Numbers 14
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 all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.
1. the congregation] A word peculiarly characteristic of P .

lifted up their voice] lifted up and uttered their voice. The multiplication of verbs and of subjects in Numbers 14:1-2 seems to be due to the fusion of J , E and P .

Numbers 14:1-10. The people mutinied in spite of the protest of Joshua and Caleb.

And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
2. would that we had died] ‘God’ does not form part of the Heb. expression. The R.V. is not consistent; see Numbers 20:4, Exodus 16:3.

And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
3. wherefore is Jehovah about to bring us] The rebellious spirit is more flagrantly expressed in Deuteronomy 1:27.

And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.
9. they are our bread] i.e. we shall swallow them up, annihilate them; cf. Psalm 14:4 = Psalm 53:4, Numbers 24:8.

their defence] Lit. ‘shadow’ (as R.V. marg. states); a common metaphor of great significance in a hot country; see Jdg 9:15, Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2, and the name Bezalel (Exodus 31:2) which denotes ‘in the shadow of El (God).’ The passage means that the gods in whom the Canaanites trust will be powerless against Jehovah the God of Israel. Cf. Deuteronomy 32:31 ‘their rock is not as our Rock.’

But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.
10. bade stone them] i.e. Joshua and Caleb, and perhaps also Moses and Aaron. For the same form of mutiny cf. 1 Samuel 30:6, 1 Kings 12:18.

the glory of Jehovah] The visible manifestation of His presence, which, as described by the priestly writers, took the form of fire. It appeared on Mt Sinai (Exodus 24:16), it filled the Tabernacle when it was erected (Exodus 40:34), and appeared from time to time during the wanderings (Exodus 16:10 [reading Dwelling for wilderness], Leviticus 9:23, Numbers 16:19; Numbers 16:42; Numbers 20:6). In later Jewish writings the ‘Glory’ came to be considered almost as a personal representation of God, and was known as the Shekînah—‘that which dwells [sc. among men].’ This thought was taken up and given its fullest depth of meaning in the N.T., e.g. S. John 1:14.

And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
11–24. Jehovah threatened to destroy Israel; Moses by his intercession obtained their pardon, but the present generation, with the exception of Caleb, were not allowed to enter Canaan.

I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
12. make of thee a nation] Moses would be a second Abraham, the whole nation being descended from him.

And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)
13–16. The thought of Jehovah destroying His own people raised a great problem. Jehovah must maintain justice, and yet He must also maintain His own honour among the surrounding nations. The same problem was felt by Ezekiel in regard to the punishment of the exile, but he solved it by the certainty of a glorious return of a purified people in the future (Ezekiel 36:18-28; Ezekiel 39:21-29).

And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.
14. and they will tell it] and they will say. What they will say is not related till Numbers 14:16, which is introduced by the last words of Numbers 14:15 : ‘will speak, saying.’ Numbers 14:13-14 appear to be composed of a series of glosses; and Numbers 14:14 seems to be corrupt; the LXX. , Syr. and Vulg. each presupposes a different reading. It is probable that Moses’ words originally began at Numbers 14:15.

this land] i.e. Canaan, which the people have just refused to enter.

and thy cloud standeth over them] A conception of the cloud different from that in the following clauses; ‘standeth over them’ implies that the cloud stood over the Tabernacle which was in their midst. The words are probably a priestly gloss, based upon Numbers 10:34.

and thou goest before them &c.] This is the conception of the cloud found in J . See note on Numbers 9:15-23.

Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.
And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
17. let the power of my Lord be great] The title Adonai is employed, not (as in Numbers 14:16; Numbers 14:18) the personal name Jehovah.

according as thou hast spoken] i.e. in Exodus 34:6-7, which is here slightly abbreviated. Moses means that the divine power can shew itself in Jehovah’s ability to pardon and punish according to His supreme will.

The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
21. and as all the earth &c.] A second oath to strengthen the following statement. Psalm 72:19 perhaps contains a direct reference to the words.

Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;
22. because] must be omitted. The Heb. is merely a particle which introduces a fact sworn to.

ten times] There may have been a tradition that the temptings or testings of God in the wilderness were ten in number. But more probably the expression denotes simply a large number of times, like the English ‘dozen’ or ‘score’; cf. Genesis 31:7; Genesis 31:41, Nehemiah 4:12, Job 19:3.

Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
24. into the land whereinto he went] Caleb was to receive the country in which Hebron stood (Numbers 13:22), whither he had gone as a spy; cf. Numbers 32:12, Deuteronomy 1:36. In Joshua 14:6-14 it is related that Caleb, at the age of 85, claimed the fulfilment of this promise, and received Hebron and the neighbouring hill country.

It is very probable, however, that the history of Caleb is the history not of an individual but of a clan. The name denotes the ‘dogclan,’ and perhaps dates from an early time when the clan reverenced a dog as their ‘totem’ or sacred animal. Nabal was ‘of the house of Caleb’ (1 Samuel 25:3); and the ‘Negeb of Caleb’ (1 Samuel 30:14) was a distinct district in the south of Canaan. In Numbers 32:12, Joshua 14:6; Joshua 14:14 Caleb is called the ‘Kenizzite,’ and in Joshua 15:17, Jdg 1:13; Jdg 3:9; Jdg 3:11 the ‘son of Kenaz’; that is the Calebites were a branch of the Kenizzite tribe, which was itself a division of the Edomites (Genesis 36:9; Genesis 36:11; Genesis 36:42). The Calebites, or more accurately the Kalibbites, appear to have entered Canaan from the south after leaving the Edomite country, and moved northwards through the Negeb as far as Hebron, as represented in the narrative of the spies. When the tribe of Judah afterwards settled in the same locality, the two tribes entered into friendly relations with each other and also with the Jerahmeelites, another foreign tribe settled in the district. In course of time they so completely coalesced that, after the exile, their descendants were reckoned as genealogically connected with Judah (1 Chronicles 2:4 f., 1Ch 2:9, 18 f., 1Ch 2:24–26, 42 f.).

(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.
25. Now the Amalekitewere dwelling in the valley] This is a parenthesis inserted by the narrator or compiler. It is omitted in Deuteronomy 1:40 which corresponds to the remainder of the present verse. It cannot be from the same pen as Numbers 13:29, where the Canaanites are described as living in the lowlands by the Mediterranean and along the Jordan, while the Amalekites live in the Negeb. On the other hand ‘the valley’ is not necessarily at variance with ‘mountain’ (or rather ‘hill country’) in Numbers 14:45, since it denotes not a broad valley or plain but ‘a deep place’ (צֵמֶק), a defile or declivity among the mountains.

turn ye] They were to retrace their steps, moving S.E. towards the eastern arm of the Red Sea.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
26. And Jehovah spake] This is P’s immediate sequel to the appearance of Jehovah’s glory in the Tent (Numbers 14:10).

26–39. All the people above twenty years old, except Joshua and Caleb, were condemned to wander for forty years and die in the desert. The spies who brought an evil report died by a plague. The greater part of this section has been assigned to P , but elements from early tradition have been incorporated in it. The ‘forty years’ is alluded to as early as Amos (Numbers 2:10, Numbers 5:25), and the wandering in the wilderness in Hosea 2:14.

How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.
27. How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur &c.] The words shall I bear represent no part of the Heb. text. Something has perhaps dropped out, but the R.V. gives the general sense.

Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:
28. as ye have spoken] i.e. in Numbers 14:2.

Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,
29. all that were numbered] in the census (ch. 1). The Levites, however, were not included in that census (Numbers 1:47), and the priestly writer probably assumed that the sentence of death in the wilderness did not apply to them. Aaron’s son Eleazar succeeded his father as high priest on the borders of Canaan, and he must certainly have been over 20 years of age at this time, since he acted in a responsible position as priest before the departure from Sinai (see Numbers 3:3 f., 32, Numbers 4:16).

Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.
But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.
33. your children shall be shepherds] as R.V. marg. They were to continue to rove about with their flocks, instead of settling down to agricultural life in Canaan. The rendering ‘wanderers’ is due to the Vulg. vagi.

and shall bear your whoredoms] Your children, though they will not die in the wilderness, must suffer for your unfaithfulness to God. The metaphor of whoredom, the action of a woman who deserts her husband for another, is frequently applied to Israel. By defiant unbelief (as here), or by the worship of foreign gods (as Hosea 2:7; Hosea 9:1), or by foreign alliances (as Ezekiel 16:26; Ezekiel 23:1-35), she proved, time after time, unfaithful to Jehovah.

After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.
34. my alienation] my opposition. Ye shall experience what it means to be opposed and hindered by me. The subst. occurs in Job 33:10 only. For the verb cf. Numbers 30:6 (R.V. ‘disallow’), Numbers 32:7 (R.V. ‘discourage’).

I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land,
Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.
37. died by a plague] This is the meaning of the Heb. idiom, although the definite article is used. The Heb. maggçphâh denotes lit. ‘a smiting,’ as also do πληγή and plaga. It is used of any sudden catastrophe inflicted by Jehovah.

But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still.
And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.
39. Moses told these words] i.e. those contained in Numbers 14:27-35.

39b45. Having heard their sentence (in Numbers 14:21-25), the people made an attempt to gain Jehovah’s favour by marching up to the hills in the Negeb, disregarding Moses’ warning that Jehovah would not help them. They received a severe defeat from the Amalekites and Canaanites.

And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.
40. the top of the mountain] Perhaps a particular hill in the south of the Negeb, close to Kadesh: but it may denote more generally ‘the high ground of the hill country.’

And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper.
Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.
For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the LORD, therefore the LORD will not be with you.
But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.
44. the ark of the covenant of Jehovah] The words ‘of the covenant’ are probably a gloss by a Dt. writer. There is no evidence in J or E that the tablets of the Covenant laws were placed in the ark. See on Numbers 10:33 b.

and Moses] Moses was the guardian of the ark.

out of the midst of the camp] In E the sacred tent, in which the ark was presumably housed, stood outside the camp (cf. Numbers 12:4, Exodus 33:7-11). The position, here implied by J , afterwards formed an important factor in P’s description of the Tabernacle (Numbers 1:50; Numbers 1:53).

Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.
45. which dwelt in that hill country] See on Numbers 14:25.

Hormah] lit. ‘the Hormah’; but it occurs here only with the article. A town or district in the south of Palestine whose site is unknown. In Numbers 21:3 an explanation of the name is given: see notes there.

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