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“Faithful Few”

Numbers 13:1-15:41
Joshua 2:1-24

by Mark Huey

After our previous Torah portion, B’ha’alotkha (Numbers 8:1-12:16), where the Lord instructed Moses how to deal with some recalcitrant Israelites and even a challenge by his siblings Miriam and Aaron, the people were positioned to move forward into the Promised Land. However, as readers will see this week in Shelakh-Lekha, trust in the Lord’s promises was limited to only Joshua and Caleb—despite the requirement that all have faith in Him. By choosing one leader from each of the twelve tribes to spy out Canaan, the Lord communicated that for future generations, regardless of family heritage, it would be incumbent on everyone to trust in Him and His word:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘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’” (Numbers 13:1-2).

The memorable selection of the twelve spies by Moses is highlighted by Moses uniquely calling out Joshua as the preeminent leader among the group. Joshua had been faithfully serving Moses as a military leader (Exodus 17:9-16) and general aide throughout the early stages of the sojourn (Exodus 24:13; 32:17; 33:11; Numbers 11:28). So it was appropriate for Moses to call or proclaim Joshua’s unique status among his peers. Certainly this exemplified the principle that God-ordained leaders, such as Moses, should be able to discern who was truly serving Him, and verbally express such recognition to others in order to establish and solidify future succession in leadership:

“These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua. When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, ‘Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.’ Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes. So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, at Lebo-hamath. When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs. That place was called the valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the sons of Israel cut down from there. When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land” (Numbers 13:16-26).

After receiving a series of instructions on what to observe in Canaan, the Lord allowed the spies to spend forty days scouting out the territory. Readers might wish to note potential connections between this forty-day mission, and the forty-day flooding rain (Genesis 7:4), the forty days Moses twice spent on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28), and even the forty-day fast Yeshua had in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2-11). It is not difficult to deduce how such forty-day experiences connote an important time of action or transition in the plan of God. Paradoxically, as is later described, the punishment for lacking the faith to enter the Promised Land, regardless of the obstacles, turned the forty days into forty years of wandering! And yet, despite the bad report of the ten spies, another faithful one emerged, as Caleb boldly expressed his trust in the Lord to enter and secure the Land of Promise:

“Thus they told him, and 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.’ Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.’ So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight’” (Numbers 13:27-33).

Lamentably, because the majority report likened the Israelites to a weak horde of grasshoppers, their influence on the entire congregation was weeping for their perceived predicament and grumbling against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. What is instructive to note is just how Moses and Aaron handled the disappointment of the faithless Israelites:

“Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and 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 plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.’ Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, ‘The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.’ But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel. The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.’ But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’ So the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it’” (Numbers 14:1-24).

It is highly important to recognize that upon hearing the complaints of the congregation, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord to intercede for the people, and to appeal to Him for mercy and guidance on how to proceed. While Joshua and Caleb tore their garments in support of Moses and Aaron’s visible appeal to the Lord, Moses began to argue a case pleading with the Lord for mercy. It was in the Lord’s response to Moses that a description of a most merciful Creator God completely dispels any modern-day notion that the so-called “Old Testament God” is an angry, vindictive, and punishing tyrant. The fact, that the Almighty defined Himself as “slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” and “forgiving iniquity and transgression,” is simply an affirmation that the Holy One is loving and just. However, as was known then by the sacrificial system established—and even more so now that the ultimate sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah has taken place—God has provided means to avoid the consequences of sin. Even in our Torah portion, one finds the great example of the contrast between those who chose to follow the will of God like Caleb, versus his faithless contemporaries.

In spite of Moses and Aaron’s intercession, the Lord meted out His immediate punishment for the ten faithless spies who died in a plague, and then the lengthy forty-year demise of those twenty years and older who believed their bad report and grumbled to the Lord. However, trusting Caleb and Joshua were rewarded for their insistence that the Lord’s word to Israel was sufficient to overcome the challenges of entering the hostile territory. But note that after the word of the Lord came forth proclaiming His edict, and after the plague took the lives of the ten spies with a bad report, there was a change of heart attempting to get back in line with what the Lord had declared:

“The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the LORD, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.’” As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land. When Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, ‘Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.’ But Moses said, ‘Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the LORD, when it will not succeed? Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the LORD is not among you. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned back from following the LORD. And the LORD will not be with you.’ But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah” (Numbers 14:26-45).

Despite confessing to the Lord that they had sinned against His promises, the Ancient Israelites attempted to regain His favor by trying to enter the Promised Land without His protection. Moses warned them that because of what had just transpired, it was not time to march into the Canaan, and consequently, those who attempted to enter the hill country did not have the Ark of the Covenant and were roundly defeated. The great lesson to take from this is that after one has clearly sinned and come against the will of the Maker, it is much more prudent to wait upon Him for further guidance rather than strike out in the flesh to try and make restitution. Clearly, the Lord wanted His people to be dependent upon Him, and if they moved forward in their own strength apart from His blessing of the Lord—the consequences can be extremely painful.

After the rout of Israel by the Amalekites and Canaanites, the Lord reminded the Ancient Israelites of the need to make sacrificial offerings to Him upon entering the Promised Land. This is one of the several places within the Torah, where the same instructions were to be followed by both the native of Israel and the sojourner who entered in. This would have been especially important to emphasize, given the possibility of a non-native sojourner being treated a bit differently than a native Israelite:

“All who are native shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD. If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do. As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you” (Numbers 15:13-16).

This instruction continues, as the first of one’s dough was to be offered before the Lord. Provisions are seen for unintentionally omitting this practice by congregational sacrifices—and the principle extends out to all unintentional offenses against Moses’ Teaching. Such sacrifices were to be applicable to both the native Israelites and sojourners, and with them receiving forgiveness via the same animal sacrifice, there is definitely the impetus that all within the community of Israel were to learn from and follow the Torah:

“From the first of your dough you shall give to the LORD an offering throughout your generations. But when you unwittingly fail and do not observe all these commandments, which the LORD has spoken to Moses, even all that the LORD has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the LORD gave commandment and onward throughout your generations, then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering. Then the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and they will be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their error. So all the congregation of the sons of Israel will be forgiven, with the alien who sojourns among them, for it happened to all the people through error. Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him” (Numbers 15:21-31).

The challenge, in this part of the Torah, is not in encountering how there was a sacrifice for unintentional sin available for the native and sojourner; the challenge is how there was no sacrifice for intentional sin. An example that immediately follows is when someone was caught gathering wood on Shabbat, and was stoned to death. Following this is an injunction that the people were to wear tassels or tzitzit (singular), so that they might not forget the need to observe God’s commandments:

“Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the LORD your God’” (Numbers 15:32-41).

Serious defiance demands serious consequences. In this case, the entire congregation participated in the capital punishment of the transgressor. One can certainly understand the need for those of the community of Israel to have a physical reminder on their clothing to direct their attention to keep commandments.

In the post-resurrection era, each Believer of the Messiah Yeshua should be immensely thankful that the Torah’s capital penalties were absorbed onto Himself at Golgotha (Colossians 2:14). As those who have been decisively born from above, the indwelling Spirit of God is to supernaturally transcribe His commandments onto our hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17). While the discipline of wearing tassels on one’s garments is something that can be greatly beneficial for Messiah’s followers, at best it is a human reminder of the need to obey God—but it cannot at all replace the supernatural compulsion of the Spirit to obey—and especially the circumcision of a new heart of flesh required for eternal redemption.

With examples like Joshua and Caleb, who we are considering this week—not to mention all of the other faithful saints who have preceded us down through the centuries—modern-day followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have much to not only live for, but to live up to. May we be among those who possess the strongest trust in Him!

This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope, Volume III by William Mark Huey.