The story of Moses sending out the twelve spies to scout out the Promised Land is one of my favorite accounts in Scripture. This story has it all—intrigue and adventure, suspense and drama, rebellion and obedience, faith and treachery, blessing and cursing—even lessons for homeschooling parents on how to teach. It is a story about God, His people, and an assignment.   

In Numbers 13:17–20, 25 (HCSB)1 we learn the content of the assignment Moses gives the spies, as well as the manner in which he delivers the assignment.

Important Guidelines for Giving Assignments

1. Moses gave clear directions and told the spies how to get started: “Go up this way to the Negev, then go up into the hill country.”

2. Moses gave the spies specific things to observe and specific questions to answer: “See what the land is like, and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. Is the land they live in good or bad? Are the cities they live in encampments or fortifications? Is the land fertile or unproductive? Are there trees in it or not?”

3. Moses addressed the attitude the spies were to have while carrying out this assignment: “Be courageous.” Even though this was a challenging assignment, Moses expected his “students” to have good attitudes. He expected courage—not whining.

4. Moses made this a “hands-on” assignment: “Bring back some fruit from the land.” The hands-on part of the task made sense and was in keeping with their environment at the time: “It was the season for the first ripe grapes.”

5. Moses gave the spies plenty of time to complete the assignment in a thorough manner: “At the end of 40 days they returned from scouting out the land.”

When the spies finished their assignment, they gave an oral report. The account we have is written. We can tell our children with great confidence, “Giving reports is biblical!”

Aspects of the Reports that Moses’s Students Gave (Numbers 13:26–33 and Numbers 15:6–10)

1. The spies gave their report to an audience. “The men went back to Moses, Aaron, and the entire Israelite community in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They brought back a report for them and the whole community...” The assignment that Moses gave had real significance both for the lives of the report-givers and the audience.

2. The spies followed Moses’s instructions about where to go, what to observe, and what to bring back (items 1, 2, and 4 in the list above). They reported to Moses: “We went into the land where you sent us. Indeed it is flowing with milk and honey, and here is some of its fruit.”

3. Ten of the spies disobeyed Moses’s instruction about attitude—his command to “be courageous.” As they continued giving their report to the entire community, these ten said:

However, the people living in the land are strong, and the cities are large and fortified. We also  saw the descendants of Anak there....We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!...The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. We even saw the Nephilim there....To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.

When confronted with the giants in the land, these spies did not meet the assignment Moses had given with courage and faith.

4. Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, obeyed Moses’s instruction to be courageous. Numbers 13:30 tells us, “Then Caleb quieted the people in the presence of Moses and said, ‘We must go up and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!’ ”