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What was the sin of the spies?


The story of the scouts (or ‘spies’) in the book of Numbers (13:1-14:45) provides intriguing insights into the workings of community, of leadership and the challenges of faith. Having drawn near to the Promised Land, twelve of the Israelites are sent on a reconnaissance mission. They are to ‘check out’ the land ahead and report back to Moses.


A disastrous conflict follows involving Moses and his supporters, their opponents, and God. We are left with a question as to what could have caused such a breakdown in order and leadership among the Israelites, so close to their destiny?


Read the story of the scouts in Numbers 13-14. Then, let’s begin our reflection with two translations of God’s command to Moses to send the scouts:


Shelach lecha anashim...’

‘Send men…’ (13:1; NRSV)

‘Send for yourself men…’ (13:1; Fox)


Fox’s translation retains a subtlety in the Hebrew text: ‘Send for yourself,’ or ‘Send for you,’ or ‘Send if you please.’ Do you think this subtle addition makes a difference to the story?