Yesterday we saw the unbelief of 10 of the 12 scouts sent into the promised land, and that this unbelief was rooted in a lack of faith. And today we will see how the unbelief and lack of faith of these ten men spilled over into the whole community of Israel. And that is where we will pick up our story starting in Numbers 14:1.
That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? ” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. ”
Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites.—Numbers 14:1-10
We see here that the majority of the people of Israel were led astray by the lack of faith and the unbelief of the majority of the scouts sent into the promised land. However, there were two men who had been sent in to scout the promised land who believed that God could and more importantly that God would do everything that he had promised to for his people. And those two men were Joshua and Caleb.
Both Joshua and Caleb opposed the majority opinion of the scouts that had been sent into the promised land, that we talked about yesterday. Joshua and Caleb based their report on a firm commitment to God and a full confidence in his promises to Israel. They refused to accept the overwhelming decision of God’s people—even at the risk of losing their own lives. This major event in Israel’s desert journey teaches us that we must not assume that the majority opinion, even of the church, is always right. Faithful believers must be willing to stand on God’s Word even if the majority is against them.
The obvious question that you should be asking yourselves now is this: How did God respond to this rebellion on the part of his chosen people? And we see God’s response starting in Numbers 14:11.
The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”
Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, LORD, are with these people and that you, LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’
“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 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.”
The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times — not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea. ”—Numbers 14:11-25
What we see here is that God saw that the heart of Israel’s rebellion against him was unbelief in him, which grew out of their failure to remember God’s past faithfulness, to trust him as their Lord and to accept him at his word. By their way of thinking, they could no longer rely on the Lord in all circumstances, which show us two things about faith or the lack of faith.
- To believe in God means to accept all he says as truth and act accordingly. The evidence is living a life by his promises, walking in his ways and loving him with all our being.
- The presence of faith causes us to be accepted by God and counted righteous before him and the absence of faith condemns us.
And it because of the people of Israel’s lack of faith that God wanted to destroy them and start all over, but Moses pleads with God that for the sake of God’s reputation and not Moses’ reputation that God should not do this.
This plea that Moses makes to God is a classic example of a person who is completely dedicated to God. Moses was more concerned about God’s reputation than his own success and honor. And when believers gratefully understand the Lord God and his holy love given through Christ, we too will desire above all else to declare the works of God and give him glory. We as believers should repent Jesus Christ through our lives in such a way that unbelievers cannot find fault with the Lord.
And God responds to this plea by not destroying the people of Israel and by forgiving their sins, but they are still not allowed to enter into the promised land at this time. And God by doing this was teaching them, just as he is teaching us a very important principle. And that principle is: the fact that God forgives us does not mean that we will escape the natural or immediate consequences of our sin. We must remember that even forgive sin has consequences, and as we will later in this chapter that is something that people of Israel could not and would not understand just as we today struggle to understand that concept.
Now we are about to see the consequences of Israel’s forgiven sin. And those consequences can be found starting in Numbers 14:26, which says.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall —every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years —one year for each of the forty days you explored the land —you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die. ”—Numbers 14:26-35
The New Testament states clearly that God intended his judgment on Israel at this point in their journey to serve as a warning for all believers. For you see the Israelites had had the good news preached to them, were redeemed by the blood and passed through the Red Sea. They were baptized, ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink, the living water of Christ. They were also led by the Holy Spirit.
Yet in spite of this redemption and experience of grace, the people grumbled against God, hardened their hearts, rebelled against him, treated him with disrespect and unbelief, tested him, disobeyed his commands and turned away from following him. It was this disobedience that brought on them God’s wrath, death and destruction, the failure to enter the land of Canaan and the loss of the presence of God’s rest. Because of this failure on the part of the people of Israel in the desert, we as believers are encouraged to “see to it…that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12) and fails to “enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11).
However, in spite of God’s instructions that they were to turn around and go back into the desert the people of Israel decided that they attempt to do what God had already told them they were not going to be able to do because of their unbelief. And that is how Numbers 14 ends, with this tragic story that starts in Numbers 14:36.
So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it— these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.
When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the LORD promised. Surely we have sinned! ”
But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the LORD’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the LORD, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”
Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.—Numbers 14:36-45
Even though the Israelites pretended to repent and expressed a momentary trust in God’s promises, they ignored God’s warning that he would not be with them. They made the fatal mistake of believing they could possess the promised land without obedience, faith and devoted fellowship with God. In their momentary but misguided trust, they were defeated. The important less for all of us as believers is that the riches of God’s covenant cannot be obtained without the obedience that comes from faith. We must remember that it is not enough to say that we trust God; it must be lived out in our personal lives. And the question that we must all ourselves is: Does your life reflect the fact that you have placed your faith and trust in God? And more importantly have you placed your faith and trust in God? Because the answers to those two questions is really what the Bible is directing you toward asking. And that is why we are journeying through the Bible together over the course of this year.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Numbers 15:17-16:40, Mark 15, Psalm 54:1-7 and Proverbs 11:5-6