The Mission of the Spies
Deuteronomy 1:22-32
And you came near to me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land…

We see from two instances in this chapter how God's plans leave wide room for the independent action of the human mind. Moses got the suggestion of appointing judges from Jethro; the idea of sending spies to reconnoiter the Holy Land originated with the people. The source from which it came made the motive of it doubtful, but as in itself a measure of prudence, Moses was well pleased with it, and, with God's permission, adopted it. We have here -

I. A POLICY OF CAUTION. Caution is in itself a virtue. It is never wise to rush into undertakings without well-planned measures. The more knowledge we have to guide us in entering upon difficult duty the better. The sending out of these spies was fitted to procure for the Israelites valuable information as to the nature of the land, the best mode of attack, the state of feeling among the inhabitants, etc. The Church would do well to improve upon the hint thus given, and have men out on the field, to keep a sharp watch on the fortifications and movements of the enemy, and bring back intelligence which may encourage, guide, or otherwise help those whose time and thought are devoted to the actual warfare.

II. AN UNEXPECTED RESULT OF THAT POLICY. The spies, with two exceptions, brought back a most disheartening and ill-advised report. We see here the danger of a policy of caution, when that springs from over-fearfulness or an original indisposition to advance. When caution is divorced from courage, and gets the upper hand, its natural tendency is to neutralize enthusiasm, to concentrate attention on difficulties, to play into the hands of those who don't want to do anything, and to furnish them with excuses and arguments for delay. It was so here. The real secret of the desire of the people to have spies sent out was their lurking disbelief and fear. The spies themselves shared in this fear. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, they seem to have had an eye for little else than difficulties. They admitted the goodliness of the land, and brought with them a splendid sample of its fruit (ver. 25). But in every other respect their report was calculated to dispirit, It is a sad thing for the Church when those who ought to animate and encourage her begin themselves to show the craven spirit. Yet over-cautious people are apt, often unwittingly, to do the very work of these spies, by magnifying difficulties, looking only to discouragements, and standing in the way of plans and efforts which would do great good.

III. A REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE. That rebellion was the result of downright unbelief (ver. 32), and illustrates its work (cf. Hebrews 3:19). We see in it how unbelief:

1. Looks only to the seen. They thought only of the size of the people and the strength of the cities (ver. 28). The help of their invisible King was to them as if it were not. They had not the slightest hold upon the reality of it.

2. Looks only the discouragements of duty. There was a bright side as well as a dark one to the report brought to them, but nothing would make them look at the bright one. The same two sides - a bright and hopeful side, and a side of difficulty - exist in every situation, and it is a test of character which we are most given to dwell upon.

3. Misreads the providence of God. What greater perversion of God's kind dealings could human nature be guilty of than that in ver. 27?

4. Is blind to the lessons of the past. They had just been delivered from Egypt, had seen mighty miracles, had been brought across the Red Sea, had been strengthened to conquer the Amalekites, etc.; but all is already forgotten.

5. Issues in flat refusal to do God's will. That is the upshot of unbelief, wherever it exists. The report of the spies, confirmed by the grapes of Eschol, suggests that there is very much in the world which makes it worth conquering for Christ (genius, art, beautiful natural characteristics, etc.). - J.O.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.

WEB: You came near to me everyone of you, and said, "Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up, and the cities to which we shall come."

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