Spies Report and Moses Intercedes for Israel


For forty years Israel lived in the desert, surviving on quail and manna. At times they complained and questioned Moses’ authority, but they were spared judgment and allowed to keep going.

But now these ten spies returned with a bad report. They were paralyzed with fear and unbelief. Moses interceded fervently on their behalf, appealing to God’s glory, power and promise.

Spies Report

The Israelites came to Moses asking him to send spies to scout out the Land of Canaan. Moses replied that G-d had already given them a promise of inheritance and this was unnecessary, however the people insisted.

Scripture then explains how Moses sent them out: And the LORD said to him: Send men from each tribe of your fathers, and let every man be a leader among them.”

The twelve spies were then commissioned to go up to the Land of Canaan, and bring back a report to their fellow Israelites. They were commanded to see whether the people there are strong or weak, few or many; and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether it has forests. They were also commanded to bring a cluster of grapes from the Land.

Ten Disobedient Spies

The spies were chosen to represent each of Israel’s twelve tribes. Their lack of faith was a reflection of that of the majority of Israel.

The majority of the spies gave a report that Israel would not be able to take the land of promise. The two spies who had faith urged the people to trust God.

Rahab was concerned about her family’s safety so she asked the spies to testify under oath that they would keep their word. This is likely because she believed that if they did not keep their word they were violating one of the most fundamental commandments, “Thou Shalt Not Use The Name Of The LORD Your God In Vain” (Exodus 20:7).

The ten spies who gave a bad report were struck with a plague before the LORD and died. Only Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who had faith, lived to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. The rest of the generation would spend 40 years in the wilderness and die without entering the Promised Land.

God Intercedes

In the midst of Israel’s rebellion, Moses intercedes for them. He reminds God that He delivered them from slavery and parted the Red Sea. He says that they have seen enough miracles to trust Him to take them into the Promised Land and defeat their enemies.

He also explains that if God destroys the present encampment, He will make a new people of Israel from Moses. This is the same offer He made to Abraham and Joseph.

Even though it seemed the spies had given the Israelites a bad report, Caleb and Joshua have convinced two-thirds of the nation that they can conquer the land. Leaders need to speak words of faith that counteract fear. They must remind their people that the Lord is with them and that He can do anything. He will not allow their sin to destroy them. God hears their prayer and relents. He will not destroy the people He has brought out of Egypt.

Moses Intercedes

God revealed His will to Moses in types and symbols that pointed ahead to Jesus, of whom Moses was a type. Thus the Old Testament is full of warnings and promises. In Numbers 20, God’s threat to exterminate Israel over their idolatry was buffered by Moses’ intercession.

What made this intercession spectacular was not its method (appealing to God’s power, glory, and promise). Its object was others-centered, displaying that Moses loved the nation he led and trusted in the Lord’s ability to fulfill His promises. Moses prayed for God to show mercy to his people, and He did so. However, we must not read this to mean that God was capricious in His choice of whom He would be gracious. God had already made a covenant with the nation of Israel and it was based on their faith to enter His kingdom through Jesus. Therefore, Israel’s salvation was assured even if their faith faltered in this moment.

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