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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 13

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Twelve spies are sent into Canaan; who, after forty days, return, and bring an evil report upon the land: Caleb stilleth the people.

Before Christ 1490.

Verse 2

Numbers 13:2. Send thou men, that, &c.— It appears from Deuteronomy 1:22; Deu 9:23 that this motion to search the land of Canaan was made by the unbelieving multitude. Being come near to the borders of the land, God ordered them by Moses to go up, and take possession of it; but, forgetting the power and promises of God, the people were afraid to venture upon it, till some were sent to bring them intelligence what kind of country it was, and what sort of people they had to deal with; Moses, therefore, by divine direction, complies with the importunities of the people, and chooses a proper officer out of each tribe for that purpose: every one a ruler among them; for it was fit that men of authority and prudence should be sent, of ability to execute the trust, and of credit to be believed: their names shew plainly that they were not the persons, who, in the first chapter of this book, are called princes of the tribes: they must have been rulers only of some part, not of a whole tribe; perhaps some of those who were rulers of thousands, or rulers of hundreds; called heads of the people, Exodus 18:25. They were sent, according to the opinion of the Jews and St. Jerome, in the month Ab, which was the fifth of the second year; at the beginning of the month, which falls upon the nineteenth day of our July; see Bishop Patrick. We should just observe, that in many versions of the Bible, this chapter begins with the last verse of the foregoing chapter.

Verse 11

Numbers 13:11. Of the tribe of Joseph, &c.— That is to say, of that part of the tribe of Joseph whereof Manasseh was the chief. Mention is made of the tribe of Ephraim, the other branch of the tribe of Joseph, in the 8th verse. The name of Joseph was common to each; but Poole is of opinion, that it is given in this particular manner to Manasseh, to shew in the stronger point of view the crime of the chief of this tribe, who conducted himself so unworthily of his great forefather Joseph. Ainsworth, however, thinks that Manasseh is only mentioned thus, as being the eldest.

Verse 16

Numbers 13:16. Moses called Oshea—Jehoshua Upon what occasion Moses gave him this name, is uncertain; but we find him called Joshua, Exo 17:9 when he went to fight with the Amalekites. The exchange of a person's name was a mark of honour, as appears from Genesis 17:5; Gen 17:15 and Genesis 32:28. Moses, therefore, by changing the name of the son of Nun from Oshea (which signifies save thou) to Joshua, (which signifies he shall save) designed to foreshew that it was with reason his parents had given him that name, since he was truly to be the Saviour and deliverer of his people. Joshua is of the same import with Jesus; and so it is translated by the LXX, Acts 7:45.Hebrews 4:8; Hebrews 4:8. Being appointed to save the people, and bring them into possession of the promised land, he was a proper type, says Bishop Kidder, of the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. If the name of each of these rulers whom Moses chose conveyed an expressive meaning, one might believe that their opinion had some foundation, who pretend, that Moses chose Joshua because his name conveyed such a fortunate omen. The heathens were always remarkably careful not to employ in their most important affairs, those whose names might be construed into any sinister or unfortunate omen. See Cicero, de Deor. Nat. lib. 1: &c. Orat. pro P. Quintio.

Verse 17

Numbers 13:17. Go up into the mountain: See chap. Numbers 12:16.

Verse 19

Numbers 13:19. Whether in tents, or in strong holds This is rendered by the Vulgate and the LXX. whether in cities with walls or without walls. Houbigant renders it, after the Samaritan, whether they be weak or strong, referring to the cities, and to the mode of expression in these verses, strong or weak, few or many, good or bad, fat or lean; see his note.

Verse 20

Numbers 13:20. Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes The spies were forty days in searching the land; so that this time refers to that of their return, not of their setting out; see note on Numbers 13:2.

REFLECTIONS.—As they were now on the borders of the land, they had no more to do, than to go in and take possession; but their unbelief, Deu 1:22 suggested the necessity of sending spies. They were not satisfied with God's promise, but would see for themselves; so ready are we to indulge our own wicked reasonings, rather than simply submit to divine revelation. God permits Moses to gratify them; choice is made of proper persons, and their instructions given them concerning the soil, the inhabitants, and cities. Moses encourages them in their employment, that, boldly acquitting themselves, they might be examples of courage to their brethren: nothing more animating, than to follow those whose fidelity and zeal have been tried.

Verse 21

Numbers 13:21. From the Wilderness of Zin, &c.— Not that which is called the Wilderness of Sin, Exo 16:1 for that lay near to Egypt, south-west of Canaan; but this was a wilderness on the south-east of Canaan, not far from Kadesh Barnea, chap. Numbers 34:3.Joshua 1:3; Joshua 1:3. Rehob was a city in the north of Canaan near the sea coast, not far from Zidon, which fell to the lot of the tribe of Asher, Joshua 19:28. Hamath, afterwards called Epiphania, was not far from Rehob, and bounded Judea on the north; (see chap. Numbers 34:8.) so that the spies took a survey of the whole land, from one end of it to the other, south and north; observing, as they passed along, those parts which lay east and west; see Num 13:29 and the note on Numbers 13:26.

Verse 22

Numbers 13:22. And came unto Hebron See Genesis 13:18. The clause respecting Hebron in this verse appears to be thrown in to humble the pride of the Egyptians, who boasted themselves as the first of mortals, and their nation as of the greatest antiquity; see Ezekiel 29:3. Diod. Sic. lib. i. Justin, lib. ii. c. 1.

Verse 23

Numbers 13:23. They came unto the brook of Eshcol The original word signifies a brook or valley. Valley appears much more proper for this place, as it seems rather uncouth to say, they cut down a branch from a brook. The reason for the name Eshcol is given in the 24th verse. Some have thought that they bare this cluster of grapes upon a staff or bier, (see chap. Numbers 4:10.) merely on account of its size and weight; and, accordingly, authors are cited to prove, that the vines and grapes in those eastern countries are of an extraordinary magnitude, Huetius, in his Quaest.—Alnet mentions bunches of grapes in some islands of the Archipelago, of thirty-six or forty pounds weight; and Pliny describes bunches of grapes in Africa which exceed the size of young children, quae infantum puerorum magnitudinem exsuperant. Strabo, in his Geog. lib. 2: reports, that in many provinces of the East, there are vine trees, which two men cannot encompass. Adam Olearus, an eye-witness, confirms the same thing; Itin. Pers. par. 3: p. 584. See Scheuchzer, who, notwithstanding these accounts of the largeness of the grapes, is of opinion, that they were carried on a bier, rather for the conveniency of preserving them from being bruised, than on account of the enormity of the weight. The reader will find in Calmet, on the place, a further account of the largeness of the grapes in many parts of the East.

REFLECTIONS.—The spies immediately proceed on their errand; and having passed unsuspected through the land, perhaps in separate parties, they might on their return unite at Hebron, a place of great antiquity, and possessed by the sons of Anak, near unto which lay Machpelah, the burying-place of the patriarchs. They bring back with them a specimen of the land, enough to confirm God's declaration, and to confute their own subsequent evil report. These grapes were a proof of the goodness of that land, and an earnest of their possessing it. Note; When faith goes up to spy out the heavenly Canaan, the present joys of believing are the foretastes of eternal bliss.

Verse 26

Numbers 13:26. To Kadesh Or Kadesh Barnea: thus the place is marked out from whence they were sent; see the note on chap. Num 12:16 and Numbers 20:1. "A late ingenious author," says Dr. Shaw, "has situated Kadesh Barnea at eight hours, or twenty miles, distance only from Mount Sinai; which, I presume, cannot be admitted, for various reasons: because several texts in Scripture insinuate, that Kadesh lay at a much greater distance: thus, in Deu 1:19 it is said, they departed from Horeb through that great and terrible wilderness, (which supposes by far a greater extent of time and place,) and came to Kadesh Barnea; and in Deuteronomy 9:23. When the Lord sent you from Kadesh Barnea to possess the land, which (Numbers 20:16.) is described to be a city in the utmost part of the border of Edom; the border of the land of Edom and that of the land of promise being contiguous, and, in fact, the very same; and farther Deu 1:2 it is expressly said, that there are eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadeash Barnea, which, from the context, cannot be otherwise understood, than of marching along the direct road; for Moses here intimates how soon the Israelites might have entered upon the borders of the land of promise, if they had not been a stubborn and rebellious people; whereas a number of their stations betwixt Sinai and Kadesh, as they are particularly enumerated, Numbers 33:0. (each of which must have been at least one day's journey) appear to be twice as many, or twenty-one, in which they are said with great truth and propriety, Psa 107:4 to have wandered in the wilderness out of the way, and in Deu 2:1 to have encompassed mount Seir, rather than to have travelled directly through it. If then we allow ten miles for each of these eleven days journey, (and fewer, I presume, cannot well be insisted upon) the distance of Kadesh from mount Sinai will be about an hundred and ten miles. That ten miles a day (I mean in a direct line, without considering the deviations which are every where more or less) were equivalent to one day's journey, may be further proved from the history of these spies, who searched the land from Kadesh to Rehob, as men come to Haramath, and return in forty days. Rehob then, the farthest point of this expedition to the northward, may well be conceived to have been twenty days journey from Kadesh; and, therefore, to know the true position of Rehob will be a material point in this disquisition. Now, from Jos 19:29-30 and Jdg 1:31 it appears, that Rehob was one of the maritime cities of the tribe of Asher, and lay, in travelling, as we may suppose, by the common or nearest way, along the sea coast (המת לבא —), not, as we render it, as men come to Hamath, but as men go towards Hamath; in going to Hamath, or in the way or road to Hamath; for, to have searched the land as far as Hamath, and to have returned to Kadesh in forty days, would have been altogether impossible. Moreover, as the tribe of Asher did not reach beyond Sidon (for that was its northern boundary), Joshua 19:28. Rehob must have been situated to the southward of Sidon, upon or (being a derivative, perhaps, from רחב rachab, latum esse) below in the plain, under a long chain of mountains, which runs east and west through the midst of that tribe; and as these mountains, called by some the mountains of Saron, are all along, except in the narrow which I have mentioned near the sea, very rugged and difficult to pass over; the spies, who could not well take another way, might imagine they should run too great a risk of being discovered, in attempting to pass through it; in these eastern countries a watchful eye was always, as it is still, kept upon strangers, as we may collect from the history of the two angels at Sodom, Gen 19:5 and of the spies at Jericho, Jos 2:2 and from other instances. If, then, we fix Rehob upon the skirts of the plains of Acre, a little to the south of this narrow road, (the Schala Tyriorum, as it was afterwards named,) somewhere near Egdippa, the distance betwixt Kadesh and Rehob will be about two hundred and ten miles; whereas by placing Kadesh twenty miles only from Sinai or Horeb, the distance will be three hundred and thirty; and, instead of ten miles a day, according to the former computation, the spies must have travelled near seventeen, which for forty days successively seems to have been too difficult an expedition in this hot and consequently fatiguing climate, especially as they were on foot, or footpads, as מרגלים meragelim, their appellation in the original, may probably import. These geographical circumstances, therefore, thus corresponding with what is actually known of those countries at this time, should induce us to situate Kadesh, as I have already done, one hundred and ten miles to the northward of mount Sinai, and forty-two miles to the westward of Eloth, near Callah Nahar, i.e. the castle of the river or fountain, (probably the Ain Mishpat) a noted station of the Mahometans in their pilgrimage to Mecca;" see Travels, p. 318.

Verse 27

Numbers 13:27. Floweth with milk and honey See Exodus 3:17.

Verse 28

Numbers 13:28. We saw the children of Anak there See Num 13:32-33 and Genesis 6:4. This exaggerated account of the cities and of the inhabitants was given with a view to discourage the people from attempting a country thus defended by walls almost impregnable, and by inhabitants as formidable in number as gigantic in size.

Verse 30

Numbers 13:30. And Caleb stilled the people, &c.— In the next chapter we have a more full account of the consequences of the report made by the spies, and of Caleb's and Joshua's behaviour.

Verse 32

Numbers 13:32. And they brought up an evil report of the land The evil report consisted of the particulars immediately following: they said, that it was a land which ate up the inhabitants thereof; an expression which cannot mean, as some have supposed, that the country was unfertile, and apt to eat up and consume its inhabitants by famine; for they had before confessed it to be a plentiful land, flowing with milk and honey. The two things, for which they seem desirous to bring an evil report upon the land, are, the number and strength of the inhabitants; and as their extraordinary strength and size are specified in the latter part of this verse, and in the 33rd, so I apprehend their number is expressed in the second clause, a land which eateth up the inhabitants thereof. "A land eating up, or rather meat for, its own inhabitants; that is, sufficient only for the food and support of the numerous and large inhabitants which throng it." A learned foreigner Mr. C. A. Heuman, paraphrases these difficult words thus: "The number of the inhabitants so great, that they eat up all the land in such a manner, that we shall have nothing to subsist upon; much less should we be able to drive them out; for they are giants." This appears the most rational interpretation; for if we are to understand the phrase of the land's eating up its inhabitants in that sense in which, doubtless, it is sometimes used in Scripture, (Leviticus 26:38. Ezekiel 36:13-14.) namely, of consuming its inhabitants; there seems no reason why the people should have been afraid to go up against the inhabitants of a land which itself destroyed them. But if it be said, that the evil report was brought upon the land itself, (and the reply of Caleb and Joshua in the next chapter, Num 13:7-8 is immediately levelled against such a calumny,) the reader then must understand the phrase as expressive of the badness and unhealthful nature of the country.

REFLECTIONS.—After forty days waiting, the spies return; and they who had sent them in unbelief, and tempted God by their distrust, are now justly left to stumble at their own inventions; the men who were sent greatly disagree in report and sentiment, and, as is too commonly the case, the few faithful are rejected amidst the multitude of gain-sayers. Where the things of God are concerned, they who follow the multitude will infallibly err. (1.) The coward-heart magnifies every object and increases every difficulty. (2.) Unbelief says of our spiritual enemies as they did of the sons of Anak, they are too mighty for us. (3.) Caleb rises to contradict so false and dishonorable a representation, and to encourage the people immediately to go up and possess the land. He affirms that they are able; and well he might: 600,000 men with Moses at their head,—what need they fear; but this is the least of their strength; God is in the midst of them, his pillar leads the way, his power they have repeatedly experienced; miracles for their safety were common, and might be expected, when assurances of their victory had been so repeatedly given from God, and Canaan promised to be their possession. Note; (1.) Zeal for God dares every danger. (2.) Faith makes men confident of success. Though earth and hell, and all the powers of both, conspire against the believer, to obstruct his way to heaven, he goes on in the strength of the Lord and the power of his might, conquering and to conquer.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 13". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/numbers-13.html. 1801-1803.
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