At last it is time to take possession of the land God has been promising since Genesis 12. It is a “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (a description that occurs five times in Exodus and Leviticus). And so, he sends spies on a long journey (as you can see from the green line on the map) to reconnoiter the land.
God knew what kind of land it was. He had described it to the people. He had assured them the land was theirs for the taking. So why the need to send spies? After all, the mission was not to enable them to figure out how best to conquer the land, but rather, to see what kind of land it was. When you figure that God knew what their response would be (“we can’t take it”), why would he put them in that position?
My feeling is that God was offering them an opportunity. First, to see and understand the magnificence and scope of God’s promise. Second, an opportunity to rejoice in Him. Third, an opportunity to trust Him. Rather than rejoice at the opportunity however, they cringe at the prospect.
God does not call us to conquer lands for His sake today. Rather, he calls us to encourage people of all lands to follow His Son. In our mission, he promises to walk with us each step of the way until we finally find ourselves at His side in the land of promise He has prepared for us. I’m afraid, however, that our response is all too often “we can’t do it.” And like those who fall in the wilderness of the Exodus, I’m equally afraid we too will miss His promise. God will not say well done to the cowardly and unbelieving – those He lumps in with murderers, adulterers, and liars.