This week’s portion, Shelach, Numbers 13.1 through 15.41, contains a variety of events, but none as life changing as the spying mission that Moshe permitted at Adonai’s command. At first glance, the mission seemed to be successful. However, even though it began as a good report, that was not the end of the story. Chabad’s “In a Nutshell” notes, “But ten of the spies warn that the inhabitants of the land are giants and warriors ‘more powerful than we’; only Caleb and Joshua insist that the land can be conquered, as G‑d has commanded.”[i] The narrative is quite familiar, even to those with just a fleeting knowledge of the Scriptures. The end of the story saw all of the adults of Israel, except Joshua and Caleb, die in the wilderness over the next thirty-eight years. How could this have possibly happened? Back in Vayishlach, Genesis 35.9-12,[ii] as Jacob returned from Paddan-aram, the LORD told him, “The land that I gave to Abraham and to Isaac—I give it to you, and to your seed after you; I will give the land.” Remember, the LORD’s command to Moshe and the twelve spies was, “… investigate the land of Canaan, which I am giving to Bnei-Yisrael” (Numbers 13.2). Receiving the Land was to be a done deal.
Why was it seemingly so hard to believe the word and the promises of Adonai, especially after just seeing His power as He delivered Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh? In a moment of weakness, the ten spies allowed themselves to be side-tracked from the reality of Adonai’s promises because they were distracted by what they perceived with the sight of their eyes. “We cannot attack these people, because they are stronger than we” (Numbers 13.31). There is no question that what the ten spies saw was probably true, the “sons of Anak” and the Amalekites were in fact there. But the flesh and blood enemy was not stronger than the promises of Adonai. It is possible that Shaul had this episode in mind when he encouraged the Colossians, “Focus your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3.2). With the same thought in mind, he reminded the believers in Corinth, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5.7). The circumstances in our lives must never be diminished any more than the “giants in the land” should be ignored. But in faith, we can say with Joshua and Caleb, “We should definitely go up and capture the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13.30)! We would do well to keep in mind the situation in which Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego found themselves when King Nebuchadnezzar, in a furious rage, determined to toss the three into his furnace if they did not bow down to his effigy. Their response was classic. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to answer you concerning this matter. If it is so, our God whom we serve is able to save us from the furnace of blazing fire and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. Yet even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you set up” (Daniel 3.16-18). Bad, even dire situations exist. This is a fact of life. More important, however, is the fact that the God we serve is able either to deliver us from each and every situation, or to stand with us as we go through them. Nebuchadnezzar’s shocked proclamation is a great example of this deliverance, “Look! I see four men walking about unbound and unharmed in the middle of the fire, and the fourth has the appearance like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3.25)!
The Haftarah, Joshua 2.1-24 records another “spy episode;” the two spies that Joshua sent into Jericho to see what kind of “reception” Israel might expect. Additionally, it seems that Joshua was looking to bolster Israel’s morale as they prepared to finally enter into the land of promise. This time instead of doubting, they trusted in the word of Adonai. The closing verse of the Haftarah report the success of the mission. The spies report, “For the Lord has delivered into our hands all the land; and also the inhabitants of the country have melted away because of us” (Joshua 2:24).
Before leaving this passage, one has to wonder how different the story of Shelach might have been if the ten spies and the rest of Israel had heard Rahab’s words to the two spies.
“I know that Adonai has given you the land—dread of you has fallen on us and all the inhabitants of the land are melting in fear before you. For we have heard how Adonai dried up the water of the Sea of Reeds before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard about it, our hearts melted, and no spirit remained any more in anyone because of you. For Adonai your God, He is God, in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2.9-11).
It would appear that the giants that we often fear, may well be afraid of us and the God we serve. On this note, there is one last word of encouragement from Shaul to the Corinthians, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Messiah, Yeshua” (2 Corinthians 10.5). If the ten spies had “demolished the arguments” how different the story might have been. We could all ask the same question about past occurrences in our own lives. The key, however, is not to dwell on the past, but look forward to victories in our walk with the LORD as the two reciprocal narratives in our Parasha and Haftara demonstrate.
[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.