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D'varim/Deuteronomy 1:22 And you approached me, all of you, and you said, "We will send men before us ..."
A number of the commentators are concerned about the way the people behaved here. As Moshe is relating the events of forty years ago to the new generation about to go into the Land, he gives us an insight that is missing from the original narrative in parasha Shlach L'kha (B'Midbar 13). There the story seems to start with Adonai telling Moshe to send men ahead of the main body of the people to spy out the Land; here we see a very different idea: the people initiated the spying mission, Moshe - misreading the people's intent - approves and Adonai permits the action while ensuring that Moshe rather than the people chooses the spies and commissions them for their task.
Rashi suggests that now the time had come to enter the Land, the people were in something of a panic. He opines that the otherwise redundant word , translated "all of you", means that the people rushed towards Moshe as a rabble, "with the young pushing the elders and the elders pushing the heads of the tribes" (see also Sifrei 20). The Sforno echoes that feeling by pointing out that although the people "had leaders that were appointed to attend to public needs, yet you all came". He adds, "Let us send men ... we will choose men and send them" to demonstrate that the people were trying to take this into their own hands, rather than letting Moshe and, more importantly, Adonai handle the matter.
A strikingly similar scenario is played out some years later when Israel demands a king. "Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and they said to him, '... Appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations'" (1 Samuel 8:4-5, NASB). Although Samuel was displeased, "the L-rd said to him, 'Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them" (1 Samuel 8:7, NASB). The people have gathered - this time in their leaders - to protest about the way the L-rd is doing things, and the L-rd permits Himself to be rejected or His judgement to be doubted.
Two further examples of crowd mentality are found in the gospels. After He had fed the five thousand, "the people saw the miracle He had performed, they said, 'This has to be the prophet who is supposed to come into the world'. Yeshua knew that they were on the point of coming and seizing Him, in order to make Him king; so He went back to the hills again" (John 6:14-15, CJB). Yeshua had to withdraw to stop the crowd forcing a political manoeuvre that would have completely wrecked His ministry. Then in the garden at Gat Sh'manim, "a large crowd carrying swords and clubs, from the head cohanim and the elders of the people" (Matthew 26:47, CJB) came to arrest Him and Yeshua submitted to them and allowed Himself to be taken away.
Time and again the Scriptures show us that "the people" or "the crowd" get it wrong and as a group are not able to discern what G-d is really up to or is trying to do. From a variety of different motives, they rush or panic into a quick - not usually thought out - plan of action. Often G-d appears to give way before the crowd, while only making a few small changes to ameliorate the situation, but then later, He is shown to have been in full control all the time. The crowd, in the meanwhile, have to face the consequences of their hasty actions and rebellion against or rejection of G-d. We need to be careful that we listen to the still small voice (1 Kings 19) and don't get swayed by the crowd mentality into letting our faith slip and disobeying G-d.
Further Study: 1 Kings 19:11-13; Zechariah 4:6
Application: It is very easy, in the heat of the moment to go along with those around you and say or do something that you would otherwise never do and later come to regret. Today, listen hard for the Ruach speaking quietly to you and make sure that you are able to stand against peer pressure in the world.
© Jonathan Allen, 2006
Comment - 27Jul06 13:00 Beth: Very relevant to today's pressure ... how often [even within the church] we are pushed to run with the hounds ... better to take a moment [or six] to wait on the Lord and check things out against His word. This was especially good for me this week ... Thank you!
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