Light from the Sidra

Shelach Lecha

Numbers 13 - 15

Do you know the difference between intentional and unintentional sin? Between wilful rebellion and accidental disobedience? According to our Sidra the difference is very important, for there was a way of atonement for unintentional sin, but not for deliberate rebellion against God’s revealed will, for which the penalty was death. The Sidra gives us an example of deliberate sin in the man who went out collecting sticks for a fire on Shabbat. The penalty was death. The man was aware of the command not to work on Shabbat and the penalty for disobedience, but he treated God’s command with contempt. There can be no clearer example of wilful rebellion; here was a person who had no regard for God’s Law and did what suited him.

It was after this incident that the LORD issued the command to wear tzitzit. They were to be worn by the men of Israel as a permanent reminder of the Instruction of God. If you know anything about stage plays you will be aware that there is always someone off the edge of the stage with the script in front of him to prompt an actor who forgets a line. The tzitzit had a similar function. They could be seen at all times, and they prompted Israel to remember what they have been taught, to obey God’s Torah. When living under such conditions, it would be presumptuous indeed to act against the Torah. It was to know what God required, but yet to say “No”.

We see another example of wilful sin in the refusal of the people to enter the Promised Land due to their fear of the Anakim. Time after time Israel had seen the mighty works of the LORD, but through unbelief they put him to the test. He had been faithful, but as soon as difficulty arose they complained and did not believe God would save them. So when they arrived at the borders to the land and heard the good report from Joshua and Caleb they should have rejoiced. When they heard the negative report from the ten spies they should have remembered that if the LORD could deliver them from Egypt, the mightiest nation on earth, he could surely save them from the giants in the land he had promised them. Instead, they complained and talked of replacing Moses with a leader who would take them back to Egypt, the house of bondage! This was wilful rebellion against God and the punishment could be nothing less than death.

It should be plain to see that one of the worst intentional sins is unbelief. That may seem surprising. Ask anyone today what constitutes intentional sin they will probably suggest Shabbat breaking, or stealing, or adultery. How many would define unbelief as a serious sin? Yet it is serious. It is an insult to the character of the LORD because it says God cannot be trusted. If someone tells you they don’t believe you, it as a serious slur on your character. It is very hurtful. It is the same with God. To say you don’t believe God is to call him a liar; it is to doubt his character and question his trustworthiness.

Which brings us to the question: Are you guilty of this sin? How many times have you refused to believe what God has revealed in Torah? Do you believe the miracles we read of in Scripture? Do you believe he made the world in six days? Do you believe the word of the LORD when he says in Leviticus 17:11 that atonement is achieved only through blood sacrifice? Do you believe his word in the prophet Isaiah 9:7 that Messiah will be called El Gibbor, the “Mighty God”?

You may respond, “That is what the Christians believe. We Jews don’t accept that Messiah will be divine”. That is not the point. The point is, what does God say? If you intentionally refuse to believe what God has plainly revealed in the Bible, you are guilty of the sin of unbelief. No Jewish person can hide behind the excuse, “Jews don’t believe…” The majority of the Jews refused to believe Joshua and Caleb and so became guilty of deliberate rejection of the word of God on two counts. Not only did the people believe the ten spies who falsely reported that the land was infertile, they also refused to believe Joshua and Caleb who said that God was with them. 

You may think that even if what Christians believe about Messiah is true, you can't be guilty of intentional sin because you have not heard these things before. But that means you are guilty of unintentional sin, for which even the rabbis admit a blood sacrifice was necessary as an atonement! On the other hand, if you already know these things, you are guilty of intentional sin, for which there is no atonement under the Law!

How hopeless we all are, for who has never committed sin intentionally at some time! We all have; so we all must die. But God has said in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that in the days of Messiah when the New Covenant is established he will forgive even intentional sins, “I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more”.

We live in those days. True Joshua – Yeshua – Jesus has come, and through him you can know the LORD’s forgiveness.

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