THE REBELLION AT KADESH (continued) (Numbers 13:1-33, Numbers 14:1-45).
And the people wept that night. As the spies repeated their dismal tidings, each to the leading men of his own tribe, and as the report was spread swiftly through the tents (cf. Deuteronomy 1:27) with ever-increasing exaggerations, the lamentation became universal.
Murmured against Moses and against Aaron; whom they probably suspected and accused of seeking their own personal ends. Here we may see the true reason why Joshua had not been put forward to advocate an immediate advance. The Septuagint has διεγόγγυζον (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:10). Would God we had died. לוּ־מָתְנוּ. Septuagint, ὄφελον ἀπεθάνομεν. The A.V. is unnecessarily strong.
Wherefore hath the Lord brought us. Rather, "wherefore doth the Lord bring us." מֵבִיא. Septuagint, εἰσάγει. They were not actually in the land yet, but only on the threshold.
Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. Although this was only proposed in the wildness of their distress, yet it was a height of rebellion to which they had never risen before. They had lamented that they had not died in Egypt, and they had wished themselves back in Egypt, but they had never proposed to take any overt steps towards returning thither. Nothing less than an entire and deliberate revolt was involved in the wish to elect a captain for themselves, for the angel of the covenant was the Captain of the Lord's host (Joshua 5:14, Joshua 5:15). The proposal to depose him, and to choose another in his place, marked the extremity of the despair, the unbelief, and the ingratitude of the people.
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces. After making ineffectual efforts to reason with the people, or rather with their leaders (Deuteronomy 1:29-31). It was not, however, in this case an attitude of intercession, but the instinctive action of those who await in silent horror a catastrophe which they see to be inevitable; it testified to all who saw it that they were overwhelmed with shame and sorrow in view of the awful sin of the people, and of the terrible punishment which must follow.
And Joshua. In a last hopeless effort to bring the people to a better mind, or at least to deliver their own souls, there was no reason why Joshua should hold back any more. Rent their clothes. Another token of grief and hinter practiced from patriarchal times (cf. Genesis 37:29, Genesis 37:34; Job 1:20).
If the Lord delight in us. An expression used by Moses himself (Deuteronomy 10:15). It did indeed place the whole matter in the only right light; all the doubt that could possibly exist was the doubt implied in that "if."
They are bread for us. "They are our food," i.e; we shall easily devour them (cf. Numbers 24:8; Psalms 14:4). Perhaps it has the further significance that their enemies would be an absolute advantage to them, because they would (however unwillingly) supply them with the necessaries of life. So apparently the Septuagint: μὴ φοβηθῆτε τὸν λαὸν τῆς γῆς ὅτι κατάβρωμα ὑμῖν ἐστιν. Their defense is departed from them. Literally, "their shadow," that which shielded them for a while from the fierce blast of Divine wrath. This "shadow" was not positively the Divine protection (as in Psalms 91:1, and elsewhere), but negatively that Providence which left them a space wherein to walk in their own ways (cf. τὸ κατέχον of 2 Thessalonians 2:6).
Bade stone them with stones. Angry people cannot endure the counsels of calm reason, and perhaps the hostility which they felt against Moses they were very ready to vent upon his "minister." The glory of the Lord appeared; before all the children of Israel. At the moment when they were about to proceed to violence, the Divine glory filled the tabernacle, and flashed forth with a brilliancy which compelled their awe. struck attention.
And the Lord said unto Moses, who had, as we may suppose, risen and drawn nigh when the glory of the Lord appeared.
And will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they. By electing Moses, in the place of Jacob, to be the founder and ancestor of the chosen race, God would still have made good his promises to Abraham, and would only have vindicated for himself the same freedom of choice which he had used in the case of Ishmael and of Esau. We cannot, however, regard this offer as embodying a deliberate intention, for we know that God did not really mean to cast off Israel; nor can we regard it as expressing the anger of the moment, for it is not of God to be hasty. We must understand it distinctly as intended to try the loyalty and charity of Moses, and to give him an opportunity of rising to the loftiest height of magnanimity, unselfishness, and courage. Moses would unquestionably have been less noble than he was if he had listened to the offer; it is therefore certain that the offer was only made in order that it might be refused (cf. Exodus 32:10).
And Moses said unto the Lord. The words which follow are so confused, and the construction so dislocated, that they afford the strongest evidence that we have here the ipsissima verba of the mediator, disordered as they were in the moment of utterance by passionate earnestness and an agonizing fear. Had Moses been ever so eloquent, a facility of speech at such a moment would have been alike unnatural and unlovely. What we can see in the words is this: that Moses had no thought for himself, and that it never occurred to him to entertain the tempting offer made to him by God; that he knew God too well, and cared for God too much, to let him so compromise his honour among the nations, and so thwart his own purposes, without making one effort (however audacious) to turn his wrath aside. We can see that it is (as in Exodus 32:11, Exodus 32:12, only much more boldly and abruptly) the thought of what the heathen would say which he wishes to thrust upon the Almighty; but we cannot be sure of the right translation of the words. The most literal rendering would seem to be, "Both the Egyptians have heard ( וְשָׁמְעוּ) that thou broughtest out this people from among them with thy might, and they have told it ( וְאָמְרוּ) to the inhabitants of this land; they have heard ( שָׁמְעוּ, repeated) that thou, Lord, art amongst this people," &c. The Septuagint, however, translates the first verb by a future ( καὶ ἀκούσεται αἴγυπτος), and, as this gives a much clearer sense, it is followed by the Targum Palestine and most of the versions.
Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land. Moral or religious difficulties could not be comprehended by those heathen nations as standing in the way of God's purposes. Physical hindrances were the only ones they could understand; and they would certainly infer that if he slew the Israelites in the wilderness, it could only be in order to cover his own defeat and failure before the rival deities of Palestine.
And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great. Here the argument of Moses rises to a higher level; he ventures to put God in mind of what he had himself declared to Moses in the fullest revelation which he had ever made of his own unchangeable character, viz; that of all Divine prerogatives, the most Divine was that of forgiving sins and showing mercy. According as thou hast spoken. See on Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7. The words are not quoted exactly as there given, but are substantially the same.
From Egypt until now. From the first passion of despair in Egypt itself (Exodus 14:11, Exodus 14:12), through the murmurings in the wilderness of Sin, and the apostasy of Mount Sinai, to the last rebellion at Kibroth-Hattaavah.
I have pardoned. Whatever necessary exceptions and qualifications might remain to be afterwards declared, the great fact that he forgave the nation, and that the nation should not die, is announced without delay and without reservation (cf. 2 Samuel 12:13). According to thy word. Such power had God been pleased to give unto man, that at the intercession of the mediator a whole nation is delivered from imminent death and destruction.
As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. Rather, "as truly as I live, and the glory of the Lord shall fill all the earth." Both clauses are dependent on יְאוּלָם, and the second is but the necessary correlative of the first.
Because all those men. The particle כִּי is not to be rendered "because;" it simply introduces the substance of the oath: "As I live … all those men … shall not see." So the Septuagint. And have tempted me now these ten times. It is not in the least necessary to press this expression, borrowed from the vague usage of men, literally. It is the language of indignation, meaning that the full measure of provocation had been received (cf. Genesis 31:7; Job 19:3). The recorded instances of national "temptations" cannot be made to reach the number ten.
Surely they shall not see. אִם־יּרְאוּ, "if they shall see," according to the usual Hebrew idiom. Cf. Psalms 107:11, Hebrews 4:3, ὡς ὤμοσα … εἰ εἰσελεύσονται.
My servant Caleb. Caleb alone is mentioned here, as if he were the only exception to the sentence just passed upon the generation which came out of Egypt. Taken in connection with Numbers 13:30, and in contrast with Numbers 14:6, Numbers 14:30, Numbers 14:38, it has been supposed to point to the interweaving here of two narratives, from the one of which the name of Joshua was intentionally omitted (see the Introduction). The fact, however, is that Joshua is not the only, nor the most remarkable, exception to the general sentence which is not specified here. Moses and Aaron themselves were undoubtedly not included in that sentence at this time, although they afterwards came under the severity of it (see on Deuteronomy 1:37). Eleazar, the priest, was one of those who entered with Joshua (Joshua 14:1), and it is vain to argue that he might have been under twenty at the time of the numbering (cf. Numbers 4:16). There is, indeed, every reason to believe that the whole tribe of Levi were excepted from the punishment, because they were not compromised in the guilt. They had no representative among the spies, nor were they called upon to go up and fight; moreover, they had been steadily loyal to Moses since the matter of the golden calf. But if the exception of the Levites was taken for granted, and passed without mention, much more might the exception of Joshua. He did not stand by any means in the same position as Caleb and the other spies; he was the "minister" and lieutenant of Moses, whose fortunes were obviously bound up, not with those of his tribe, but with those of his master. If Moses had accepted the Divine offer to make him the head of a new chosen race, no doubt Joshua would have been given to him. His subsequent separation as leader, not of Ephraim, but of Israel, was already anticipated in the singularity, at least, of his position. Caleb, on the other hand, was merely a chieftain of the tribe of Judah, with nothing to distinguish him from the mass of the people but his own good conduct. There is, therefore, nothing perplexing in the fact that Caleb alone is mentioned in this place, and nothing to warrant the assumption of a double narrative. Another spirit. The spirit which possessed and prompted Caleb was no doubt the Holy Spirit, just as the spirit which moved the rebellion was an evil spirit (Ephesians 2:2); but how far any such personality is here attributed to the "spirit" is hard to determine. Hath followed me fully. Literally, "fulfilled to walk behind me." Caleb treasured up this testimony with natural pride (cf. Joshua 14:8). And his seed shall possess it, i.e; a portion of it and in it. No mention is made here of any special heritage, nor is it clear from Joshua 14:6-13 that Caleb received any definite promise of Hebron. He spoke indeed of a promise made him, probably at this time, by Moses; but that promise was a very general one. He asked for "this mountain, whereof the Lord spake in that day;" but he may only have referred to the Divine command first to explore and then to occupy "the mountain," as the nearest portion of the promised land.
Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley. This parenthesis bears on the face of it several difficulties, both as to the meaning of the statement and as to its position in the text.
1. It has been stated just before (Numbers 13:29) that the "Canaanites" dwelt by the sea, and in the Ghor, and it has been proposed by some to understand under this name the Phoenicians, because "Sidon" was the first-born of Canaan, and because they are known to have occupied the coast. But if "Canaanite" means "Phoenician" in Numbers 13:29, it is difficult to maintain that it is here equivalent to "Amorite." Again, if "Canaanite" be taken in this vaguer sense, yet it is clear that the Amorites dwelt in "the mountain", and not in the lowlands. This has been got over by supposing that עֵמֶק may mean an upland vale, or plateau, such as that to which the Israelites presently ascended. It is, however, a straining of the word to assign such a meaning to it. It is rightly translated by the Septuagint ἐν τῇ κοιλάδι. And even if one looking down from above might call an upland plain by this name, yet certainly one looking up from below would not. If the word stands rightly in this place, בָּעֵמֶק must mean "in the Wady Murreh," the broad sandy strait which bounded the "mountain of the Amorite" on the south. If so, we must conclude that not only the roving Amalekites, but also the Canaanites, or Amorites, had established themselves in some parts of the Wady.
2. It is scarcely credible that an observation of this sort, which would seem unusual and abrupt in any speech, should have formed a part of God's message to Moses. It has no apparent connection with the context. It does not (as often alleged) afford a reason for the command which follows; it was not at all because enemies were already in possession before them that the Israelites had to turn their backs upon the promised land, but because God had withdrawn for the time his promised aid. If the "valley" be the Rakhmah plateau, they had always known that hostile tribes held it, and that they would have to conquer them. That the words are an interpolation, as the A.V. represents them, seems as certain as internal evidence can make it; lint by whom made, and with what intent, is a question which will probably never be answered. It may be worth while to hazard a conjecture that the interpolated words are really connected with what goes before, viz; the promise of inheritance to Caleb. Now that promise was fulfilled in the gift of Hebron to Caleb and his seed (Joshua 14:14). But we have express mention in Genesis 37:14 of the "vale of Hebron," and the same word, עֵמֶק, is used in the Hebrew. Is it not possible that this parenthesis was originally the gloss of one who had a special interest in the heritage of Caleb, and wished to note that at the time it was given to him "the vale" was occupied by two hostile peoples? Into the wilderness, i.e; the Sinaitic peninsula, as distinguished from Palestine on the one hand, and from Egypt on the other. By the way of the Red Sea, i.e; towards the Red Sea; here apparently the Elanitic Gulf (cf. Numbers 11:31).
And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron. This communication is clearly by way of continuation and amplification of the sentence briefly pronounced above. It is markedly distinguished from the latter, as being
The one was the Divine answer to the effectual pleading of the mediator; the other the Divine reply to the rebellious cries of the people. The two are blended together in the narrative of Deuteronomy 1:1-46.
How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? Literally, "How long this evil congregation, that they murmur against me." Septuagint, ἕως τίνος τὴν συναγωγὴν τὴν πονηρὰν ταύτην; The verb is supplied from the sense.
All that were numbered of you … from twenty years old (cf. Numbers 1:18, Numbers 1:19, Numbers 1:47). All that had been enrolled as the soldiers of the Lord, to fight his battles and their own, but had refused, and had incurred the guilt of mutiny.
Sware. Literally, "lifted up my hand" (see on Genesis 14:22). And Joshua the son of Nun. The exception in favour of his "minister," Joshua, had been taken for granted in the brief answer of God to Moses; in the fuller announcement of his purposes to the congregation it was natural that he too should be mentioned by name.
Your children shall wander. Literally, "shall pasture." רֹעִים. Septuagint, ἔσονται νεμόμενοι. It was not altogether a threat, for it implied that the Lord would be their Shepherd and would provide for their wants in their wanderings. Forty years. This period was made up by counting in the year and a half since the exodus. It was one of those many cases in which the word of God was fulfilled in the meaning and substance of it, but not in the letter. The delay which had already occurred was itself practically due to the same spirit of mutiny which had grown to a head at Kadesh; it was therefore strictly equitable to count it as part of the punishment inflicted (see on Deuteronomy 2:14). And bear your whoredoms. "Whoredom" had been already used (Exodus 34:16) as a synonym for idolatry in its aspect of spiritual unfaithfulness, and there is no reason to depart from that well-marked meaning here. That the Jews were guilty of idolatry in the wilderness is distinctly asserted (cf. Acts 7:42, Acts 7:43); and these idolatrous practices, carried on no doubt in secret, must have been a sore trial to the generation which grew up amidst them (cf. Joshua 24:14, Joshua 24:23).
After the number of the days … each day for a year. It is said, and truly, that the connection between the two periods was arbitrary, and that the apparent correspondence lay only upon the surface. Exactly for this reason it was the better fitted to fix itself in the mind of a nation incapable of following a deeper and more spiritual analogy of guilt and punishment. It served the purpose which God had in view, viz; to make them feel that the quantity as well as the quality of their punishment was entirely due to themselves; and it needed no other justification. If God assigns reasons at all, he assigns such as can be understood by those to whom he speaks. Ye shall know my breach of promise. תְּנוּאָתִי. The noun only occurs elsewhere in Job 33:10, but the verb is found in Numbers 32:7 in the sense of "discouraging," or "turning away". Here it must mean "my withdrawal," or "my turning aside, from you." They should know by sad experience that "with the froward" God will "show" himself "froward" (Psalms 18:26).
Died by the plague before the Lord. Septuagint, ἐν τῇ πληγῇ. "Plague" has here its older signification of "stroke," or visitation of God. We are not told what death they died, but it was sudden and exceptional enough to mark it as the direct consequence of their sinful conduct.
Early in the morning. Wishing to anticipate the retrograde movement commanded by God (Numbers 14:25). Into the top of the mountain. What summit is here spoken of as the object of their enterprise is quite uncertain. Probably it was some ridge not far distant which seemed to them from below to be the height of land, but was itself commanded by loftier heights beyond. For we have sinned. The prospect of being taken at their own word, and being excluded from the land which lay so near, brought home to them a sense of their folly; but their repentance merely consisted in a frantic effort to avoid the punishment which their sin had incurred.
And Moses said, i.e; had said, before they left the camp (cf. Numbers 14:44, and Deuteronomy 1:42).
They presumed to go up. This gives the sense very well: they were deaf to all persuasion or command to stay. Septuagint, διαβιασάμενοι ἀνέβησαν. Thus they added to an evil distrust in the power of God an almost more evil trust in their own power. It does not seem correct to say that "unbelief" was the real cause of both errors—unbelief, firstly in God's promises, and secondly in his threats. It was rather one of those many cases in which men seek to atone for a fault on one side by rushing into as great a fault on the other side. They spoke brave words about the "place which the Lord hath promised," as though it were indeed obedience and trust which spurred them on, instead of presumption and selfishness. The ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. The plainest possible token that the Lord was not with them. With Moses remained no doubt all the Levites, and the silver trumpets, and Joshua, and perhaps the bulk of the people.
The Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites. See on Deuteronomy 1:44. They came down from the summit of the mountain country, and drove the Israelites off the saddle, or lower level, to which they had ascended. Discomfited them. Septuagint, κατέκοψαν αὐτούς, "cut them up." Unto Hormah. This mention of Hormah is extremely perplexing, especially when we find from Deuteronomy 1:44 that it was "in Serf" ( בְּשֵׂעִיר), which is the ordinary name for the territory of the Edomites. The name Hormah meets us again in Numbers 21:3 (see the notes there), as having been bestowed by the Israelites upon the place where they destroyed the people of King Arad. If this be the same Hormah, it must be so named here by anticipation. It is, however, quite possible that it is another place altogether. Again, if the Seir of Deuteronomy 1:44 be the country usually so called, we must suppose that the Edomites had at this time occupied a part of the Azazimeh, contiguous to the Wady Murreh, and westwards of the Arabah. We should then represent the Israelites to ourselves as being driven off the mountain, and across the Wady Murreh, and cut down in the mountains beyond, as far as a place called Hormah, perhaps from this very slaughter. Others have found Hormah (or Zephath, 1:17) and Seir among the multitudinous names of past or present habitation in the south of Palestine; the perplexing resemblances of which, coupled with the vagueness of the sacred narrative, lead to the rise of as many different theories as there are commentators. It must, however, be erroneous to represent this hasty incursion of the Israelites, without their leaders, and without their daily food from heaven, as a campaign in which they advanced for a considerable distance, and were only partially expelled at last. It is clear from this passage, and still more from the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 1:1-46, that the expedition was swiftly and ignominiously repelled and avenged. Compare the expression, "chased you as bees do."
Note To Chapters XIII, XIV on the Position of Kadesh and the Route Taken by the Israelites
The old name of Kadesh was En-mishpat (Genesis 14:7), or the "Well of Judgment.'' Its later and more familiar name was equivalent to "the sanctuary" or "holy place" (compare the Arabic name for Jerusalem, "El Kuds"). It is possible that it received this name from the long sojourn of the tabernacle in its neighbourhood (Deuteronomy 1:46); but it is more likely that it possessed some character of sanctity from ancient times, a character which would very well harmonize with the fact that justice was administered there. It is evident that in order to obtain any clear and connected idea of the history of Israel between the departure from Sinai and the encampment upon the plains of Moab, it is above all necessary to fix approximately the position of this place, which for one generation was the most important place in the whole world. It was no doubt from the neighbourhood of Kadesh that the spies were sent, and it was certainly to Kadesh that they returned from searching the land (Numbers 13:26). From Kadesh the first disastrous attempt was made to invade the country, and from thence again the final journey began which led the nation round the coasts of Edom to the plains of Moab. Thus Kadesh was of all places, next to Mount Sinai, the one associated with the most momentous events of those momentous years, marking at once the terminus of their first journey (which should have been their last), the beginning of their tedious wanderings, and the starting point of their final march. So far, however, from there being any certainty or agreement as to the site of Kadesh, we find two sites proposed widely separated from one another, each maintained and each assailed by powerful arguments, which divide between them the suffrages of geographers and commentators; and besides these there are others less powerfully supported.
The view adopted in the notes to this book is that of the travelers Rowland and Williams, and of the great majority of the German commentators: it is fully stated and minutely argued in Kurtz's ‘History of the Old Covenant' (volume 3 in Clark's ‘Foreign Theol. Lib.'). According to these authorities Kadesh is to be recognized in the plain and fountain of Kudes, just within the north-west corner of the mountains of the Azazimeh (see note on Numbers 10:12). This desert plain, some ten miles by six in extent, is screened from ordinary observation by the outer mountain walls of the Azazimat, which shut it off on the west from the desert road from Sinai to Hebron, on the north from the Wady Murreh. At the north-east of the plain is a bold and bare rock, a promontory of the northern mountain rampart, from the. foot of which issues a copious spring, which begins by falling in cascades into the bed of a torrent, and ends by losing itself in the sands. Amongst the Wadys which open into the plain is one which bears the name of Redemat (see note on Numbers 12:16). It is uncertain whether there is any easy communication between this plain and the Wady Murreh, but there are several passes on the western side which lead by a slight circuit to the southern table-lands of Palestine.
The view adopted by the majority of English commentators is that of the traveler Robinson. According to these authorities Kadesh must be sought in the Arabah, the broad depression which runs northward from the head of the Elanitic Gulf until it meets the Ghor below the Dead Sea. By most of those who hold this view the site of Kadesh is placed at Ain-el-Weibeh, ten miles to the north of Mount Hor, and opposite the opening (from the east)of the Wady el Ghuweir, which affords the only easy passage through Edom to the north-west. Others, however, prefer Ain Hash, a few miles further north. The local peculiarities of either place are such as to satisfy the requirements of the narrative, although they would not by themselves have recalled the scenes with which Kadesh is associated.
Of other theories none perhaps need to be considered here, because none can reasonably enter into competition with the two already mentioned; they avoid none of the difficulties with which these are beset, while they incur others of their own. If, indeed, Rabbinical tradition (followed in this case by Jerome) were worth anything, it would decide the question in favour of Petra, the Aramaic name of which (Rekem) uniformly takes the place of Kadesh in the Syriac and Chaldee, and in the Talmud. Kadesh-Barnea in the Targums is Rekem-Geiah. Petra itself (of which the ancient name apparently was Selah (2 Kings 14:7), the very word used in Numbers 20:10, Numbers 20:11) stands in a gorge famous for its giant cliffs, still called the Wady Musa, concerning which the local tradition is that it was cleft by the rod of Moses. But apart from these resemblances of name, which are so fallacious, and these legends, which are so worthless, there is absolutely nothing to connect Kadesh with Petra; on the contrary, the position of Petra, far away from Palestine, on the skirts of Mount Hor, and in the heart of Edom, distinguish it sharply from the Kadesh of the Bible story. The two can only be identified on the supposition that the sacred narrative, as it stands, is mistaken and misleading.
In examining briefly the arguments by which the western and eastern sites respectively are maintained and assailed, it will be better to dismiss the evidence (such as it is) afforded by modern nomenclature, which is always open to grave suspicion, and is at best of very variable value. The Wady Retemat, e.g; is so named from the broom plant, which is very plentiful in the peninsula, and may have lent a similar name to many another place.
In favour of the western site, that of the so-called plain of Kudes, we have the following arguments in addition to the marked natural features which suggested the identification.
1. Previous mentions of Kadesh would certainly dispose us (in the absence of any indication that there was more than one place of that name) to look for it to the south of Palestine, and rather to the south-west than to the southeast. In Genesis 14:7 it is mentioned in connection with the "country of the Amalekites," which was apparently between Canaan and Egypt. In the same region we may place with more confidence the well of Hagar (Genesis 16:14), which is placed between "Kadesh and Bered." It is difficult to think that this Kadesh could possibly have been in the Arabah. Gerar, again, which was certainly near to Beersheba, is placed (Genesis 20:1) "between Kadesh and Shut." These notices are indeed indefinite, but they certainly point to the western rather than to the eastern site.
2. Subsequent mentions of Kadesh point in the same direction. In Genesis 34:4, Genesis 34:5 and Joshua 15:3, Joshua 15:4 the southern frontier of Judah, which was also that of Canaan, is traced from the scorpion cliffs at the head of the Ghor to the Mediterranean (see note on the first passage). On this frontier Kadesh occurs in such a way that we should look for it not at one extremity, but somewhere about the middle of the line. The same is still more clearly the case in Ezekiel 47:19, where only three points are given on the southern frontier, of which Kadesh is the middle one. It is, again: very difficult to imagine that this Kadesh could have been in the Arabah.
3. It is a weaker argument, but still of some moment, that Kadesh is pointedly said to have been in the "wilderness of Paran" (Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:3), and also to have been in or near the wilderness of Zin (Ezekiel 13:21; Ezekiel 20:1). But the eastern site of Kadesh far up the Arabah does not seem to answer to this double description near]y as well as the western. The plain of Kudes is strictly within the limits of that southern desert now called et-Tih, and yet it is quite close to the Wady Murreh, which with its sandy expansions towards the east may well have been the wilderness of Zin (see note on Numbers 13:21).
In favour of the eastern site, the only argument of real weight is founded upon the repeated statement that Kadesh was close upon the territory of Edom. In Numbers 20:16, e.g; it is spoken of to the king of Edom as "a city in the uttermost of thy borders." But the only position in which the children of Israel would be at once on the borders of Canaan and on the borders of Edom as commonly understood, would be in the neighbourhood of Ain el-Weibeh, with the pass of es-Safah on their left, and the Wady Ghuweir on their right, as they looked northwards. With this agrees the statement that they came to Kadesh "by the way of Mount Seir" (Deuteronomy 1:2), and the fact that there is no station mentioned between Kadesh and Mount Her (Numbers 33:37), although the western site is seventy miles from that mountain.
The necessity indeed of placing Kadesh on the border of Edom must be conclusive in favour of the eastern site, if the common assumption is correct that the name and territory of Edom were bounded westwards by the Arabah. It is, however, contended, with some show of reason, that the kings of Edom had extended their authority at this time over the country of the Azazimeh as far as the plain of Kudes. There is, at any rate, nothing improbable in this, because this great mountain fastness is almost as sharply severed from Canaan as from Mount Seir, properly so called; and in fact it never appears to have been in possession of the Canaanites. When, however, the southern boundary line is traced in detail (Numbers 34:3, Numbers 34:4; Joshua 15:1, Joshua 15:2, Joshua 15:21), it is said to have extended עַל־יְדֵי, "on the sides," or אֶל־גְּבוּל, "to the borders," of Edom, and this expression can hardly be satisfied by the single point of contact at the south-east corner of Judah, especially when we consider the long list of cities which were on or near this border (Joshua 15:21-32). Again, when the extreme southern and northern points of Joshua's conquest are mentioned (Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7), the former is "the bald mountain which goeth up Seir"—a natural feature which we look for in vain (for it cannot possibly be the low line of the scorpion cliffs), unless it be the northern rampart of the Azazimat. We have seen that the Hormah to which the Israelites were repelled on their first invasion is placed (Deuteronomy 1:44) "in Seir," which can hardly be Mount Seir in its ordinary restricted sense. If the name Seir has to be sought anywhere outside of Edom proper, it would seem more natural to find it in the northern part of the wilderness of Paran, where it is said to be still common, than anywhere else. And if this extension of Edom can be established, there appears to be no further objection of any moment to the western site. Mount Hor would still be on the coast or edge of the land of Edom, because it would be the meeting-point of the two boundaries, the one striking westwards across the Arabah, the other southwards down the Arabah. The absence of any name between Kadesh and Her is not conclusive, because the people certainly made journeys of several days without any regular halt (see note on Joshua 10:33).
Upon the whole the question may fairly be stated thus:—
1. The general tenor of the narrative would lead us to suppose that the host of Israel had marched from Sinai through the midst of the desert of Paran, by the route which led most directly to the extreme south of Palestine; and if they did this, they must have passed near to Rowland's Kadesh.
2. The natural features of this site, its position with regard to the desert of et-Tih and the Wady Murreh, its distance from Sinai (Deuteronomy 1:2), and its proximity to the Negeb and the plateau of Rakhmah, seem to harmonize better with all that we read about Kadesh than the corresponding characteristics of the rival site.
3. The general effect of the various mentions of Kadesh, both before and after, is undeniably, though not decidedly, in favour of the western site.
4. The minor arguments which are urged on one side or the other may be allowed to balance one another, for it is certain that neither is free from difficulty.
5. The difficulty with respect to Edom is a very serious one, and with many will be decisive against Rowland's Kadesh.
6. What must turn the scale one way or the other is the independent evidence that the border of Edom extended at this time across the Arabah, and included the northeast portion of the desert of Paran, viz; the mountain mass which fronted the southern edge of Canaan. There is some evidence that this was the case, and it cannot be met by the simple assertion that the territory of Edom consisted only of Mount Seir, and that Mount Seir lay wholly to the east of the Arabah.
It is to be expected that travel and research in these regions now so inaccessible, and, after all said and written, so little known, will before long bring fresh and more decisive evidence to light. In the mean time that view is consistently maintained in these notes which, if it had apparently the greatest difficulty to surmount, yet receives the greatest amount of positive support from the general and incidental testimony of the Scripture record. One lesson emerges clearly from the obscurity involving this question, which appears to us so important to the understanding of God's holy word: the geography of the Bible must be of very small importance indeed as compared with its moral and religious teachings. These are not affected by any ignorance of localities and routes. The rebellion of Kadesh has exactly the same moral for us (Hebrews 3:19; Hebrews 4:11) whether Kadesh was in the Azazimat or the Arabah; and the very uncertainty in which its site is involved may be designed to remind us that it is very easy to exaggerate the value of these outward details to the neglect of those inward teachings which alone are in the highest sense important.
Numbers 13:1-33, Numbers 14:1-45
THE REVOLT OF ISRAEL
In these two chapters we have, as the writer to the Hebrews teaches us, a Divinely-recorded "example of unbelief" (Hebrews 4:11)—of that ἀειθεία which we cannot satisfactorily translate, because it is a disbelief which prompts and produces, and so appears in practice as, disobedience; of that ἀπειθεία which is to the Christian's life exactly what the "evil heart of unbelief" ( ἀπιστίας) is to the Christian's faith. The fall of Israel is "written," and fully written, "for our admonition," because the like temper and the like behaviour leads in us to the like misery and loss. Spiritually, therefore, we see the Israel of God—
1. Brought very nigh to the promised rest, almost within sight, and actually within taste.
2. Refusing to enter that rest through disbelief.
3. Sentenced to exile from the rest they would not enter.
4. Attempting (vainly) to eater that rest in their own unbidden and unblessed ways. And subordinately to this great and striking lesson, we have other lessons and examples both of good and evil.
I. CONSIDER, THEREFORE, IN RESPECT OF THIS ὑποδείγμα ἀπειθείας—
1. That the place where Israel now lay was "in the wilderness of Paran" that great and terrible wilderness; but it was also "in the wilderness of Zin " which was the southern frontier of Canaan; and therefore the desert journey lay behind him, and his rest was close before him: only one steep climb and he would begin to enter into the land of promise. Even so are we placed today. God has brought us with a mighty hand within reach of home; has led us by a way we knew not of; has given us a law and a worship; has fed us with heavenly food; has separated us (outwardly at least) from a perishing world. Rest lies before us: rest in this world from sin and self (Hebrews 4:10); in the next from sorrow and sadness too (Revelation 14:13). It is not far away, not out of reach; it only needs a little patient effort to make that rest our own.
2. That it pleased God not only to tell the people about the land of promise, but to let them see its goodness, as it were, for themselves through the report of their own brethren, representative men whom he suffered to view the land. Even so it is the good pleasure of God that, concerning the happiness of a holy life, we should have not only his promise, but the testimony of men also, even of our brethren. Yea, concerning the glories of the world to come, how great they are, we have the report of men to whom it hath been given to "go up thither," to see what "eye hath not seen," to hear "what ear hath not heard," even "unspeakable things" which could only be set forth to us in types and figures (2 Corinthians 12:2, 2 Corinthians 12:3, compared with Romans 8:18; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 21:10, &c.).
3. That the people at Kadesh not only heard the report of Canaan,, but tasted of the fruits of it which the spies brought back; and they might know by these fruits how much pleasanter a land it was than Egypt itself, even apart from its slavery. Even so it is given to us in Christ not only to hear by report, but to taste also of the good things of the world to come (Hebrews 6:4, Hebrews 6:5). It is a fact of experience that we may partake to some extent, here and now, of delights which no more spring from the conditions of unregenerate human nature than those fruits could have grown in the desert of Paran—delights which are as superior to the luxuries of sin as the grapes of Eshcol to the pungent dainties of Egypt. Nothing can rob us of the consciousness that we have tasted them, and it is this which makes heaven so real to us, as Canaan to them.
4. That none of the spies concealed from them the fact that the land which invited them had its grave difficulties, as well as its great attractions: milk and honey and fruit, and all good things, but many strong foes to be conquered first. Even so it is not concealed by any that great obstacles and sore conflicts stand between the longing soul and the promised rest. If any represented the entry into the inheritance of the saints as an easy thing and unopposed, he would but contradict the Master himself and his inspired servants (1 Corinthians 9:26, 1 Corinthians 9:27; Hebrews 4:1; James 1:3, James 1:12; 2 Peter 1:10, 2 Peter 1:11; 2 John 1:8; Jud 1:20, 21).
5. That the obstacles which confronted Israel in the gigantic size and fortified cities of their foes were truly formidable, and to the military science of that day insuperable. Even so the powers of evil which bar our upward way are indeed mighty, and that for two especial reasons:
6. That the faithless among the spies led the people astray in two ways:
Even so the counsels of the natural man are doubly false:
7. That the faithful among the spies (in whom was "another spirit ") gave counsel, "Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it." And herein were three points:
8. That the crisis of Israel's fate was come when they had to choose between these persuasions. God had brought them to the very verge of Canaan, but they could not enter unless their will united itself to his will, unless they chose to go on in his name and strength. Their future was at that hour in their own hands, and they wrecked it because they did not trust God, because their faith was too weak to pass into obedience in the face of serious discouragement. Even so are our eternal fortunes placed (in a certain true sense) in our own hands. Holiness and heaven are set before us, brought within our reach in Christ; the "rest which remaineth" is ours, to be entered on now, today; and God calls upon us to enter, and encourages us by the voice and experience of those who have made trial of it. And it may be we will not go on; it is too hard—too much to encounter; too difficult—too many obstacles in the way. It may be we find the prospect so much less easy and encouraging than we had fancied. We will not make the effort, or undertake the risk,. looking to Divine grace for success; and therefore we too cannot enter in because of unbelief. We must bear the evil consequences; we have ruined ourselves; we have shut ourselves out from happiness and heaven. And note that as this crisis (although in some sense often anticipated) only happened once to Israel in the wilderness, so does the true crisis in his spiritual fortunes happen only once (as far as we can see) in the lives of many men. There is a set time when they are called, in some unmistakable way, to make a bold and decisive advance in the spiritual life, which will leave them really masters of themselves, and so at rest. If, then, they shrink from taking it because it is hard, or because (as they say) they are not worthy or prepared for it they forfeit the rest prepared for them, and doom themselves to a fruitless wandering in dry places.
9. That the first fruit of that refusal to advance was mourning, the second murmuring, the third flat rebellion. Even so when we, being called, shrink from going on unto perfection, the first consequence is that unhappiness which is both a symptom of disaffection to God and a part of it; the second is a complaining spirit, as though we had been ill-treated, and a readiness to put the blame on others, perhaps our best friends; the third is a desperate intention to throw off the yoke of religion altogether, and to return to the old license of sin from which we had escaped.
10. That the proposal to return to Egypt was as infeasible as it was wicked. Had it been possible to get there, it is certain that even the poor luxuries of their former slavery would never have been given back to them. Even so the faint-hearted and faithless Christian can yet never be as the heathen, or even as the ungodly, again: for one thing, he knows enough of true happiness and freedom to find the yoke of open sin intolerable; for another, the pleasures of sin are departed for him: he may sin, and recklessly, but it will not have the zest it once had, when it was in a manner natural to him. The ungodly do enjoy the pleasures of sin, such as they are; the half-converted who draw back are of all men most miserable: they will not have Canaan, and they cannot have Egypt, and there is nothing for them but the wilderness (cf. Hebrews 10:38, Hebrews 10:39, in the true version).
11. That the punishment which God inflicted upon the rebels was perpetual exile from the land which they would not enter. Thus he simply took them at their own word (Numbers 14:28); for though they had imagined the alternative of return to Egypt, that was impossible. Even so the sentence which Christ passes upon them that will not come to him is simply, "Depart from me" (Matthew 25:41). If men will not labour to enter into rest (Hebrews 4:11), there is no alternative before them but perpetual unrest, lasting as long as they last; and this is itself "the fire prepared for the devil and his angels," for this is the natural state of evil spirits apart from artificial and temporary disguises (Matthew 12:43; cf. Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah 57:21).
And note that the ἀνύδροι τόποι and the ἀνάπαυσις of Matthew 12:43 exactly correspond to the wilderness of Paran on the one hand, and to Canaan on the other (cf. Matthew 11:29).
And note again, with regard to the punishment inflicted—
1. That all who were numbered (and none other) were counted worthy of punishment, as having been enrolled for the military service of the Lord, but having mutinied. So will our sentence (if we incur it) be one passed not on aliens, or enemies, but on servants who have betrayed their trust, on soldiers who have disobeyed their orders and turned their backs upon their Captain (1 Corinthians 7:22; Colossians 3:24; 2 Timothy 2:3, 2 Timothy 2:4).
2. That only the adult generation, who were strong and able, were excluded; their little ones, whom they counted so helpless, and of whom they said they would be a prey, inherited the land. Even so in the kingdom of his grace the wise and prudent are left out, and the proud are scattered in the imagination of their hearts, whilst unto babes mysteries are revealed (cf. Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:14; 1 Corinthians 1:26-28; 2 Corinthians 12:10).
3. That the years of exile were reckoned in exact accordance with the days of searching. So must there be a perfect correspondence between sin and its punishment—a correspondence which is not merely on the surface (as in their case), but lies deep down in the nature of man, so that sin works out its own revenges both in kind and in measure (cf. Luke 12:47).
II. CONSIDER AGAIN, IN RESPECT OF THE VAIN ATTEMPT TO CONQUER CANAAN FOR THEMSELVES—
1. That the people added to their former sin an opposite sin—despairing first, and presuming after. Even so do many think to atone for the unbelief and sloth and disobedience of the past by a presumptuous reliance upon their own strength of character and of will for the future. So when one is compelled to acknowledge his irreligion and sin, he sets up to mend his life himself, saying, "I will," and "I have made up my mind," and "I am determined," being governed as much by self-will in running the way of God's commandments as before in refusing to run.
2. That they sought to justify their attempt by a hasty acknowledgment of their sin, and by a presumptuous appropriation of God's promises, as though the land was theirs whenever and however they chose to take it. Even so do many put aside all genuine repentance and self-humiliation for their grievous sins, when those sins are brought home to them, speaking and acting as if a bare acknowledgment of sin (which cannot be avoided) replaced them at once in the favour of God, and gave them a sure title to all the blessings of the covenant.
3. That they went against their foes without Moses, and without the ark, as if they could do without Divine help today what yesterday they had despaired of doing with that help. Even so when men have discovered the folly of their sins by sharp experience, they will set to work to lead a good life and to overcome temptations without the means of grace, without the presence and aid of Jesus, without any ground of confidence that he is with them in their strife.
4. That the result was speedy and disastrous defeat at the hands of their enemies. Even so have all men fared who have tried to achieve holiness and heaven without the Divine aid carefully sought and constantly had (Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 12:28).
III. CONSIDER AGAIN, WITH RESPECT TO THE SPIES AND THE LAND OF PROMISE—
1. That the proposal to search the land did not at first proceed from God, but probably from a secret disaffection on the part of the people, nevertheless, he made it his own. Even so there are many things in the Church of God which have their first origin in human defection from the obedience of faith, which yet, as not being wrong in themselves, God has adopted and made a part of that order of things which is our practical probation. A great part of Christian civilization, e.g; had its real origin in pride, ambition, or covetousness; nevertheless, it is certain that God has adopted it, and we could not go back from it without flying in the face of providence.
2. That the change whereby Hoshea (help) became Jehoshua (God's help) was either made or declared at this time. Even so when it is any question of finding the way to heaven, or making any report concerning it, no "help" is of any avail which is not clearly and avowedly "God's help" (Acts 26:22).
3. That the instructions given by Moses seem to have erred by directing attention, too much to possible difficulties. Even so it is a frequent error, and a natural one, in rulers of the Church that they direct attention too much to matters of worldly policy and to outward difficulties, and thereby encourage a spirit of cowardice and discouragement which they do not themselves share.
4. That Hebron was older than Zoan. Most likely they thought that Zoan, the residence of Pharaoh, was the oldest place in the world, but, as a fact, Hebron was seven years (a perfect number) older still. Even so we think and speak naturally of the present order of things as though it always had been, as though all the prestige of antiquity at any rate were on its side. In truth the country to which we go is infinitely older, having been prepared for us "before the foundation of the world."
5. That the valley of Esheol had a new meaning given to its name because of the famous cluster which they bare thence. Even so many an old name in the Bible becomes instinct with new meaning through its association with the joys of the world to come (cf. Paradise, Zion, &c.); and so many a scene in our individual lives, being connected with some spiritual happiness.
6. That the spies confirmed all that God had said of the land. Even so those who have had visions of heaven, and those too among ourselves who have tasted of its sweetness and its gifts in a heaven]y life on earth, must needs testify that all which God hath said of its blessedness is most true, and not exaggerated.
7. That Caleb differed from the rest of the spies, and was the only reliable counselor, in that he had "another spirit," and "fulfilled to walk after" the Lord. Even so the faithful Christian, whom it is safe to follow, is known among the many faithless—
8. That the other spies died by the hand of God, as having turned their brethren away from Canaan. Even so it is a fearful sin, and one that will be fearfully avenged, to discourage the wavering, and to provide those that are disaffected with arguments and reasons against a religious life.
9. That Joshua and Caleb lived on, sharing the present punishment, but not destroyed by it, because cheered with certain hope. Even so in an evil age, amidst an unspiritual people, the faithful few must live sadly, but they live. The Lord knoweth them that are his, and they shall stand in their lot at the end of days (Jeremiah 45:5; Daniel 12:13; Malachi 3:16, Malachi 3:17; 2 Timothy 2:19). And note, that the spies were specially directed to see "whether there be wood "in the holy land, or not; i.e; trees, which did not grow in the wilderness. It is especially told us that in the holy city there grows the tree of life (Revelation 2:7)—yea, many trees of life, such as we vainly seek here (Ezekiel 47:12; Revelation 22:2). And note again, that in the bunch of grapes borne upon a staff the ancient commentators saw an image of Christ crucified. "Christus est botrus qui pependit in ligno". The two that bear are the two peoples, Jew and Gentile; they who go before see not what they carry; they who come after carry the same, and see what they carry.
IV. CONSIDER AGAIN, IN RESPECT TO THE LAST FRUITLESS APPEAL OF JOSHUA AND CALEB (Joshua 14:6-9), that they urged very truly—
1. That the land was exceeding good. Even so is the land set before us, whether it be the life of holiness and devotion here or the life of perfection beyond; it floweth with milk and honey, because all that is most wholesome and pleasant is to be had freely without money and without price.
2. That the Lord would bring them in, if he delighted in them—and there could be no doubt of that, after what he had done. Even so, if the Lord delight in us, as he has said and proved abundantly, he can surely give us victory and give us possessions, for his Spirit is able to sustain our weakness, and all things are his (Romans 8:26, Romans 8:31, Romans 8:37; 1 Corinthians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 3:22).
3. That the one thing which could harm them was rebellion. Even so the only thing which a Christian has to fear, the only thing which can keep him far from rest, out of heaven, is disaffection towards God. If he does not believe God's word; if he shrinks from really putting it to the test; if he will not in an actual case go forth in faith of his promised aid to overcome a temptation, to live down an evil habit, to practice a recognized virtue, then he sins through unbelief, and forfeits grace (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 4:2; Hebrews 10:23-26, Hebrews 10:35, Hebrews 10:36; Revelation 2:5, Revelation 2:16; Revelation 3:16).
4. That their foes were not in fact formidable, but rather an advantage, as providing them with sustenance. Even so there is nothing in temptation or in trial, apart from unfaithfulness in us, which need seriously stand in our way. Our enemies, natural or supernatural, are powerless against him in us. And when met as they should be, they are our greatest helps to holiness and heaven, for neither can be attained except by "overcoming." No one does so much for us as he who persecutes us, for he makes ours the eighth and highest beatitude, which we cannot have otherwise. No one helps us so fast to heaven as the devil himself, resisted, withstood, trampled down (Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:12; Romans 8:28; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:13; James 1:2-4, James 1:12).
5. That fear was unreasonable, since the Lord was with them, viz; in his ark and cloudy pillar. Even so our watchword is "Emmanuel," the Lord with us in the incarnation of the eternal Son. and in his perpetual presence with all and each of us, and in his assurance of our Father's love, and in his entire adoption of our interests as his own (Matthew 28:20, b; Luke 12:32; John 14:1, John 14:2; Hebrews 13:6; Revelation 6:2).
V. CONSIDER AGAIN, WITH RESPECT TO THE INTERCESSION OF MOSES AND THE ANSWER OF GOD
1. That the sin of the people and the wrath they incurred brought out the noblest trait in Moses' character. In his perfect unselfishness, and in his ardour of intercession, he reached the true ideal of a mediator. Even so the fall and condemnation of the human race were the conditions (and necessary conditions, as far as we can see) of the manifestation of redeeming love and power in Christ. And as Israel is (in the long run) more ennobled by the heroism of Moses than it is disgraced by the cowardice of the people, so did humanity rise more in the righteousness of Christ than it fell in the vileness of Adam and the rest (Romans 5:15, Romans 5:17, Romans 5:20).
2. That God did not desire the sin of the people, but he so dealt with their sin as to bring out the singular goodness of his servant. Even so it/was not of God that man should fall into condemnation, but it was overruled by him for unspeakable good in the self-sacrifice of his dear Sou (Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:20 b; 1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10).
3. That the offer made to Moses by God was intended to be refused, for it was a temptation to advance himself at the expense of the people. Even so our Lord was "driven" into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted with the offer of all the kingdoms of the world; and the temptation was often repeated (John 6:15).
4. That one element in the nobleness of Moses' character was his unconsciousness of his own unselfishness. He did not even decline the tempting proposal, he only ignored it, as though it had never been made. And on subsequent occasions, while he often referred to his fault and punishment, he never alluded to his self-sacrifice (cf. Deuteronomy 1:37, Deuteronomy 1:38). Even so the true beauty of a Christian character is its simplicity, candour, and absence of self-conceit, such as we admire (and our Lord too) in children (Matthew 18:1-4; 1 Corinthians 13:4 b).
5. That the effectual intercession of Moses was based on two arguments: that God would not destroy his own work begun; that God would not belie his own character revealed. Even so is all-prevailing Christian prayer based upon the same foundations: we plead with God his own work begun in us or others (Philippians 1:6, Philippians 1:20; cf. Job 10:3; Psalms 138:8); we plead with him his eternal love and mercy declared in Christ, and extended to sinners in clays past. And note that the work which God hath wrought for us is on an infinitely greater scale, and of infinitely greater moment and renown, than the exodus of Israel. The character also and mercy of God, which was revealed to Moses in a name, is manifested to us in the person of his Son.
6. That God was very ready to pardon at the intercession of Moses, although his wrath was hot; and this partly because Moses showed a courage, a love, and an indifference to self which pleased God, but chiefly because as mediator he represented the Mediator who was to come (Psalms 106:23). Even so our Lord himself was heard for his devoutness (Hebrews 5:7), his holiness (Hebrews 7:26), and his absolute self-sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14); and by virtue alike of what he was, and what he did, is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15).
7. That God alone "pardoned," yet he pardoned "according to the word" of his servant Moses. Even so in the highest sense "who can forgive sins but God only?" (Mark 2:7). Nevertheless, God had given such power (i.e; authority) unto men that the Divine pardon was bestowed on penitent sinners "according to the word" of Jesus (Matthew 9:2, Matthew 9:6), and through him of his apostles (Matthew 18:18; John 20:21-23; 2 Corinthians 2:10; cf. 2 Samuel 12:13). Again, forgiveness of sin is no arbitrary thing, but bestowed only upon repentance and faith; and yet it is bestowed "according to the word" of the humblest Christian (1 John 5:16; James 5:16 b).
8. That God's pardon did not cancel the temporal consequences of sin. Israel, as Israel, was spared for a glorious future; but the rebels as individuals were self- doomed to exile and destruction. Even so the pardoning' love of God, although it saves the sinner, yet it does not abolish the natural consequence of his sin. Just as God's pardon to Israel allowed the young and innocent to grow up, while the old and stubborn died off, so in the renewed man the grace of God so quickens and strengthens the good that it gathers strength and courage while the evil dies slowly out. Nevertheless, the consequences of sin remain in body and mind, and even in soul. David never recovered his fall, either in outward fortunes (2 Samuel 12:10) or in character (cf. 1 Kings 1:2; 1 Kings 2:6, 1 Kings 2:9, &c.), or probably in peace of mind. Many Christians sin lightly, trusting always to repent and be forgiven, not knowing that every sin leaves some evil behind it.
HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE
The tribes have at length reached the border of the promised land. Leaving the wilderness of Sinai, they have traveled northwards till they have reached Kadesh-barnea, a place situated in the Arabah, the long valley reaching from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Akabah, and which may be said to be a prolongation of the Jordan valley southwards to the Red Sea. From Kadesh the people can see, rising before them towards the north-west, the steep ascent which leads into the hill country, the destined inheritance of the tribe of Judah. The march from Egypt, including the twelve months' sojourn in Horeb, has occupied only sixteen months; yet the tribes already stand on the threshold of the promised rest, and Moses is in high hopes that within a few weeks they will have taken possession of the long-expected inheritance. In this chapter we see the first appearance of the cloud which soon shrouded in darkness the fair prospect. Instead of going resolutely forward with the shining pillar of the Divine presence for their guide, the people desired to have the land "repotted upon" by chosen men of their own company. These spies brought back a report which put the congregation in fear, and they refused to enter in. Observe—
I. WHERE THIS PROPOSAL TO SEND FORWARD SPIES ORIGINATED. Thirty-eight years later, Moses laid the blame of it on the people (Deuteronomy 1:22). He adds, however, that "the saying pleased him well," and that it was agreed to without difficulty, so that the statement in the text which represents the Lord as directing the spies to be sent is quite consistent with the one in Deuteronomy. There was nothing in itself sinful in the people's proposal, and it received the Divine approval. Nevertheless, it was in the circumstances a doubtful project. It betrayed a lurking distrust of the Lord's promise and leadership. They wanted to see for themselves before committing themselves further. Prudence is without doubt a virtue. Before beginning to build our tower we are to count the cost (Luke 14:28). There are times when this needs to be earnestly preached. Men are apt to make great ventures for the world, rushing forward blindly enough. But let these same men be asked to venture much for God, they will be sufficiently cautious. They will sit down and count the cost; they will have the land diligently searched before invading it. Men do well to be prudent, provided only that they do not leave God's promise out of their calculations. Where God's command and promise are clearly given, the greatest boldness is the truest wisdom. When Paul received the command to pass over to Macedonia, and plant the Church of Christ in Europe, he did not send over Timothy and Luke to search out the land and see whether they and Silas and he were equal to the work. Had he done that, he never would have taken ship for Europe. Where God's command is clear, our wisdom is to venture upon great things for God, and to expect great things from God.
II. HOW THE PROPOSAL WAS CARRIED OUT. Twelve men were chosen, one for every tribe. These men, climbing the steep ascent from Kadesh, traveled through the thirsty south country (the Negeb) as far as to Hebron. From Hebron they went up by the brook Eshcol into the hill country, "the mountain of the Amorites," the long ridge midway between Jordan and the sea, which extends from the south country till it is lost among the roots of Lebanon. Every step in the journey opened up scenes of beauty and varied fruitfulness which must have delighted eyes accustomed only to the monotony of the Nile valley. It was a land flowing with milk and honey. The proof of its fertility they brought back with them. The cluster from Eshcol declared that the land was one worth fighting for. A trait this which has fixed itself for ever in the imagination of the Church. For are not these Eshcol grapes a figure of those foretastes of the Better Country which the Lord grants his people here in the wilderness? No doubt there was much to be said that was less promising. The country was exceedingly populous. The inhabitants belonged to many races, and everywhere there appeared tokens of highly-advanced civilization. There had been great progress since Jacob went down to Egypt. There was much, therefore, to impress the spies with a sense of extreme difficulty in the task lying before the congregation. But the spies saw something which ought to have armed them against fear. They saw Hebron and that cave hard by which contained the bones of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Leah; the cave where the progenitors of Israel were buried, in the sure and steadfast hope that the land would yet be the inheritance of their seed. They being dead were still speaking, and their testimony might well have put unbelief to shame.
III. THE TENOR AND EFFECT OF THE SPIES REPORT. On one point the spies were unanimous. The land was good. Beyond that there was disagreement.
1. The majority kept harping on the difficulties they had discovered—the walled cities, the giants, the multitudes of people. They added, moreover, this, That the land ate up the inhabitants—a statement which probably refers to the circumstance (a remarkable one it is) that Palestine had been the meeting-place and battle-ground of many nations, where one nation had exterminated another.
2. The minority did not call in question the facts on which their brethren harped. But they set them in another light. Read Luke 14:7-9. And this suggests THE LESSON the story of the spies is fitted to teach. When God makes the way of duty plain, we must beware how we suffer our minds to dwell on the difficulties to be encountered. To do so will be apt simply to weaken our hands. "The fearful and unbelieving" have no portion in the heavenly city, but are shut out. Faith laughs at impossibilities, for it knows that in the Lord's strength it can do all things.—B.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
THE MISSION OF THE SPIES
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE MISSION. We know from Deuteronomy 1:22 that this commandment of God followed on a resolution of the people. It was their wish that spies should go forth and tell them something of the way beforehand. And even Moses fell in with them. It would seem an easier thing to be meek than to take no thought for the morrow. Even Moses the servant of God must be taking up to-morrow's burdens before the time. How much better it would have been patiently and trustfully to wait upon the cloud and the trumpets! (Numbers 9:15-23; Numbers 10:1-10). But since the people's hearts are so, God sends the spies. The unfitness of Israel for immediate entrance into the promised land was showing itself more and more, and God sent these searchers, that in their searching both they and the people they represented might also be searched. May we not as it were detect a tone of rebuke and remonstrance in the words, "which I will give unto the children of Israel"? The Israelites by demanding this mission were trying to guard themselves on a side that really needed no defense, while leaving' themselves more and more exposed to all the perils of an unbelieving mind.
II. THE MEN WHO WERE SENT. Whether by choice of Moses or the people we are not told, but probably there was much careful consultation on the matter, according to human wisdom. Doubtless they seemed the best men for the purpose; chosen for physical endurance, quickness of eye, tact in emergencies, and good judgment of the land and people. Yet some very important requisites were evidently not considered. Out of the twelve, only two were men of faith in God and deep convictions as to the destiny of Israel. A great deal depends on the sort of men we send in any enterprise for God. Believing and devout spirits can see prospects others cannot see, because they have resources which others have not. Perhaps in the whole nation there were not twelve men to be found of the right stamp in every particular, and even if they had been found, they might have failed in commanding popular confidence. We can easily imagine that Caleb and Joshua had not a very comfortable time with their colleagues, and that it was not a very easy matter to agree upon a report. But such as they were, they went forth. The people had come to depend on twelve limited minds like their own, each with its own way of looking at things, instead of on him who had already done such great things—the unchangeable One, the ample Providence, the sure Defense.
III. THE INFORMATION REQUIRED. Moses gives them their instructions (verses 17-20), and they come from a man who is acting rather in accordance with the wishes of the people than in strict harmony with previous revelations from God. Had not God said to Moses, or ever the chains of Egypt were loosed, that he would bring his people into the land of the Canaanites, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land promised in solemn covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when as yet they were strangers in it? (Exodus 3:17; Exodus 6:3, Exodus 6:4). It was the people who, in their unbelief and carnal anxiety, wanted something in the way of human testimony. Let them, therefore, indicate such details of inquiry as in their opinion were necessary. They were like a suspicious buyer, who, not content with the word of the person from whom he makes his purchase, though he be a man of tried integrity, hunts round for all sorts of independent testimony, even from those who may have very doubtful capacity as witnesses. "A land flowing with milk and honey, is it? See then if it be such a good land. See if the people appreciate its fertility by their cultivation of it. Observe the climate and the people themselves, if they be a strong, stalwart race, and numerous. Do they live peacefully among themselves, or in strongholds?" There was not a sentence in these instructions but threw some doubt on the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of Jehovah. When God sends out people to do such work as delights his heart, it is in a very different spirit; as he sent out the single stripling, unaccustomed to war, against the giant; as Jesus sent out the twelve on their gospel mission, encumbered with as few material resources as possible. The land to be searched was the ]and in which their honoured progenitors had lived; but there is no word to say, "Tell us of Bethel, and of the plain of Mature, and the cave of Machpelah in Hebron." And to crown all, the result shows that they took all this trouble and waited these forty days for useless information. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.—Y.
THE SEARCH AND THE REPORT
I. THE SEARCH. The land passed over is indicated in a somewhat indefinite way. Contrast it with the definiteness of the tribal boundaries in Joshua (chapters 13-19). These were forty days of speculative and dangerous wandering, with no guiding cloud, though doubtless God protected them even when they felt not the protection; if for nothing else, for the sake of the faithful two who would yet serve his purposes and confirm his word. Forty days too of waiting in the wilderness of Paran—days, one may imagine, of much conjecture, full of apprehension to some, while by others ninny airy castles would be built, how soon to tremble at the first breath of God's approaching anger! Forty days was not much time to see even so small a land, geographically speaking, as Canaan. We know by our own land the ludicrous mistakes of travelers passing through it, and their sometimes serious mistakes; how they exalt exceptions into rules, and the eccentricities of the individual into the character and habits of the race. Live in a ]and, and then you shall report on it with the authority of experience. We have heard the story of the traveler who visited a Carthusian monastery in Italy. He admired the situation, and said to one of the monks, "What a fine residence!" "Transeuntibus," was the sad, satiric reply. If we wish to know the fatness, the beauty, and the safety of the land in which God's people dwell, we must have something more than forty days of superficial rambling. It is not Saul, with eyesight lost, and waiting at Damascus, crushed in spirit, for Ananias, who shall tell us how Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; but rather such a one as Paul the aged, thirty years later, sounding from the fullness of his experience, "I know whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12).
II. THE REPORT. After forty days riley came back, bearing on a staff between two of them the cluster of grapes—bearing it thus, as some think, because of its weight; as others, that the fruit might keep its shapeliness and bloom. And, indeed, along' with the pomegranates and figs, which were doubtless choice samples, this fruit was God's own beautiful testimony. Human messengers might differ and deceive, but these sweet silent messengers seemed to intimate that God had been making ready the land for his own people. So much for what the spies brought in their hands. But as to the verbal report, what a meager thing it is! As to the quality of the land, they content themselves with saying, Surely it floweth with milk and honey." Yes. God had said this very thing to Moses long before: it was the highest poetry of promise to speak thus; it was meant to excite large anticipations of something fertile and beautiful; but men who had been over the land for a personal inspection might have said something more prosaic and exact. Then as to the strong people, the walled towns, and the giants, God had indicated these very things as being in the future of his people, when he caused the fighting men to be numbered not long before. The report was meager, we may well believe, because not otherwise could it have been unanimous. As long as they kept to certain bare facts, and did not proceed to advise, the spies could agree, and yet it very speedily appeared how hollow their agreement was. Caleb and Joshua had to strike out their own path, no longer wasting time in trying to sustain vain compromises.—Y.
The report has been received, such as it is, and the next question comes: What shall be done? "Caleb stilled the people before Moses." This intimates the excitement and turbulence of their feeling. The chances are that a good deal of disparagement of Canaan had come to their ears, losing nothing as it passed from one tongue to another. Notice the temporary effacement, as it were, of Moses. It is Caleb who here takes the lead. Moses is nothing save as the mouth-piece of God, and the time is not quite ripe for God to speak. But Caleb, who, here as afterwards, shows himself a courageous man, prompt and ready, has formed his opinion, and at once expresses it; to be immediately followed by opinions just as decided in the opposite direction. We need not here so much to consider who was right and who wrong; God himself brings all out presently into the clearest of light. The great matter to be noticed is that the people were now exposed to conflicting counsels.
I. THESE CONFLICTING COUNSELS WERE THE CONSEQUENCE OF BACKSLIDING FROM GOD. The people had turned away from their true Guide, and the consequence of being in a wrong path very soon appears. God is one, and in his infinite wisdom and power can make all things work together for good to them that love him, and are called according to his purpose. But men are many and diverse, and if those who are called according to his purpose fad from the obedience which shows their love, how shall they make things work together for good? To God the scheme of human affairs is as a machine, complicated and intricate indeed, but well under control, and producing large results. To men it is, more or less, a maze of motions. They understand it a little in parts, but are hopelessly divided as to the meaning and service of the whole.
II. THE PREPONDERANCE IN THESE CONFLICTING COUNSELS WAS AGAINST THE COURSE WHICH GOD HAD ALREADY LAID OUT. God had promised the land, kept it before the people, and brought them to the very verge; yet ten out of twelve men—responsible men in the tribes, men who had journeyed through the land for forty days—declared that it was beyond the strength of Israel to obtain. What a satire on vox populi vox Dei! What a humbling revelation of the motives that work most powerfully in unregenerate human nature I How easy it is to exaggerate difficulties when one's heart is not in a work; to see, not everything that is to be seen, but only what the eye wants to see, and to see in a particular way! It is a part of spiritual prudence to reckon that, whatever strength there may be in mere numbers, in brute force and material appliances, they cannot be counted on in advancing the kingdom of God. With all these resources heaped up around them, craven spirits will still cry out that there is a lion in the way.
III. IT IS EVERYTHING TO RECOLLECT THAT THERE WERE CONFLICTING COUNSELS. Cowardice, carnality, and backsliding did not altogether get their own way. Things were bad enough, but after all Caleb and Joshua counted for a great deal on the other side. We must not only count men, but weigh them. There are times when it is no credit to men, when it says but little for their piety or their humanity, that they are found among majorities. It is the glory of God's cause on earth that it never loses its hold on at least a few. There is always a Caleb to fling to the wind considerations of base expediency.—Y.
HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE
THEY COULD NOT ENTER IN BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF
Less than two years have passed since the congregation marched out of Egypt, yet already they stand at the threshold of the land of promise. Turning their gaze northward and westward from Kadesh, they see the hills which form the outworks of the famous and goodly mountain which is to be their inheritance. A crowd of joyous thoughts fill the hearts of Moses and the faithful at the sight. "Those hills belong to the land for which Abraham left his native country, and was content to be a sojourner all his days. They enclose the sepulcher in which the bones of the patriarchs were laid, in the sure hope that the land should yet be the inheritance of their seed. The promise has tarried long; it is now at the door. Ere the clusters of Eshcol shall have again ripened under the southern sun, the Canaanites will have been dispossessed, and we shall have been settled in their place." So Moses and the godly in Israel fondly thought. But they were doomed to disappointment. For thirty-eight years more the Canaanites were to dwell undisturbed. Moses and all the grown-up people were to die in the wilderness. How this came about the present chapter relates. The people refused to enter the land. The Lord took them at their word, and declared that they should not enter.
I. We see in this A SIGNAL INSTANCE OF A SORT OF FAILURE THAT IS NOT UNCOMMON.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
This is a principle of God's government. He will open to men—to communities or individuals—a door leading straight to success. If they fail to discern their opportunity, or to take prompt advantage of it, the door is closed, and they are either shut out altogether, or enter after long delay and heavy toils. We must take the current when it serves. The Apostle Paul, himself an eminent example of the resolute promptitude he enjoins, used to say, "Redeem the time" (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5), i.e; seize the occasion while it serves; lay hold on the opportunity. To know when to go forward is no small part of Christian wisdom; to go forward resolutely when the hour has come is no small part of Christian virtue.
II. More particularly, there is here A SIGNAL EXAMPLE OF UNBELIEF AND ITS WOEFUL FRUIT. In this instance the failure was not due merely to blindness or slackness; it sprang from disbelief of God's promise. "They could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19). This is the Lord's account of the matter at the time. "How long will it be ere this people believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them?" (Numbers 14:11). Q.d; "Not only did I promise the hind to their fathers, but to themselves I have showed great signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, at Horeb, on the long march. After all this they might have believed my word; they might have trusted in me that, after having brought them so far, I would not now forsake them or fail to subdue the Canaanites before them. They do not believe my word; they do not trust me; hence their refusal to go forward." It is remarkable how exactly this fatal example of unbelief at the beginning of the Old Testament dispensation was repeated at its close. Read Heb 3:7-4:3. Among the many parallels with which history abounds, it would not be easy to find a parallel so close or instructive. When Christ came and the Spirit was given, the first offer of inheritance in the gospel Church was made to the Jews. The gospel was preached, "beginning at Jerusalem." The offer was not altogether fruitless. Thousands of Jews believed and thereupon entered into God's rest within the bosom of the Christian society. But, like Joshua and Caleb, they were in the minority. The great body of the people rejected Christ, and could not enter in because of unbelief. What was the consequence? They were taken at their word. The doom was spoken: "They shall not enter into my rest." We believe, indeed, that the doom is not final. As the children of the unbelieving generation which fell in the wilderness entered Canaan under Joshua, so the Jews are one day to be saved. Still the doom has been a terrible one. For more than 1800 years the Jews have been pining in the wilderness. There is another view of the matter which comes home to every one to whom the gospel of the grace of God has been preached. Here is the lesson deduced in Psalms 95:1-11 from the chapter in hand. "Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart." I can imagine that there may be amongst us some to whose hearts God has been speaking. He has taken you by the hand, has taught you something of the burden and foulness of sin, has made you sensible that worldly prosperity cannot give rest and satisfaction to the soul, has stirred in you desires after a worthier portion, has set before you Christ and his salvation. If this be so, do not let the matter remain undecided. Delays are dangerous. They provoke God's spirit. God has set before you an open door. It will not remain open for ever; it may not remain open long. When men will not hear Christ's invitation, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest," he does not go on repeating it for ever. He closes the door and says, "They shall not enter into my rest."—B.
MOSES STANDING IN THE BREACH, OR THE POWER OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER
The PRAYERS of the Bible open up a field of singularly interesting and instructive study. One thing particularly remarkable in them is that such a large proportion are intercessory. The earliest prayer of any length recorded in Scripture is that of Abraham in Genesis 18:1-33. It is an intercession for Sodom. It would seem that, while prayer of every kind is made welcome in heaven, a peculiarly gracious welcome is prepared for the prayers in which the petitioner forgets himself for the time, in the ardour of his desire for the good of others. It is in connection with the command to "pray one for another" that the assurance is given, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). And one can perceive that the intercessory prayers of the Bible saints have been recorded in Scripture by the Holy Spirit with a peculiarly affectionate care. In this highest kind of prayer Moses excelled. During his long leadership of the people, dangers from without and murmurings from amongst the people themselves gave frequent occasion for deprecating God's wrath and invoking his help; and Moses never failed to rise to such occasions. His intercessions are amongst the most instructive of any on record.
I. THE OCCASION OF THE PRESENT PRAYER. The people have at length reached the threshold of the promised land; but beyond the threshold they will not advance. Disbelieving the promise, they first insisted on sending spies; and then, when the spies returned, they would hear only the bad report. They even proposed to stone Moses, choose a new leader, and go back to Egypt. They would not listen to Joshua and Caleb, and were only restrained by a threatening' appearance of the Lord in the cloud above the tabernacle. So greatly was the wrath of God kindled, that he threatened to consume the congregation utterly, and raise up a more faithful people in their stead. "I will smite them; I will disinherit them; I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they." Moses may have been—I believe he was—unprepared for the incredible perversity of the present outbreak of rebellion; but he was not unprepared for the threatening which it provoked. A similar outbreak had been followed with the same threatening at Sinai. And Moses did not fail to remember how, on that occasion, the threatened destruction had been averted by his intercession (Exodus 32:7-14). So, now also, he with reverent boldness "stood before the Lord in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them" (Psalms 106:23).
II. THE PRAYER. It is summed up in one word, "Pardon!" (verse 19). "Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people." Forgive, yet this once, their perverse disobedience; revoke the sentence pronounced against them; fulfill thy promise by granting them the land.—I need not say more about this petition. The remarkable thing in the prayer is not what Moses asks, but THE ARGUMENT WITH WHICH HE ENFORCES HIS REQUEST. First, he pleads that the honour of God's great name is at stake. The Lord had been pleased to put his name on the children of Israel. He had chosen them to be his special possession, making them the depositaries of his oracles and ordinances, and the witnesses for his truth. All this was now become matter of notoriety. In the mind of the nations round about the name of the Lord was identified with the seed of Abraham. Verses 13-16, q.d; "If the tribes perish here, the Egyptians will hear of it, and what will they think? The signs wrought in their sight, both in Egypt and at the Red Sea, have taught them that thou, the God of Jacob, art the Most High, and that thou hast chosen Israel for thy people; and the report of thy doings in Horeb, and by the way, have deepened the impression made by the Egyptian signs. Let not this salutary impression be effaced by discomfiture now. Let not Egypt from behind, and the Canaanites in front, shout in derision of thy great name."—I much fear that this argument does not usually find the place of prominence in our prayers that it finds here in Moses' prayer. The interest of God's name—his truth and cause—in the earth does not lie so near our hearts. Yet it certainly ought. "Hallowed be thy name" should get the place of honour in our prayers. More particularly, we ought to guard against everything which would bring reproach on true religion in the view of the outside world. Christians are to "walk in wisdom toward them that are without." There are still Egyptians and Canaanites watching to hear, and eager to spread, any report regarding the professed people of Christ which they think can be made use of to the disparagement of Divine truth and the Christian cause. Secondly, Moses pleads the Lord's promise. Along with verses 17, 18 read Exodus 34:5-7. The reference cannot be mistaken. Q.d; "Didst not thou show me thy glory in Horeb, and was not thy glory this, viz; that thou hast mercy? Didst not thou declare to me that thy name is the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity and transgression? Into this name I will now run. In this name I take refuge. Remember thy word on which thou hast caused me to hope. Let thy name be now manifested in forgiving this people."—There is no encouragement in prayer to be compared with that which is got from the study of God's promises. "He hath said—therefore we may boldly say" (Hebrews 13:5, Hebrews 13:6). What God has promised to give, we may ask without wavering. Thirdly, Moses pleads former mercies (Exodus 34:19). Next to the promise of God, the remembrance of former instances of kindness received in answer to prayer ministers encouragement to pray still, and not faint.—Such then was the prayer of Moses at Kadesh-barnea—the prayer which turned away the fatal sword of God's wrath from Israel. I am much inclined to think that instances of like success in prayer are not so rare as many suppose; that, on the contrary, if an inspired historian were to write the annals of our families, churches, communities, it would be found that not seldom public judgments have been turned aside by the intervention of the Lord's hidden ones—his Noahs and Daniels and Jobs. When all secret things are brought to light, these intercessors will not fail to obtain recognition and reward.—B.
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
Numbers 14:3, Numbers 14:4
THE SIN AND SHAME OF APOSTASY
The sin of the Israelites at this time is almost incredible. Their rash words (Numbers 14:3) prompt to reckless resolutions (Numbers 14:4), which, if not actually carried out, are laid to their charge (Nehemiah 9:17). Their crime includes the following sins:—
1. Criminal forgetfulness, as though the bondage of Egypt were better than warfare under "Jehovah Nissi" (Exodus 17:15).
2. Gross ingratitude. They imply that God has spared them and cared for them thus far in order to destroy them at last.
3. Shameful distrust, notwithstanding all the promises God has given, and the "signs" of his faithfulness he has shown (Numbers 14:11).
4. Obstinate disobedience—a stubborn disregard of the word and will of their God.
5. Utter madness. In returning to Egypt they must part company with Moses their leader and Aaron their priest. They must abandon the ark and the altar. They could not expect the manna to feed them or the cloud to guide them. And if they ever reached Egypt, what a reception would meet them there! All these sins are seen in a still more glaring form in the shameful crime of apostasy from Christ. Such a "drawing" back to perdition implies a previous coming near to Christ, and an enjoyment of blessings analogous to the covenanted blessings of ancient Israel (Exodus 19:3-6; Exodus 24:4-8). In apostasy we see—
1. Criminal forgetfulness of the bondage of evil habits, the burden of an uneasy conscience, the yearnings of unsatisfied desire, and all the other evils from which we looked to Christ to deliver us. How can it be "better to return" to these?
2. Gross ingratitude to God for all the blessing's enjoyed during the Christian pilgrimage so far; as though such a God could fail or forsake us, and not "perfect that which concerneth us," as all his previous blessings are a pledge that he will do (Psalms 138:8; Romans 8:32).
3. Shameful distrust. "An evil heart of unbelief" is generally the primary cause of departing from God (Hebrews 3:12). Distrust makes us weak against temptations even of the grossest kind. We may lose courage amid foes or temptations which, but for shameful want of confidence in God, would have little power to alarm and divert us from the path of duty (cf. Psalms 27:1-3; Psalms 118:6-12, and, in contrast, 1 Samuel 27:1).
4. Obstinate disobedience. For we are "under law to Christ;" and "his will is our sanctification," our perseverance, our conflict and victory till we reach the heavenly Canaan (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Timothy 6:11-14; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:12).
5. Utter madness; for to "draw back" is to forfeit the fellowship of Christ's Church, the tokens of his favour, his promises, his consolations, and the good-will of God. To succeed is perdition (Hebrews 10:26-39).—P.
Numbers 14:8, Numbers 14:9
WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE WE ARE IN THE MAJORITY
Caleb and Joshua here describe—
I. THE CONDITIONS ON WHICH WE MAY EXPECT GOD TO BE WITH US.
1. The unmerited good pleasure of God. "If the Lord delight in us." This is repeatedly mentioned as the origin of God's favour to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8, &c.) and to Christians (Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Timothy 1:9, &c.). Only provided that this good pleasure is not forfeited by obstinate disobedience or distrust. So that the second condition is—
2. Obedience. "Only rebel not," &c. That generation sinned away the favour of God, though it could not annul his faithfulness.
3. Confidence in God. "Neither fear ye the people." To fear them was to distrust God (Isaiah 8:13, Isaiah 8:14; Hebrews 13:6, &c.).
II. THE CERTAIN SUCCESS OF THOSE WHO ENJOY THE HELP OF GOD. Caleb and Joshua express their confidence in various ways; e.g; in Numbers 13:30 ("veni, vidi, vici"); Numbers 13:8, "he will bring us in;" Numbers 13:9, "bread for us," &c. The Canaanites dwelt in fortresses, but God, their strength, was departed from them. Israel dwelt in tents, but Proverbs 18:10. Such confidence we may have, when opposed by foes, human or diabolical, however numerous or powerful. With God on our side we are in the majority (Illus. Exodus 14:13; 2 Kings 6:16 : 2 Chronicles 14:11; 2 Chronicles 20:12; 2 Chronicles 32:7, 2 Chronicles 32:8; Psalms 46:11; Romans 8:31, &c.). A good illustration may be found in a letter of the Prince of Orange after the fall of Haarlem, in which he says, "Before ever I took up the cause of the oppressed Christians in these provinces I had entered into a close alliance with the King of kings," &c. (Motley's ‘Rise of the Dutch Republic,' Part 3. Proverbs 9:1-18).—P.
The crowning act of unbelief on the part of the Israelites at Kadesh brings God into their midst in righteous anger, lie remonstrates (Numbers 14:11) and threatens (Numbers 14:12). God's foreknowledge of Moses' prayer did not prevent this apparently absolute threat. This need be no difficulty to us, unless we hold opinions about God which would make the government of free, moral beings by promises and threats impossible. For illustrations of Divine words or acts contingent on human actions see 2 Kings 20:1-11; Luke 24:28, Luke 24:29; Acts 27:22-24, Acts 27:31. Moses stands in the breach, and skillfully urges two motives, suggested by—
I. HIS ZEAL FOR THE HONOUR OF GOD.
II. HIS FAITH IN THE MERCY OF GOD.
I. (Acts 27:13-16). The Egyptians would soon "make comedies out of the Church's tragedies." Our best pleas are founded on the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name." E.g.,
1. In pleading for a highly-favoured but guilty nation. After all God has done for Britain and by it, may we not feel as though it would be a dishonour on the Christian name and a reflection on the Christian's God if we were altogether cast off. Our plea is Jeremiah 10:24, and our hope is Jeremiah 30:11.
2. In pleading for a fallen Christian.
3. Or for ourselves (Psalms 79:9; Jeremiah 14:7, &c.). God feels the power of this motive (Deuteronomy 32:27; Ezekiel 20:9, Ezekiel 20:14). God is not) like some men, indifferent to his own reputation (Isaiah 48:11).
II. Note how skillfully Moses uses God's own declaration of his name in Exodus 34:1-35. He appeals
Numbers 14:22, Numbers 14:23
A PRICELESS PRIVILEGE OFFERED, REFUSED, LOST
The lessons from the narrative of Numbers 13:1-33 and Numbers 14:1-45 may be summed up as follows. We see here a priceless privilege—
I. OFFERED. It is Canaan, "the glory of all lands," the gift of the God of their fathers, who redeemed them from Egypt that he might bring them to a land of liberty and rest. The first report of the spies (Numbers 13:27-29) is true in itself, but its style suggests faithless fears which infect the congregation (Numbers 13:30). The exaggerated or false reports that are now given (Numbers 13:31-33) increase the panic, but God's offer is still before them (2 Timothy 2:12).
II. REFUSED. The shades of evening were gathering when the report of the spies was delivered. (Sketch the spread of the panic during the night, Numbers 14:1.) In the morning the murmurings take a definite form (Numbers 14:2-4). The cogent reasonings of Caleb and Joshua are in vain (verses 6-9). They threaten to depose Moses, and to stone the faithful witnesses, and they deliberately reject the offer of God. Thus are sinners wont to believe lies and distrust true witnesses; to assent to fallacies and resist the soundest arguments; to neglect or persecute their best friends, and distrust and rebel against their Redeemer, God.
III. LOST. God interposes to protect his servants and sentence the rebels. Moses intercession saves them from immediate destruction, but not from irremediable loss. There are limits to the power of intercessory prayer (Jeremiah 15:1; 1 John 5:16). A new panic, another night of weeping (verse 39). On the morrow a reaction, a revulsion of feeling, but not a repentance of heart (cf. 1 Samuel 15:30). What was impossible yesterday is practicable today (verse 40). But they go without the prayer of Moses (Numbers 10:35) or the presence of God (verse 44). The mountain pass is impregnable. It is too late. The offer is lost to that generation. Their opportunity has been sinned away. Defeat and death await them (Isaiah 42:24, Isaiah 42:25). These truths applicable—
1. To the offer of spiritual conquests to the Church. The Church of Christ often on the borders of a land promised to our conquests. Unbelief suggests fears, our enemies' strength, our own weakness, &c. Gradually faith in our own power may depart, because faith in God is lost. While others are useful we may be ciphers in the Church. Special excitement, or the pricks of conscience, may incite us to make spasmodic efforts; but the faculty for Christian service may be well-nigh extirpated by disuse (Matthew 25:29).
2. To the offer of a present salvation to the sinner. Christian Calebs bring a good report of God's promised land of rest; but indecision or unbelief may forfeit it (Hebrews 3:19).—P.
FATAL ANSWERS TO FAITHLESS PRAYERS
The faithless prayer was heard by God when the people murmured (Numbers 14:2). Now the answer comes to their own destruction. Apply to—
1. Reckless transgressors, who brave the consequences of their sins. Illustration—Jews (Matthew 27:25), who, however, soon, dreaded the answer (Acts 5:28; cf. Proverbs 1:31).
2. The discontented. E.g; Rachel (Genesis 30:1; Genesis 35:19); Hebrews lusting for flesh (Hebrews 11:18-20), or desiring a king (1 Samuel 8:6-22; Hosea 13:11; cf. Proverbs 12:13).
3. Profane swearers imprecating damnation and receiving it (Psalms 59:12; Psalms 64:8; Matthew 12:36).
4. Distrustful servants of God, who, in haste, may proffer requests which, if granted, would leave a stain on their memories, if not actually fatal to their reputation. E.g; Moses (Numbers 11:15); Elijah (1 Kings 19:4); Jonah (Jonah 4:3). What thanks are due to God that in his mercy he does not always answer our prayers, implied or expressed! And how much we need the teaching and the spirit of Christ, that we may pray thoughtfully and trustfully, and that he may not have to say to us, "Ye know not what ye ask" (Mark 10:35-40).—P.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
A REPENTANCE TO BE REPENTED OF
I. AS WE CONSIDER HOW IT WAS CAUSED.
1. By the fears of an all-devouring selfishness. Selfishness swallowed up every other consideration. Their vexation was caused not by the stirrings of a guilty conscience, but by suffering and fleshly loss. All they wanted was the suffering taken away. There was not the slightest sign of shame and penitence and return to God with fruits meet for repentance. Self-will was as strong in this night of weeping as it had been in the day when they proposed to send the spies (Deuteronomy 1:22).
2. By a false report. How many are terrified by representations of religion as far from the truth as what the spies said of Canaan! Even where there is nothing malevolent or base in purpose, the difficulties of religion may be set forth as if it were all the valley of the shadow of death from end to end, and heaven a mere peradventure at the last. These Israelites were given over to strong' delusion that they should believe a lie. Selfishness was the source of all their weeping, and a false report brought it forth. Such views of religion, got upon such representations, will have to be changed, or there can be no real return to God, no real achievement of the rest of his people.
II. AS WE CONSIDER HOW IT WAS EXPRESSED.
1. In unjust complaints of their leaders. Moses and Aaron were neither of them faultless, far from it, but their faults were such as God marked, and not rebellious men. These faults the people bad no notion of, nor would it have mattered if they had. A Moses less faithful to God, more indulgent to their whims and caprices, would have suited them better. They blamed Moses when they should have praised him, and it was his highest glory that there was nothing about him they could praise.
2. In frenzied references to themselves. They speak as men with all judgment, self-control, and self-respect clean gone out of them. They were not in a state of mind to form a right estimate of anything whatever. "The mind must retain its full strength when engaged on such a work as repentance."
3. Their rash reproaches against God. There was but one thing they said of him that was true. He had indeed brought them into this land. Certain it is that they could never have found their way so far themselves. But their present strait was none of his bringing. It had come through unbelief, cowardice, and lying. Men have low, miserable views of what is good for themselves, and the end is blasphemous language with respect to the all-loving, all-wise-God above. He knew far better than they how to protect their wives and children.
III. AS WE CONSIDER HOW THE FOLLY OF IT WAS EXPOSED. Everything went contrary to their anticipations. The men who brought up the evil report died by the plague before the Lord. This was in itself a clear intimation of their wickedness in misleading the people. Caleb and Joshua stood out, vindicated both as wise counselors and speakers of the truth. Canaan was all they had represented it to be, but this thankless, rebellious generation should have no personal experience of it. They were indeed to die in the wilderness, gradually dropping off for forty years, and the children whose impending fate they deplored, themselves entered the land of which their fathers had shown themselves unworthy. Forty years! Who can tell how many during that time may have sought carefully, with tears, and in due time found, a place of true repentance and godly sorrow? Not able to enter the earthly Canaan, any more than Moses, Aaron, or Miriam, they may still have found their part in the heavenly one.—Y.
A VAIN PROPOSITION
Very briefly and comprehensively put, with an appearance of decision and unanimity, but nevertheless utterly vain with respect to both matters mentioned in it.
I. THE MAKING OF A CAPTAIN. They could call a man a captain, but that would not make him one. The power of election may be a great privilege, but it is greater negatively than positively. No election can make a fool into a wise man, or a coward into a hero, any more than it can make the moon give the light of the sun, or thorns to produce grapes. Election may give a man opportunity only to show decisively that he is not able to use it. On the other hand, no election can give the most capable of men the power to do impossibilities. Captains are not made in this way at all. The true captain is he who, having been-faithful in that which is least, finds his way on by natural attraction to that which is greater. He is not so much elected as recognized. There is much significance from this point of view in Christ's words: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." The Israelites had rejected the word of the Lord and the leader he had chosen, and what wisdom was there in them to find a better leader for themselves? Even as God, for his own purposes, chooses men after his own heart, such as his penetrating, unerring eye sees can be trained and fashioned in the right way, so men make choice after their hearts only to show their folly and ignorance, and that oftentimes right speedily. The true election is to elect ourselves to follow the good, the true, the noble, and the wise, and only them so far as they are plainly following Christ (Hebrews 12:1-4).
II. THE RETURN TO EGYPT. The land they had been through and knew was even less accessible than the unvisited land of which they had such exaggerated fears. Where should they get provision without God to give them manna? and would not Egypt be even more hostile than Canaan? By this time the name Israel had become connected in the Egyptian mind with disaster of every sort. What sort of men then were these to talk of the welfare of wife and children when they proposed a step which would bring them into the direst destitution? Even while they spoke God was sustaining them and their families with bread from heaven. It was even from his manna that these rebels were made strong against him. Proud-hearted, vain, conceited man will propose the most silly ventures rather than submit to God. He is the last refuge, in more senses than one, of the perplexed. Anywhere, into any absurdity and refuge of lies, rather than give up the darling lusts of the heart, and face the necessities of true repentance. Every man is trying to return to Egypt who, having been disappointed in one earth-born hope, straightway proceeds to indulge another. It is poor work, when we find ourselves checked by difficulties in living a better life, to give up in despair. To make the future as the past is impossible; it must either be better or worse. God helps the man who steadily and strenuously keeps his face towards Canaan.—Y.
A MUTE APPEAL
I. THERE COMES A TIME WHEN ALL EXPOSTULATION WITH MEN IS VAIN, at all events the expostulation of certain people. Moses felt no word he could say would be of the slightest use. In vain you throw the pearls of truth and soberness before the swinish multitude, and it is the humbling testimony of history that only too often men get so embruted in their prejudices and passions as to be for all purposes of rational action little better than swine. Caleb and Joshua spoke, only to be threatened with stones. Moses and Aaron make no attempt to speak, but fall on their faces before all the assembly. What the seventy elders were about all this time we know not. When even Moses has to be silent it is little wonder their presence should count for nothing. We need to recollect this madness and perversity of men, this ease and rapidity with which human passion mounts to the violence of a hurricane. The reasonableness of human nature is far too frequently glorified. There was a time when Paul's converts in Galatia would have plucked out their eyes, and given them to him; yet as years pass on, and they listen to another gospel, which is not another, he has to mourn that he seems to have become their enemy because he tells them the truth (Galatians 4:15, Galatians 4:16).
II. But when we can do nothing for men directly, WE MUST NOT, therefore, WAIT IN COMPLETE INACTION. Moses was obliged to be silent in words; not even to God does he seem to have spoken; but he fell to the ground in mute and humble appeal. There, prostrate before the tabernacle, were Moses and Aaron, the leader and the priest, brethren according to the flesh, united now by deep affliction, if a little while ago they were separated by envy. Nor was the lowly attitude simply an appeal to God; it might have effect on some of the better sort among the multitude, finding a way to the heart by the eye, which for the time was not open by the ear. Neither was the appeal simply for the sake of Moses and Aaron. The people had treated them badly, but this was a small matter compared with their treatment of God. How often we fume over injustice to ourselves, utterly forgetting the great world's huge and light-hearted negligence of him who made and redeemed it. Consider Martha, complaining so bitterly of Mary, while she herself was refusing the true hospitality to Jesus. A man with the mind of Christ Jesus in him will be always more affected by slights upon the Saviour than upon himself.
III. There is always then this one thing we can do in the turmoil of human affairs: we CAN RECOGNIZE WITH DEEP HUMILITY THE AWFUL PRESENCE OF GOD. As we are driven irate a sense of utter helplessness, let us think of him from whom, and by whom, and to whom are all things. It is only when we are humbled before him, and recollect his love and power in Christ, that we can be calm in the presence of the awful problems of human existence. How much better off was Moses in his extremity than the Israelites in theirs I They rejected Moses and the tabernacle to speak vain words about returning to Egypt; he, shut out as it were from service to them, found his sure refuge in prostration before God (Psalms 46:1-3).—Y.
SPEAKING OUT: A LAST APPEAL
Moses is silent from necessity, his power with men in abeyance, and he waiting humbly upon God. Joshua and Caleb, who were not only men of a different spirit, but also very imperfectly acquainted with Moses' peculiar burden, spoke out. As it was well for Moses and Aaron to be silent, it was also well for Caleb and Joshua to speak out. Moses and Aaron were for the time separated, forsaken, and as it were condemned; but Caleb and Joshua are still in the multitude—Caleb indeed partly declared, and only waiting further opportunity to speak his mind fully on the subject. Now Joshua and he take their stand without any hesitation or chance of being mistaken. They had something to say which Moses could not say, for they had been through the land. Thus, when God's servant is compelled to be silent, friends arise to say what is right and just. Consider—
I. THE MANNER OF THE SPEAKERS. "They rent their clothes." This was the symbol of hearts rent with grief and astonishment because of impending disaster. To the Israelites their only hope appeared in retracing their steps. To Caleb and Joshua this was the summary and utter extinction of a great opportunity. The multitude looked on Canaan as worse than the grave, a scene of vain struggles and harassing privations. Caleb and Joshua looked on the multitude as threatening the unutterable folly of drawing back from certain and inestimable blessings when they lay within their reach. Therefore they accompanied their speech with an action that indicated the distress and laceration of their hearts. Truth may do such things naturally in the very vehemence and consistency of its onset. We do not read that the spies who brought up a slander on the land rent their clothes while they were telling their story. Hypocrisy must always be careful in its histrionics not to overdo the thing.
II. THE MATTER OF THEIR SPEECH. They give the testimony of experience. They had passed through the land to search it. Although they were only two against ten who told a different story, yet, strong in the consciousness of sincerity and competency, they declared what they had seen with their eyes, looked upon, and handled. Though their testimony would not have been enough for some purposes, yet it was quite enough to throw as a check in the way of revolted Israel. They emphatically assert the goodness of the land. It was a land to be desired, corresponding to all the promises made and the hopes cherished, worth all the struggling and self-denial that might be needed in order to attain it. They show a devout recognition of Jehovah. This alone might make their word, though only two, outweigh the exaggerations of the other ten. The recognition shows itself in two ways.
1. They avow the necessity of his favour. "If the Lord delight in us;" that means, surely, "If we believe in the Lord." That which delights the Lord is to see men walking by faith, and not by sight, stepping forward into the darkness upon his clear command. Caleb and Joshua felt sure, from what they had seen of the fatness and beauty of Canaan, that God wished to delight in his people, if only they would allow it.
2. They avow the necessity of submission to God. Unbelief is not only separation, it is rebellion. This was the real danger of Israel—rebellion against God's appointments and restrictions. By their present conduct they were strengthening the nations of Canaan with more than all their walled cities, giants, and strong men could give them. They show that the Canaanites are really very weak. There is nothing more fallacious than outside show and casual inspection. The spies had brought some fruit, and doubtless tasted much more; but how could they report adequately on defenses which they could not examine in any accurate way? They did not know how all these people were undermined and enervated by their wickedness. The very wealth of the hind became a curse and corrupting influence to the idolaters who dwelt in it. Wicked nations in the midst of all their boasting and revelry are preparing their own destruction.
III. THE RESULTS OF THEIR SPEECH.
1. The exasperation, of the people reaches its highest pitch. "All the congregation bade stone them with stones, This was the punishment which God had appointed for serious transgressions (Le Joshua 20:2, 27; Joshua 24:14; Numbers 15:35; Deuteronomy 13:10, &c.). And now the people adopt it, numbering Caleb and Joshua with transgressors against their sovereign will. If we speak the truth, all of it, and at the time when it should be spoken, we must be ready for the consequences. The two faithful witnesses would certainly have been stoned, as Zechariah long after (2 Chronicles 24:21), but—
2. God himself interfered. "The glory of the Lord appeared," &c. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the rebels were reduced to impotence. One can imagine the uplifted stone dropped, as if it had turned to a blazing coal. Israel may still be sullen and rebellious in heart, but its hand is in the power of God. He can rescue his servants from the power of their enemies, if that be most expedient. Caleb and Joshua still had much work to do. Or, as happened to Stephen, he can turn the unchecked fury of men into the agent, of, a quick, and glorious dismission from the toils and perils of earthly service. In God s house the more manifest the faithfulness of the servant, the more manifest also the faithfulness of the Master.—Y.
Numbers 14:11, Numbers 14:12
THE LORD BREAKS SILENCE
It was time now for the people to be silent. They had talked and acted enough of folly. The Lord asks certain questions, and follows them with certain propositions. We can hardly call them determinations, but rather suggestions of action, such as may be further modified, if modifying considerations can be introduced.
GOD IMPLIES THAT IT IS USELESS TO WAIT ANY LONGER
It is not a question of whether he is long-suffering, but whether the long-suffering will answer any good end. He had been engaged, as it were, in a solemn experiment with the liberated Israelites, and the experiment was now complete. No further knowledge could be gained, and no change in the direction of trust and obedience could be hoped for, from longer waiting. To wait, therefore, was only to waste time and simulate long-suffering. It must be plain to every one who will consider carefully, that the Israelites had shown by their conduct the great distance that the calamity of human nature's fall has placed between men and God. God knows the distance; it is we who deny it or trifle with it. This experiment with one generation was not for the information of God himself, but to instruct and impress all generations. Israel, unconsciously, was helping to lay a foundation in history for the great doctrine of regeneration. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Here is a generation, not born again but taken in the ordinary course of nature. Nothing is done to alter them, but a complete change is made in their circumstances. Liberated from the thraldom of oppressors, they are brought under authority of the law of God, holy and just and good. That law follows them into every hour of life. And the result of all proves that a man cannot by such strength and disposition as nature gives him inherit the kingdom of God. This generation was not fit even for the earthly Canaan. That land was no place for carnal minds to indulge their own inclinations. The people were not fit, and the unfitness is now perfectly clear. As they lift up the stones against Caleb and Joshua the experiment is complete. Hence we see the language of God here is in perfect consistency with all the Scripture that emphasizes the fact of his long-suffering. It still remains a duty of man, as it is an undoubted and gracious disposition of God, to forgive unto seventy times seven. Recollect, further, that God was dealing with these Israelites as a whole. What his relation was to each as a man, and not simply as an Israelite, is hardly to be considered here. The great lesson of Jehovah's questionings in this verse may be stated in the words of Jesus: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
GOD MAKES THREE PROPOSITIONS
1. As to the fate of the unbelieving nation. "I will smite them with the pestilence." If Israel is to perish, it shall not be at the hands of some other nation, which may thus glorify and exalt itself. The occasion is one on which, if a blow is to be struck, it must be a manifestly supernatural one, even as in the Deluge or the destruction of Sodom. The destruction, too, shall be sudden. The people shall not be left to wander and droop and die in the wilderness. The disease which comes from sin and works out death shall have its energy concentrated in one swift tremendous blow.
2. As to the aspect in which this visitation is to be regarded. "I will disinherit them." God looked on Israel as the legitimate and responsible heir to Canaan. It was considered as Abraham's land, by a solemn covenant, even when he was a stranger in it (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:7, Genesis 15:18-21; Genesis 17:8). The aspect of Canaan as an inheritance was still further confirmed in Isaac as the child of promise, and Jacob as acquirer of the birthright. But in spite of all this, Israel obstinately refused to make ready for the great inheritance. The heirs to high rank and great possessions in this world are watched with great solicitude. Hereafter they will not only have great means for indulgence, but great opportunities for good and evil. And sometimes a parent, with deep pain of heart, will feel compelled to disinherit an unworthy son. This word "disinherit," rightly considered, puts a tone of inexpressible sadness into this verse. Recollect that tone as well as words, manner as well as matter, has to be considered in listening to any judicial sentence of God. A skeptic talking' with Dr. Channing reproached Jesus Christ for what he called his angry denunciations in Matthew 11:20-24. In answer, Channing opened the New Testament, and read the passages referred to aloud. As soon as he had finished, his hearer said, "Oh, if that was the tone in which he spoke, it alters the case."
3. As to the future of Moses. "I will make of thee a greater nation, and mightier than they." Here is the suggestion of another experiment. Abraham was an eminent believer. Against all his shortcomings and infirmities in other respects, and they are very plain, his faith stands out in relief, conspicuous, almost colossal, one may say, in its manifestations. Nevertheless, his descendants turned out utter unbelievers. Take away from them for a single moment the light of things seen and temporal, and they become frantic and rebellious as a child left alone in the dark. And now God seems to suggest that possibly the seed of Moses may prove of a better sort. Thus we have in the propositions of this verse what we may call alternative suggestions. They show what things might, conceivably, and not unjustly, have happened at this critical turning-point.—Y.
MOSES' VIEW OF THE POSITION
God has presented some of the considerations which needed to be presented; Moses now presents others; and all taken together produce the decision actually arrived at. What God had said it was not for Moses to say, and so what Moses said it was not for God to say; nevertheless, all needed to be said.
I. NOTE THE CHARACTER IN WHICH MOSES CHIEFLY APPEARS. His first words indicate a concern for the reputation of Jehovah among the nations, and it would be wrong to suppose that this was not a matter of real concern, but it is evident the chief thought in his mind was how to secure mercy for rebellious Israel. He is the intercessor. All considerations he can appropriately urge are urged with the ingenuity of one who feels the calamity of others as his own. He is consistent here with past appearances on similar occasions.
II. NOTE THE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH HE URGES.
1. He makes no attempt to extenuate the wickedness of the people. He can say nothing by way of excuse, lie does not plead as Abraham concerning Sodom, on the chance of a righteous remnant being found in the multitude. He does not distinctly plead for another trial, like the dresser in the vineyard (Luke 13:8, Luke 13:9). The sin was fresh, patent, monstrous, coming as the climax of so much that had gone before. He does not attempt to make the sin of the people look less than the sin of the spies, but leaves all in its enormity. So we may say it is better for us not to go excusing self, when too often excuse but adds to existing sin. Our danger is to under-estimate our sin, to think of our sorrows and trials rather than our disobedience and ingratitude. God knows what may be said for us. At all times, and in all our transgressions, he remembers that we are dust. Let us rather aim to get a due sense of how much, how very much, needs to be done in us to make us holy and perfect.
2. He makes God's reputation among surrounding nations a matter of great concern. In God's government of the world, the consideration of his real glory is ever to be kept in view, and this of course is not dependent on what any man may think. Nevertheless, what men may think and say is by no means to be neglected. Whatever is done, some will criticize and jeer. Strange things have been said, and are said still, concerning the God revealed in the history of Israel. A monster of hideous attributes is conjured up and represented as the Deity of the Hebrews. Now as among men it is a consideration that their good should not be evil spoken of, if they can possibly arrange it otherwise, so, reverently be it said, a similar consideration may be present to God when he reveals himself in human affairs. What he said here asserted that there was no need for further probation of these Israelites. What Moses now suggests is that there was no need to cut them down at once, and good reason to do otherwise, so as to stop the mouth of Egypt and the nations of Canaan.
3. One more act of mercy would be consistent with God's character. God had said, upon the making of the two tables to replace the former two (Exodus 34:1-35.), that though he could not treat iniquity as a trifle, and must ever stamp on it signs of the serious way in which he regarded it, yet he was a God merciful and gracious, and disposed to pardon. Moses now humbly reminds God of these words, and pleads an application of them to the present transgression, tie does not seem to have meant much by the word pardon; it was simply that God might turn away the pestilence. Indeed, for anything more it was not in the power of Moses to ask. A full pardon, a full reconciliation to God, these demand, as a pre-requisite, full repentance. And so far Israel had made no sign. Perhaps the people were dumb and stupefied with terror. Other people may ask pardon for us in a certain sense, but such pardon as will be complete can only come from the cry of awakened, enlightened, and truly penitent souls.—Y.
THE ULTIMATE DECISION
I. THE EXTENT OF THE BOON WHICH GOD GRANTED, "I have pardoned according to thy word." God gave all that Moses asked, and all that in the light of his former words (Numbers 14:11, Numbers 14:12), he could give. But what did it come to? Nominally: it might be called a pardon; in reality it came to no more than a reprieve. It did not put Israel where it was before. It was a boon, so far as it is a boon to a man condemned to die when he is told that his sentence is commuted to penal servitude for life. To him trembling under the shadow of the scaffold it may seem an inestimable mercy. So here Israel may have counted it the same to have been delivered from the pestilence. So a man will esteem recovery from a critical illness or the near chance of sudden death. Yet what has such a boon come to? Death and the demands of eternity are only put off a little into the future. We have not escaped them; we are pressed on towards them; every day of life narrows the distance, and at any moment the distance may be swept altogether away.
II. GOD SECURES THAT HE SHALL BE GLORIFIED IN THE BESTOWING OF THE BOON. "All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." As much as to assure Moses that he need not be in the least apprehensive. The nations of Canaan should have no cause for exultation, nothing to enable them to glorify their gods against Jehovah. They should have one pretext the less, if only one. There would be no chance to sneer at the swift destruction of Israel, as if it had come from one of the passionate and revengeful deities of Paganism. Still, if there was one pretext the less, there was only one. The removal of one pretext only opens up to the prejudiced and carnal mind the vision of another. The world will always have something to say against God, whithersoever the ways of his providence or his grace may tend. And so it is good for us to take the assurance he gave to Moses. All the earth, in a wider sense than Moses understood, shall be filled with the glory of God; for not only the kingdom and the power are his, but also and emphatically the glory. There will come a day when the most ingenious and admired criticism of men on the ways of God will be shriveled into everlasting oblivion before the full blaze of that glory.
III. HE SECURES IN PARTICULAR THAT HE SHALL BE GLORIFIED IN ISRAEL. What Israel might think of him now it was spared was a matter of more immediate importance than what the nations might think. There was to be no opportunity for them to say, "This is a God who threatens, and yet when the pinch comes, the terrible blow is withdrawn." The people were to behold both his goodness and his severity. He magnifies their sin before the eyes of Moses, and there was the more need to do so when he was sparing the transgressors. The mere lapse of time neither diminishes the impression made by sin on God himself, nor the destructive power of it on the transgressor. Repented and forsaken sins are blotted out, but a recurrence of them, and that in a more flagrant way, brings them back, and illustrates what an inveterate and ingrained thing sin has become. When Whately was principal of St. Alban's Hall, he would sometimes say after some escapade of an undergraduate, "I pardon this as a first offence, and I do not wish to remember it. I will not unless you force me to do so. But recollect that if you commit a second, I must remember the first." So God had to call up everything from the beginning, of his wonders in Egypt: on the one hand, all his glory and miracles, and impressive commands and promises; on the other hand, their persistent indifference, disobedience, and unbelief. Let them therefore understand, that even though they be spared, they cannot see Canaan. This is all the Lord says at present, but it is enough to secure that he shall be glorified in Israel
IV. The great practical lesson to us is, that WE SHOULD BE VERY OBSERVANT OF THE SIGNS OF GOD'S PRESENCE WITH US, AND PROMPTLY OBEDIENT TO THE GOD WHO IS REVEALED IN THEM. Of how many it may truly be said, that they travel through life unobservant of God's wonderful works to them, and tempting him many times l What a terrible thought, that as the fate of this generation was fixed, though some of them lived well-nigh forty years after, so the fate of many may be fixed even before they die—probation ended, though earthly existence may continue; dead even while they live I While still in vigorous health of body, and active in all worldly concerns, the last faint trace of spiritual sensibility may have passed away. Doing perhaps what they reckon to be good, and what is good in a certain way, they nevertheless miss the great end of life, because faith in the Son and in the Father who sent him has never been allowed to enter their minds (Romans it, Romans 11:20-22).—Y.
THE PROMISE TO CALEB
God grants the prayer of Moses for the people, and makes clear how small a boon it is by notifying at the same time their necessary exclusion from Canaan. The smallness of the boon compared with the greatness of the loss is still further shown when he goes on to make the promise to Caleb. Consider—
I. HOW CLEAR SUCH A PROMISE MAKES THE REASON WHY GOD'S PROMISES SEEM SO OFTEN UNFULFILLED. Men do not supply the conditions requisite for their fulfillment. The same claims, promises, and warnings were laid before others as before Caleb; but when they were rebellious he was obedient, and the end of it is indicated here. The law of sowing and reaping, of cause and effect, is at work. Let Christians consider how many promises given for the guidance and comfort of present life are yet unfulfilled in their experience. The power and disposition of God are toward us, as toward the Israelites, but the rebellious hearts are many and the Calebs few (Ephesians 1:19).
II. A BEAUTIFUL ILLUSTRATION OF SPECIAL PROVIDENCE. As we read on and learn that Caleb was to spend forty years in the wilderness before the fulfillment of the promise, then we discern how constantly he must have been under the eye of God, how. surely provided for and protected. He had known much of danger already: something as a spy and something as a faithful witness, and the lifting of stones against him was perhaps but an earnest of further perils from his own countrymen. And yet, although his wanderings were to be long and dangerous, God, speaking with that assurance which becomes God only, promises Caleb an entrance into the land at last. Who can tell what hearts this very promise made more hostile, and what special interpositions may have been required to protect him?
III. THE REASONS FOR GOD'S GRACIOUS TREATMENT OF CALEB. "He was a man of another spirit." Of another spirit as to his recollections of the past. The others thought much of the past, but it was in a selfish and groveling spirit. They hankered after the creature comforts and delicacies of Egypt, and continually bemoaned the simpler life of the wilderness. The ten misleading spies very likely took thoughts of Egypt into their inspection of Canaan, comparing it not with God's promises, but with what they recollected of the land they had left. On the other hand, Caleb's thoughts would run much on the bondage and oppression in Egypt. Humbly and devoutly observant of each wonderful work of God as it was being performed, be would have it more deeply impressed on his mind; and every time the thought returned there would be something of the power of a first impression. There would be the recollection also of God's forbearance and long-suffering with him in his own imperfect services. Of another spirit, consequently, as to his conduct in the present. To one who had learned to look on the past as he did, the present would appear in all its glory immeasurably better than the past. Hence, what made others mourn made him rejoice; while others were rebelling and hatching conspiracies, he was doing all he could to sustain Moses. May we not conjecture that be went on the search expedition not so much because he deemed it needful, as in order that one at least might bring back a faithful testimony? So let it be said of us that wherever the spirit of the world is manifested in greed, passion, false representation, or any other evil thing, we by our conduct in present circumstances, as they rise fresh and often unexpected day by day, show indeed another spirit. It is only by having the right spirit alive and strong within us that we shall be equal to the claims ever coming on Christ's servants. Of another spirit as to his expectations in the future. Every man who lives so that his present is better than his past has a growing assurance that the future will be better than the present. He who lives in the constant appreciation and enjoyment of fulfilled promises will consider the future as having in it the promises yet to be fulfilled. It would doubtless be a keen personal disappointment to Caleb when he found the people determined to retreat. He had known something of the future in the present when he visited the promised land, and joy would fill his thoughts at the prospect of speedy possession. A man of such a spirit as Caleb gives God the opportunity of accomplishing all his word. "He hath followed me fully." As fully, that is, as was possible for a sinful man in earthly conditions. God does not expect the service of glorified spirits during the life we live in the flesh. But wherever he finds diligence, caution, the spirit that says, "This one thing I do;" wherever he finds the loving heart, the giving hand, the bridled tongue, he is not slow to give approval. When the heart is fully set towards him, without division and without compulsion, he recognizes such a state in the most emphatic language. Hence, in spite of great blots faithfully recorded, Abraham is called the friend of God (James 2:23), and David the man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). So Caleb is described as having followed God fully; not that he was a faultless man, but there was that in him which in due time would make all the outward the full and beautiful expression of the inward. God sees the fruit within the seed, and speaks accordingly. Compare Caleb with the unbelieving multitude, and the words will not appear one whit too strong. Note in conclusion that Caleb was now required to exercise the high quality of patience. He himself deserved immediate entrance, but he must wait while the unbelieving generation died away, and those who at present were only striplings and infants rose to take their place. He had to be patient, hut his patience was the patience of hope. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord" (Lamentations 3:26). Caleb had a spirit within him which could find the best things of Canaan even in the waste wilderness (‘Paradise Regained,' Numbers 1:7).—Y.
GOD'S DECISION REPEATED AS A MESSAGE
What God has already said to Moses by way of answer to his intercession is now amplified in a solemn message to the people. The punitive aspect of the decision is made to appear still more distinctly. Cf. Numbers 14:11 and Numbers 14:27. In the first he asks how long the people mean to pursue their unbelieving conduct; in the second, how long shall he bear with them. The time has come for God himself to decide, and make his decision known in the clearest manner.
I. THIS GENERATION WAS NOT ALLOWED TO GO ITS OWN WAY. It was not to die at once, neither was it to enter the land; and perhaps some may then have anticipated dismissal altogether, like a disbanded army, that each might be free to take his own path. In reality, all was to go on as before, save that the promise was taken away. They were to continue in the wilderness, and die there. No relaxation is intimated as to the service of the tabernacle and the duties of the camp. We do not escape God's constraints because our hearts have rejected him. He spared Israel, but he did not let it go back to Egypt. Men may congratulate themselves on being free from the restrictions of a godly life, and talk wildly of those who shut themselves up in the service of Christ, yet they know very well that they are themselves under restraint. Anything like license and recklessness brings suffering on them very quickly. God takes care even now that if men will not serve him, neither shall they please themselves. The fruits of evil-doing sometimes ripen with wonderful rapidity.
II. IT WAS NOT LEFT TO ITS OWN RESOURCES. It is not expressly said that the manna would be continued, but doubtless all was continued that was not formally revoked. This doomed generation, which could neither go its own way, nor entirely in God's way, nevertheless had something to do for God which could be done by the ordinary provisions of nature. A generation mostly born in the wilderness had to be brought up to manhood. The lot was, therefore, to some extent mitigated by the continuance of family life, with all its affections, occupations, and enjoyments. In the course of time, as the first bitterness of their doom passed away, parents might even find a certain pleasure in the thought that their children would enjoy the land from which by their own folly they had been excluded.
III. No ROOM WAS LEFT FOR A MORE HOPEFUL PROSPECT WITH RESPECT TO THEMSELVES. They had said in their haste, "Would God we had died in this wilderness!" (Numbers 14:2). And now through their own folly what they hastily wished has become a necessity. All who had been numbered (Numbers 1:1-54) are to die, as not being fit to fight the Lord's battles. No less than four times does the Lord refer to this doom, with variety of expression, which only makes more certain the identity of meaning. Are any of them saying that this very doom is a change of purpose, and therefore they may hope that in a short time God will gladden their ears with the words, "Arise, enter, and possess "? He closes the door against such a hope by giving the long term of forty years to exhaust the doomed generation. This stretch of time would bring even the youngest of them to be a man of sixty, and thus, though the wearing away might be very gradual, yet it would be none the less certain. The rule is made more express and rigorous by the very exceptions in Caleb and Joshua.
IV. THOUGH THEY THEMSELVES WERE DOOMED, CLEAR INDICATION IS GIVEN TO THEM THAT GOD'S PURPOSES WOULD BE ACCOMPLISHED. Forty years, and they would be gone! and what then? Why they themselves would be the instruments, and that to a large extent unconsciously, of fulfilling the very purpose which once they seemed to have imperiled. Their little ones God would bring into the land. "Your little ones, which ye said should be a prey." Men are fearful when they ought to be bold, and bold when they ought to be fearful. Israel was alarmed for its tender offspring, but not afraid to rebel against God, and treat his servants with contempt. And now God says that in the exercise of his providence and the carrying out of his extensive plans, these very children, these infants, helpless on the mother's breast, shall enter and conquer where their fathers were afraid to go. Another generation would arise, not knowing Egypt except at second hand, and which could not very well lust after things it had never tasted. The delay in accomplishing God's purposes was more apparent than real. The loss was chiefly a loss to the disobedient themselves. God can take the most adverse things, the most determined outbreaks of the wicked, and work them in with his own purposes.
V. AN ILLUSTRATION IS FURNISHED OF THE TRUTH THAT CHILDREN HAVE TO BEAR THE SINS OF THE PARENTS (verse 33). A dreadful name, and only too frequent in his after-dealings with Israel, does the Lord give to these sins—"whoredoms" he calls them. The generations of men are so interwoven that the blow which falls on the parent cannot be entirely averted from the child. Not only was the punished generation unfit for entrance, but its children had to wait in consequence. The children born on this very day of sentence would be well on in manhood when they entered the land. Sinners should well consider how their sin includes others in its consequences. The Israelites thought they were doing a good thing for their little ones when they rebelled; but the real result was the detention of them forty years in the wilderness. If the fathers had been believing, they could have entered at once, and brought up their children in the land flowing with milk and honey. As it was, they had to nourish them in the wilderness, and on the manna they so much despised.
VI. THERE IS SOMETHING THROUGH ALL THESE FORTY YEARS TO REMIND THEM OF THEIR SIN AND ITS PUNISHMENT. As the unbelievers died off one by one, and as each succeeding year began, and whenever Caleb and Joshua appeared, there was something to remind of God's chastising hand.—Y.
A CONFESSION CONTRADICTED IN ACTION
The way of Israel seems now closed up. The way to Egypt is closed, and also the way to the promised land, where of late was fixed up the clear intimation, "This is the way, walk ye in it." There is now but one way open—to wander in this wilderness for forty years till all the rebels have passed away. The full measure of their doom is now before them, and as it appears in all its naked severity, it fills them with grief and consternation. Everything corroborates the word of Moses. The ten spies who brought up the slanderous report are lying plague-stricken corpses, while Caleb and Joshua stand among the living confessed by God himself as faithful and true witnesses. Nevertheless, in the midst of this utter collapse the people were not unprovided for as to their course of action (verse 25). God had told Moses the direction into which to take them. But they cannot learn even so much obedience as this without being taught it in a terrible lesson.
I. WE HAVE A CONFESSION CONTRADICTED EVEN WHILE IT WAS BEING MADE. The confession is, "We have sinned." It is very easy to say this, and to say it meaning something by it, but in a great multitude of cases it is said with very little understanding of what sin really is. Pharaoh said at last, when he had been visited with seven plagues, "I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" (Exodus 9:27); but as soon as the rain, hail, and thunders ceased at the intercession of Moses, he sinned yet more and hardened his heart So with the Israelites here; it was not sin they felt, but suffering. If they had truly felt sin, they would have submitted at once to the decision of God and his direction for their present need (verse 25). A mind filled with the sense of sin is filled also with the sense of God's authority. It is so impressed with its own sin and God's righteousness, that its first thought is how to end the dreadful alienation from God by reason of wicked works. It will at once attempt to bring disobedience to an end by prompt obedience in the nearest duties. But here the confession of sin is not even put first. They are occupied with self, its aims and disappointments, even while professing themselves humbled before God. What a proof that God judged them truly when he said that any further trial of their obedience was useless I They had forgotten that wisdom has to do with times and seasons. What was obedience yesterday may be disobedience today. They tried to open a door closed by him who shuts so that none can open. They said "We have sinned" in the same breath with the most audacious purpose of sin they could form. Learn from them how hard it is to have, not simply an adequate sense of sin, but a sense of sin at all. It is a dreadful filing to sin, and yet persistently deny it through failing to feel it (1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10); it is also a dreadful thing to confess sin while the felt trouble is not sin, but mere fleshly vexation and pain. Read carefully Daniel 9:1-27 for a becoming confession of sin really felt.
II. A CONFESSION STILL FURTHER CONTRADICTED IN ACTION, EVEN AFTER THE CONTRADICTION HAS BEEN POINTED OUT. We have seen how the resolution to advance into Canaan made the confession of sin worthless. How worthless it was is made more evident by the action of the people. Notice that Moses takes not the slightest heed of their confession of sin, but aims direct at their wild resolution. What can be more urgent and more strongly fortified with reasons than his dissuasive words? He puts in the front, as the most proper thing to be put, that they are about to transgress the commandment of the Lord. Fresh from one transgression, and with its penalty pronounced, they yet rushed headlong into another. They are foolish enough to suppose that by an energetic effort they can release themselves from the penalty. Such a rebellious purpose must assuredly be frustrated. By so much as the presence of God would have been felt if they had gone onward at the right time, by just as much would his absence be felt now. As formerly they would have had a force far above nature against their enemies, now they have a force far below. But all that Moses can say is in vain. All their notion of sin was that they had not advanced into Canaan. They had such poor thoughts of God as to think that they could wipe the sin out by advancing with all energy now, forgetting that the sin lay in unbelief and disobedience. If by any chance they had got into Canaan, they would not have found it a promised land. God could and would have made it just as hard and unattractive as the wilderness they had left.
III. THE CONTRADICTION IS STILL FURTHER AGGRAVATED BY BREAKING AWAY FROM MOSES AND THE ARK. One can imagine that in their impetuosity all tribal order and discipline was lost. Possibly they had some commander; there may have been just enough cohesion to agree so far. But though a crowd may choose a commander, a commander cannot at will make a crowd into an army. The peculiarity of Israel was that its army was fixed and disciplined by Jehovah himself, and to break away from the ark, where his honour dwelt, was openly to despise it, as if it were nothing but common furniture. There was not only a rebellion of the people against its governor, but a mutiny of the army against its commander. Does it not almost seem as if a host of demons had gone into these men, carrying them headlong to destruction, even as they carried the swine down the steep place? Only a little while before, no argument, no appeal would have dragged them an inch against the Amalekites and the Canaanites, and now there is nothing can keep them back. Surely this crowns the illustrations of Israel's perversity, and makes it very wonderful that out of them, as concerning the flesh, the Christ should have sprung.
IV. THEIR DISCOMFITURE CAME AS A CERTAIN CONSEQUENCE. The enemy, we may conjecture, had been preparing for some time. Probably, as the Israelites sent spies into Canaan, so the Canaanites may have had spies in the wilderness. And so as Israel in this battle was at its very weakest, Canaan may have been at its strongest. Yet Israel would appear strong, advancing with furious onset, and bent on canceling these dreadful forty years. Hence the enemy would exult in a great victory gained by their own powers, being ignorant that they owed it rather to the disobedience of Israel. The world is not strong in itself, as against those who truly confide in God, but its strength is enough and to spare when God's people fight against it with fleshly weapons. The best allies of God's enemies are oftentimes found among his professed friends.—Y.
Preliminary Note to Chapters 15-19
A great break in the story of Israel occurs here. Perhaps in the whole history of the theocracy, from Abraham downwards, there is no such entire submergence of the chosen people to be noted. After the rebellion at Kadesh they disappear from view, and they only reappear at Kadesh again after an interval of thirty-eight years. Only one occurrence of any historical moment can be assigned to this period (Numbers 16:1-50), and that is recorded without note of time or place, because its ecclesiastical interest gave it an abiding value for all time. The sacred history of Israel in the wilderness may be compared to one of the streams of that wilderness. From its source it runs, if circumstances be favourable, full and free for a certain distance, and even spreads itself abroad upon the more level ground; here, however, it meets a thirstier soil and more scorching heat; it loses itself suddenly and entirely. If its course be followed with doubt and difficulty, a few small water-holes may be discovered, and perhaps in some exceptionally shaded and sheltered spot a permanent pool; only at the furthest end of the dried-up wady, near the great sea, the stream re-forms itself and flows on without interruption to its goal. The void in the record which thus divides in two the story of the exodus is explained readily and satisfactorily by the one fact that during all these years the history of Israel was actually in abeyance. For that history is the history of a theocracy, and in the higher sense it is the history of God's dealings with his own people, as he leads them on "from strength to strength," until "every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." Thus all the Old Testament from Genesis 12:1-20 (in which the history properly so called commences) to the end of Joshua has for its goal the entry into and conquest of the promised land; and thence again to I Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9:1-31 it leads up to the firm and full establishment of the temple and of the Lord's anointed in the place which he had chosen. But during the thirty-eight years this advance was absolutely suspended; the generation that excommunicated itself at Kadesh had thenceforth no part and no heritage in Israel; their lives were spared indeed at the time, but they had to die out and another generation had to take their place before the history of the theocracy could be resumed. Instead, therefore, of the blank causing perplexity or suspicion, it most strikingly corresponds with and confirms the whole tenor and purport of the Pentateuch, and the Old Testament in general. It was at Kadesh that the onward march of Israel, as Israel, was summarily suspended; it was from Kadesh that that march began once more after thirty-eight years; and the sacred narrative conforms itself with the utmost simplicity and naturalness to this fact.
The condition of the nation during this period of submergence is a matter of considerable interest. In endeavouring to picture it to ourselves, we are left to a few scattered statements, to some probable conclusions, and for the rest to mere conjecture. The most important of these statements are as follows:—
1., Deuteronomy 8:2-6; Deuteronomy 29:5, Deuteronomy 29:6. God did not wholly abandon them to themselves. He supplied them every day with manna, and also (no doubt) with water when there was no natural supply (see on 1 Corinthians 10:4). He provided them also with raiment and shoes, so that they had the "food and clothing" which are the actual necessaries of life.
2., Joshua 5:4-8. It may seem strange that no children were circumcised between Egypt and Canaan, considering the extreme importance assigned to the rite (see on Exodus 4:24-26). If any children were born before the first arrival at Kadesh (see note on Numbers 10:28), it is probable that their circumcision was postponed in view of a speedy settlement in the land of promise. After that time the general neglect of religious ordinances and the extreme uncertainty of their movements (Numbers 9:22) would sufficiently account for the general disuse of the rite. It is only reasonable to conclude that the passover also was omitted during all this period. Even if the material elements for its celebration could have been provided, it is hardly possible that the men who came out of Egypt only to die in that wilderness could have brought themselves to renew the memory, so bitter to them, of that great but fruitless deliverance. And with the passover we may probably conclude that the whole sacrificial system fell into abeyance, save so far as it might be maintained by the zeal of the Levites alone (see below on Joshua 19:1-51).
3., Ezekiel 20:10-26. This is a strong indictment against Israel in the wilderness, and all the more because the children are reproached in the same strain as the fathers. It is apparently to the former that the difficult Ezekiel 20:25 and Ezekiel 20:26 refer exclusively. If so, we have two facts of grave moment made known to us through the prophet. 1. That the Lord, by way of punishment, gave them statutes and judgment which were not good. 2. That they systematically offered their first-born to Moloch. It is only necessary here to point out that these statements occur in the course of an impassioned invective, and must therefore be taken as the extreme expression of one side only of a state of things which may have bad other aspects.
4., Amos 5:25, Amos 5:26; Acts 7:42, Acts 7:43. This again is a strong indictment. It is indeed contended that Amos 5:26 should be read in the present tense, and that St. Stephen was misled by an error of the Septuagint. This, however, introduces a much greater difficulty; and even apart from the quotation in the Acts, the ordinary reading is the more natural and probable (see note on Acts 14:1-28 :33).
While, therefore, the general impression left upon us by these passages is dark indeed, it is hopeless to look for anything definite or precise as to the moral and religious condition of the people at this time. A similar obscurity hangs over their movements and proceedings. We have nothing to guide us except the probabilities of the case, and a list of stations which really tells us nothing. It is only reasonable to suppose that the matching orders issued at Sinai fell ipso facto into abeyance when the short, swift, decisive march for which they were designed came to an abrupt conclusion. We have no authority for supposing that the host held together during these years of wandering which had no aim but waste of time, and no end but death. The presumption is that they scattered themselves far and wide over the wilderness (itself of no great extent), just as present convenience dictated. Disease, and death, and all those other incidents revived in full force which make the simultaneous march in close array of two million people an impossibility. No doubt the headquarters of the host and nation, Moses and Aaron, and the Levites generally, remained with the ark, and formed, wherever they might be, the visible and representative center of the national life and Worship. It is of the movements of this permanent center, which contained in itself all that was really distinctive and abiding in Israel, that Moses speaks in chapter 33, and elsewhere; and no doubt these movements were made in implicit obedience to the signals of God, given by the cloudy pillar (Numbers 9:21, Numbers 9:22). It is quite possible that while the ark removed from time to time, some portion of the people remained stationary at Kadesh, until the "whole congregation" (see on Acts 20:1) was reassembled there once more. If this were the case, the peculiar phraseology of Deuteronomy 1:46 as compared with the following verse may be satisfactorily explained.'
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany