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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 13



Verse 2


‘Search the land which I give.’

Numbers 13:2

I. The divine and human partnership.—The Israelites had now reached the very border of the Promised Land. But, before actually entering in, Moses, like a prudent leader, sent out twelve men—one man from each tribe—to see what manner of land it was, and to report as to the strength and military prowess of the peoples they would have to dispossess. Moses did this, the account says, at the direct bidding of God. Notice here the Divine demand for human co-operation. God might, no doubt, have brought the children of Israel into Canaan without putting them to any trouble. But that is never God’s method. He has bestowed upon men certain faculties, and these faculties he expects men to use. And so here He bids the Israelites use their own eyes and wits in order to discover how and when they might best invade Canaan. And this is typical of God’s unvarying method. What man can do, he must do. God never works instead of us; He works by means of us, and through us. We can do nothing without God; but it is no irreverence to say also that God cannot accomplish His purposes without us. ‘God’s strong arm,’ as the hymn says, ‘hath need of thine.’ We must be ‘labourers together with God.’

II. The good land’s difficulties.—The spies were absent forty days. But when at last they returned they reported that the fruitfulness of the land had in no way been exaggerated. It was a good land—flowing with milk and honey. And for proof of their statement they showed the people the bunches of luscious grapes they had cut in the valley of Eschol. But there were obstacles, they went on to say, in the way of their taking possession of Canaan. The people were strong, and the cities were fenced and very great, and, moreover, the children of Anak—a race of mighty giants—were there. It was a good land—but the way to it was beset with difficulties. And here again we have a parable of life. There are still difficulties to bar the way into every good land. All good things are hard to gain. The richer and more fruitful the Promised Land we set before ourselves, the more arduous the difficulties to be surmounted before we reach it. That is the central significance of the old Greek legends about the golden fleece and the golden apples, which were guarded by a sleepless, myriad-eyed dragon—precious things are hard to gain. In all the world there is nothing better worth having than a holy character. But because it is the best thing it is also the hardest thing. Not without labour and sweat and sacrifice can any man ever hope to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Listen to our Lord’s stern and relentless demand—‘Whosoever would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross daily and follow Me.’


(1) ‘Let us see what the Christian idea is. It never teaches conquest by force; it never commands extermination; it commands us to teach all nations, convert them, train them. They are men—children of a common Father; they can rise out of barbarism to a moral and intelligent life. The Jews did not proselytise; they kept apart—a separate people. The Jew detested the heathen around him, and they detested him in return. This is not the spirit of Christianity.’

(2) ‘The land of God’s salvation may have its giants and walled cities; but it is a land which flows with milk and honey. There is none like it.

The Christian life is not all plain and easy sailing. There are alarms and battles. There “is a cross in every lot, and an earnest need for prayer.” I am not allowed meantime to sit down and rest and sing the long day through. How would my faith, and my courage, and my sympathy with others, and my likeness to Christ be educated, if there was never a call to struggle and supplication? I should decline and decay instead of waxing stronger and stronger.’


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 13:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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