Moses sent twelve men to explore the land of Canaan, which God had promised to give to the Israelites, to see what the land and the people there were like. The men found that the land was very good, but it was inhabited by Anakites. To show how good the land was, they brought back a cluster of grapes too big for one person to carry.
The men reported that the land was very good, but it was inhabited by big, strong Anakites in big, strong cities.1 Two of the explorers, Joshua and Caleb, thought the Israelites should go and take that good land for themselves. But the rest of the explorers said they couldn’t do that, because the people there were too big and strong.
When the Israelites heard this, they said it would be better to die in the wilderness than to try to take over that land. They decided to try to kill Moses and go back to Egypt. When the untemptable God heard their plans, he was tempted to kill all the Israelites except Moses and his descendants.
But Moses reminded God, again, that killing all his people would be bad for his reputation. Everyone would think God was incapable of bringing his people to the promised land. When the all-knowing, never-changing, all-good God heard this, he changed his mind and decided not to kill everybody, again.
Despite his anger at what they had said, God agreed with his people that they couldn’t defeat the people of Canaan, and that it would be better for them to die in the wilderness. So he sent them back toward the Red Sea and let that generation die off. He made Israel wander in the wilderness for forty years until all of them who had lived in Egypt were dead except Joshua and Caleb, before giving the promised land to the next generation of his people. God also personally killed the other ten explorers for giving a true but unfavorable report about the land God had chosen for his people.
When the people heard about that, they repented and went to take the land God had promised to give them, as they had been instructed. But God abandoned them and let the big, strong people of Canaan defeat them.
The moral of the story
When God gives someone a bad gift, tell them it’s a good gift.