ISRAEL REFUSES THEIR INHERITANCE
The discouraging words of the ten spies infected the whole congregation of Israel, as a discouragement too frequently does among God's people. They wept that night, then began with bitter complaints, not simply against Moses and Aaron, but rather directly against the Lord! (v.3). Why did not God allow them to die in Egypt or in the wilderness rather that exposing them to the danger of dying fighting against the Canaanite enemies? How inconsistent are their arguments. If they really wanted to die, why be afraid of their enemies? Also, they did not consider the possibility that they might survive and possess the land, while their enemies died. But fear is a terrible disease that robs a believer of his proper senses.
This answers to the fear that believers often have of facing Satan's enmity and taking possession of their rightful inheritance of the spiritual blessings that are in Christ Jesus "in heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:3). Because we think too much of the world and material blessings, we do not have the spiritual energy to take possession of what really belongs to us in the way of spiritual blessing. These blessings are many, which include forgiveness, redemption, justification, reconciliation, peace with God, eternal life, the gift of the Spirit, membership in the body of Christ, the Church, and many others. Satan resists our intention of entering into the value of these, so there must be spiritual conflict if we are to enjoy them.
Israel unbelieving discouragement was so deep that they even urged that they appoint another leader rather that Moses, and return Egypt. Having left an ungodly world, can believers return to it and be welcome? By this time Egypt would have become accustomed to having Israel absent, and would not be likely to take them back. But unbelief cannot reason straight.
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in prayer before all the assembly (v.5). Then Joshua and Caleb made another effort to persuade the people that there was every reason to go forward into the land. It was an exceedingly good land, they said, and if the Lord delighted in Israel, He would certainly bring them into the land and give it to them (vs.6-8).
More than this, the people were allowing their discouragement to develop into rebellion against the Lord, and they are warned solemnly against this. When they have the Lord, why do they fear their enemies? In fact, Joshua and Caleb consider them bread for Israel, their protection having departed from them because the Lord was with Israel. This surely ought to have penetrated the hearts of the people. But the people were so hostile that they dared to demand that these two faithful servants of God should be stoned to death!
But God intervened, His glory suddenly appearing in the tabernacle, which would be visible at the entrance of the tabernacle to all the people. This abruptly stopped their clamor.
MOSES AGAIN INTERCEDING
The Lord addressed Moses because of the rebellion of Israel, "How long will these people reject Me?" And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? God had been marvelously patient with them, but how can patience continue in the face of concerted rebellion?
Of course it would be perfectly right for God to do as He suggests to Moses, to strike Israel with a pestilence that would destroy them. If so, He could raise up a nation of Moses' descendants greater and mightier than Israel (v.11). How many men would grasp an opportunity to gain such honor and eminence at this!
But not so Moses. He does not think of his own honor at all, but first of the honor of God. He protests that the Egyptians would hear of Israel's destruction, as well as other nations who had heard that God was with Israel, and they would all dishonor God by saying that He was unable to carry out His promise of bringing Israel into the land (vs.13-16). Then Moses appeals to the power of God in overcoming obstacles, even that of Israel's perverseness, and to the fact that the Lord had told Moses that He is "longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression" etc. (vs.17-18). On this ground Moses pled with God to pardon the iniquity of Israel, just as He had done consistently through the wilderness journey (v.19). Again, in this wonderful instance, Moses beautifully illustrates the interceding grace of the Lord Jesus by which His people are preserved and sustained in spite of their way-wordness.
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). God answered the prayer of this one man on behalf of all Israel, telling him He has pardoned Israel: they would not be destroyed. Yet, while grace is thus shown, God's government will not be relaxed: the earth would be filled with the glory of the Lord. Israel would feel the results of their disobedience in a painful way. Those men who had seen God's glory and His many signs, and still rebelled, would not be permitted to see the land God had promised to Israel, and this included all those who had rejected God's word (vs.20-22). Caleb was an exception because he had a different spirit, one of true submission to God, and had fully followed the Lord (v.24). Of course this was true of Joshua also, but Joshua was a special attendant of Moses (Exodus 33:11), and people may have considered him to be influenced by this position. But Caleb was one of the people, and no one could be excused from recognizing his example.
Verse 25 reminds them that the Amalekites and Canaanites dwelt in the valley. They were formidable enemies indeed if God was not leading Israel against them. Israel had forfeited all title to God's support: therefore God told them to turn back into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea: they must be taught further by wilderness experience.
GOD'S SENTENCE AGAINST REBELLION
God spoke again to Moses and Aaron to emphasize His great displeasure with the complaints of the people Himself (vs.26-27), and tells them to announce to the people that just as they have spoken, so it will happen to them: they will die in the wilderness, that is, all who at this time were twenty years old and above (vs.28-29). Caleb and Joshua were the only two exceptions: they would enter the land of Canaan and the little ones whom the people were so concerned about would also enter (v.31). Therefore, their concern for their little ones was not love at all. The best way we can love our children is by giving them a good example by obeying the Lord. God cared far more for the children than they did.
Meanwhile their sons would for forty years suffer the consequences of their parents' disobedience until all the older generation died (v.33). As to those entering the land, therefore, only Joshua and Caleb would be over sixty years of age. But God's promise would stand, that he would bring Israel into the promised land.
How serious a lesson is this for us! If we refuse to act on the Word of God, whatever excuse we may make -- our children, our wives, our friends whom we think may be hurt -- we are not showing proper, godly concern for these very people, as well as showing no respect for the Word of God.
God's displeasure is emphasized in verse 35 when He speaks of Israel being gathered together against Him, for which reason He would bring on them the terrible discipline of their dying in the wilderness. As He had spoken, so would He carry out this unsparing sentence.
This judgment began very quickly, for the ten men who had discouraged the hearts of the people were stricken by a plague and died "before the Lord" (vs.36-37). Of all the twelve spies who were heads of the people, only Joshua and Caleb were spared.
REBELLION WITH DIFFERENT FACE
When Moses gave God's message to Israel that they must turn back into the wilderness, and let them know of the death of the ten spies, the people mourned greatly (v.39), yet no mention is made of their honestly judging their own disobedience. Surely they ought to have done this, and also to bow to the sentence of God in humility of faith.
But instead of doing this, the people rose earthly the next morning, going up to the top of the mountain to announce to Moses that they were now ready to go into the land God had promised them, admitting the fact that they had sinned (v.40).
Was Moses glad for this? Far from it! He protested that they were again transgressing the commandment of the Lord (v.4). Just as they had rebelled against the Lord in refusing His word to go into the land, now they were rebelling against His word that they should return into the wilderness and die there. To refuse to bow to the governmental consequences of our own disobedience is just as serious evil as the first disobedience. How much better it is to accept the sentence of God against our wrongdoing! One of the robbers crucified with the Lord Jesus illustrates this serious principle when he said to the other robber, "We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds" (Luke 23:41). Taking the place of submitting to his just punishment and confessing Jesus as Lord, he was thereby assured of eternal salvation.
But Israel would not succeed in their effort to ignore God's sentence against them. Moses warned them now not to go up to the land, for the Lord was not now among them: they would be defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites, who were strong enemies as the spies had reported. Without the Lord among them the Israelites were helpless against such power.
However, they chose to ignore Moses' warning, no doubt realizing that wandering in the wilderness forty years was an unpleasant alternative to being settled in their own land. They acted on their own proud presumption that they could gain the victory in spite of Moses' warning. They went up into the land of the enemy, but without the ark and without their leader Moses. The Amalekites and Canaanites were prepared to meet them, attacking and driving them back as far as Hormah in the desert country (v.45). This one decisive defeat was enough. Israel attempted no other invasion till God ordered it after forty long years of wilderness wandering. What a lesson for us today if we do not bow to the governmental results of our disobedience!
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 14". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany