“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.
And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel. And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur. Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori. Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph. Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun. Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu. Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi. Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi. Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli. Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael. Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi. Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua.
And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain: And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes.” (Numbers 13:1-20)
When they came out of Egypt, God had taken Israel by the way of the wilderness because they had no experience and might turn back according to Exodus 13:17-18. During the intervening fifteen or so months, they had crossed the Red Sea and seen the destruction of the Egyptian army. They had seen God provide water from the rock, and the manna for daily food. They had seen him give victory over the Amalekites, and had built the tabernacle, seeing his judgment for their sin in worshipping other gods and for complaining about his provision. They had learned what they need to conquer and occupy the promised land.
God now ordered Moses to send men to scout the land. They were to get an overview of the layout, and identify the strong cities and farm lands as well as the availability of food and water. They were to bring back some of the fruit to inspire the people, going in the early part of the harvest, before most things were ripe. To attack at that time would mean that there was plenty of food available, and they could have something besides manna to eat.
“So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath. And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)” (Numbers 13:21-22)
Notice God only mentions three sons of Anak. All three would be killed in battle by Caleb forty years later. It was these three who so terrified Israel. Notice also that Hebron was even older than Zoan, the capital of Egypt when Abram went there six hundred years before, and one of the oldest ruins in the world.
“And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.” (Numbers 13:23-24)
The spies came during the time of the first ribe grapes. The earliest ripening varieties are seldom the most productive as they are more affected by late frosts. Even with modern technology our bunches of grapes would almost never require two men to carry them so for the earliest varieties to have such a cluster implies that later varieties would produce even more. . The word eshcol simply means a bunch of grapes, and such a large bunch was so unusual they named the place after it.
“And they returned from searching of the land after forty days. And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.” (Numbers 13:25-29)
The initial report was exactly what Moses had asked for. They had identified the various strong cities and groups and located them. They had also brought examples of the produce, including the huge bunch of grapes. Can’t you imagine the excitement to think that they about to enter a land that produced such crops, when they had lived on a very limited diet for over a year and were quite tired of it?