The affair of sending the people to spy out the Land of Canaan is an unsolved issue in the life of Moses. Years later, in Deuteronomy, when he summarizes his life work, he looks at this strange affair of sending the people to spy out the Land of Canaan and he wonders why he did it.
Years later, in Deuteronomy, when Moses summarizes his life’s work, he looks at this strange affair of sending the people to spy out the Land of Canaan and he wonders why he did it. He remembered that God ordered him to do it. Is it so indeed? “And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel; of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a prince among them.’” (Numbers 13:1-2). But maybe it was the people?… He sigh. It is always the people… He decided to write only what he surely remembered: “And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said: ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us back word of the way by which we must go up, and the cities unto which we shall come.’ And the thing pleased me well; and I took twelve men of you, one man for every tribe;” (Deuteronomy 1:22-23). During the years of his leadership, Moses developed a fear every time he heard the people coming near to him. Again a gathering, again complaints, again shouting and screaming and blaming and the total irresponsibility which they like to wallow in. But, you are also to blame, he reminds himself. Do you remember? “And the thing pleased me“.
"He still remembers their names and counts them on his fingers, every ones name, his father's name and his tribe." | Map of the twelve tribes of Israel. cc: wikipedia
Remembering the Names
And what happened then? I gathered the best people. He still remembers their names and counts them on his fingers, every ones name, his father’s name and his tribe. Ten people, and two people. And when he thinks about the two, Joshua and Caleb, his heart is smiling. I indeed called him Joshua – in Hebrew the meaning is may God save him from the bad advice of his friends. In fact, from the beginning he had a bad feeling about it. Again, a mass rally, struggles between the tribes, who will enter first and who will have more room and who will show its wealth and all their flattery to him. He does not feel like talking to them anymore, but he has no choice. He came out of his tent and explained to the people about the mission: in the Negev and on the mountains, the people who live there, and the land, is it good or bad? Fat or lean? Are there trees or not?
He remembers well that already when he talked, there were people who winked and looked at each other and conspired. It was clear to him that they were hiding something. Except for Caleb and Joshua, may God give them a long life and give them what He did not give me, an access to the land which I wanted to enter all my life. He suddenly remembered that Caleb reached Hebron. He went to Abraham’s tomb, he thought to himself, and suddenly he felt jealous.
Forty days we waited for them, and in this time the people could not do anything. All day and night they only talked about the delegation and the land which was waiting for them, and in each tent and in each tribe the exaggerations increased and the expectations grew. It was clear to him that it will end badly. And nevertheless, when the delegation was seen in the distance returning and carrying the fruits: grapes, figs and pomegranates… after all this time – all of a sudden real fruit, as when I was a prince in Egypt. He sighed, what did they say? “floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.“. He was already relieved, but they continue, he does not remember who the ten are, the people are fierce and big and they dwell all over the land and it is clear that there is no room for us.
And as Moses thinks how to response, Caleb, God bless him, burst in and tried to save the situation, but the damage was already done. The slander started to crawl on the earth. It was poisonous and dangerous. A land that eats you alive… Big people there, and what are we? We are grasshoppers. And again the people start yelling and shouting, complaining, wishing they would have died in Egypt, or in the desert, asking why God brought them there, demanding to return to Egypt, demanding a new leadership that will return them home to Egypt, and again they are shouting with bright and excited eyes. Why always in these moments doesn’t Moses find the words and wishes he was dead. And here, Joshua and Caleb try to answer the people, but it only angers them more and suddenly stones are thrown, and I thought to myself, this is it, my end will be in this cursed desert. But, suddenly the screaming and shouting changed into a still small voice.
To Contain the People’s Anger
The people stared with fear at the Lord who appeared at the tent of meeting. Everybody saw, but only Moses could hear. Hear and talk. He breathes and listens and calms himself down, calms down God who appears to him. It is not enough that he has to contain the people, he has to contain also God’s anger and calm Him. And here, Aaron also hears the sentence of God – the Slow to anger and abundant in goodness God Who said: “your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness“.
And again, the people are crying and screaming… climbing the hill and looking like they are longing, towards the land. “Lo, we are here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised“, they wail. It is too late for this now. A small group even starts to walk towards the border, but they meet a division of Amalek and the people of Canaan prepare to crush the infiltrators from the desert.
All of a sudden God talks to me again. More rules? Now? More rules? And nevertheless the voice is steady and clear. Rules of sacrifice. What does it have to do with what is going on now? And suddenly, he remembers, I understood. “When ye are come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you…” God is trying to comfort the people. He tells them how to reach Him and how to work Him. If your answer is true, you can come close to me by the sacrifice of the animal in the fire in which your soul is burning. If your intension will be true, it will be for me like aroma. This what God taught them on this day. And not only for you, “for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you, a statute for ever throughout your generations; as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD.”
And again he succeeds in picking himself up to continue this mission, which was so hard for him even 40 years ago. To turn a people of slaves into an independent and sovereign nation that lives in the eternal light of God. When the tumult ended God appears to him again. He thought of a new command: Tzitzit. Something that when you see it you remember all the commands of God. Something that will be on man’s clothes all the time, and will remind him to be holy for God at all times and to remind him not to explore in vain.