The “turning” of spies is not always an obvious or entirely conscious thing, however. Sometimes spies are turned through subtle indirect influences which change the way they think. In some cases they may not even realize the degree to which their loyalty has been compromised. When Moses sent twelve spies into the land of Canaan to check out conditions there before Israel invaded the Promised Land, he sent twelve men who were hand-picked leaders from the twelve tribes (Numbers 13:1-2). We do not know much about these men, and only know the age of one of them – Caleb – who was 40 when dispatched on his mission (Joshua 14:7), but we might presume that was about average for established leaders in the tribes; but in any case, they were leaders and not young recruits. That fact makes it all the more surprising that we are told when the spies returned they had clearly been turned.
This is essentially what they reported to Moses: “We went to the land where you sent us. It really is a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is some of its fruit. But the people who live there are strong, and the cities have walls and are very large … We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!” (Numbers 13:27-33 paraphrased).
So the spies began to spread lies among the Israelites about the land they had explored. Only two of them – Joshua and Caleb – gave a balanced report showing that the land could be taken (Numbers 13:30, 14:30), so an incredible 10 out of 12 spies had obviously been compromised and became, in essence, assets of the enemy. There is no indication that any of the spies had been directly subverted by the Canaanites, however. They had simply been influenced by sights and impressions and perhaps by other influences that they were unaware of (Ephesians 6:12) to such a degree that they were turned.
Usually, this story is viewed from the perspective that the majority of the spies looked at what they saw and lacked faith regarding the help of God in overcoming the enemy – that they walked by sight and not by faith. But there is another and equally valid point to the story that we should remember. Every time we put ourselves in a situation where we are being influenced negatively, we risk being deeply affected to our own detriment. We risk being turned. That is why God commanded Israel to drive the Canaanites out of the land, because of the danger that Israel would be affected by their influence (Leviticus 18:29-30, etc.). Unfortunately, many Israelites were influenced and they, like the majority of the spies, were completely turned.
This is where the story connects to us. Is there anything in our lives that is a constant influence for what is not right? If there is, we should be careful not to presume that we are strong enough or “mature” enough to handle it – or think that we are unlikely to be turned by it. The experiences of the twelve spies, and of the whole nation of ancient Israel, show that the odds are against us. Being careful to analyze the influences in our lives and turning from ones that are not good can help us to avoid being "turned."