Numbers 13
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
THE REBELLION AT KADESH (chapters 13, 14).
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.
Verse 2. - Send thou men, that they may search the land. If this account of the mission of the spies be compared with that given in Deuteronomy 1:20-25, it may be seen in a striking instance how entirely different a colour may be put upon the same circumstances by two inspired narratives. No one indeed will affirm that the two records are contradictory, or even inconsistent, and yet they leave an entirely different impression upon the mind; and no doubt were intended to. It is important to note that the Divine inspiration did not in the least prevent two sacred authors (cf. 2 Samuel 24:1 with 1 Chronicles 21:1), or even the same author at different times, from placing on record very distinct and even strongly contrasted aspects of the same facts, according to the point of view from which he was led to regard them. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses reminds the people that on their arrival at Kadesh he had bidden them go up and take possession; that they had then proposed to send men before them to examine the land; that the proposal had pleased him so well that he had adopted it and acted upon it. It is unquestionably strange that facts so material should have been omitted in the historical Book of Numbers. It is, however, to be considered -

1. That there is no contradiction between the two accounts. We may be certain from many a recorded example that Moses would not have acted on the popular suggestion without referring the matter to the Lord, and that it would be the Divine command (when given) which would really weigh with him.

2. That the recital in Deuteronomy is distinctly ad populum, and that therefore their part in the whole transaction is as strongly emphasized as is consistent with the truth of the facts.

3. That the narrative of Numbers is fragmentary, and does not profess to give a full account of matters, especially in such particulars as do not directly concern the Divine government and guidance of Israel. It is not, therefore, a serious difficulty that the record only begins here at the point when God adopted as his own what had been the demand of the people. If we ask why he so adopted it, the probable answer is that he knew what secret disaffection prompted it, and to what open rebellion it would lead. It was better that such disaffection should be allowed to ripen into rebellion before they entered their promised land. Miserable as the desert wandering might be, it was yet a discipline which prepared the nation for better things; whereas the invasion of Canaan without strong faith, courage, and self-restraint (such as they showed under Joshua) could but have ended in national disaster and destruction. Of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man. This was not part of the original proposition (Deuteronomy 1:22), but was agreeable to the general practice in matters of national concern, and was no doubt commanded in order that the whole people might share in the interest and responsibility of this survey. Every one a ruler among them. This does not mean that they were to be the tribe princes (as the names show), for they would not be suitable in respect of age, nor could they be spared for this service. They were "heads of the children of Israel" (verse 3), i.e., men of position and repute, but also no doubt comparatively young and active, as befitted a toilsome and hazardous excursion.
And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.
And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.
Verse 4. - These were their names. None of these names occur elsewhere, except those of Caleb and Joshua. The order of the tribes is the same as in ch. 1, except that Zebulun is separated from the other sons of Leah, and placed after Benjamin, while the two sons of Joseph are separated from one another. In verse 11 "the tribe of Joseph" is explained to be "the tribe of Manasseh;" elsewhere it is either common to both, or confined to Ephraim (see Revelation 7:8, and cf. Ezekiel 37:16). No spy was sent for the tribe of Levi, because it was now understood to have no territorial claims upon the land of promise, and to stand altogether by itself in relation to the national hopes and duties.
Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori.
Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
Verse 6. - Caleb the son of Jephunneh. In Numbers 32:12 he is called "the Kenezite" (הַקְּנִזּי), which appears in Genesis 15:19 as the name of one of the ancient races inhabiting the promised land. It is possible that Jephunneh may have been connected by descent or otherwise with this race; it is more likely that the similarity of name was accidental. The younger son of Jephunneh, the father of Othniel, was a Kenaz (קְנַז), and so was Caleb's grandson (see on Joshua 15:17; 1 Chronicles 4:13, 15). Kenaz was also an Edomitish name.
Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.
Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun.
Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu.
Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi.
Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.
Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli.
Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.
Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi.
Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.
These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua.
Verse 16. - Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua. The change was from הושֵׁעַ (Hoshea, help or salvation) to יְהושֻׁעַ (Jehoshua - the same name with the first syllable of the sacred name prefixed, and one of the vowel points modified). It was afterwards contracted into יֵשׁוּעַ (Jeshua; cf. Nehemiah 8:17), and has come to us in its current form through the Vulgate. The Septuagint has here ἐπωνόμασε τὸν Αὐσὴ Ιησοῦν, and so the name appears in the New Testament. It is an obvious difficulty that Joshua has already been called by his new name at Exodus 17:9, and in every other place where he has been mentioned. In fact he is only once elsewhere called Hoshea, and that in a place (Deuteronomy 32:44) where we should certainly not have expected it. There are two ways of explaining the difficulty, such as it is. We may suppose that the change of name was really made at this time, as the narrative seems (on the face of it) to assert; and then the previous mentions of Joshua by his subsequent and more familiar name will be cases of that anticipation which is so common in Scripture (cf., e.g., Matthew 9:9 with Mark 2:14). Or we may suppose, what is perhaps more in harmony with the course of Joshua's life, that the change bad been already made at the time of the victory over Amalek. In that case the Vav consec. in וַיִּקִרָא (and... called) must be referred to the order of thought, not of time, and a sufficient reason must be shown for the interpolation of the statement in this particular place. Such a reason may fairly be found in the probable fact that the names of the spies were copied out of the tribal registers, and that Joshua still appeared under his original name in those registers. As to the significance of the change, it is not easy to estimate it aright. On the one hand, the sacred syllable entered into so many of the Jewish names that it could not have seemed a very marked change; on the other hand, the fact that our Saviour received the same name because he was our Saviour throws a halo of glory about it which we cannot ignore. In the Divine providence Hoshea became Joshua because he was destined to be the temporal saviour of his people, and to lead them into their promised rest.
And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain:
Verse 17. - Get you up this way southward. Rather, "get you up there (זֶה) in the Negeb." The Negeb, meaning literally "the dryness," was the south-western district of Canaan, which bordered upon the desert, and partook more or less of its character. Except where springs existed, and irrigation could be carried out, it was unfit for settled habitation. See Joshua 15:19; Judges 1:15, where the same word is used. Go up into the mountain. From the Negeb they were to make their way into the mountain or hill country which formed the back-bone of Southern Palestine, from the Wady Murreh on the south to the plain of Esdraelon on the north. In after ages it formed the permanent center of the Jewish race and Jewish power. Cf. Judges 1:9 where the three natural divisions of Southern Palestine are mentioned together: חָהָר (ἡ ὀρεινή), the mountain; הַגֶּגֶב (ὁ Νότος), the steppe; הַשְּׁפֵלָה (ἡ πεδινή), the maritime plain.
And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;
Verse 18. - Whether they be strong or weak, few or many. It would appear that Moses was guilty of some indiscretion at least in giving these directions. Whether the people were strong or weak, many or few, should have been nothing to the Israelites. It was God that gave them the land; they had only to take possession boldly.
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. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes.
Verse 20. - And what the land is. It is impossible to suppose that Moses needed himself to be informed on such particulars as are here mentioned. The intercourse between Egypt and Palestine was comparatively easy and frequent (see on Genesis 1:7), and no educated Hebrew could have failed to make himself acquainted with the main features of his fathers' home. We may see in these instructions a confirmation of the statement in Deuteronomy 1, that it was at the desire of the people, and for their satisfaction, that the spies were sent. The time of the first-ripe grapes. The end of July: the regular vintage is a month or more later.
So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath.
Verse 21. - From the wilderness of Zin. The extreme southern boundary of the promised land (Numbers 34:3, 4; Joshua 15:1, 3). There seems to be but one marked natural feature which could have been chosen for that purpose - the broad sandy depression called the Wady Murreh, which divides the mountain mass of the Azazimeh from the Rakhmah plateau, the southern extremity of the highlands of Judah. The plain of Kudes communicates with it at its upper or western end, and maybe counted a part of it. Unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath. Septuagint, ἕως Ροὸβ εἰσπορευομένων Αἰμάθ. Hamath, now Hamah, was in Greek times Epiphaneia, on the Orontes, outside the limits of Jewish rule. The southern entrance to it lay between the ranges of Libanus and Anti-libanus (see note on Numbers 34:8). The Rehob here mentioned is not likely to have been either of the Rehobs in the territory of Asher (Joshua 19:28-30), but the Beth-rehob further to the east, and near to where Dan-Laish was afterwards built (Judges 18:28). It lies on the route to Hamath, and was at one time a place of some importance in the possession of the Syrians (2 Samuel 10:6).
And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)
Verse 22. - And came unto Hebron. This and the following details of their journey are appended to the general statement of verse 21 in that inartificial style of narrative still common in the East. On the name Hebron, and the perplexities which it causes, see on Genesis 13:18; 23:2. Where Amman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. יְלִידֵי הָעֲנָק "Anak's progeny." Septuagint, γενεαὶ Ἐνάχ (as in verse 28 and Joshua 15:14 b.), means simply "descendants of Anak." The Beni-Anak (Beni-Anakim in Deuteronomy 1:28; Anakim in Deuteronomy 2:10, &c.) were a tribe whose remote and perhaps legendary ancestor was Anak son of Arba (see on Joshua 14:15). These three chiefs of the Beni-Anak are said to have been expelled from Hebron fifty years later by Caleb (Joshua 15:14; Judges 1:20). The gigantic size which the Anakim shared with the Emim and Rephaim, other remnants of the aboriginal inhabitants, may have been accompanied by remarkable longevity; or they may have been quite young at the time of this visit; or, finally, they may not have been individuals at all, but families or clans. Now Hebron was built seven years before Zean in Egypt. Hebron was in existence at the time of Abraham. Zoan was Tanis, near the mouth of the eastern branch of the Nile (see on Psalm 78:12, 43). If it be true that the Pharaoh of the exodus had his royal residence at Zoan, Moses may have had access to the archives of the city, or he may have learnt the date of its foundation from the priests who gave him his Egyptian education. That there was any real connection between the two places is extremely problematical, nor is it possible to give any reason for the abrupt insertion here of a fragment of history so minute and in itself so unimportant. There is, however, no one but Moses to whom the statement can with any sort of likelihood be traced; a later writer could have had no authority for making the statement, and no possible reason for inventing it.
And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.
Verse 23. - The brook of Eshcol. Rather, "the valley of Eshcol," for it is not a land of brooks. Probably between Hebron and Jerusalem, where the grapes are still exceptionally fine, and the dusters of great size. They bare it between two on a staff, not on account of its weight, but simply in order not to spoil it. Common sense dictates the like precaution still in like cases.
The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.
Verse 24. - The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster. It is very probable that it was already known as the valley of Eshcol, from the friend of Abraham, who bore that name and lived in that neighbourhood (Genesis 14:13, 24). If so it is an admirable instance of the loose way in which etymologies are treated in the Old Testament: what the place really received was not a new name, but a new signification to the old name; but this appeared all one in the eyes of the sacred writer.
And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.
Verse 25. - They returned... after forty days. This is a period of time which constantly recurs in the sacred books (see on Exodus 24:18). It points to the fact that their work was completely done, and the land thoroughly explored.
And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land.
Verse 26. - To Kadesh (see note at the end of chapter 14).
And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.
Verse 27. - It floweth with milk and honey. According to the promise of God in his first message of deliverance to the people (see on Exodus 3:8).
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.
Verse 28. - Nevertheless. אֶפֶס כִּי. "Only that." Septuagint, ἀλλ η} ὅτι. The people be strong. Moses himself had directed their attention to this point, and now they dwell on it to the exclusion of everything else.
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.
Verse 29. - The Amalekites. These descendants of Esau (see on Genesis 36:12) formed wild roving bands, which (like the Bedouins of the present day) infested rather than inhabited the whole country between Judaea and Egypt, including the Negeb. They are not numbered among the inhabitants of Canaan proper. The Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. It is not easy to say in what sense the word "Canaanites" is used here. At one time it is the name of one tribe amongst many, all descended from Canaan, the son of Ham, which dwelt in the land of promise; at another time it is apparently synonymous with "Amorites," or rather includes both them and the allied tribes (cf. e.g., Judges 1:9). It is possible, though far from certain, that "Canaanites" in this place may mean "Phoenicians," since Sidon was the first-born of Canaan (Genesis 10:15), and the northern portion of the maritime plain was certainly in their possession, and probably the upper part of the Ghor, or coast of Jordan. It would appear that the Philistines had not at this time made themselves masters of the plain, although they dwelt in some parts of it (see on Exodus 13:17).
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
Verse 30. - Caleb stilled the people. That Caleb alone is named here, whereas Joshua is elsewhere joined with him in the matter (as in chapter Numbers 14:6, 30), has been considered strange; but it is not difficult to supply a probable explanation. Joshua was the special companion and minister of Moses, his alter ego in those things wherein he was employed: for that reason he may very well have given place to Caleb as a more impartial witness, and one more likely to be listened to in the present temper of the people; for it is evident from Deuteronomy 1, that that temper had already declared itself for evil (see on Numbers 14:24).
But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
Verse 31. - For they are stronger than we. In point of numbers the enormous superiority of the Israelites over any combination likely to oppose them must have been evident to the most cowardly. But the existence of numerous walled and fortified towns was (apart from Divine aid) an almost insuperable obstacle to a people wholly ignorant of artillery or of siege operations; and the presence of giants was exceedingly terrifying in an age when battles were a series of personal encounters (cf. 1 Samuel 17:11, 24).
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, 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.
Verse 32. - A land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof. This cannot mean that the people died of starvation, pestilence, or other natural causes, which would have been contrary to facts and to their own report. It must mean that the population was continually changing through internecine wars, and the incursions of fresh tribes from the surrounding wastes. The history of Palestine from first to last testifies to the constant presence of this d anger. The remarkable variation in the lists of tribes inhabiting Canaan may be thus accounted for. All the people... are men of great stature, אֲגְשֵׁי מִדּות "men of measures. " Septuagint, ἄνδρες ὑπερμήκεις. The "all" is an exaggeration very natural to men who had to justify the counsels of cowardice.
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.
Verse 33. - The giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants, אֶת־הַנְּפִילים בְּנִי עַנָק מִן־הַנְּפִלים. The Nephilim, Beni-Anak, of the Nephilim. The Septuagint has only τοὺς γίγαντας. The Nephilim are, without doubt, the primaeval tyrants mentioned under that name in Genesis 6:4. The renown of these sons of violence had come down from those dim ages, and the exaggerated fears of the spies saw them revived in the gigantic forms of the Beni-Anak. There is no certainty that the Nephilim had been giants, and no likelihood whatever that the Beni-Anak had any real connection with them. As grasshoppers. We have no means of judging of the actual size of these men, unless the height assigned to Goliath (six cubits and a span) be allowed to them. Probably men of this stature were quite exceptional even among the Anakim. The report of the spies was thoroughly false in effect, although founded on isolated facts.
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