The 12 scouts came back from Canaan with a two-part report.
One was positive, showing that God had accurately described the land He had promised them:
Numbers 13:26 it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces [a bunch of grapes too big for one person to carry].
Only Joshua and Caleb believed God could deliver on His promise to give such a rich land to the Israelites. The other ten spies were less positive:
Numbers 13:28,31But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified … We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!
The ten were so convinced that they started an extensive propaganda campaign to make the people too afraid to continue:
Numbers 13:Numbers 13:28, 31 The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!
It was a fear and smear campaign.
It’s easy to stand back, thousands of years later, and criticise those Israelites for being so ready to ignore everything God had done and promised, and instead believe the negative reports.
We’re no better
But it’s no different from what happens today through the mass media. Look at any election and the role of the media in how politicians are seen by the electorate. You don’t have to look too hard to realise the image the media want to portray is very different from the character of the person. Or look at the different stories the countries’ media tell their citizens in times of conflict: the Russian version of the Ukraine conflict is very different from that of the West.
The campaign run by the ten spies would, if they did it now, be run through the mass media, carefully placed leaks and exclusive sources, blogs, social media campaigns, partisan community groups, and gossip and rumour mills.
Countering a smear and fear campaign
What could have happened is that the Israelites countered the fear campaign with a look at what God’s done for us campaign. Joshua and Caleb tried, but it wasn’t enough.
The Israelites were already uncomfortable and afraid. Life wasn’t easy, and people had died if they complained too much. The gods of Egypt and surrounding nations were malicious and needed appeasing. The Israelites still hadn’t worked out that this God wanted only the best for them; that He wanted a Holy people to live in a good land. They hadn’t realised that God didn’t need dead animals, but that the sacrifices were a way to demonstrate God’s grace than something He wanted as a bribe.
All that made for a highly successful fear campaign.