Numbers 13: Biography of a Rumor

Numbers 13: Biography of a Rumor

Yesterday I was recommending the chapters in Numbers, starting around 11, as “thinking fodder” regarding the way God works with people. But there’s some really good stuff there about how people deal with people as well.

Even though many won’t remember that it comes from Numbers 13, the most famous line from the chapter is some version of “we even saw giants there” (v. 28, NLT). It’s good to think of how we overcome the giants in our lives. I note that the Israelites were just fine until nearly the end. Some commentators object to the sending of the spies, citing Deuteronomy 1:20-23, but according to this passage, that was at God’s command. They looked, they evaluated, then they returned to the people in command.

Those who have worked in military intelligence will know that the guys who collect the information don’t make the decisions about what is to be done. Your job is to find things out. You report to competent authorities who then make the decisions as to what action to take.

The Israelite spies were asked to discover precisely the sort of things they reported. What they weren’t asked to do was determine whether an invasion was possible. They got ahead of the game. Now I know these guys weren’t professional spies. They were, themselves, leaders. But they didn’t separate themselves from the emotions of the moment and think the situation through.

But the interesting thing here is to read the actual report of the spies in verses 27-29 and then compare it to the rumor that is spread in verses 32-33. Have you ever observed something similar? A small financial problem mentioned in the finance committee, if leaked, can become an imminent closure of the church by Sunday. The results of that can be much like those in Numbers 14.

I’m skipping over the idea of divine aid in this case. The Israelites were defeated by their rumor before they’d even considered a strategy.

Finally, I’d just note that this is one of the things I find most interesting in Torah (or the Pentateuch). It reflects human ideas and attitudes in a very raw form. Often we allow the miracles, the environment, and the very different cultural background to overtake the simple human drama that is taking place.

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