Chapter 13

NUMBERS CHAPTER 13

Scouting Out Canaan

    • The Lord told Moses to send one leader from each tribe of Israel to scout out Canaan- the land the Lord was giving to the Israelites.

      • Time out! This is another “problem passage.” Compare the two passages below and the issue will become apparent. In Numbers, God tells Moses to send the scouts. In Deuteronomy, it’s the Israelites‘ idea- not God’s. Moses agrees and makes the order:

        • Numbers 13:1-2 (ESV): “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,“Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.”

        • Deuteronomy 1:20-23 (ESV): “And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe.”

      • Scholars have proposed some rather complicated solutions, however the traditional Jewish understanding of these passages (in my opinion) turns conflict into harmony. According to this article on the Numbers passage from the Academy for Jewish Religion the issue revolves around the Hebrew word, which is here translated “send.” The author writes:

        • Sh’lach” means “Send,” and one might be justified in translating the divine command to Moses as “Send men to scout the land of Canaan…” But the Hebrew actually reads “Sh’lach-l’cha” which intimates something a little different: “Send for yourself.”

      • The author of this article on the topic explains the significance that this simple difference in phrasing makes in how the passage is interpreted, “God says to Moses, ‘Shelach l’cha…’ (‘Send for yourself …’). Why not the simple command, ‘Shelach …’ (‘Send …’)? There is no need to send scouts/spies to investigate the land. After all, hasn’t God already promised the land to the Children of Israel? So it seems that the desire to check things out comes not from God, but rather from Moses–following his own desires or prodded to do so by the people. In resignation, God says, in effect, ‘OK, you want to check things out? Fine, send scouts for yourself, but not for me.’ The scouts are sent ‘v’ya-tu-ru et eretz Canaan’–(‘to scout out/look around the land of Canaan’). The verb here comes from a root meaning ‘to scout, seek out, look around’–in modern Hebrew it means to tour like a tourist.”

      • So, it appears that Deuteronomy gives the complete back story to the decision to send scouts to Canaan and Numbers merely records an abbreviated version skipping forward to God giving Moses His approval to send the scouts.

    • Moses sent the following scouts out from the Wilderness of Paran as the Lord commanded: Shammua (Zaccur’s son) from Reuben, Shaphat (Hori’s son) from Simeon, Caleb (Jephunneh’s son) from Judah, Igal (Joseph’s son) from Issachar, Hoshea (Nun’s son) from Ephraim, Palti (Raphu’s son) from Benjamin, Gaddiel (Sodi’s son) from Zebulun, Gaddi (Susi’s son) from Manasseh, Ammiel (Gemalli’s son) from Dan, Sethur (Michael’s son) from Asher, Nahbi (Vophsi’s son) from Naphtali, and Geuel (Machi’s son) from Gad. Moses renamed Hoshea (Nun’s son) Joshua.

      • Guzik points out that even though it was the Israelites’ idea to send the scouts, it was ultimately a part of God’s plan, “Nevertheless, this was in the plan of God. God used the report of the spies as a test of Israel’s faith.” Guzik also adds, “Joshua was chosen as the leader of the group. His name was first listed as Hoshea, meaning ‘salvation.’ Yet his name came to be Ya-Hoshea meaning, ‘Yahweh is salvation.’”

    • When he was sending the scouts out, Moses told them to go up through the Negev into the hill country and learn the following:

      • What is the land like? Is it good or bad; is the soil fertile or infertile; does it have trees? Since it was the season for the first ripe grapes, Moses told them to bring back some of the fruit.

        • Guzik notes, “This was an entirely reasonable pursuit for Moses, and representative of the curiosity of the whole nation. After all, they had never seen this land, nor had any Israelite for some 400 years.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes that, “The season for harvesting the first ripe grapes came in late July or August.”

      • What are the people like? How many people are there; are they strong or weak; do their cities have walls or are they open and unprotected like camps?

    • The scouts left and explored the land from the Wilderness of Zin (on the southern border of the promised land) all the way up to Rehob (northern border of the promised land) which is near the entrance to Lebo-hamath.

      • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides a description of the modern day locations of the areas mentioned in these passages:

        • Desert of Zin: “…the region of the drainage basin around the Nahal Zin, and expanse westward on a line from just south of the Dead Sea that includes the wilderness, as well as Kadesh-Barnea to the west.”

      • Rehob: “The exact location…is unknown, though the region of Lebo Hamath suggests a site in Southern Lebanon, such as Beth-Rehob near Tel Dan (labeled “Dan” on the map above) on the southern flank of Mount Hermon.”

        • Lebo-hamath: “Has been identified with modern Lebweh on the Orontes River, on the southern border of the ancient kingdom of Hamath and about 14 miles northeast of Baalbek.” (Labweh is labeled “Laboue” on the modern day map of Lebanon below)

    • Traveling up through the Negev, they came to Hebron, which had been built 7 years prior to Zoan in Egypt. The descendants of Anak- Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai- lived in Hebron.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Zoan (later called Tanis by the Greeks) was a famous city in Egypt’s eastern delta.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes the following:

        • Negev: “Hebrew for ‘south’…In the OT, the Negev region stretched south from Hebron (Qiryath Arba) into the Desert of Zin…in modern geography the term denotes the region from the Arad and Beersheba region south to Elath on the Gulf of Aquaba.”

        • Hebron: “Formerly known as Quiryath Arba…located 20 miles south of Jerusalem in the hill country.”

Map showing the State of Israel and the surrounding countries with international borders, Gaza and West Bank, district boundaries, district capitals, major cities, main roads, railroads and airports.

The modern day Negev is the lighter colored area on the map above, with Eilat (referred to as Elath in the NIV quote above) on the Gulf of Aquaba.

    • The scouts came to a valley and cut down a cluster of grapes so large that it took two men to carry it on a pole between them as well as some pomegranates and figs. Because of this, they named the place the Valley of Eshcol. (Eshcol means “cluster.”) The scouts returned from their exploration after 40 days.

      • HCSB commentary adds that this mission was “a total of about 240 miles” and that 40 days “is a realistic time period for covering that distance.”

Report About Canaan

    • When the scouts returned, they gave their report to Moses, Aaron, and the entire Israelite community. They brought the fruit and confirmed that the land was indeed bountiful- “flowing with milk and honey.” However, the scouts told the community that the people in the land were powerful and that they lived in fortified cities: the Negev was populated by the Amalekites; the hill country was home to the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites; and the Canaanites lived by the sea and along the Jordan. Furthermore, the scouts said that they had seen the descendants of Anak living in the land as well.

      • The HCSB commentary notes that, in the past, some scholars have doubted that the areas mentioned were home to the people groups listed in these passages due to lack of archaeological corroboration. However, as is so often the case, subsequent finds have corroborated the Bible. “Recent discoveries…revealing that a mixture of ethnic groups occupied the land of Canaan during the late Bronze (1550-1200 BC) and Iron I (1200-1000 BC) areas.”

    • Caleb quieted the crowd and said, “Let’s go conquer the land! We can certainly do it!” But the other scouts disagreed saying, “The land we traveled through devours those that live in it. The people are huge and much stronger than us. We can’t fight them! We even saw the Nephilim there (descendants of Anak)- we’re like grasshoppers compared to them.”

      • This is one of only two references to the Nephilim (who are here represented as giants) in the Bible. For an extensive discussion of this controversial and Biblically obscure topic you can check out my article: The Mystery of the Nephilim: An Analysis of Theories.

      • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes an interesting entry mentioning that these giants may also be referenced in Egyptian texts. Regarding “Anak” this source notes, “The name is associated with a people feared for their great size and military prowess; it may be associated with the ethnic phrase ly-anaq found among the Egyptian Execration Texts of the early second millennium BC….No extra-Biblical reference to Anak exists, but an Egyptian letter from the thirteenth century BC describes warriors in Canaan that are 9 feet tall.”

Execration texts on pot sherds- by Naunakhte (Via wikipedia)

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