“The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. Numbers 13:32
Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat in the West Bank gives a brilliant teaching on this portion of scripture. For those not familiar, we are coming upon the story of Moses commanding a group of 12 to scout out the Promised Land. Upon returning from the 40-day journey, the scouts come back with an awesome report of the land’s produce, but 10 of the 12 give a very pessimistic and fearful report of the inhabitants.
“There we saw the giants who were the children of giants; we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so were we in their eyes.” Upon the Israelites hearing this report, fear and despair spread like wildfire. Observing this reaction, God sentences them to roam another 40 years in the wilderness since they fail to have faith in God’s ability to give them the land.
Here’s where Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s brilliant commentary on this verse comes into play. The sin of the scouts is not found in what they said but in the order they delivered it. They began well – “we came to the land…it flows with milk and honey” (v. 27)–butended their report with defeat – “[it's] a land that devours its inhabitants” (v. 32).
When God places within our hearts a calling, adversity and resistance will soon follow. The book of Romans explains this process: suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.
There was nothing wrong with the Israelite spies being honest about the challenges that lay ahead of them (i.e. these are some big fellows we’re gonna fight!). Accurate assessment of costs/sacrifices is a crucial step in our life’s journey.
Sin is not found in us expressing our fears and anxieties. We’re encouraged to “cast [our] cares upon God for He cares for [us]” (Ps. 55:22). Sin is found when we end with fear and anxiety rather than with faith and thanksgiving in God’s character to deliver us into His promises. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin states, “It’s not what you say – it’s the order in which you say it.”