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In Numbers 13 we are told that God commanded Moshe to sends the twelve spies to scout out the land:

1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
2 'Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel; of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a prince among them.'

Later, in Deuteronomy 1, Moshe recounts that the people asked for this and he agreed:

22 And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said: 'Let us send men before us, that they may search the land for us, and bring us back word of the way by which we must go up, and the cities unto which we shall come.'
23 And the thing pleased me well; and I took twelve men of you, one man for every tribe;

Is there a way to reconcile these from the text of the Tanakh? Is there an interpretation whereby they're both true, or must we assume that Moshe is not telling it exactly the way it happened?

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If the downvoter has suggestions for improving the question, I'd like to hear them. Thanks. –  Gone Quiet Apr 24 '13 at 15:19

1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Could not the Lord have "instigated" the people to spy the land through indirect means, and therefore solve the conundrum?

For example, Satan incited David to number the Israelites in a census (1 Chr 21:1), but in 2 Sam 24:1 it is the Lord who is the subject of the Hebrew verb סוּת, and therefore in the immediate grammatical context it was the Lord who had incited David to number the people. Through secondary means, David's faith was tested by God's permission.

The Lord said that he "ruined Job without cause" (Job 2:3), but in fact it was Satan who was the agent of ruining Job. Through secondary means, Job's faith was tested by God's permission.

Jesus was tempted by Satan, because he (Jesus) was "led around by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness for forty days" (Lk 4:1-2). Through secondary means, Jesus's faith was tested by God's permission.

These three parallels of testing (above) are not contradictions. Each example shows that Satan acted as the agent of cause, because the Lord had first given permission to test the faith of the persons involved.

When the Israelites spied out the land, their reconnaissance report back at base camp resulted in outrage and hostility against Moses. That is, the original idea for sending spies into the land was the ostensible desire of the people to see what had awaited them ahead in the Promised Land, but it was also the Lord's explicit command that those same spies be sent out. Through secondary means, the Israelites' faith was tested by God's permission.

There is no mention in the Bible that Satan tempted the people to spy out the land, but the principle still stands in parallel to the examples above. That is, while the Lord provides explicit permission for testing, there are the ostensible secondary means by which these events actually happen.

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Thanks for the answer. Can you help me understand a couple things? Satan is not an independent agent; he acts only at the direction of God. But that's not true of the people, so are you saying God directed them (took away their free will), or something else? (You're saying that the people asked for this as in Deut. but it was at divine instigation supporting the Num. text, right?) Thanks. –  Gone Quiet Apr 23 '13 at 2:20
@monica - YHWH rebuked Satan twice in Zech 3:2, and so the accusations of Satan against Joshua the high priest were not acts provided by the direction of God -- thus Satan is an independent agent. –  Joseph Apr 23 '13 at 15:01
@monica - As regards "free will," we see examples of the direct influence of the Lord bearing on both the King of Assyria (Is 37:7) and the King of Persia (Ez 1:1). In both cases, these respective kings made independent unilateral decisions, but their decisions fulfilled predictive prophecy in the process (please see Is 37:37-38 and Is 44:28, respectively). There is "free will," but there is also the direct influence of the Lord, whose own will is fulfilled in the process. –  Joseph Apr 23 '13 at 15:02
Thanks for pointing out the Zech passage. God also seems to interfere with Paro's free will during the plagues, which many understand to be God helping him do what he was going to do anyway. In Jewish thought ha-satan's job is basically to be a prosecutor, who acts under God's direction (not an evil anti-god acting on his own). So, not a puppet or the like but not wholly independent either. –  Gone Quiet Apr 24 '13 at 0:50
Your answer is a good one in that it connects to Deut. 30:15-20 where it is pointed out that G-d creates both good and evil so that we have an opportunity to choose one from the other. Accepting that it was G-d's ideas to send the spies, he knew that they could have interpreted what they saw as Caleb and Joshua did, or they could have gone the other direction. Likewise, the people could have chosen to listen to positive news or focus on the negatives. Too often, our inclination is to believe the negatives and reject the positives. We need to avoid that. –  Bruce James Apr 24 '13 at 15:42

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