When the twelve spies leave, there is no difference between them yet to be seen. The difference becomes only clear when they return “at the end of forty days”. The number forty is the number of trial (Gen 7:1717Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.; Exo 24:1818Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.; 1Sam 17:1616The Philistine came forward morning and evening for forty days and took his stand.; 1Kgs 19:88So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.; Jona 3:44Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”; Mk 1:1313And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.; Acts 1:33To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over [a period of] forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.). Testing of the faith reveals the state of the faith. The twelve spies show this to be the case. They have all seen the same, but only two have looked with the eyes of God. One of the two is Caleb. The name Kaleb means ‘wholeheartedly’. He is worth that name. Caleb hath given himself with an undivided, completely dedicated heart to the LORD and His case. For him, the punishment that comes soon is not a setback from entering the land, but a postponement.
The ten other men who have spied out the land have received the same blessings as Caleb, but have never taken possession of the land. They are like the people of whom is written to have enjoyed the gifts of the heavenly land, but have been lost. “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and [then] have fallen away” (Heb 6:4-6a4For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,6and [then] have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.). These are people who have never truly, with their hearts, been converted to God. Although the ten have an unbelieving heart, they cannot deny that the land flows “with milk and honey”.
Milk is a healthy food we received from our mother as a baby. As believers, we are called to long for the Word, as a baby longs for its mother’s milk (1Pet 2:22like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,). Honey is a picture of the natural relationships between the members of God’s people and speaks of the sweetness of brotherly love. We find in the milk and honey the blessing of the vertical and horizontal relationships.
The ten spies give a correct description. They have seen no other things than God has said from the beginning (Exo 3:88So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.). But they let their report follow by a limiting “however” (verse 2828Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified [and] very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there.) and shift the emphasis of blessing to the enemies. Yet God also told them of those enemies and not only of the blessing.
Already to Abraham He told him that his descendants would go to a land where there are enemies (Gen 15:18-2118On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying,
“To your descendants I have given this land,
From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:
19the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite20and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim21and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”). And to Moses He promised – and Moses told the people – that He would drive out the enemies from the land (Exo 23:27-3127I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn [their] backs to you.28I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you.29I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you.30I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.31I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River [Euphrates]; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you.). But if a man forgets what God has said, he will see things differently. Thus the ten feel like grasshoppers in their own eyes, because they have lost sight of God.
The impression that unbelief conveys causes turmoil among the people. Kaleb knows exactly what the others are talking about. He does not present things differently and does not belittle the dangers. He is not insensitive to the dangers, but he is a man of faith in what God has said. That makes the difference. With a calm confidence in the power of God, he bears witness to the certainty of victory and quietens the people.
Then “the men who had gone up with him” spread a bad report of the land. They paint in detail the impossibility of taking possession of the land, as if to undertake an effort for this purpose is equivalent to suicide.
This way of reasoning can be applied spiritually. We reason like that, for example, when we say to others that doing Bible study is actually nonsensical, that engaging in the blessing of God’s land is a tiring activity that only causes problems. Then we present the heavenly land as an area where no life is possible. We may well wonder how we talk about living with the Lord and how we understand what He has given us as spiritual blessings.