This is where we learn why the Jewish people wandered forty years in the desert. The Lord orders Moshe to send out one prince from each tribe to spy out the land of Canaan. When the 12 men return, all except Caleb and Joshua report that it is too well fortified, the people are fierce and the Anakim, the race of giants that Jewish mythology says are the children of (fallen) angels that took human wives, are there, too. The people grumble and moan, depressed and frightened that they will die (geeze- will they ever learn?) so they organize against Moshe and Aaron. Again.
God is really fed up with these stiff-necked people and, again, tells Moshe to get away from them for He will destroy them and make a nation out of Moses, but Moses intercedes and saves the people by reminding God of His own words- that He is forgiving and compassionate. Moses also brings a good logical argument that if God destroys the people then the other nations will think less of God’s power and might. In other words, destroying the people will not bring God honor or respect. So God sends a plague to kill the 10 spies who caused this sin.
Now the people, told that because of their stubborn and faithless actions they will have to spend 1 year wandering in the desert for every day the spies were in the land (hence the forty years), decide that they were wrong to kvetch and without first asking for the Lord’s forgiveness, and for His favor and for His protection, take it upon themselves to again disobey the Lord and ignore Him by trying to conquer the land.
Ever wonder what would have happened if they had done as they should? What if they had gone to Moses, asked him to intercede (they probably didn’t know he already saved their collective butts) and offered sacrifice to God at the Tabernacle as a congregational sin sacrifice? Would God have forgiven them and then allowed them to enter the Land?
Whatever might have happened had they done that, they didn’t, and so they go to war on their own and, well, that doesn’t work out too well for them; in fact, they suffer such a terrible defeat they are pushed all the way back to their last victory, Hormah, and are so badly beaten that they really don’t have any military left. They don’t have another military encounter for 38 years (give or take.)
After God passes judgement, the next and last part of this parashah is a restatement of the regulations regarding sacrifices. It seems strange, doesn’t it? I mean, they just found out they will not enter this land for forty years and all that are over 20 years of age will die in the desert, but God is telling them how to present the sacrifice when they are living in the land. I am not sure why this is here, but I agree with what the Chumash says, that this is a comforting statement, intimating that they will be entering the land, eventually.
I think this is a good lesson for us, to know we can always believe that whatever God says will be, is already history. That’s how He rolls. Here, in the midst of rebellion and defeat, God doesn’t dwell on the present but moves on to the future. He has decreed their punishment, and now it is time to get ready for the end of that punishment. You’ll be wandering for forty years- to God, that’s nothing. He isn’t thinking on that anymore, it’s done- now we plan for when you enter the land.
That’s called forgive and forget- we don’t do that. We may say we forgive and forget, but we don’t really forget what we forgave, do we? God forgets our sins, so that they are as far from Him (and us) as the East is from the West. The people sinned against the Lord, He decreed His punishment, and to Him it was done. Now He has forgotten their sin and is telling them how to enter the land. To the people it’s something that they won’t even be able to do, since the punishment is that most who are able to hear and understand will be dead before this is possible. But that doesn’t matter to God- He is telling them what they must do, so they can teach their children. It’s the children that will be entering the land, and another lesson for us is that we must teach our children what to do so when God calls on them, they will be ready.
God has decreed, and it is done. Not just what happens now, but what will happen; to the Lord, it is already completed.
That’s where we gain strength for our faith. We can see that everything the Lord declares, decrees and decides to be, is as trustworthy and dependable as if it were already completed. Essentially, we should have complete trust in God because for thousands of years we can study and know the historical proof of this statement:
Whatever God says will be, is.
That’s the lesson for today. Remember this truth, trust in it, put your faith in God to always do as He says and that whatever He says will be, will be. And don’t expect it to be when you want- it’s all about the Lord, and it will be at His good time, when He is ready, which will always be at the exact right time. It may be immediate (as the punishment of the 10 spies was immediate), it may be forty years later, it may not even happen in your lifetime. That’s no reason not to trust Him. In fact, that is more reason TO trust Him- He will not be distracted from His promise and His plans. True, He may swerve now and then, such as not destroying the people (more than once) because of the earnest prayer of one man interceding, or He may relent on punishing (as he did for Nineveh when Jonah preached the coming judgement) if we are repentant and humble before Him. But, overall, what He says He will do, He will do. And what He says will be is a certain as if it already had happened.
Take strength in that when you feel your faith waning. Remember, always, that God is faithful to be trusted and trustworthy to be faithful. He will forgive and forget, He will be compassionate and understanding, and He will judge rightly without respect for the rich or sympathy for the poor. He will judge each as they deserve based on their heart and their actions, not based on their economic position or social status. He is fair and just, and that should be a frightening thought to all of us.
One last thought: how do you think the children, those under 20 but old enough to understand what God’s punishment meant, felt like when they heard it? Here you are, a teenager thinking you will finally get to live somewhere with a house, fields and all the food and drink you want, and you are told to wait 40 years! When you were 12 or 16, how long did 40 years seem to you? I remember that 1 year was a lifetime to me back then. The adults probably took some consolation knowing their children would be in the land, but I don’t the kiddies really appreciated it that much.
Just something to think about.