Numbers 13 Study Notes


13:1-14:45 The climax to the first cycle of rebellions is the refusal of the people to enter the promised land. The people adopted the majority report of ten of twelve spies—that the inhabitants of the land and their fortified cities were too strong for them to conquer. The rejection of the land was a rejection of God and his blessings.

13:1 The book of Numbers says the Lord instructed Moses to send out the spies, but Dt 1:22-23 suggests that Moses sent the scouts at the request of the people. As with many OT historical events, the human and the divine involvements go hand in hand.

13:2 The mission of these spies was to scout out the land. The list of scouts from the twelve tribes (vv. 4-15) introduces a different, presumably younger, group from the elder patriarchal leaders who had led in taking the military census in chap. 1.

13:3 The geographical designations in the chapter move from the broader context of the Wilderness of Paran to the more specific citation of Kadesh (-barnea) in the Zin Wilderness (33:36-37), the starting point of their exploration (13:21). The Zin Wilderness is defined by the desert drainage basin of the Nahal Zin, a subsection of the Paran Wilderness. Today the Nahal Zin is viewed as portions of Sinai and the Negev in modern Israel.

13:4-16 The list of these scouts contains a number of unusual names, rarely appearing again in the OT, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. This gives an indication of the early date of the composition of Numbers, contrary to critics who propose that it was written in the postexilic period, 539-332 BC.

13:17-20 Moses’s question Is the land . . . good or bad? builds upon the good-versus-evil theme presented in 10:29-33 and 11:1. The parenthetic note about the season of the first ripe grapes places the exploration of Canaan in August or early September, several months after the departure from Mount Sinai in early spring.

13:17 The Negev in the OT refers to the region south of Hebron, but north of the Zin Wilderness. In modern Israel “Negev” refers to the region from the Beer-sheba-Arad line southward to Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba.

13:21 The scouts explored the land from the Wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob near the entrance to Hamath. Parallel to the later description of the land as extending from Dan (in the north) to Beer-sheba (in the south), these parameters reverse the order and extend the distance from south of Beer-sheba to Rehob of Lebo-Hamath in southeastern Lebanon, somewhat north of Tel Dan. Lebo is recounted as a city on the northern border of the promised land (34:7-8) and later of the Israelite kingdom of David and Solomon (1Kg 8:65).

13:22 Hebron is said to have been fortified seven years before Zoan, which was in the eastern Nile Delta, about a hundred miles northeast of Cairo. The Egyptian name for Zoan is Dja‘net, which was pronounced by the Greeks as Tanis. It is associated with the site known as Tel el-Daba. The names of the three clans descended from Anak indicate they were Semitic. They were also known as being “strong and tall” (Dt 9:2 and see note on Nm 13:33).

13:23-24 The Hebrew word ’eshcol means “a cluster of grapes,” and hence Valley of Eshcol reflects the productivity of the vineyards in the valley, which is located west of Hebron. Ripe pomegranates and figs suggest a date of late August or early September for this exploration of Canaan.

13:25 The scouts’ forty days of exploring the land matches the approximate time it would have taken for the 350- to 400-mile journey on foot, based upon the twelve to fifteen miles per day average recounted in the annals of the Egyptian military campaigns of Thutmose III (1504-1450 BC) and Ramesses II (1290-1225 BC).

13:26 The Israelite scouts had departed from the Paran Desert area and had worked their way north into the Negev and through what would later be Judah and Israel. The Israelites meanwhile continued their journey to the oasis of Kadesh-barnea, presumed to be the area of Quseima, at the headwaters of the wilderness basin of the Nahal Zin.

13:27 The report of the scouts began on the positive side with the demonstration of the fruitfulness of the promised land. Milk and honey became the classic description of the abundance of natural flora and fauna of the land of Canaan (Ex 3:8,17; 13:5; 33:3; Lv 20:24; Dt 6:3; 11:9). This assessment is echoed in the Egyptian travel account “The Story of Sinuhe” in which the princely emissary described the land of Yaa and its abundant produce.

13:28-29 The tenor of the report quickly changed to a negative assessment of the possibility of conquering the heavily fortified cities and the numerous inhabitants, which they claimed included giants. The problem was that the people focused on their own strength rather than the power of God. The point of the later victories over the Midianites, Amorites, and Canaanites was to demonstrate God’s strength. The power of Israel was never in her armies. Victory came at the hands of the Lord of Armies. Recent discoveries that confirm the biblical data suggest a complex composite of ethnic groups living in the land of Canaan during the Late Bronze (1550-1200 BC) and Iron I (1200-1000 BC) ages.

The Amalekites were a semi-nomadic tribe from the region of Edom that ranged throughout the southern Levant, from northern Sinai to the hill country of Samaria. Hormah (Tel Masos in the Negev) may have been one of their cities (14:45).

The Hethites, known from the patriarchal period (Gn 23:3-20), were from the central highlands; they originated in eastern Anatolia around the third millennium BC. They are different from the Hittites, whose empire flourished in the late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC). Centered in Hattusa, it extended from central Anatolia to the upper Euphrates River and to the northern Levant.

The Jebusites were a non-Semitic clan who lived in Jerusalem during the middle Bronze through Iron I periods (2000-1000 BC); they remained in control of the city until the time of the Davidic conquests (2Sm 5:6-9). They are unknown outside the Bible, though the city of Jerusalem is mentioned in the cuneiform documents from Tel Amarna from the late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC). Scholars have suggested they may have been a subclan of the Perizzites or related to the Hurrians. The Table of Nations lists the Jebusites as descendants of Canaan (Gn 10:16).

The Semitic Amorites lived in the hill country of the central and southern Levant. The term Amorite can refer to a number of inhabitants of areas known today as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. It may also refer more specifically to ethnic descendants of Canaan as delineated in Gn 10:16. They were referred to as the Amurru (“Amorites” or “westerners”) in Akkadian records at Mari and the Martu in Sumerian texts of the third and second millennia BC. Egyptian records describe their territory as extending from the Negev to the heights of Lebanon.

The Canaanites emerged in the middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 BC) in the southern Levant (Gn 12:6) and continued to be a significant percentage of the population into the late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC) and Iron I Age (1200-1000 BC). The land of Canaan was controlled by Egypt under the Eighteenth (Empire Kingdom, 1570-1400 BC) and Nineteenth (Ramesside, 1302-1175 BC) dynasties. The region extended along the Mediterranean Sea from the Wadi el-‘Arish to Lebo-hamath in Lebanon, and inland to the Jordan Valley region. The designation of “Canaan” may derive from the Akkadian word meaning “red purple,” based on the production of red-to-purple dyes produced from the abundant murex shells along the Lebanese coast. Other scholars point to the Semitic root k-n-‘ meaning “to bend, be subdued.” The earliest reference to “Canaan” comes from the eighteenth century BC in Mari.

13:30 Caleb was the first to counter the objections of the majority of the scouts. The name “Caleb” means “dog,” and it serves as an example of the danger of reading too much into the meaning of biblical names.

13:31-32 The negative report was circulated by word of mouth. The grumbling grew into greater discontent as the scouts exaggerated the stature and strength of their enemies.

13:33 The reference to the descendants of Anak as Nephilim was designed to instill fear in the hearts of the Israelites. The Neph-ilim, “fallen ones” (“giants” in the LXX), are noted in Gn 6:4 as the offspring of the “sons of God” (“angelic beings” or “divine warriors”) and the “daughters of men.” The Nephilim were of large stature, but they all would have been destroyed in Noah’s flood (Gn 6:11), so it is best to conclude that the frightened spies gave an exaggerated report. Grasshoppers were the smallest of edible creatures permitted for Israelite consumption (Lv 11:22).