Shelach Lecha – Send Forth Yourself! Numbers/Bemidbar 13:1-15.41; Yehoshua 2:1-24; Hebrews 3:1-4:16
This week the Torah portion continues to discuss some of the challenges that Israel has and will continue to have with leadership issues as the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land proceeds. Having just witnessed in the previous portion the threat to his leadership coming from his sister Miriam and brother Aaron, Moshe is now placed in a position to continue encouraging the children of Israel to move forward on the journey toward the ultimate goal of securing the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is at this point that the portion begins with the infamous incidents concerning the adventures of the twelve spies who were chosen to scout out the land and return with a report about the prospects for the invasion.
“Send out for yourself 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” (Bamidbar/Numbers 13:2).
This section of the Torah dealing with sending the spies to the land of Canaan is just after the section of Miriam’s speaking evil (lashon hara) about Moshe. The spies comments about the land also came into the category of ‘lashan hara’ (evil speech) for they spoke against Yahweh Himself. They denigrated His character, His wisdom and love for them in sending them into this situation.
Yahweh had declared the Land of Canaan (Promised Land) to be good, the people were unable to take his word at face value, but they felt the need to “confirm” Yahweh’s word by sending up “spies” to verify the accuracy of his word. Scripture labels the Children of Yisrael as a faithless, hard-hearted and unbelieving generation causing the anger of Yahweh to burn against them. Their attitude prevented them from entering the Promised Land (Heb. 4:1-7).
As Yahweh had already proclaimed that the Israelites would take the land, there was no real need for “spies” to be sent – yet He allows this, using the phrase, “Send for YOURSELF,” as if distancing Himself from this command. This phrase indicate Yahweh’s disappointment with them in seeking to operate according to their own understanding and their own methods.
Yahweh did not choose the 12 spies, the people did; hence, the name of the parashah, “Send for yourselves” When people choose their own leaders the failure rate is high, in this case 10 of 12 leaders were faithless. The word “nasi” for leader derives from the root word “nasa”, which means “raised” or “elevated.” Thus, the phrase “kal nasi bahem” means that the heart of each one elevated him to volunteer to participate - they were from leaders with fifty men under them.
Man-inspired, initiated efforts seldom produce lasting spiritual benefits. Are you hearing the voice of the Ruach (Spirit) so that you know what your personal spiritual marching orders are. We need to hear his voice and walk in faith based upon His Word. Failure to do so makes us inconsistent in our walk and unable to inherit the promises.
Going Into the Land
In their journey, complaints and murmuring are commonplace. In spite of the miraculous interventions resolving the water and diet issues, the children of Israel are constantly looking at the “half empty glass” rather than reveling in the “half full” one. Human nature continues to drive the great majority of the people, as the instincts of survival and selfishness prevail.
This is quite a dilemma for Moshe, who in his desire to fulfill the call upon his life, simply wants to obey the Holy One of Israel and guide the children of Israel to the prophesied return to Canaan. So with the Promised Land on the horizon, the Holy One instructs Moshe to choose one leader from among each of the twelve tribes who will go into the Land and come back with a report to endorse the incursion. God already promised the people he would give them the land: “I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you.” (Exodus 23:27-28).
When the twelve scouts entered the land they came to the brook of Eshcol, and cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes which was so large that they needed to bear it between two upon a rod and they also took of the pomegranates, and of the figs and they returned from searching of the land after forty days. And they came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the Children of Yisrael, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh and brought back word to them and showed them the fruit of the land and they told them, “We came unto the land where you sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless, the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.” (first mentioned in Gen. 6: 4 - the product of the ‘fallen ones’)
The report of the spies which resulted from their 40 day inspection of the land was negative, as only two of the twelve chosen leaders actually returned with a good report. The other ten got hung up on the often-used word that is heard frequently by leaders when they are attempting to direct a group. That word is the preposition “but” or “nevertheless. “ “Thus they said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless,the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover,we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan” (Bamidbar/Numbers13:27-29).
The commentators in the Stone Edition Chumash say regarding their assessment that “It is a land which devours its inhabitants”13:32, “Such misinterpretations are typical of people who choose not to have faith. Invariably they interpret events in a way that will conform to their own notions” (p. 803). Having faith in Yahweh is a conscious choice that one has to make. Faith does not come automatically. Fear, doubt and unbelief do, however, and is part of the fallen nature or evil inclination that all men possess. Is this not what Paul is referring to in Romans 8:1 when he speaks of the “law of sin and death”? It is to be contrasted with the “law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua” through whom we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). First John 5:4 says, “For whatever is born of Elohim overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith [i.e. Yeshua, the Author and Finisher of our faith, the One who gives us the gift of faith, the One in whom we have faith and on whose words and promises believers stand firm and secure as a house built on a Rock].” Fear of death is the mother of all fears and is what plagued the disbelieving Israelites.
The spies, who were leaders from each of the twelve tribes, were not overtaken by giants in the land, neither were they devoured by the land after forty days within it. What they permitted to enter into their hearts was fear and a lack of faith. Not enough faith to believe that Yahweh has weapons of mass destruction at His disposal. The ten with the evil report sized up the giants they saw, and in effect said that our God is too small. They chose to stand with insurrection rather than bend their knees in obeisance to Yahweh. If we would just yield to His way and not our own ways, what great deeds He could perform in our lives.
When the ten come back with the bad report, immediately the infection of doubt and disbelief permeates the camp in spite of the fact that the evidence of the fruit which they bring back, testifies to the goodness of the land and the truth of Yahweh’s word. Insurrection is on the rise as the people murmur, complain and ask for a leader to take them back to Egypt. The men of faith, Caleb and Joshua, attempted to encourage the people, but the power of unbelief prevailed over them. Caleb had difficulty restraining them from their rebellion when giving his report. For this Yahweh rebuked them (Ch.14:11-12), and Moshe had to intercede for them in verses 13 to 20. It is at this point that Moshe and Aaron give all leaders a second example of how a leader should react when confronted by his followers. Their mutiny causes Moshe and now even his brother Aaron fall on their faces in prayer and supplication to the Most High. There is no other place to turn but to the mercy of God.
After the sin of believing the report of the 10 spies, the people are told they will not enter the land. Following this, some of them decided to “repent.” They rebelled against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14:1-10); and afterward despite the dire warning from Yahweh, the people remorsefully feel that it is their duty to correct their wrongs, and foolishly attempt to instead take the land by force. They are met with disaster and disappointment in the rash attack against the Amalekites and Canaanites which was repulsed from Kadesh (Numbers 14:40-45) causing them to be attacked and killed. True humility is required in seeking God’s will in true repentance, a change from following one’s own direction to true obedience whatever the cost.
The night that the people chose to follow their false report was the Ninth of Av., the same day as they worshipped the Golden Calf and it was then that He predicted that they would be scattered among the nations. Psalm 106:24-27 cites the ominous prediction and its far-reaching effects that continue to the present day. This began a cycle from which they have reaped up till the present time. Many national tragedies occurred on this date and it has become a day of national mourning ( Zechariah 8:19). This date, the 9th Av, falling in July/August, was also the date of the destruction of the first and second temples. In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain on this date. War I also broke out on the Ninth of Av. World War II (with the Holocaust) was very much a continuation of the First World War. Galatians 6:7-10
Through identification with Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection at baptism (Romans 6:3-6) we too (through Yeshua) can be victorious over the sting of death and the grave which is the death sentence upon all Torah lawbreaking mortals. Read 1 Corinthians 15:47-58.
Today there is a generation who are being called to enter the "promised land" by faith and are being given a vision of the good land and its blessings. Will we rise up and declare that we are well able to overcome the giants of the forces of darkness and make our calling and election sure or shall we fail the test and fall in the wilderness. There must be a purging of the flesh, a remnant who will overcome and be presented before the presence of His glory without spot or blemish or any such fleshly thing.
The Assessment of the Land
When searching out the land, they went from the wilderness of Zin to the northernmost regions surveying the whole extent of the land. Eschol the small wadi from where they took the grapes seems to be identified as Burj Haskeh today, about two miles north of Hebron. The mission was begun in the days “of first-ripe grapes” which would be mid to late July. They returned on 9th Av.
The fruit of the land which they brought back with them from a more accurate rendering of the Hebrew, reads: “And they cut from there one pruning with [lit. “and”] a cluster of grapes, and they carried [it / them] on a pole between the two — with [lit. “and from”] the pomegranates and figs.” Keeping these fruits on their branches to extend their freshness, adds a new dimension. When we consider two men loading up a pole with a pruning having a remarkably large cluster of grapes plus prunings with pomegranates and prunings with figs then we have a pole laden with fruit that would understandably have to be carried by two men.
The (root) verb shoresh (tur) used here, means to reconnoiter, explore and investigate (13.2, 17). This was the commission they had been given - to investigate 1. What the land was - 2. Whether the people in it were few or many, strong or weak - 3. Whether the land is good or bad - 4. If the town were open or fortified - 5. If the soil was rich or poor and - 6. Samples of its produce. An extensive survey was to be undertaken.
This fact-finding mission took in two aspects, and they were -
1. The nature of the land itself and the
2. Prospects of military conquest The land was undeniably good, but it needed faith to conquer it from the usurping enemies. It was given to them, but they had to take possession of it to make it their own. This parallels our spiritual inheritance, there are obstacles and spiritual enemies to overcome if we would take the land. We also need to enter into the inheritance given to us and make it a reality in our lives.
In verse 22 it reads in the original ‘he’ went up through the south (the Negev) and came to Hebron. This is understood to refer to Caleb who went this far (Sotah 34b; Rashi; Rashbam). His heart was obviously toward the patriarchs and what had been promised them. He believed Yahweh’s Word. The Chumash tells us that Caleb was the son of Chetzron mentioned in 1 Chronicles 2:9 (Yerushalmi, Yevamoth 10:7), and was thus a great-grandson of Judah (cf. Genesis 46:12; Numbers 13:30, 14:6, etc). He was 40 years old at the time (Joshua 14:6,7). He was the step-brother of Othniel son of Kenaz (Joshua 15:17; Sotah 11b). Caleb married Miriam and was the father of Hur (Chur -1 Chronicles 2:19,20; Targum ad loc; Sifri). He also married Bithia, the daughter of Pharaoh who raised Moshe (Megillah 13a, from 1 Chronicles 4:18 - also see 1 Chronicles 2:42-50, 4:15).
The Amalekites lived in the Negev. the Hittites of that era lived near Hebron. The Jebusites lived near Jerusalem. The Amorites were somewhat nomadic but centred around the area of Syria. The Canaanites lived in the lowland regions of the country.
The Nature of the Land
In this Torah portion the land of Israel is referred to as a land flowing with milk and honey (14:8). This term appears in about twenty additional places in the Bible and in the words of the prophets. Almost always the term refers to the Land of Israel, except for one occasion, when the followers of Korach use it to refer to Egypt (Nu.16:13). The term is used to emphasize the wealth of produce of the land, but the exact nature of the ‘honey’ mentioned in it needs further examination.
From the Bible we know that ancient peoples commonly collected bees honey from their hives, which were often among rocks (Nu.32:13) or among the trees in the forest (1 Samuel 14:25-27). Sometimes bees even found hiding places in the carcasses of animals, such as in the story of Samson (Judges 14:8). The hot climate in Israel often melted the honeycombs and caused the sweet fluid to flow over the ground, a phenomenon which can be described as a land flowing with milk and honey.
However, according to most researchers this verse refers to the sweet nectar which drips from fruit such as grapes, carobs, figs or dates. Therefore, for example, the date is mentioned among the seven species that the land of Israel is blessed with, in the following language: a land of wheat and barley, grape and fig and pomegranate; a land of olive oil and honey (Nu. 8:8). If the fruit is not harvested in time, its juices begin to drip out, thereby enabling the land to be seen as flowing with honey. A description of the future in the words of the prophet Joel (4:18), And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains will drip with nectar and the hills will flow with milk, teaches that prophet probably understood the previous phrase flowing with milk and honey as deal with the nectar of fruits. The land is precious to Yahweh. See Deuteronomy 11:12
The Issue of Obedience
Israel tested Yahweh ten times and refused to heed His voice. According to the rabbis these ten times were: Exodus 14:11; 15:24; 16:3; 16:20; 16:27; 17:2; 32:4; Numbers 11:1; 11:4; and here (believing the spies’ evil report). In each of these incidents Israel “tested” Yahweh and preferred to walk in doubt and unbelief rather than trust His word.
These are examples for us to learn from that we do not follow in their ways. (1 Corinthians 10:11) “Don’t delude yourselves: no one makes a fool of God! A person reaps what he sows. Those who keep sowing in the field of their old nature, in order to meet its demands, will eventually reap ruin; but those who keep sowing in the field of the Spirit will reap from the Spirit everlasting life. So let us not grow weary of doing what is good; for if we don’t give up, we will in due time reap the harvest. Therefore, as the opportunity arises, let us do what is good to everyone, and especially to the family of those who are trustingly faithful.” Galatians 6: 7-10
Today, as the Holy One is raising up godly, Torah obedient followers of the Messiah, He is challenging each and every one of us to exemplify faith and willingness to submit our wills to the will of the Father. He is training us to crucify our flesh in order for the guiding power of the Holy Spirit to operate effectively through each and everyone of us. As we learn to be led by the Spirit and to walk by the Spirit, we find that the “buts” become fewer and fewer as we submit our wills to His. If we have a heart to obey out of love for our Father, fear will be overcome, for there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18) We only fear when we do not trust Him. But, if we unite ourselves with His purposes, then we are one with Him in spirit and He can fill us with His presence which will make us bold and courageous. Withdrawing in fear concerning standing for His values and principles comes down to unbelief in Him (Hebrews 3:12-14). This is not to say that we understand all that the Father is requiring of us as we walk out our various calls. But we do know that He has a desire to use each one of His children in the unique circumstances where they are placed. His basic principles do not change. He has indicated that as we are faithful in the little things like learning to serve others, or in Moshe’s case, learning to serve sheep and then the nation of Israel, He is faithful to give us even greater things to serve.
“He who is faithful in the least, is faithful also in much; and he who in the least is unrighteous, is also unrighteous in much; If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12).
Two types of sin are delineated in 15:27-31: the sin of ignorance and the sin of presumption (i.e., willful sinning, or literally, “sinning with a high hand”). For the first sin there is an offering or atonement. For the second sin, the penalty is death as illustrated by the example of the Sabbath-breaker in verses 32-36. It is interesting to note that breaking the Sabbath is the example used to illustrate the second sin. This reveals Yahweh’s high regard for Shabbat. No one could be judged unless they were first warned of their sin by two or three witnesses, and had disregarded the warning.
The Gracious Provisions At this time Yahweh tells Moshe to teach them two commandments intended for their uplifting.
1. Wine libations (1-16). The wine libation is poured out and not drunk. Paul compared his own life to a wine libation poured out over the altar on two different occasions. He first did so in his early letter to the Philippians; the other instance is in one of his last letters, 2 Timothy.
Yeshua Himself, on taking the cup of His last seder meal, says, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20) In Mark He says His blood is “poured out for many,” (Mark 14:24) and in Matthew He adds that it is poured out “for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28). His blood which was poured out on the ground like water and like a drink offering upon the altar. It was not a waste. It was about one quart in volume.
2. Challah (17-21). “Challah” is the separation of a portion of dough, which is then given as an offering to Yahweh and as a gift to the Priests. Each day then they were to take from their bread, the staple of life and make an offering to Him.
This provision is carried over in the new covenant as the ordinance of communion (bread and wine). Through this we draw near unto God and partake of His life in Yeshua the Messiah. By coming with an offering and entering into covenant relationship and communion their spiritual life was sustained. The basics of this mitzvah for the Challah (traditional ‘communion’ bread) are as follows: If one makes a batch of dough from one of the five grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt) that is equal to the omer of manna each person received in the desert (2 quarts - one day’s worth of food - 43.2 eggs in volume), then he must separate a small portion (Challah). The remainder of the then dough becomes fit for use, and the separated Challah is given to the Kohen. Like other forms of offerings (Terumah), the Torah does not set any minimum size for the Challah. If one forgets to “take Challah” from the dough, it must be taken from the baked bread. (Bamidbar 15:17-21) This is the traditional bread that is used today every Shabbat.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Challah 2:1) says, that when Yehoshua led the people into the land they discovered flour abandoned by the fleeing Canaanites, and then combined some with water to make a dough. “And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after Pesach, matzot and parched grain, on that same day” (Yehoshua 5:11).
This scripture section ends with a further provision in the form of the tzitzits, which were to serve as a continual reminder of His commandments. These were provisions to keep them on the path of life. In 15:37-41 Yahweh commands them to wear tzitzit (tassels - Tzitzith in Hebrew). Also see Deuteronomy 22:12.
The tzitzith-tassels consist of four strings doubled over so that eight strings appear to hang from each corner (Menachoth 39b). There is also an area where a single string is wound around the other seven, consisting of one-third of the tassel (Menachoth 39a). This must be held in place by a knot (Yevamoth 4a, b). The custom is that there be five knots and four areas of winding on each tzitzith-tassel (Targum Yonathan). The prevailing custom is that these wound areas have respectively 7, 8, 11 and 13 windings and amount to 613 altogether which is the collective amount of all the commandments in scripture.