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Thursday, June 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 14

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-45


Numbers 14:4. Let us make a captain. It appears from Nehemiah 9:17, that they actually appointed another leader.

Numbers 14:5. Fell on their faces, &c. In solemn prayer to God, and in the presence of all the people, in the hope of changing their minds.

Numbers 14:9. They are bread for us; i.e., we can easily destroy them, and all their possessions, and their land with all its productions shall become ours.

Their defence is departed. Heb lit., “their shadow.” A very expressive metaphor for shelter and protection in the sultry east. Comp. Psalms 91:1; Psalms 121:5; Isaiah 30:2; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 49:2; Isaiah 51:16.

Numbers 14:13-14. Keil and Del. translate, “ ‘Not only have the Egyptians heard that thou hast brought out this people from among them with Thy might; they have also told it to the inhabitants of this land. They (the Egyptians and other nations) have heard that Thou, Jehovah, art in the midst of this people—that Thou, Jehovah, appearest eye to eye,’ &c. The inhabitants of this land (Numbers 14:13) were not merely the Arabians, but, according to Exodus 15:14, sqq., the tribes dwelling in and around Arabia, the Philistines, Edomites Moabites, and Canaanites, to whom the tidings had been brought of the miracles of God in Egypt and at the Red Sea.”

Numbers 14:15. As one man; equivalent to “with a stroke” (Judges 6:16).

Numbers 14:18. Comp. Exodus 34:6-7.

Numbers 14:21-23. Translate, “But as truly as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah, all those men.… shall not see the land,” &c. The Hebrew particle בִּי in Numbers 14:22 (incorrectly rendered “because” in the A.V.) introduces the apodosis of the sentence and the substance of the oath; and, according to the ordinary form of an oath, the particle אִם, in the beginning of Numbers 14:23, merely signifies “not.”

Numbers 14:22. These ten times. Ten is used here as the number of completeness (Comp. Genesis 31:7) They had now filled up the measure of their iniquities.

Numbers 14:24. Hath followed me fully. Lit., “Fulfilled after Me.” He had manifested unwavering fidelity in the Divine service. Caleb only is mentioned here because of the conspicuous part he took in opposing the exaggerated account of the evil spies, and in urging the people to a true and courageous course of conduct. And “this first revelation of God to Moses is restricted to the main fact; the particulars are given afterwards in the sentence of God, as intended for communication to the people (Numbers 14:26-38).”

Numbers 14:25. Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley. “These words are best understood as the continuation of the answer of God to Moses: ‘And now the Amalekites and the Canaanites are dwelling (or abiding) in the valley: wherefore, turn you,’ &c. (that so ye be not smitten before them). Some difficulty has been occasioned by the fact that in Numbers 14:43-45 these tribes are represented rather as dwelling on the hill. The Syriac version alters the passage before us accordingly; but such procedure is unnecessary. What was in one respect a valley, or rather, as the Hebrew term emek implies, a broad sweep between hills, might in another respect be itself a hill, as lying on top of the mountain-plateau. Such was precisely the case with the elevated plain on which the conflict of the disobedient Israelites with the Amalekites and Canaanites eventually ensued.”—Speaker’s Comm.

Numbers 14:27. “This announcement commences in a tone of anger, with an aposiopesis, ‘How long this evil congregation’ (so., ‘shall I forgive it,’ the simplest plan being to supply אָשָּׂא, as Rosenmüller suggests, from Numbers 14:18) ‘that they murmur against me?’ ”Keil and Del.

Numbers 14:32. But as for you, your carcases, &c. “Rather, ‘But your carcases, even yours, shall fall,” &c.—Speaker’s Comm.

Numbers 14:33. Your children shall wander, &c. Margin: “shall feed.” Keil and Del: “ ‘will be pasturing,’ i.e., will lead a restless shepherd’s life.”

Your whoredoms. Their many faithless departures from the Lord.

Numbers 14:34. My breach of promise. Margin: “altering of Thy purpose.” תְּנוּאָה, from נוּא, removal, alienation, i.e., the withdrawal of oneself from a person or thing, and so metaphor, enmity.—Fuerst. The word is used only in this place and in Job 33:10. Keil and Del.: “ ‘My turning away from you,’ or abalienatio.

Numbers 14:45. Hormah. Keil and Del. say the word means, “the ban-place”; but Fuerst: “fortress, mountain fastness; from הָרַם, to be high, to be prominent.” The name is used here by anticipation. Its earlier name was Zephath (Judges 1:17). The circumstances which led to the chance of the name are given in Numbers 21:1-3. It was a royal city of a Canaanitish tribe on the southern frontier of Palestine. Its precise situation is uncertain.


(Numbers 14:1-5)

In this chapter we have the consequences of the evil report which the ten unbelieving explorers gave to the people; and in the section now before us we see its immediate effect upon the people.

I. Grievous mental distress.

“And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.”

1. The distress was generalalmost universal. “All the congregation” were disheartened by the gloomy report which they had heard. The whole nation, with very few and distinguished exceptions, was stricken with dismay and grief, and spent the night in lamentation and weeping.

2. The distress was unrestrained in its expression. They “lifted up their voice, and cried.” “The word crying,” says Babington, “noteth out the manner of their weeping, even with vociferation or roaring, howling and yelling, that is, in most impatient and grievous manner.” In the most childish and pusillanimous manner they utterly give way to their feelings, (a)

3. The distress was sinful. It sprang from their unbelief of God’s assurances to them. The reports of the spies were opposed to the word of God to them, yet they receive those reports rather than that word. They even accept the cowardly opinions of the faithless spies rather than the inspiring declarations of the Lord God. Their cries and tears are the expression of their cowardly fears; and their cowardly fears arose from their unbelief towards God. Their cries and tears proclaim their sin and shame.

II. Unreasonable and unjust murmuring.

“And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron,” &c. (Numbers 14:2). Their murmuring was—

1. Unreasonable. They cry out because they dread death by the sword of the Canaanites, and yet they wish that they had died in Egypt or in the wilderness. “Surely It had been at least as eligible to have fallen, soldier-like, sword in hand, in attempting to conquer Canaan, as to have died slaves in Egypt, or by famine or pestilence in the wilderness!” “They wish to die, for fear of dying.” There is neither reason nor nobility in their conduct. (b)

2. Unjust.

(1) To Moses and Aaron, who had dared and done and borne so much for them.
(2) Their murmuring was still more unjust to God, who had done and was still doing such great and gracious things for them. All His mercies are forgotten, all His glorious purposes towards them disregarded, all His precious promises disbelieved, and base and bitter murmuring openly indulged in, because ten cowards have magnified the difficulties in the way of their enterprise. (c)

III. Shocking blasphemy.

“And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey?” As Matthew Henry expresses it, “Here is a most wicked blasphemous reflection upon God Himself, as if He had brought them hither on purpose that they might fall by the sword, and that their wives and children, those poor innocents, should be a prey. Thus do they in effect charge that God, who is Love itself, with the worst of malice, and eternal Truth with the basest hypocrisy, suggesting that all the kind things He had said to them, and done for them, hitherto, were intended only to decoy them into a snare, and to cover a secret design carried on all along to ruin them. Daring impudence! But what will not that tongue speak against Heaven that is set on fire of hell?” Their blasphemy Involved—

1. Unbelief of the Divine Word. It expresses the complete rejection of God’s declared purposes concerning them and His promises to them, and the unqualified acceptance of the worst suggestions of the faithless explorers.

2. Base ingratitude to the Divine Being. To all His great and undeserved kindness to them, and for all His mighty and merciful deeds on their behalf, this is their response, “Wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land?” &c. How applicable to them are the words of Rowe—

“To break thy faith,

And turn a rebel to so good a master,
Is an ingratitude unmatched on earth.
The first revolting angel’s pride could only
Do more than thou hast done; thou copiest well,
And keep’st the black original in view!” (d)

IV. Foolish and wicked rebellion.

“Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another: Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.”

1. The folly of this rebellion.

(1) How could they get back into Egypt? Could they expect that the Lord would lead them, defend them, and provide for them in a journey which was directly and entirely opposed to His will? Yet without this, how was it possible for them to “return into Egypt”?
(2) If they could have returned into Egypt, what kind of reception were they likely to meet with there? Their folly was utter and egregious.
2. The baseness of this rebellion. To return into Egypt was to go back into bondage. If the nobler attributes of manhood had not been crushed out of them by their former slavery, they would have preferred to die a thousand deaths fighting for the maintenance of their freedom than to be again subjected to the deep degradation of serfdom. But though free in body, they were, alas! mean and cowardly slaves in spirit.

3. The wickedness of this rebellion. Rebellion against an oppressive and cruel despotism is justifiable under certain circumstances; but they were under a most righteous and beneficent government. Their rebellion was not against even an excellent human government: blacker than this was their guilt; for they rebelled against the government of the Lord their God.

V. The noble conduct of Moses and Aaron in these painful circumstances.


1. Their exhortation to the people. From the narrative of the rebellion which Moses gave to the people more than thirty-eight years afterwards, it appears that he endeavoured to calm and encourage the people (Deuteronomy 1:29-31). This appeal to them was

(1) Manly. “Dread not, neither be afraid of them.”

(2) Inspiring. “The Lord your God which goeth before you, He shall fight for you.”

(3) Religions. He bases his assurance of Divine aid on the wondrous and glorious works which God had done for them. “According to all that He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness,” &c. But he appeals; to them in vain. “Wise and true,” says Babington, “was that inscription in Plato his seal, ‘Facilius est movere quieta, quam quietare mota.’ ”

2. Their prayer to God. “Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.”

(1) They thus manifest their deep distress and shame because of the rebellion of the people.
(2) By thus publicly prostrating themselves they probably hoped to move the people for good.
(3) They prayed for the interposition of God. “In such distress, nothing remained but to pour out their desires before God.” When human strength and wisdom are of no avail; when all other resources fail, and every other hope expires, the good man still hopes in God, and in prayer to Him has an unfailing resource.

NOTE.—In preaching from this portion of the history, it may perhaps be well to take the noble conduct of Moses and Aaron in the rebellion of the people, as the subject of a separate discourse; taking Deuteronomy 1:29-31, and Numbers 14:5 of this chap. as the text.


(a) Shallow Judges of human nature are they who think that tears in themselves ever misbecome a man. Sooner mayest thou trust thy purse to a professional pickpocket than give loyal friendship to a man who boasts of eyes to which the heart never mounts in dew. Only when man weeps he should be alone,—not because tears are weak, but because they should be sacred. Tears are akin to prayers. Pharisees parade prayers; impostors parade tears.—Lord Lytton.

Tears are not always fruitful; their hot drops

Sometimes but scorch the cheek and dim the eye;

Despairing murmurs over blackened hopes,

Not the meek spirit’s calm and chastened cry.

Oh! better not to grieve than waste our woe,

To fling away the spirit’s finest gold,

To lose, not gain, by sorrow; to overflow

The sacred channels which true sadness hold.

Weep not too fondly, lest the cherished grief

Should into vain, self-pitying weakness turn;

Weep not too long, but seek Divine relief;

Weep not too fiercely, lest the fierceness burn.

It is not tears but teaching we should seek;

The tears we need are genial as the shower;

They mould the being while they stain the cheek,

Freshening the spirit into life and power.

H. Bonar, D D.

(b) When these ten spies brought back the disastrous account, it spread depression amid the sensitive crowd. And it is singular enough, that if each individual of a crowd were alone, he would think rationally, weigh fairly, and act with some common sense. But of all things upon earth, a crowd, when once excuted, seems to become the most tumultuous, and to defy every prescription of precedent and common sense. The excitement runs through the ranks, accumulating at each step till the whole presents one of those anomalous spectacles that make us sometimes wonder at the insanity and infatuation of mankind. We have in this chapter a specimen of a genuine mob, frightened by false fears, acting with all that indiscretion, imprudence, inconsistency, by which mobs, in most countries and in most ages, have been branded or characterised. When they heard the news, they forgot that God was with His people; they forgot that His promises were committed to their success, and sinking into the very depths of despair they “lifted up their voice and wept” a whole night; and gave utterance to their tumultuous feelings in language the most disgraceful to them as men, the most discreditable to them as professing Christians.—John Cumming, D.D.

(c) Consider that murmuring is a mercy-embittering sin, a mercy-souring sin. As the sweetest things put into a sour vessel become sour, or put into a bitter vessel bitter; so murmuring puts gall and wormwood into every cup of mercy that God gives into our hands. The murmurer writes “Marah,” that is bitterness, upon all his mercies; and he reads and tastes bitterness in them all. As “to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet,” so to the murmuring soul every sweet thing is bitter.—Brooks,

(d) Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
Thou dost not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot:

Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remember’d not.

Shakespeare. “As you Like it.” ii. 7.


(Numbers 14:6-10)

I. Joshua and Caleb were deeply grieved by reason of the rebellion of the nation.

“And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of them that searched the land, rent their clothes.” They did this as a sign of their deep distress at the rebellious attitude of the people. The sins of men are ever a cause of deep grief to holy souls. They who are faithful cannot but mourn over the unfaithfulness of others when they see it. “Rivers of waters,” said the Psalmist, “run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law.” “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved, because,” &c. And Jeremiah cried, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears,” &c.

II. Joshua and Caleb nobly endeavoured to arrest the rebellion of the nation.

“They spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying,” &c. (Numbers 14:7-9). In this address—

1. They re assert the excellence of the land. “The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land, … a land which floweth with milk and honey” (see notes on Numbers 13:23-24).

2. They declare the attainableness of the land. “If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it us.”

(1) It was attainable as a Divine gift. “He will give it us.” God had repeatedly promised to leal them in and to give them possession of the land. See Genesis 17:8; Genesis 28:4; Exodus 3:8; Exodus 6:4; Exodus 6:8; and comp. Psalms 44:3.

(2) This gift would certainly be bestowed unless they alienated from them the Divine favour. “If the Lord delight in us,” &c. If they did not by their sin cause Him to withdraw His good pleasure from them the land would certainly be theirs.
3. They exhort the people not to violate the conditions of its attainment.

(1) By rebelling against the Lord. “Only rebel not ye against the Lord.” Rebellion against God deprives man of every worthy spiritual inheritance, excludes him from very heaven of the soul.
(2) By dreading the people of the land. “Neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us.” &c. To dread the people of the land was to dishonour God by distrusting Him. He was not with the people of the land. “Their shadow is departed from them.” When God gives up a people, as He had given up the idolatrous and corrupt Canaanites, their defence is gone. When a people have sunk so deeply in sin as to compel God to abandon them, the strongest walls are but a miserable and worthless defence to them. But the Lord was with Israel. “The Lord is with us: fear them not.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?” While God is with us, we may confidently say, even in the presence of the most numerous and mighty foes, “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” To dread our enemies is to distrust, and, by distrusting, to dishonour God. So Joshua and Caleb wisely and bravely tried to crush the rebellion, and to awaken a worthy spirit in the people. But their excellent effort was in vain. The excited multitude was utterly impervious to reason. Still, honour to Joshua and Caleb for their brave effort! (a)

III. Joshua and Caleb were in danger by reason or their effort to arrest the rebellion of the nation.

“All the congregation bade stone them with stones.” See here—

1. The tactics of an, excited mob when defeated in argument. This mad multitude could not gainsay or controvert the statement of Joshua and Caleb; but having or its side some six hundred thousand men and on the other side only four (including Moses and Aaron), it was an easy thing to propose to stone them; and as cowardly as it was easy. That must be a bad cause that needs to be supported by persecution. Reasons must be very scarce when men resort to stones.

2. The folly of an excited mob. This proposal to stone Joshua and Caleb was quite insane.

(1) Stoning would not disprove the testimony, or take away the wisdom from the counsel of the two true and brave explorers.
(2) Stoning would involve the nation in deeper guilt and disgrace. Utterly and sometimes outrageously unreasonable is an excited multitude, and ready to propose and so perform things not only extremely foolish but terribly wicked, as in this case.
3. The perils of faithfulness. Because of their loyalty to truth and duty Joshua and Caleb are in danger of being stoned to death. It has always been a perilous thing for a man to bear witness to an unpopular truth, or to advocate an unpopular cause, or to oppose a popular movement. He who would do any of these things must not count it a strange thing if he is reviled, slandered, and sorely persecuted. But, rightly regarded, it is unspeakably more perilous if man from fear, or any other motive, prove unfaithful to truth and recreant to duty. A destiny of eternal shame awaits such.

“They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.” (b)

IV. Joshua and Caleb rescued from danger by the interposition of God.

“And the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.” Keil and Del.: “Jehovah interposed with His judgment, … the majesty of God flashed out before the eyes of the people in a light which suddenly burst forth from the tabernacle (see Exodus 16:10).” A revelation like this would strike that cowardly host with instant confusion and alarm. “Those who faithfully expose themselves for God,” says M. Henry, “are sure to be taken under His special protection, and shall be hidden from the rage of men, either under heaven or in heaven.”


(a) On the whole, honour to small minorities, when they are genuine ones. Severe is their battle sometimes, but it is victorious always like that of gods. Tancred of Hauteville’s sons, some eight centuries ago, conquered all Italy; bound it up into organic masses, of vital order after a sort; founded thrones and principalities upon the same which have not yet entirely vanished—which, the last dying wrecks of which, still wait for some worthier successor in would appear. The Tancred Normans were some Four Thousand strong; the Italy they conquered in open fight, and bound up into masses at their ordering will, might count Eight Millions, all as large of bone, as eupeptic and black whiskered as they. How came the small minority of Normans to prevail in this so hopeless-looking debate? Intrinsically, doubt it not, because they were in the right; because in—dim, instinctive, but most genuine manner, they were doing the commandment of Heaven, and so Heaven had decided that they were to prevail. But extrinsically also, I can see, it was because the Normans were not afraid to have their skins scratched; and were prepared to die in their quarrel where needful. One man of that humour among a thousand of the other, consider it! Let the small minority, backed by the whole Universe, and looked on by such a cloud of invisible witnesses, fall into no despair.—Thos. Carlyle.

(b) An English officer, Colonel Wheeler, used to preach in the bazaar of the great city of Delhi. A Mohammedan, Wilayat Ali, was persuaded to give up the false prophet, and to believe in the true Saviour. He was baptised, and, in spite of the sufferings he had to endure in consequence, became a preacher in the bazaars. At last he came to live at Delhi, where he often preached, and thousands flocked to hear him. A great prince, Mirza Hajee, used to creep like Nicodemus, in the dark evenings, to Wilayat’s house, to hear in secret about Jesus. One Monday morning a friend rushed into the house, crying “The sepoys! the sepoys! They are murdering the Christians!” Wilayat called Fatima, his wife, and his seven children around him, and prayed, “O Lord, we have fallen into the flery trial! Oh, help us to confess our dear Lord, that if we die we may obtain a crown of glory.” He then kissed his wife and children, and said, “Whatever comes, don’t deny Christ. If you confess Him, you will have a crown of glory.” His wife crying bitterly, he said all he could to comfort her. “Oh, remember, my dear wife, if you die you will go to Jesus, and if you live Jesus will be with you. If any of the missionaries are alive, they will take care of you after my death; but if the missionaries should all die, Christ lives for ever. Even if the children are killed before your eyes, do not deny Christ.” While Wilayat was yet speaking, a number of sepoys on horseback rode up to his house, and knowing him to be a Christian, said, “Repeat the Mohammedan creed, or we will shoot you.” But he would not deny his Lord. Toll us what you are,” said one. “I am a Christian, and a Christian I will live and die.” They dragged him along the ground, beating him about the head and face with their shoes. Not being soldiers, they had no swords. “Now preach Christ to us,” some cried out in mocking tones. Others said, “Turn to Mohammed, and we will let you go.” “No, I never, never will!” the faithful martyr cried; “my Saviour took up His cross and went to God, and I will lay down my life and go to Him.” The scorching rays of the sun were beating on the poor sufferer’s head. With a laugh one of the wretches exclaimed, “I suppose you would like some water.” “I do not want water,” replied the martyr. “When my Saviour was dying, He had nothing but vinegar mingled with gall. But do not keep me in this pain. If you mean to kill me, do so at once.” Another sepoy coming up lifted his sword, the martyr called aloud, “Jesus receive my spirit!” and with one stroke his head was nearly cut off. Fatima, standing under a tree, beheld the stroke; she shrieked with agony, and ran back to her house. But she found it on fire and surrounded by people who were plundering it. Then she fled to Prince Mirza Hajee’s house, where she discovered her fatherless children. At the end of three days Mirza Hajee came to Fatima, and said, “I dare not keep you any longer, but if you will become a Mohammedan, you will be safe, and I will give you a house, and three pounds a month for your support.” But Fatima would not give up her Saviour. No one attempted to kill her, for very few knew she was a Christian. After ten days she escaped with her children out of the town of Delhi; and went to a village forty miles off. After three months, hearing that the English had taken Delhi, she returned thither. But soon her little baby died. Fatima wept much. She now began to inquire about the missionaries, but found they had all been killed. But remembering the missionaries at Agra, her native town, she sent to one of them. What was her joy when an answer arrived, inviting her to go to Agra! She cried for joy, thanked God, and went to her native city with all her surviving children.—“The Sunday School Teacher.”


(Numbers 14:8)

Let us lose sight of the Israelites, and direct our thoughts to the universal family of God; and look beyond Canaan to the heavenly land. Our text contains,—

I. A Supposition.

“If the Lord delight in us.” Proverbs 8:30. God delights in His Son, &c. He delights in His holy angels, &c. But have we reason to suppose that He delights in His saints?

1. We might conclude, indeed, that He could not delight in them, when we reflect,

(1) On their nothingness and vanity “Man at his best estate,” &c.
(2) On their guilt and rebellion. Not one but is a sinner.
(3) On their pollution and want of conformity to His likeness.
(4) And more especially when we reflect on His greatness, independence and purity.
2. But there are the most satisfactory evidences that He does delight in His people.

(1) Observe the names by which He distinguishes them. He calls them His “jewels”—“inheritance”—“treasure”—“diadem”—“crown” and “portion.” See the very term in the text. And Proverbs 11:20.

(2) Observe the declarations He has made respecting them. “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye.” He has engaged His constant presence—His unremitting care—His ceaseless goodness—His tender mercy—His gracious interpositions—His richest gifts—His greatest blessings.
(3) Observe what He has done for them. Favoured them—sustained them—redeemed them—given His Son—Spirit—promises.
(4) What He has provided for them. All needful grace. “The Lord God is a sun,” &c. “My God shall supply,” &c. “Eye hath not seen,” &c.
(5) Eternal life and unceasing glory.

“His saints are precious in His sight,
He views His children with delight,”

II. An inference.

“Then He will bring us into this land,” &c. Observe here,—

1. The land specified. It is “the land afar off.” The good land. The heavenly Canaan. The region of immortality. We shall not live here always. Need this rest, &c.

“There is a land of pure delight,” &c.

2. This land is God’s gift. Not the result of merit—free gift of God. It is given in promise—given in Christ. Purchased inheritance.

3. To this land God must bring His saints. Difficulties, enemies, and dangers intervene. He will guide to it. Keep—safely conduct, and at length put people into it, as He did Israel. “Fear not, little flock,” &c. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” &c. Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:12. O, yes; the inference is satisfactory, and most conclusive. Let,—

1. Christians expect it, and live in reference to it.

2. Invite others to go with you to the better land.—Jabez Burns, D.D.


(Numbers 14:11-12)

In the eleventh verse the Lord remonstrates with Moses on the sin of the rebellious people, and in the twelfth He announces His judgment because of their sin. Let us notice:—

I. The Divine view of Israel’s sin.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke Me?” &c. (Numbers 14:11). This remonstrance sets forth—

1. The nature of their sin. They distrusted God. The very root of their rebellion was their unbelief. “How long will it be ere they believe Me?” They did not believe His promises to them, or His power to fulfil His word. They distrusted both His truth and His strength.

(1) Unbelief is a terribly prolific sin: it gives birth to many other sins.

(2) Unbelief is a terribly fatal sin: it involves the soul in condemnation and death (John 3:18; John 3:36).

2. The reproach which their sin cast upon God. “The Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke Me?” “Provoke” is not a good rendering of נָאַץ; to scorn, to despise, to contemn, to reject, would better express the meaning of the word (See Fuerst’s Lex.). Keil and Del. clearly and truly express the meaning of the interrogation: “Jehovah resented the conduct of the people as base contempt of His Deity, and as utter mistrust of Him, notwithstanding all the signs which He had wrought in the midst of the nation.” Unbelief is an insult to God. “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar.” (a)

3. The long continuance of their sin. “How long will this people despise Me? and how long will it be ere they believe Me?” Protracted, indeed, must have been their unbelief, when the infinitely Patient One cries out concerning it, “How long?” God notes how long we continue in evil. Solemn reflection this. He has marked some of you persisting in evil through many years; and He cries concerning you, “How long?” Let the young see to it that the long-suffering God shall not have to make such an inquiry concerning them

4. The aggravation of their sin. “How long will it be ere they believe Me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?” Many and marvellous were the manifestations of the Divine power, which they had seen working on their behalf; these should have destroyed their unbelief, and confirmed their faith. Man’s unbelief is aggravated in proportion to the number and power of the aids to faith which God has granted to him.

II. The Divine judgment for Israel’s sin.

“I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them.”

1. The nature of the judgment. “I will disinherit them.” God proposes to deprive them of the inheritance to which He had called them. They had despised their destiny, and they shall forfeit it. “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise,” &c. (Hebrews 4:1-11.)

2. The instrument of the judgment. “I will smite them with the pestilence.” In God’s armoury there is no deficiency of weapons. Fire and hail, storm and tempest, plague and pestilence, famine and war, are all His instruments, &c. (b)

3. The righteousness of the judgment. They had despised the good land, and they shall not inherit it. They wished that they had died in Egypt or in the wilderness, and they shall have their wish—in the wilderness they shall die. They had shown themselves utterly unworthy of their inheritance, and it shall not be theirs. The rigteousness of such a judgment is unquestionable. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways,” &c. “All His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.”

III. The Divine regard for His covenant.

“I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.”
In these words we see:

1. God’s regard for His covenant. “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips.” “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.” He may cut off Israel, but He will not fail to carry out His plans. By sin we may violate our interest in the purposes of His grace; but we cannot frustrate their fulfilment.

2. God’s independence of man. He could accomplish His designs without the aid of Israel. He needs not the support of any of His creatures. He Himself is the great sustainer of all creatures, and of all worlds. He can do without any of us, or without all of us. “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? or who hath first given to Him?” &c. (Romans 11:34-36).

3. God’s regard for His faithful servant. See the honour which the Lord here puts upon Moses.

(1) In announcing to him His purposes. He would not destroy this rebellious race until He had communicated with His faithful servant. Comp. Genesis 18:17-19 : “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” &c. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” &c.

(2) In offering to him this extraordinary honour. “I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.” “If any man serve Me, him will My Father honour.”


Impress such considerations as these:—

1. The heinousness of unbelief;shun it.

2. The large number and convincing character of the evideness of Christianity;remember that our faith should bear a proportion to them. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall he much required,” &c.

3. God takes our conduct as evidence of our belief or unbelief;—let us show our faith by our works. “Faith without works is dead,” worthless, unreal. “Faith worketh by love,” &c.

4. Take heed lest we be disinherited because of unbelief. Romans 11:20-21; Hebrews 3:12 to Hebrews 4:11.


(a) The goodness of God is contemned by a distrust of His Providence. As all trust in Him supposeth Him good, so all distrust of Him supposeth Him evil; either without goodness to exert His power, or without power to display His goodness. Job seems to have a spice of this in His complaint (Job 30:20), “I cry unto Thee and Thou dost not hear me; I stand up, and Thou regardest me not.” It is a fume of the serpent’s venom, first breathed into man to suspect Him of cruelty, severity, regardlessness, even under the daily evidences of His good disposition: and it is ordinary not to believe Him when He speaks, nor credit Him when He acts; to question the goodness of His precepts, and misinterpret the kindness of His providence, as if they were designed for the supports of a tyranny and the deceit of the miserable. Thus the Israelites thought their miraculous deliverance from Egypt, and the placing them in security in the wilderness, was intended only to pound them up for a slaughter (Numbers 14:3); thus they defiled the lustre of Divine goodness which they had so highly experimented, and placed not that confidence in Him which was due to so frequent a Benefactor, and thereby crucified the rich kindness of God, as Genebrard translates the word “limited” (Psalms 78:41). It is also a jealousy of Divine goodness, when we seek to deliver ourselves from our straits by unlawful ways, as though God had not kindness enough to deliver us without committing evil. What I did God make a world and all creatures in it, to think of them no more, not to concern Himself in their affairs? If He be good, He is diffusive, and delights to communicate Himself; and what subjects should there be for it but those that seek Him and implore His assistance? It is an indignity to Divine bounty to have such mean thoughts of it, that it should be of a nature contrary to that of His works, which, the better they are, the more diffusive they are. Doth a man distrust that the sun will not shine any more, or the earth not bring forth its fruit? Doth he distrust the goodness of an approved medicine for the expelling of his distemper? If we distrust those things, should we not render ourselves ridiculous and sottish? And if we distrust the Creator of those things, do we not make ourselves contemners of His goodness? If His caring for us be a continual argument to move us to cast our care upon Him as it is (1 Peter 5:7); then, if we cast not our care upon Him, it is a denial of His gracious care of us, as if He regarded not what becomes of us.—Charnocke.

A very tender parent had a son, who from his earliest years proved headstrong and dissolute. Conscious of the extent of his demerits, he dreaded and hated his parent. Meanwhile every means were used to disarm him of these suspicions, so unworthy of the tenderness and love which yearned in his father’s bosom, and of all the kindness and forbearance which were lavished upon him. Eventually, the means appeared to be successful, and confidence, in a great degree, took the place of his ungenerous suspicions. Entertained in the family as one who had never trespassed, he now left his home to embark in mercantile affairs, and was assured that if in any extremity he would apply to his parent, he should find his application kindly received. In the course of years it fell out that he was reduced to extremity; but instead of communicating his case to his parent, his base suspicion and disbelief of his tenderness and care again occupied him, and he neglected to apply to him. Who can tell how deeply that father’s heart was rent at such depravity of feeling? Yet this is the case of the believer, who, pardoned and accepted, and made partaker of a Father’s love and covenant promises, when under distress refuses to trust his heavenly and almighty Parent, throws away his filial confidence, and with his old suspicions stands aloof in sullen distrust. O! how is God dishonoured by this sinful unbelief.—Salter.

(b) By His sovereign authority God can make any creature the instrument of His vengeance. He hath all the creatures at His beck, and can commission any of them to be a dreadful scourge Strong winds and tempests fulfil His word (Psalms 148:8); the lightnings answer Him at His call, and cry aloud, “Here are we” (Job 38:35). By His sovereign authority He can render locusts as mischievous as lions, forge the meanest creatures into swords and arrows, and commission the most despicable to be His executioners. He can cut off joy from our spirits, and make our own hearts to be our tormentors, our most confident friends our persecutors, our nearest relations to be His avengers; they are more His, who is their Sovereign, than ours, who place a vain confidence in them. Rather than Abraham shall want children, He can raise up stones, and adopt them into His family; and rather than not execute His vengeance, He can array the stones in the streets, and make them His armed subjects against us. If He speak the word, a hair shall drop from our heads to choke us, or a vapour, congealed into rheum in our heads, shall drop down and putrefy our vitals. He can never want weapons, who is Sovereign over the thunders of heaven and stones of the earth, over every creature; and can, by a sovereign word turn our greatest comforts into curses.—Charnocke.


(Numbers 14:13-19)

Moses does not appear to have entertained for a moment the proposal that a people greater and mightier than Israel, and arising from him, should take the place of Israel. He sought not his own honour, but the glory of God. And at once in broken speech, indicating a spirit deeply moved, he earnestly intercedes with God for the guilty and condemned people. His simple and earnest intercession requires very little explanation. Let us consider:—

I. The petition which he presented.

“Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people.” “The pardon of a national sin, as such, consists in the turning away of the national punishment; and that is it for which Moses is here so earnest.” His prayer is that God would not disinherit; the guilty nation; that he would not kill all this people at a stroke; but that he would manifest His mercy in mitigating their doom.

II. The pleas by which he urged his petition.

1. The honour of the Divine Name amongst the heathen. “And Moses said unto the Lord: Then the Egyptians shall hear,” &c. Numbers 14:13-16. (See Critical and Explanatory Notes.) The main points of this plea seem to be these:

(1) The relations of God with Israel and His doings for Israel were well known amongst neighbouring rations.
(2) If God should destroy Israel at a stroke, that also would be known amongst these nations.
(3) The interpretation of such destruction by the nations would be such as would reflect on the honour of God. They would conclude that His resources were exhausted; that His power had failed to sustain and lead Israel onward; and thus His glory would be tarnished.
(4) That this might not be the case Moses entreats the Lord not to disinherit the rebellious people. This plea of the Divine honour in the eyes of the nations should afford both encouragement and exhortation to the Church of God. Encouragement, inasmuch as it implies that the glory of God amongst men is bound up with the prosperity of His Church. And exhortation, since it implies that it is the duty of every member of the Church to seek in all things the glory of His Name. (a)

2. The Divine character as revealed to Moses. “And now, I beseech Thee, let the power of my Lord be great,” &c. (Numbers 14:17-18); Comp. Exodus 34:6-7. Keil and Del.: “The words: Let the power be great, equivalent to show Thyself great in power, are not to be connected with what precedes, but with what follows; viz. ‘show Thyself mighty by verifying Thy word, Jehovah, long suffering and great in mercy,’ &c.” For a ruler to forgive on a large scale and wisely, and at the same time to uphold the authority of the law and the dignity of the throne, demands much power, and that of the highest kind. Excellent is Matthew Henry’s note on this point: “If He should destroy them God’s power would be questioned; if He should continue and complete their salvation, notwithstanding the difficulties that arose, not only from the strength of their enemies, but from their own provocations, this would greatly magnify the Divine power; what cannot He do who could make so weak a people conquerors, and such an unworthy people favourites?” The servant of God pleads especially the great mercy of God as manifested in His forbearance with sinners and His forgiveness of sin. “The Lord is longsuffering and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” And his plea is strengthened by the fact that God has revealed Himself as exercising this mercy in such a way as to afford no encouragement to evil. “By no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” The Psalmist celebrates the same aspect of God’s dealings with Israel in the wilderness: “Thou wast a God that forgavest them, and Thou cookest vengeance of their inventions.” How powerful is this plea! (b)

3. The truth of the Divine word. “Let the power of my Lord be great, according as Thou hast spoken.” God had Himself proclaimed to Moses those attributes of His character which he pleads. So the man of God appeals to the Divine faithfulness. Surely God will maintain the character which He had Himself proclaimed! (c)

All the pleas which we have mentioned are based upon the doings and character and honour of God. No plea is based upon anything in the people. Moses does not even urge their great need. But, like David, he entreats God to forgive for His own sake. “For Thy Name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity.” “The reason of our forgiveness is not in ourselves, but in God. The least sinner has no more right to the forgiveness of the least sin, than the greatest sinner has to the forgiveness of the greatest sin. Both must seek mercy, not because of any extenuating elements in themselves, but wholly and solely because God is ‘the Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.’ God’s sovereign love originated salvation; God’s sovereign love must get the glory of that salvation.”

3. The forgiveness which God had already bestowed.

“Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people, … as Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now.” This is bold pleading; but it puts great honour upon God. It would not do to make this a plea in asking anything of man. But “God makes past favours precedents for new ones.”

“Man’s plea to man is that he never more
Will beg; and that he never begged before.
Man’s plea to God is that he did obtain
A former suit, and therefore sues again.
How good a God we serve, who, when we sue.
Makes His old gifts the examples of the new!”



From this intercession of Moses let us learn—

1. How to plead with God for ourselves.

2. How to plead with God for others, and especially for His people.


(a) The seal of many rises and falls like a barometer. They are hot as fire, and cold as ice, in the shortest space; their fervour is as transient as the flame of thorns, and hence it is very hard to turn it to any practical account. Oh, for more of the deeply-seated principle of intense love to God’s salvation, steady and abiding, which shall make a man say continually, “Let God be magnified!” We would desire to wake up in the morning with this on our lips. We would begin with the enquiry, “What can I do to magnify God this day?” We would be in business in the middle of the day, and yet never lose the one desire to magnify God. We would return to our family at night, urged by the same impulse, “How can I magnify God in my household?” If I lie sick, I would feel that I must magnify God by patience; if I rise from that bed, I would feel the sweet obligation to magnify Him by gratitude; if I take a prominent position, I am doubly bound to magnify Him who makes me a leader to His flock; and, if I be unknown and obscure in the Church, I must with equal seal magnify Him by a conscientious discharge of the duties of my position. Oh, to have one end always before us, and to press forward towards it, neither turning to the right hand nor to the left! As though we were balls shot out of a rifled cannon, we would rush on, never hesitating or turning aside, but flying with all speed towards the centre of the target. May our spirits be impelled by a Divine energy towards this one only thing. The Lord be magnified! whether I live or die, may God be glorified in me!—C. H. Spurgeon.

(b) Consider what it is for God to be glorious. It is the glory of pity unfathomable. He considers glory to lie in long-suffering love. It is not that He shoots the light of His countenance far as the sun shoots its beams, that makes God proud. It is because He knows how to work for men that are ungrateful, that His heart swells with consciousness of its power. It is not because He is able, as it were, by His hands to span easily the orbs that fill immensity. It is the glory of magnanimity; it is the glory of waiting upon imperfection and weakness; it is the glory of pardoning and healing, and pardoning again and healing again, and still continuing to pardon and heal to the uttermost and to the end—it is this that makes Divine glory. It is the power of God’s heart to be magnanimous that makes Him think well of Himself. There lies His glory.—H. W. Beecher.

(c) Moses takes what God had said, next to what God is, as the ground and warrant of his plea and cry to Him for mercy and for forgiveness. What God has promised is given to us to be returned to Him in prayer. The meaning of promises is to suggest and be the language of prayer. Wherever you find a promise in the Bible, there you find the substance, the element, the words of prayer. “All the promises of God in Jesus Christ are Yea and Amen.” They wait for you—dead in themselves on the sacred page—to seize them, translate them into prayer, and return them in that shape to Him who spake them, pleading with Him,—“O Lord, remember Thy power, as Thou hast promised us, saying, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious.” You can never need a prayer-book as long as you have a Bible. You can never plead that you cannot pray as long as you can open the book of Psalms, and see what God has promised; take those beautiful Psalms, which Martin Luther called “A little Bible,” and as you read them, turn their promises into prayer. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Turn that into prayer; and plead with God, that He will never let you want—that He will never forsake you and leave you—that He will be your rod and your staff—that He will furnish your table in the presence of your enemies—that He will let mercy and goodness follow you all the days of your life—and that you may dwell in His house for ever. Take promises so frequent, so full of power in all that can cheer, comfort, and sustain, scattered through every page of this blessed Book, and transmit them back to God in prayer, in the name of Christ Jesus.—John Cumming, D.D.

(d) It is a strange thing in human nature, that if anybody does you a kindness, you may forget him, and be ungrateful; but if you bestow a kindness on a person you will love him and remember him. It is not the receiver generally that is certain to give the love, it is the given of kindness who binds himself to the other. A mother must love her child because she has done so much for it; she has suffered and she has cared so much, that she must love it. The more you have done for a person the letter you love him. Now, Jesus does not love us because of any good in us, but to-day He loves us because He has done so much for us. He has taken the yoke from our necks, He has laid meat to us, He has drawn us with bands of love and cords of a man, and having spent so much love on us, He loves us dearly. Jesus, who suffered so much, is bound to us by new bonds. Calvary is not only the fruit of His love, but the root of fresh love. Another stream of love springs up at the cross’ foot. “I,” saith the Redeemer, “can see My groans and agonies in them.” He loves us because He has loved us. This thought ought to cheer us—God has done too much for us to let us perish.

“And can He have taught me

To trust in His name,

And thus far have brought me

To put me to shame?”

C. H. Spurgeon.

The Rev. Philip Henry, after praying for two of his children who were dangerously ill, said, “If the Lord will be pleased to grant me this my request concerning my children, I will not say as the beggars at our door used to do, I’ll never ask anything of Him again;’ but, on the contrary, he shall hear oftener from me than ever; and I will love God the better as long as I live.”—Dict. of Illust.


(Numbers 14:19)

“Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people.… as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”
The narrative from which the text is taken shews,—

2. How apt we are to look at the dark side of things and to believe the bad before the good.

3. How unreasonable people are when angry. “The children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron,” when they knew that it was Jehovah who was leading them.

3. How fearful it is to give way to and to nurse evil temper. Here, having spent the night fostering bitter feeling, we find the people proposing to murder Joshua and Caleb. Man in a passion has for the time his reason dethroned, &c. The Bible condemns anger, shews it to be of the essence of murder.

The text teaches, That God’s merciful dealings with us in the past, are encouragements for us to ask and to hope for the same in the present. God does not change as we do; what He has done, He does now, and will do. His past treatment of us is an index to His future. History is a revelation of His character. God ever has forgiven, and He does so now. In this lies our only hope as sinners. We deserve not to be forgiven; we dare not hope for it time after time, were it not that God has forgiven until now, and that with Him there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” This thought helped Moses to pray for the people. He had nothing to offer as an excuse for them; his only hope was in the known character of God. He had forgiven them again and again, and because of that Moses had faith to ask Him still to do so. We could not use this argument with any one but God. With our fellow-man we should feel,—“he has done it so often, I have no heart to ask him again.” But God gives that we might still ask; every gift of His is an “earnest” No sinner need despair. Let him only think of the character of God, and he cannot sink. Is the sin great? God has “forgiven until now,” and we have His word that “Whosoever will” may come to Him. It is more certain that God will forgive the penitent than that the sun and moon will rise in their appointed time. They have done so; we therefore conclude that they will continue to do so. God has forgiven in all ages; and in addition to that we have His Word. Let those who under a deep sense of guilt are trembling on the verge of despair, take heart. Go to God as you are, seek Him in Christ: He has “forgiven until now,” and He will forgive. We argue this because,—

I. God is as able and as willing to forgive now as ever He has been.

“The Lord’s hand is not shortened,” &c. (Isaiah 59:1). His mercy is not exhausted. He has been giving to numberless ages; but he has lost nothing in imparting to others. Notice how the word power is associated with pardon and salvation. “Mighty to save;” “able to save;” “power of God unto salvation;” and here in Numbers 14:17, “Let the power,” &c. It is not a trifling thing to save man. It is only the strong that can afford to forgive the rebel. God is great enough and strong enough to offer a free and full pardon to all who will accept it. Not only has He the power to forgive, but He is now as full of compassion as ever He has been. His heart is as tender as His arm is strong. None need fear to come to Him. If sin abounds, grace abounds much more. As the tide covers the rock as well as the grains of sand, so Divine mercy covers the sins of every penitent.

II. Man is now, as much as ever he has been, the object of God’s compassion.

There has been no change in man’s condition or deserts. We are no better or worse than others who have been forgiven. We, in this enlightened age, have not in any way ceased to need the mercy of God. We are helpless, full of sin, in great danger, &c. God knows this, and yearns for our salvation.

III. God’s purpose with regard to the human race is now what it ever has been.

His purpose has been, and is, our salvation. This is near to His heart, &c. He gave His Son, &c. He has the same motives and the same desire to pardon now as ever He has had.
Well, then, we can confidently invite all, ALL to Him. “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Let none despair. He has forgiven through Christ “until now.”

Until now! Let there be no misunderstanding. “Now is the accepted time.” None of us have to-morrow; that belongs to God. All we have is this moment. Let it not be misused. Mercy is within reach. God forgives “until now.”—David Lloyd.


(Numbers 14:20-25)

In this reply we have—

I. Pardon in answer to prayer.

“And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word.” Moses had prayed that God would not cut off all the people at a stroke, but that He would pardon them; and God grants him his requests. “The answer of God,” says Attersoll, “is to be referred to the prayer of Moses, and is proportioned out according to his request. He desired that God would not utterly root out that whole people as one man, according as He had threatened: his prayer is granted, and God declareth that He had pardoned them, not absolutely, but according to His word: he requested they might not utterly be destroyed, he receiveth answer, they shall not utterly be destroyed.” Observe here:
1 The great power of prayer. “Pray one for another.… The effectual fervent prayer,” &c.

2. The great mercy of God. “He hath not dealt with us after our sins,” &c. “Thy mercy is great unto the heavens.” (a)

II. Punishment for aggravated sins.

1. Their sin, and its aggravations.

(1) They tempted God by their unbelief and disobedience. “Have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to My voice.” With a perversity which is almost incredible, they questioned His power to provide for them and give them possession of the land, His goodness in His dealings with them, and His faithfulness as to the promises which He had made to them. They “tempted” and “provoked” Him by demanding signs and wonders as a proof of His power. Comp. Psalms 78:17-20.

(2) They thus tempted God by their unbelief notwithstanding many and mighty encouragements to faith. “These men have seen My glory and My miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness.” This was the great aggravation of their sin. (See notes on Numbers 14:11).

(3) They had been guilty of this sin many times. “These ten times.” Some expositors enumerate ten occasions on which they had tempted God since their emancipation from Egypt. But we take it that “ten” is used here as the number of completeness, as in Genesis 31:7. They had filled up the measure of their provocations; and now God will visit and punish them.

2. Their punishment and its certainty. “As truly as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah, all those men … shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked Me see it.”

(1) The nature of their punishment. They had despised the good land, and they shall not inherit it; they had distrusted His promise, and its blessings shall not be to them. “They shall not see the land,” &c. Comp. Psalms 95:11.

(2) The certainty of their punishment. God declares it with an oath. “As truly as I live,” &c. He swears by His own existence, and by the certainty of the accomplishment of His purposes, that they shall not see the good land. Sure as He lives, and sure as, “notwithstanding the sin and opposition of these men, He would still carry out His work of salvation to a glorious victory,” these men shall not enter into the Promised Land. Thus they were pardoned, but they were punished. “Thou wast a God that forgavest them, and Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” Many of the consequences of sin are not annulled, cannot be annulled by forgiveness. (b)

III. Reward for eminent service.

“But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit,” &c. Caleb is here distinguished from the rest (Joshua is honourably named hereafter) in three respects:

1. As to his spirit. “He had another spirit with him,” and a different one. His was a believing spirit, theirs an unbelieving one; his was courageous, theirs cowardly; his was obedient, theirs rebellious.

2. As to his conduct. “And hath followed Me fully.” He had manifested unfaltering fidelity to God. (c)

3. As to his destiny. “Him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.” Comp. Joshua 14:6-15.

IV. Judgment for cowardice.

“And now the Amalekites and the Canaanites are dwelling in the valley; wherefore, to-morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.” They had taken alarm when they heard of the Amalekites and the Canaanites (Numbers 13:29), and shown themselves utterly unfit to encounter them: and now when they must advance to meet them or retreat into the wilderness, most naturally they are commanded to retreat. The life of struggle and enterprize and glory is not for cowards: it is for them to turn back from these things, and to wander ingloriously, ignobly, in the desert. Unto these cowards is awarded a coward’s doom. “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.”


(a) Say not that any crime of man

Was e’er too great to be forgiven;

Can we within our little span,

Engrasp the viewless mind of Heav’n?

Shall we attempt with puny force

To lash back ocean with a rod?

Arrest the planets in their course?

Or weigh the mercies of a God?

Our mercies, like ourselves, may be

Small, finite, and ungracious ever;

May spurn a brother’s bended knee—

But God forsakes the contrite, never!

Vast as Himself they shine above,

To eyes that look through sorrow’s tear;

Great though the crime, great is the love,

If those who seek it are sincere.


(b) Men’s sins carry with them a punishment in this life. Different sins are differently punished. The degrees of punishment are not always according to our estimate of the culpability. Many sins against a man’s body go on in the body, reproducing their penalties from year to year, and from ten years to ten years. And the ignorant crime, or the knowing crime, committed when one is yet in his minority, may repeat itself and repeat its bitterness and its penalty when one is hoary with age. Mere repenting of sin does not dispossess the power of all sins. There are transgressions that throw persons out of the pale of society. There are single acts the penalties of which never fail to reassert themselves. There are single wrongs that are never healed. This great transgression that seemed in the commission without any threat and without any danger, pursued this man through all his early life, and clear down until he was an old man and returned from his exile. And now then he was quit of it only by one of those great critical transitions that take place, or may take place, in the life of a man, without which he would have gone on, doubtless, expiating still his great wrong.—H. W. Beecher.

Gay, dissolute man, there is that poor girl ruined body and soul through you in years gone by, and nothing you can ever do can undo that mischief. Could your tears for over flow, you can never unwrite the past nor restore the lost one. Could you being that wandering soul back by Divine grace, even then the bitter past could not be unwritten, for she, too, has spread the poison. All that accursed past of sin must live on. God forgives sin, but much of the consequences of sin God Himself does not avert. If you light the fire it will burn on to the lowest hell; God may forgive your incendiarism but the fire itself still continues. You spoke a word against the Lord Jesus in the ears of some youngster years gone by, which turned him aside from the right path. You cannot unsay it, and that youngster’s infidelity and unbelief you cannot now destroy. The perpetual mischief which you have done to others might fitly be a reason with the Most High why He should not forgive you, but yet He says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” With all this before Him, with all the consequences of your sin before Him, He forgives you freely if you rest on Jesus.—C. H. Spurgeon.

(c) Is there anything we value amongst ourselves more than faithfulness, honesty, constancy—punctual, critical, scrupulous virtue? Do we not trust the faithful one? Do we not praise faithfulness above all other virtues when we are talking about relationships which subsist between us and amongst us? It is faithfulness that God values; not brilliance, not greatness, not astonishing, dazzling splendour, but reality, honour, honesty, diligence. Herein it is that the appeal of the Gospel comes to every man—to the man of great powers, and the man of the feeblest influence; to the man of the highest honour, and to the man of the remotest obscurity.—Joseph Parker, D.D.


(Numbers 14:20-21)

I. The import of the promise before us.

“As I live, saith the Lord, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Glory is the manifestation of excellence. The glory of God is that display of His most blessed character and will which opens the way for His intelligent creatures to know, to love, and to obey Him. This glory is exhibited in various ways. It shines in all the works of creation; … is manifested by the works of His providence; … above all, in His works of REDEMPTION. Here all His perfections unite and harmonize, and shine with transcendent glory. Now, when the Gospel shall be preached and received throughout the world; when every kindred, and people, and nation, and tongue shall not only be instructed in its sublime doctrines, but also brought under its benign and sanctifying power, then, with emphatic propriety, may it be said that “the earth is filled with the glory of the Lord.” As the highest glory of which an individual creature is capable is to bear the image of his Maker, so the highest glory of which our world at large is capable is to be filled with the holy and benevolent Spirit of Him who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person,—is to have the knowledge and love of the Saviour reigning over all the populations of our globe, “from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same.” Such appears to be the import of the promise before us.

II. What reason have we for believing that these scenes will be one day realized?

1. Our hope is founded on Jehovah’s faithful and unerring promise (Numbers 23:19; Matthew 24:35). Take the following as a small specimen of the “exceeding great and precious” catalogue found in the inspired volume,—Psalms 2:8; Psalms 67:2; Psalms 72:17; Isaiah 40:5; Habakkuk 2:14; Zechariah 9:10; Malachi 1:11; Philippians 2:10-11; Revelation 11:15.

2. Our confidence is confirmed by the consideration that this religion is, in its nature, adapted above all others to be a universal religion. Its doctrines, its worship, and its system of moral duty are all equally adapted to universality. Acts 10:34-35; Acts 17:26. It teaches that He is alike related to the children of men as their Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor; and that the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the monarch and the slave, all stand upon a level in His sight, and have all equal access, if penitent and believing, to the throne of His heavenly grace.

3. The present aspect of the world furnishes much reason to hope that the accomplishment of this promise is drawing nigh. I know not that there is at this hour a single portion of the globe to which the enlightened and prudent missionary may not obtain some degree of access. He who “sits as Governor among the nations” seems to be spreading a natural preparation around the world for the preaching of the Gospel among all nations.

Contemplate, further, the singular progress of various forms of improvement throughout the civilized world, all of which may be considered as bearing on the great promise contained in the text. The intercourse between different parts of the globe increasing every day with a rapidity and to an extent beyond all former precedent; the endless improvements in the means of conveyance from one part of the world to another; the wonderful improvements in the art of printing; and the many indications that the English language—the language of those parts of the world which are most favoured with Gospel light—will probably, ere long, become the prevailing language of the whole world.

III. What is our present duty in relation to the promise before us?

1. To believe the promise. Unbelief cuts the nerves of all spiritual exertion, and tends to discouragement and despondency.

2. To labour and pray without ceasing for its accomplishment. There is no piety in the confidence which neglects prayer, and which does not add to prayer diligent effort to attain that for which it prays. God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of means.

3. In labouring for the spread of the Gospel no adverse occurrence, however painful, ought to discourage us, or at all to weaken either our confidence or our efforts. With that promise we may meet the most distressing difficulties without fear.

4. To pray without ceasing for the power of the Holy Spirit to render all the means which are employed for its accomplishment effectual. It is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah,” that means are attended with a saving energy.

5. If so great a work as evangelizing the whole world is promised, and is certainly to be accomplished, then our plans and efforts for promoting this object ought to bear a corresponding character; that is, they ought to be large, liberal, and ever expanding. We ought to consider it as our duty to devote to this object our utmost resources, and to engage the co-operation of all over whom we exert an influence.—Sam. Miller.


(Numbers 14:24)

There are three things about Caleb worthy of consideration:—

I. His faithful following of his God.

Perceive, he never went before his God. That is presumption. The highest point to which the true believer ever comes is to walk with God, but never to walk before Him. We ought to follow the Lord. The sheep follow the shepherd (John 10:4). They follow as the soldier follows the captain … as the disciple follows the master. Caleb followed the Lord “fully,” says one text, “wholly,” says another. And here I shall follow the explanation of good Matthew Henry.

1. He followed Him universally, without dividing. He did not wish to divide the commands; what God had joined together he did not desire to put asunder. Caleb was quite as ready to fight the giants as he was to carry the clusters. If you say concerning the Lord’s will, “I will do this and I will not do that,” you do in fact make yourself the master, the spirit of rebellion is in you. Some excuse themselves for neglecting duties on the ground that they are non-essential—as if all duty was not essential to the perfect follower of Christ. “They are unimportant,” says the man, “they involve nothing;” whereas it often happens that the apparently unimportant duty is really the most important of all. Many a great lord, in the olden times, has given up his land on copyhold to his tenant, and perhaps the-fee which was to be annually paid was to bring a small bird or a peppercorn to the lord of the manor—in some cases it has been the bringing of a turf or a green leaf. Now, if the tenant should on the annual day refuse to do his homage, and say it was too trifling a thing to bring a peppercorn to the lord of the manor in fee, would he not have forfeited his estate, for he would have been setting himself up as a superior owner, and asserting a right which his feudal lord would at once resist?

Brother, is there not some command which as yet you have not obeyed?

2. Caleb followed the Lord sincerely, without dissembling. One of the safest tests of sincerity is found in a willingness to suffer for the cause. How courageous was that man, who had only numbered forty summers, to put himself in opposition to the other ten princes, and declare in flat contradiction to them—“Let us go up; we are able to possess the land.” When the people took up stones, and Joshua was forced to speak with Caleb, it was with no small peril, and required no little mental courage to stand up amidst the insults and jeers of the crowd, and still to bring up a good report of the land.… How many profess to follow God who follow Him without their hearts!

3. Caleb followed the Lord cheerfully, without disputing. God requires no slaves to grace His throne; He is the Lord of the empire of love. God loveth to have the joyful obedience of His creatures. That obedience which is not cheerful is disobedience, for the Lord looketh at the heart of a thing, and if He seeth that we serve Him from force, and not because we love Him, He will reject our offerings at our hands. The service which is coupled with cheerfulness is hearty service, and therefore true. Cheerfulnesss, again, makes a man strong in service. It is to our service what oil is to the wheels of a railway carriage.

Brother, do you serve the Lord cheerfully?

4. He followed the Lord constantly, without declining. Forty-five years he lived in the camp of Israel, but all that time he followed the Lord and never once consorted with murmuring rebels; and when his time came to claim his heritage at the age of eighty-five, the good old man is following the Lord fully; he shows a constant heart. How many professors fail in this respect! They follow the Lord by fits and starts, &c. But, to use the metaphor of Gotthold, we may compare Caleb to a tree. The wind had been blowing—it was a dreadful hurricane, and Gotthold walked into a forest and saw many trees torn up by the roots; he marvelled much at one tree which stood alone and yet had been unmoved in the tempest. He said, “How is this? The trees that were together have fallen, and this alone stands fast!” He observed that when the trees grow too closely they cannot send their roots into the earth; they lean too much upon each other; but this tree, standing alone, had space to thrust its roots into the earth, and lay hold on the rocks and stones, and so when the wind came it fell not. Caleb was constant, because he was a rooted man. He had a firm hold upon his God.

II. Caleb’s favoured portion.

In reward for his faithful following of his Master,—

1. His life was preserved in the hour of judgment. The ten fell, smitten with plague, but Caleb lived. If he follows God fully, God will fully take care of him. Caleb is willing to give his life for his Master, and therefore his Master gives him his life.

2. Caleb was also comforted with a long life of vigour. At eighty-five he was as strong as at forty, and still able to face the giants. If there be a Christian man who shall have in his old age a vigour of faith and courage, it is the man who follows the Lord fully.

3. Caleb received great honour among his brethren. He was at least twenty years older than any other man in the camp except Joshua. At their council he would be regarded with as much reverence as Nestor in the assemblies of the Greeks; in their camps he would stand like another Achilles in the midst of the armies of Lacaedaemon. As king and sire he dwelt among men. If we honour God, He will honour us (1 Samuel 2:30).

4. Caleb was put upon the hardest service. That is always the lot of the most faithful servant of God. Caleb had the distinguished honour of being permitted to lead the van against the gigantic Anakim (Joshua 14:12; Joshua 15:13-14). Get your soul right, and you may defy the sharpest arrow of the adversary.

5. He had the honour of enjoying what he had once seen. He had only seen the land when he said, “We are able to take it.” He lived not only to take it, but to enjoy it for himself. God does reward those who dare to do hard things in confidence in His name.

6. Caleb left a blessing to his children. If there is any man who shall be able to leave his children the blessing of the upper and nether springs, it is the man who follows the Lord fully (Joshua 15:13-19).

III. Caleb’s secret character.

“He had another spirit with him,”—not only a bold, generous, noble, and heroic spirit, but the Spirit and influence of God which thus raised him above human inquietudes and earthly fears. Everything acts according to the spirit which is in it. The real way to make a new life is to receive a new spirit. The distinguishing mark of a right spirit is faith. Then a faithful spirit always begets a meek spirit, and a meek spirit always begets a brave spirit. The true believer has also a loving spirit.… a zealous spirit.… a heavenly spirit. Such a spirit had good Caleb. O that His Holy Spirit would lead us to go to Jesus just as we are, and look up to Him and beseech Him to fulfil that great covenant promise—“A new heart also will I give them, a right spirit will I put within them.”—C. H. Spurgeon.


(Numbers 14:24)

In considering what is here recorded concerning Caleb, we may notice—

I. The relation he bore.

He was God’s servant—a relation denoting that he acknowleged no other master, Matthew 6:24; that he had his allotted work, Matthew 21:28; that he was not at liberty to govern himself, Deuteronomy 12:8; that he was to do all for God and His service, Romans 14:8; that his employment was highly honourable, Psalms 84:10.

II. The disposition he possessed.

“He had another spirit with him;”—a spirit altogether different from that of the rest of the spies,—the one being base, mean, sneaking, and cowardly; whilst the other inspired with courage and undaunted resolution (Numbers 14:2-10; Joshua 14:7-8; 2 Corinthians 4:13). We may learn hence that all men must unavoidably be actuated by one spirit or another, in their different ways; that God perfectly knows what spirit is with us; and that a right spirit is of great and essential importance if we would secure the Divine approval.

III. The course he pursued.

He followed the Lord fully. To follow the Lord fully is to follow Him sincerely, without dissimulation; alone, without dividing; universally, without reserve; openly, without shame; fixedly, without instability; constantly, without weariness; submissively, without dictating; and confidently, without doubting.

IV. The recompense he obtained.

God brought him into the land of Canaan;—typical of heaven, the better country which God’s people have ever sought, having earnest desires after its possession, as the dwelling-place of all their brethren, and as their Father’s house.—William Sleigh.

I. Real Christians are actuated by a different spirit from that of the world.
II. Those who possess a right spirit will follow the Lord fully.
III. Those who follow the Lord fully shall be honourably distinguished by Him.—
G. Burder.


(Numbers 14:26-39)

The Divine judgment upon the rebellious people has already been declared in general terms to Moses (Numbers 14:21-25). In this paragraph that judgment is pronounced in full to Moses and Aaron, for announcement to the people. We have spoken of the sin and punishment of the people in our notes on Numbers 14:20-25; the additional suggestions introduced in this paragraph we will now endeavour to indicate, taking as our subject, The sentence of God upon the sinful people.

I. The sentence was conspicuously Just.

Its justice is manifest—

1. In the correspondence between the nature of the sin and the nature of the punishment. They had disbelieved God’s solemn and repeated promise to give them the land; they had shrunk as utter cowards from attempting to take possession of it; and God sentences them to exclusion from it. They had cried, “Would God that we had died in the wilderness!” and God takes them at their word; in the wilderness they shall die. The Divine punishment of sin ever answers in its nature to the sin itself. “Of what kind the sin is, of the same kind is the punishment (Genesis 42:21). David sinned greatly in numbering of the people, through the pride of his heart, and vain glory in his own greatness: God could have punished him many other ways, but He meeteth with him in the same kind, He diminisheth the number of his people exceedingly by the pestilence, in whose strength he much trusted.” Comp. Judges 1:6-7; Jeremiah 51:56. The punishment of sin generally grows out of the sin itself. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” etc. (a)

2. In the correspondence between the duration of the unbelieving exploration and the duration of the punishment. “After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years.” M. Henry: “They were content to wait forty days for the testimony of men, because they could not take God’s word; and therefore justly are they kept forty years waiting for the performance of God’s promise.” Attersoll: “A year for a day. A dram of sin hath a pound of sorrow. A day of pleasure hath a year of pain.”

3. In the correspondence between the different degrees of guilt and the different severities of punishment. The heaviest and sternest doom fell upon the ten unbelieving explorers, who were the greatest sinners. “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, even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord.” They were smitten by a sudden death which manifestly proceeded from Jehovah Himself. When God ariseth to judgment He distributeth punishment in proportion to the guilt of the offenders. Those who not only sin themselves but lead others into sin will have the sorest punishment. (b) Here is warning to those who tempt others to evil, and to those whose example leads others astray. Repent; or you will be “beaten with many stripes” (Luke 12:47-48; Hebrews 10:28-29). (c)

4. In the exemption from punishment of those who had not shared in the guilt. When the ten faithless explorers were smitten with sudden death by the Lord, Caleb and Joshua were spared. “Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of the men who went to search the land, lived.” In like manner, those who had not joined in the murmuring and the rebellion were not excluded from the Promised Land. “Your little ones which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.” Caleb and Joshua also were to enter and possess the good land. In His judgments God discriminates between the righteous and the wicked. Comp. Genesis 18:25.

But the innocent, though exempt from the punishment of the guilty, suffered privation and loss on account of their sins. “Your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.” So closely are we related to each other by national, social, and family ties, that the good cannot altogether escape the consequences of the sins of the wicked. “None of us liveth to himself.” “We are members one of another.” No one can sin without inflicting loss and injury upon others. “One sinner destroyeth much good.” The innocent suffer with the guilty. Children still bear the sins of their parents. Very clearly is this the case with the children of the extravagant and wasteful, the drunken and the unchaste. Here is solemn admonition to parents. “If they love their sons, they must leave their sins, and walk in a careful obedience to the law of God. Wicked parents are the greatest enemies to their children.”

II. The sentence was utterly irreversible.

“Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you.… I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against Me: in this wilderness shall they be consumed, and there they shall die.” God forgives the sinners, but pronounces irreversible judgment against their sin. He pardons the rebels; but they shall not enter the Promised Land. The penalties of sin are certain. “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” “Be sure your sin will find you out.” “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.” The punishment of sin is inevitable. Let no one go on presumptuously in wickedness imagining that he shall escape the penalties of his course. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” This is the extreme of folly; for though the execution of the sentence be delayed, nevertheless it is infallibly certain. What God hath said He will surely do. (d)

III. The sentence caused great sorrow.

“And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel, and the people mourned greatly.”

1. Their sorrow had a real and sufficient cause. Only a little time previously they had mourned without any true reason (Numbers 14:1); but now they have sadly real and abundant reason for grief and tears.

2. Their sorrow was not that of repentance, but of selfishness. They mourned because of the punishment of sin, not because of the sin itself. “In the sorrow of the world,” says F. W. Robertson, “the obliquity of the heart towards evil is not cured; it seems as if nothing cured it; heartache and trials come in vain; the history of life at last is what it was at first. The man is found erring where he erred before. The same course, begun with the certainty of the same desperate end which has taken place so often before. They have reaped the whirlwind, but they will again sow the wind.” Such was the sorrow of the people at this time. Such mourning is never blessed; never issues in blessing.


(a) It pleaseth God to make His punishments answerable, and carrying a likeness with the sin for which it is inflicted; so that they are punished by that thing by which they have sinned against God. Covetous persons which get their goods by fraud and oppression, are themselves or their heirs many times oppressed and deceived, and brought to beggary. Gluttony, surfeiting, and drunkenness, are oftentimes punished with dropsies, and many gross and corrupt humours, distempering their bodies, and bringing them with speed to their graves. But these judgments belong only to the body, and do not stretch to the soul and conscience: nevertheless, the Lord ceaseth not to repay us even in this kind also, according to our sin. Hence it is that H, threateneth to send strong delusions upon men to believe lies, which will not receive and believe the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11); and they which will not believe wholesome doctrine, but having itching ears, get them an heap of teachers, small turn their ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables, and believe lies (2 Timothy 4:3-4)—Attersoll.

(b) The makers of criminals are more guilty than the criminals that they make. They who lay the foundations for the destruction of men by inciting them to evil through their appetites and passions, are the architects of dam nation in the world, and are the wickedest of men. Not the man that drinks, but the man who puts the cup to his neighbour’s lips, is the most wicked. Not the man that steals, but the man who makes a haunt for the production of thieves, rears them, nourishes them, and insures them, is the culprit—the archdemon.—H. W. Beecher.

(c) The legend of St. Macarius of Alexandria, runt thus:—“One day, as Macarius wandered among those ancient Egyptian tombs wherein he had made himself a dwelling-place, he found the skull of a mummy, and, turning it over with his crutch, he inquired to whom it belonged; and it replied, ‘To a pagan.’ And Macarius, looking into the empty eyes, said, ‘Where, then, is thy soul?’ And the head replied, ‘In hell.’ Macarius asked, ‘How deep?’ And the head replied, ‘The depth is greater than the distance from heaven to earth.’ Then Macarius asked, ‘Are there any deeper than thou art?’ The skull replied, ‘Yes; the Jews are deeper still.’ And Macarius asked. ‘Are there any deeper than the Jews?’ To which the head replied, ‘Yes, in sooth! for the Christians whom Jesus Christ hath redeemed, and who show in their actions that they despise His doctrine, are deeper still.’ ”—Dict. of Illust.

(d) The pea contains the vine and flower and the pod in embryo; and I am sure, when I plant it, that it will produce them, and nothing else. Now, every action of our lives is embryonic, and, according as it is right or wrong, it will surely bring forth the sweet flowers of joy, or the poison fruits of sorrow. Such is the constitution of this world; and the Bible assures us that the next world only carries it forward. Here and hereafter, “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”—H. W. Beecher.

For additional illustrations of the certainty of the punishment of sin, see pp. 89, 225, 258.


(Numbers 14:27)

No sin stands alone. Every sin is related to other sins, and frequently involves other sins. Such is the case with the sin of murmuring. It is not a simple sin, but involves—

1. Presumption. The murmurer regards his view as to how things ought to be, as superior to the Divine arrangements. Man murmuring, is folly arraigning infinite wisdom; it is like a glowworm grumbling at the sun.

2. Ingratitude. Blessings are depreciated and inconveniencies are exaggerated by the murmurer: in present difficulties he quite ignores past kindnesses. “Murmuring persons,” says Dyer, “think everything done by themselves too much, and everything done for them too little.”

3. Rebellion. The will of the murmurer is in a state of active antagonism to the holy will of God.

We have a mournful, but by no means a solitary example of murmuring mentioned in the text. Let us mark its conspicuous features as they are here indicated.

I. Murmuring without any cause.

The Israelites had much reason for thankfulness and praise; but none for complaint. They had been emancipated from Egyptian bondage by God; they were being graciously led, provisioned, and protected by Him; they were on the borders of that excellent land which He had promised to give them; yet because of the false report of the cowardly spies they break forth into unrestrained murmuring against God, and against the leaders whom He had appointed.
Psalms of grateful praise would have been becoming in them; but ungrateful murmurings were utterly unbecoming and base. And still men murmur without any cause, except the ingratitude and discontent of their own souls. (a)

II. Murmuring against the Best Being.

“This evil congregation which murmur against Me.” In Numbers 14:2 it is said, “All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron.” The Lord says, “They murmur against Me.” Complaints made against the servants of God in the fulfilment of their appointed duties He regards as against Himself.

1. Think, who and what He is,—the Supremely Wise and Good, &c.

2. Think of what He had done for the Israelites, and what He has done for us,—redeemed, guarded, sustained, &c.

3. Think of what He had promised to them, and what He has promised to us,—the continuance of His presence and support, victory over our enemies, the possession of a glorious inheritance, &c. How heinously base, then, is it to murmur against Him! to murmur against Him who in Himself is perfect, and who is our great Benefactor! Yet all our complaints as to our circumstances, our duties, our lot in life, are murmurings against Him.

III. Murmuring of long continuance.

“How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against Me?” Murmuring had become chronic with this generation of the Israelites. There are many to-day who are habitual grumblers; murmuring is not an occasional and infrequent thing with them, but a constant mood which is more or less manifest in all their speech. (b) How great is their sin! How great also is the patience of God with them!

IV. Murmuring known to God.

“I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against Me.” God hears every bitter complaint, whether uttered in loud wailings or soft whispers; He perceives every unthankful and rebellious mood of the spirit. Consider this, ye murmurers, and be shamed, and be warned!

V. Murmuring punished by God.

These Israelite murmurers were excluded from the Promised Land. The murmurer excludes himself from the Canaan of joy and peace and contentment. Murmuring is a self-punishing sin. God has made it so. Murmuring is misery. The murmurer is his own tormentor, (c)

Let us endeavour to conquer and avoid this evil by cultivating a spirit of thankfulness and contentment.

“Some murmur when their sky is clear

And wholly bright to view,

If one small speck of dark appear

In their great heaven of blue;

And some with thankful love are filled

If but one streak of light,

One ray of God’s good mercy, gild

The darkness of their night.

In palaces are hearts that ask,

In discontent and pride,

Why life is such a dreary task,

And all good things denied?

And hearts in poorest huts admire;

How love has in their aid

(Love that not ever seems to tire)

Such rich provision made.”

Archbishop Trench.


(a) In a love-feast in Yorkshire, a good man had been drawing out a long complaining strain of experiences about his difficulties and trials on the way to heaven. Another, of a different spirit, followed, who said, “I see our brother who has just sat down lives in Grumbling Street. I lived there myself for some time, and never enjoyed good health. The air was bad, the house bad, the water bad; the birds never came and sung in the street; and I was gloomy and sad enough. But I ‘flitted.’ I got into Thanksgiving Street; and ever since then I have had good health, and so have my family. The air is pure, the water pure, the house good; the sun shines on it all day; the birds are always singing; and I am as happy as I can live. Now, I recommend our brother to ‘flit.’ There are plenty of houses to let in Thanksgiving Street; and I am sure he will find himself a new man if he will only come; and I will be right glad to have him for a neighbour.”—Dict. of Illust. (b) Some people are always “out of sorts.” The weather is always just what they don’t want. I met one of these men a while ago, a farmer, who raised all manner of crops. It was a wet day, and I said, “Mr. Nayling, this rain will be fine for your grass crop.”—“Yes, perhaps; but it is bad for the corn, and will keep it back. I don’t believe we shall have a crop.” A few days after this when the sun was shining hot, I said, “Fine sun for your corn, sir.”—“Yes, pretty fair; but it’s awful for the rye. Rye wants cold weather.” Again: on a cold morning I met my neighbour, and said, “This must be capital for your rye, Mr. Nayling.”—“Yes; but it is the very worst weather for the corn and grass. They want heat to bring them forward.”—Dr. Todd.

(c) For an illustration of this point see p. 247.


(Numbers 14:40-45)

We have in these verses an illustration of—
First: The sad perversity of sinful human nature. The children of Israel seemed determined to walk contrary to God. When He said, “Go, and possess the land,” they disobeyed, saying, “Let us return into Egypt.” And now that He says, “Ye shall not come into the land,” they say, “Lo, we will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised.” “When they should go forward,” says Attersoll, “then they will go backward and make them a captain to conduct them into Egypt. When they should go backward, then they will go forward, though they perish for it. This is our corrupt nature. That which God willeth us to do, we will not do; and that which He willeth us not to do, that we will do; whereby we see that the lusts of the flesh are enmity against God.”

Second: The confession of sin and persistence in sin. “We have sinned,” said the Israelites, and in the same breath they propose to sin again. They were not penitent for their sin; they do not seem at all conscious of that unbelief which was their great sin, and the prolific parent of so many other sins. When God said that He would give them the land, they did not believe Him; and now He says that they shall not enter the land, they do not believe Him. Then they sinned by their unbelieving despair; now they sin by their presumptuous self-confidence. “Man is ever supposing,” says Dr. A. Clarke, “he can either do all things, or do nothing; he is therefore sometimes presumptuous, and at other times in despair.” The people cried. “We have sinned,” and at once proceeded to sin again in another form. How many of us bear a close resemblance to them in this respect! (a)

Third: The great difficulty of walking humbly and patiently in the path which our sins has rendered necessary for us. The unbelief of the Israelites had rendered it necessary that they should be ordered back into the wilderness, and against this they rebelled; they would go forward, not backward. So with us. We rebel against God, or fail to enter into His purposes concerning us; and when suffering and loss follow, we fail to see in them the just and natural consequences of our sin; and, instead of humbly submitting to them, we flame circumstances or find fault with Providence, and presumptuously rebel against the Divine order.

Now let us turn to the main subject of this paragraph, and consider—

I. The presumptuous enterprise.

In the narrative as given both here and in Deuteronomy 1:41-45, their presumption is mentioned. Their presumption is seen in that they went forth—

1. In opposition to the command of the Lord. “And the Lord said, To-morrow turn you and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea. Doubtless ye shall not come into the land,” &c. “And they rose up early in the morning, and got them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and we will go up into the place which the Lord hath promised.” The enterprise which is forbidden by God cannot possibly under any circumstances be either wise or right.

2. Despite the remonstrance of Moses. Being acquainted with their purpose, Moses points out to them

(1) The sin of their proposal. “And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord?”
(2) The peril of their proposal. “It shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword.” To firm believers in God, the taking of the land would have been a question between the Lord and the heathen nations of Canaan. But by their unbelief the Israelites had made it a question between themselves and the Canaanites; and, without the Divine Presence, the Israelites were not a match for the Canaanites.

(3) The reason of their peril. “The Lord is not among you.… Because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.” The presence of God with His people is the secret of their strength and victory. Comp. 2 Chronicles 20:15; 2 Chronicles 20:17. But sin strips us of the consciousness of His Presence, despoils us of calmness and courage, withdraws from us our defence, and leaves us an easy prey to our enemies. Thus Moses remonstrated with them; “but they presumed to go up unto the hill top.”

3. Without the symbol of the Divine Presence and the presence of the Divinely-appointed leader. “Nevertheless the Ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses departed not out of the camp.” Moses would not countenance their enterprise in any way or in any degree whatsoever. But they despised all remonstrances and counsels and expressions of disapproval; and they set out to “go up unto the place which the Lord had promised.”

II. The disastrous termination of this presumptuous enterprise. “Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, unto Hormah.” Their presumptuous enterprise ends in—

1. Disgraceful defeat. They had said, “We will go up and fight; … We will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised.” And they went out; but returned more quickly than they went; for the Canaanites which dwelt in that mountain, came out against them, and chased them, as bees do, unto Hormah (Deuteronomy 1:44). They did not fight like men; but fled like cowards. Their defeat was ignominious. (b)

2. Sore slaughter. The Canaanites “smote them and discomfited them;” … “and destroyed them in Seir.” They were defeated with severe loss of men. Already they are beginning to bring about the fulfilment of the Divine sentence, that their carcases should fall in the wilderness.

3. Bitter sorrow. “And ye returned and wept before the Lord.” How prone these people were to weep. Shallow hearts perhaps weep most. There was nothing noble or commendable in these tears. They were the expressions of disappointment and cowardice, and were as fruitless as they were bitter; for “the Lord would not hearken to their voice, nor give ear unto them.”


From the whole let us learn the sin and the folly of entering upon any enterprises, and especially difficult ones, in our own strength. “Apart from me,” said Christ, “ye can do nothing.” This is applicable to—

1. Spiritual life in its origin and progress. The attempt in our own strength to lead a religious, godly life, is sure to end in sad disappointment and utter failure, (c)

2. Spiritual conflict. Unless we take to ourselves “the whole armour of God,” our spiritual foes will be too many and too mighty for us. We can conquer only through Christ.

3. Spiritual service. Our efforts to benefit our fellow men will succeed only as they are made in reliance upon the blessing of God. We can bless others only as He blesses us. Comp. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.


(a) How many a hardened rebel on shipboard, when the timbers are strained and creaking, when the mast is broken, and the ship is drifting before the gale, when the hungry waves are opening their mouths to swallow up the ship alive and quick as those that go into the pit—how many an hardened sailor has then bowed his knee, with tears in his eyes, and cried, “I have sinned!” But of what avail and of what value was his confession? The repentance that was born in the storm died in the calm; that repentance of his that was begotten amidst the thunder and the lightning, ceased so soon as all was hushed in quiet, and the man who was a pious mariner when on board ship, became the most wicked and abominable of sailors when he placed his foot on terra firma. How often, too, have we seen this in a storm of thunder and lightning! Many a man’s cheek is blanched when he hears the thunder rolling; and the tears start to his eyes, and he cries, “O God, I have sinned!” while the rafters of his house are shaking, and the very ground beneath him reeling at the voice of God which is full of majesty. But alas, for such a repentance! When the sun again shines, and the black clouds are withdrawn, sin comes again upon the man, and he becomes worse than before. How many of the same sort of confessions, too, have we seen in times of cholera, and fever, and pestilence! Then our churches have been crammed with hearers, who, because so many funerals have passed their doors, or so many have died in the street, could not refrain from going up to God’s house to confess their sins. And under that visitation, when one, two, and three have been lying dead in the house, or next door, how many have thought they would really turn to God! But, alas! when the pestilence had done its work, conviction ceased; and when the boll had tolled the last time for a death caused by cholera, then their hearts ceased to beat with penitence, and their tears did flow no more.… It is of no use for you to say, “I have sinned,” merely under the influence of terror, and then to forget it afterwards.—C. H. Spurgeon.

(b) A noble ship was bearing into port. It was the evening hour, and too late to enter without a pilot. There were two passages into the harbour; one a dangerous narrow channel, the other a wide and safe one. The captain determined to pilot himself by the narrow passage. A storm was coming up; and the passengers, with fear and consternation, begged him to take the wider channel. He laughed at their cowardice, and swore he would do as he pleased. As the night advanced, the gale increased. Soon rose a cry, “Breakers ahead, breakers ahead!” The captain flew to the wheel; the sails were struck; the wind had the mastery; and the captain found a will that could defy his own. The vessel made a fearful plunge, struck the foreship deep into the sand, to be shattered by the wild waves’ pleasure. Few survived the terrors of that fearful night; but among the dead thrown up by the rising tide was the body of the wilful and presumptuous captain.—Dict, of Illust.

(c) There is not a daisy that was not organised to be a daisy, but I should like to see one that did not have the sun to help it up from the seed; there is not an aster that was not organised to be an aster, but where is there one that grew independent of the sun? What the sun is to flowers, that the Holy Ghost must be to our hearts, if we would be Christians. If there is a man who can be a Christian without the help of God, he has a heart such as I never knew a person to have. I never seek to put down wicked thoughts and incite good ones without feeling that if God does not help me I shall not succeed. And here we come to the very bosom of the truth I am enforcing, for what God commands us to be, that He is Himself, and when we need help in our Christian course. He stands ready, of all others, to help us, working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.—H. W. Beecher.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/numbers-14.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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