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Numbers 14:4-5. And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of Israel.
THAT the journeying of the Israelites in the wilderness is typical of our journey towards the heavenly Canaan is so generally known amongst you, that I need not insist upon it [Note: If this should be the subject of an Address to young people after Confirmation, this sentiment may be modified according to circumstances. But, if it be used on a common occasion, our baptismal engagements maybe substituted for those that are here specified.]. That being kept in mind, you will at once see the bearing of my present subject on the solemnities in which you have been engaged. The Israelites had now arrived at the borders of Canaan: and they sent spies, one from every tribe, to search out the land. They all agreed respecting the fertility of the country: but ten of the spies represented the attempt to conquer it as altogether hopeless. This report discouraged the whole congregation; who bitterly bewailed their disappointment, cast severe reflections on Jehovah himself as having deceived and betrayed them, and proposed to make a captain over them and to return to Egypt.
Let us consider the circumstances here recorded; and,
The proposal made by the people—
[The report given by the spies was very unfavourable: the cities were represented as impregnable, being “walled up to heaven;” and the people of such a gigantic stature, that the Israelites were no more than as grasshoppers before them. The climate, too, was represented as so unhealthy, that “the land ate up the inhabitants thereof [Note: Numbers 13:31-33.].” Hence the people were led to “despise the land” as unworthy of their pursuit [Note: Psalms 106:24.], and to despair of attaining it against such formidable enemies: yea, they impiously wished that they had died in Egypt, when the Egyptian first-born were slain; or in the wilderness, when God sent a plague among the people for worshipping the golden calf.
Under the influence of their unbelieving fears, they proposed to make a captain over them, and to return to Egypt, from whence they had come out. They judged this to be so wise a measure, that no one could doubt of its expediency: “Were it not better for us to return into Egypt [Note: ver. 3.]?”
And are we not likely to hear of similar proposals at this time? You profess now to have dedicated yourselves to Almighty God, and to be bent on the attainment of the heavenly Canaan. But are you prepared to encounter the discouragements which you will meet with in the way? You have promised, before God, to “renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh;” but are you girt for the warfare, and ready to go forth, in the strength of Christ, against these mighty foes? What reports, alas! will you hear! The mortality amongst the Canaanites, which the spies represented as arising from the climate, was no other than that occasioned by the hornets, which God, according to his promise, had sent, to weaken the people of the land, and thereby to facilitate the entrance of Israel into it [Note: Compare Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12.]: yet was that made an additional ground for desisting from the enterprise. In like manner, the very exercises of mind, whereby God weakens the corruptions of his people’s hearts, and ensures to them a final victory over all their enemies, are urged, by ignorant and unbelieving men, as reasons for declining all attempts to secure the heavenly inheritance: and you will hear repentance itself decried as melancholy, and denounced as little better than a prelude to insanity. In addition to such obstacles from without, (for I confine myself to those which arise from report only, without noticing any from actual opposition,) will not your own hearts suggest, that to overcome such potent enemies, as the world, the flesh, and the devil, will be impossible, especially for persons so young, or so circumstanced, as you?
The result of such misrepresentations and misconceptions is but too likely to appear amongst you at no distant period. You will not in a formal manner actually appoint a captain over you, because every one can act for himself, without any combination with others; but that many of you will be like-minded, in relation to this matter, is greatly to be feared; and that you will even justify the measure as wise, saying, “Is it not better that we go back again to the world?”]
But let us turn our attention to,
The effect of that proposal on God’s faithful servants—
[“Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of Israel;” filled, no doubt, with grief and shame at so foolish and impious a proposal. What prospect could they have of succeeding in such an enterprise? Could they suppose that God would go before them; and cause the manna and the water to attend them in their retrograde motions, as he had done when moving according to his will? If not, without any enemy whatever, or any special judgment inflicted on them, they must all die of hunger and thirst in a few days. Or, supposing them to get back to Egypt, what would be their reception there? Would not the rigours of their bondage be increased by their vindictive oppressors to the utmost extent of human endurance? Granting that all their fears respecting the Canaanites were well founded, what could they suffer worse by manfully contending with them, than they would infallibly bring upon themselves by the measure they proposed?
But the impiety of the proposal was, if possible, still greater than the folly. What a contempt of the promised inheritance did it argue, when they did not deem it to be worth a manly contest! What a distrust of God, too, who had already shewn himself so mighty to save, and had engaged that not one of their enemies should be able to stand before them! What base ingratitude, also, did this express, when they could so soon forget all the wonders that God had wrought for them, and all the benefits he had conferred upon them!
We wonder not that Moses and Aaron, who were able to form a just estimate of their conduct, were so deeply affected with it.
And shall not we also fall on our faces with grief and shame, my dear young friends, if we see you forgetting the vows that are upon you, and turning back again, and abandoning those glorious prospects which have just opened upon you? For, what can you gain by going back to the world? I will suppose you gain all that the world can give. What is it? What satisfaction can it all afford? and how long will you retain it? Or, supposing you could retain it ever so long, would it repay you for the loss of heaven? To what a state, too, will your defection reduce you! Of all the men who came out of Egypt, not so much as one was suffered to enter the promised land, except Caleb and Joshua, who continued faithful in the midst of this general apostasy. A fearful type and pledge of the doom that awaits you [Note: Num 26:64-65 with Jude, ver. 5 and 1 Corinthians 10:11.]! Hear what God says on this subject, in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him [Note: Hebrews 10:38.].” Ah! know of a certainty, that all who draw back, “draw back unto perdition [Note: Hebrews 10:39.]:” and “if, after you have escaped the corruptions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you are again entangled therein and overcome, your latter end will be worse than your beginning: for it would have been better that you had never known the way of righteousness at all, than, after you have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto you [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-21.].” You have all doubtless heard of Lot’s wife, who, though brought out of Sodom, was turned into a pillar of salt, because she looked back towards the city, when she should have thought of nothing but of pressing onward to the destined place of refuge. Ah! “remember Lot’s wife [Note: Luke 17:32.],” as our blessed Lord has warned you; for “if you only look back, after having put your hand to the plough, you are not fit for the kingdom of God [Note: Luke 9:61-62.].” How can your ministers, who have watched over you, contemplate such an issue of their labours, and not weep and mourn before God on your behalf [Note: Jeremiah 13:16-17.]? I pray you, beloved, let not this be the recompence of all the pains we have bestowed on you: let us not have the grief of seeing that the very privileges you have enjoyed have only fitted you, like Capernaum of old, for a deeper and heavier condemnation: but let us have joy over you, in beholding your spiritual advancement; and let us have the sweet and blessed hope of having you for “our joy and crown of rejoicing to all eternity.” Be not afraid of any enemies: for God is with you: “if he be with you, who can be against you?” Read the exhortation of Caleb and Joshua to their unbelieving brethren, and apply it to your own souls [Note: ver. 7–9.]: and, instead of listening to the ruinous suggestions of unbelief [Note: Hebrews 3:18.], “be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”] Let me, in conclusion, address myself to the elder part of this audience—
[You must not forget, that the subject equally concerns you. For you also must “endure unto the end, if ever you would be saved:” and it is only “by a patient continuance in well-doing, that you can attain to glory and honour and immortality.”
But that which I would particularly impress on your minds at this time, is the vast importance of your watching over the young people who have now consecrated themselves unto the Lord. Set them a good example yourselves; and do all you can to induce them to follow it. Take the part that Caleb and Joshua took on this occasion: strengthen their hands: encourage their hearts: tell them what a gracious and powerful and faithful God they have to help them in every time of need. Speak to them of “the laud that floweth with milk and honey.” Invite them to taste of “the grapes of Eshcol,” which you have taken thence. Watch over the very “lambs of the flock, and carry them in your bosom.” So shall all of us, ministers and people, rejoice together, and “have an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”]
THE PEOPLE MURMURING AT THE REPORT OF THE SPIES
Numbers 14:6-9. And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes. And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them; and the Lord is with us: fear them not.
WHEN actions originate in an evil principle, however specious they be, the motives from whence they proceed cannot long be hidden: a thousand things in the course of tune will arise to elicit truth, and to discover the principles which we fondly hoped to conceal. The proposal of sending spies to search out the land, appears, from the first verse of the preceding chapter, to have been first made by God; but in fact it arose from the Israelites themselves: the whole body of the people took a lively interest in it, and came, by their representatives at least, to request that Moses would accede to it. Moses, taking it as a symptom of their readiness to go and possess the land, was highly delighted with it [Note: Deuteronomy 1:22-23.]; and consulted God respecting it. God, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, and seeing that their faith in him was not so strong but that they needed to have it confirmed by further testimony, consented; just as the Baptist did to his disciples, when they wanted to ascertain whether Jesus were the Christ [Note: Matthew 11:2-3.]: he bore with their weakness, and permitted them to seek conviction in their own way. But when the spies “brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched,” the people instantly betrayed their unbelieving fears, and drew from Caleb and Joshua the remonstrance which we have just read.
That we may have a full view of the subject, we shall consider,
The remonstrance itself—
Let us examine,
The occasion of it—
[The spies who were sent, were twelve in number, one from every tribe. Of these, no less than ten agreed in representing the land as unconquerable. The inhabitants, they said, were giants, in comparison of whom they themselves were but “as grasshoppers; and they dwelt in “walled cities” that were impregnable. They represented too the climate as so unhealthy, that “the land ate up its inhabitants [Note: Numbers 13:28; Numbers 13:31-33.].” (God had, according to his promise, sent either hornets, or some kind of plague, to destroy the people before them [Note: Exodus 23:28.]; and this they turned into a ground of dis–couragement!) The goodness of the land indeed they could not deny; because they had brought such a sample of its fruits, as was a clear poof of its luxuriant fertility [Note: Numbers 13:23.]. On hearing the report, the congregation gave way to utter despondency: they “wept the whole night:” they wished they had “died either in Egypt, or in the wilderness:” they complained that God had brought them thither on purpose to destroy them: they declared it would be better for them at once to return to Egypt; and they actually appointed [Note: This is not mentioned by Moses; but it is asserted by Nehemiah: Nehemiah 9:17.] a captain over them, to lead them thither.
What “madness is there in the heart of man [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:3.]”! Who would conceive it possible, that that whole nation should so soon forget all their past deliverances, and form so strange a resolution as that of returning to Egypt? This was an expedient more impracticable in its nature than the conquest of Canaan, and more dreadful in its consequences than death itself upon the field of battle [Note: Could they expect God to follow them with miraculous supplies of bread and water; or their state in Egypt to be better than before?] — — — Yet such is the effect of discontent: it magnifies every difficulty; undervalues every enjoyment; and rushes upon evils greater than those which it attempts to shun.]
[The boldness of Joshua and Caleb, in opposing all their colleagues together with the whole congregation of Israel, was truly commendable. That it was at no little risk they ventured to remonstrate, is evident from the effect: for no sooner had they spoken, than all the people threatened to stone them; and would undoubtedly have carried their menace into immediate execution, if God himself had not interposed, by a signal manifestation of his glory, to restrain them [Note: ver. 10.]. But they would have accounted themselves happy to suffer martyrdom in such a cause. And this is the very courage which we also should possess. We should be witnesses for God in a degenerate world. We should never be deterred from testifying against sin, either by the number or authority of our opponents. If even we stood alone, as Elijah did, it would become us to maintain the truth with steadfastness, and to venture life itself in the service of our Lord.
Supposing these remonstrants not to be intimidated, we might expect them to be filled with indignation at the wickedness of the people, and to give vent to their feelings in terms of severity and reproach. But behold, they are penetrated with grief; and “rend their clothes” for anguish of heart: and in their whole address they exhibit a beautiful specimen of “the meekness of wisdom.” O that there were in all of us such an heart! that we could weep over sinners, instead of being angry with them; and that we could “in meekness instruct them that oppose themselves,” bearing with their frowardness, and pitying their perverseness! This union of fortitude and compassion is the very thing which we should labour to acquire, and which alone can fit us for reproving with effect.]
[Nothing could be more judicious than this address. The people had lost sight of God; and their faithful monitors set God before them. They acknowledge the existence of the difficulties; but they deny die inference deduced from it. True, say they, the people are mighty; but our God is mightier: their fortifications are strong; but not so strong that they can withstand God: the inhabitants fight only with an arm of flesh; we with the arm of the living God: What then have we to fear? they, how numerous or powerful soever, are only as “bread for us,” and shall be devoured by us as easily as the food we eat. We have nothing to do but to trust in God; and we are as sure of victory, as if all our enemies were already slain. Let us go up then; not to conquer the land, but “to possess it:” the food is prepared for us; and we have nothing to do but to go up and eat it [Note: Compare Num 13:30 with the text.].
How encouraging was this! how calculated to carry conviction to their hearts! not one word to irritate, but every thing to convince and comfort them! This is the true pattern for reproof: as it should never savour of our own spirit, so it should never touch on painful topics but with care and tenderness: every syllable should breathe love. It is a proverb in France, that ‘Flies are not caught with vinegar:’ and we shall do well to remember, that it is the sweet alone which renders the sour palatable. Faithful indeed we must be, and so faithful as oftentimes to give offence: but we must take care that the offence arise, not from any needless severity on our part, but from the force of truth itself.]
Having noticed the remonstrance, it will be proper to consider,
The use we should make of it—
In the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 3 and 4) the Apostle traces the correspondence between the events we are considering and the duties of Christians in all ages. He shews that Canaan represented the rest which remains for us; and he cautions us against falling short of it through unbelief, as that people did. Hence it is evident that the address delivered to them by Joshua and Caleb may with great propriety be made to us: at least, we may take occasion from it,
To excite your desires—
[Justly did these remonstrants, who themselves “had searched the land,” declare it to be good, “an exceeding good land.” And are there not those amongst us, who by faith have searched the heavenly land, and already tasted its delicious fruits? Is not the sealing influence of the Spirit said to be “the earnest of our inheritance [Note: Ephesians 1:13-14.]?” And may we not from the first-fruits of the Spirit which we have already received [Note: Romans 8:23.], judge in a measure what the harvest shall be? May we not at least take upon us to affirm that heaven is a good, an exceeding good land? Yes, truly, “it flows with milk and honey;” yet while it affords abundance to all, it gives satiety to none — — — How can that land be otherwise than good, which was prepared by God the Father from the foundation of the world, purchased for us on the cross by the blood of his dear Son, and secured to us by the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to fit us for it, and to preserve us to it [Note: 2 Timothy 4:18.]? — — — How can that be otherwise than good, which is emphatically called “Emmanuel’s land [Note: Isaiah 8:8.],” as being the place where our adorable Saviour displays the full radiance of his glory, and communicates to every one, according to the measure of his capacity, all the fulness of his richest blessings? — — — In whatever view we contemplate it, we cannot but see, that it is worthy of our utmost exertions, and will amply repay all that we can do, or suffer, in the attainment of it.]
To animate your hopes—
[Unbelief will say to us exactly what the people said to each other on this occasion; “Were it not better for us to return to Egypt? Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt.” “When we were in the world, we enjoyed its pleasures, which now we have exchanged for pain and trouble. When we turned our backs upon the world, we imagined that we should experience nothing but ease and happiness under the protection of our God; but, behold, here are constant difficulties and trials to be encountered, and such too as we can never surmount: it were better therefore to return to our former state, and to leave events to God, who is too merciful to exclude any of his creatures from his heavenly kingdom.” But, beloved, why should any of you be discouraged by your trials and conflicts? Have you not ONE on your side, who is able to make you “more than conquerors over all your enemies?” “If God be for you, who can be against you [Note: Romans 8:31; Romans 8:37.]?” Multiply the number and power of your enemies a thousand-fold, and you need not fear them. Only, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.]:” and know, that, though you are but as a worm, you shall, through, his almighty aid, be enabled to “thresh the mountains [Note: Isaiah 41:14-15.]” — — —]
To direct your exertions—
[One caution did Joshua and Caleb give to Israel; which also we would recommend to your attention; it is, to guard against an unbelieving and disobedient spirit: “Only rebel not ye against the Lord.” You have nothing to fear but sin. Nothing, but sin, can by any means hurt you. As for men and devils, so far from prevailing against you, they are only “bread for you,” and shall, by the very efforts which they use to destroy you, be made subservient to your spiritual welfare. But sin is a deadly evil: that will provoke your God to depart from you: that may cause him to “swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest [Note: Hebrews 3:11.].” O put away from you that deadly evil! Especially put away unbelief: it is “by an evil heart of unbelief that you will be tempted to depart from the living God [Note: Hebrews 3:12.].” Pray therefore to God to “increase your faith [Note: Luke 17:5.].” Guard also against a murmuring spirit. If the Lord bring you into difficulties, it is only for the magnifying of his own grace in your deliverance. It is not your place to be indulging solicitude about events. God “would have you without carefulness [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:32; Philippians 4:6. 1 Peter 5:7.]:” he bids you “be careful for nothing;” but to “cast all your care on him.” Duty is yours: events are his. “Only therefore let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ [Note: Philippians 1:27.]” and your success is sure: for your God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”]
GOD’S ANSWER TO THE INTERCESSION OF MOSES
Numbers 14:20-21. And the Lord said, I have pardoned, according to thy word: but, as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
LITTLE do the world think how much they are indebted to the saints. They are the cluster for the sake of which the vineyard of the Lord is spared [Note: Isaiah 65:8.]; the elect, for whose sake the days of vengeance have been often shortened [Note: Matthew 24:22.]; the little remnant, without which the whole world would long since have been made as Sodom and Gomorrha [Note: Isaiah 1:9.]. In the passage before us we have this very matter exhibited in a striking point of view. The whole people of Israel were in a state of rebellion against God; and God was meditating their utter extermination. But Moses lifts up his heart in prayer for them; and, by his importunate intercession, averts the judgments which were ready to burst upon them.
Let us consider,
The prayer he offered—
This did not relate to the eternal salvation of the people, except incidentally and by remote consequence: it had respect only to the threatening which God had denounced against the people. Having reason to fear that God would “smite them all with a pestilence, and disinherit them” utterly [Note: ver. 11, 12.], Moses entreated God to spare them, and urged such arguments as he judged most suitable to the occasion. These pleas of his deserve an attentive consideration.
He pressed upon the Deity,
A regard for his own honour—
[”What will the Egyptians and the Canaanites say? Will they not ascribe the destruction of this people to a want of power in thee to accomplish thy projected plans [Note: ver. 13–16.]? O let them not have such cause for triumph! let them not have so specious an occasion to blaspheme thy name!”
This was an argument of great weight. He had used it successfully on a former occasion [Note: Exodus 32:12.]; and God himself had acknowledged its force [Note: Deuteronomy 32:26-27. See also Ezekiel 20:9; Ezekiel 20:14; Ezekiel 20:22; Ezekiel 20:44.]. This therefore is a plea which we should use: we should use it with God, as an inducement to him to keep us [Note: Psalms 5:8; Jeremiah 14:21.] — — — and we should use it with ourselves, as an incentive to vigilance and circumspection [Note: 1 Timothy 6:1.]. We should be exceeding tender of God’s honour: and, when tempted to the commission of any sin, we should think, How will the Philistines rejoice, and the uncircumcised triumph [Note: 2 Samuel 1:20.]! how will they “blaspheme that sacred name by which I am called [Note: James 2:7.]!” O that I may “never thus give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully [Note: 1 Timothy 5:14.]!”]
A conformity to his own perfections—
[Didst thou not, O my God, when proclaiming thy name to me, represent thyself as “long-suffering, and of great mercy, and as forgiving iniquity and transgression, though thou wouldest not clear the guilty [Note: ver. 17, 18 which refers to Exodus 34:6-7.]?” Let it now be seen that this is indeed thy character. I do not ask that thou shouldest “leave them altogether unpunished; but only that thou shouldest not make a full end of them [Note: That clause, “by no means clearing the guilty,” may, both in Exo 34:7 and in this place, be rendered “clearing, I will not clear,” i.e. not make desolate. The word “guilty” is not in the original. In that sense it will be exactly parallel with Jeremiah 30:11. But the sense affixed to it in the Translation is probably the right, though the other is better suited to the purpose for which it is here adduced.], as thou hast threatened.”
Here, methinks, is a plea, which, almost above all others, it becomes us to urge in all our supplications at the throne of grace. The character of God, as a God of infinite mercy, is that which encourages our addresses to him. When every other ground of hope fails, this is still firm. If only we do not “limit the Holy One of Israel,” we can never be at a loss for “arguments with which to fill our mouths” at a throne of grace. O let us study well the representations which God has given of himself, and especially that to which Moses referred: then, even in our lowest state of guilt or misery, we shall never despair of obtaining mercy at his hands.]
A consistency with his own conduct—
[”Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now: and wilt thou abandon them at last? O let it not be so: pardon, I beseech thee, yet again and again their iniquity, according unto the greatness of thine unbounded mercy [Note: ver. 19.].”
This plea, if used with men, would have had no weight: it would have operated rather to prevent the repetition of mercies which had been so abused. But, with God, it availeth much: and in our minds too it is a most encouraging consideration. We may look back and see how God has borne with all our frowardness from our youth up to the present moment; and may take occasion from his past forbearance to supplicate the continuance of it: “Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies, and thy loving-kindnesses; for they have been ever of old [Note: Psalms 25:6.].” Yes; we should “account the long-suffering of God to be salvation [Note: 2 Peter 3:15.],” and the goodness he has already exercised towards us as a motive and encouragement to repentance [Note: Romans 2:4.].]
Such was the prayer of Moses, a prayer peculiarly excellent, because it was a holy pleading with God. Let us now proceed to consider,
The answer he obtained—
“I have pardoned,” saith God, “according to thy word. Thou hast entreated me to spare them; and I will spare them: but, I swear by my own life, that the whole of my conduct on this occasion shall be such, as shall procure me honour to the remotest ends of the earth, and to the latest period of time. Every one of my perfections shall be now displayed: now will I exhibit before my people such rays of my glory, as shall illumine the benighted heathen, and fill the whole earth with wonder.”
Now then, my Brethren, let us contemplate this subject with holy awe: let us beg of God to take away the veil from our hearts, that we may see wherein this glory of his consists. Let us behold,
His condescension in hearing prayer—
[Here was a whole nation involved in actual rebellion against God: and one single individual betakes himself to prayer. What, it may be said, can a single individual do? Read the answer of God, and see. He replies, not, “I will pardon,” but, “I have pardoned:” “the very moment thou liftedst up thy voice, my hands were tied, and I could no longer persist in my resolution to destroy them [Note: Compare Daniel 9:20-21; Daniel 9:23.]. I have pardoned according to thy word, and to the full extent of thy petitions.” O, who after this will ever doubt the efficacy of prayer? If God answered so speedily the prayer of one on behalf of a rebellious nation, what will he not do for those who supplicate mercy for themselves? Will he ever cast out their prayer? No: let the whole universe know, that he is “a God that heareth prayer,” and that not even the vilest of the human race shall “ever seek his face in vain.”]
His mercy in forbearing vengeance—
[Consider the mercies which that nation had experienced, and the extent of that wickedness which they now committed; consider that they cast the most bitter reflections on God himself, and actually appointed a captain to lead them back to Egypt [Note: Nehemiah 9:17.], and were proceeding to murder those who exhorted them to obedience: could it be supposed that such persons should be spared, spared too after God had said he would instantly cut them off? Whom then will he not spare? Who, whilst on praying-ground, can be considered as beyond the reach of mercy? Let us not despair of any; nor let any despair of themselves: He is the same God as ever; “slow to anger, and of great kindness, and ready to repent him of the evil” which he has thought to inflict upon us, the very moment that he can do it in consistency with his own perfections.]
His justice in punishing sin—
[Though he forbore to destroy the nation at large, he executed immediate vengeance on those who were the leaders and instigators of the rebellion [Note: ver. 36, 37.]. Nor were the people themselves left unpunished. They had expressed a wish that they had died in the wilderness: now God gave them their wish; and declared that not one of those who had rebelled against him should ever see the promised land. Forty days had been spent in searching the land of Canaan; and forty years were they condemned to bear their iniquities, till their carcasses should be consumed in the wilderness.
What an awful lesson does this give to the ungodly world! Who must not tremble for fear of his judgments? Who does not see that it is vain to hope for impunity on account of the number of those who tread the paths of wickedness? The question is often confidently put by sinners, Do you think that God will condemn so many? We answer, If you would know what God will do, look at what he has done: inquire, how many of those who came out of Egypt ever were admitted into the land of Canaan: and when you have learned that, you will know how God will proceed in the day of judgment [Note: See 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 3:17-19; Hebrews 4:1; Jude, ver. 5.]. Let all the world hear this, and tremble: for “verity there is a God that judgeth in the earth.”]
His goodness in rewarding virtue—
[Two of the spies were faithful to their God: and behold how God interposed for them! The congregation was just going to stone them, and God instantly displayed his glory in such a manner as to appal the hearts of their enemies. To them also he bore testimony, that they had “followed him fully:” and he promised them, that though every other man throughout all the tribes should die in the wilderness, they should go into the promised land, and enjoy the inheritance reserved for them [Note: ver. 24, 30.].
Do any of the human race wish to ascertain whether their works shall be rewarded? Let them look to this history: let them here see how God will protect his people; and how assuredly they who serve him in time, shall dwell with him in eternity. Surely none who hear these records will ever be afraid of being singular, or of bearing persecution for righteousness’ sake. No: from henceforth every soul should be emboldened to “confess Christ before men,” and to “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.”]
His faithfulness in fulfilling his word—
[Here was a strong temptation to rescind his promises: and indeed, because of the appearance of so doing, God says, “Ye shall know my breach of promise [Note: ver. 34.].” But the promise was not made to that people, that they at all events should inherit the land of Canaan: it was made to Abraham, that his seed should inherit it: and, both on this and a former occasion, when God threatened to destroy the present generation, he offered to raise up a nation from the loins of Moses, and to give the promised land to them [Note: ver. 12 with Exodus 32:10.].
God fulfilled his word in every point: and Joshua appealed to the whole nation of Israel for the truth of this [Note: Joshua 23:14.]; as did Solomon many hundred years after him [Note: 1 Kings 8:56.]. None therefore need to be afraid of trusting in God: for “he is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent [Note: Numbers 23:19.].” Let the whole world be assured, that they may safely rely on him; that “not one jot or tittle of his word shall ever fail;” that “faithful is He who hath promised;” and that “what he hath promised he is able also to perform.” Be it known therefore, I say, “that they who trust in him shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end [Note: Isaiah 45:17.].”]
His power to accomplish his own sovereign will and pleasure—
[The people had expressed their fears that their little ones would fall a prey to the warlike inhabitants of Canaan. Now, says God, “those very children, who ye said would be a prey, even them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised [Note: ver. 31.].” Weak as ye judge them to be, I will give them the victory; and not an enemy shall be able to stand before them.
Hear this, ye drooping, doubting Christians! let the whole world hear it: yea, let it never be forgotten, that “God ordaineth strength in babes and sucklings;” that “his strength is perfected in their weakness;” and that through him the weakest of us shall be “more than conquerors.” Who weaker than Paul in his own apprehension? “I have not,” says he, “a sufficiency even to think a good thought:” yet who stronger in reality? “I can do all things,” saith he, “through Christ who strengtheneth me [Note: Philippians 4:13.].” Let the weak then say, “I am strong [Note: Joel 3:10.]:” “let the feeble be as David, and the house of David be as the angel of the Lord [Note: Zechariah 12:8.].”]
[Behold now this glory of the Lord! see how it shines throughout this mysterious dispensation! see his condescension in hearing prayer—his mercy in forbearing vengeance—his justice in punishing sin—his goodness in rewarding virtue—his faithfulness in fulfilling his word—and his power to execute his sovereign will and pleasure! Let the whole earth contemplate it: let all transmit the knowledge of it to those around them; and assist in spreading it to the remotest heathen: let all expect the time when this view of God shall be universal through the world, and all shall give him the glory of his immutable perfections.
And, whilst we view the glory of God in his past works, let us remember what will be the final issue of all hit dispensations. His glory will hereafter shine in still brighter splendour. When his answers to the prayers of all his people shall be known, how marvellous will his condescension and grace appear! When the sins of the whole world shall be made manifest, how shall we be filled with wonder at his long-suffering and forbearance! How tremendous will his justice and severity be found, when millions of impenitent sinners are cast headlong into the bottomless abyss! And when his obedient people shall be exalted to thrones of glory, how will his goodness and mercy be admired and adored! Then also will his truth and faithfulness be seen in the exact completion of every promise he has ever given; and his power and might be gratefully acknowledged by all whom he has redeemed, sanctified, and saved.
This then is certain, that in every human being he will be glorified. But the question is, How will he be glorified in me? will it be in my salvation or condemnation? In answering this question aright we are all deeply interested: nor will it be difficult to answer it, provided we inquire what our real character is. Do we resemble the unbelieving and rebellious Israelites, or those believing spies who “followed the Lord fully?” Vast was the difference between them, and consequently the discrimination will be easy. The Lord grant that we may “so judge ourselves now, that we may not be judged of the Lord” in that awful day!]
FOLLOWING THE LORD FULLY
Numbers 14:24. But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
THE fewness of those who shall finally be saved is strongly declared in the Holy Scriptures; yet they who venture to suggest such an idea, are deemed uncharitable in the extreme. But it is not owing to a want of mercy in God that any perish: it is utterly their own fault: God delights to bless his faithful and obedient people; but the unbelieving and disobedient he will eternally condemn. The numbers that are found in either of these classes make no difference with respect to him: if there were only one or two ungodly, they alone should perish, and all others should be saved: but if a whole nation be ungodly, and only one or two of them be observant of the divine commands, those individuals alone shall find acceptance with him, and all the rest shall meet with their deserved doom. None but Noah and his family escaped the deluge: none but Lot and his daughters were delivered from the judgments which came upon Sodom and Gomorrha: thus, in the passage before us, we are told that Caleb alone, together with Joshua, was permitted to enter into the promised land, because they alone had followed the Lord fully.
To elucidate this record, and to bring it home to our own hearts, we shall shew,
When we may be said to follow the Lord fully—
The whole nation of Israel might be considered as followers of the Lord, because they had given up themselves to him as his redeemed people, and depended on him for guidance and protection. In the same manner the whole body of Christians may be called followers of Christ, because they profess to have been redeemed by him from the far sorer bondage of sin and death, and because they look to him, in profession at least, to guide them by his Spirit, to keep them by his grace, and to bring them in safety to the heavenly Canaan. But as the great body of the Jewish nation deceived themselves to their ruin, so, it is to be feared, the greater part of the Christian world will ultimately be disappointed of their hopes. To follow the Lord will be to but little purpose, unless we follow him fully. Now this implies, that we follow him,
With unreserved cheerfulness—
[The Israelites at large were pleased with God’s service no longer than while their inclinations were gratified to the full. As soon as ever they were called to exercise any self-denial, or to suffer a little for his sake, they began to murmur, and repented that they had taken his yoke upon them. Especially when they heard the report of the spies respecting the power of their enemies, they proposed to cast off God’s yoke altogether, and to return to their former masters in Egypt. But Caleb “had another spirit with him:” he considered himself as altogether at God’s disposal, and cheerfully obeyed him, as well in circumstances of difficulty and danger, as in the ways that were more pleasing to flesh and blood.
Now this disposition characterizes every faithful follower of Christ. It is not for us to choose our own way, but to follow the directions of our Divine Master. No commandment of his must be esteemed grievous; nothing must be called “a hard saving;” but we must cheerfully conform ourselves to every part of his revealed will, and account his service to be perfect freedom.]
With undaunted resolution—
[Caleb had seen with his own eyes what difficulties he should have to encounter in subduing the land of Canaan; yet was he not in the least dismayed: yea, his whole nation were so offended with his fidelity to God, that they gave orders that he should be stoned to death. But nothing could intimidate him: he knew the will of God, and he was determined to execute it at all events.
Thus the Christian whose heart is right with God, is not deterred by any difficulties from proceeding in the path of duty: he knows that the world will be against him; and he often finds his greatest enemies to be those of his own household: yet he determines to go forward, and to obey God rather than man. Like the Hebrew youths, if he behold a furnace prepared for his destruction, he will still hold fast his integrity, and submit to death itself rather than violate his duty to his God.]
With unshaken affiance—
>[The report of the spies was doubtless very discouraging. The people whom they had seen were of most gigantic stature: the cities in which they dwelt, were walled up to heaven: and it is probable that there was a dreadful pestilence at that time ravaging “the land, and swallowing up the inhabitants thereof.” But Caleb had the promise of Jehovah to rest upon; and therefore he knew that he could not fail of success; yea, he was assured that, however numerous or mighty his enemies were, they should be “bread for the Lord’s people,” and be as easily crushed and devoured by them as a piece of bread.
In this also the faithful follower of Christ will resemble Caleb: he knows that Omnipotence is engaged in his behalf; and he rests securely on the word of God. If his corruptions were yet stronger than they are, and the world, with the confederate hosts of hell, were tenfold more powerful, he would not fear; “he knows in whom he has believed,” and is persuaded that “He who has promised is able also to perform.”]
The character of those who follow the Lord fully, being thus delineated, we shall proceed to notice,
The blessedness of those who do so—
Here also the history of Caleb will serve as our guide. The text informs us, that he received,
The approbation of his God—
[God confessed him before all Israel as “his servant.” What an honour was this, to be thus distinguished by Jehovah himself! And shall not every faithful servant of Jehovah be thus distinguished? Shall he not have an inward witness of the Spirit testifying of his adoption into God’s family, and enabling him with confidence to cry, Abba, Father? Will not God “shed abroad his love in the hearts” of his people, and “seal them with the Holy Spirit of promise, as the earnest of their eternal inheritance?” And though no authentic declaration shall be made to others respecting his state, yet shall his very enemies be constrained to reverence him in their hearts, even though, like Herod, they should persecute him unto death.]
The completion of all his wishes—
[Doubtless Caleb earnestly desired an inheritance in the land of Canaan: and the very mountain on which his feet had trodden was assigned to him as his portion by God’s express appointment. But he surely looked beyond an earthly inheritance: nor can we doubt but that he is distinguished in the Canaan above as much as he was in the earthly Canaan.
And what does the faithful Christian desire? What is the great object of his ambition, but to inherit that good land which the Lord his God has promised him? And shall he come short of it? Will not God preserve him unto his heavenly kingdom? Yes: neither men nor devils shall deprive him of his inheritance: that very land, which by faith he has so often viewed and trodden, shall be given to him; and “all the seed of Caleb” and of Abraham shall have it for their everlasting portion. Behold, Christian, where Caleb now is, thou shalt shortly be: whatever difficulties may obstruct thy way, or whatever length of time may intervene, the period shall arrive, when He whom thou servest shall say unto thee, “Come, thou blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for thee from the foundation of the world.”]
Those who have never set themselves to follow the Lord at all—
[Think not that the Christian name will avail thee, while thou art destitute of the Christian spirit. Nor imagine that thou wilt be screened from divine vengeance by the number of those who are in thy condition: for there were but two out of all who had grown to man’s estate, that were suffered to enter into the promised land: all the rest were excluded from it, that they might be an example unto us, and might shew us what we are to expect, if we give not up ourselves to the service of Christ. Let me then entreat you all to become followers of Christ, “not in word only, but in deed and in truth.” Look to him, that you may experience the full benefits of his redemption. Trust in his blood to cleanse you from your sins: rely on his Spirit to guide you in his ways: and depend on his grace to subdue all your enemies before you. But if you still persist in your rebellion against him, know for a certainty that you shall never see that good land which you profess to expect as your eternal inheritance.]
Those who follow the Lord partially—
[A profession of religion may in a variety of ways conduce to the good of society, but it will never save the soul. We must follow the Lord fully, if we would find favour with him in the eternal world. It is no small matter to be Christians indeed. What Caleb was under the Law, we must be under the Gospel. The reason of Caleb’s acceptance is marked repeatedly, in the strongest terms [Note: Joshua 14:8-9; Joshua 14:14.]. The reason too of the rejection of the others is marked in similar language, and with equal plainness [Note: Numbers 32:10-11.]. And the example of those who perished is set before us by St. Jude, on purpose that the professors of godliness may be admonished by it [Note: Jude, ver. 5.]. O let the admonition sink deep into our hearts! and let us all be stirred up to diligence, that we may be found “Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile!”]
Those who, like Caleb, are following the Lord fully—
[Fear not singularity in so good a cause. If you are singular in following the Lord fully, the fault is not yours, but theirs who presume to violate the divine commands. Go on then, though the whole universe should be against you. If God acknowledge you as his servants, you need not regard the censures or the threats of men. You are embarked in a good cause: you serve a good Master: you run for a good prize. The land of promise is before you. Press forward for the attainment of it: “Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life.”]
PRESUMPTION OF THE REBELLIOUS ISRAELITES
Numbers 14:44. But they presumed to go up unto the hill-top.
THERE are principles in the human heart of which few people are aware. One in particular is, a disposition to withstand the authority of God, whatever his commands may be. We see something of this in children towards their parents: the very circumstance of a thing being enjoined makes them averse to it; and a prohibition immediately creates in them a desire after the thing prohibited. St. Paul represents this to have been his experience in his unconverted state: “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in him all manner of concupiscence,” and made him rise against the commandment, as water does against the dam that obstructs its progress. Such a disposition is not uncommon. There is scarcely any man, who, if he will examine carefully his own conduct, may not find, that he more readily does or forbears any thing in compliance with his own will, than when that thing is the subject of a prohibition or command. This perverse temper was very conspicuous in the Israelites when on the borders of Canaan. Being commanded, importuned, and encouraged to go up and possess the promised land, they could not be prevailed upon to go; but, when they were commanded to return into the wilderness, immediately they changed their minds, and would go against the Canaanites, even in direct opposition to the will of God. This is called in our text, “presumption:” “they presumed to go up unto the hill-top.”
Let us, for the elucidation of this subject, inquire,
Wherein their presumption consisted—
To believe the promises of God, and to expect the accomplishment of them to our own souls, is considered by many as an evidence of presumption. But presumption is rather the fruit of unbelief. That of which the Israelites were guilty consisted in two things;
They went up without the divine presence—
[God had told them that he would not go up with them: but they, who had just before despaired of success, even though God himself should fight on their side, now thought they could succeed by the unassisted efforts of their own arm. The folly of such a conceit we easily discern; but are little aware how universally it obtains in reference to spiritual combats. God offers to be with us, and by his almighty power to give us the victory. We persuade ourselves that we have a sufficiency of strength within ourselves, and that we can succeed without any supernatural assistance. Hence we neglect to implore help from God, we refuse to trust in him, and we go forth against our enemies in our own strength — — —
What is this but the very conduct of those rebellious Israelites? The only difference is, that they acted thus in reference to temporal enemies, and an earthly inheritance; whereas we do it, whilst we have all the powers of darkness to contend with, and no less a prize than heaven itself at stake.]
They went up in opposition to the divine command—
[God had expressly said to them, “Go not up:” and yet they would persist in their resolution. They would not go when they were commanded; but now will go, when they are forbidden. Doubtless they would attempt to vindicate their conduct, by alleging, that the rectifying of their former errors was the best proof of their repentance: and they would persuade themselves that God could never be angry with them for doing that, which he had just punished them for refusing to do. But vain were all such reasonings as these. Their duty was to obey, and not to put their reasonings in opposition to the divine commands. Yet in this we imitate them continually. We find, as we imagine, good reasons why this or that command is not to be obeyed; and then we follow our own will, in direct opposition to God’s — — — But what presumption is this! We do not like the way which God has prescribed for us to walk in, and we will go to heaven in our own way. This conduct we may attempt to justify; but God has stamped upon it its true character, as daring and impious presumption.]
To form a just estimate of their conduct, let us consider,
Wherein it issued—
They hoped, no doubt, that they should gain the victory: but their efforts terminated,
In painful disappointment—
[They found their enemies, as Moses had foretold, prepared for the encounter: and no sooner did they make the attack, than their courage failed them, and they fled; yea their enemies chased them “like enraged bees,” and destroyed them even unto Hormah. This is precisely what they had reason to expect; and what must be expected by all who will presumptuously advance in their own strength. In fact, this is the very thing of which all who depend on their own arm complain. They will not go forward in dependence on the Lord, and in obedience to his commands; but will trust in their own fancied sufficiency to work out their salvation: the consequence is, that, after all their endeavours to mortify sin, and to lead a heavenly life, they cannot do the things which are required of them — — — Hence the general complaint, that they who preach the Gospel require of men more than they can perform. But in whom is the fault? Not in those who enforce plainly the commands of God, but in those who, rejecting the offers of God’s all-sufficient grace, attempt to gain the victory by an arm of flesh.]
In fruitless sorrow—
[The fugitive hosts “returned and wept before the Lord: but the Lord would not hearken to their voice, nor give ear unto them [Note: Deuteronomy 1:45.].” Now they regretted their former disobedience, and prayed that the sentence denounced against them might be reversed. If God would but try them once more, they would do whatsoever he should command. But their doom was sealed: yea, in this very defeat, it had already been begun to be executed. Many were slain; and God had decreed that every one of them, except Caleb and Joshua, should die in the wilderness. Like Esau therefore, “they found no place of repentance, though they sought it carefully with tears [Note: Hebrews 12:17.].”
What an affecting representation is this of the final issue of disobedience to the world at large! When once their doom is sealed, how bitterly will they regret their past folly and wickedness! O, if they could but have another opportunity afforded them, how gladly would they embrace it! how resolutely would they obey the voice of God! they would no more presumptuously prefer their own will and way to his, but would obey him cheerfully and without reserve. But in vain are all such desires: their sentence is irrevocably passed: and all possibility of attaining the heavenly inheritance is gone for ever. Nothing now remains for them but to “weep and wail and gnash their teeth” for anguish, and to die that death, that second death, which they were not careful to avoid.]
The subject will give me a fit occasion to address,
Those who are afraid of presumption—
[Many there are who dread presumption, and who, through a fear of it, are deterred from applying to themselves the rich consolations of the Gospel: they think it would be presumptuous in such weak and sinful creatures as they to expect all the great things which God has promised to his people — — — But, be it Known unto you that it is no presumption to believe in God, or trust in God, even though you were the weakest and the vilest of the human race. If indeed you were to profess a confidence in him, whilst you were living in wilful and allowed sin, that would be presumption: but, if you truly desire to devote yourselves to God, and to be saved by him in his appointed way, the deeper sense you have of your own unworthiness, the more assuredly shall you receive from him all the blessings of a complete salvation — — —]
Those who indulge presumption—
[Of those who determinately go on in their own way, we have already spoken: and therefore we shall pass them over with only entreating them to remember what they have already heard to be the issue of such conduct. But there are even amongst those who profess religion, many who are guilty of very great presumption. What is it but presumption, to run into needless temptations, in hopes that God will keep us? O that the worldly– minded would consider this, when they are grasping after preferment or gain! O that they would consider it, who mix so readily with carnal company, and conform so easily to the maxims and habits of a vain world! O that the impure and sensual would consider it, when they give such liberty to their eyes and tongue! Beloved Brethren, we must not tempt God: but, retaining a sense of our extreme weakness and sinfulness, we must watch and pray that we enter not into temptation. Let this then be our daily prayer, “Keep thy servant, O Lord, from presumptuous sins, lest they get dominion over me:” and “Preserve me blameless unto thy heavenly kingdom:” “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 14". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20