Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 13

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-20

Numbers 13:1-20

Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan.

Glimpses of the better land

. The search.

The retreat,

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 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.


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. (Islay Burns, D. D.)

The sending forth of the spies

. The origin of this expedition (cf. Deuteronomy 1:20-25).

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 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 laud,” &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. 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.

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 would have a witness of its own.

(2) In sending a leading man from each tribe. They were approved men of influence, and therefore their testimony would be the more likely to be 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 unworthy of the position which they occupied.

3. The diversity of human fame. The names of these twelve men have been handed down to the present time; but how different are the positions which they occupy! 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.

The aims of this expedition. They were to 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.

The spirit appropriate to this expedition. “And be ye of good courage.” (W. Jones.)

The twelve spies

. Their selection.

1. One from each tribe. That each tribe, without preference or distinction, might be represented.

2. Each was a man of mark. “Every one a ruler.” “Heads of the children of Israel.” Men of judgment and discretion. This the more needful--

(1) Because the journey was perilous.

(2) Because the object was important. Men able to judge of the soil, and inhabitants.

3. They were chosen and sent by Moses. Their various characters prove the impartiality of Moses. He could doubtless have found in each tribe a man after his own heart. Probably he allowed the people of each tribe to have a voice in the matter.

Their commission.

1. They were to spy out the whole land. Not to give a report upon some few favourable or unfavourable aspects of it.

2. They were to observe the people, and note especially their numbers, character, habits, and strength.

3. They were to bring particulars of the dwellings of the people; whether cities, tents, or otherwise. From this, their habits and power of resistance might be inferred.

4. They were carefully to examine the soil, whether fit for pasturage or tillage, whether it was fat or lean.

5. To confirm and illustrate what they might say of the soil, they were to bring of the fruit of the land.

6. They were to be fearless. God would have them in His keeping.

Their journey.

1. In the glorious summer-time, thus commissioned, they set out on their enterprise. Time when the country looked most beautiful.

2. They passed up through the whole country, from the south to the extreme north; even to Hamath.

3. Returning, they visited Hebron. Should not the remembrance of him who dwelt there (Abraham) have encouraged them to believe in their conquest of the country?

4. At a place afterwards called Eshcol (the place of grapes, or the cluster), they cut down a large bunch of grapes; and collecting also some figs and pomegranates, they returned with much information after forty days.

Their report.

1. Things in which they agreed. Concerning the country, soil, fruit, people. They showed the fruit they had brought.

2. Things about which they differed. Their ability to conquer this wonderful country.

3. Effect of their representations.

(1) Immediate. People discouraged and tumultuous (Numbers 13:30; Numbers 14:1-5). They began to rebel. Were for returning to Egypt.

(2) Ultimate. Delayed the stay in the desert, and the conquest of Canaan for many years.

4. Only Joshua and Caleb faithful; these were silenced and out-voted. Minorities have often been in the right. Reason: goodness and wisdom generally with the few. (J. C. Gray.)

Wise travellers

To us at this day the use may be twofold. First, to such as travel to see foreign countries, that they observe fit things in them, so make good use of their travel, not neglecting things profitable, and sucking up all venom, that the corruption of those places may yield, as too many do, to their own, not only temporal, but eternal woe, and to the poisoning of many others when they return. Secondly, to magistrates, ministers, and all of good disposition, it may be a pattern of care and endeavour, according to the places and power they have, to work liking in men of the true Canaan that shall endure for ever, and a daily disliking of the pleasures of Egypt, this transitory and sinful world, that bewitcheth so many to their endless woe and confusion. (Bp. Babington.)

The promised land

We have a heavenly Canaan, towards which we are journeying; and we are told by an oracle, even more sure than the Urim and Thummim, “There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God.” This, then, being the case, can we do better than apply to ourselves the injunction in the text, and “search out the land” which is our promised abode? True it is, we cannot send men as the Jews did, for “who shall ascend into heaven, save the Son of God which came down from heaven?” The city which we seek is no fancy of the imagination. But shall we open the book of their record, and note what inspired lips have spoken concerning the New Jerusalem? Shall we tell you of the gates, each made of a single pearl, and the foundations of twelve manner of precious stones? When the gates of that city shall close upon the ransomed spirit, will it be on these things that the undying eye will be fixed, or rather upon the face of “Him who sitteth upon the throne,” the triune Jehovah, the glorified Jesus? He who hath “washed us in His own blood, and made us kings and priests to God and to the Lamb,” will be the supreme object of our admiration and worship. Such is the land towards which we are hastening--an inheritance not doubtful, but secured to us by two “immutable things, by which it is impossible for God to lie.” And now, having heard this good report, shall we gird on our swords and prepare, as disciples of the Lord, to “fight the good fight of faith,” and declare in the heart-stirring words of Caleb, “Let us go up and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Press forward, then; the voice of our Captain is cheering us onward--“Fear not, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Angels are rejoicing at our progress; and not only so, but fighting on our side; Satan and his apostate legions are fleeing before the triumphant cross. Shall we plead our terrors at the Anakim, while the sword of the Eternal is drawn on our behalf? Away with the thought; “though they hedge us in on every side, in the name of the Lord we will destroy them.” Yet let us not go on this warfare “without counting the cost”; the enemies against whom we have to contend are giants indeed. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” These our foes are watchful as well as powerful; they are most malignant; they know our weak parts, and can tempt us most craftily; they are in league with the corruption of our own nature, and are often most dangerous when least suspected. Are we prepared, against such antagonists as these, not only to draw the sword, but to cast away the scabbard? (H. Christmas, M. A.)

Moses called Oshea . . . Jehoshua.--

The change of Joshua’s name

Originally called Hoshea, or Salvation, this name was changed, when he led the spies, to Jehoshua, or The Lord is Salvation. And it has never ceased to seem significant to the Christian that this name of Joshua should have been that by which our Lord was called. In its Greek form, “Jesus,” it was given to Him because He was to save His people from their sins. By His distinctive name among men He was linked to Joshua, and in the salvation He accomplishes for His people we are therefore led to expect the same leading characteristics as distinguished the salvation of Israel by Joshua.

1. We are, in the first place, reminded by this parallel that the help afforded to us in Christ is God’s help, and this in a fuller sense than was true in Israel’s case.

2. Again, we are reminded by this parallel, that as in the conquest of the land by Joshua, so in our salvation, is there a somewhat perplexing mixture of miracle and hard fighting. Sometimes the rivers that flow deep before us open at our approach, and we pass over dryshod. At other times we are allowed to fall into ambuscades. And just as the Israelites, when they found the Jordan open before them and the walls of Jericho fall down, supposed that the conquest of the land was to be completed without their drawing their swords, and were in consequence defeated before Ai, so are the great mass of those who enter the Christian life presuming that God will give them the land of uprightness, purity of heart, and holiness of life, with scarcely an effort on their part. And therefore, though there was miracle on the side of Israel, yet this rule was distinctly laid down as the rule by which the territory was allotted to the tribes, that each was to have what each could take, and hold against the enemy. This is the law of our acquisitions also. What becomes really ours is what we fight for inch by inch, killing as we go, slaughtering the obstinate foe on his own soil, so that the property be left to us uncontested. God’s grant is useless to us if we will not draw the sword and conquer it, if we will not wield the axe and clear it. These two united form the strongest of titles, God’s grant and our own conquest. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)

Verses 23-24

Numbers 13:23-24

The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes.

Grapes of Eshcol

. The true inquirers into the divine will ever have their reward. There are grapes for every student of God’s Book.

The region promised to the good is rich in blessing. Their highest enjoyments on earth are only the taste of a few grapes of the heavenly world.

The vast majority of the human family have ever been marked by meanness of soul. Not only did these specimens fail to inspire the millions of Israel to go and take possession of the land, but even ten out of the twelve discoverers lost heart. Talk not of majorities! (Homilist.)

Glimpses of the promised land

. Consider the narrative itself.

1. The evil report. Not one word of encouragement do they offer--no reference do they make to that Divine protection which they had experienced during their perilous search--no exhortation do they utter, urging the people to obey the Divine command. Their report was essentially an “evil” one, calculated to dishearten the people--to raise prejudices in their minds. Now the conduct of these spies has always, and I think rightly, been regarded as illustrative of the conduct of those who are dismayed by the difficulties which attend a religious life. For it cannot be denied that these are numerous and formidable. This does not admit of a doubt and it ought not to be concealed.

2. Very different was the testimony which Caleb and Joshua bore. These faithful men thought and acted for themselves. Singularity for its own sake is always to be avoided, since it may arise from a desire to attract notice and thus be the mere offspring of vanity. But when truth is concerned, then, though we should stand alone, it becomes us to avow it. There never was a more false or dangerous maxim than that the voice of the people is the voice of God: it is much more frequently the voice of the devil--the voice of impulses which he has excited and of passions which he has stirred.

Consider the spiritual lessons which this narrative suggests. Glimpses of the promised land! No Christian is without them, for there are foretastes of heaven even on earth.

1. There are glimpses of the promised land which we obtain by faith. God has discovered to us in His Word a better country, and though a wise reserve is maintained, yet much information is afforded us with regard to it.

2. There are glimpses of the promised land which we obtain when we possess the first-fruits of the Spirit. In the grace that you now receive you have a type of the glory which is yet to be revealed. In the peace which you now enjoy, you have a type of the perfect happiness you will soon experience. In the purity which you now possess you have a type of the spotless holiness in which you will be hereafter arrayed. In the communion which you now hold with God you have a type of that more intimate fellowship which is the privilege of heaven.

3. Glimpses of the promised land are often vouchsafed to the Christian at an early stage of his experience. But there was much for us to learn, and God sent us into the wilderness to learn it. After all, our experience was superficial--our feelings were stronger than our principles--our faith needed trial, and so, like the Israelites we have been “led about and instructed.” Do not complain, therefore, because your experience is not what it once was. God gave you, at the outset of your Christian career, a glimpse of the promised land, and the memory of this may cheer you now when you mourn because of the travel and toil of the wilderness.

4. Glimpses of the promised land are often enjoyed by the believer at the close of life. This is not invariably the case, but it frequently is so, as a reward for eminent piety. (H. J. Gamble.)

A cloister of gospel grapes

Strabo states that in Bible times and in Bible lands there were grape-vines so large that it took two men with outstretched arms to reach round them, and he says there were clusters two cubits in length, or twice the length from the elbow to the tip of the long finger. And Achaieus, dwelling in those lands, tells us that during the time he was smitten with fever one grape would slake his thirst for the whole day. No wonder, then, that in these Bible times two men thought it worth their while to put their strength together to carry down one cluster of grapes from the promised land. But I bring you a larger cluster from the heavenly Eshcol--a cluster of hopes, a cluster of prospects, a cluster of Christian consolations; and I am expecting that one taste of it will rouse up your appetite for the heavenly Canaan.

1. First, I console you with the Divinely sanctioned idea that your departed friends are as much yours now as they ever were. That child, O stricken mother! is as much yours this morning as in the solemn hour when God put it against your heart and said as of old, “Take this child and nurse it for Me, and I will give thee thy wages.” It is no mere whim. It is a Divinely-planted principle in the soul, and God certainly would not plant a lie, and He would not culture a lie!

2. But I console you again with the fact of your present acquaintanceship and communication with your departed friends.

3. I console you still further with the idea of a resurrection. On that day you will get back your Christian dead. There is where the comfort comes in. And oh, the reunion; oh, the embrace after so long an absence! Comfort one another with these words. (T. de Witt Talmage.)


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. 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 I 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? (Dean Law.)

Foretastes of heaven

Land-birds of beautiful plumage greeted Columbus days before his eye caught a glimpse of the New World. A more southern voyager found himself in the fresh water of the Amazon before discovering the continent whence they came. So at the close of life’s voyage do birds of paradise come hitherward, careering on bright wings, and the river of life sends its refreshing current far out into the briny sea of this world.

The pomegranate

People in the East have always been fond of using fruits and flowers as symbols. Thus lots of pomegranates were carved as sacred emblems upon Jachin and Boaz, the two chief pillars in the temple (1 Kings 7:18), embroidered on the priest’s garments (Exodus 28:33).

Our religion should be delightful. The pomegranate is delightful to every sense; for it gladdens the eye, and is a favourite ornament. Its leaf is bright green and lustrous; its wood is yellow and graceful; its blossom is well shaped and scarlet. The good is the beautiful, beautiful with God’s beauty. The pomegranate is also very fragrant. It sweetens the air and breathes benediction all around. You should behold flowers and plants not with the eyes of the gardener who plants them, nor of the child who plucks them, nor of the merchant who buys them, but of the Christian who finds in them sweet suggestions of the love of God. The pomegranate is also delightful to the taste, for its juice is very delicious. It was also in Bible times very delightful to the mind: for, like the olive it was an emblem of peace. Invading armies cut down the fruit trees, and one of the first to fall before the sword and fire was the pomegranate, as it was a shrub rather than a tree. This was one reason why it was so popular, as it was a sign of long-continued peace. It was thus a token of the religion of peace.

Our religion, like the pomegranate, should be very useful. It was good for medicine. Every part of it had healing virtue, and it heals several of the diseases that are most common in the East--sore throat, dysentery, &c. You know that all green things are literally for the healing of the nations. The religion of Jesus, when real in the heart, always sweetens the breath of society and heals many sores. Our plant is also good for drink. It is very juicy, and has a remarkable quality of quenching thirst in these hot climes. Its delicate juice is often manufactured into wine, and is a great favourite with the sick, and indeed with all classes. It is also good for food. Do not suppose that the religion of Jesus is good for the world to come but not good for this. It is the sincere Christian alone who gets out of this present life all the good it can yield him. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Our religion, like the pomegranate, should be very fruitful--fruitful both in ourselves and in the world. When our Saviour speaks of the fruit bearing of His disciples, He means such rich fruit as you find on the Syrian soil, and under the wonder-working Syrian sun. We never see anything like it in our cloudy clime. Why, the seeds in one pomegranate might soon fill a grove, if none of them were spoiled. I was allured the other day to a splendid horse-chestnut. I pulled one of its blossoms, but I was disgusted with it, and at once flung it away. It was ruffled and bedashed with rain, bored through by flies, discoloured with dust--I flung away the ragged, blighted, deflowered thing. Many a beautiful and promising young life soon becomes like that outcast blossom. One of the darkest things to me in the world is the ease with which a fine young life is sometimes injured. But if you yield your heart early to Christ, and gladly take Him as your Teacher, Saviour, and Guide, how delightful, useful, and fruitful your life may become--it may grow as the pomegranate. You can set no bounds to the possibilities of good that belong to the very humblest Christian. A portrait of Dante was discovered lately; he was ,holding a pomegranate in his hand. Perhaps it had charmed the poet as an emblem of what he desired to be. (James Wells, D. D.)

Verse 27

Numbers 13:27

It floweth with milk and honey.

A land flowing with milk and honey

The idea suggested is, that the true disciples of the Lord Jesus are expected to show to the world some illustration of the nature of the heavenly country to which they are journeying. In a sense they have been there, and have come back. But in what sense?

1. The idea with many persons is, that the future condition of man is so completely different from this, that it is out of the question to attempt to form a conception of it. Now, it is true, St. Paul tells us, “that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” But it is also true, as the apostle goes on to say, that “ God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.” Some people, then, are in a position to understand what the heavenly kingdom is like. They have true ideas about it--foretastes. In fact, “heaven” is really the expansion of a life begun here below. “He that hath the Son hath life.”

2. What, then, has the true disciple to show as specimens of the produce of this unseen and unknown country? Briefly, the character of Christ reproduced in him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is faintly, imperfectly reproduced; still it is reproduced (see 2 Corinthians 1:21, “Hath Christed us”). There is the strength which overcometh the world, the peace which passeth understanding, the blessedness of communion with God, the soul-thirst for God ever renewed and ever satisfied.

3. It is by the presentation of these fruits of the land that souls are won. No doubt there are some persons in the world to whom Christ and everything belonging to Christ, are only repulsive; and these will scrutinise the disciple with an unfriendly eye, and rejoice if ever they find, or fancy they find, any inconsistency in his conduct. But there are also many others of a different temper. They are halting between two opinions. They say, not of course in words, but by their feelings and manner, “Be Christ to us; let us see in you and through you what the Divine Master is, and how He will treat us if we venture to apply to Him”--or, to express it differently, “Show us the fruits of the heavenly land, of which you think so much and speak so much. You are amongst us as a citizen of the heavenly city (Philippians 3:20). Enable us to gather from your conduct what are the characteristics of that noble land, of that bright and glorious companionship.”

4. And lastly, what is the practical conclusion to be drawn from the whole subject thus discussed? Surely it is this--that we, who profess to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, should be careful to recognise the responsibility laid upon us to give a good report, like Caleb and Joshua, and not a bad report, like the ten other spies, of the unseen land. We shall give a bad report if our lives are not attractive, and are not consistent. We shall give a good report if our characters glow, even feebly, with the inner light of the life of Christ; and if, by deed as well as by word, we cry, “ The conflict may be a formidable one, but it is not too formidable”; and if we trust as we should do, and may do, that we shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)

Verse 30

Numbers 13:30

Let us go up at once, and possess it.

The ancient Canaan a type of heaven

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.

The Israelites had dangers, difficulties, and discouragements in the wilderness, in their way to Canaan; so have Christians in their progress to heaven.

1. There are formidable foes to be encountered. The corrupt heart, the evil world, and that apostate spirit, the devil.

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.

The resolution--“let us go up at once, and possess it.”

1. The title to it is sure. It is pledged in Christ; as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. He is our Joshua and is gone to take possession for us.

2. We have means and ordinances by which needed strength is supplied, and we are invited and enjoined to feed in the spiritual manner, and to drink of the spiritual rock.

3. Here we have many foretastes of the good land. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

Difficulties in the way

1. 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. ]f 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.

2. Different reports will, of course, be brought by the inquirers. 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.

(1) Some inquirers will see all the hindrances.

(2) All will confess that there is something good in the laud.

(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 voter testimony?

2. Will you resolve, in Divine strength, to follow the Lord fully? (J. Parker, D. D.)

The decision and exertion incumbent upon Christians in all things

. The passage serves to illustrate the believer’s duty in general. “Go forward.” This is the command of God to His people, with reference to every obligation that devolves upon them, and at every critical moment, amidst all our difficulties we encounter from the world. Nothing but this heroism will suit the dignity and the decision of Christian character.

The passage serves to illustrate the more special duty of the people of God with reference to missionary exertion. And that I conceive to be one of the pressing duties of the Church of Christ in the present day. (W. H. Cooper.)

The magnanimous character and wisdom of Caleb

1. He “stilled the people.” Stillness engenders thoughtfulness.

2. He seeks to secure unity of faith. “Let us go up.”

3. Promptness. “At once.”

4. He directs their minds to their ability.

Conclusion: The world belongs to Christ by creation and by preservation. In God’s name the Church may claim Christ’s prerogative for the conquest of the world. (W. Mudge.)

Good witnesses for God

. God hath ever had some witnesses of his truth Nicodemus. Joseph of Arimathea. And how can it be otherwise, for the truth shall never decay from the earth, but be spread abroad from place to place, and from generation to generation for ever (Psalms 119:89). We perish, for all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man is as the flower of the field, but the word of the Lord abideth for ever (1 Peter 1:24). God will have this never to die, never to wither. He hath the hearts of all men in His own hand, to turn them at His pleasure (Acts 9:15). So saith Christ, “I tell you if these should hold their peace, the stones would cry” (Luke 19:40), and therefore He can never be without some witness to maintain His truth.

1. This teacheth us that God is most glorious and powerful, and will be known in the earth (Psalms 8:1-2; Matthew 21:15; Acts 14:17).

2. Great is His truth and prevaileth; He hath always had a Church upon the face of the earth, and He never forsaketh it, though multitudes conspire against it, it shall have the upper hand at last.

3. Be not discouraged when the truth is oppressed, because God is able to maintain it, and raiseth up His enemies oftentimes to defend it.

4. This should persuade every one of us how to carry ourselves, namely, that we should not take any approbation or liking of the evil of other, neither ought we to imitate any in sin, how holy soever they seem to be, neither give consent to them by our practice, forasmuch as God’s hand hath overtaken them at one time or other.

The evil of others, yea, although they be many, may not re followed of us. The reasons.

1. Whatsoever is in itself evil cannot be made good and lawful by any example, nor by many examples. It cannot be warranted by the law of man, much less by the pure law of God Himself.

2. No greatness, no multitude can save a man from judgments due to the least sin; for though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished (Proverbs 5:1-23; Proverbs 11:21). This serveth to reprove many carnal and formal Christians that oftentimes encourage themselves in evil, and strengthen themselves by the example of others.

3. We may gather from hence a reproof of ignorant recusants grounding only upon their forefathers; such as can give no other reason of their religion but that they were born and bred in it (Psalms 78:8).

It is the duty: of God’s children to exhort and stir up one another to good things. And that for divers reasons.

1. We are quickly hardened in sin. We are quickly dull to all good; exhortation made by others setteth an edge upon us, and putteth life into us (Proverbs 27:17).

2. Such as continue to the end are made partakers of Christ, and with Him of all other graces; this ought to provoke us to practise this duty, the rather seeing so great fruit cometh by it, the blessing of all blessings, Christ Jesus is made ours (Hebrews 3:13-14).

3. We have other reasons used by the same apostle (Hebrews 10:25-26). Fearful judgments remain for all backsliders.

4. The day of the Lord draweth near, and we must take heed that it take us not unprepared; we must therefore stir up ourselves and others to look for it and to long after it. Lastly, we see evil men do it in evil and to evil. They labour by all means to make others as bad as themselves. This also we see in this place, much more therefore ought we to teach and instruct one another, and be helpers to the most holy faith one of another. (W. Attersoll.)

A campaign for God

The Israelites sent twelve spies into Paran and Kadesh to reconnoitre. I suppose they wanted to see if God’s word was true. That’s always the way with unbelievers. God had said to them, “Go over. I’ll help you. It will be yours. It’s a land flowing with milk and honey. All you’ve got to do is to go and take it.” But they thought they would first find out for themselves what it was worth, and whether they would be able to take it. They brought back what we would call in these days a majority and minority report. Ten said that it would be impossible to take the country. All admitted that what God had told them was true about the milk and honey. Only Caleb and Joshua confirmed the Lord in regard to taking the land. All admitted that the land was good, but ten said they saw giants, and walls, and castles, and that the Israelites would not be able to overcome these. I can imagine these fellows in camp, telling their comrades that they had stood alongside these giants, and had been obliged to look up to see their faces, and that they were to them but as grasshoppers. When we believe, we are able to overcome giants, and walls and everything. A lie generally travels faster than the truth. It is an old saying that a lie will go round the world before the truth can get his boots on to follow him. The world always seems to rejoice whenever anything goes wrong with religion. So thus he went round the camp and found favour with the Jews. “I would rather go back to Egypt and make bricks without straw again. I would rather hear the crack of the slaveholder’s whip again, than encounter these terrors.” That’s the way the Israelites talked, and that is the talk of the unbeliever. I am one of the spies sent out to look at the promised land. I have found it flowing with milk and honey. Let us say whether we fear anything now. Let us go up at once and take the land. I tell you that it is good. If Caleb’s voice had prevailed, the Israelites might have saved forty years in the wilderness. To-day I say that four-fifths of the professed children are not able to reach the land, simply on account of their unbelief. Many persons have told me that I mustn’t expect so great a success as I had in the old country. If I don’t expect it, I won’t have it. We must go at once and take the land. We are able to do it. “Their defence has gone from them.” How easy it is for God to pour out His blessings in such profusion that we will not be able to receive them. That was the difference between Caleb and Joshua and the ten. The ten got their eyes on the walls and the giants, but Caleb and Joshua lifted theirs above and saw Him on His throne. They said that it was easy for God to give them that country as He promised. They remembered how easily He had taken them across the Red Sea; how He had fed them with manna in the wilderness, and how He had made the water gush forth from the barren rock. If God wishes to aid you, then you are well able to go up and take the land. That is the difference between a man who has God with him, and the one who has not. The greatest difficulty we have to encounter is, therefore, the unbelief so current among Christians. Oh, would that God would sweep it away! Our God is able to do it. Let us not limit the power of the Holy One of Israel. Look upward and see Him who sitteth on the right hand of God, and press forward. (D. L. Moody.)

Caleb’s spirit

Was Caleb, then, a giant--larger than any of the sons of Anak? Was he a Hercules and a Samson in one? Was his arm so terrific that every stroke of it was a conquest? We are not told so; the one thing we are told about Caleb is that he was a man of “another spirit.” That determines the quality of the man. Character is a question of spirit. It is an affair of inward and spiritual glow. Caleb had been upon the preliminary search; Caleb had seen the walls, and the Anakim, and the fortresses, and he came back saying, We can do this, not because we have so many arms only, or so many resources of a material kind, but because he was a man of “another spirit.” In the long run, spirit wins; in the outcome of all history, spirit will be uppermost. The great battles of life are not controversies of body against body, but, as far as God is in them, they are a question of spirit against body, thought against iron, prayer against storming and blustering of boastful men. While the cloud hangs over the field, and the dust of the strife is very thick, and the tumult roars until it deafens those who listen, we cannot see the exact proportions, colours, and bearings of things; but if we read history instead of studying the events of the day which have not yet settled themselves into order and final meaning, we shall discover that spirit is mightier than body, that “knowledge is power,” that “righteousness exalteth a nation,” and that they who bear the white banner of a pure cause ultimately triumph because God is with them. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Difficulties may be overcome

“It is impossible!” said some, when Peter the Great determined on a voyage of discovery; and the cold and uninhabited region over which he reigned furnished nothing but some larch-trees to construct his vessels. But, though the iron, the cordage, the sails, and all that was necessary, except the provisions for victualling them, were to be carried through the immense deserts of Siberia, down rivers of difficult navigation, and along roads almost impassable, the thing was done; for the command of the sovereign and the perseverance of the people surmounted every obstacle.

Verses 32-33

Numbers 13:32-33

They brought up an evil report.

The report of the spies

. God’s promises will always bear investigation. It is true that none of us has entered heaven; but Jesus, who has gone on in advance to take possession of it in His people’s name, has sent back an Eshcol cluster of its vintage, that we may know something of what we should expect. He has given us “the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” The believer already has everlasting life; for the regeneration which he has here experienced needs but to be expanded and elevated and sublimated, to become the life of heaven. It is a confirmation of Jehovah’s word to him; it is the seal of God Himself to the truthfulness of His promise that he shall yet enter into heaven’s own rest.

There are Anakim to be encountered in the conquest of every promised land. Christ has said, “If any man will come after Me,” &c., and has urged us to count the cost before we commence to raise our tower. So He would prepare us for self-denial, hardship, and long-continued struggle; but we must not suppose that in all this the gospel is an exception to the general law. No Canaan of success, in any pursuit, can be gained save by the conquest of the Anakim. He who would rise to a position of eminence in the department of literature, for example, must learn to “scorn delights, and live laborious days.” He must deny himself many pleasures in which others allow themselves to indulge, and must keep himself, in a sense, secluded from the world, living in his library and at his desk. The man of business who would climb the steep that leads to wealth, must pursue a similar course. He cannot leave his place; he keeps himself chained to the oar; he knows that nothing will avail but work--hard and continuous work; for so only can he conquer those influences that stand in the way of his attainment of his object. It is the same with the artist; and, on a lower platform, with the athlete. All of them have to go into training; and, in every pursuit, a campaign, with its perils and fatigues, comes before a victory. We cannot complain, there-tore, if the same law holds in the spiritual life. The giants with whom we have to contend are mainly in ourselves, in the shape of evil principles and sins that most easily beset us; and it is only through self-conquest that we can pass to any external victory. We cannot vault by one spasmodic leap up to the height of holiness, any more than the Israelites could all at once obtain possession of the Land of Promise. “By little and little” it has to be done. It needs prayer, and watchfulness, and constancy; and if we decline to enter upon the conflict, we shall fall short of the inheritance.

The true believer is always able to conquer his spiritual adversaries with the help of God. It is not a question of feebleness, but of faith. Whether the work we set before us be our own sanctification, or the evangelisation of the city, or the conversion of the world, the principle is still the same. We can do all things through Christ strengthening us; and if we attempt great things, trusting in Him, we may expect to do great things, not otherwise.

There is a point beyond which it is no longer possible to repair the follies of the past. They who will not when they may, shall not when they will. You see this in every department and pursuit of life. Up to a certain limit it seems to be in a man’s power, if he choose, to make up for the past; but beyond that limit it is no longer possible, whether he choose or not. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The spies

. In the first place, the ungodly world are not to be excused for that which must, nevertheless, be admitted to be a very natural matter, namely, that instead of investigating religion for themselves, they usually trust to the representation of others.

1. 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 hark, sir! hast thou any right to put it to that test? Is not God to be counted true, even before we have proved Him?

2. Again, you say you will test the holiness of Christ’s religion by the holiness of Christ’s people. You have no right, I reply, to put the question to any such test as that. The proper test that you ought to use is to try it yourselves--to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” By tasting and seeing you will prove His goodness, and by the same process you must prove the holiness of His gospel. 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.” Your excuse will then be discovered to be idle, for you shall have to confess that in other respects you did not take another man’s opinion. In business, in the cares of this life, you were independent enough; in your political opinions you did not pin your faith to any man’s coat; and, therefore, it shall be said of you at last, you had enough independence of mind to steer your own course, even against the example of others, in business, in politics, and such like things; you certainly had enough of mental vigour, if you had chosen to have done so, to have stood out against the inconsistency of professors, and to have searched for yourselves.

With that, by way of guard, I shall now bring forth the bad spies. I wish that the men mentioned in the text had been the only spies who have brought an evil report; it would have been a great mercy if the plague that killed them had killed all the rest of the same sort. Remember, 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. The reports that we bring of our religion are not the reports of the pulpit, not the reports that we utter with our lips, but the report of our daffy life, speaking in our own houses, and the every-day business of life.

1. Welt, first, I produce a man who brings up an evil report of the land, and you will see at once that he does so, for he is a dull and heavy spirit. If he preaches he takes this text Through much tribulation we must inherit the kingdom.” Somehow or other he never mentions God’s people without calling them God’s tried children. As for joy in the Lord, he looks upon it with suspicion. “Lord, what a wretched land is this!” is the very height of poetry to him. He is always in the valley where the mists are hovering; he never climbs the mountain brow, to stand above the tempests of this life. He was gloomy before he made a profession of religion--since then he has become more gloomy still.

2. But there is another class of professors who bring up a bad report of the land. And this I am afraid will affect us all; in some measure we must all plead guilty to it. The Christian man, although he endeavours uniformly to walk according to the law of Christ, finds still another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and consequently there are times when his witness is not consistent. Sometimes this witness is, “The gospel is holy,” for he is holy himself. But, alas! with the very best of men there are times when our witness contradicts our faith. When you see an angry Christian, and when you meet with a Christian who is proud, 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.

Thus I have brought forth the evil spies who bring up a bad report; and now we have some good spies too. But we will let them speak. Come, Joshua and Caleb, we want your testimony; though you are dead and gone you have left: children behind you; and they, still grieved as you were at the evil report, rend their clothes, but they boldly stand to it that the land they have passed through is an exceeding good land. One of the best spies I have ever met with is an aged Christian. I remember to have heard him stand up and tell what he thought of religion. He was a blind old man, who for twenty years had not seen the light of the sun. His grey locks hung from his brow and floated over his shoulders. He stood up at the table of the Lord, and thus addressed us:--“Brethren and sisters, I shall soon be taken from you; in a few more months I shall gather up my feet upon my bed, and sleep with my fathers. I have not the tongue of the learned, nor the mind of the eloquent, but I desire, before I go, to bear one public testimony to God. Fifty and six years have I served Him, and I have never found Him once unfaithful. I can say, ‘Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, and not one good thing hath failed of all the Lord God has promised.’“

And now I want to press with all my might upon every professing Christian here the great necessity of bringing out a uniformly good testimony concerning religion. One of Napoleon’s officers loved him so well that when a cannonball was likely to smite the emperor he threw himself in the way, in order that he might die as a sacrifice for his master. Oh, Christian, you would do the same, I think. If Christ were here you would run between Him and insult--yea, between Him and death. Well, then, I am sure you would not wantonly expose Christ; bug remember, every unguarded word you use, every inconsistent act, puts a slur on Christ. The world, you know, does not find fault with you--they lay it all to your Master. If you make a slip to-morrow, they will not say, “That is John Smith’s human nature”; they will say, “That is John Smith’s religion.” They know better, but they will be sure to say it. Do not allow Christ to bear the blame--do not suffer His escutcheon to be tarnished--do not permit His banner to be trampled in the dust. Then there is another consideration. You must remember, if you do wrong, the world will be quite sure to notice you. They never think of looking at the virtues of holy men; all the courage of martyrs, and all the fidelity of confessors, and all the holiness of saints, but our iniquities are ever before them. Please to recollect that wherever you are, as a Christian, the eyes of the world are upon you; the Argus eyes of an evil generation follow you everywhere. If a Church is blind the world is not. And remember, too, that the world always wears magnifying glasses to look at Christians’ faults. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The evil reporters

1. In these wicked reporters see how Moses, that worthy governor, was deceived, for thinking there had been a good choice made of faithful men, the greater part was naught, even ten of the twelve that were sent. So may good men be abused when they mean well, and must not be censured for that which falleth out against their wills. Again, so is the proverb verified “All is not gold that glittereth.” The Lord is to be prayed unto to direct our choices; for weak is the wisdom of man, unless the wisdom of our all-seeing God go before and direct.

2. In that they confess it was land that flowed with milk and honey, observe the rich blessings God bestoweth upon men, and make such use in your own particular as he did that said, “O Lord, thou givest to me all things fat and fair, I give to Thee all things lean and foul.” Again, since the country was so good, and the inhabitants so wicked, let it make you remember the religious houses, planted most usually in places that flowed with milk and honey, and yet the possessors so idolatrous, and every way evil, as the world now taketh notice they were. Happy men are they that consider the Lord’s superabounding goodness to them, and make it an argument to press them daily to thankfulness, love, and all obedience to Him both in soul and body.

3. Note the manner of their praising of the land. It is with a “but”; surely say they, it floweth with milk and honey; “but,” but what? “But the people be too strong, and we are not able to go up to possess it.” Thus do slanderers ever set out their praises. Such an one is a good man, “but.” Such a woman is a good woman and a good neighbour, “but.” The preacher to-day made a good sermon, “but.” No man hath a better servant, “but.” So ever with one “but” or other they abate their praise, and sting the party or matter praised in the minds of them they speak unto. The Lord of lords and Judge of judges well seeth this their dealing, yea, the world noteth it, and even they, to whom they, howsoever they hold their peace, secretly in their hearts abhor such smoothing calumniation. The end of it with God may appear by this example as fearful a one as may be read in any history. Which you may see was this, that six hundred thousand of them died in the wilderness, and never entered into the Land of Promise, and the infamy of these “butting” reporters abide chronicled to this day in the Book of God, the chronicle to be feared above all chronicles. In county and country, with great and small, these “buts” towards our brethren and good matters are used. God in mercy work the remove of them. (Bp. Babington.)


. There is the Anak speculative. He is bred by much of the scientific tendency of the time. Men make everything of law, and forget a personal God.

1. While science has revealed law, it has also revealed marvellous manipulation of law to special uses, viz., telegraph, telephone, phonograph. Now, if man can so use law to special ends without breaking law, cannot God use His own laws, so that they shall come to focus in blessing on my head, and without breaking them?

2. The most capacious mind is most attentive to details. The infinite mind does not find details burdensome. Therefore God can care for me, and help me.

3. The revelation of the Divine Fatherhood; and fatherhood always means care, love, help, particular attention.

There is the Anak experimental. He takes such shapes as these--I cannot believe, it is hard to serve God; I cannot make myself love; I have no assurance, &c., &c. If we will only confront this son of Anak by a determined doing of precisely what Christ tells us, we shall soon discover that he cannot stand before us and prevent entrance into the Canaan of forgiveness and of peace.

There is the Anak volitional. And he is the main Anak that really prevents us. Two sailors going to their boat past midnight, and getting into it that they might row themselves to their ship yonder, with brains fuddled by a spree on shore, laid hold of the oars and tugged and tugged; and when the morning broke found they had not moved an inch. And with clearer brains and in the advancing light they discovered the reason--they had not lifted the anchor. Ah, how often an unlifted anchor of some known sin is the real Anak keeping back and holding back! (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

Difficulties determine character

Character, like Achilles in disguise at the court of Lycomedes, does not disclose itself till the trumpet blast is sounded, and there is a rush for armour as besuits it.

Intellectual. Schoolboy finds pathway beset with difficulties. They grow, rather than diminish. Nothing will tell its own mystery: how far we shall proceed will depend upon an unconquerable will and intensest application. As answers, we have illiteracy, scholarship, genius.

Social Problems of life and government complex and infinite. A few lead; the multitude follow.

Industrial. We seek and find our own work. Just what is in us will come out.

Religious. Here, too, difficulties will not remove themselves. Just how we approach them will reveal the infidel, athiest, or Christian. Conclusion: Life, in all its departments, is of one piece and like texture; and its difficulties are for trial, discipline, and mastery. (L. O. Thompson.)

The report of the spies; or, The difference between truth and facts

This was a mean report, it was hardly a report at all--so nearly may a man come to speak the truth, and yet not to be truthful, so wide is the difference between fact and truth. Many a book is true that is written under the name of fiction; many a book is untrue that lays claim only to the dry arguments of statistics and schedules. Truth is subtle; it is a thing of atmosphere, perspective, unnameable environment, spiritual influence. Not a word of what the truth says may have occurred in what is known as literal fact, because it is too large a thing ever to be encompassed within the boundaries of any individual experience. The fact relates to an individuality; the truth relates to a race. A fact is an incident which occurred; a truth is a gospel which is occurring throughout all the ages of time. The men, therefore, who reported about walled cities, and tall inhabitants, and mountain refuges, and fortresses by the sea, confined themselves to simply material considerations; they overlooked the fact that the fortress might be stronger than the soldier, that the people had nothing but figure, and weight, and bulk, and were destitute of the true spirit which alone is a guarantee of sovereignty of character and conquest of arms. But this is occurring every day. Again and again we come upon terms which might have been written this very year. We are all men of the same class, with an exceptional instance here and there; we look at walls, we receive despatches about the stature of the people and the number of their fortresses, and draw very terrible conclusions concerning material resources, forgetting in our eloquent despatches the only thing worth telling, namely, that if we were sent by Providence and are inspired by the Living God and have a true cause and are intent to fight with nobler weapons than gun and sword, the mountains themselves shall melt whilst we look upon them, and they who inhabit the fortresses shall sleep to rise no more. This is what we must do in life--in all life--educational, commercial, religious. We have nothing to do with outsides and appearances, and with resources that can be totalled in so many arithmetical figures; we have to ascertain, first, Did God send us? and secondly, if He sent us, to feel that no man can drive us back. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The testimony of a Christian life

“Now lads,” said the late Duncan Mathieson, the Scottish Evangelist, to a lot of boys who had been converted at his meetings, “the people here are not in the habit of reading their Bible to learn what God says to them, but I’ll tell you what they’ll read. They’ll read your lives and ways very carefully to see if you are really what you profess to be. And mind you this, if they find your lives to be inconsistent with your profession, the devil will give them this for an excuse in rejecting Christ.” Very true indeed are these words. Would that we could lay them more constantly to heart t The life of the professing Christian is the only book of evidences that many people ever read in reference to Christianity. The Christian professor’s life is thus the world’s Bible. When there are inconsistencies and flaws in it, then the world makes these a plea against religion. Let us remember that the world’s eyes are upon us. Let us keep our book of evidences clear and pure.

Reason better than imagination

I think it was Henry Ward Beecher who used to relate how when he was a boy there was no stove in the church which he then attended. Some of the worshippers began to think that they might be better with a fire, but they were opposed by others, who thought that a stove should have no place in the house of the Lord, indeed that they could not get to heaven from a church with a stove in it but, despite their fierce opposition, the elders by a narrow majority ultimately decided to have it, and accordingly it was procured and placed in the church. On the following Sunday the doubters mustered strong. Some complained of being very warm, and others declared they were nearly stifled, while a few boldly pronounced that the stove had no right to be there at all, and together they made a rush for the offending piece of furniture, to turn it out of the building, when lo, to their surprise, they found it was empty. These people were very bad reasoners, but had a great imaginative faculty.

Folly of exaggerating the enemy’s strength

It is a bad plan to exaggerate the enemy’s strength; to do so is to increase it. Our English warriors have owed many a victory on land and sea to the confidence with which they entered the fight. Francis Drake was playing bowls on the Hoe at Plymouth when information was brought him of the appearance of the terrible Armada. Some were for hurrying away at once; but the great sailor insisted on finishing the game, gaily assuring his comrades: “ There will be plenty of time to beat the Spaniards.” It is with something of the same dauntless spirit that we should enter upon our holy war. There was real wisdom in the lad’s answer when asked what he thought of the first two chapters of Job. He had but just learned to read, and had set himself with firm resolve to read the Bible through from Genesis to Revelation. He had now come to Job, and his friend asked, “Well, what do you think of it?” “Well,” replied the child, “I don’t like that Satan a bit; and when I get to learn to write and when I have to write Satan, I will always write Satan with a small ‘s.’” Alas! too many of us would have to write the word in large capitals if our writing expressed our feelings. Fear and timidity magnify the foe. Let us learn a holier and braver lesson. (G. Howard James.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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