“And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come.
And the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you, one of a tribe: And they turned and went up into the mountain, and came unto the valley of Eshcol, and searched it out. And they took of the fruit of the land in their hands, and brought it down unto us, and brought us word again, and said, It is a good land which the LORD our God doth give us.” (Deuteronomy 1:22-25)
When a question came up. Moses went to the Lord for an answer, and the people’s suggestion to send spies was no exception. God clearly approved as Numbers 13:1-3 shows. “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.”
The spies had traveled from Kadesh Barnea to the northern border, identifying the best routes and most powerful cities and returned with samples of the crops demonstrating that the land was very productive.
“Notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God: And ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the LORD hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart, saying, The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakims there.” (Deuteronomy 1:26-28)
Romans 14:23 states, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Israel’s refusal to trust God and obey him was sin. As Moses said they rebelled, and accused him of hating them and trying to destroy them, because they believed the people were larger than they were.
“Then I said unto you, Dread not, neither be afraid of them. The LORD your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes; And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the LORD thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place.
Yet in this thing ye did not believe the LORD your God, Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to show you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day.” (Deuteronomy 1:29-33)
Moses, as well as Aaron, and Joshua and Caleb, had tried to convince them that God would give the victory, reminding them of what he had already done, They refused to listen, even threatening to kill them.
“And the LORD heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and sware, saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers, Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed the LORD.” (Deuteronomy1:34-36)
Their refusal to trust him angered the Lord and he refused to allow any of that generation to go into the land except Caleb and Joshua. Because Caleb was willing to follow completely, he would survive.
“Also the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither. But Joshua the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him: for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.” (Deuteronomy 1:37-38)
A little later, frustrated with the people’s constant complaining and disobedience, Moses had taken the credit for what God was doing and God said he could not enter the land either. Instead he was to prepare Joshua to lead Israel into the land.
“Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.” (Deuteronomy 1:39-40)
They had used the excuse that their children would become slaves or die in the wilderness. God stated that he would save the children, who lacked the knowledge to make a choice, and give them the land. Those who chose not to obey God would not be allowed to go. Instead they were to turn back to the Gulf of Aqaba and back to the area they had been before.
“Then ye answered and said unto me, We have sinned against the LORD, we will go up and fight, according to all that the LORD our God commanded us. And when ye had girded on every man his weapons of war, ye were ready to go up into the hill.
And the LORD said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies.
So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the LORD, and went presumptuously up into the hill.” (Deuteronomy 1:41-43)
Realizing what the consequences of their sin would be, Israel had suddenly decided they’d do what God had originally told them. Unfortunately they had changed their minds too late, and that option had been withdrawn. They were warned not to try to go but again disobeyed and tried to go.
“And the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah. And ye returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you. So ye abode in Kadesh many days, according unto the days that ye abode there.” (Deuteronomy 1:44-46)
Amorite and Canaanite forces attacked them and forced them to retreat toward Seir and Hormah, killing many. Suddenly repentant, they begged for God to do what he had originally offered, but he would not change his mind again, and they spent the next forty years in the wilderness, a year for each day they spent in Kadesh Barnea, waiting for the spies.
These events had happened forty years before and only a few of the people were old enough to remember them, although they had heard the stories. Moses was reminding the new generation of their history so they wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes.