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God’s Word for You

Numbers 13:21-25 Grace carried on a pole

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 19, 2021

21 So they went up and scouted the land from the Wilderness of Zin to Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 The scouts came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there they cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes. They carried it on a pole between two men, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 They named that place the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the Israelites had cut down from there. 25 At the end of forty days, they returned from scouting the land.

The Wilderness of Zin would have been the first region the spies entered. It is the expanse of fields and valleys between Paran and the Negev. In verse 21, Moses tells us that the spies traveled from there all the way to Rehob, which is northwest of the Sea of Galilee.

At Hebron they saw giants. They discovered that these were named Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai. There is more than one group of giant men described in the Bible. There were certain giant Philistines like Goliath and his brother Lahmi. Another group was known as the Emites (Deuteronomy 2:10-11). There was also the last remnant of the Rephaites, a giant man known as Og the king of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:11), whom Moses and the Israelites would meet later in battle at Edrei (Numbers 21:33-35). The three mentioned here are called Anakites after Anak their ancestor. Such giant men were still thriving at this time, but we see the last of them in the days of King David (1 Chronicles 20:4-8).

The special note in verse 23 about the timing of the building of Hebron seven years before the Israelites’ former home of Zoan in Egypt is hard to understand, since the record of the founding of either city is not set in the Bible (nor in history). However, if Zoan (also called Tanis) was built for Jacob’s family when they arrived to settle in Goshen (Psalm 78:12), then the Egyptian settlement would have begun in 1876 BC under Pharaoh Senusret III. This would place the building of Hebron in 1883 BC. I see no other reason for associating the two dates here, except that the spies must have been told at Hebron, “This city was founded 438 years ago,” and one of the Israelites thought, “Our old home of Zoan was founded 431 years ago.” Zoan was built for the Israelites, and here was a city in Canaan that was built even before that, ready for God’s people to dwell in the Promised Land. The Lord has our good in mind at all times (Romans 8:28).

A month and ten days after they entered Canaan, the spies came out. On their way back to Kadesh and the camp, they cut a branch with a cluster of grapes so large that two men had to carry it. Clusters this size still occur today in Palestine, and pictures can easily be found on the internet. Along with the grapes, they brought samples of pomegranates and figs. The many valleys and hills that crisscross southern Judah surely concealed their trek.

God had blessed their mission; all twelve of the spies returned to the camp safely and with ample evidence of the prosperity of the land. They could have reported that the grape vines grow big, and the people grow big, too! But some of the spies, most of them, would have a different message. God had “brought them to the border of his holy land” (Psalm 78:54). He was showing them his open hand, ready to “give good things” to his people (Numbers 10:32).

This blessing wasn’t only about the material wealth of Canaan. God gathers together a universe of blessings for mankind so vast and so full, right up to the very top and brimming over, that it staggers the imagination. The first promise in the Garden of Eden was not about a restoration to a beautiful park at the top of the world, but the restoration of the image of God through the forgiveness of sins by the work of the descendant of Eve’s body, a promise given again and again to the Patriarchs. This is what their minds should have found in the fantastic sights they had seen in Canaan. What physical enemies tower above man that would be worse than the monstrosity of his own inherited sinfulness? What obstacles could man face, what fortified heights or well-guarded mountain passes are there that are more insurmountable than our own wretched guilt and shame? Why should enemies of Canaan matter, when we ourselves were enemies of God (Romans 5:10)? It is this battle that was waged and won on our behalf by the Son of God. We were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ. This was the promise they should have seen in the rich fields, the rivers of fresh water; the giant clusters of grapes. Which is harder to carry, the awful burden of sin, or the happy burden of blessing? We can heft anything in joy, but we are crushed by guilt, grief, and shame. What Christ brought about for us is reconciliation. All of us who were “bound over to disobedience” (Romans 11:32), that is to say, all of sinful mankind, were restored by Christ. This is truly the meaning of reconciliation. The party that sinned or wronged the other is restored; there is a change in that person’s condition. This is what we see when the sinning brother is reconciled to the brother he sinned against (Matthew 5:24), or when the sinning wife is reconciled to her husband (1 Corinthians 7:11), or when we ourselves have wronged someone, and try to be reconciled “on the way” before we are dragged into court (Luke 12:58). So it is with man reconciled to God. But we did not accomplish this impossible reconciliation. God sent his Son to do it for us, “to reconcile us to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18). God wants to give us so many good gifts! He wants to bless us with so much that any two of us could scarcely lift it on a pole together, but first he gave us the gift of reconciliation by letting his Son be lifted up on a pole that none of us could carry. Trust in his forgiveness. His blessings are everywhere, and his peace surpasses all our understanding. It guards our hearts and our minds in Jesus to everlasting life.

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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