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Joshua and Caleb Endeavor to Quench the Dissatisfaction
v. 1. And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried; and the people wept that night; they moaned and shrieked and shed bitter tears and behaved altogether like men and women whose last hope in life is dead. And the galling grief of despondency was followed by an embittered feeling against the leaders of the host.
v. 2. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, with a threatening note; and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness! Their lament was: If only we had died before starting out on this fool journey, or if we at least had died before matters had reached this stage!
v. 3. And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to the borders of this so-called Land of Promise, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey, be taken captive and thus be at the mercy of their victorious enemies? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
v. 4. And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, choose some determined man as leader, and let us return into Egypt. So the cowardly dissatisfaction of the people was rapidly turning into open rebellion.
v. 5. Then Moses and Aaron, after endeavoring in vain to give the people the proper courage, by reminding them of the promises of Jehovah, Deuteronomy 1:29-31, fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. Their object was to bring the situation to the attention of the Lord and to implore Him to interfere.
v. 6. And Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, Caleb having registered his protest even the day before, Numbers 13:30, rent their clothes, in the excess of their grief over the stubbornness of the people;
v. 7. and they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. They emphasized the exceptional merits of the land very strongly.
v. 8. If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it us, a land which floweth with milk and honey. They had so many evidences of God's grace and mercy in the fulfillment of His promises to them that even an implied doubt of His inability to help them in overcoming the enemies was an insult to His majesty.
v. 9. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, by such open disobedience, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us, they can be devoured, overcome with ease; their defense is departed from them, literally, "their shadow, in which they were safe, has left them," and the Lord is with us; fear them not. In the Orient the shadow, which protects against the excessive heat of the sun, is a type of protection and refuge, Isaiah 30:2. The Canaanites had filled up the measure of their sins, and the Lord had now fully determined to exterminate them, Exodus 34:24; Leviticus 18:25; Leviticus 20:23.
v. 10. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones, for the people were beyond the point where a sensible appeal could make any impression upon them; they were filled with stubborn spite. And the glory of the Lord appeared in the Tabernacle of the Congregation before all the children of Israel. It was a mysterious manifestation by which the Lord indicated that He was about to render judgment in this matter. We have here a picture of the manner in which the unbelievers reject the proofs of God's goodness and mercy and repudiate the warnings and admonitions of God's faithful witnesses. But God will not be mocked; from time to time His judgments come upon the world with impressive exhibitions of His majesty.
Moses Intercedes for the People
v. 11. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke Me? as they were now doing with their insulting rejection, and how long will it be ere they believe Me, for all the signs which I have showed among them? They rejected God, they did not accept the evidences of His power and of His mercy; and His patience was at the point of being exhausted.
v. 12. I will smite them with the pestilence and disinherit them, cut them off from the promised inheritance by exterminating them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they. Cf Exodus 32:10. But Moses stepped into the breach as the mediator and the champion of the people.
v. 13. And Moses said unto the Lord, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for Thou broughtest up this people in Thy might from among them,)
v. 14. and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. The Egyptians themselves had received unmistakable evidence of the fact that it was the one true, the almighty God, who had led His people forth from their country, from the house of bondage, and they had brought the report to the Canaanitish nations. For they, all the nations here concerned, have heard that Thou, Lord, art among this people, being in their very midst, that Thou, Lord, art seen face to face, appearing here in a visible manifestation, and that Thy cloud standeth over them, and that Thou goest before them, by daytime in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. The report concerning all these wonderful happenings had been carried into the entire surrounding country.
v. 15. Now if Thou shalt kill all this people as one man, as the Lord had just threatened to do, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
v. 16. Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which He sware unto them, therefore He hath slain them in the wilderness. Cf Exodus 32:11-13; Exodus 34:6-7. The intercession of Moses urged that the honor of the Lord would suffer if He carried out His threat, for the heathen nations would not accept the true reason, alleging instead that the God of Israel was, after all, unable to fulfill His promises. Having urged this one point, Moses immediately added a second motive why the Lord should execute mercy rather than justice.
v. 17. And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, He should reveal and prove Himself as great in mercy, according as Thou hast spoken, saying,
v. 18. The Lord is long-suffering and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Cf Exodus 34:6-7. That is the manner of effective prayer: it takes hold of the Word and promises of the Lord and urges His truth and mercy until He must confess Himself overcome.
v. 19. Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy mercy, and as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. It is the prayer of faith which does not allege merit and worthiness, but pleads only for mercy, for forgiveness, for pardon.
v. 20. And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word; He had been vanquished by the appeal of Moses, by the two great reasons urged by this bold champion of the people.
v. 21. But as truly as I live, a most solemn oath by His own life, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, as a result of the measures which the Lord intended to take in punishing the people for their sins. He did not purpose to destroy Israel as a people, according to His first threat, but He did intend to punish the transgressors, the insurrectionists.
v. 22. Because all those men which have seen My glory and My miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted Me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to My voice,
v. 23. surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked Me see it; in bringing His judgment to pass upon this generation, the Lord would contribute to the spreading of His glory through all the earth;
v. 24. but My servant Caleb, because he hath another spirit with him, not one of disobedience and rebellion, and hath followed Me fully, trusted absolutely in the merciful guidance of Jehovah, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
v. 25. (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley. ) The part of Canaan over which Caleb would have dominion extended from the region of the Amalekites down to the lowlands where the Canaanites lived. Tomorrow turn you and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea; they were to turn their faces back to the desert and its desolation, until the punishment of the Lord would have gone into effect. In the same way the unbelievers that scorn the promises of God concerning the inheritance of the saints in light will find themselves excluded for all eternity from the blessings which they would not accept.
The Judgment Pronounced
v. 26. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
v. 27. How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmur against Me? being incorrigible in their dissatisfied opposition to the ways of the Lord's dispensation. I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel which they murmur against Me, for they were continually engaged in grumbling of this kind.
v. 28. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in Mine ears, so will I do to you, Cf v. 2:
v. 29. your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; literally, "in this very wilderness shall fall your dead bodies"; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against Me,
v. 30. doubtless ye shall not come into the land concerning which I sware, by a solemn lifting up of the hand, to make you dwell therein, save Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, the son of Nun. They would see for themselves whether the oath which the Lord had now sworn by His own life would be fulfilled; they would find out whether a single one of the dissatisfied murmurers would reach the Land of Promise.
v. 31. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey,
v. 3. them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.
v. 32. But as for you, as the Lord here repeats for the sake of emphasis, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness.
v. 33. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, sustaining themselves as nomads with their herds in the wastes of the Sinaitic Peninsula, and bear your whoredoms, to expiate, in a way, the spiritual unfaithfulness of their fathers, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness, until the desert had consumed even the last of them.
v. 34. After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, Numbers 13:25, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know My breach of promise; they would experience what it means when the Lord turns from a people in anger, being obliged to withdraw or to change His original promise.
v. 35. I, the Lord, have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation that are gathered together against Me; in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
v. 36. And the men which Moses sent to search the land, who" returned and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land, by misrepresenting the facts about Canaan and exaggerating the difficulties of conquering its people,
v. 37. even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord; the punishment struck them very suddenly, and struck them down as the first among the rebellious people.
v. 38. But Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still, their preservation, in the circumstances, being all the more remarkable, and substantiating the word of the Lord. The judgment upon such as were leaders in the Church and abused the trust placed in them by leading their people astray, will be especially harsh.
The Disobedience of the People Punished
v. 39. And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel, he announced to them in what manner the Lord intended to punish them; and the people mourned greatly. Although they were now standing on the threshold of Canaan, they were denied entrance into the Land of Promise, and all by their own fault. But the measure of their trespass was not yet full, for their repentance now turned them to presumption, since it was not connected with true humility.
v. 40. And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, with the object of forcing their way through the pass to the opposite side of the mountain range and beginning the conquest of Canaan on their own responsibility; it was a reaction from the extremities of despair which plunged the people into foolhardiness, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised; for we have sinned. That simple statement was to undo the happenings of the past two days.
v. 41. And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? But it shall not prosper. He predicted certain defeat to the self-willed people, who presumed to set aside the word of the Lord. True repentance bows in humility under the will of the Lord, no matter in what manner He chooses to make it known.
v. 42. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.
v. 43. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, their armies having probably been mobilized to resist the threatened invasion, and ye shall fall by the sword; because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you. Two days before, in unbelief, they had refused to take up arms against the inhabitants of Canaan, and now again, in unbelief, because they refused to accept the word of Moses concerning the seriousness of God's judgment, they intend to undertake the conquest; to the old sin of unbelieving despair came the new sin of presumptuous self-confidence.
v. 44. But they presumed to go up unto the hilltop; nevertheless the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord and Moses departed not out of the camp.
v. 45. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, eager to meet the invaders, and smote them and discomfited them, even unto Hormah. Having put them to flight, they pursued them with relentless fury, Deuteronomy 1:44, attacking the individual bands again and again, until parts of the Israelitish army were scattered far into the land of the Edomites. The behavior of the Israelites is a picture of the despair and the deceit of man's natural heart, which insists upon going its own ways. But God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble. This is true both in spiritual and in temporal matters.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 14". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20