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B'Midbar/Numbers 14:9 And you, you shall not fear the people of the land for they are our bread
With this text, we are pitched into the middle of the public argument between Joshua and Caleb - the two 'good' spies - and the other ten 'bad' spies who brought a bad report of the Land to the people. After a night of weeping, the people are proposing to return to Egypt rather than enter the Land to be - they think - destroyed by the giants who live there. Joshua and Caleb tear their clothes and try to rally the people using these words, at which "the whole community threatened to pelt them with stones" (v. 10, JPS) until the presence of the L-rd appears in the Tabernacle to stop the fight.
The sentence starts with the word , "and you", that, according to Jacob Milgrom "implies that others may have cause to fear these nations but not Israel". Since Hebrew syntax does not allow a formal negative imperative, this is followed by the negative particle 'not' and the verb - the Qal 2mp prefix form of the root , to fear or be afraid of - which combine as "you shall not fear".Hirsch comments, "Let them be the most mighty giants with castles and fortresses of solid granite you should have no fear of them. Before the consciousness of your strong spiritual and moral power in G-d and with God, they should dissolve into nothingness. You should be ashamed to be afraid of them! 'For they are our bread' expresses the complete lack of resistance and importance of these people - spiritually and morally degenerate and demoralised, and only imposing in their material physique - against the godly, spiritual and moral principles which are to combat them in Israel."
Targum Onkelos changes the graphic biblical metaphor , "for they are our bread", to , "behold they are given into our hands". Drazin and Wagner report that another fragmentary targum reads: "Just as our bread in easy for us to eat, so they are easy for us to destroy". Michael Carasik paraphrases Ibn Ezra's words: "we're going to have them for lunch", while the slightly more reserved Rashi comments, "we will eat them like bread". Milgrom points out that the verb , "to eat", often means "to conquer". The Psalmist writes, "Are they so witless, all those evildoers, who devour my people as they devour food, and do not invoke the L-RD?" (Psalm 14:4, JPS), while the prophet Jeremiah said, "'Israel was holy to the L-RD, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,'" declares the L-RD" (Jeremiah 2:3, NIV).
On the theme of bread, theSforno explains that we do not fear the people of the Land "because we observed that that they have no intention to rise up against us at all, just as bread does not rise up against those who eat it, as Rahab testified when she said, 'no man had any more spirit left because of you' (Joshua 2:11, JPS)". The Ramban adds, "Even under completely natural conditions they will fall before us. For the dread of us has fallen upon them [paraphrasing Rahab again: 'dread of you has fallen upon us' (v. 9, JPS)], and they will let us consume them like bread". These are the reasons why Joshua and Caleb urge the people not to rebel against G-d but to go up and take the Land that He had promised to give to them. Their enemies, the so-called giants in the Land, have no more strength or fight that a slice of commercially baked white bread.
Popular writer and pastor Max Lucado1 paints a powerful picture of the boy who was, some years later, to become King David, confronting Goliath, the nine-foot tall giant champion of the Philistines2. The Israelites were paralysed: "For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening" (1 Samuel 17:16, ESV). Lucado visualises the thoughts going through the minds of the Israelite soldiers as they saw their ancient and generational enemy - the giants in the Land - in the latest incarnation: "Oh no, not again. My dad fought his dad. My granddad fought his granddad." He then asks about our giants, the Goliath figures that paralyse our lives: "Your Goliath doesn't carry sword or shield; he brandishes blades of unemployment, abandonment, sexual abuse or depression. Your giant doesn't parade up and down the hills of Elah; he prances through your office, your bedroom, your classroom. He brings bills you can't pay, grades you can't make, whiskey you can't resist, pornography you can't refuse, a career you can't escape, a past you can't shake and a future you can't face."
We know how the David story worked. While the men of Israel were terrified of Goliath, because he was the only thing in their vision - "When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid" (1 Samuel 17:11, ESV) - David saw straight through him: "who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (v.26, ESV). Goliath lumbered forward, heavy with armour and heavy on insults and invective, while David trusted in G-d and spoke only of Him: "I come to you in the name of the L-RD of hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the L-RD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head" (vv. 45-46, ESV). The Philistine's motives were simple: to enslave the Israelites for another season; David's motives were much more than simply keeping Israel free: "that all the earth may know that there is a G-d in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the L-RD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the L-RD's, and He will give you into our hand" (vv 46-47, ESV). David took only his sling and five smooth stones from brook, struck Goliath with the first stone between the eyes, stunning him and, when he fell, cutting off his head with his own sword.
But how does your story go? Do you spend each day pinned down, afraid of the people around you at home, school, college or work? Do you see those you meet and interact with as people you want to know and welcome into your life and the Kingdom of G-d, or as irritants - possibly even agents provocateur, sent to trip you up - to be kept at arm's length or perhaps avoided altogether if possible? Part of the battle is knowing, as Joshua and Caleb did, who you are and the G-d whom we serve; knowing as David did that the battle belongs to the L-rd and that we are only required to stand firm and see what G-d will do. Another part is recognising that Yeshua didn't call and train professional clergy-critters, house-group leaders and worship leaders to do everything while the rest of us stand back in awe at their amazing gifting; He called and equipped every single believer to play an active role in pushing back the forces of darkness and establishing the Kingdom of G-d. Perhaps the final part is actually being prepared to get off our hands and on to our feet to make it happen, not allowing the enemy to hold us back, but pushing forward taking G-d at His word and expecting to see miracles as His name is proclaimed.
When they heard the bad report of the ten spies, the people of Israel wept all night, tightly focussed upon their own weakness (whether real or imagined), before proposing a return to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb urged the people not to rebel against G-d, and not to be afraid of the people in the Land because G-d had already decreed that the Israelites were to have it. It was a done deal, but the people couldn't see that, wouldn't trust G-d and so didn't enter the Land to possess it. Instead they all died during the following 38 years in the wilderness, leaving their children to enter the Land in their place.
As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we can and must do better. "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13, ESV). Despite the gloomy news on the radio and TV each day, we can choose to believe G-d and accept His view and interpretation of world events and local news. We can trust G-d with our lives and say 'Boo!' to Goliath and the giants that stand in our way, watching G-d clear the path and the blockages in the road so that we can take the Land. As co-heirs with Messiah, this is our heritage and our calling!
1. - At time of writing, Max Lucado is one of the teaching pastors at Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, Texas
2. - Max Lucado, Facing Your Giants, Thomas Nelson, December 2010, 0849921023
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Ephesians 3:14-19
Application: Now is the time to take a firm stand and blow the cobwebs out of your hair, to take a step forward and refuse to be cowed any more by the empty threats and gestures of a defeated enemy, "because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4, NASB).
26May13 10:53 Jenny: It was good to be reminded about the "Giants" in my life and that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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