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B'Midbar/Numbers 14:27 Until when for this evil assembly, that causes complaint against Me?
Rashi points out that the participle is in the Hif'il - causative - voice, so that it has the sense of causing or provoking complaint against G-d. From this he deduces that the "evil assembly" must be the ten spies who brought the bad report of the Land, so causing the people to disobey G-d's orders to go up and enter the Land. On that basis, Rashi echoes the words of Rabbi Hiyya that the minimum size of an assembly - in Jewish thought, a minyan - is ten men (b. Megilah 23b). Although 'assembly' can be - and is, frequently - used for much larger groups, the smallest group that can still be considered representative of the community and be covered by the word 'assembly' is ten. In orthodoxy, the ten must be men, since only men are considered obligated to the time-bound commandments such as praying the prayer services; however, the other streams of Judaism count women as equal partners in the assembly.
Sforno, translating the last phrase "that keeps murmuring against Me", comments by putting these words in G-d's mouth: "for they caused others to sin and the sin of the multitude lies with them; hence I shall not practice forbearance with them at all; I have set My face to punish them." The rabbis teach that repentance is always accepted, but that there are times when G-d does not help us by giving us the spirit of repentance. Perhaps this can most clearly be seen when Isaiah is told, "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and return and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10, NASB). So in this case, Sforno is suggesting that because the ten spies were continuing to cause the people to sin against G-d by their incessant complaints, He would withhold repentance from them so that they could not be forgiven. The sages wrote: "One who influences the masses to sin will not be given the means to achieve repentance" (m. Pirkei Avot 5:21), which has at least a ring of Yeshua's words: "And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea." (Mark 9:42, NASB).
Can this be used as a key to understanding one of Yeshua's most enigmatic sayings? "One can say something against the Son of Man and be forgiven; but whoever keeps speaking against the Ruach HaKodesh will never be forgiven, neither in the olam hazeh or the olam haba" (Matthew 12:32, CJB). What can this possibly mean? If Yeshua is G-d and the Holy Spirit is G-d, how can speaking against G-d be forgiveable, but speaking against G-d not be forgiveable? Scholars have debated over the centuries what exactly this sin against the Holy Spirit might be and how one avoids committing it.
Yeshua says, "If you ask anything of the Father in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23, NRSV) and John writes, "If we confess our since, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9, NRSV). This seems to clearly say that the action of repentance - turning away from sin and asking for forgiveness is a guaranteed process: if we turn to G-d and seek His forgiveness, we will be forgiven; period; full-stop. The Scripture is both clear and unambiguous, and deliberately so - G-d does not want there to be any doubt. So speaking against Father G-d, even speaking against Yeshua can all be forgiven once we realise our sin and repent of it; once we acknowledge what we have done or said, experience regret, make amends where possible and appropriate, and ask G-d to forgive us, He does - every time. But where does that repentance, that conviction of of sin come from in the first place? From our consciences, convicted by the Holy Spirit; that inner voice that tells as that we have done wrong. If we suppress that conviction, then we cannot repent and ask forgiveness, and without asking we do not receive - as simple as that!
Rav Sha'ul warns Timothy about "liars whose own consciences have been burned, as if with a red-hot branding iron" (1 Timothy 4:2, CJB). These are people who not only reject Yeshua, but have set their hearts against hearing the truth from G-d in any way; they have deliberately shut down the Ruach HaKodesh in their lives and so, for them, repentance and consequently forgiveness is impossible - not because G-d would not grant it, but because they will never ask. May none of us enter that state.
Further Study: Jeremiah 5:20-25; 2 Peter 3:8-9; Acts 3:18-21
Application: Do you find it impossible to go through the day without complaining about something? Things are just never quite right, never the way you would do them? Complaining is cyclic and often draws others into a spiral that we cannot escape without G-d's intervention. If that is you, then make today the day you cry out to G-d for repentance and the ability to see and receive His blessings.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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