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mid-13c., from Old French espier "to spy," probably from Frankish *spehon, from Proto-Germanic *spekh- (cf. Old High German *spehon "to look out for, scout, spy," German spähen "to spy," Middle Dutch spien), the Germanic survivals of the productive PIE root *spek- "to look" (see scope (n.1)).
mid-13c., "one who spies on another," From Old French espie, probably from a Germanic source (see spy (v.)).
When the Israelites reached Kadesh for the first time, and were encamped there, Moses selected twelve spies from among the chiefs of the divisions of the tribes, and sent them forth to spy the land of Canaan (Num. 13), and to bring back to him a report of its actual condition. They at once proceeded on their important errand, and went through the land as far north as the district round Lake Merom. After about six weeks' absence they returned. Their report was very discouraging, and the people were greatly alarmed, and in a rebellious spirit proposed to elect a new leader and return to Egypt. Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, showed themselves on this occasion stout-hearted and faithful. All their appeals and remonstrances were in vain. Moses announced that as a punishment for their rebellion they must now wander in the wilderness till a new generation should arise which would go up and posses the land. The spies had been forty days absent on their expedition, and for each day the Israelites were to be wanderers for a year in the desert. (See ESHCOL.) Two spies were sent by Joshua "secretly" i.e., unknown to the people (Josh. 2:1), "to view the land and Jericho" after the death of Moses, and just before the tribes under his leadership were about to cross the Jordan. They learned from Rahab (q.v.), in whose house they found a hiding-place, that terror had fallen on all the inhabitants of the land because of the great things they had heard that Jehovah had done for them (Ex. 15:14-16; comp. 23:27; Deut. 2:25; 11:25). As the result of their mission they reported: "Truly Jehovah hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us."