Why did the twelve spies go into the Promised Land?

When the Israelites were nearing Canaan, the Promised Land, some of them approached Moses to ask if they could send some men ahead to scope out the land and the cities within it (Deuteronomy 1:22). Moses liked their idea (Deuteronomy 1:23), so he asked God about it. God told Moses to send a man from each of the twelve tribes to scope out the land: "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them" (Numbers 13:2).

As the leader of the Israelites, Moses outlined goals for the twelve spies before sending them to Canaan. He wanted them to assess the land itself, the people who were living there, and the type of cities that it contained. Numbers 13:17–20a reads: "Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, 'Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.'"

The spies came back with a positive report about the land—it was fruitful: "it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit" (Numbers 13:27). However, this was where the good news stopped for most of the spies. They told Moses that the cities were highly fortified and the citizens of the land were huge (Numbers 13:28–29). They were not convinced that the Israelites would truly be able to win in battle and take the land (Numbers 13:31–33). Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, were convinced that God would help the Israelites to take the land (Numbers 13:30; 14:6–9).

The Israelites sided with the ten negative spies, which made God angry because of their unbelief (Numbers 14:11–12). He had already done so many miracles for them, but they had not remembered them. He had even already promised that the land of Canaan would be theirs (Exodus 6:4, 8) and that His angel would go ahead of them (Exodus 23:23). As a result of their rebellion, the Israelites would spend forty years in the wilderness and none of those over the age of twenty at the time the spies went out, except Caleb and Joshua, would enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:20–38).

This fact-finding secret mission brought a lot of revelation about the land of Canaan that the Israelites were about to inhabit, and it also brought a lot of revelation about the condition of their hearts and their lack of faith and trust in God. Even so, God remained faithful to His promises (2 Timothy 2:11–13). May we be those who readily trust God and eagerly obey Him in all circumstances (John 15:1–11; James 1:2–5; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; Hebrews 11).

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