God has already told Moses that the Promised Land he is calling them to flows with “milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) and he has told the people (Exodus 13:5). When Moses tells the story 40 years later in Deuteronomy he blames the people for the idea of spying out the land. In Numbers 13 God clearly speaks telling Moses to send 12 spies to check out the Land. In Deuteronomy 1:22 the people are blamed for wanting to send spies. Why does the Bible have Moses doing that? To make himself look better? He doesn’t come off well! Biblical scholars attribute the first 5 books of the Bible to different sources, which would account for the differences. The first telling from today’s reading accentuates the story of Caleb and how different he is from his compatriots. The Deuteronomy retelling is emphasising the rebellious nature of Israel disobeying the command of “Go up! Take possession” of Deut 1:21. It is done in a way that presents the generation being told (40years after the events) as just as rebellious as they previous one. The surprisingly helpful (given the name of the website!) http://contradictionsinthebible.com/two-versions-of-spying-the-land/ goes into geek level detail on why that might be! Essentially the same story is being presented in 2 slightly different ways for 2 audiences. The overall point – Israel is rebellious and lacking in faith, except Caleb and Joshua.
Three things to note from the passage…
It is just as God promised
God promised them a land flowing with milk and honey and low and behold, when they check it is…. a land flowing with milk and honey. God makes good on His promises. We can trust him, even when it looks big and scary.
Why does only Caleb speak out in ch 13 and Joshua only speak up in tomorrow’s passage?
The main question in Numbers 13 is whether the land is conquerable, not about God’s leadership or Moses’. It is only when Moses is being questioned and God, that Joshua needs to be speak up too. For him to speak up earlier may not have carried much weight – he was Moses’ right hand man and could have been seen as a “yes” man. It was sufficient that the representative of the senior tribe of Judah spoke. When the people start moaning, then Joshua speaks up to defend what the Lord wants.
In the last verse, the spies admit that in their own eyes they appeared to be like grasshoppers. They are saying what they think they are, not what others actually see them. Their sense of identity was all wrong. They are not grasshoppers, they are the people of God. We too often see ourselves differently to how we really are and what the Lord has made us to be. Fear takes over.
Thinking too little of God sometimes leads you to think too little of yourself. These people had seen God rescue them from the most powerful empire of the time. They saw their present problems bigger than they really were. Their view of God was smaller than it should be and that led them to see themselves as smaller than they really were. We are mere grasshoppers! they thought. We can’t take on the giants. We’ll be squashed!
- How many times have you failed to act in faith because you thought too little of yourself, or because minimised the gifts and talents and passions that God Himself has put in you?
- How many times have you viewed yourself as a grasshopper rather than as a child of the King?
- How many times have you exaggerated challenges and diminished God’s call?
- How many times have you faltered in faith, not by overestimating yourself but by underestimating what God can do through you?
This time Israel doesn’t see it well – they see giants and themselves as grasshoppers. Later David will step right up and take down the giant and all Israel will follow, living in the good of the victory won by one. That’s a picture of Jesus winning the victory for us and us living in the good of it – with a view of a big God and fear saying its prayers and turning to faithful courage to do exploits for God.