Before the Israelites entered Canaan, the Promised Land, they approached Moses with a desire to “send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to” (Deuteronomy 1:22). Moses approved of the idea (verse 23), and God confirmed that this was His will, telling Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them” (Numbers 13:2, ESV). By sending these twelve men into Canaan on a reconnaissance mission, Moses had obviously sought direction from the Lord and was obeying the divine leading.
Moses, in his capacity as a military leader, sought to accomplish several goals in sending the twelve spies into Canaan. He asked the spies to gather intel about the following:
⁃ whether the people who lived there were strong or weak, few or many (Numbers 13:18)
⁃ whether the land was good or bad (Numbers 13:19)
⁃ whether the cities were like camps or strongholds
⁃ whether the land was rich or poor (Numbers 13:20)
⁃ whether or not there were forests there
Finally, Moses wanted some of the fruit of the land brought back to display (Numbers 13:20).
The spies did as Moses asked and came back with a report: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit” (Numbers 13:27). Moses probably smiled when he saw the fruit and heard this good news, knowing that it would encourage the Israelites as they prepared for battle. Unfortunately, the spies weren’t done. They also gave a discouraging report about the people of Canaan being huge and the cities being fortified, making it sound like the Israelites had no chance against them. Only two spies, Caleb and Joshua, trusted that God would enable Israel to take the land (Numbers 14:6–9).
God had commanded Moses to send the twelve spies so the Israelites would be equipped to do battle in the land—thus Moses’ goals of finding out about the people, the cities, and the landscape. God would ultimately fight the battles for them, but they had to do their part, which was to move forward in faith. Long before, God had promised to give the Israelites the land of Canaan as their own (Exodus 6:4, 8). He had assured them of total victory, if they would trust Him: “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out” (Exodus 23:23).
Even though only two spies brought back a good report about Canaan, Moses acted in obedience to God in sending the spies. Valuable information about the land was gathered, and the hearts of the people of Israel were revealed.