"In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now." - Numbers 14:19
The theme of God's faithfulness continues this week. In our text, Israel suffered the consequences of their sins, yet God remained faithful. The book of Numbers tells the crucial story of Israel's odyssey from the bondage in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land of Canaan. It was not an easy journey.
In Numbers 14, the Promised Land was at their doorsteps, within their grasp. Israel let the hardships and uncertainty of its situation turn into doubt and rebellion. This resulted in a delay of entry for a generation and an unnecessary sojourn in the wilderness of 40 years. Moses had sent a team of 12 men to spy out the land. Ten of the men gave a negative report. At this point, they had been led to a dead-end and would be destroyed. Less than two years had passed since they marched out of Egypt. They saw the hills that belonged to Abraham. So, Moses and the faithful of Israel were excited; however, they were doomed to disappointment. For forty years, the Canaanites were to dwell undisturbed due to Israel's unfaithfulness. Moses and everyone over the age of 20 were to die in the wilderness. That was God's punishment for not faithfully entering the Promised Land.
DOUBTS AND REBELLION (vv. 1-4)
Note the phrases used to stress the mood of the people: "all the congregation…all the people…the whole congregation." Note the verbs used: "raised a loud cry…wept…murmured," to show the heaviness of heart, depression, and panic. How easily fear spreads! It is the same today. Their sin included:
1. Forgetfulness of the bondage of Egypt. How could it be better to return to that slavery?
2. Ingratitude. They implied God had spared them and cared for them up to this point in order to them harm - to destroy them.
3. Distrust. Even with all the promises God had given, and the signs of His faithfulness He had shown. Distrust makes us weak against temptation.
4. Disobedience. A stubborn disregard of the word and will of God. His will is our command. It is the only way to victory.
5. Madness. To "drawback" is to forget the fellowship of God and His blessings.
TRUST AND BLESSINGS (vv. 5-10)
Moses was silent from necessity, his power with men in pause, waiting humbly upon God. Joshua and Caleb spoke out. As it was well for Moses and Aaron to remain silent, it was well for Caleb and Joshua to speak. As part of the 12, they gave their minority report. No stronger report could have been given. They took their stand without any hesitation for they had something to say which Moses could not say. They had seen the land and were compelled to speak. Consider their report:
1. The manner of their speech. "They rent their clothes" (v. 6b). This was a symbol of hearts torn with grief and astonishment because of impending disaster. The multitude looked on Canaan as worse than the grace. Caleb and Joshua looked on the multitude with utter amazement by drawing back from blessings within their reach.
2. The matter of their speech. They gave testimony of experience from spying out the land. They emphatically asserted the land's goodness. They showed a devout recognition of the Lord. "If the Lord delight in us" (v. 8a). They recognized the necessity of submission to God. Unbelief is not only separation, it is rebellion. This was the real danger to Israel.
3. The results of their speech. "All the congregation bade stone them with stones" (v. 10a). If we speak the truth, all of it, and at the time when it should be spoken, we must be ready for the consequences. Then God did something. "The glory of the Lord appeared…" (v. 10b). In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the rebels were reduced to impotence. One can only imagine the uplifted stone dropped, as if it had turned to a blazing coal. Israel may still be sullen and rebellious in heart, but it was in the hands of God.
REBELLION AND PUNISHMENT (vv. 11-12)
The Lord spoke. That rebellious generation was not fit for the Promised Land. To enter the Promised Land, God required faithfulness from the people. God made three proposals:
1. As to their fate. "I will smite them with the pestilence" (v. 12a). The people shall be left to wonder, drop, and die in the wilderness.
2. As to the aspect of His relationship. "I will disinherit them" (v. 12b). This word "disinherit" is forlorn.
3. As to the future. "I will make thee (Moses) a great nation, and mightier than they" (v. 12c).
Moses interceded on the people's behalf (vv. 13-19). He balanced the appeal between God's love and justice. God forgave the people (v. 20); however, there were consequences of sin. All the people over the age of 20, except Joshua and Caleb, would die in the wilderness. After 40 years of wandering, the Lord would again give them an opportunity to enter the Promised Land.
PRAYER: Father, forgive us for the times when we take the privilege of prayer for granted. Our world, nation, cities, and communities need our prayers. Stir us to be a people of prayer - as individuals, families, and churches. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Let us pray - now as never before!
Grace and Peace,
Kirk Greenfield is the pastor of Wallonia Baptist Church. He also works for the KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He, his wife, and three daughters reside in Princeton. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.