“And I said unto you, Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the LORD our God doth give unto us.

Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.

And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.

Deuteronomy 1:20-22

At last, well over one year after leaving the land of Egypt, the children of Israel approached the borders of Canaan. Coming from the south, they found no barriers between them and the promised land. Moses stood before them and said, “Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the LORD our God doth give unto us. Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.”

The people, however, were not so sure. They held within themselves an underlying skepticism concerning the ways of the Lord. They were not at all sure that the promised land was as rich and good as God had said it was. Neither were they so sure that they would be able to capture the land even with the help of God. The trouble was that they held deep within them a gnawing desire that God should be found to be wrong. This had been developing throughout the wilderness journey. Time and again they had passed through critical junctures where Jehovah had been vindicated at their expense. Now they were suffering from a badly wounded pride. It had come to the point where no price seemed too great if only they could vindicate themselves at the expense of God. They longed to be able to say that God was wrong and they were right. It was their bitterly sinful human nature that wanted the will of God to prove itself of none effect. Surely, this was not all clearly defined in their own minds. If accused of it, they would have denied it. In fact, there were some in Israel that felt this only vaguely and in conflict with the more pure desires of their sanctified hearts. Still, there were only too many in Israel who held this as the basic motivation of their lives. They were reprobate people who hated God more than anything else. Still, even they were careful not to expose themselves openly. They came to Moses with what might well have appeared to be an innocent suggestion. “We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.”

For Moses the true reason for this request was inconceivable. Filled as he was with the love of God, he could not imagine such wickedness in his brethren who had seen so much of the greatness of God. The worst that he could suspect was that they were timid and afraid because of the uncertainty of the way which lay before them. For the relieving of such fear the suggestion of the people appeared good. He had no doubt that such a scouting expedition would find the land to be fully as rich and good as God had promised. Neither could he conceive it possible that the people should doubt the ability of their God to overcome all resistance, no matter how great, when they had witnessed and experienced so many of His marvelous works. And it would be to their advantage to know the lay of the land into which they were going and the nature of its fortifications. He was more than willing to comply with this apparently innocent request.

Nevertheless, Moses was careful. He went to the Lord and presented the suggestion of the people to Him. God, indeed, knew the motivations that were behind it; but He was also willing that the true sinfulness of the people should be exposed. He answered Moses, “Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.”

Soon Moses was making the appointments. Of every tribe he took a responsible leader whose opinion would be respected by the people. His instructions for them were very specific. “Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountains: and see the land, what it is: and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; and what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.” The duty of the twelve was to bring an objective report of what they found in the land, nothing more and nothing less.

With their duties clearly cut out, the twelve appointed spies left the camp of Israel. They followed their instructions carefully, traveling the length and breadth of the land, observing the people and their homes, the cities and their fortifications, the land and its fertility. What they saw far exceeded their greatest anticipation both as to the fertility of the land and as to the strength of the people. As required they noted the strong holds of the country and gathered the choice of its fruits even when one cluster of grapes required two men to carry it on a pole between them. Finally after forty days, they returned to give their report to Moses, to Aaron, and to the people. With the fruits of the land spread out before them, grapes, pomegranates, and figs, they gave their report, “We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.”

To all appearances the report given by the spies was an objective report such as Moses had commanded them to give. Nevertheless, there was a very subtle argument implied in the manner in which the report was given, and it was well adapted to impress the prejudices of the speakers upon the people who listened. They began by reporting on the fertility of the land. Without attempting to hide the truth, they reported as though to confirm the veracity of the promises of God. It was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. But soon they passed on from this to add a “Nevertheless . . . moreover . . . and . . .” argument. Point was heaped upon point stressing the fearful strength of the country. The people were strong; the cities were fortified and great; many fearful nations were there to defend it all. The report had its desired effect. Vivid imaginations conjured before the minds of the people visions more terrible than even the report of the spies warranted. The courage of the people melted, and a restless, troubled spirit spread through the camp. The conviction was set that Canaan was after all only an impossible dream.

It was Caleb, himself one of the spies, who first caught the implication of the report that their spokesman was giving. He saw that the report was being adapted, not to confirm the truthfulness of their God, but to carry the thoughts of the people away from Him so as to make them tremble before the greatness of the enemies. It was an evil report that was being given, designed to stir up the people in rebellion. Courageously he spoke up to contradict the implication of the report as it had been given. “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

For a moment it almost seemed as though the move of Caleb would be successful. It was the first definite statement of advice that came from any of the spies, and the people listened. For a short time a more quiet attitude appeared to have settled upon the people. But it was then that the true motivation of the majority of the spies revealed itself. They were satisfied to state their point by mere subtle implications as long as no one opposed them; but as soon as Caleb spoke up, they cast all subtlety aside and spoke out direct. “We be not able to go up against the people,” they vehemently responded, “for they are stronger than we.” So determined were they to gain their point that truth was no longer of any great concern. With determined exaggeration, they began to add new and almost-unreasonable slants to their report. “The land through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Under their imaginings the land began to appear in the minds of the people with a ferocity unheard of and unimagined.

With this all semblance of calm and reasonable thinking was disrupted. As usual the people were much more impressed by the wild, fanatic predictions of wicked men, than by the positive exhortations of faith. Soon wild sobbing and weeping was to be heard throughout the camp. A confused uproar broke forth on every side. Strong condemnatory invectives were to be heard on every side denouncing Moses, and Aaron, and even Jehovah their God. Exclamations of evil were to be heard on every side. Here one cried, with strained reasoning, “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt!” Another added, “Or would God we had died in the wilderness!” Another asked, “And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land to fall by the sword that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?” A fourth gave answer, “Because the LORD hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites.” On every side was to be heard the despairing cry, “Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there.”

Vainly Joshua and Caleb circulated among the people, trying to calm their fears. Their argument was sound, “The land which we passed through to search it is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.” But this was not what the people wanted to hear. They found a strange delight in the bitter cry of rebellion. In their hearts they felt sure that this time the Lord had been proved wrong, arid they liked it. The answer of the people was that Joshua and Caleb should be stoned.

Within the hearts of the people there had emerged a new plan. They said to each other, “Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” They wanted to be free from the way of the Lord. The promise of that was sweeter to them than the fertility of the land before which they stood.

And from heaven the Lord God heard the wickedness of the people and was wroth.