The Crime of the Reluctant Israelites


By: William J Jackson

As we start this weeks Torah portion “Shelach” (1), we see Moses sending a scouting party to reconnoiter “The Promise Land”.  A good idea before Israel occupies it. The scouts selected for this task were representatives of each tribe and had specific instruction to determine the agricultural quality and the threat level of Canaan’s inhabitants. After 40 days this scouting party returned with a favorable account of the lands soil but a less than favorable account of the forces that occupied this paradise on earth. Due to their method of reporting all but 2 of the scouts would be ostracized by HaShem, being denied the opportunity to settle this fertile region. This punishment would be transferred to many of the Israelites for their unfavorable participation. What was their crime, did they lie, or was it worse? Through HaShem’s word we will try to determine the transgressions of the scouts and Israel.

In Numbers 13:25-29 we see that although the scouts gave a good sampling of Canaan’s crops, they also depicted the land as completely controlled by Israel’s enemies (2):


Figure 1

  • South: The Amalekites controlled (Negev).
  • South East: Jebusites, and Amorites occupied the Mountainous Region.
  • East West: Canaanites had both the Mediterranean Coast and Jordan Valley.

When the scouts returned they gave what Numbers 13:32 calls a “bad report”. So what does this really mean? Well the word used here for bad report is “dibbah”. This Hebrew word also means defamation and to spread rumors (3). So did they lie? Did they fabricate these numerous enemy forces that controlled the region, (Numbers 13:29to not pursue HaShem’s promise for Israel? If so why?

When we hear about the scouts reporting their findings, it was not all bad. On the up side, they did confirm this was a land of “milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). This phrase is a direct quote predicted by HaShem a year earlier (4) as we see in Exodus 3:8. In this same verse HaShem also warns that this land is occupied by the same deadly forces the scouts discovered. This is confirms again in Numbers 14:25 ,Deuteronomy 7:1 and Joshua 11:3. So we know that the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites and Canaanites were not an embellishment in the scout’s report.

So if this “report” was not a lie why was it bad? Simply stated, it was a slant which communicated a lack of confidence and unbelief in HaShem. These representatives from each of the tribes were pessimistic, and their report meet it’s intended purpose by infecting the people causing them to second guess Israel’s mission, (Numbers 14:1-2). From here things perpetuated, the people wanted to throw out Moses and establish a new leader (Numbers 14:4). The Israelites were so crazed in their fear of taking Canaan that they wanted to kill the two scouts (Numbers 14:10), Caleb and Joshua, that remained positive about Adonai’s mission.  So conflicted were the Israelites they actual wanted to return to Egypt (Numbers 14:3).

Maybe this is why HaShem commanded earlier for Israel not to give false reports (Exodus 23:1). The consequences for not believing in HaShem, especially after witnessing all His miracles, was that none of these people over the age of accountability (20 years old) would be allowed to come into the Promise Land (Numbers 14:22-23, 26-29). They would sooner die in the desert. Yet there were two men who would avoid this punishment, Caleb and Joshua. What was the unique thing they did that Israel didn’t? It was their willingness to follow HaShem regardless of the circumstances (Numbers 14:24,30).

The crime that the reluctant scouts and Israelites committed was not lying, it was not having faith in HaShem. When we come against conflict in our own lives many times instead of turning towards the Master we turn towards ourselves and it’s no wonder we come up short. By procrastinating or avoiding a necessary conflict our minds make things bigger and worse than they actually appear. Before long we become prisoners of our own anxiety, we regress (5), we return to captivity, to Egypt. HaShem wants us to pursue the promises for us and not to short Him or ourselves (Psalm 32:8-10, 37:7-9, 55:23 ).

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”


(1) Parshah Shelach, Numbers 13:1-15:41,

(2) Numbers 13:29, Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

(3) By Ron Daly, The Improper Use at the Tongue, Truth Magazine

(4) Complete Biblical Timeline, Bible Hub

(5) By Kendra Cherry, Defense Mechanisms; Regression, About Education

Figure 1 Notebook: The Conquest of Canaan, (NOV 09) Believer’s Magazine