For the week of June 18, 2011 / 16 Sivan 5771
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 13:1 - 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24
...The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land... (Bemidbar / Numbers 13:7-9; ESV)
Last week I mentioned how the people of Israel missed their original opportunity to enter the Promised Land, then called Canaan, later called the Land of Israel. The failure of the people to trust God resulted in a delay of 38 years in which they wandered in the wilderness while almost that entire generation died out. While in the long run God's purposes were not thwarted and Israel eventually acquired the land promised to their forefathers, the generation that was delivered from slavery in Egypt failed to enter into God's purposes for their own lives.
This incident is referred to centuries later in Psalm 95, where the writer warns the people of his day to not be like the people who, in his words, hardened their hearts and failed to enter God's rest (see Tehillim / Psalm 95:7-11).
The mention of "rest" is interesting, since the conquest of Canaan was anything but restful. This leads us to see that rest is being used here, not in its most common sense of, in Webster's words, "a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities", but instead it is referring to the arrival to their destination, the receiving of their God-given inheritance.
This portion of Psalm 95 is quoted by the author of the New Covenant book of Hebrews, which is a letter written to a community of Jewish followers of Yeshua living most likely a short time before the destruction of the temple in the year 70 (see Hebrews 3:7-19). The reason for Hebrews was that this community was beginning to succumb to societal pressure and pull back from a clear, public expression of their messianic faith. As a result they were in danger of a plight similar to the people of Israel on the border of Canaan.
But what were they really in danger of? The Israelites in our Torah portion were standing at the border of the Promised Land and had to turn away from realizing their dream of acquiring their God-given home. What were the recipients of the book of Hebrews in danger of missing out on? They were at risk of losing their grasp of the greater inheritance of Israel found only in the Messiah. According to the book of Hebrews this included unrestricted access to God and participation in God's messianic mandate.
With both groups, the thing that threatened to prevent the people from entering into God's fullness for them was the fear of suffering and death. In both cases the pursuit of God's purposes would necessarily entail the encountering of great trouble and hardship. Acquiring the Promised Land meant war. Truly following Yeshua meant persecution and possible death. In both cases the intimidation of these hardships was sufficient to dissuade the majority of people from experiencing, each in their own day, the blessing and reality of God.
However, to be intimidated by these hardships reveals a great lack of understanding with regard to the reality of God. That is why Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade the people to not give into their fear. Because they truly knew God, they could trust him to take care of them even in the face of mortal challenges.
No different for the Messianic Jews centuries later and no different for all who follow Yeshua today. God has so much for his people to enter into, but it requires a confident trust in him in spite of the possible dangers.
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