Joshua, as Moses’ assistant, must have seen it all and realised that fact-finding missions can produce unpredictable and unwelcome results.
Yet what do we find forty years later when Joshua has taken over the leadership? Apparently forgetting the lessons of the past, he now, when the Israelites are on the verge of the Promised Land, decides to send in spies to check out the land of Jericho.
Why was he not forewarned by what had happened on the previous occasion? And why were the spies necessary, since God had already promised to deliver the cities into the hands of the Israelites?
The Malbim handles the question by pointing out the differences between the two spy missions. These differences included these:
1. Moses’ aim in sending spies was to see whether the land was conquerable; Joshua knew it was, but needed to work out how what tactics to use.
2. Moses sent twelve men; Joshua sent two. Each of Moses’ spies was on the lookout for what would benefit his own tribe; Joshua’s delegation was objective and would think of what was good for the people as a whole.
3. Moses’ delegation did not all have a good track record of piety; Joshua’s spies, Caleb and Pinchas, had a good reputation as champions of God.
4. Moses sent his delegation publicly and with great fanfare; Joshua sent his spies quietly and without a fuss. (A well-known Anglo-Jewish judge used to say, “The best public work is done privately”).