The Lord spoke to Moses: “Send men to scout out the land of Canaan I am giving to the Israelites…” Numbers 13:1.
This command came shortly after the Lord had allowed Moses’ sister Miriam to suffer a skin disease having spoken out against the instructions that Moses shared directly from the Lord. After seven days of being taken out of action, and following some repenting by Aaron and Moses’ pleading to the Lord for Miriam’s healing, Miriam could return to the tent and the Israelites could prepare to move forward again.
You would have hoped that they had learnt a lesson: Trust the Lord and the words of those He speaks through, regardless of how things may sound or look.
The Lord then (Numbers 13 and 14) asked Moses to call on a leader from each of the twelve tribes to get ready to enter and ‘scout out’ Canaan. This was the land God had promised His people that they would enter and possess.
Amongst the twelve leaders was Caleb from the tribe of Judah. Judah, the ancestor of the tribe, was prophesied over and blessed by his father Jacob on Jacob’s deathbed (Genesis 49). Judah was to be the tribe of ‘the lion’, the tribe who would make way for Jesus. Caleb, or “faithful, devotion, wholehearted, bold, brave” for those who know Hebrew, was ready to ‘scout out’ the land.
And then there was Hoshea. Hoshea was from the tribe of Ephraim (‘being fruitful’ in Hebrew), whose founder was a son of Joseph (‘he will add’), brother of Manasseh, and grandson and adopted son of Jacob. Hoshea means ‘salvation’ in Hebrew. But for Moses, ‘salvation’ didn’t give the whole picture for a man about to scout the land in the journey that led ahead. And so Hoshea became ‘Joshua’, “Yahweh is salvation”.
Amongst the twelve leaders, there was faithfulness, devotion, whole-heartedness, boldness and bravery. And there was salvation from the Lord.
But what else was there?
- Shammua “Judge” of Reuban – a strong and powerful yet turbulent and defiling tribe who defiles.
- Shaphat “Judge” of Simeon – an angry tribe destined to be dispersed.
- Igal “He will redeem” of Issacher – a tribe of a strong donkey who accepted forced labour and heavy loads in a land that was good and pleasant.
- Palti “Deliverance, flight” of Benjamin – a wolf who tears and devours his pray and then divides the plunder.
- Gadil “God is my happiness” of Zebulun – a tribe living by the seashore who is a harbour for ships.
- Gaddi “Fortunate” of Manasseh (“God has made me forget my troubles and my father’s house”) – a tribe born from Joseph, the ‘fruitful vine’ who remains steady and strong by the Mighty one, the Shepherd, the Rock.
- Ammiel “People of God” of Dan – a tribe of judging snakes by the roadside causing riders to fall backwards.
- Sethur “Hid, destroying” of Asher – a tribe of rich food and royal delicacies.
- Nahbi “Very secret” of Naphtali – a tribe of a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.
- Geuel “God’s redemption” of Gad – a tribe who was to be attacked by raiders but would also attack their heels.
This was a very mixed crowd of leaders representing tribes with very mixed purposes and destinies. While in and through all of them God is ultimately glorified and His purposes would prevail, it is through Caleb and Joshua we see the promise of faithfulness and the Lord’s salvation.
Moses instructed the twelve to scout out the land and its people; to see what it is like, whether they were strong or weak, few or many, welcoming or resistant, fertile or unproductive, filled with trees or not. He told them to be courageous in doing so, and to also bring back some fruit.
It was the season for the first ripe grapes. Numbers 13:20
As they scouted and saw many different people, they also found the grapes. It took two men to carry just one cluster with them – a lot of effort for just a small amount of fruit.
But fruit nonetheless. You have to start somewhere, and this start was not unfruitful.
Returning to Moses, despite the fruit that was right in front of them, the report that came back from the leaders was negative. They acknowledged the flowing milk and honey seen in the land, and the fruit they brought back, but quickly moved on to talk about all the strong men and the large and heavily fortified cities that they witnessed.
Caleb just as quickly then told the others to be quiet, and in his zeal encouraged them that they should now go forward to possess the land because they could certainly conquer it!
But again, the response was negative. Again focusing on how the people of that place were devouring each other and how, when they were there they themselves felt like ‘grasshoppers’. They also assumed then that others there would see them as grasshoppers.
The negative reporting was followed by complaints towards Moses and Aaron, and a desire to go back to Egypt, to the predictable and familiar lives and places of the past – even if it meant dying there!
Caleb and Joshua tore their clothes in hearing this response from the other leaders. The land that was scouted out was not only conquerable, but it was “extremely good”. While the majority of the leaders of God’s people were focused on the ‘what ifs’, the ‘obstacles and obstructions’, and the security of the past, Caleb and Joshua had a different perspective.
If the Lord is with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for he will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them! Numbers 14:8-9
Despite all the signs they had seen before, the majority wanted to go in the opposite direction to that of God’s promise. In their negative reports and complaining they were testing God and were failing to trust Him. To God, this was not just despising the path that God placed them on. It was despising God Himself. In His mercy, following Moses’ own pleading with the Lord, God pardoned these people. He is a forgiving God. However, while Caleb and Joshua who were of a “different spirit” were destined to enter the land God had promised them, the others would not. (Though their children eventually would arrive there and enjoy it). Out of the twelve who scouted out the land, only Caleb and Joshua would remain alive and see the fruit of their faithfulness.
The call from God to ‘scout out’ the land was not without reason. It was time for the Israelites to scout out, in order to reach out.
Look back at the twelve leaders and their tribes. As Christians, we are people who have been set free (redeemed and delivered) by Christ from judgement and from this world of turbulent, defiling, angry, and scattered people. But our response should not be limited to just labour and ‘put up with’ our load like donkeys in a pleasant land. We’re not called to to complain and bring back negative reports about ‘out there’ while enjoying our safe spaces.
While as Christians we should have joy and experience good fortune, that isn’t why we have been called for a time such as this. The gospel is not something to be hidden and kept secret as we enjoy the rich and royal delicacies of His kingdom to come and His provision for us today.
Regardless of the apparent obstructions and opposition, we are called to be faithful, devoted, wholehearted, bold and brave. And in being so, we will see the salvation of the Lord. For us and for our world around us.
There may be times that we are in places where we feel like ‘grasshoppers’. But regardless of our feelings, we should not assume this is how others see us. We carry the light of Jesus Christ. God is with us.
And as the platforms of protection the world had been depending on – the money, jobs, health, clubs, entertainment, philosophies – are falling away right before our eyes, who can be against us?
This is the season of the first ripe grapes. It is time to scout out, and to reach out.