The Israelite scouts sent out by Moses had traveled by foot over much of Canaan. They had looped around to arrive at Hebron, a city not too far from Kadesh. The rose-red city of Kadesh was the scouts’ starting point, where the twelve tribes were encamped and awaiting reports from the twelve-man expedition.
On leaving Hebron, the Israelites suddenly found themselves confronted by several soldiers blocking the narrow street.
“We can’t turn back now,” Joshua said in a low voice to Caleb. “If we turn back, they’ll probably take after us!”
As the scouts neared the soldiers, they were amazed to realize that some of them were almost twice as tall as ordinary men! The towering soldiers saw the expressions of growing unbelief on the faces of the scouts, who now were close enough to notice the hostility on the faces of the soldiers. Suddenly the scouts realized that it was only mock hostility. The giant men broke into loud, hoarse laughter and stepped aside to let the six pairs of Israelites continue down the street. It was evident that a favorite pastime of the soldiers the giant descendants of Anak was to playfully startle strangers who had never before seen such tall men (Num. 13:22).
The scouts breathed sighs of relief and thankfulness as they left the laughing soldiers behind them. They kept on to the south where they saw numerous other giant tribes until they arrived at a fertile valley known as Eshcol, through which ran a small river. This was grape country and time for harvesting grapes. The Israelites were astounded at the great size of the grape clusters.
“We were instructed to bring back samples of the produce of Canaan,” Joshua reminded the men. “So far we have gathered only a few things, and our trip is nearly over. This is perhaps our last opportunity to take some of the unusual fruit growing here.”
Not wanting to invade a private vineyard, the men cut down a large cluster of grapes apparently growing wild. They hung the cluster on a pole for two men to carry it between them back to Kadesh. The grapes weren’t so heavy that two men were required to lift them. It was a matter of letting the massive cluster hang free so that it wouldn’t be crushed! However, the bunch of grapes was all of two feet long, and each grape was as large as a plumb.
The scouts also plucked healthy fruits and luscious figs from the area. Burdened with their increased loads, they turned southeast toward Kadesh. They crossed the Arabah and arrived at Kadesh on the border of Edom just forty days from the time they had set out. Although many people went out to meet them and to ply them with questions, the scouts reported at once to Moses. Knowing that the people were anxious to learn what their spies had seen in Canaan, Moses later called for the people to assemble close to the tabernacle (Num. 13:23-25).
As a leader of the expedition, Joshua was asked first to give a public account of what had taken place. He came out on a high platform, so that the crowd could see him, and sketchily related what the men had seen and done.
“It is a good land,” he concluded. Large areas of it are very fertile, as many of you can see by this display of unusual produce. There is plenty of grazing country for our flocks and herds. We should thank God that all these good things are there for the taking when we move northward.”
Meanwhile, all the other scouts except Caleb had gathered in a group and were earnestly talking. When Joshua had finished speaking, he asked any one of them to add to what had already been said. One scout, obviously chosen as a spokesman, came up to face Moses, Aaron and the throng of people.
“The land of Canaan is indeed fertile in some regions, just as Joshua has stated,” the speaker said in a strong, clear voice. “However, when he spoke of our seeing a few very tall men, he failed to mention that all the people are very large and tall. He also left out the facts that all the cities have high, thick walls behind which are large, well-trained, powerful armies. It is foolish to even think of trying to enter Canaan. We would all be slaughtered!”
There was an awkward silence. Moses and Aaron, as well as most others, were greatly startled by what they had heard. Joshua and Caleb exchanged anxious glances. Caleb leaped on the platform and raised his arms for silence. The murmuring gradually subsided, but not completely.
“I ask you to hear me on this matter!” Caleb spoke out loudly. “This man whom you have just heard doesn’t speak for all twelve of us. For some reason he has lied about the cities all having high walls, all the people being giants and all the armies being large and powerful. The truth is that God can surely overcome the inhabitants of Canaan for us” (Num. 13:26-33)!
The ten scouts quickly crowded onto the platform, shouting and gesturing.
“No! No!” they chorused. “This fellow is the one who isn’t telling the truth!”
There was much confusion, both around the platform and throughout the crowd. After a few minutes Moses and his officers were fairly successful in restoring order. God does not like confusion.
“This has been a disgraceful exhibition, especially by men of your past good reputations,” Moses said sternly to the ten scouts. “If you actually believe it would be a mistake to go into Canaan, then you must give more reasons than you have already stated, and with proof!”
There was a quick consultation among the ten men, and again their spokesman stepped up to address the people.
“I’ll admit that I didn’t tell you exactly what conditions are in Canaan,” the speaker shouted, “but neither did Joshua nor Caleb. The real truth is something none of us wanted to bring to you because it seemed cruel to fill you with complete dismay and disappointment, However, probably many of you won’t believe what I am about to tell you.”
Here the speaker paused, at the risk of being interrupted, so that the audience would be even more eager to hear his words. He was counting on Moses giving him a full chance to say what he had to say.
“Now here are the terrifying facts,” he continued. “For some reason these two leaders probably won’t back me up on these things. But nine other scouts will. In the first place, the climate of most of the land north of here is very bad. It has produced mostly desert territory. Water is scarce. Disease and pestilence have taken the lives of ordinary people like ourselves. The survivors and they must number into many thousands are all giants who are actually so tremendous that we were only as grasshoppers in their sight. They didn’t pay any attention to us because they looked down on us as only insects. These people have descended from fierce Hamitic tribes. They are so mountainous and powerful that it would take only a few of them to stamp all of us into the ground!”
A great sound of discontent welled up from the crowd. At a command from Moses, Joshua stood up to speak, but the growing noise from the people drowned out his words even to the nearest listeners.
“His lies have frightened the people!” Joshua said to Moses after leaving the platform. “They don’t even want to listen to me.”
“Most of them know that they have listened to lies,” Moses said. “They prefer to believe what isn’t the truth so that they will have excuses to return to Egypt.”
“Ten of my fellow scouts must be working with those who are trying to get the Israelites to turn back,” Joshua remarked bitterly.
“It is very plain,” Moses agreed. “This growing movement to try to return to Egypt is getting out of hand.”
Moses soberly watched the yelling Israelites milling excitedly about, and shook his head in disappointment. In recent weeks, in spite of the trouble these people had given him, his hope had grown that his task of leading them to the Promised Land was about to end. An end to the journey now appeared about as possible as single-handedly herding millions of wild burros into a corral.
For a few moments he considered trying to address the people, to remind them how futile it would be to start back without God’s help. But already the huge throng was breaking up. Officers were faithfully working to keep the crowd in order, but the people were too noisy and excited to listen to any more speeches.
Wailing, weeping and murmuring, the people milled around between camps and tents, loudly complaining that it would mean death to all if they were to set foot in what they referred to as a disease-ridden land of giants to the north. All night this noisy and childish exhibition went on.
Meanwhile, however, many thousands of the Israelites had no part in the demonstration. By early morning many of the complainers were worked up into such a highly emotional state that they again formed into a crowd that advanced angrily toward the tabernacle. Some of the demonstrators went so far as to carry sticks and stones.
“We wish we had died in Egypt!” thousands of them yelled. “We wish we had died in the desert!” other thousands chorused. “God has dragged us out to this miserable place only for the purpose of having us slain by giants! Our wives and our children will all die if we follow Moses any further!”
“We want to go back to Egypt!” was a common cry. “Let us choose a leader who knows what is best for us one who knows the shortest and fastest route back to Egypt” (Num. 14:1-4)!
“We have already picked out those who can lead us!” some of the Israelites screamed. “Let us put down Moses and his officers so that our leaders can take over!”
Only the most rebellious and rabble-rousing dared suggest ousting Moses, and not a great part of the Israelites fell in with such a suggestion of violence. However, it was plain to Moses that this unhappy situation could explode into a worse one within minutes. There was only one wise thing to do. Moses motioned to Aaron. The two of them mounted the platform. For a few seconds they silently regarded the clamoring crown. Then they knelt down and bent over with their foreheads touching the floor of the platform. In this abject position they called on God to step in and take control of the people.
When the demonstrators saw their leaders bowing in prayer they quieted down to a low murmur.
Angered and shocked at the manner in which their fellow scouts had spoken and acted, Joshua and Caleb decided to take advantage of this quieter period to try once more to bring the truth to the people. Joshua once more went to the platform and walked out in front of Moses and Aaron.
“Fellow Israelites!” Joshua cried out. “I’m here again to assure you of what all twelve of us have witnessed that Canaan is a good, productive land. There are no giants such as have been described to you, though there are some men who are several feet taller than our men. There is a good supply of water. We saw no unusual signs of disease or pestilence. Canaan is so much better than any land we have come through so far that it would be very foolish not to claim it. Let us not rebel against our Creator. Otherwise He might decide to withhold this Promised Land from us.”
People looked on with stony faces as Joshua stepped back and Caleb came forward to stand in front of the two men who were still prostrate.
“What Joshua has just told you is true!” Caleb shouted to the people. “God is offering us a wonderful future if only we obey Him. Surely He is already displeased by your attitude of refusal to go into Canaan and take what our Creator wants us to have for our own happiness. As for fearing the Canaanites, there is no reason for that. As long as God is with us, no people, even if they were all giants can overcome us!”
As soon as Caleb ceased speaking, the murmuring from the crowd grew louder and louder. In spite of a number of alert guards surrounding the platform, the bolder and more excited ones in the crowd moved menacingly close. Out of the hubbub of shrieks and yells two chilling words became more and more distinct.
“Stone them! Stone them! Stone them!” (Num. 14:5-10)
Very soon the phrase became a monstrous chant from the lungs of the frenzied thousands. Still Caleb and Joshua stood on the platform with the kneeling Moses and Aaron.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.