The temptation of the desert
Shelach L’Kha (Send on your behalf) Numbers/B’midbar 13:1-15:41
Haftorah Reading: Joshua 2:1-24
Messianic Scripture Hebrews 3:7-19
Today we look at one of the most difficult passages we will study all year. It is not difficult because of grammar or use of unfamiliar words. Rather it is difficult to understand because we, looking at it in hindsight, wonder how could these ten men, leaders of the tribes, have made such a serious mistake. How could they have erred in their conclusions? Remember, these men had all seen G-d deliver Israel from Egypt. They had seen the army of Egypt drowned in the Sea while they walked through on dry ground. They sung with all Israel the song of triumph when they were delivered in Exodus 15:1-18. They were all present when G-d came down on the mountain and spoke to them and gave them the Torah.
Yet, here we see these men, ten of the twelve sent, coming back from spying out the Promised Land, bringing a bad report to the people, saying this was too hard. They said Israel could not succeed in taking possession of the land that G-d had promised them. Why, what would have caused them to fail this test of faith and condemn their children to spend another forty years in the desert?
I would like us to spend some time on this and see what we can come to that might help us to not fall into the same trap as these men. Maybe they were realists. They looked at the facts and concluded that it was impossible for a band of former slaves to succeed in taking the land. Maybe their realism made no room for faith.
Another reason might be in the desert life was not easy but it was okay. G-d fed them manna each day. They were able to see the Mishkan and the cloud of glory over it every day. Here there was no real danger of war. In Israel they would have to plough the land, plant seeds, gather the harvest, set up an army and fight wars. In other words, they would become a nation living in the real world. So desert life was much less complicated.
I expect staying in the desert was very tempting. We might have made the same choice or maybe we are making that same choice today in our world. The problem is, that is not what G-d called Israel to be or do. G-d’s purpose for all of us has been and still is to bring His Presence into our everyday life. It is easier to stay in seclusion or to only associate with people who think and live the same as us. But we are called to more than that. Israel was and is called to more than living in a desert with G-d providing everything. Faith is not stretched when G-d gives you a visual everyday of when to move and when to stay still.
Sometimes it is hard to find G-d in the office or at work. It is hard to find Him in the darkness of the world but that is exactly what we are called to do, be His light to the world. We are to create space for Him wherever we are. This may have been the ten spies problem. It may be what they failed to understand. Their bad report condemned an entire generation to wander in the desert for forty years.
However, in this sad story, we also see the sun shine through. In chapter 15 beginning with the first verse, we see a sudden change of subject. We see the narrative change from no hope to one of hope. In this chapter G-d directs Moshe to tell the people about the laws that will apply when they enter the land. We read of the different offerings to be brought when the people come to the Mishkan. What do we see in this chapter? G-d’s purpose has not changed. It has been delayed but the goal is still the same. His promises have not been broken. He is faithful. He was still there with them. We, as they, have not been forgotten. He still has work for us to do. Our lives still have purpose. What a wonderful promise. All of us have times when we miss the mark, when we sin. However, G-d is there to pick us up and bring us back to His path.
I pray each of us can find peace through these verses. G-d does not forget us when we miss the point. He gives us the opportunity to repent and move on with Him. Bless each of you in your life. Don’t get bogged down in things of no importance. Keep your eyes on Him., He is forever faithful.