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Numbers 13-14 – Prayer for the Rebellious – Part 1

Have you ever been at your whit’s end with someone? You tried your hardest to work with them and yet they rejected your help and made things difficult for everyone. This seemed to be experience of Moses. Although he was a strong leader, he was also very patient and meek. And this was good because the people of Israel were very difficult to work with. They had seen God’s miracles but somehow were not convinced in His ability to keep his promises.

In Numbers 14, we will look at Moses’ prayer for these rebellious people. Although they didn’t deserve his love, Moses prayed to God for them. We will learn a lot from his example in prayer. But before we can understand his prayer for them in Numbers 14, we will need to understand the circumstances that led up to that prayer in Numbers 13:1-14:10.

  1. What does it say?

    God told Moses to send spies into Canaan (Num. 13:1-2).

    At the beginning of the chapter, the Lord told Moses to send men into Canaan to spy out the land. In other words, they were to examine the land and bring back a report about it. He made it clear to Moses that this was the land He was giving to the children of Israel. One man was to be sent from each tribe and was supposed to be a leader in their tribe.

    Moses told the spies to survey the land (Num. 13:17-20).

    Once the men were selected, Moses instructed them as to what they were to look for. They were to go into the land from the South and up into the mountains. They were to see what the land was like, the strength and population of the people, the quality of the land, the strength of the cities, the wealth of the land, and if there were any forests. They were to be courageous. They were also to bring back some a sampling of the fruit of the land as it was the time for grapes to be harvested.

    The spies came back with a mixed report (Num. 13:26-33).

    When the spies returned to Kadesh, they reported their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the people. After showing some of the fruit, the spies told them that the land was very fruitful. But that was overshadowed by the strong people, fortified cities, and giants. They then named the various people groups that lived there. One of the spies named Caleb quieted the people down and told them that they should go up right away to possess the land as they were able to overcome it. But the other spies disagreed. They said that they were not able to fight against the inhabitants because they were stronger than Israel. These spies gave a bad report and told the people that the land would devour them because of the giants there. They felt like grasshoppers compared to them.

  2. What does it mean?

    God was testing the people’s faith in Him (Num. 13:2).

    You might wonder why God even sent the spies into the land. He had already told them that He would bring them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. So why was it necessary to send the twelve spies into Canaan? Wouldn’t it have worked better if they had just been told to make ready for war? No, the people had, for a long time, bucked against God during the time in the wilderness. This reconnaissance mission was a test to show whether they would trust the Lord’s promises or continue to complain and go their own way. If they came back with a glowing report of the land and hope in God’s promise to give them the land, then God would have sent them in to take possession. If they came back with a bad report and lack of faith in God’s promises, this would be evidence that they were not ready to possess the land.

    People are often convinced by what they see (Num. 13:28, 31-33).

    Despite a good report about the quality of the land, the majority of the spies were focused on what seemed impossible. They had seen big cities and big people and what they saw affected their minds. Instead of focusing on God’s ability, they saw the giants and focused on their own inability. What they saw convinced them that they could never possess the land. And despite the good words of Caleb, their sight overcame any possibility of believing in God’s ability.

    People who trust in God are convinced they can do anything (Num. 13:30).

    Caleb’s response to the situation was refreshing. After quieting the people, he told them they should go up at once and possess the land. They were able to overcome the people of the land. This is a good example of what happens when someone believes in God. Despite the obstacles highlighted by the other spies, Caleb only saw the possibilities given to them by God. He was convinced that they could overcome the nations in the land because God had promised the land to them.

  3. How does it apply?

    Have you been trusting in God’s promises?

    While our situation may be different than that of the children of Israel, we have been given many “exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4) which include forgiveness, eternal life, heaven, the help of the Holy Spirit, help for the battle, the fruit of the Spirit, and answered prayer. When we forget the promises of God, we will back off from what we are called to do and become useless until we start trusting the Lord again. Perhaps we should review the promises God has given us and renew our faith in the God who can do the impossible.

    Have you been allowing what you observe to keep you from doing God’s will?

    There are times when we see the obstacles to someone being saved, to a prayer being answered, to the success of our church’s ministry, or to needed changes in our life. And when we focus on the perceived obstacles, we often turn from faith in God’s ability to do the impossible to our own inability to do much of anything. Why would we want to dwell on that? And yet we do. Isn’t it about time someone did something about that? Perhaps it is time to take our impossibilities to the Lord and start trusting Him to take care of them.


The people to whom God promised the Land of Canaan were so focused on what the spies said that they forgot what God had already said. What a pity! They could have noted what was said (most of what the spies said was true) but then they should have trusted in the Lord (He had already promised to give them the land). What would God do with such a group of rebellious, unbelieving, and ungrateful people? We shall see in the next chapter where we will also learn something about prayer.