The Twelve Spies and the Question of Leadership


And the Question of Leadership

By Rodney W. Francis

The Bible contains the very truth of God and also reveals the heart and weaknesses of mankind. The Word of God declares that God sees and knows everything about human nature: “Nothing is hidden from the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-16). In the Book of Numbers, Chapters 13 and 14, we have the record of the twelve men who, at the commandment of the Lord, went to spy out the land of Canaan. Every one of those men were leaders ~ “heads of the children of Israel.” Every one had known what it was to rise up through the ranks of their respective tribes to a place of authority. They all carried a responsibility for thousands of God’s people. The following figures represent the actual number of men over the age of 21 years who were able to go out to war (the earlier chapters of Numbers give us this information), and which the twelve spies represented respectively:

  • Shammua (the name means “famous”) represented the tribe of Reuben which had 46,500 fighting men.
  • Shaphat (means “judge”) represented the tribe of Simeon which had 59,300 fighting men.
  • Caleb (means “bold, impetuous”) represented the tribe of Judah and 74,600 fighting men.
  • Igal (means “deliverer”) represented Issachar and 54,400 fighting men.
  • Joshua (means “Jah saves” or “Jehovah saves”) represented Ephraim and 40,500 fighting men.
  • Palti (means “Jah delivers”) represented Benjamin and 35,400 fighting men.
  • Gaddiel (means “Gad is fortune bringer”) represented Zebulun and 57,400 fighting men.
  • Gaddi (means “belonging to fortune”) represented Manasseh and 32,200 fighting men.
  • Ammiel (means “my people is strong”) represented Dan and 62,700 fighting men.
  • Sethur (means “secreted, hidden”) represented Asher and 41,500 fighting men.
  • Nabbi (means “Jah is protection, consolation”) represented Naphtali and 53,400 fighting men; and
  • Geuel (means “God of salvation”) represented Gad and 45,650 fighting men.


It is quite apparent that they were indeed noble men, held in high regard in their tribes. In the eyes of their fellowmen they had succeeded. Even the meanings of their names were impressive! They were “successful” in the eyes of man, but now the time had come for them to be tried to see how they would succeed in the eyes of God.

For 40 days those twelve spies/leaders searched out the land of Canaan. They saw the abundance of fruit it possessed. They saw it was a land that “flowed with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). But they also saw the strong cities and the children of Anak, who were giants.

  • Ten of those spies/leaders came back with an evil report.
  • They could not see that GOD was BIGGER than giants!

The fear-instilling, negative testimony of those ten leaders gripped the hearts of the masses of Israel. They saw themselves as “grasshoppers” in the eyes of the enemy, rather than men of the Most High God, serving a God Who could not fail!

It is a truth that we speak and act according to how we see ourselves. If we see ourselves as grasshoppers, then most things in life are bigger than us, and we become inferior in our behaviour! We are what our believing is! Those “grasshopper” leaders refused to enter into the Promised Land which God had willed for them.

Every one of those twelve spies/leaders had equal opportunity to come back with a testimony of faith. They had all seen God’s glory and God’s miracles, which He did in Egypt and in the wilderness (Numbers 14:22) ~ yet ten of the twelve still chose to believe that the giants were bigger than God! They refused to “hearken (“take heed”) to God’s voice.” The voice of the majority prevailed and the anger of the Lord was stirred up against the nation. Notice in Numbers 14:22 that God was “put to the test now these ten times” ~ once for every unbelieving leader among the spies! Those ten men who had honour, position and power in the ranks of Israel, and who were looked up to, were miserable failures to the God of Israel. They refused to obey Him and therefore they had no faith in the promises of God to take them on to greater things. So God set about to destroy them ~ they could not be trusted to lead God’s people into “a new day and new things.” Over the period of the next 40 years every one of those ten spies/leaders ~ and multiplied thousands of Israelites who were in submission to them ~ were killed off by the plagues of God. They had not demonstrated their trust and faith in God by believing and obeying what He had said.

  • Throughout all the ages God has required His followers to demonstrate their faith in His Word and in what He says (Hebrews 11:6). (Be reminded that the children of Abraham are children of faith in God.)


On the other hand we see the contrast of the way by which Joshua and Caleb (though very much in the minority) went on in the blessings of believing God. Only two out of the twelve! But Joshua and Caleb were bold enough to believe and declare that they were able to go up and possess the land.

  • They believed what God said more than what they saw!

The Bible says of Caleb, “But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it” (Numbers 14:24). Caleb was different to all the others. He dared to follow God even when no one else did. He had “a different spirit” . . . and demonstrated a total commitment to the purposes of God.

We can also see from the Scriptures that Joshua was a man who “did not depart from the tabernacle” (Exodus 33:11). He learned to live in God’s presence and to know His ways. He was a man of obedience (Exodus 17:9-10), and Moses’ assistant (Joshua 1:1). When the real tests of life came against them, Joshua and Caleb not only knew to stay close to God but also to not allow the decisions of others ~ no matter how “spiritual” that person might be ~ to persuade them otherwise (that is why it is so important to hear and know God’s voice, because He is the Supreme Authority in all matters)!

What a lesson, as well as a warning, we have shown to us in this account of the journeys of the Children of Israel. The principles still apply very much in our day in that we must be careful who we are submitting ourselves to in the church. We need to understand that because a man passes the human intellectual standards of spirituality and leadership qualities, it does not necessarily make him God’s chosen leader! It is one thing for a person to hold authority over the people of God ~ but quite another for that person to come under the authority of God. The Bible teaches us to “submit ourselves one to the other in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). The basis for submission to another person is in “the fear of God” ~ not the fear of some “spiritual” man. Why is this? Because if you allow your life to be guided by the decisions of others, you might very well find yourself dying in “the wilderness” (like multitudes of the Israelites for trusting their lives to the decisions of their leaders), instead of what God has spoken to you. Not only did the ten spies/leaders die in the wilderness, but also all the people they represented! They even persuaded the two tribes who had submitted themselves to Joshua and Caleb.

  • Who is leading your life? Some man, or God the Holy Spirit?
  • Whose voice do you listen to? Some man, or Jesus Christ (see John Chapter 10).
  • Who makes your decisions for you? Some man, or the principles as laid out in the Word of God?

You will need to be like Joshua and Caleb if you really want to enter into God’s Promised Land in this life. It will take “another spirit” than what the average Christian is motivated by. This “another spirit” is motivated by a love and commitment to the Holy Spirit Who leads us in the right way, and glorifies Jesus Christ in us, as we obey what He says. This often requires that we will need to be able to make our own decisions in the fear of God and to stand upon our convictions, even when the majority thinks otherwise (and that is easier said than done)! It is in times of our needing to make major decisions that we need the wisdom of God to be working within us. “Wisdom” is “skillfulness in applying knowledge” and it is how we apply what we know that determines what we accomplish in life. In many situations today we have been taught to be so loyal to leaders, church and system that we can become blinded to the true will of God in our life ~ especially if it causes any differences and conflict with those three areas.



In the story of the twelve spies/leaders ~ and indeed with many other Bible illustrations ~ we see the plight of the majority, and the victory of the minority who stand in true obedience to God. While the ten spies/leaders (and the thousands of Israel) were dying in the wilderness because of their decisions to disobey God, we find that Joshua and Caleb went on living. While judgment was being poured out on Israel, Joshua and Caleb kept living in the grace and mercy of God. The judgments and ultimate destruction of that unbelieving generation of Israelites had no effect on the spiritual standing Joshua and Caleb had with God (Numbers 14:32-38). They had the spirit that the apostles of the Early Church displayed when they said “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Yet they would have been criticized, persecuted and isolated for their “narrow minded” stance.

It does cost us to do the will of God today, because the will of God (as always) has only been truly pursued by a minority of people who dare to believe God and take Him at His Word! A commitment to do the will of God does not make one popular! In that regard human nature has not changed at all! The Bible brings this truth out very clearly: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult (“confined”) is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

When He (Jesus) had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38). Notice that it was Jesus Who spoke these words to the people ~ And He also included His disciples!

So many Christians have never gotten themselves free of the attractions of the world ~ we tend to want to have the best of both worlds! But the Scriptures teach us that we cannot have it both ways: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (see James 4:1-9).

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 25-17).

These are very clear statements of Scripture. And they are written because God knows the heart of mankind, his weaknesses, and his tendencies to “hang on” to things that do not spiritually profit us. To try and live with the best of the world and the best of God does not work. It makes us spiritual adulterers! To do the will of God we have to die to self-ambition, worldly desires, and demonstrate a whole-hearted commitment to His purposes. There is no other way.

Likewise, if you submit your life to a leader who is blind to the true will of God, then take note of what Jesus said: “Both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:13-14). Dear reader, do not put your confidence in man, but put your confidence in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His mighty Holy Spirit power, for He is “able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). God has so much for you if you will only let Him truly be LORD of your life. The New Covenant provisions which God has already provided for us in Christ are more than abundantly sufficient to enable us to fulfil all the plans and purposes of God in life. Are we listening? God speaks today and His Word is far above every other word, and more reliable ~ we can trust it totally!

Stand up and be counted! Believe those things that God has declared to you, release your faith and His Word will be fulfilled in your life in a wonderful way. Trusting in man will only cause you to sink in unbelief, and rob you of the real things in life that Jesus Christ came to give you. Be a Joshua and Caleb in your generation by walking close to God, hearing His voice, and obeying His commands. There is no greater way! Amen.


  1. Instant Obedience! “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). “Whatever He (Jesus) says to you, do it” (John 2:5).
  2. Reckless Faith! “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). “He (Abraham) did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20).
  3. Great Expectations! “Therefore I (Jesus) say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you Vwill have them” (Mark 11:24). “. . . and your hope (“expectation”) shall not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:14,b).

"The Gospel Faith Messenger" Ministry. , New Zealand.  Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


"The Gospel Faith Messenger" Ministry.  New Zealand.  Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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