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In Numbers 13 we are told that God had instructed Moses to sent spies to scout the land.One of the instructions was to check whether the land was good or bad.

Numbers 13:2,13 ESV

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds,

But when God gave the promises prior to the possessing of Canaan he had made it clear that the land was good(milk and honey)

Exodus 3:8 ESV

8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

4 So I have said to you, “You are to take possession of their land, and I Myself will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has singled you out from the peoples.

Why then did God instruct them to check whether the land was good or bad?

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  • Perhaps the list of nations from Exodus 3:8, 3:17, 13:5 is a simple explanatory or parenthetical note, instead of part of the actual dialogue ? Perhaps the same is true of the middle of Numbers 13:2 ? (There is no clear cut delineation mark between dialogue and editorial explanations in the bible, in general). Or perhaps it was simply a matter of military routine; it's not like that was the only time they did that. Or perhaps the men needed to know both what they were fighting for, as well as what they were up against.
    – Lucian
    Oct 13 at 7:03
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The real matter here is the apparent contradiction between the version in Num 13:1, 2 vs Deut 1:22 as per the following:

Num 13:1, 2 - And the LORD said to Moses, “Send out for yourself men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each of their fathers’ tribes send one man who is a leader among them.”

versus -

Deut 1:22 - Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

So, which was it? Were the spies the initiative of the people or of YHWH/LORD?

The Israelites were notoriously untrusting of the LORD despite all the signs, wonders and miracles He had performed on their behalf!! God had already told the Israelites that the promised land "flowed with milk and honey", Ex 13:5, 8, 33:3, etc. So, why did the Israelites want to spy out the land?

Again, they did not trust God as further evidenced by the majority report of the spies who said that the land was intimidatingly unconquerable. Humanly speaking this may have been true but by trusting in God, they could have (and later did) conquer the land.

I liken this situation to an experienced shoe fitter who tells the customer that these shoes are ideal and fit perfectly - but the customer insists upon trying on the shoes.

Israel was the same - it could not bring itself to fully trust God and needed to spy out the land as per the record in Deut 1:22. The record in Num 13 is merely God agreeing to this untrusting demand and then giving instruction to Moses about how this was to be done.

Note the comments of Ellicott on Num 13:1 -

(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses . . . —There is no inconsistency between this statement and that which is contained in Deuteronomy 1:22, where the sending of the spies is represented as having originated with the people. It is there said that the saying pleased Moses well; but it would be wholly inconsistent with the character and conduct of Moses to suppose that in a matter of such importance he should have acted in a accordance with the suggestion of the people, or upon his own judgment, without seeking direction from God. The command which was given to Moses must not be regarded as implying of necessity that the expedition of the spies was, in the first instance, ordained by God, any more than the command which was afterwards given to Balaam to accompany the messengers of Balak was any indication that God originally commanded, or approved of his journey.

Benson is similar:

Numbers 13:1-2. The Israelites being now come to the borders of Canaan, Moses commanded them, in the name of God, to go up and possess it, reminding them of his promise to give them the possession of it, and exhorting them not to fear nor be discouraged, Deuteronomy 1:21. But the unbelieving and distrustful multitude, forgetting the power and faithfulness of God, were afraid to venture on this hazardous undertaking, as they thought it, till some persons were sent to examine and bring them information what sort of country it was, and what kind of people they should have to contend with. We will send men before us, said they, and they shall search out the land, and bring us word again, Deuteronomy 1:22. Moses, therefore, in compliance with their request, is directed by God to send proper persons, chosen from all the tribes, for this purpose. Every one a ruler among them — Not those called princes of the tribes, in the first chapter of this book, but men of wisdom and authority, and rulers or officers of an inferior kind.

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