Torah Portion for week 37: Numbers 13 – 15
Shlach (Send for yourself)
What are we to do when, by all appearances, God has given us a “mission impossible” – an unreasonable demand that, given our circumstances, our personality, or our lack of resources, we simply cannot be expected to fulfill?
Welcome to Kadesh Barnea! From this place the Lord ordered Moses to send out twelve spies into the Land of Canaan, each a leader in his respective tribe and together representatives of the people as a whole. Their task was to report back on both the quality of the land and the strength of the people whom they needed to overcome in the conquest.
We might ask, “Why was it necessary to send the spies?” God had repeatedly assured Israel that the land of promise was “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exod 3:8). And he had promised to give Israel total victory over all who opposed them. He said, “For I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you” (Exod 23:31b). Why didn’t God simply order the armies of Israel to attack without this seemingly unnecessary delay?
God does not desire blind faith, a leap-in-the-dark mentality that ignores or even denies reality. He doesn’t call on Israel, or on us, to lower the bar of faith and to pretend that the forces that oppose us aren’t so bad after all. On the contrary, through the twelve spies God forces Israel to confront the overwhelming odds that they face in taking the land. Those same spies had testified that God’s promises concerning the good land were completely true. But would they – could they – trust God to fulfill his promises concerning the conquest of the land, in spite of the giants and fortresses that they had seen there?
The God of Israel had already vanquished Egypt, the greatest empire of that day with the mightiest army, and he had led his people triumphantly to the edge of the promised land. He had faithfully provided for every need of many more than 600,000 Israelites during their year-long sojourn in the barren wilderness of Sinai.
God had shown himself trustworthy in every way, and yet the nation refused to trust him now; as a result, God condemned that generation to death in the wilderness (14:22-24). As a final act of rebellion, the people attempted to reverse their fate by launching a desperate attack on their own, but God was not with them and they were soundly defeated (14:39-45).
The colossal failure of faith at Kadesh Barnea became the classic example of rebellion against God, and is recalled repeatedly in the Scriptures, including Psalm 95 and the book of Hebrews, chapters 3 – 4. There we, as believers in the Messiah Yeshua, are called on not to retreat from our absolute confidence in our Savior, who has already conquered the two most powerful enemies – sin and death – for us: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Heb 4:9-11). “For we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb 4:3a).
Our society and culture may pressure us to compromise and even deny our faith, to conform our ways to the standards of the world and to take comfort in its company; but Yeshua the Messiah wants us to trust him to overcome all opposition and to lead us into the greater rest and blessing that only he can provide. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Heb 4:14).
Every situation that we face is a “giant,” a “mission impossible,” if we judge it by God’s standard of victory. There is no way that we can respond to the daily challenges and pressures of our world and truly reflect the character and ways of God perfectly in our own strength. As someone has said, “Living for the Lord is not difficult, it’s impossible! Only God himself can do it!”
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Our all-powerful God is intent on leading us in total victory daily, no matter what “giants” we may be facing. And as we rely on his unlimited strength and obey his voice, he will bring us into his promised blessing, that we might “inherit the land” with him.