They went, and they came What is meant by“They went”? [It says already that they returned.] To compare their going with their coming. Just as their return was with evil intent, so was their departure [on the journey] with evil intent. — [Sotah 35a]This is a citation of Rabbi Yochanan citing Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Thus, they initially intended towards bad.
flowing with milk and honey Any lie in which a little truth is not stated in the beginning cannot be maintained in the end. — [Sotah 35a]The quote is actually slightly modified from our girsa in Sotah, either because Rashi had a different girsa or because he modified it. The distinction is that our gemara says "any slander," leshon hara, while Rashi says sheker, lie. This, by the way, is Rabbi Yochanan citing Rabbi Meir.
This brings up an interesting point. Were they lying? Did they intend to lie? Did they intend harm?
The Amalekites dwell Since they had already been“burnt” by Amalek [as it were,] the spies mentioned it in order to frighten them. — [Mid. Tanchuma 9]Thus Rashi cited a Midrash Tanchuma to show they were calculating in the details they chose to mention, in order to frighten the people.
for they are stronger than we Heb. מִמֶּנּוּ, [which may also be interpreted as, they are stronger than he.] They said this in reference to the most High, as it were, [as if to say that the people are stronger than He. — [Sotah 35a]Thus the spies deny Hashem's strength and power to let them prevail.
consumes its inhabitants Wherever we passed, we found them burying dead. The Holy One, blessed is He, intended this for good, to keep them occupied with their mourning so they should not notice them [the spies]. — [Sotah 35a]This statement of Rava implies that they were not lying. What they said was true. Did the spies realize that this was why Hashem did this? Possibly not.
the giants Heb. נְפִילִים, giants, descended from Shamhazai (Nidah 61a) and Azael (Yoma 67b), who fell (שֶׁנָּפְלוּ)) from heaven in the generation of Enosh.By identifying these giants, Rashi would agree that this is factual -- there were giants. By explaining that they indeed heard this, he is stating that they are not lying.
and so we were in their eyes We heard them telling each other,“There are ants in the vineyard who look like people.” - [Sotah 35a]
In fact, it is a matter of dispute (or rather statement followed by rejection) in the gemara in Sotah:
"And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." R. Mesharsheya said: The spies were liars. As regards 'we were in our own sight as grasshoppers', very well; but how could they know that 'so we were in their sight'? But it is not so; for when [the inhabitants] held their funeral-meal they ate it beneath cedar trees, and when [the spies] saw them they climbed the trees and sat there. Then they heard them say: 'We see men like grasshoppers in the trees'.Thus, at least in this matter, Rashi is in agreement that they were not liars. Note that in fact the gemara presents this as a rejection, based on another source. In fact Rav Mesharshia may have known this source and chosen to argue against it. Regardless, Rashi adopts the rejection, in order to present a basis (midrashic) for each portion of the statements of the spies.
If so, the word slander, leshon hara, might be better suited than sheker, falsehood.
Now, while Rashi presents the gemara's various statements (and that of Midrash Tanchuma) as a whole, in fact one might split Chazal's statements into different groups.
We might argue the position that the spies actually set out whole-heartedly on their mission, but were discouraged by what they saw. The prime source for this is
|לא וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-עָלוּ עִמּוֹ, אָמְרוּ, לֹא נוּכַל, לַעֲלוֹת אֶל-הָעָם: כִּי-חָזָק הוּא, מִמֶּנּוּ.||31 But the men that went up with him said: 'We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.'|
This is the theme that this midrash is hooking into. By saying "they are stronger than we," the implied that "they are stronger than He." Thus, this midrash is peshat.
This is also part of the message of the midrash about the land consuming those upon it. On a peshat level, the spies meant that it was a harsh land that would require a hardy people to prosper on it. But here, the midrash gives an explanation of something which they saw which appeared to be bad and formidable, but was actually God's hidden hand ensuring the success of their mission.
The bit about "so we appeared in their eyes" may also be taken to show their lack of confidence. As Rav Mesharshia said, how would they know how the inhabitants saw them? One answer is that they were making this up. Another answer is that they were projecting their lack of confidence, such that they felt the enemy must also regard them as insignificant.
Indeed, in the next perek, they try attacking without Hashem's help, and are beaten back, with casualties:
Indeed, this is what the gemara seems to say about Calev's response:
And Caleb stilled [wa-yahas] the people concerning Moses — Rabbah said, [It means] that he won them over [hissithan] with words. When Joshua began to address them, they said to him, 'Would this person with the lopped-off head speak to us!' [Caleb] said [to himself], If I address them [in the same strain as Joshua], they will answer me in like manner and silence me; so he said to them, 'Is it this alone that Amram's son has done to us!' They thought that he was speaking to censure Moses, so they were silent. Then he said to them, 'He brought us out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea for us and fed us with manna. If he were to tell us, Prepare ladders and ascend to heaven, should we not obey him! Let us go up at once and possess it etc.'According to Rabba's statement, Calev in fact was mentioning all the great things Moshe had accomplished at Hashem's direction, with the aid of miracles. And Rav Chanina bar Pappa's statement might be cast as continuing along these lines -- the spies' retort to Calev's claim.
But the men that went up with him said: We will not be able etc. R. Hanina b. Papa said: A grievous statement did they make at that moment, viz. For they are stronger than we — read not than we but than He; as it were even the master of the house cannot remove his furniture from there.
While I'm at commenting on Shelach, one might suggest:
|ח לְמַטֵּה אֶפְרָיִם, הוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן.||8 Of the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun.|
|טז אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ.||16 These are the names of the men that Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.|
And then, the Torah will cite these other genealogical documents. To remain true to them, nothing will be changed, even if there is potential for confusion -- such as a Reuel/Deuel, either resolvable as a name change or variant, or allowing for an error in this historical document. Moshe will quote the sources verbatim as they are. However, to smooth the confusion here in the shift between the genealogical list and the narrative, Moshe (or Yehoshua...) clarifies that Nun did not have another son who interceded. (Indeed, sometimes Biblical characters name sons quite similar names.) And this might also be part of the cause for the reminder that Calev and Yehoshua were among the spies, in the next perek: