The Promised Land Is Bountiful
“‘Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land.’ Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.” (Numbers 13:20)
God instructed Moses to send one chieftain from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to scout out the land of Canaan. Among the spies were Caleb, son of Jephunneh from the Tribe of Judah and Hosea (Hoshea), son of Nun from the Tribe of Ephraim. Later, Moses changed Hosea’s name to Joshua.
When Moses sent out the spies, it was the season of the first ripe grapes. They were to go in with courage and bring back a sample of the fruit of the Land. They were also to assess the characteristics of the inhabitants, the fortification of the cities, and the existence of any trees.
After 40 days, they returned with a cluster of grapes from the Valley of Eshkol (cluster), which was so bountiful that they had to tie the cluster to a pole and carry it on their shoulders. Here in Israel, the grapes are still tiny at the beginning of June. They will begin to ripen around mid-July in the heat of summer. So it is likely that the spies went into the Promised Land around the end of July.
The spies also brought back pomegranates and figs. These fruits grow in abundance today in the Land of Israel—a miracle since this land lay barren and lifeless for about 2,000 years. The fact that the Land of Israel is fruitful again is evidence of God’s great mercy and grace, as well as His faithfulness to His covenant promises.
The Number 40
Why were the spies scouting the land of Canaan for 40 days? Why not a month or two weeks?
The number 40 is significant in the Bible as it is the number of testing, preparation and leadership, as well as the harbinger of something new. (Jewish Wisdom in the Numbers)We see this pattern many times in the Scriptures:
In a dramatic new beginning, rain fell for 40 days and nights during the Flood before the waters stopped and the world was repopulated. (Genesis 7:4)
Moses lived in Egypt for 40 years, was prepared for leadership in Midian for 40 years; and finally led the children of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years as a new nation.
Moses fasted on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights before he went down the mountain with the Ten Commandments.
“Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34:28)
Goliath challenged the Israelites twice a day for 40 days before David defeated him, which began a great following by the people. (1 Samuel 17:16)
Yeshua was tested by the devil in the wilderness for 40 days before He began His public ministry. “Then Yeshua was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’” (Matthew 4:1–3)
The period from the resurrection of Yeshua to His ascension was 40 days, a period of preparing the disciples for the work that lay ahead. (Acts 1:3)
2. 10 Spies Inspire Fear Rather Than Faith
“There we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:33)
After 40 days, all 12 spies essentially testified to the entire Israelite community and Moses that the land “does flow with milk and honey!” just as God had promised. Despite that, they also saw that the cities were fortified and that giants live in the Land.
Rather than focusing on the great fruitfulness of the Land, they focus, instead, on the great size of the inhabitants in contrast to their own smallness.
Caleb tried to counter their defeatist attitude by assuring the people, “We are well able to overcome it” with God’s help. He urged them, “Let us go up at once and occupy it.” (Numbers 13:30)
The other 10 spies, however, instilled such fear in the people that the whole Israelite community began to cry and shout, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:1–2)
In their apprehension, they forgot how the Lord had sent ten plagues and even parted a sea for them, so they cried more: “Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. … We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:3–4)
Of course, this is not the first time the people wanted to go back to Egypt.
In Parasha Beshalach, the people stood trapped between an advancing Egyptian army and the Red Sea. Terrified, they told Moses, “Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:12)
Then God parted the Red Sea and crushed the Egyptian army.
When they reached the other side of the sea in safety, they were already craving the food back in bondage:“If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:3)
Then God sent manna every morning for them to eat.In Parasha Behaalotecha last week, we saw that they got tired of the manna and remembered the fish they “ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Numbers 11:5) Then God sent quail, along with judgment for their continual complaining.
Throughout their wilderness journey, they complained to Moses and about Moses for many reasons. Each time, they witnessed God’s judgments and mercy. Yet, they still did not fully apprehend His love for them, nor His ability to keep His promise to give them a land of their own. God said it best: “How long will these people treat Me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?” (Numbers 14:11)
3. Moses Intercedes for the People
“I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:12)
Because of their rebellion and unbelief during this test of faith, God threatened to destroy the entire community of Israel instantly and start all over again with Moses. God gave Moses this same opportunity in Parasha Ki Tisa when the people He had just delivered from bondage worshiped a Golden Calf instead of Him. (Exodus 32:9–10)
Being the most humble man on the face of the earth, however, Moses refused to accept God’s offer to replace Israel then and now. Instead, he appealed to the Lord’s merciful nature, asking to forgive the people—the same people who railed against Moses and Aaron and threatened to stone Caleb and Joshua just a short time earlier. Moses reminded the Lord: “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, … Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Numbers 14:18–19)