Num 13:1-25 In c.1445BC, the Israelites reach Kadesh Barnea, an oasis in the Desert of Paran (see 4 on Map 45). Moses selects one man from each of the twelve tribes to go and explore the ‘promised land’ of Canaan.
The Spies in Canaan
Before deciding how to mount a military campaign against the existing inhabitants of Canaan, Moses needed accurate and up-to-date information about the settlements and their fortifications. To gain this vital intelligence, he sent a dozen ‘undercover agents’ on a six-week mission in c.1445BC to secure details about the defences of the towns and cities that could become future military targets.
Moses sent the twelve spies, including Joshua and Caleb, to explore the whole land of Canaan, from Beersheba and Hebron in the south to Dan and Damascus 150 miles / 240 km to the north (see 5 on Map 45).
The spies travelled as far as the Central Highlands of Galilee
The spies travelled north, secretly, for three weeks from the Desert of Zin in the south, beyond Beersheba (where Isaac had settled some three hundred years earlier in c.1730BC) and on past Shechem (where Jacob had set up an altar and bought land for a tomb in c.1691BC). From here they continued north to Rehob and Lebo Hamath (‘Hamath Pass’) in the far north of Canaan near Damascus. On their way back south, they passed Hebron (where Abraham was buried in Machpelah Cave in c.1815BC) and cut a large cluster of grapes from the Valley of Eshcol (‘Eshcol’ means ‘a cluster’) before returning after forty days to the Israelite camp at Kadesh oasis in the Desert of Paran.
Num 13:26-33 The twelve spies report back. The fertile land does indeed flow with milk and honey, but the cities are well fortified and the inhabitants are strong. Only Caleb urges the Israelites to attack and claim the land.
Num 14:1-19 The people complain and want to choose another leader and return to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb appeal to the Israelites to trust in God’s protection. But the people are ready to rebel.
Num 14:20-24 The LORD is angry and declares that “not one of them will see the land I promised to their ancestors” – except Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 14:23).
Num 14:25 Moses is instructed by God, “leave tomorrow and follow the desert road towards the Red Sea” (Numbers 14:25).
Num 14:26-35 The Israelites are condemned by the LORD to forty years of wandering as nomadic shepherds in the desert – one year for each day that the spies explored the ‘promised land’.
Num 14:36-38 All the spies who explored Canaan - except Caleb and Joshua - are struck down by a plague and die.