“Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Send out for yourself (shlach lecha) men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.” (Numbers 13:1–2)
Last week, Parasha Behaalotecha began with the commandment to light the lamps of the Menorah, and ended with God confirming Moses’ anointing to be the leader of the Israelites after Aaron and Miriam criticized him for marrying an Ethiopian woman.
This week in Parasha Shlach, 12 spies (m’raglim) are dispatched into the land of Canaan to spy out the land that God promised to give them as their new home. They returned with huge clusters of grapes, since it was the season of the first ripe grapes, which coincides with the months of July and August. (Numbers 13:20)
Although each of the spies acknowledged the bounty in the Land, they also reported that strong, violent giants lived there, spreading fear and doubt among the children of Israel, saying:
“The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.” (Numbers 13:32)
Only two spies, Joshua and Caleb, seemed to remember how God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Only they had the faith and courage to say, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30)
They saw that the land was everything God had promised and understood that it was through Him that they would gain the victory.
That is why they were fully confident: they had their eyes on God and not on the problems.
The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them. (Numbers 14:7–9)
Conversely, the 10 spies did not acknowledge the goodness, strength or promises of the Lord:
We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak [giants] there. (Numbers 13:27–28)
Their discouraging report reveals that they had their eyes on the power of men and not God.
They completely sidestepped God’s promise that the children of Israel would return from an Egyptian exile to their own land, which was the fifth promise God delivered to the Israelites in Egypt.
“I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” (Exodus 6:8)
Sadly, the Israelites chose to listen to the ten voices of fear, doubt and unbelief, instead of the two voices of faith and trust in the Lord. They chose to believe the bad report over the good.
Because of that, God condemned that generation to wander for 40 years in the wilderness. They died there instead of entering the Promised Land; however, the two men who trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly, Joshua and Caleb, entered the Land with the next generation.
Wandering Instead of Entering
“But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things are written as our examples.” (1 Corinthians 10:5-6)
Being condemned to perish in the wilderness may seem like a harsh sentence, especially since God actually forgave them at the request of Moses and Aaron. The Lord said:
“I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless,… not one of those who saw My glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed Me and tested Me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors.” (Numbers 14:20–23)
Many may wonder why God’s forgiveness was not enough to bring them into the Promised Land.
Despite the amazing victories and miracles they experienced through God moving on their behalf, many of the Israelites seemed unchanged on the inside. They did not have a revelation of God and didn’t seem to grasp that He consistently wanted to bless them.
The Israelites complained, imagined the worst possible outcome, doubted the goodness of God’s intentions for them, and wanted to go back to enslavement.
The people wept that night and grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2–3)
They even considered choosing their own leader, one that God had not appointed, to bring them back to Egypt.
Why? They had given into fear, and fear is a spiritual force that wants to drive us back into bondage.
God equated this complete lack of faith with despising Him. He was so grieved with the Israelite’s response to the bad report that He actually threatened to kill them immediately and start all over again with Moses.
“How long will this people despise Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11–12)
To Which Report Will We Listen?
“Consider carefully how you listen.” (Luke 8:18)
The mistakes of the Israelites in this Torah portion reveal something important to us today.
When we find ourselves in a battle and feel fear threatening to extinguish our faith, to halt our forward progress, we must proclaim the truth that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)