Parashah Shelach Lecha (send for yourself) Numbers 13-15

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?

Parashah Mikketz (and it came to pass) Genesis 41 – 44:17

Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, who has had the dreams of the 7 good cows and the 7 bad cows, and the 7 good ears of corn and the 7 bad ears of corn. Joseph interprets the dreams and even tells Pharaoh the best way to prepare for the famine to come.

Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s ability to plan and organize, and immediately promotes him from Buck Private to Executive Officer over the entire land of Egypt. Joseph efficiently does what he said should be done and there is so much grain in the storehouses it can’t be measured. Then the famine comes, just as God had foretold through Joseph’s interpretation, and the land of Egypt is the only place in the world there is food.

Jacob hears of the food available in Egypt and sends his sons, all but Benjamin, to get food to keep them all alive. As they come to buy, Joseph is over-seeing the sales and making sure that everyone coming into the country is there peacefully. He sees his brothers, but they can’t recognize him; he is dressed as an Egyptian, speaks Egyptian and is the Grand Vizier- even if they thought he looked familiar, how they possibly even think that it could be their Hebrew brother running the entire land of Egypt?  They don’t know it’s Joseph, but Joseph knows it’s them. He treats them badly, accusing them of spying, and ends up keeping Simeon as a hostage until they verify their story about having another brother by bringing Benjamin to him.

Jacob is adamant that Benjamin not go anywhere, but when there is no food he has to relent. Reuben offers up his own two sons as collateral, but it is Judah’s promise to watch over Benjamin that Jacob accepts as trustworthy. They go back with Benjamin and Joseph treats them well, feeds them in his own house, then sets them up so that it appears Benjamin has stolen from him. The parashah ends with Benjamin found out a thief and to be held forever as the slave of Joseph.

Some people always try to demean and debunk the bible as nothing more than a storybook, but the details and historical accuracy of how Egyptians lived, the gold necklace, the re-naming of Joseph, all the details in this parashah indicate this is an historically and culturally accurate accounting.

Joseph is demonstrating here what Yeshua said to His Disciples in Mattitayu 10:16:

Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

He is testing the brothers to see if they have learned their lesson regarding the way they treated Joseph. He already has remembered his dreams of the brothers bowing down to him, as they were right then and there doing exactly that same thing. He has overcome in many ways the pain and suffering he felt, which we can see in how he named his children. His shrewdness is demonstrated in that he did not reveal himself, giving the brothers the chance to act sorry and ask forgiveness simply because of Josephs’ powerful position. He didn’t speak Hebrew, he acted totally Egyptian, and in an instant he planned out how to test their loyalty to Jacob and their love for Benjamin. He remembered their jealousy of him, and I think he reconciled it not to his own actions but to the favoritism he received from Jacob as the son of Rachel. Maybe Joseph was testing the brother’s loyalty and protection of Benjamin, the only other child Rachel had, because he might have thought they would have the same hatred and jealousy of Benjamin they had for him.

Joseph was very shrewd, and yet we see he was also very gentle. Even though he accused them of being spies and talked roughly with them (essentially he gave them the “third degree”) he supplied them with the food they needed as they returned to bring Benjamin to him. Returning their money, I believe, was out of kindness- although it made it even harder for them to return because they were afraid that Joseph would not only think them spies but thieves, as well, having taken the food without paying for it. I don’t get that part- they had to have given the money when they received the food, and if it was in their packs later I would think they would wonder how anyone could possibly know they didn’t pay for the food. If someone who was responsible for giving out the food allowed them to get food without paying, that person was in trouble, not them. I guess this shows how people can be fearful even when there is nothing to be afraid of. Or, perhaps, they were concerned because they really thought this was God’s doing, as is evident in the way they talked to each other when Joseph was accusing them. They said it was the recompense and justice they deserved for what they did to Joseph, and God was bringing this down on their heads. Perhaps, even though there was no way the Egyptians could have known they didn’t pay, they figured they would know, anyway, since God is bringing this about.

We don’t see the fullness of Joseph’s acting gentle with them until the next parasha, but the lesson here is that we should be forgiving of those that harm us, even if they don’t care whether we forgive them or not. In fact, forgiveness has nothing to do with what the sinner feels. Joseph named his children Manasseh (God has made me forget all the trouble I have gone through) and Ephraim (God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction), demonstrating his acceptance of his life in Egypt and having forgotten the painful way he got there. He had already forgiven his brothers, he was gentle with them in his “mistreatment” because he wasn’t being vengeful, he was only testing them.

God tests us, too, and just as Joseph’s apparent cruelty was only an act, when we suffer through testing, God is not angry or vengeful, He is lovingly watching what we do so He can be ready to reward us when we pass the testing. He wants us to pass, He wants us to do what He has told us we should do, and when we fail, I am sure He is disappointed, but already thinking of a testing that is less harsh. We must pass through the fire to become purified, and if there is so much dross in us that we can’t be purified in a single testing, then we will go through the fire over and over and over until we are pure.  God is doing this to us out of love: we need to remember that when it feels more like punishment.

Joseph is showing us that we can forgive but still be wary; we can allow others back into our lives when they are repentant but we don’t have to trust them again until they prove their worth. Joseph had forgiven his brothers, but he needed to give them the opportunity to prove their repentance and trustworthiness so he could not just forgive, but accept them back into his life.

If there is someone who has done you wrong, do not wait for them to ask forgiveness- forgive them now. Remember what David said, even after he committed adultery with Bat Sheba and then planned Uriah’s death to cover it up: he said (in Psalm 51) that his sin was against God, and against God alone. The sin we commit may seem to be against someone, but it is really against God, and every single sin we commit has to be reconciled with God. When God forgives us, we are spiritually “saved” from the consequences. We will always, and I mean always, suffer the consequences of the sins we commit in the physical world, and we still need to ask those we sin against to forgive us.

Here’s the way forgiveness works: the only forgiveness that counts is the forgiveness we receive from God. That’s because we are not commanded to ask forgiveness, we are commanded to forgive. What that means is that if you sin against someone, you need to get yourself right with God first, then you can ask that person for forgiveness. However, it doesn’t really matter (from a spiritual viewpoint) if they forgive you or not. If they do, they are then making themselves right with God; if they don’t, they are sinning against God! To forgive is a commandment. If you feel someone doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, you are placing yourself above God! If God is willing to forgive, then you better be willing to forgive, too. Your willingness to forgive someone is between you and God- they are out of the equation. Once they sinned against you, they’re no longer important- now it is between you and God, and He wants you to forgive them. As for God forgiving them, well, that’s between them and God, and you have no part of that.

You know, we can learn a lot from from Joseph about forgiveness, and also about accepting where God has placed you.