The next Torah portion is called “Shelach Lecha” which means “Send For Yourself.” It goes from Num 13.1 to 15.41. Throughout this portion, there is one concept that will stick out, and that concept is ‘Choices.” Israel will be given choices. They were asked to believe that the land was good, so the Lord told them to send people out to get a layout of the land. That is not a bad idea in and of itself.
Now, you should see right away that in the title of the portion we have the “shelach” which means to “send out.” This word is related to the word “shaliach” which means an “agent or a sent one.” This is not a bad idea to seek out some information. God is sending them out to do just that. Strategic information is necessary. The problem is they don’t trust the Lord here. They will use the results of the information to determine whether they could take the land or not. But God had already given them the land, that was not the issue. Later in Josh 2, they went in to look for the best method to take the land. They had learned their lesson.
We will notice right away that those sent in were not spies as some believe. There is no mention of the word “meragei” (spy) in any form in this Torah portion. We have all heard this portion referred to as “The Twelve Spies” but that is not true. They were sent in to “tour” and “explore” the land, but not like spies. There was no need for that type of operation because God already knew everything about the land. They were to travel through it like a tourist. They were shaliachim (apostles) sent by the Lord.
In verse 2 it is translated as “spy” but that word in Hebrew is “tur” and it carries the meaning of a “scout, explorer or guide.” After that, they were to come back with good impressions and reports about all the advantages and beauty of the land. However, we have something very interesting here. Usually we find God’s commands were for the “glory of heaven” or for “the sake of the fathers.” But this is not a command, but given in the sense of “If you want to” and that is why it is given with the personal touch of “for yourself?” God gave them permission to go in to check things out if they wanted to. But, there must be a balance between trust and human effort. Moses thought it was a good idea.
They went in to satisfy their own ego and they were arrogant, They were already negative and had been complaining about going into the land since they left Egypt, and they were going to see what they wanted to see. The mission was fueled by self-fulfillment and it was doomed from the start. Human opinions are tainted and selfishness was involved. The Lord didn’t need scouts, explorers or guides.
What were the disadvantages of not sending them? Maybe they were thinking that future generations would not know how strong the Canaanites were, or maybe they would think that Moses was hiding something. Maybe he thought that once they saw the land they would joyfully go in. That sounds good and maybe there were some good intentions, but that is not what happened.
The people that were sent in were all upright and princes among their tribe (v 3). What in the world made those men act the way they did later? We do know that honest and decent people become corrupt as a result of attaining positions of authority. This situation here is not unique.
One of the men sent in was “Hoshea the son of Nun.” In Hebrew it is “Hoshea Bin Nun” not “Ben Nun.” This may have been a nickname, hinting at his wisdom and understanding. Bin is from the root “binah” meaning understanding. This alludes to the fact that God “took away” from the full “ben” (son) relationship with his father to show that he had an even greater relationship with his spiritual father Yehovah. In fact, “Yeho” is added to his name in verse 16 by Moses and it is now said “Yehoshua.” This is a form of the name “Yeshua.”
Moses sent the twelve scouts to go in and look at the land from Kadesh Barnea (Josh 14.1). They were commissioned to find out the following things (v 18-20). First, what was the land like. Second, to see if the people were strong or weak. Third, how many were there. Fourth, is the land good or bad. Fifth, are the cities open camps or fortified. Sixth, is the land fat or lean. Lastly, were there trees (for building and fruit trees) in it or not. So, questions one, four, six and seven were about the land.
Num 13.21-23 tells us that they came to the Valley of Eshcol (Valley of Clusters) and they cut down a single cluster of grapes and two men had to carry it. This is very meaning ful in Hebrew because the phrase “single cluster” is “eshcol echad” meaning a composite unity. This alludes to the Messiah and his people (John 15.8). It shows we are in the Messiah and are a composite unity. Echad is also used to describe God in the Shema, “Shema Israel, Yehovah eloheynu, Yehovah echad.” The two men carrying the cluster of grapes is also the symbol of the Israeli tourist bureau. They are saying, “Come explore the land.” But, it also symbolizes a “bad report” because it was these men who gave this cluster of grapes that caused so much trouble.
In Num 13.25-33 we have the root of the problem when they returned. Some of the men said that the land was good and had “fruit.” Then we come to Num 13.28 and the word “nevertheless” is used, and that is a key word. They begin to describe the people and how strong they were, and how they fortified the cities. They also said they saw the “Nephilim, the sons of Anak.” In addition, the saw the Amalekites (, the Hittites (terror), the Jebusites (trodden down) and the Amorites (sayers).
Now, one of the men sent in was Caleb, the son of Jephunnah, a Kenizzite (Num 13.6; Josh 14.14). He was descended from Kenaz, a son of Eliphaz, a descendant of Esau (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 627). We will have more on him later. He silenced the people before Moses (so Moses could speak) and said they should go up to take the land. But ten others (not Joshua) said they were not able to go up against the people because they were so strong (13.31). So, they gave a bad scouting report to the people. They also said “There also we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim, and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and we were in their sight.” The heart of the issue can be seen in v 32, “and all of the the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”
They saw the natural potential of the land but were unable to muster up the confidence in their own potential, in the hand of a great God, to take the land. They had forgotten all about what God did for them and what he did to the Egyptians. They lacked their own self-confidence, and they did not believe they could succeed.
So we know in Num 13.27 that some of their questions were answered about the land (1,4,6,7), but in verse 28 is the beginning of a problem as we have said. They are not being objective now, but subjective with all their fears and securities. God’s plan was to take the land (v 30) “little by little” (Exo 23.30) and not “all at once.” This is the same strategy in our own spiritual walk. God does not turn us into a “spiritual giant” overnight, so don’t let the fears and insecurities we have stop us either. Our problems may look like the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, to us but they are nothing compared to the power of God.
They forgot about the plan of God from the beginning, and in Part 13 we will pick up there.