Just a few verses in Numbers 13 presage a major turning point in the life of the young nation of Israel. Twelve men are chosen to be the first ones to enter the Promised Land and report back.
The twelve spies left Kadesh-Barnea and went north into Canaan. They were instructed to “go up through the Negev and on into the hill country.” It is likely they traveled the “ridge road,” or “the Way of the Patriarchs.” This ancient route traverses Israel from north to south and gets its name because it was frequently travelled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is called the Ridge Route because it follows the watershed ridge line of the Samarian and Judaean Mountains. In modern times, the route roughly follows the original Highway 60.
The Bible doesn’t tells us what cities the spies visited. The road runs from Megiddo and Hazor south to Beersheba by way of Shechem, Bethel, Jerusalem, Ephrath and Hebron.
Moses told the spies, “See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” Several of these cities were heavily fortified, one of the reasons ten of the spies chose to believe Canaan could not be conquered.
The spies traveled north as far as Lebo-Hamath before they turned south again.
In the coming weeks we’ll look at some of these cities, and what clues time has left behind for us.