This week we read of the fateful story describing the sin of the 10 spies, which caused the nation of Israel to wander in the wilderness instead of entering the Promised Land. And what was the sin of the spies? It was their report, which they brought back to the Nation of Israel. “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey…Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there…The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” The sin of the spies was their slander of the Land of Israel. The Land God had called good, was the same Land the spies called bad. The Land God had told the Israelites to go in and conquer, the spies viewed as unconquerable. You see tall walls and a land that devours its people in all actuality, was a really good thing. But the spies viewed the good signs from God through the eyes of negativity and despair. I love how John Bunyan, in his book “The Pilgrim’s Progress” aptly names the giant in his story “the giant ‘Despair’ who lived in doubting castle.” Another word for despair would be the word “hopeless.” And what causes hopelessness? Doubt in the Word of God. When the spies looked at the high walled cities of the Canaanite inhabitants they saw nearly impenetrable heights to be conquered through hard struggle. Yet, do high walls signify a strong and mighty people? Or do high walls show a fearful and cowardly populace? Think about it…if a nation felt secure and powerful, would they hide behind fortified city walls? Walls aren’t bad in themselves. We build walls for privacy, for containment, or for security. But when someone builds a fortified and very large wall, it signifies a deeper heart issue. Fear. The inhabitants of Canaan were extremely fearful of the Nation of Israel as expressed by Rahab in Joshua 2. “…The terror of you has fallen on us…all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you…our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you…” Tall and fortified walls represent fear.
“The Fall Of Jericho”
Another statement the spies made concerning the land was that it was a land that devours its inhabitants…” In Hebrew it says “Eretz Ochelet Yoshveha Hie” which can literally be translated as “The Land eats those who are settled in it.” This was a miraculous sign from God to the spies. The Land itself was eating up?—consuming those who were committing immorality in its borders. But instead of the spies seeing these occurrences as miraculous signs from God, they saw these happenings as another reason not to enter the Promised Land. Instead of viewing everything in the Land of Israel through a lens of Godliness, they allowed their hearts to be swayed and they strayed off the path of God, right into the castle of doubt where they met the giant Despair. When the spies saw the giants in the Land, they viewed themselves the way they thought the giants saw them. In Numbers 13:33 the spies say, “…we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” The spies put words into the mouths of the giants. The giants in the Land weren’t the ones who told the spies they seemed like grasshoppers. The spies told themselves “if we feel like grasshoppers ourselves, how must the giants view us?”
I think what we can learn from all this, is the idea that, if you go looking for giants and problems, you will find them. The 10 spies who went into the Promised Land and came back with a bad report saw the goodness of the Land, yet, in their eyes, the complexities seemed larger than the goodness, the giants seemed larger than God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and the giants.  They didn’t see the high walls and carnivorous land as signs of God’s blessing to aid and encourage them in their conquest. Rather, they saw everything in the Land as obstacles and future troubles awaiting them. They saw themselves as grasshoppers before giants. And if you view yourself as a grasshopper, why would you be surprised when you get squashed? They were called to be God’s army, as God Himself states in Exodus 12:51. God says, “[I] brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies. God doesn’t say “according to their grasshoppers…”
God didn’t see His people as grasshoppers; He saw them as His army. It was the people themselves who were looking at their circumstances through their own eyes instead of the eyes of God. The spies were viewing the land of Israel through what we would call in modern terms “Confirmation Bias.” Whatever they saw, experienced or did while in the Promised Land, confirmed their view of the difficulties and challenges they would have to face. Nothing could shake them from their already negative outlook concerning the future Land of Israel. They had a pessimistic attitude toward the entire expedition and because of their depressing outlook an entire generation perished in the wilderness. When you look at the world through negative-tinted glasses, why would you be surprised to never see beauty or positivity in your life?  You see, Pessimism versus Optimism isn’t a fight between happy or unhappy, neither is it a struggle between Positive and Negative. Optimism is the idea that whatever situation, whether a happy or sad, positive or negative experience, everything will ultimately lead to good. You can walk through negative and sad circumstances with an optimistic attitude towards life. Granted it is not easy, but when we know that God is bigger than the giants of despair we all face, it allows us to change our outlook of the future. Just as the old saying goes, “When eating an Elephant, take one bite at a time.” We change our outlook on life one promise of God at a time. The more we trust God’s sovereign plan, the more we recognize the elephant giants aren’t so big and we aren’t so grasshopper small after all. And if all we need is faith as a mustard seed to move mountains (Matthew 17:20), can you imagine what God can do with faith the size of a grasshopper?
There were 12 spies who were sent out. 10 returned with a negative and pessimistic account while 2-returned full of fervor to take hold of God’s promises. We know these two good-reporters to be Joshua and Caleb. These 2 men also saw the giants, the fortified cities and the devouring land. But their report was different. Why was it different? Thereis an interesting verse in this portion from Numbers 13:22. Here is what is says. “And they went up through the South and came to Hebron…” In Hebrew it says, “Vaya’alu vanegev v’yavo ad-Hevron…” The first word “Vaya’alu” means “And they went up…” This is a plural word referring to all of the spies. However, the word “V’yavo” which means “and came…”is a singular term. What is this verse telling us? It is telling us that all the spies went up through the South but only one spy came to Hevron/Hebron. Who was this one spy? According to the Sages, this spy was Caleb. Caleb also saw giants in the Land. What giants did he see? The giants of the faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all buried in the city of Hebron. As Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzacki) the great Torah commentator wrote concerning this verse, “Caleb alone went there and prostrated himself on the graves of the Patriarchs, offering prayer that he might be helped not to give way to the enticement of his colleagues and join them in their counsel.” Chizkuni also writes concerning this verse, “Caleb [came to Hebron]…to pay his respects to the graves of the Patriachs…[and] to get moral support against the negative attitude of most of his companions.” Caleb also saw giants in the Land. But the giants he saw weren’t the giants of despair and doubt. Rather, Caleb went to the graves of the giants of faith, to be strengthened to hold on to God’s promises. None of the Patriarchs ever saw the promises of God fulfilled, but they believed in the faithfulness of God. Caleb was aligning himself with those of the past who had held on to the promises of God. Though the other spies would forget God’s promises and His faithfulness, Caleb and Joshua would continue to grasp onto the faith of their forefathers.
The 10 spies went by what they saw in the physical. But the Torah never tells us to follow our eyes. In fact, in this portion we are told to “not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined…” We are instructed to not follow our eyes. This is why the greatest commandment in the Torah according to our Rabbi, Rabbi Yeshua, is the commandment found in Deuteronomy 6. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” How does this greatest commandment start? Hear! . In Romans Paul writes, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” And in 2 Corinthians 5 it says, “[W]e walk by faith, not by sight.” In Hebrew the word for obedience is connected to the word “Shema” or “to hear.” Hearing without doing = not hearing. Our hearing ought to spur us into action to combat the difficulties we see and face in life. Because we don’t walk according to what we see, rather, we believe the promises of God, which we hear.
With all this, my encouragement would be for us to live as realists. A realist is one who believes in the promises and faithfulness of God to His Word. There is nothing special about living a pessimistic or “worldly realist” lifestyle. A person who looks at life and sees God in and through it all is the person who has found the true joy of life! As First Fruit of Zion writes, “People say, ‘Every cloud has its silver lining.’ The pessimist sees the cloud. The optimist sees the silver lining. The man of faith sees the cloud and the silver lining both. He gives thanks to God who made the cloud, provides the rain, and clears the sky.” Instead of living life through the eyes of the spies, we must learn to walk by faith, hearing and listening to the Word of God.
 
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

67 thoughts on “Parsha Sh’lach “Send” Numbers 13:1-15:41

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