The Sabbath, the Land and the World to Come


Shelach

Regular Shabbat Readings

* Note: On Jewish holidays, special readings often interrupt the regular cycle.

  • Shelach (שלח | Send)
  • Torah: Numbers 13:1-15:41
  • Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24
  • Gospel: Mark 10:1-45

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Numbers 13:1 | Spies Sent into Canaan
    • Numbers 13:25 | The Report of the Spies
    • Numbers 14:1 | The People Rebel
    • Numbers 14:13 | Moses Intercedes for the People
    • Numbers 14:26 | An Attempted Invasion is Repulsed
    • Numbers 15:1 | Various Offerings
    • Numbers 15:32 | Penalty for Violating the Sabbath
    • Numbers 15:37 | Fringes on Garments
  • Prophets
    • Joshua 2:1 | Spies Sent to Jericho

Portion Summary

The thirty-seventh reading from the Torah is called Shelach (שלח), an imperative verb that means "send out." The portion is so named from the first few words of the second verse: "Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan" (Numbers 13:2). The Torah reading tells the tragic story of how the spies returned with a bad report about the Land of Promise and influenced the congregation of Israel to rebel against the LORD. Thus God consigned the generation of Moses to wander in the wilderness for forty years.


Utterly disheartened by the spies’ evil report, the Children of Israel fell into despair, rebelled against Moses and refused to enter Canaan. Their rebellion and their failure to enter the land is the subject of the midrash in Hebrews 3:7-4:11 which quotes from Psalm 95.

Unfortunately, the Hebrews passage is often pointed to as evidence that the literal seventh day Sabbath rest has been replaced by a ‘spiritual Sabbath’ for the People of God. This interpretation is far a field from the actual intent of the passage.

The writer of Hebrews warns the believers reading his epistle that just as God did not spare the generation of the wilderness, neither would He spare the current generation. He compares entering the land to entering faith in Messiah. Both Messiah and the entrance into the land came as the culmination of the covenant promises. Both Messiah and the entrance into the land require faith and obedience. “Those who disobeyed…were not able to enter because of unbelief,” (Hebrews 3:19) the writer of Hebrews says. “We who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter My rest,’” (Hebrews 4:3 quoting Psalm 95)

But what is the ‘rest’ which they were not able to enter? The writer of Hebrews points out that God’s rest began on the Sabbath following creation, but it has never ceased. He did not go back to work creating on Sunday. Therefore the Sabbath rest of God is an eternal Sabbath rest. It is the rest of the World to Come.

There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people, and it is something more than merely the seventh-day Sabbath, and it is something more than merely the Promised Land.

The generation in the wilderness is used midrashically as an example. The writer of Hebrews says, “Indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” (Hebrews 4:2) From the perspective of the writer of Hebrews (a First Century Jewish believer writing to other First Century Jewish believers) the situation is analogous to that of the generation about to enter the land.

The entrance into the Promised Land and the message of Messiah are similar because, just like the Promised Land, Messiah is the culmination of the whole Torah. Everything’s been leading up to this point. Just like being poised on the edge of the Promised Land, the believers he was writing to were poised on the edge of the World to Come in Messiah. “[It is] the World to Come of which we speak.” (Hebrews 2:5)

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