The Ten Spies
It cannot be a coincidence that in Genesis 42 and Numbers 13 both tell stories of ten spies. In Genesis 42, the ten sons of Jacob are accused by Joseph (in disguise) as being spies of the land of Egypt. In Numbers 13, the ten spies return from the promise land, decide that it is inaccessible (based on the stature of its inhabitants), and begin making plans to return to Egypt. Of course in Gen. 42, the ten men are not really spies, they are merely looking for food in the wake of a famine. In Num. 13, the men are spies, but the fact that they find plenty of food, does not secure their interest in the land.
–there are ten ‘spies’ in both stories
–there are two ‘others’ in both: (Joseph/Benjamin) and (Joshua/Caleb)
–Joseph is the vice-ruler of over all of Egypt/Joshua is the vice-ruler over all of Israel
–In Gen. 42, the ten end up in Egypt via Joseph. In Num 13, the ten make plans to return to Egypt, but die by a plague before the Lord.
–In Gen. 42, the famine is in Canaan. In Num 13, Israel is in the barren wilderness.
–In Gen 42, Egypt is the land with plenty to eat. In Num 13, Canaan is flowing with milk and honey. Both lands have good things flowing out of them.
–Both groups of ‘spies’ return with bundles/clusters: money bundles/grape clusters
What does this all mean? The story of Joseph and his brothers is clearly a story of Joseph testing his brothers. Joseph is testing his brothers to see if they have learned to give themselves up for others, rather than sacrificing others for themselves. And this theme of service is connected with the greater story of Egypt. God placed Joseph at the head of Egypt in order to preserve life (Gen. 45:5), using his influence and power as an instrument of salvation to the nations. Without Egypt (& Joseph), the famine would have swallowed up the nations surrounding Egypt. But Egypt is, in this story, a type of the Canaan to come. It is also, in light of the book of Genesis a picture of a transfigured Eden. It is a garden in the midst of a wilderness. Rivers flow out of this land giving life to the nations. Joseph is a new Adam ruling and tending the land in righteousness. The story of Joseph and Egypt is a story of patience and the reality that greatness is found in giving up one’s life, laying down one’s life for another. This story closes Genesis, placing it as the bookend opposite the Garden of Eden at the beginning. This is a shadowy picture of what that garden should have become, but for Adam’s sin. Egypt pictures the good life.
Joseph finds through testing his brothers, that they too have learned this lesson. Judah, in particular, the brother who had organized the selling of Joseph into slavery, is willing to stand in Benjamin’s place if he cannot return to his father. They are willing to give up their own lives for others.
This is the larger context of Numbers 13-14. Now, God himself is testing his people to see if they have learned this lesson. What is the lesson? Israel is now a corporate “Joseph”. They, like Joseph were sold into slavery and made to labor for the Egyptians. As Joseph was delivered from the dungeons through miracles and wonders (interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams), God delivered Israel from Egypt by performing signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. God has destroyed the greatest civilization in the world, leveling its military, its economy, and slaying all of its first born sons. Because Egypt had forgotten the God of Joseph and Pharaoh did not know the Lord, God cast that nation down. That great nation had been the source of life to the world, but now God has chosen Israel to be his chosen nation. Israel is to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5-6). And God is testing them. Will Israel be a priestly nation, giving life to the nations around her, being an Eden in the midst of wilderness and famine? Will Israel now be what Egypt had been? God tests the children of Israel, and they fail miserably. Instead of seeing Canaan as a rich and good land capable of giving life, they see the land as a ‘devouring’ land. Instead of seeing the promise land as an opportunity to give and to serve, they see the land as overbearing and they complain. Instead of being willing to give themselves up for their wives and children, they want to return to slavery.
Therefore they will not be given the land. They will not be placed like Joseph as head over the nations. They are selfish, conceited, and fearful, and God will wait until they are ready to give themselves up as living sacrifices. He will send them back down into the dungeon of the wilderness. God will wait until there are Josephs who will rule the land with wisdom. He will wait until there are Judahs willing and ready to give themselves up for their brothers. He will wait until Israel is prepared to be a priestly nation, a nation that serves the nations of the world, teaching and instructing them to fear and serve the true God. Then God will lead them into the land and give them victory. He will make them to be salvation for the world, the life of the world.