misery has ceased. Satan is without—far off—the bottomless pit has shut its mouth upon him.
Here fears rush in. The ground is slippery. A precipice is near. We tremble on the brink.… May I not, after all, fail of salvation! But fear dies at heaven’s gate. The happy company realize that they are lofty above injury.
Earth is affliction’s home. A troop of sorrows compass us about. Death tears away the much-loved friend. Sickness invades the frame.… But heaven is a wide sea of bliss without a ripple. All tears are wiped away. We bathe in oceans of delight.
Here unbelief oft gathers, as a chilly cloud. It mantles the soul in darkness.… But in heaven a present God is always everywhere. We cannot move beyond the sunshine of His love.
Here we thirst for knowledge, but we reach it not. How much concerning God is utterly beyond our grasp. Blindness curtails our prospect. Clouds narrow our circumference. But heaven is a realm without horizon. We know God, as we are known. We love intelligently, &c.
In the true Eshcol’s cluster there is this richer fruit; Jesus is seen. This is the crown of heaven. The rising of the sun makes day. The presence of the king constitutes the court. The revelation of the Lord, without one intervening cloud, is the grand glory of the endless kingdom.
Believer, what will it be to gaze on the manifested beauty of Him, who is altogether lovely! What, to comprehend all that Jesus is! What, never to lose sight of Him!
Are you a traveller towards this heaven? When you behold the grapes of Eshcol, do you know that the vineyard is your sure heritage? The kingdom is for the subjects of the King. Are you His by faith? This is that Spirit-implanted confidence, which looks to Eshcol, and claims all Canaan as a promised home.—Henry Law, D.D.


(Numbers 13:26-33)

I. Examine the Reports of the Spies.

First: The report of the majority. The impression produced upon ten of the explorers from their survey differed from that produced upon the other two. We will first attend to the testimony of the ten.

1. They testify to the fertility of the land. “Surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it” (See remarks on Numbers 13:23-25, and comp. Deuteronomy 8:7-9).

2. They set forth the difficulties in the way of taking the land. Speedily they pass from the cheering announcement of the fertility of the country to a gloomy and discouraging representation of the grave difficulties which opposed their possession of it. “Nevertheless, the people be strong that dwell in the land,” &c. (Numbers 13:28-29; Numbers 13:32-33). These obstacles which seemed to them insuperable were of two classes:—

(1) The defences of the cities. “The cities are walled and very great.” In their eyes every town was an impregnable stronghold.
(2) The strength and stature of the inhabitants. “Moreover, we saw the children of Anak there,” &c. “All the people that we saw in it are men of great stature,” &c.
3. They declare their inability to take the land. “We be not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” And yet the army of Israel numbered 600,000 able men, and was well organized.

4. They suggest the difficulty of maintaining possession of the land. “It is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof.” According to their representation, by reason of the fertility of its soil and the importance of its situation, different nations contended for its possession; so that they who held it must needs be armed and watchful, and frequently suffer loss in battle.

5. They exhibit the most despicable cowardice. Surely the tone of their report is utterly unworthy of men who a new that the army of Israel was 600,000 strong. Alas! they were almost destitute of the higher attributes of manhood. If we would estimate the cowardice of their conduct aright we have but to compare, or rather contrast it with the conduct of Caleb (Numbers 13:30), or with that of David (1 Samuel 17:32-37). (a)

6. They manifest the most deplorable and sinful unbelief. In framing their conclusions and delivering their report they utterly ignored the Lord God. Faith in Him was entirely absent. Unbelief was supreme. Their unbelief was aggravated in its sinfulness by reason of—

(1) The promises which He had repeatedly made to them. Had He not assured them again and again that he would give them the land?
(2) The mighty works which He had wrought for them. Is it possible that they have forgotten the wonders wrought for them in Egypt and at the Red Sea? Could they discover no significance or feel no inspiration to faith in the daily miracle of the manna?
(3) The visible symbol of His presence with them. The miraculous and majestic Pillar of His Presence was visible to every eye. Yet despite all these things unbelief held undisputed supremacy within them.

Second: The Report of the minority. Caleb and Joshua seem to have agreed with the report of the ten other spies in some particulars; but in two most important matters they differed from them.

(1) Their impression of their relative power was different; they held that they were “well able to overcome” the inhabitants of the land.
(2) Their advice as to their practical action was different; they counselled that they should “go up at once and possess” the land. In considering the conduct of Caleb, who was supported by Joshua, let us notice—
1. The exhortation which he addressed to the people. “Let us go up at once, and possess it.” He exhorts to

(1) Mutual action. “Let us go up.” There is far more inspiration in, “Let us go,” than in Let them go, or than in Go ye.

(2) Prompt action. “Let us go up at once.” He would lose no time in debating what they could do, or what they should do; but urges immediate and bold action.

(3) Confident action. “Let us go up at once, and possess it.” “He does not say, ‘Let us go up, and conquer it;’ he looks upon that to be as good as done already; but, ‘Let us go up, and possess it; there is nothing to be done but to enter, and take the possession which God our great Lord is ready to give us.’ ”

2. The assurance by which he enforced this exhortation. “For we are well able to overcome it.” The fortified cities and the giant peoples did not appal Caleb and Joshua. They were confident that Israel could vanquish the Canaanites and take the land.

3. The faith in God which inspired this assurance. The confidence of these two brave men was neither in the strength and courage of their army, nor in the skill and spirit of their leaders; but in the Lord their God. This is made abundantly clear in Numbers 13:8-9 of the following chapter. This faith of theirs had sure and splendid warranty in—

(1) The divine promises to Israel.
(2) The divine performances for Israel.
(3) The Divine Presence with Israel. Their faith was profoundly reasonable. Can walled cities or armies of giants withstand the Almighty? (b) Their faith was thoroughly religious. It rested in God; it honoured Him.

II. Deduce the Lessons arising from these reports.

1. A statement may be true as to matters of fact, yet false and evil in its spirit and influence. The report of the ten spies was true as to actual facts; but the balance or proportion of its statements was false, the spirit which breathed in it was mean and cowardly, and its influence was extremely pernicious. A man may be guilty of lying while speaking the truth in words. You may lie by an accent, by disproportion of the respective branches of a narrative, by undue warmth in one thing and coldness in another, by the drapery in which bare facts are clothed. Truthfulness is a thing not merely of words, but first and chiefly of spirit.

2. The cause of God has never been left without some true witnesses. Here there were ten faithless cowards, but there were two brave believers; ten who brought an evil report, but two who brought a good report. “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments.”

3. Majorities are not trustworthy criteria of truth and right. Of the twelve explorers “only two deal faithfully and truly, the rest were treacherous and hollow-hearted hypocrites.” “Vox populi vox Dei, is true only in a community of holy beings—true only in heaven. In a corrupt world like ours it is impossible for language to embody a greater falsehood. As the devil leads the world captive at his will, Vox populi vox diaboli, is the truth here.” The popularity of a doctrine, or a cause, or a party, is no guarantee of its truth or righteousness. Because the many tread the wrong path our obligation to tread the right path is in no wise diminished. “Error does not become truth because majorities accept it, and truth does not become falsehood because a minority only accept it.” Let us follow those things which are right and true whether they be popular or not.

4. To judge by appearances only is foolish, sinful, and perilous. The report of the ten spies was based solely upon what they saw through their bodily eyes! it does not take any account whatever of the presence, or power, or promise of God. In ordinary everyday purposes and duties he is a foolish man who trusts solely to bodily sight for guidance. To walk by sight alone instead of by faith; to accept the testimony of the senses, and reject the testimony of the soul; to trust our own reasonings rather than the Word of God, is egregious folly and heinous sin. Well does Mr. Carlyle say, “There is but one thing without honour; smitten with eternal barrenness, inability to do or to be: insincerity, unbelief. He who believes no thing, who believes only the shows of things, is not in relation with nature and fact at all.” (c)

NOTE.—The points suggested in the preceding article are too numerous and important for one discourse. Three sermons may without difficulty be arranged on this section,—one, on a discouraging report; another, on an encouraging exhortation; and a third, on modern lessons from ancient reports.


(a) Moral cowardice is the source of every mean and pitiful thing, renders a man afraid of duty, afraid of death; so that when the moment for action arrives, he equivocates, intreats, fears. Moral courage is religion in action; moral cowardice is religion in defeat. Oh, brother, exclaims a strenuous thinker, never strike sail to a fear, come gently into port or sail with God over the seas. Without courage, the courage of the heart, no one can be truly great. This is a courage that does not depend on thews or sinews, but on the soul. It animated the patriots and martyrs of old, as it animates the patriots and martyrs of to-day. Moral courage makes the man, the absence of it the knave, the driveller, and the fool. It is to the age’s dishonour that its intellectual tendencies are marked with the characters of fear. Yet courage must be guided by purity and truth; since divested of these, it is shorn of half its strength.—H. McCormac.

(b) He who walks by sight only, walks in a blind alley. He who does not know the freedom and joy of reverent, loving speculation, wastes his life in a gloomy cell of the mouldiest of prisons. Even in matters that are not distinctively religious, faith will be found to be the inspiration and strength of the most useful life. It is faith that does the great work of the world. It is faith that sends men in search of unknown coasts. It is faith that retrims the lamp of inquiry, when sight is weary of the flame. It is faith that unfastens the cable and gives men the liberty of the seas. It is faith that inspires the greatest works in civilization. So we cannot get rid of religion unless we first get rid of faith, and when we get rid of faith we give up our birthright and go into slavery for ever.—Joseph Parker, D.D.

(c) Imagine a man who disbelieves everything he cannot see with his naked eye. Suppose that it should come to pass to-morrow that everything shall be taken away which cannot be read by the naked eye, or that has not been discovered by the naked eye. What will come? Shut up the heavens, for astronomy must go; and cover over the fields, for botany shall tell little to the naked eye. All science, indeed, would be impoverished, insulted, degraded. Yet the man who cannot read his own mother’s letter without the aid of an eyeglass, insists upon reading the infinite and eternal God by his own unassisted powers; says, that whatsoever is too mysterious for his natural understanding is but worthy of insult, degradation, and contempt. I charge him, before God’s face, with insulting his own common sense, and contradicting the highest experiences of mankind.—Ibid.

Walking by sight is just this—“I believe in myself;” whereas walking by faith is—“I believe in God.” If I walk by sight, I walk by myself; if I walk by faith, then there are two of us, and the second One—ah! how great, how glorious, how mighty is He—the Great All-in-all—God-all-sufficient! Sight goes a warfare at its own charges, and becomes a bankrupt, and is defeated. Faith goes a warfare at the charges of the King’s Exchequer, and there is no fear that Faith’s bank shall ever be broken. Sight builds the house from its own quarry, and on its own foundation, but it begins to build and is never able to finish, and what it does build rests on the sand and falls. But faith builds on the foundation laid in eternity, in the fair colours of the Saviour’s blood, in the covenant of grace. It goes to God for every stone to be used in the building, and brings forth the top-stone with shouting of “Grace, grace unto it.”—C. H. Spurgeon.

Where men are called of God to go forth, it should be theirs instantly and gladly to obey, how dark soever or stormy the night into which they move. Life is a discipline. Shrewd men say they want to know whither they are going before they set out on a journey; but men of higher shrewdness, men of Christian faith, often go out into enterprise and difficulty without being able to see one step before them. The watchword of the noblest, truest souls is, “to walk by faith, not by sight;” faith has a wider dominion and a more splendid future.—Joseph Parker, D.D.


(Numbers 13:30)

I. In what respects the ancient Canaan was a type of heaven.

1. It was a promised land, and the right of possession was founded on the promise.
2. It was a land in which God was peculiarly present.
3. It was a land of fruition.
4. It was a free gift.

II. As the Israelites had dangers, difficulties, and discouragements on their way to Canaan, so have Christians in their progress to heaven.

1. There are formidable foes to be encountered.
2. There are adversaries in timid and faint hearted associates.
3. The Israelites in their progress were made dependent on the Lord for all things.

III. Consider the resolution: “Let us go up at once and possess it.”

1. The title to it is sure.
2. We have means and ordinances by which needed strength is supplied.
3. Here we have many foretastes of the good land.—The Evangelical Preacher quoted in “The Biblical Museum.”


(Numbers 13:30)

Glance at the history. This incident sets forth vividly some of the difficulties which lie in the way of the higher kingdom, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and it is in this view that I intend to regard the graphic narrative.

I. The kingdom of heaven challenges the inquiry of all men. It addresses an appeal to human reason and to human trust. Though itself a revelation, and therefore not to be handled as a common thing, nor to be tested by common instruments, yet Christianity invites the most careful inquest. It does not seek to rest upon the human intellect as a burden, but to shine upon it as a light; it does not fasten itself upon the human heart as an excrescence, but blesses and enriches it with a new and mightier life. If Christianity may be represented under the image of a land such as ancient Canaan, then it is fair to say of it, that it offers right of way over its hills and through its valleys, that its fruits and flowers are placed at the disposal of all travellers, and that he who complains that the land is shut against him speaks not only ungratefully, but most falsely.

There are not wanting men who say that Christianity forbids inquiry.
The kingdom of heaven is the highest revelation of the mind of God to the mind of man. The mind must be at its highest possible point of energy in order to lay hold of the doctrines which constitute that revelation. To get the mind to the point requires the excitement of the heart; for mind is never fully alive whilst the moral powers are dormant. When the heart is moved in its deepest passions, and the mind is set in its highest key, the man is prepared to enter upon the great studies to which he is invited by the Gospel.

It is certainly true, and ought to be taken account of in this connection, that some people have peculiar notions of what is meant by inquiry. In the first instance, they dismiss everything like reverence; in the next place, they make themselves the standard and measure of all truth; and in the third place, they seek to materialize and debase everything that is spiritual and heavenly. This is not inquiry, it is insolent self-sufficiency: it is not the spirit of a student seeking light, it is the spirit of a braggart who thinks the sun inferior to his spark. The tone of mind must be in harmony with the subject considered; in every department of intellectual life it is required that a student be self-controlled, patient, docile; that his temper be subdued, and that his conclusions be reached through long and earnest watching of processes. This is required in all sciences; why not in the science of sciences—the knowledge and worship of the true God?

II. Different reports will of course be brought by the inquirers. It was so in the case of the spies—it will be so in all inquiry. The result of the survey will be according to the peculiarities of the surveyors. As streams are impregnated by the soils over which they flow, so subjects are affected by the individualism of the minds through which they pass. Thus Christianity may be said to be different things to different minds. To the speculative man it is a great attempt to solve deep problems in theology; to the controversialist it is a challenge to debate profound subjects on new ground; to the poet it is a dream, a wondrous vision many-coloured as the rainbow, a revelation many-voiced as the tunes of the wind or the harmonies of the sea. Each inquirer will have his own way of reporting the result of his inquiry. Christian testimony is not of one unchanging sort. One Christian will report his experience in highly intellectual phraseology, as if God had entered his heart through the shining chambers of his mind; another will show that he has reached peace through many a stormy conflict with doubt; another will speak the language of music as though he had been taught it in intercourse with the angels; another will stammer by reason of sobs and tears. Yet the subject is the same, the result is the same—this is the diversity that is unity—

“Ten thousand thousand are their tongues, But all their joys are one.”

1. Some inquirers will see all the hindrances.

2. All will confess that there is something good in the land.

3. Those who hold back by reason of the difficulties will come to a miserable end. (a) We don’t escape by false reasoning. (b) We don’t escape by fear.


1. Some have shown the spirit of Caleb—what is your testimony?

2. Will any resolve now, in Divine strength, to follow the Lord fully?

Observe that it is the spirit of Caleb which is commended.—Joseph Parker, D.D.


(Numbers 13:32, and Numbers 14:6-7)

The land of Canaan is a very excellent picture of religion. The children of Israel must stand as the representatives of the great mass of mankind. The great mass of mankind never try for themselves what religion is; they neither search our sacred books, nor taste and try our religion. But this is what they do; they consider those who make a profession of religion as spies who have entered the land, and they look upon our character and our conduct as the message we bring back to them. And if they find that our report is a gloomy one or an unholy one, they turn aside and they say, “It is not a good land; we will not enter into it, for its difficulties are great, but its enjoyments are few.”

I. The ungodly world are not to be excused for that instead of investigating religion for themselves, they usually trust to the representation of others.

The worldly man looks at a Christian to see whether his religion be joyful. “By this,” says he, “shall I know whether there is that in religion which will make a man glad. If I see the professor of it with a joyous countenance, then I will believe it to be a good thing.” But hast thou any right to put it to that test? Is not God to be counted true, even before we have proved Him? Would you not know from Scripture, if you were to take the Bible and read it, that everywhere the Christian is commanded to rejoice, because it is comely for him? Psalms 32:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16; Philippians 4:4. Again, you say you will test the holiness of Christ’s religion by the holiness of Christ’s people. The proper test that you ought to use is to try it yourselves—to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Your business is yourselves to enter into its valleys and pluck its grapes; yourselves to climb its hills and see its inhabitants. Inasmuch as God has given you a Bible, He intended you to read it, and not to be content with reading men. You have no right tc judge religion from anything extra or external from itself.

It will be in vain for you to say at the day of Judgment, “Such and such a man was inconsistent, therefore I despised religion.” In business, &c., you were independent enough. You are asked to follow Christ Himself. Until, then, you can find a flaw in His character, a mistake in His conduct, you have no right to fling the inconsistency of His followers in the teeth of Christ, nor to turn from Him because His disciples forsake Him and flee. “Every man shall bear his own burden.”

II. Bring forth the bad spies.

These spies are to be judged, not by what they say, but by what they do; for to a worldling, words are nothing—acts are everything.

1. I produce a man who brings up an evil report of the land, for he is of a dull and heavy spirit. If he preaches, he takes this text—“Through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom.” He never mentions God’s people, without calling them, “God’s tried children.” He is always in the valley, &c. See him at home.…

Hear him pray.… These men are evil spies.… Permit me to bear my testimony. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness,” &c. It is a land that floweth with milk and honey, &c.

2. The next one makes very boastful pretensions to piety. Everybody says when they see him in his good frames in chapel or elsewhere, “What a dear good man he is!” Follow him to business. He will not swear, but he will lie. He won’t out-and-out rob, but he will cheat.… What does the world say of religion when they see these people? They say at once, “Well, if this be religion, we had better have none of it.”.… But while you have met with hypocrites, you have met with men whom you could not doubt. Do not believe the ill report of the hypocrite and the unholy man.

3. The Christian man,.… there are times when his witness is not consistent. When you see an angry Christian—and such a thing may be seen; and when you meet with a Christian who is proud—and such a thing has been known; when you catch a Christian overtaken in a fault, as you may sometimes do, then his testimony is not consistent. He contradicts then what he has at other times declared by his acts.… If sometimes you see a Christian man betrayed into a hasty or a wrong expression, do not set it down to our religion, set it down to our poor fallen humanity.

III. Now we have some good spies.

1. An aged Christian. “Fifty and six years have I served Him, and I have never found Him once unfaithful.”

2. The sufferer. “He has made my bed in all my sickness; He has given me joy in my sorrows,” &c.

3. A Christian merchant; he is immersed in the cares of this life, and yet he always finds time to prepare for a world that is to come. Men said of him in the Exchange and in the Market, “If there is a Christian, it is that man.” Such a man brings up a good report of the land.

4. My sisters, it is possible for you, too, to bring up a good report. We have known an ungodly husband converted by a godly wife. When you have done what you can for Christ, by holy, patient, quiet meekness, you are good spies; you have brought a good report of the land.

5. And you, servants, can do the same. A religious servant girl ought to be the best servant anywhere.

IV. The great necessity of bringing out a uniformly good testimony concerning religion.

1. Every unguarded word you use, every inconsistent act, puts a slur on Christ. Do not suffer His escutcheon to be tarnished; do not permit His banner to be trampled in the dust.

2. If you do wrong, the world will be quite sure to notice you. Remember, too, that the world always wears magnifying glasses to look at Christians’ faults. If we have more privileges, and more culture, and make more profession, we ought to live up to them, and the world is quite right in expecting us to do so.

3. If you do not bring a good testimony for your religion, an evil testimony will defeat a great deal of good. The Christian may flow on in a steady course of life, unseen, unheard; but you are sure to hear of him if he makes a fall. Be watchful, therefore, &c.

As for you who fear not God, remember, if Christians do sin, that shall not be an excuse for you.—C. H. Spurgeon.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/numbers-13.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Ads FreeProfile