Numbers 13
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chapters 13, 14

The investigation of the land by the spies: their report, and its sequel

The narrative presents many serious difficulties which cannot be removed except by the recognition that it contains a fusion of the early traditions of J E with the later account of P. The two chapters should be studied as follows:

J E Numbers 13:17 b (from and said)—Num 13:21a (so they went up), Num 13:22–24, 26b ([and they went] to Kadesh &c.)—Num 13:31, 33. Numbers 14:1 (partly), Num 14:3, 4, 8, 9, 11–25, 31, Num 14:39b – Num 14:45.

P Numbers 13:1-17 a, Num 13:21b, 25, 26a, Num 13:32Numbers 14:1 (partly), Num 14:2, 5–7, 10, 26–30, 32–39a.

This separation of the traditions depends partly on the presence of characteristic words and expressions, but partly also on irreconcileable differences in the facts which each relate. In J E , the spies start from Kadesh; they search the southern border of Palestine round Hebron; they report that the land is fertile but invincible; Caleb alone encourages the people, and is allowed to enter Canaan. In P , the spies start from the Wilderness of Paran; they search the whole of Palestine; they report that the land is not fertile; both Joshua and Caleb encourage the people, and are allowed to enter Canaan.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
1–24. The spies are sent out, and search the land.

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.
2. a prince] The word is very characteristic of P . The spies were not the same princes as those who represented the tribes at the census (Numbers 1:5-15). Of the following 24 names, beside Joshua, Nun, Caleb and Jephunneh, a few are found in early times, e.g. Palti (1 Samuel 25:44), Ammiel (2 Samuel 9:4), Shaphat (1 Kings 19:16), Shammua (2 Samuel 5:14), Igal (2 Samuel 23:36); in the last two cases, however, the text is uncertain. Others appear to be late. It is probable that the list is artificial, and not based on historical tradition. See on Numbers 1:5.

And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.
And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.
Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori.
Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
6. Caleb the son of Jephunneh] See note on Numbers 14:24.

Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.
Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun.
Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu.
Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi.
Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.
Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli.
Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.
Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi.
Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.
These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua.
16. Joshua has not been hitherto mentioned in P . Exodus 17:9; Exodus 17:13; Exodus 24:13; Exodus 32:17; Exodus 33:11, Numbers 11:28 are all J E . Hoshea, as the name of the son of Nun, is found only in Numbers 13:8 and Deuteronomy 32:44 (in the latter probably a textual error for ‘Joshua’). ‘Since, according to P , the name of Yahweh [Jehovah] was not revealed until after Joshua’s birth (Exodus 6:3), a name containing Yeho = Yahweh could not have been given him at birth. P therefore attributes the name to Moses’ (Gray).

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:
17. get you up this way by the South] go up now into the Negeb. The name Negeb, which denotes ‘dry,’ ‘parched,’ was applied to the waste country on the southern border of Palestine, between the cultivated land and the deserts. After the settlement in Canaan ‘the Negeb’ gained the secondary sense of ‘the south,’ just as ‘the Sea,’ acquired that of ‘the west’ (see on Numbers 3:23). The Negeb is described in G. A. Smith, Hist. Geogr. 278–286.

the mountains] A second description of the Negeb (cf. Numbers 14:40). In Deuteronomy 1:20 it is called ‘the hill-country of the Amorites.’

And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;
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;
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.
So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath.
21. the wilderness of Zin] The geographical statements regarding the tracts south of Judah are vague. In Numbers 13:26 Paran and Kadesh are placed by the compiler in juxtaposition, but in Numbers 20:1 Zin and Kadesh. See prelim, note on ch. 20.

Rehob] Probably the same as Beth-rehob (Jdg 18:28) near the sources of the Jordan.

the entrance of Hamath] Hamath (a district mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions) lay to the north of Palestine; and the ‘entrance’ to it seems to have been a well-known pass, formed by a depression between Lebanon and Hermon. It was, according to P , a point on the northern border of Israel’s possessions in Canaan (Numbers 34:8).

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.)
22. the children of Anak] lit. ‘the sons of neck,’ a Heb. idiom for the long-necked people. The natives of the Negeb were very tall and lanky. It is very improbable that Anak was thought of as a proper name of an individual. In Deut. the expression is mostly ‘sons of Anakim’ (plural). The tradition of a race of giants would easily grow up if the natives, as a whole, were taller than the Israelites. Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai are probably the names of three clans.

Now Hebron &c.] The date of the first building of Zoan (Tanis) is unknown, but was earlier than 2000 b.c. Perhaps the reference is to the re-building of it, which took place at the beginning of the 19th dynasty, i.e. shortly before the Exodus.

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.
23. a staff] Perhaps a bar; the same word as in Numbers 4:10.

the wady of Eshcol] The Heb. naḥal denotes a stream and the small valley or gorge through which it flows. The modern wâdy is the nearest equivalent. It is never used of a large river, nor of a wide flat valley or plain. The wâdy of Eshcol has not been identified.

The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.
24. Eshcol] ‘a cluster’ (R.V. marg.). The writer explains the name by the incident.

And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.
25–33. The spies returned and reported that the land was very fertile (J E ), (but in Numbers 13:32 not fertile, P ), but the inhabitants were tall and terrible and their cities impregnable.

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.
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.
Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.
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.
29. Apparently a parenthesis by the narrator or compiler, enumerating the inhabitants who occupied respectively (1) the Negeb, (2) the central hills of Palestine and (3) the western coast-lands, and the Jordan valley. See on Numbers 14:25.

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.
30. we are well able to overcome if] we shall certainly prevail against it.

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.
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.
32. that eateth up the inhabitants thereof] It is so unfertile that its inhabitants have not enough to live upon. Some of the spies are represented as contradicting the statement of the others in Numbers 13:27. The latter dates from a time before the fall of the Southern Kingdom, when the land was rich and prosperous, while the present passage reflects the state of Judaea as it was known to the priestly writer in the period which followed the Babylonian conquest. See Ezekiel 36:8; Ezekiel 36:11; Ezekiel 36:13 f., 29 f., Haggai 1:6; Haggai 2:19.

And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
33. the Nephilim] Mentioned in Genesis 6:4 in connexion with the ‘sons of Elohim,’ but not elsewhere in the O.T. The derivation and meaning of the name are obscure. Aq. [Note: q. The Greek translation by Aquila.] ἐπιπίπτοντες (‘falling upon’) connects it with nâphal (נפל) ‘to fall,’ as though the name described the violence with which the Nephilim fell upon their enemies. But LXX. γίγαντες (‘giants’) and Sym. βιαῖοι (‘violent’) are only paraphrases. The name appears to be a relic of primitive mythology, but little more can be said of it. If the Nephilim were thought of as superhuman or semi-divine beings, the spies may have used the name to heighten the effect of their description of the ‘sons of Anak’ (Numbers 13:28).

the sons of Anak, which come of the Nephilim] the sons of Anak are of the Nephilim. A separate sentence, which is absent from the LXX. , and was probably added to the Heb. text by a late scribe. He may have meant that the sons of Anak were either descended from, or of the number of, the Nephilim.

as grasshoppers] Very small and helpless. Oriental speech abounds in similes from nature. Insignificance and weakness are also expressed by ‘flocks of kids’ (1 Kings 20:27), ‘a dead dog’ and ‘a flea’ (1 Samuel 24:14), ‘a partridge’ (1 Samuel 26:20).

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