The Evil Report Numbers 14

The Evil Report

Numbers 14

by John Kitto, Daily Bible Illustrations

The good report which the explorers brought to the camp of Israel respecting the land of promise, confirmed by the actual presence of its splendid fruits, must have warmed the heart of the people, and awakened an eager desire to possess a country so rich and beautiful. But the rising delight was suddenly cast down by the further report of the spies, that desirable as the land was for a possession, its acquisition was impracticable, so warlike, numerous, and powerful were the inhabitants, and so well secured in their strongholds. But let us hear their words: “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.” This is their most moderate and prepared account. But when, observing the dismay with which this statement filled the people, Caleb (with whom Joshua concurred) attempted to soothe the multitude by saying, “Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it,” the other explorers contradicted him, and enforced their previous account by truly oriental exaggerations: “We be not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we…. The land through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Allowing for the figures, not intended to be literally understood, but only to convey a strong impression, this account was correct enough, and the evil report of the spies was not in rendering this account, but in rendering it in such a manner as to discourage the people, by drawing the inference that the invasion of such a land, defended by such inhabitants, was sure to end in defeat. They forgot that to Him who had dried up the Red Sea before them, and smitten Egypt with all his plagues, the high walls of the Canaanites, and their tall stature, could be no obstacles to the performance of his solemn promise of putting that land in their possession. So, Caleb does not deny the facts; but, valiant in faith, denies the inference drawn from them. That the facts were correct is affirmed by the best of all authorities, that of Moses himself. Many years after, when a new and more promising generation was about to enter the land, he says to them, “Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven; a people great and tall, the children of the Anakims,” Deu_9:1-2. This, indeed, constitutes an adoption of the precise words used by the spies, as reported orally by himself, to the same audience, in a preceding chapter, Deu_1:28. Elsewhere, in the course of the same address or discourse, which constitutes the book of Deuteronomy, Moses describes other old gigantic tribes by a reference to the known stature of the sons of Anak. Thus, in the second chapter, the Emim and the Zamzummim are respectively described as “a people great, many, and tall as the Anakims.” In the prophecy of Amos (Amo_2:9), there is a reference to the Amorites nearly as strong, for the purposes of comparison, as that of the explorers in describing the Anakim: “Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and who was strong as the oaks.” We are to consider that the Hebrews had known no other towns than those in the level country of Egypt, where, although many towns were doubtless walled, the walls would make but a faint impression upon their minds. But in Canaan the principal towns and fortresses were upon the summits and declivities of such hills and mountains as they had never before seen inhabited, and, as looked up to from lower ground, could not fail to convey to their minds the notion of impregnable strength. And this impression would be the stronger, if, as there is reason to conclude, the walls of the principal towns were of stone, whereas those of Egypt were of brick, and that perhaps of brick only dried in the sun. European readers can scarcely conceive the formidable character of a strong wall in the ages before artillery existed, and before engines of war were known. The long duration of ancient sieges, even with the advantage of the best military engines ancient art could invent, may suggest what must have been the case before such engines were known. A single piece of artillery would have probably breached in one day, or the Roman engines in a week, the Trojan city, which it took the Greeks ten years to reduce, and that only by stratagem at last.

As to the giants, if we be asked whether the race of men were, in early times, taller than at present, we must answer frankly that we do not know. No facts in favor of that conclusion have been found. All the facts in history, and art, and human discovery, are against rather than for that notion, and tend to show that the stature of men in general has not been greater than at present, within any period to which any kinds of monuments extend. That which is at the first view the most striking argument, is founded on the impression that the stature of men in the olden time may have borne some proportion to the duration of their lives. But the analogy rests on a basis which has no foundation in nature, for it is not seen that long-lived animals are generally larger than short-lived ones. However, the case is one of which we can have no knowledge; and further, it has no application in this case; for if the conjecture really had all the force that could be assigned to it, it would not account for the Canaanites, or any tribes of them, being taller than the Israelites or than the Egyptians, who were their contemporaries.

But if we are asked whether there might not be gigantic races, which, however originated, increased and multiplied: we answer, Yes—because the Scripture affirms it in the case before us, and in other cases; and because the facts of human experience are in favor of it. We see that stature is somewhat influenced by climate, and that men are taller generally in moist and temperate climes than in those which are very hot, or very cold, or very dry: and it is on record that tall parents have tall children born to them; and if they cared, by their intermarriages, to preserve the distinction, they might keep up a race of giants: but not generally caring for this, the stature of their descendants dwindles down to the common standard, more or less soon. Such races the Anakim and others mentioned in Scripture seem to have been. In this case their descent from a single giant, of the name of Anak, is repeatedly recorded. This race seems to have been rather numerous at the time under notice, but in the course of the four following centuries had declined so much, probably by intermarriages with persons of common stature, that only a few individuals remained, and they were all destroyed by David and his worthies. As Goliath, whom David slew, was of this race, his stature, which may be taken at about nine feet, is a good measure by which to estimate that of the Anakim, whose appearance so alarmed the Israelites. It is clear that the explorers only mean to describe these, and perhaps one or two other races, as of extraordinary stature, for, in their first statement, they carefully distinguish the Anakim as those whose appearance alarmed them; and although in the second statement they generalize the special instance into the designation of “the inhabitants,” they still distinguish that it was the Anakim whose appearance had filled them with dismay. All that we can safely gather from these facts, is, that the ancients—accustomed to venerate the appearance or reality of physical dignity and prowess—were careful to perpetuate and multiply the distinctions of this kind that from time to time arose in every land. Hence the races of giants which we read of in ancient history, and of which some races existed in Palestine.

The multitude manifested the most intense and degrading consternation at this report. Caleb and Joshua, who strove to excite them to more worthy thoughts, and to rekindle their faith in their Almighty Deliverer’s arm, had well nigh been stoned for their zeal. The people actually wept at the condition in which they were placed; they deplored that they had ever quitted Egypt; and they talked of appointing a new leader to conduct them back to that country. To what lengths they might have proceeded, had not their course been arrested, cannot be known; but there is nothing too preposterous to be supposed possible had they been left to themselves. But the Lord interposed. He declared to Moses his anger, and threatened to destroy them with pestilence, and make of Moses himself a great nation. But the generous leader most earnestly and prevailingly interceded for them, and their doom was respited. They were indeed to perish in the wilderness, but not yet; forty years were the adults to wander and die gradually out, never to see or enter the promised land, until they—cowardly, distrustful, unenterprising, and enfeebled by long bondage, should be succeeded by their sons, trained up under the institutions God had given them, molded under them into a nation, and strengthened into manly character under the freedom which had been so triumphantly won for them.

It has been mentioned, objectingly, that to the Lord it could not but have been known, from the first, that the people were morally and physically incapacitated for this great enterprise; and that it was highly expedient, so to speak, that it should devolve upon a new and worthier generation, educated in the freedom of the wilderness, and under the noble institutions of Sinai. There can be but one answer—God did know it. Why, then, was this not brought to pass by their simple detention for that time in the desert, without its being thus made to appear the punishment of their pusillanimity? The answer is—Because it was such; but had they proved equal to the occasion, the enterprise had not been withheld from them. And, furthermore, it was necessary that their unfitness should be made apparent to themselves, or at least that a sufficient or unanswerable reason should be given for their detention in the wilderness until their institutions were consolidated. Had the Israelites been detained, year after year, at a distance from Palestine, and the delay been in no way explained, there would have been no answer for Moses to give to the remonstrances of their discontent. Now, as often as they manifested impatience, he had an answer with which to seal their lips—they had shown themselves unequal to the task which they wished to hasten. Had the reason of the delay been explained as their want of preparation, still had there been no notorious fact to appeal to in proof of that want, its reality might have been denied, and the argument would have lost its force. Submission to this arrangement was now their only course—their only wisdom.