Numbers 13-14 • Land of Missed Opportunity


In the United States, every state manufactures its own automobile license plates. Almost every state places a slogan or description on its license plate. These slogans are designed to say something attractive or significant about the state to create a positive image. In the state if Arkansas, for example (pronounced Ar-kan-saw), its license plates read “Land of Opportunity.”

If the Israelites were to carry license plates as they marched through the Sinai desert for 40 years, they would surely have read something like, “Land of Missed Opportunity.”

Chapters 13 and 14 of Numbers describe one of the greatest missed opportunities the Israelites ever experienced. This lesson studies that missed opportunity, examines what caused the opportunity to be missed, and discovers the consequences faced by the Israelites as a result of that lost opportunity.

Read 13:1-2

Q: Whose idea was it initially to spy out the land of Canaan?

A: The answer to this may be found in Deuteronomy 1:22-25. It was the Israelites themselves who came up with the idea. They requested, Moses prayed, and God approved. God gave instructions to Moses on how to spy out the land; that is, with representatives from each tribe. However, there is no indication that God Himself thought it necessary to spy out the land. This raises an interesting question as to why the people wanted to spy out the land.

Q: What are the conditions upon which the Lord will give the Israelites the land?

A: The Lord said, “Spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel…” There are no conditions. The Lord did not say, “…which I am going to give to Israel if…” The Lord was making an unconditional promise to the Israelites.

Application: What are some unconditional promises that God has given all who receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior? (For example, the promise of redemption and the forgiveness of sin, the promise of eternal life, the promise of the Holy Spirit, et cetera.)

Read 13:3-24

Q: In verses 17-20, did Moses’ instructions to the men include, “And when you return, make a recommendation as to whether or not we should go into the land”?

A: No, because it was the people’s idea, Moses was merely asking for their input, not their opinion.

Q: In verse 21, how much of the land did the spies cover?

A: Archeology informs us that the spies went from the Negev (the southernmost region of Palestine) to Rehob (the northernmost city).

Q: In verse 22, who are the descendants of Anak, and what is the significance of their presence?

A: The descendants of Anak, the Anakim, were a very tall race of people living in Hebron and the surrounding hill country of Canaan. The spies will later compare them to the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis 6:4. In terms of their significance, there is none. God will give the land to the people regardless of who lives there.

Application: What does this tell us about any task God wishes us to do?

Read 13:25-29

Q: Compare verse 27 with verses 28-29. What are some of the differences?

A: In verse 27, the spies are acknowledging the good things of the land. In verses 28 and 29, however, they are looking at the problems, the obstacles, the potential costs.

Q: What are some of the problems pointed out by the spies and what truths are being overlooked by focusing on the problems?

(Perhaps stronger than the Israelites, but God is stronger than them both.)

(Therefore, when we conquer the land, someone else will have done all our building for us. We won’t have to waste time building our cities!)

(Big, tall people are usually slower, less mobile and overconfident. Therefore, adjust your battle plan accordingly. No problem.)

(God has already promised He would wipe out all of them because of their wickedness [Exodus 3:17]; the “iniquity of the Amorite” is now complete [Genesis 15:16]. The Israelites just didn’t realize that God was going to use them to carry out the judgment.)

Read 13:30-33

Q: In verse 30, who is the one who is fearless and puts his trust in God?

A: Caleb. Joshua (13:8) will also trust in the Lord. (Note: Moses changes Hoshea’s name, meaning “desire for salvation,” to Joshua, meaning “the Lord is salvation.” This is probably prophetic for Joshua’s – and eventually Jesus’ – role in deliverance.)

Q: What is true and what is missing in verse 31?

A: It is a true statement that, “they are too strong for us.” What is omitted is that the men fail to factor in God’s power and strength. They are focusing on the problem, the obstacle, rather than the answer. This points to spiritual immaturity and a severe lack of faith.

Q: In verses 31-33, what do the reluctant spies do to validate themselves and their report?

A: First, they give an opinion rather than an observation. It is one thing to say that the inhabitants of Canaan are large people; it is quite another to assume that the Israelites would fail against them. This is incorrect logic based on deduction rather than God’s promises.

Second, they made a concerted effort to persuade the people to agree with them. They could have just as easily given a good report, such as “It is a wonderful land that God is giving to us. With Him fighting for us, we can overcome any obstacle.”

Third, they exaggerated, distorted and even fabricated a myth. (This is the original “urban myth.”) They referred to the sons of Anak as “part of the Nephilim.” This could not be true. The Nephilim and all their descendants were destroyed during the flood. How could the sons of Anak be part of the Nephilim? The only survivors of the flood were Noah’s family of which the Nephilim are not a part.

Application: Have you ever exaggerated something to prove a point? Have preachers or pastors ever exaggerated from the pulpit to make a point? How honest is that? Is God pleased with an exaggerated, distorted or fabricated false report?

Read 14:1-19

Q: In verses 6-9, what was the difference in Joshua’s and Caleb’s response compared to the other ten spies?

A: They believed and trusted in God’s word. They also saw that not trusting God was a form of rebellion against Him.

Q: In verses 11-19, what proposal does God make to Moses, and what is Moses’ response?

A: God suggests ridding Himself of the Israelites and starting a new nation through Moses. But Moses states that if God rids Himself of the Israelites, His reputation would be tarnished.

Q: What do you think was going on in the preceding dialogue between Moses and God? Did God really intend to start a new nation through Moses?

A: No, because of His compassion and ability to forgive, and because of the very reason Moses elucidated. God speaks thusly in order for Moses to discover more about His God. This event will cause Moses to have an even a greater understanding of the nature, character and attributes of the God whom he met at the burning bush.

Q: What does Moses’ response tell you about the man himself?

A: He was a man of intense integrity. He also had the vision to see God’s long-range plan and not to resort to quick, short-term solutions.

Application: Have you noticed that people such as Moses and Hezekiah for whom God appeared to change His mind, were men that made requests not for their own selves and name, but for the honor and glory of God’s? What does this reveal about our own desires and approach to God? How much time do we spend focused on requests for our self versus HIS name, work, and glory? Are we as concerned as Moses about the witness of His work for unbelievers?

Read 14:20-38

Q: What was the consequence for the Israelites for failing the trust in God?

A: Clearly, every person who was numbered – twenty years and older – would never make it to the promise land. They would all die in the wilderness. For 38 years, over 2 million people would die in the desert of Sinai.

Q: Why were Caleb and Joshua spared?

A: Because they believed in, trusted in, and relied upon God.

Overall Application