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God’s Word for You

Numbers 13:1-16 Twelve spies

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Scouting Canaan

13 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I myself am giving to the Israelites. You are to send one man from each ancestral tribe, each one a tribal chief among the people of Israel.” 3 Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran according to the LORD’s command. All of these men were heads of the Israelites.

Later, Moses says to the people: “All of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send out some of our men so that they can scout out the land for us and bring us a report about the route that we should take and the cities that we will reach. The plan seemed good to me, so I selected from you twelve men’” (Deuteronomy 1:22-23). Here, we have the Lord agreeing with that request, telling Moses to send out the twelve spies. The men were from each of the twelve tribes except Levi, and as usual, Joseph’s tribe was divided into its two parts. These men had to be capable in observation, able to pass for solitary travelers or merchants, and men who had good judgment. Their task had seven points:

1, To spy (scout out) the land (Deuteronomy 1:22)
2, To find a useful route into the land (Deuteronomy 1:22)
3, To report on the kind and number of people there (Numbers 13:18)
4, To report on the kind of land it was (Numbers 13:19)
5, To make an inventory of the towns and cities and report whether they were fortified (Numbers 13:19)
6, To report on the quality of the soil, orchards, and trees (Numbers 13:20)
7, To bring back, if possible, a sample of the produce (Numbers 13:20)

God’s main purpose in allowing this venture was to test and strengthen their faith.

4 These were their names:
From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zaccur.
5 From the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori.
6 From the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh.

If we care to make a comparison, we see right away that these twelve spies were leaders in their tribes, but not the heads of the tribes. The tribal heads, such as Nahshon son of Amminadab from the tribe of Judah (Numbers 2:3) were probably quite old. This is the first we hear of almost all of these younger leaders. Caleb is one of these, but he will play a significant role later on.

Shammua means “The one who hears,” and this could either be a name for the man, or a reminder that the true God, the Lord, is the One who hears (Psalm 61:5). Shaphat means “judge,” like the later leaders of the Israelites (Ruth 1:1). Caleb means either “dog” (Psalm 22:20) or “brave” or both.

7 From the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph.
8 From the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun.

The name Igal means “he redeems,” and it’s the verbal form of the word that means kinsman-redeemer (goel, Isaiah 59:20; Psalm 19:14).

As we will see below, Hoshea was the man we know of as Joshua. It’s not surprising that Moses selected him, since he was trustworthy and was well acquainted with the word of God given to Moses. See verse 15 below for his name change.

9 From the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu.
10 From the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi.
11 From the tribe of Joseph, that is, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi son of Susi.
12 From the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli.

Palti means “deliver” or rescue (Psalm 82:4). Gaddiel means “God is my fortune,” and the next man’s name, Gaddi, means “fortune.” Ammiel means “my kinsman is God” or “God is a member of my people,” since the little word ‘am means “people” (Psalm 72:4). This is a remarkable name, a testimony that God would send the Savior, the very Son of God, to the Israelites as a member of one of their tribes, which God promised Abraham (Genesis 18:18), Isaac (Genesis 26:4), and Jacob (Genesis 28:14).

There was a more famous Ammiel later on, from the tribe of Benjamin, who was an ancestor of King Saul. Moses is talking about the Danite and not the Benjamite here, but this leaves a question for us. Bathsheba, David’s most famous wife (Psalm 51:1), is called the daughter of Ammiel. Does this mean that she was from the family of King Saul in some way, or that she was actually a descendant of the tribe of Dan? This connection is only mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:5, so either family is possible. It’s also possible that Bathsheba was from another Israelite tribe altogether, but we know that she was certainly an Israelite even though her first husband, Uriah, was a Hittite.

13 From the tribe of Asher, Sethur son of Michael.
14 From the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi.
15 From the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Machi.
16 These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to scout the land. Moses renamed Hoshea son of Nun “Joshua.”

The father of the Asherite spy was named Michael. This name means “Who is like God?” and is the name of the archangel (Daniel 10:13; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7). The name of the Naphtalite spy looks in English like it might be the Hebrew word nahbi “prophet” but it is really another word meaning “to hush, hide” (Job 29:10). His father’s name, Vophsi, is an enigma. The earliest translations of Numbers didn’t know what to do with it, spelling it “Iabi.” I think it might be related to the word for “lovely, handsome” (Psalm 48:3).

The new name of Hosea, Joshua, which Moses gave to his servant, converted Hoshea “Salvation” to Joshua “The LORD saves.” Moses was told the meaning of God’s personal name, Yahweh “The LORD,” on Mount Sinai. He is the God of free and faithful grace, love we do not deserve but which he shows to us anyway because he is loving. The first and foremost command of God is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Psalm 138:1). When Jesus heard a man say, “to love the Lord with all your heart… is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33), he told the man, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). Joshua is the Hebrew word that is always translated Jesus in Greek. It’s wonderful that our Savior’s personal name also means “The Lord Saves.” It says everything about him; about what he did for us.

As the spies depart from Moses, heading north toward Canaan, by themselves or in little groups, Moses leaves this name change for Joshua hanging in the air, a sign of the most important reason for their departure, which was as a test from God for all of Israel, whether they would love and trust in the Lord above all things. Luther says in the Large Catechism, under the Second Article of the Creed, “Let this be the summary of this article, that the little word ‘Lord’ simply means the same as Redeemer, that is, he who has brought us back from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and now keeps us safe there” (Creed, paragraph 31). Put your trust in the Lord (Psalm 4:5, 25:2). Remember that his name itself inspires trust (Psalm 20:7) because of what it teaches us about him. He is our Savior. He is our redeemer. He is the Lord our God forevermore.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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