Chapters thirteen and fourteen contain one of the most famous stories in Numbers – the spies enter Canaan. Unfortunately, it is also the most disastrous, the event that caused the second half of Numbers and all of Deuteronomy to even take place. Had the spies and the nation handled this one event differently, they could have entered the land as explained in the book of Joshua, without the long and fatal detour.
As the nation finally approached the southern border of Canaan, God had Moses choose a reconnaissance unit comprised of twelve leaders, one from each tribe (Numbers 13:1-20). Their job was to explore the entire land of Canaan, from south to north, and bring back a report “whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, few or many, and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or fortified cities, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether or not there are forests in it.” They were also supposed to bring back samples of the produce they found.
When the spies went into Canaan, they did exactly as they were told. After thoroughly exploring the land for forty days, they brought back a meticulous report (Numbers 13:21-33). The land was lush, overflowing with fruit and water, fauna and flora. One cluster of grapes they brought with them required two men to carry it. There were also walled cities, strongholds for the existing nations, and that was the problem. The men of one tribe, specifically, were much taller than the others. The family of Anak was tall and strong enough that the only way the spies could describe them was with the legend of the Nephilim from Genesis 6:1-4. Their conclusion was that it would be impossible for Israel to take the land. In modern terminology they said, “Those people would chew us up and spit us out!”