But God's commandment to "turn and get into the wilderness" initiates the most severe and widely applied punishment that freezes and even seems to reverse this process of redemption.
The story of this drawn-out death sentence begins with the 12spies, each representing a tribe of Israel, sent into the Land of Canaanto reconnoiter the land on the people's behalf.
"Go up this way by the south and see the country what it is, and thepeople who dwell in it, whether they are strong or weak, few or many, and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad and what cities they dwell in, whether in tents or in strongholds, and what the land is, whether fat or lean, whether there are trees in it or not. And be of good courage and bring of the fruit of the land."
The Bible explains that the spies competently scoped out the land andreturned with the fruit, including a cluster of grapes so large that itrequired two men to carry it between them on a pole. According totheir own words, which the narrator supplies to the reader, the spies seemed to have executed their mission to the letter.
"We came to the land," they report, "and indeed it flows with milk andhoney. But the people are strong who dwell in the land and the cities are fortified and very great; and moreover we saw the children of Anaq there. Amaleq dwells in the land of the Negev."
Though God is never clear on what the spies do to incite His anger, what they offer next, conclusions of pessimism and despair, might comprise the "evil report of the land," as it comes to be known, a report that causes all the trouble. The spies return believing that the land's inhabitants "are stronger than we," "are men of great stature," and illustrate that "we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." The immense cluster of grapes they have brought back only seems to corroborate their statements about giants inhabiting the land. In general, there is no indication that the spies are expressing anything but genuine fear.