The Spies' Bad Report

October 14, 2017 · 341 words · 2 minute read Thought   Spies   Promised Land   Numbers   Old Testament  

In Numbers 13:25-33, the spies sent into the Promised Land return with a scouting report. There is some subtlety, however, to the way in which the report is described in the text that leads me to believe there is more to this account than is normally assumed. This post lays out what I believe to be the best understanding of the passage.

What is described below is, in my estimation, a well-supported conjecture, but a conjecture nonetheless. Consider it thoughtfully and critically.

I believe that Numbers 13:25-33 can be broken down as follows:

  • Numbers 13:25-26 - General summary of events. Spies return and give their report.
  • Numbers 13:27-29 - This is said by the spies (particularly the ten spies who did not believe God) privately to Moses (at least not in the hearing of the people before Moses). To prove this, notice that verse 27 starts with the phrase: “Thus they told him…” (emphasis added).
  • Numbers 13:30 - Caleb begins speaking to the congregation at large encouraging them to enter the promised land.
  • Numbers 13:31-33 - The ten unfaithful spies then speak to the congregation exaggerating their report and driving the people to doubt their ability to take the land.

In summary, I believe there are two different dialogs occurring in this passage. The first one in 13:27-28 is between the spies and Moses and is accurate (there really were descendants of Anak in the land (see Numbers 13:22)). The second dialog is the one that occurs publicly before the people of Israel. This is the point at which the ten unfaithful spies bring an erroneous and exaggerated report. Note all of the exaggerations in verses 13:32-33 (with emphasis added):

“The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

This report demonstrates the fear and lack of faith possessed by the ten spies. I believe that the spies were afraid of the strength of the people of the land (13:28) and exaggerate their message to scare the people of Israel away from going into it. Thus, 13:31-33 is not necessarily an accurate description of the land and its inhabitants.