Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 14

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Verses 1-4

Reaction of the People to the Report

All the people revolt against Moses and Aaron. They cry loudly. However, it is not a crying because they repent. It is a manifestation of rebellion and rejection of God. They weep “that night”, indicating not only the darkness around them, but symbolically also the darkness of their unbelief. In their unbelief they accuse God of causing their wives and children to die by the sword. This is a wicked claim, which stems from a rebellious heart.

They speak out clearly that they want to return to Egypt. Later Nehemiah is still ashamed of this folly. This is what we hear in his prayer to God: “They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt” (Nehemiah 9:17). What they want here, the LORD will announce as a punishment for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:68). They even indicate that they would rather die in the wilderness than enter the land God has chosen for them. They want another leader and thus reject Moses, the God-given leader. Prophetically, this anticipates the rejection of the Lord Jesus and the choice of the people for the anti-Christ (John 5:43).

Verse 5

Reaction of Moses and Aaron

With this new revelation of rebellion and unbelief, Moses and Aaron fall to the ground in dejection. They do this before the people, not so much before the LORD. In this way they show that they are, as it were, broken by the mind of the people. The attitude of Moses and Aaron expresses their humility. It seems like a plea to the people to finally continue in faith. But their attitude does not impress the people.

Verses 6-9

Testimony of Joshua and Caleb

Caleb and Joshua also show how sad they are about the reaction of the people. They tear their clothes, which is always a sign of mourning and dejection. Then they repeat what they said the day before. Their vision of the land and what God is capable of has not changed. They speak the language of faith and point out what God is capable of. In the midst of so much unbelief, the faith of the few radiates all the brighter.

By saying “they will be our prey” Joshua and Caleb suggest that the people will feed more on the enemies than they will have to fight with them. To subject the enemy will be easy and beneficial. So they don’t have to worry about it. Their enemies are without protection because God removed it from them. Add to this the fact that the LORD is with His people. What is there still to fear?

Verse 10

The People and the LORD React

The rebellion of the people against the LORD is the only reason they will not enter the land. No one is excluded from Canaan except those who exclude themselves from it, those who will not enter it. The language of the faith of Caleb and Joshua does not appeal. A people who do not want to believe is not convinced by the most powerful arguments.

The language of the faith of Caleb and Joshua puts the unbelief of the people in the true light. The people even talk about stoning the faithful witnesses. This has always been the reaction of the unbelieving people to the witnesses of God (Matthew 23:37; Acts 7:51; Acts 7:59; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 11:10).

Then the glory of the LORD appears. This happens four times in this book (Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19Numbers 16:42; Numbers 20:6) and always in, humanly speaking, hopeless situations. In these cases, God confirms His absolute rights.

Verses 11-12

The Proposal of the LORD

God does not intend to consume the people. He wants His people to pray to Him. To this end He challenges Moses, as it were. He knows the heart of Moses. For Him it is not necessary to reveal what is in it, but He wants us to learn from it. He proposes Moses to make him a new people. He already proposed this in Exodus 32 in response to the events surrounding the golden calf (Exodus 32:10).

Verses 13-19

The Plea of Moses

Moses’ reaction to the LORD’s proposal shows that his heart is in tune with that of the LORD. He pleads for the people. Moses does not think of himself; he thinks only of God’s glory and the welfare of the people. What will the Egyptians say? And has not the LORD so often shown His goodness and forgiveness, from their redemption “from Egypt even until now”? Has He not connected promises to the people? God’s promises and deeds are the basis for his plea. Moses calls upon what the LORD has said of Himself (Exodus 34:6-Judges :).

That is also the ground for us to pray for God’s people. The longer we know God, the more reason we have to remind Him of His Being that He has shown after our conversion in His gracious and merciful dealings and involvement with us.

Verses 20-35

The LORD Judges

God hears the prayer and forgives. This does not mean that He leaves evil unpunished, but that He postpones judgment. He saves the people and does not consume them immediately. He will punish evil in the continuation of the wilderness journey. Never will the disobedient enter the land (Psalms 95:10-1 Kings :). The bodies of all the rebellious will fall in the wilderness.

The next task to set out will not be to continue on the way to the promised land, but to go back in the direction of the Red Sea. They want to go back to Egypt (Numbers 14:3)? Then they can go that way. They want to die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2)? They will die in the wilderness. Their bodies shall not be buried in the promised land, as Joseph’s body shall (Genesis 50:25; Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32), because they have despised that land.

Only Caleb and Joshua will enter the land. The LORD calls Caleb “my servant Caleb”. He is a picture of the faithful Servant, the Lord Jesus. This is also evident from the following character sketch: with him is “a different spirit” than with the unbelievers. Caleb does not let his mind be influenced by what he has seen, but by what the LORD has said. Through this “different spirit” in him it becomes visible to the outside that he “followed” the LORD “fully” (Numbers 14:24; Numbers 32:12; Deuteronomy 1:35-Zephaniah :; Joshua 14:8-1 Samuel :; Joshua 14:14).

In a few words, a portrait of a believer of old is given here, which we wish to take as an example. Obedience to the Lord and not let himself being influenced by the human spirit, which prevails in Christianity, are the conditions to fully follow the Lord.

Children under the age of 20 will also enter the land. They are a new generation. The old generation is full of Egypt. They are in the wilderness, but their hearts are still fully in Egypt. The children only know the wilderness, not Egypt. God takes these children for His account.

This is also a great encouragement for parents who care about their children because of the time they live in. There is more and more open revolt against God and His Word. There is hardly anything Christian any more present in the once Christian Netherlands. But God has a way for every generation to walk. That way can be found in His Word. If the children read in it and take it to heart, they will have their own experiences with an unchanging God who knows all circumstances and is above them.

God’s people must roam in the wilderness for forty years. This is reflected in the two thousand years of Christianity. The good ones suffer in it with the evil ones. Caleb and Joshua, as well as the children, have to travel through the wilderness for forty years. They have to wait for 40 years before they can enter the land. Those forty years will be used by God to teach them who they are and who He is (Deuteronomy 8:2). They will have faith experiences and learn to distinguish between what is and what is not of God.

But across the board, Caleb and Joshua will have kept theirs eyes constantly on the impressions they have gained as spies of the land. What they have already tasted and enjoyed of the fruit of the land, will have given them strength to continue. They will thus have encouraged the children to persevere.

The people have become a people of vagrants. They have been pilgrims, travelers on a journey to the promised land. Now they are vagrants, without a fixed goal wandering around in the wilderness. This is their punishment, because they have “despised the pleasant land” that God has wanted to give them, for “they did not believe in His word” (Psalms 106:24). To deny what God gives is in fact to deny God Himself.

We know little about the forty years in the wilderness. Only a few events are mentioned to us in Scripture, but they are characteristic of their entire stay in the wilderness. They have been written down so that we may learn from them: “But in most of them God had no pleasure, for they fell down in the wilderness. and these things happened as examples for us, that we might not have desire in evil as they had desire in it. Do not become idolaters like some of them either, as it is written: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:5-1 Kings :).

The children must also learn that what is in the parents’ hearts is also in their own hearts. They do come into the land, but not because they are better than their parents. If we can know and enjoy anything of the heavenly blessings it is not because we are any better than others who do not know these blessings.

Verses 36-38

Unbelief Judged; Faith Spared

The ten spies were not allowed to die a natural death. God endures many of the Christians, but for some He brings direct judgment (Acts 5:5; Acts 5:10). Where God’s testimony is particularly defamed, the judgment of God comes directly, regardless of whether it concerns Israel or the church. They have sinned themselves and also made others sin. They have sinned themselves by spreading an evil rumor. Others have believed this evil rumor and therefore also sinned. The nature of sin is also very bad. They presented the service of God as a hopeless thing and made Him a liar.

Possibly the twelve spies are standing together, in the midst of the people. Then the LORD kills the ten unbelieving spies by a plague. Joshua and Caleb remain alive. That’s got to say something to the Israelites. These two men remain standing where a whole people fall.

Verses 39-45

The People Are Disobedient Again

In contradiction to what Moses says, they are now going as they first refused to go, in contradiction to what God said. They also act contrary to what the LORD has commanded in Numbers 14:25, where He said that the people must go back into the wilderness. Time and again they neglect God’s words, whether they are spoken in blessing or in judgment.

Nor do they listen to Moses, who warns them not to go. They won't let themselves be told by anybody. They go up willfully: without God, without the ark of the covenant and without Moses. If there had been real repentance they would have bowed under God’s judgment. But that is not the case. They only regret the consequences of their actions. Therefore they try to make up for their first sin, that of fear, by adding a second sin, that of audacious self-confidence. But God never commits His Name to disobedience.

Christians who want to appropriate the things of God in their own power become prey to the power of the enemy. That is what we see here in what the Israelites do. As the enemies are in their eyes, when they look at them without involving God, so they experience the reality of the enemy’s power because they move up without God. The people suffer a heavy defeat.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Numbers 14". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/numbers-14.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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