Bible Study #23 – The Recon of Canaan

In this episode on Numbers 13-14 (the recon of Canaan), Fr. Anthony demonstrates what happens when a man who has a fever and can’t think straight tries to lead a Bible Study (and forgets to follow his notes).  If you want coherence, the notes are at  If you like stream of consciousness, then this episode is for you!  Enjoy the show!

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OT Bible Study #23: The Recon of CanaanGrapesofCanaan

Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

Numbers 13: 1-20. God Tells the People to Spy Out the Promised Land

God knew what was there, why didn’t He just tell them what was waiting for them? It is always important to do “due diligence”, even (especially!) in spiritual matters. Here is Christ on this;

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (St. Luke 14: 28-33).

As He says elsewhere, we need our yes to be yes and our no to mean no; either we are in or we are out. St. Cyril of Alexandra confirms this in his commentary on this Gospel lesson;

Those who choose to lead a glorious and blameless life should store up beforehand in their mind a sufficient zeal. They should remember him who says, “My son, if you come close to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for every temptation. Make your heart straight and endure.” How will those who do not have this zeal be able to reach the goal that is set before them?

As we are about to learn, the Israelites did not have the requisite zeal. A recon trip is a test and exercise of sorts. Just imagine what would have happened had they gone in on the Lord’s word alone!

Numbers 13: 21-33. The Results of the Recon Trip: Milk and Honey and … GIANTS?!

The people may have wondered if this might not be the case. In general, Genesis 6:4 says that the giants were also on the earth after the flood. But more recently, they may have known of Abraham’s giant problems when he was in Canaan (Genesis 14:5-7; Deut 2:10-11 et al). Regardless, the news from the recon men was unanimous: the Promised Land was full of giants and well fortified cities.

I want you to note Caleb’s zeal! He had seen the worst of the enemy, but he had done the math and still figured that going into Promised Land was the right thing to do. What did he know that the others didn’t? Is it “faith”? If so, the obvious virtue of Caleb should reinforce us as we are encouraged not to shortchange God when we do the math; especially if it is something that He has specifically told us about. This is less about whether to buy a certain house or take a certain job and MUCH MORE OBVIOUSLY about his instructions about overcoming the metaphorical giants that would keep us from enjoying the Promised Land that is the peace and joy that comes from being with God. Again, let’s turn to St. Cyril;

[Our enemies] are the fleshly mind, the law that rages in our members, passions of many kinds, the lust of pleasure, the lust of the flesh, the lust of wealth, and others. We must wrestle with these. This is our savage troop of enemies. How will we conquer? “We will conquer believing that in God we shall do courageously,” as Scripture says, “and he will bring to nothing those that oppress us” (Psalm 59:12).

All of us have giants that we are afraid to take on, despite God’s promise to be with us and that to take them on is His will for us. Unforgiven sins against our enemies (and family members)? Jealousy of our neighbors? Hardness of heart towards the suffering of others? These are just a few of the giant tribes that we refuse to fight. Why aren’t we more like Caleb? After all, we have at least as much evidence as he did that God is with us.

Numbers 14.

The People Really Don’t Want to do God’s Will!!!

Look at the grumbling! They even seek to stone the righteous Caleb (and Joshua).

Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. THIS is love. We should follow his example in interceding even for our enemies. Symeon the New Theologian offered this reflection on Moses’ prayer;

The attitude [of one brother] was like that of Moses and indeed of God himself in that he did not in any way wish to be saved alone. Because he was spiritually bound to them by holy love in the Holy Spirit he did not want to enter into the kingdom of heaven itself if it meant that he would be separated from them. O sacred bond! O unutterable power! O soul of heavenly thoughts, or, rather, soul borne by God and greatly perfected in love of God and of neighbor!

But it is impossible for such disloyal men to enter into the promised land. This is a clear warning to us and can help us understand why sinners cannot come into paradise: they would pollute it and it would no longer BE paradise. The land is to be made holy by God’s people, but how would that be possible if the people themselves were not holy? St. Caesarius of Arles stretches the metaphor even further, focusing on the correspondence of days of sin to years of punishment;

For my part I am afraid to examine the secrets of this mystery, for I see comprehended in it the calculation of sins and punishment. If each sinner is assigned punishment for the sin of one day and according to the number of days he sins must spend so many years in punishment, I fear that perhaps for us who sin daily and spend no day of our life without offense, even ages and ages will not suffice to pay our penalties. In the fact that for forty days of sin those people were afflicted in the desert for forty years and not permitted to enter the holy land, a kind of similarity to the future judgment seems to be evident. At that time the number of sins will have to be calculated, unless perchance there is the balance of good works or of evils which a man has suffered in his life, as Abraham taught concerning Lazarus. However, it is within the power of no one to know these things perfectly, except him to whom “the Father has given all judgment.”

Then, in a last ditch effort to secure redemption by their own efforts, the Israelites went against the enemies on their own. And they lost. Again, the lesson is clear: do God’s will, to include accepting His penance.

But remember the good news: we are all granted entrance into the Promised Land of God’s heavenly kingdom, not through our own righteousness but because Jesus Christ has removed the weight of sin from our lives. Our zeal is to accept Him as our savior and to live in His grace.

Next Week: The Rebellion of Korah and the Budding of Aaron’s Rod


Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 241). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.