Bible Commentary

Numbers 13

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Numbers 13)

Verse 1

[1] And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Speak unto Moses — In answer to the peoples petition about it, as is evident from Deuteronomy 1:22. And it is probable, the people desired it out of diffidence of God's promise.

Verse 2

[2] Send thou men, that they may search 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 ruler among them.

A ruler — A person of wisdom and authority.

Verse 8

[8] Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun.

Oshea — Called also Joshua, Numbers 13:16.

Verse 11

[11] Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.

Of Joseph — The name of Joseph is elsewhere appropriated to Ephraim, here to Manasseh; possibly to aggravate the sin of the ruler of this tribe, who did so basely degenerate from his noble ancestor.

Verse 16

[16] These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua.

Jehoshua — Oshea notes a desire of salvation, signifying, Save we pray thee; but Jehoshua, or Joshua, includes a promise of salvation, He will save. So this was a prophecy of his succession to Moses in the government, and of the success of his arms. Joshua is the same name with Jesus, of whom Joshua was a type. He was the Saviour of God's people from the powers of Canaan, Christ from the powers of hell.

Verse 17

[17] And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain:

Southward — Into the southern part of Canaan, which was the nearest part, and the worst too, being dry and desert, and therefore fit for them to enter and pass through with less observation.

Into the mountain — Into the mountainous country, and thence into the valleys, and so take a survey of the whole land.

Verse 18

[18] And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;

What it is — Both for largeness, and for nature and quality.

Verse 19

[19] And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds;

In tents — As the Arabians did; or in unwalled villages, which, like tents, are exposed to an enemy.

Verse 20

[20] And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes.

Fat — Rich and fertile.

Verse 21

[21] So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath.

Zin — In the south of Canaan, differing from the wilderness of Sin, which was nigh unto Egypt.

To Hamath — From the south they passed through the whole land to the northern parts of it; Rehob was a city in the north-west part, Hamath, a city in the north-east.

Verse 22

[22] And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)

By the south — Moses having described their progress from south to north, more particularly relates some memorable places and passages.

They came — Heb. He came, namely, Caleb, as appears from Joshua 14:9,12,14. For the spies distributed their work among them, and went either severally, or by pairs; and it seems the survey of this part was left to Caleb.

Anak — A famous giant, whole children these are called, either more generally, as all giants sometimes were, or rather more specially because Arbah, from whom Hebron was called Kiriath-arbah, was the father of Anak, Joshua 15:13. And this circumstance is mentioned as an evidence of the goodness of that land, because the giants chose it for their habitation.

Before Zoan — This seems to be noted to confront the Egyptians, who vainly boasted of the antiquity of their city Zoan above all places.

Verse 23

[23] And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs.

Upon a staff — Either for the weight of it, considering the, length of the way they were to carry it, or for the preservation of it whole and entire. In those eastern and southern countries there are vines and grapes of an extraordinary bigness as Strabo and Pliny affirm.

Verse 24

[24] The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.

Eschol — That is, a cluster of grapes.

Verse 25

[25] And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.

They returned after forty days — 'Tis a wonder the people had patience to stay forty days, when they were just ready to enter Canaan, under all the assurances of success they could have from the Divine power, proved by a constant series of miracles, that had hitherto attended them. But they distrusted God, and chose to be held in suspence by their own counsels, rather than to rest upon God's promise! How much do we stand in our own light by unbelief?

Verse 26

[26] And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land.

Kadesh — Kadesh-barnea, which some confound with Kadesh in the wilderness of Sin, into which they came not 'till the fortieth year after their coming out of Egypt, as appears from Numbers 33:37,38, whereas they were in this Kadesh in the second year, and before they received the sentence of their forty years abode in the wilderness.

Verse 27

[27] And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.

They told him — In the audience of the people.

Verse 29

[29] The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.

The Amalekites in the south — Where we are to enter the land, and they who were so fierce against us that they came into the wilderness to fight with us, will, without doubt, oppose us when we come close by their land, the rather, to revenge themselves for their former loss. Therefore they mention them, though they were not Canaanites.

In the mountains — In the mountainous country, in the south-east part of the land, so that you cannot enter there without great difficulty, both because of the noted strength and valour of those people, and because of the advantage they have from the mountains.

By the sea — Not the mid-land sea, which is commonly understood by that expression, but the salt or dead sea, as appears, 1. Because it is that sea which is next to Jordan, 2. Because the Canaanites dwelt principally in those parts, and not near the mid-land sea. So these guard the entrance on the east-side, as the others do on the south.

Verse 30

[30] And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.

Caleb — Together with Joshua, as is manifest from Numbers 14:6,7,30, but Caleb alone is here mentioned, possibly because he spake first and most, which he might better do, because he might be presumed to be more impartial than Joshua, who being Moses's minister might be thought to speak only what he knew his master would like.

Stilled the people — Which implies either that they had began to murmur, or that by their looks and carriage, they discovered the anger which boiled in their breasts.

Before Moses — Or, towards Moses, against whom they were incensed, as the man who had brought them into such sad circumstances.

Let us go up and possess it — He does not say, Let us go up and conquer it. He looks on that to be as good as done already: but, Let us go up and possess it! There is nothing to be done, but to enter without delay, and take the possession which our great Lord is now ready to give us! Thus difficulties that lie in the way of salvation, vanish away before a lively faith.

Verse 31

[31] But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.

The men — All of them, Joshua excepted.

Stronger — Both in stature of body and numbers of people. Thus they question the power, and truth, and goodness of God, of all which they had such ample testimonies.

Verse 32

[32] And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.

Eateth up its inhabitants — Not so much by civil wars, for that was likely to make their conquest more easy; but rather by the unwholesomeness of the air and place, which they guessed from the many funerals, which, as some Hebrew writers, not without probability affirm, they observed in their travels through it: though that came to pass from another cause, even from the singular providence of God, which, to facilitate the Israelites conquest, cut off vast numbers of the Canaanites either by a plague, or by the hornet sent before them, as is expressed, Joshua 24:12.

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