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?

2 Answers 2


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.

  • 1
    @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
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 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
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 15:02
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    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. Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 15:42

This is a case where it seems the people came to Moses with something they wanted done, and so God provided a means for them to be able to do this, as seen in Num. 13. As for the responses calling out Satan as an external tempter, Satan is not a supernatural being, but merely is interpreted as "adversary" denoting neither positive nor negative motive. The record where "Satan" incited David to number Israel is merely an account of God inciting him, as we find in the account from Chronicles.

The same is true of Job, God is the one who brought bad things against him, and it is a man who is the Satan, believed to be a brother in the church who didn't believe that Job was TRULY a servant of God. Proof for this is seen in the fact that as soon as the friends enter the scene, Satan is gone and never appears again in Job. rather, the friends take up the same face as "Satan" leading many to believe that one of these men was the Satan.

In the account of Balaam and the donkey, an angel of the LORD is called a satan. The same hebrew word is used, this time interpreted as adversary, in Num. 22:22, "And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary -H7854- against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him."

Finally, in the case of Christ, this is remedied by simply looking at the tempter as himself, his own fleshly nature and his own desire to be great, as he struggled with the same sinful nature that we did, but without sin. And if it was a real supernatural satan, how would he have authority to give Christ all nations of the Earth when God rules in the Kingdom of men? Dan. 4:17

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