The children of Israel have been in the desert for more than 2 years, and they are now just outside the Promised Land. Moses is set to enter and take possession, but the people suggest he send spies to reconnoiter the land before they go in. Moses agrees and 12 leading men, one from each tribe, are chosen. They stay in the land for 40 days, then return with a report about how wonderful the land is. However, they then say they saw the Nephalim (a race of giants) and the people living there are fierce with well protected cities, so their report turns to a sorrowful cry of certain defeat. Only Caleb (from Judah) and Joshua (from Ephraim) are ready and willing to attack.
God hears this rebellion and is ready to strike them all down. He says He will make a nation from Moses’s seed (this isn’t the first time this was His desire) but Moses intercedes (again) and God relents destroying them (although He does kill the 10 spies that spread the bad report by a plague.) However, their sin doesn’t go unpunished. God tells them that since they cried their children would be taken as slaves and they would rather die in the desert, God says they will, indeed, die in the desert. They will be wandering for 40 years (one year in the desert for each day they spent in the land), and their children who they said would be slaves will be conquerors. Hearing this dismal decree, the people follow one bad idea with a worse one: they decide to attack, even though Moses says God will not be with them- God has decided this generation will not enter the land, and true to form, they reject His word (again) and attack. But they are attacking without Moses, Aaron, the Ark, and most importantly, without God, so they get their tuchas’ beaten. Beaten so badly, in fact, that it takes an entire generation to build up enough men of fighting age to be able to attack their enemies.
The last chapter seems out of place, as God is telling Moses what the people should do once they are in the land, but it is not really out of place when you consider that despite the judgment against them, God reminds them that they will be entering the land; not this generation but the next one, and when they do they need to honor and thank God with the sacrifices He is telling them about now. It is an instruction that confirms God’s promise that Israel will, eventually, be in the land.
This parashah is an easy one for me to talk about. The lesson is abundantly clear: what God says to do, we should do, and what God says not to do, we shouldn’t do.
There is, of course, a lot more in here for us to learn about: God’s forgiveness in the midst of His terrible anger, God’s promises will be fulfilled despite what we want, how Moses is humble and his love for his people is overwhelming, even turning the heart of God to forgiveness from His righteous anger. All of this is important stuff, and good fodder for a sermon. But not today.
God has His plans, we have Free Will so we can choose to obey or disobey Him. When we obey what He has planned for us, miracles happen. When we choose to disobey Him, we royally screw ourselves up. And why do we do that? I mean, why do we turn from God? In the bible we see that during the past two years He’d shown the Israelites that He could provide food from heaven, water from rocks, He protected them from their enemies and kept them healthy and secure in one of the the worst climates in the world! Yet, still, they didn’t trust that He could help them overcome their enemies in the land He promised to give them. Oy! And don’t we do the same thing, today?
We need to realize that we are in control of ourselves, but God is in control of everything, so He is the one to trust. We get used to good things, we get enured to miracles, we get puffed-up in ourselves and ungrateful if something wonderful is done for us more than once or twice. Basically, we learn to expect goodness and, as the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
That’s why, in Numbers 14:11, God says to Moses:
And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?
God asks why the people despise Him- He was feeling unwanted, hated and treated with contempt. And you know what? He was right. That’s exactly how they treated Him.
The question you might be asking now is how could they have done that? How could they be that way?
But that is the wrong question to be asking: the question we all should be asking is, “How many times have I done this?”
Yes…how many times have I, you, we treated God with contempt? Don’t we treat Him contemptuously when we refuse to do as He says? Don’t we show contempt for God when we show contempt for His commandments? And worse than individuals doing this, how many religions do this as dogma? How many Christian churches have taught the Old Covenant is not for them? How many times have you heard someone say the Torah was completed in Jesus so it is no longer valid because we are now under the Blood of Christ? If that was true, if Jesus really did overrule His Father’s commandments with His death, then that means Jesus also showed contempt for His own Father, and preached repealing the commandments of God!
That doesn’t sound very “Christ-like”, does it?
We need to remind ourselves, every minute of every day, how wonderful God’s treatment of us is, how many blessings He pours down on us (most, if not all, we don’t deserve) and how miraculous events occur every day. When we fail to do this, we fail to be as thankful as we should be, and that leads, inexorably, to showing contempt for God.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want God to think, even for a nano-second, that I don’t appreciate everything He has done, is doing and has planned for me.
Many people I’ve met have been taught that because Jesus died for their sins they are going to heaven, so they live their life without regard for Torah, for the bible, or for anyone else. They have been taught they are “saved” because Jesus “accomplished it all on the Cross.” And they never spend even one minute of their time getting to know God or Jesus on their own. So, by choosing to believe what they have been told as Prima Facie fact, they are demonstrating contempt for God because they have rejected His commandments, and that rejection means the blood of Messiah, which was shed for them, is being trampled into the dirt.
Here’s the tough question you need to ask yourself: am I doing this, too?