Light from the Sidra


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

Many years ago I attended a lecture in London by Rabbi Immanuel Shochet. He argued very forcefully that Jesus could not be the Messiah because, had he been, the Jewish people would have recognised him as such. The Jewish people, said Rabbi Shochet, have “the patent” on the Messiah. They “invented” him. The fact that the Jews rejected Jesus was proof positive that he was not the Messiah. But the Rabbi also made the point that the Jewish people have always rejected God’s messengers. They rejected Moses and stoned the prophets, said Rabbi Shochet, and suggested that God “likes” the Jewish people so much precisely because they give him such a hard time. They are a challenge to him.

In Number 13, God instructs Moses to send twelve spies are into the land to report back on the military strength of the inhabitants, the economic resources of the land and whether the land is fruitful. GivenĀ  that God has already told the Israelites the land was good and that he had given it to them, we might wonder why he should tell Moses to sent men to spy out the land. Perhaps the answer is to be found in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, in which Moses tells the people that the initiative for sending the scouting party came from them. Maybe this is a case of the Lord giving the people what they want and allowing them to see the consequences of doubting what he has told them about the land.

We all know the difference between an optimist and a pessimist: an optimist sees the glass half full and the pessimist sees it half empty. And we are familiar with Frederick Langbridge’s inspirational line: “Two men looked out from prison bars/One saw mud and the other saw stars”. We see all of that in the reports of the spies: ten of them see mud’, while Caleb and Joshua see stars.

However, there is more to the reports than different temperaments. The reports reveal both faith in God and lack of it. The majority is wrong; the minority is right. And the people go with the majority. They will have forty years to reflect on their foolishness and no doubt to repent of it.

Just as they opposed Moses, they reject the message of his successor. Hoshea means, “He saved” but he is given a new name. Joshua, or Yeshua, means “Yahweh Saves”, and he would bring the people into the land.

A millennium-and-a-half later, another Yeshua would make his appearance on the stage of Jewish history, to declare that Israel’s redemption was at hand and that he was the One to accomplish that redemption. Tens of thousands of Jews both within the land of Israel and in the Diaspora would believe him but, once again, the majority would reject the message of the new Joshua. Though Israel has been in exile since then, their compassionate God has continued to preserve them in the wilderness and will yet bring the nation into an inheritance far greater than that into which the first Joshua could have done.

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