Whose Idea Was It to Send Scouts?
Parshat Shelach begins with God telling Moses to send scouts to reconnoiter the Promised Land:
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ-הוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ שְׁלַח לְךָ֣ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְיָתֻ֙רוּ֙ אֶת אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִ֥י נֹתֵ֖ן לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אִ֣ישׁ אֶחָד֩ אִ֙ישׁ אֶחָ֜ד לְמַטֵּ֤ה אֲבֹתָיו֙ תִּשְׁלָ֔חוּ כֹּ֖ל נָשִׂ֥יא בָהֶֽם׃ וַיִּשְׁלַ֙ח אֹתָ֥ם מֹשֶׁ֛ה מִמִּדְבַּ֥ר פָּארָ֖ן עַל־פִּ֣י יְ-הוָ֑ה כֻּלָּ֣ם אֲנָשִׁ֔ים רָאשֵׁ֥י בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל הֵֽמָּה:
Yhwh spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them.” So Moses, by Yhwh’s command, sent them out from the wilderness of Paran, all the men being leaders of the Israelites (NJPS modified).
In other words, according to the account in Numbers the scouting trip was God’s idea. However, in the Book of Deuteronomy (1:20-23), Moses tells the story differently.
וָאֹמַ֖ר אֲלֵכֶ֑ם: בָּאתֶם֙ עַד הַ֣ר הָאֱמֹרִ֔י אֲשֶׁר יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽנוּ׃ רְ֠אֵה נָתַ֙ן יְ-הוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ לְפָנֶ֖יךָ אֶת הָאָ֑רֶץ עֲלֵ֣ה רֵ֗שׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר֩ דִּבֶּ֙ר יְהוָ֜ה אֱלֹהֵ֤י אֲבֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ לָ֔ךְ אַל־תִּירָ֖א וְאַל־ תֵּחָֽת׃ וַתִּקְרְב֣וּן אֵלַי֮ כֻּלְּכֶם֒ וַתֹּאמְר֗וּ: נִשְׁלְחָ֤ה אֲנָשִׁים֙ לְפָנֵ֔ינוּ וְיַחְפְּרוּ לָ֖נוּ אֶת הָאָ֑רֶץ וְיָשִׁ֤בוּ אֹתָ֙נוּ֙ דָּבָ֔ר אֶת הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נַעֲלֶה בָּ֔הּ וְאֵת֙ הֶֽעָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָבֹ֖א אֲלֵיהֶֽן׃ וַיִּיטַ֥ב בְּעֵינַ֖י הַדָּבָ֑ר וָאֶקַּ֤ח מִכֶּם֙ שְׁנֵ֣ים עָשָׂ֣ר אֲנָשִׁ֔ים אִ֥ישׁ אֶחָ֖ד לַשָּֽׁבֶט׃
I said to you, “You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which Yhwhour God is giving to us. See, Yhwh your God has placed the land at your disposal. Go up, take possession, as Yhwh, the God of your fathers, promised you. Fear not and be not dismayed.” Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to reconnoiter the land for us and bring back word on the route we shall follow and the cities we shall come to.” I approved of the plan, and so I selected twelve of your men, one from each tribe.
These two presentations of the scout story appear mutually exclusive. Whose idea was it to send scouts, the people’s or God’s?
Model 1 – Rabbinic Answer
The Talmud (b. Sotah 34b) attempts to solve the tension by finding a middle position that encompasses both versions of the story.
'שלח לך אנשים' – אמר ריש לקיש: "'שלח לך' – מדעתך." וכי אדם זה בורר חלק רע לעצמו? והיינו דכתיב: 'וייטב בעיני הדבר' – אמר ריש לקיש: "'בעיני' – ולא בעיניו של מקום."
‘Send, for yourself, men’ – Resh Lakish said: “‘Send for yourself’ – of your own volition. Would a person really choose something that seems bad to him? This is what is written: ‘The matter seemed good in my eyes.’ Resh Lakish said: ‘In my eyes’ – but not in the eyes of God.”
Resh Lakish combines the two stories by creating a multi-step process.
- The people requested to send scouts, as Moses says they did in Deuteronomy.
- Moses likes the idea, as recorded in Deuteronomy.
- Moses then asks God for permission. This is not recorded anywhere but assumed.
- God agrees to send scouts, albeit reluctantly.
Thus, Numbers only records the final part of a process whose beginning parts are recorded only in the preamble to Deuteronomy.
Model 2 – Samaritan Solution
The Samaritan Pentateuch is often referred to as a full or expansive version. The reason for this is that one of the key differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) on one hand and the Masoretic Text (MT) or Septuagint (LXX) on the other is that the SP smoothes out many of the rough edges in the Torah by adding or revising text. One of the main forms of expansion is the addition of details from Deuteronomy into other parts of the Torah so that the Deuteronomy version will not contradict the versions in the rest of the Torah.
This process did not begin with the Samaritan community itself, and is already found in a number of Dead Sea scrolls that show the same sort of harmonizing tendencies (and even sometimes exactly the same harmonizations found in the Samaritan Pentateuch); these are sometime called proto-Samaritan texts.
In the Samaritan Pentateuch, the scout story begins:
ויאמר משה לבני ישראל באתם עד הר האמרי אשר י-הוה א-להינו נתן לנו. ראה נתן י-הוה א-להיך לפניך את הארץ, עלה רש כאשר דבר י-הוה אלהי אבותיך לך, אל תירא ואל תחת. ויקרבו אל משה ויאמרו נשלחה אנשים לפנינו ויחפרו לנו את הארץ וישיבו אתנו דבר את הדרך אשר נעלה בה ואת הערים אשר נבוא עליהן, וייטב הדבר בעיני משה. וידבר י-הוה אל משה לאמר: שלח לך אנשים ויתרו את ארץ כנען אשר אני נתן לבני ישראל. איש אחד איש אחד למטה אבותיו תשלח כל נשיא בהם. וישלח אתם משה ממדבר פראן על פי י-הוה כלם אנשים ראשי בני ישראל הם.
Moses said to the children of Israel: “You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which Yhwh our God is giving to us. See, Yhwh your God has placed the land at your disposal. Go up, take possession, as Yhwh, the God of your fathers, promised you. Fear not and be not dismayed.” Then they came to Moses and said, “Let us send men ahead to reconnoiter the land for us and bring back word on the route we shall follow and the cities we shall come to.” Moses approved of the plan. Yhwh spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them.” So Moses, by Yhwh’s command, sent them out from the wilderness of Paran, all the men being leaders of the Israelites.
In the Samaritans Pentateuch, the two accounts are combined. The piece from Deuteronomy is rewritten in the third person and spliced into the Numbers account. Thus, in the Samaritan Pentateuch, God’s command follows the request of the Israelites and Moses’ approval.
Model 3 – Academic Approach
In academic studies, the most common approach is that the different versions of the story come from different sources or documents.In the version of the story recorded in Deuteronomy (D) the idea to send scouts comes from the people and Moses approves; God is not consulted. The scouts bring back a positive report, “It is a good land that Yhwh our God is giving to us.” Nevertheless, the people panic and refuse to go.
In Numbers 13:1-3 (P), on the other hand, God rather than Moses suggests sending spies. The scouts bring back a bad report, causing panic in the camp.
The issue of whose idea it was to send the scouts is only the first of many differences between the Deuteronomy and Numbers accounts of the scouts.
TheTorah.com is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
We rely on the support of readers like you. Please support us.
June 12, 2014
October 9, 2023
Previous in the Series
Next in the Series
Essays on Related Topics: