Summary: Giants come in all shapes and sizes; none is bigger than God, who provides for those who believe his promises.
The VCR is a wonderful invention. If you’ve got it set to tape your favorite shows it matters a whole lot less whether you’ll be home in time, doesn’t it. It makes meetings a whole lot less tense. Some things you have to be on time for, though. Movies, buses, job interviews... There’s a sort of window of opportunity that
may or may not come around again. If you miss the movie, or the bus, you can usually catch a later one, but a job interview is likely to be a whole 'nother story. Missing one of those is not going to endear you to your prospective boss... Other appointments are somewhere in the middle... If you miss a flight you can probably
get another one, but you may have to pay more or take a more roundabout route. Space launches have windows of varying length... Gemini XII had only a 30-second launch window, but the next launch for the space station Mir has 6 days, from July 8th to the 14th. There’s some slack, in case things take a little longer than expected, or the weather doesn’t cooperate.
But those are all things the people involved know about, and can prepare for. What about the things that happen just because someone “happens” to be in the right place at the right time? There are at least as many things that we miss out on because we were in the wrong place when the right time came around, or were looking in the wrong direction. A lot of military historians believe that the only reason the Americans won the Revolution was because Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Day and caught the Hessians in Trenton napping. They were far stronger, better fed and better armed, than the rebel troops, but they didn’t expect to be attacked, and so they lost. And from that moment on the rebels had the momentum.
The funny thing about windows of opportunity is that the more important they are, the less often they come around. Shakespeare put it well in Julius Caesar. “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
The Israelites had been preparing for their big moment for 14 months, though. They had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, had been fed with manna and received the law, they’d almost blown it completely with the incident of the golden calf, but got back with the program after Moses interceded for them, they had built the tabernacle, ordained their priests, and celebrated the first Passover.
Now it was time. From the very moment God had first called to Moses from the burning bush the promise of land had been dangling out in front of them like a carrot on a stick. YHWH declared to Moses, “... I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the
Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.'[Ex 3:17] The promise was repeated a half dozen more times over the next few months. The Israelites knew the land was inhabited, but they also knew that God intended for them to have it. The time had come.
But there was still work to be done. It was not going to be a shoo-in. This would be a military campaign, needing planning and foresight and discipline. God would be asking his people to use the resources he had given them, their eyes and ears and hands and feet, to become active partners in the enterprise. He would give the orders, but they were expected to have some clue about what they were doing. So he had Moses send out secret agents.
They went out for more than one reason, though. Half their mission had to do with military intelligence, the other had more to do with public relations. According to Deuteronomy, the spies went up “to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to." [Dt 1:22] They weren’t to see whether they would be able to take it, but to start planning how. But I also think they went up to whet the people’s appetite for conquest, to see how fair and fertile the land was, to get them excited about their new home. Sort of like a Parade of Homes - without the owners’ permission.
Remember, these people had lived in Egypt for 400 years. Egypt and Canaan were about as different as two countries could be. Egypt was mostly desert, except for a very narrow strip of land on either side of the huge river Nile. It didn’t rain; crops were watered by the Nile overflowing its banks once a year. The Israelites had lived in the land of Goshen, to the north where the Nile fed into the Mediterranean, and that was flat and marshy. The land they were coming into would be completely new to them. The only river of any note was the Jordan, but they wouldn’t see that coming up from the south through Kadesh Barnea. All they had seen for 14 months was more desert.