One of the moist tragic episodes in Israel’s history is described in Numbers 13. The Jewish people sent 12 spies to the land of Israel to reconnoiter the territory. At the conclusion of their mission the spies split into two camps. 10 of the men brought back a discouraging report to the nation. They convinced the people that the inhabitants of the land are too powerful and that the Jewish people are incapable of capturing the country. The other two men, Joshua and Caleb, vehemently disagreed with the assessment of their comrades. They attempted to convince the people that it is entirely within their capability to inherit the land.
The nation as a whole accepted the discouraging report of the ten and they despaired of their ability to enter the land of Israel. The prophetic narrative tells us that Israel’s despair was a rebellion against God and God punished the people for this rebellion (Psalm 106:27). But Caleb was not punished for this rebellion. God points to Caleb’s spirit as an example of loyalty to God.
What was the dividing line between the spirit of Caleb and the spirit of those who opposed him? Why is Caleb’s spirit the spirit of loyalty while the spirit of those who despaired of capturing the land a spirit of rebellion?
It all boils down to trust. God took the people out of Egypt and He said that they will inherit the Land of Israel. Perhaps it didn’t make sense on paper. The armies of the Canaanites may have been stronger than those of the Israelites. The defenses of the fortified cities may have been impenetrable to the Jewish army who did not possess the necessary weapons to overcome such obstacles. But those are human calculations. These are not the calculations of a heart that trusts in God.
Those who trust in God do not calculate. They trust in God’s goodness and are tranquil in that trust. Caleb did not see obstacles. He saw God’s word, he saw God’s plan and He trusted in God’s goodness. This is the spirit of loyalty to God.
We can take Caleb’s lesson to heart in the age-old argument between Paul and the Jewish people.
God gave us a Law through His trusted prophet. God assured us that this Law is the path to life and to all goodness (Deuteronomy 30:15; Psalm 19:8). Paul brings us a message of despair. He tells us that the plan that God mapped out for us is fraught with obstacles. Paul argued that it is impossible for man to inherit the land by following God’s Law.
The spirit of Caleb would have us reject Paul’s message of despair. Caleb’s example of loyalty to God would have us tell Paul; “we can indeed arise and inherit it, it is within our capabilities! God is with us, we have nothing to fear!”
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
Wow, that is a remarkable comparison, Rabbi. Thank you. I never thought of Paul’s comments in quite that light before.
Many Christians would see it not as a contrast between doubt and faith, but rather between humility and pride.
Christians have also simply shifted their trust from God to Jesus and the power of the cross. In a way Christians make the same mistake. They trust their conclusions more than they trust in God.
Also, would you say love does need to calculate whether the object of love is trustworthy to start with? Christians need to calculate whether the one they are loving should be accepted as ‘God’ and ‘saviour’. Even Jews need to calculate whether our Creator really cares about our consciousness, our feelings, our lives; really desires our worship and commands anything from us; really gave Israel a heritage directly from His ‘heart’. Without that knowledge there can be no place for such love or trust.
It is also worth remembering though that even when the trustworthiness is established, trust can still be difficult and attacked by distractions.
Some of the wayward Israelites eventually did worship the ark itself just as others worshipped the “healing snake”. The way to healing or to God became their god. So too, in the earliest years of Christianity, Jesus was considered to be the “way”. A way to a destination is only a “method”, a temporary guideline. A “means” and not an end. A way is not the same as the destination that some people assume the path or way will lead them to. A path to a goal does not make the path the goal. An idol (like a gold calf filled with “the holy spirit) is a way to the god. The normal idol is only a path to, and a representation of (perhaps incarnation of ) the pagan god, it is not the god, although simpler minds confuse the idol with the god and begin to worship the idol as their god.
Some ancient Greeks (Christians and many Hellenized Jews), believed in a “gnosticism”. They believed that the “path to their god” was like a ladder that you climbed to higher and higher levels of spirituality, but no one could get to the god unless the logos (wisdom personified or the word in John 1), like a gatekeeper to the holy gates of heaven, allowed you through to their god. Later, when early Christians made Jesus into their god, “Saint Peter” eventually replaced Jesus as the gatekeeper at the “pearly gates to heaven”.
Well said! It is the destination, not the vehicle!
The moral despair Paul expresses because he wants to keep the Law but feels that he can’t is most un-Jewish and anti-Scriptural. Hebrew Scripture always holds out the hope of forgiveness through prayer and repentance and presents the idea that God doesn’t expect perfection, knowing that we are but flesh.
The idea of “all or nothing,” the temptation to give up or find the easy way out, is what we call “atzas yetzer hara” (advice of the evil inclination).
And what is Christianity if not the easy way out?
Well said, Dina. If one compared Psalm 19 or, better yet, 119 with the writings of Paul, one would be amazed at the gulf that separates the two men in regard to Torah.
Reblogged this on 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources.