Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spying: Take Two

The Book of Joshua begins with God appearing to Joshua, Moses’ prime disciple and successor, and informing him to prepare to lead the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel. Joshua instructed the nation to prepare to cross the Jordan River three days later, thus finally entering the elusive Promised Land. Joshua’s next act was to dispatch two unnamed scouts to survey the land, and to visit the first city they will need to confront: Jericho. Tradition teaches that the two scouts sent by Joshua were Caleb, the son of Yefunah, and Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the High Priest. Caleb, husband of Miriam (and brother-in-law to Moses and Aaron), had served along Joshua as one of the twelve scouts that Moses had previously sent to explore the land of Canaan. The 40-day sojourn of the 12 scouts ended with the other ten scouts reporting only negative information about the land, in an attempt to scare the nation. Despite Joshua and Caleb’s protests, they succeeded and their report and the Jews embrace of it, caused God to punish them severely. As a direct consequence of hearing and accepting the report of the 10 wayward scouts, the male adult Israelites of that generation were not granted entrance into the Promised Land. God forgave them for the sin of the Golden Calf, as well as their incessant complaining about food and other failings, but He did not forgive their acceptance of the scouts’ report.

Joshua clearly learned from some of the challenges that faced the first scouting mission about 40 years earlier. Instead of sending surveyors from each tribe (Joshua represented his tribe of Ephraim when he went), he only sent two individuals whom he inherently trusted. Caleb had proven his trustworthiness decades earlier, and Joshua asked Pinchas to join him. Pinchas, who famously ended a plague brought upon the Children of Israel by publicly killing a sinning Jewish prince, was a great nephew to Caleb. The two spent but a few days in Jericho and her environs and immediately returned back to the Israelite camp, where they told Joshua, “Truly the Lord has delivered to our hands all the land; for all the inhabitants of the country faint because of us” (Joshua 2:24). Compare that to the report of the previous scouts who intimidated the people by saying: “Nevertheless, the people, who live in the land, are strong, and the cities are walled, and very great; and moreover we saw the children of the giant there...” (Numbers 13:28-29). According to tradition (see Rashi to Joshua 2:1) the Jews would cross the Jordan after the month-long mourning period for Moses. It was on the 5th of Nissan that Joshua dispatched the scouts.

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