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The crisis of the nation’s march is reached. Standing on the very threshold of Canaan, the people exclude themselves from its possession by unfitness for the promised inheritance. They forget the promises of God, while they give eager credence to the cowardly words of ten of the twelve spies, who make no reference to God in their report. During the few weeks’ march from Sinai three partial rebellions have broken out in the camp against Moses, the representative of Jehovah. At last the people, by their universal distrust of God, their pusillanimity, their utter lack of heroism, and their threatened rejection of Moses and return to Egypt, have overstepped the line between God’s patience and his wrath. In vain do Moses and Aaron, in their agony of grief, fall upon their faces prostrate before the angry mob. In vain do Caleb and Joshua publish their cheering report. The rebels, in their rage, order them to be stoned. The glory of Jehovah flashes out in terrific splendour from the pillar of cloud to keep them from their murderous purpose. Then there falls upon the ear of Moses, from the mouth of Jehovah, the threatened disinheritance and destruction of his people. Moses magnanimously intercedes for the nation’s life, pleading the honour of that great NAME which had been set in Israel. The prayer prevails. The nation is spared, while the rebellious individuals receive their sentence of exclusion from the Land of Promise. The faithful spies are excepted and commended, though they suffer in common with the others the evils of the exclusion for well-nigh forty years. The countermarch is ordered. The rebels, in a spasm of self-confidence, determine to continue the journey. Contrary to the warning of Moses they dash themselves against their foes, and are thus smitten and routed. This is the outline of one of the most eventful and instructive chapters in Jewish history. In it there is disclosed to the chosen nation a quality of Jehovah’s character hitherto unrevealed the impartiality of his government in the administration of justice. Pharaoh had hardened his heart, and in the sight of exempted and jubilant Israel had felt the hot bolts of wrath crushing him and his people to the earth. But Israel, under the illusion that Jehovah is a national and partial ruler, imagines that he can walk with impunity in the footsteps of Pharaoh, and “tempt God ten times.” The hour has arrived for dispelling this illusion. They who have provoked Jehovah must now know his “breach of promise,” and learn the great lesson that all his promises of good to his children imply, as a condition, their continued obedience. From the repetition of Numbers 14:11-25 in Numbers 14:26-38 we find no ground for De Wette’s assignment of those passages to two fragments, by two writers, the Jehovist and the Elohist.
The first is a private communication to Moses only; the second is to Moses and Aaron officially, and is to be proclaimed to the people (Numbers 14:28) as a full and formal judicial sentence of exclusion from Canaan.
(1.) The report of the spies was a decisive moment in the history of the Israelites. Had they been animated by faith in God, his ideal of Israel as a conquering nation marching straight into Canaan would have been realized, the walled cities would have been taken without the loss of a Hebrew’s life, as was Jericho, and the formidable sons of Anak would have fallen before Hebrew striplings, as fell Goliath before David. But Israel was not equal to the crisis. It was clear that a multitude so easily paralyzed by fear, so craven and fickle, were not the men to be launched against warlike tribes, and nothing remained but to continue in the wilderness. Born in slavery, and destitute of the manhood belonging to freemen, they were not in a condition, if left to themselves, to successfully undertake so great a task. But the series of miracles wrought through Moses in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness had lifted them to the plane of the supernatural, on which they could have stood by simple, childlike faith in Jehovah, their great ally. Their culpability is found in the failure of their faith. Hence they must wander outside the land of promise till a new and more trustful race had risen in their place.
(2.) “Evidently Israel’s was not disbelief, but unbelief a kind of spiritual agnosticism. They had not any proper knowledge nor understanding of the character and purposes of that God whom they nevertheless acknowledged as having brought them to the borders of the land. Our unbelief also is too often like theirs; we refuse to go forward, and we people the future with imaginary terrors, because we have no stable knowledge nor yet understanding of his purposes, whom we acknowledge as the God of our guidance and salvation.” Dr. Edersheim.
The secret cause of all this unbelief, disobedience, rebellion, exclusion from the land of promise, and wretched dying in the wilderness was the lack of a true and total consecration to God and to their divine mission. How many generations of professed Christians from the same cause have laid their bones around some Kadesh-barnea!
(3.) “The fear of man is practically rebellion against God, if it keeps us from doing that which he bids, or from going whither he sendeth us. Only let us not be our own interpreters of what is the will of God concerning us.” Dr. Edersheim.
(4.) “It has been often objected to the story of the exodus that such extremity of folly as is ascribed to the Israelites is inconceivable in such circumstances. How could men, with all these miracles in mind, and manna falling daily, and the pillar blazing every night, and the roll of Sinai’s thunders scarcely out of their ears, behave thus? But any body who has honestly studied his own heart, and known its capacity for neglecting the plainest indications of God’s presence, and forgetting the gifts of his love, will believe the story, and see brethren in these Jews.” Dr. McLaren.
(5.) There is an irremissible sin in the Old Testament which is a foreshadowing of that in the new. The one is rejection from entering Canaan, with the possibility of the eternal salvation of every truly penitent believer; the other is the shutting out of all hope of eternal life. Says Dr. W. Henry Green: “On former occasions they had been forgiven upon the urgent and persistent intercession of Moses. But in this wilful and high-handed rejection of the supreme gift of God’s grace to them they had passed beyond the limits of forgiveness. It is the Old Testament ana-logue to what is darkly spoken of in the New Testament as the unpardonable sin. Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 6:4, etc. And all that Moses’s supplication could effect on their behalf was, that they should be spared from the instant destruction with which they were threatened. They were pardoned to the extent of being temporarily reprieved, but the doom pronounced upon them, of exclusion from the land of promise and of death in the wilderness, could not be reversed.”
COWARDICE OF THE ISRAELITES, Numbers 14:1-5.
1. We come now to an eclipse of faith almost total, for the only exceptions to all the congregation are Caleb and Joshua, Eleazar, (Joshua 14:1,) and possibly some of the Levites and the whole order of priests, who were not reckoned in the general census. Numbers 1:49; Numbers 26:62.
Lifted up their voice These words, together with cried and wept, indicate the intensity and publicity of this panic of despair. These loud wailings, resounding by night from tent to tent, from tribe to tribe, spread the contagious despondency through the whole camp.
2. Murmured against Moses and… Aaron They begin with God’s ministers, not having become so hardened as to murmur against God himself. He seems to have been absent from their thoughts both as the object of trust and as their providential guide in the wilderness. They have fallen from a supernatural to a merely natural view of their condition. Hence they childishly vent their indignation against their human leaders.
The whole congregation This must be understood, as it is in all languages, in a conventional sense, as we are said to utter our opinions in the face of the whole world, or begin our deeds of lands with the words, “Know all men by these presents.” See Exodus 9:6, note.
Would God The word God is not in the Hebrew. This is the strongest English formula for an unattainable wish, and expresses the strength of the peoples’ desire.
Died in… Egypt They who prefer death in bondage to life in freedom are not the brave people whom Jehovah can lead to the conquest of Canaan. This wish to return to the groanings, burdens, tasks, and insults of the brick-yards of Egypt, from which a pitying Jehovah had led them forth, was indicative of a base ingratitude, and a servility of spirit exceedingly offensive. Yet all this grief was in view of no present suffering, but in apprehension of imaginary future ills.
3. Wherefore hath… Lord They began with opposing God’s faithful ministers; they end by arraigning himself. So men now greatly distress themselves over evils they are never called to endure. Wherefore is not in the vocabulary of faith.
Unto this land Spoken, apparently, of Canaan, to which they had not yet been brought. Thus “they despised the pleasant land; they believed not his word.” Psalms 106:24.
To fall by the sword The unbelief of these rebels puts an evil intention for a beneficent purpose on the part of God, and thus maligns his character. Up to this time they seem to have cherished the illusion of a blood. less conquest of Canaan.
A prey Captives and slaves of the victors.
Better… to return into Egypt In their dread of the perils before them they overlook the greater evils behind: the sterile wilderness, with no manna from heaven nor water from the smitten rock; no pillar of cloud to go before; no protecting Jehovah to shield them from their foes; no mediating Moses to placate the divine wrath; no home of freedom, but only the lash of the taskmaster for the inheritance of their children forever.
4. Make a captain This is the repudiation of both Moses and Jehovah. According to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:17) they actually “appointed a captain to return to their bondage.” On the low level of mere naturalism they feel no more need of God.
5. Fell on their faces This attitude was expressive of the deepest sorrow, and at the same time it was a mute but eloquent appeal to the mutinous multitude to desist from their insane purpose. He who was accustomed to speak face to face with God might have fortified his dishonoured authority by invoking against these rebellious murmurers the bolts of God’s wrath. But he loved the Abrahamic race more than his own dignity and power.
6. Rent their clothes The flowing robes of the Orientals admit of various symbolical actions. Rending expresses grief, indignation, despair, or fear. The outer garment only was torn. See Genesis 39:12, (Hebrew.)
JOSHUA AND CALEB’S MINORITY REPORT, Numbers 14:6-10.
The two believing spies, having been rudely interrupted in their report by the cowardly ten, (Numbers 13:30-31,) now come forward, evincing the deepest emotion, and attempt to continue their narration of their view of the situation. They succeed in uttering a few cheering words, when their voices are drowned in the hoarse clamour of the mob, now excited to a frenzy which imperils the lives of the speakers, “faithful among the faithless found.”
7. They spake unto all the company of the children of Israel Literalists like Colenso find an insuperable difficulty here. “No human voice, unless strengthened by miracle, of which the Scriptures tell us nothing, could have reached the ears of a crowded mass of people as large as the whole population of London.” But the President of the United States performs a greater feat, standing on the east porch of the capitol and delivering his inaugural address to the whole country, with incidental remarks to all mankind. King Solomon at the dedication “blessed all the congregation of Israel.” 1 Kings 8:14. Even the children in the Sunday-school soon learn to understand that “all” has its reasonable limitations when they read that “Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, were baptized of John;” as they do when they read that all New York is taking an airing in Central Park. See Exodus 9:6, note.
Exceeding good land Hebrew, good exceedingly exceedingly. The minority report is more emphatic in its praise than the majority report is in its dispraise of Canaan. The eye of unbelief had seen the dark cloud, the eye of faith had seen both it and its silver lining. A craven fear had tinged all the observations of the one with a sombre hue, while an unfaltering faith had, to the eye of the other, tipped every hilltop with light and filled every valley with splendour. These opposite reports from an observation of the same facts resulted from the difference in the spirit and trust of the men who reported.
8. If the Lord delight in us Here Joshua and Caleb revealed the ground of their confidence the ability of Jehovah to make good his promise, which they viewed not as absolute, but as conditioned upon the demeanour of the nation. The weakness of the report of the ten lies in its Godlessness. In estimating the possibility of the conquest Jehovah is counted out.
Milk and honey This is a poetical description of a country rich in pasturage and flowers. For the abundance of honey in ancient Canaan see Judges 14:8; 1 Samuel 14:25-26; of both wheat and honey, see Psalms 81:16. Sceptics, in view of the comparative sterility of modern Palestine, allege that this must be a false view of Canaan, and they question the inspiration of the Scriptures containing this oft-repeated statement. But there are causes which make modern Palestine barren: 1.) The destruction of the timber in the long series of sieges and invasions which that unhappy land has suffered has greatly reduced the moisture of the atmosphere by cutting off evaporation through the leaves. Hence rains are less frequent, and the sources of artificial irrigation are diminished. 2.) The decay of the terraces necessary to retain the soil on the steep slopes of the round hills. This is owing to the misrule and lack of security to the fruits of industry which have for generations been the lot of the cultivators.
9. Rebel not… neither fear… the people Disobedience to God is the soil out of which the fear of man always grows. If the presence of Napoleon on the battle-field was equal, in the courage which he inspired, to a re-enforcement of ten thousand men, how much more inspiring to the Hebrews would be a realizing faith in the presence of the omnipotent Jehovah.
They are bread for us We shall destroy them as easily as we eat bread. Psalms 14:4. The simile is natural to a Hebrew, in whose language the verbs to eat, to fight, to destroy in war, are the same. We have a similar proverb in “Food for our powder.” As the faint-hearted spies had declared that the Canaanites were giants before whom the Hebrews were dwarfed to grasshoppers, so the brave spies, with equal strength of expression, style them “bread for us.”
Their defence Hebrew, shadow, covering.
Is departed They are wholly destitute of courage. The Sultan of Turkey and the Shah of Persia are called “the shadow of God,” “the refuge of the whole world.” ( Critici Sacri.)
10. Stone them with stones This was the ordinary mode of executing a sentence of capital punishment. It requires an extraordinary effort to fathom the wickedness of men who clamoured for the blood of their brethren simply because of their fidelity to God. Yet it is the testimony of history that no hatred is so intense and merciless as that of rebels toward those who still are loyal to the government. Myriads have been put to death in civil wars for the crime of allegiance to the old flag. The picture before us is not overdrawn. This outbreak was not only a religious apostasy, but a civil revolution.
The glory of the Lord appeared The shekinah, the visible symbol of the majesty of Jehovah, flashed forth suddenly to strike the people with terror in their rebellion, and to deter them from their wicked design. For a similar purpose the glory flashed out upon the Egyptians, (Exodus 14:24,) “and troubled” or confounded their host. Philo says, “The fiery appearance of the Deity shone forth from the cloud.” How wonderfully the moral government of the world adapts itself to the different conditions of the same nation! Jesus Christ, in his preaching, endeavoured to deter the Jews from sin by motives addressed to their intellects and consciences. He pointed to the judgment to come and to the rewards and punishments there dispensed. He appealed to their hopes and fears. But Jehovah marshalled the terrific elements of nature before the eyes of the Hebrews to make an impression upon their hearts through their senses. In the first case the doctrine of immortality and future accountability had taken full possession of the popular mind. In the case of the Israelites in the wilderness these notions were for the most part yet to be created by the gradual unfolding of religious truth.
In the tabernacle The Septuagint paraphrase is better: “In the cloud over the tabernacle.”
If the supernatural resplendence had been within the tent, it would not have been seen by all the people. Since Jehovah had made his abode in the tabernacle and in the pillar towering above it, the outbeaming glory could not be mistaken for any natural phenomenon.
THE EXCISION OF ISRAEL THREATENED AND AVERTED, Numbers 14:11-25.
11. Provoke me Vulgate, detrahet, slander; R.V., “despise.” The same Hebrew verb is in 2 Samuel 12:14, and Psalms 74:10, translated blaspheme, but the most common rendering is despise. Jehovah is jealous of his good name among men. The cowardice, distrust, and disobedience of Israel were a reflection upon his glory in the eyes of the Gentiles. He had set his name in Israel, and called him his “firstborn son,” (Exodus 4:22,) and thus identified his own reputation with that of this favoured nation.
Believe me Unbelief is the germ of all other sins. Hence its culpability. Mark 16:16; John 3:18; John 16:9, notes. To discredit God’s word is to detract from his reputation.
For all the signs God never requires faith without sufficient grounds. These were the supernatural plagues sent upon the Egyptians, the miraculous deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea, the manifestations of divine power and goodness in the manna, the smitten rock, the pillar of fire, and the grouping of all the sublimities of the physical world about the summit of Sinai at the giving of the law. The firmer the basis for faith the more culpable is unbelief.
12. The pestilence Greek, death, violent and sudden. See Numbers 14:15. Thus in Leviticus 26:25; Deuteronomy 28:21. Comp. Revelation 2:23; Revelation 6:8.
Disinherit them Annul their adoption into sonship. Exodus 4:22. This shows that the covenant made with the patriarchs relating to the future of their posterity was not absolute, but conditioned on the fidelity of each generation. This is corroborated by the fact that Moses, in his plea for the life of the nation, fails to urge the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Make of thee a greater nation One man, fully trusting in God, is mightier than a million of infidels, since God and one are virtually a majority. All things are possible to him that believeth. The Almighty can accomplish more through one unwavering, heroic believer, than he can through a whole nation of unbelievers. This is amply verified in the life of John Wesley and the opposition of that apathetic national Church which he sought to vitalize. In the light of this suggestion, that Moses was to become the founder of a new nation, the unselfish prayer for Israel, which immediately follows, stands forth in marked contrast with that ambition which has often waded through slaughter to a throne.
13. The Egyptians shall hear They who had felt the judgments of Jehovah in terrible national judgments on account of Israel will gladly hear of his downfall, and spread the news abroad among all the nations, especially among the Canaanites, who “faint” because of their terror of the Hebrews. Joshua 2:9. The arguments of Moses in this intercession are exactly such as man would use with man. This implies that Moses conceived of God as personal, and possessing reason and sensibilities corresponding to those faculties in the human race, who are created in his image. The philosophic conception of God of which deism boasts affords no motive to believing and importunate prayer.
14. They have heard The inspired prediction of Moses in his song (Exodus 15:14-16) was already fulfilled. See Numbers 14:9, note, and Joshua 2:9-11.
Seen face to face This is equivalent to the phrase, “speak mouth to mouth.” Numbers 12:8, note. Strictly speaking, Moses never saw the face of Jehovah. “Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live.” Exodus 33:20.
15. Kill all this people This explains the pestilence in Numbers 14:12. See note.
The fame of thee Moses is actuated by the true spirit of prayer a supreme desire for the glory of God. He is jealous of Jehovah’s honour in the earth. Would that all who pray were filled with the same pious concern!
16. Because the Lord was not able The unbelieving world can appreciate only omnipotent power. When this is withdrawn, God fails. They have no conception of the divine holiness, justice, wisdom, and truth, as influencing the government of God. That is a very shallow theology which teaches that men will be saved from hell by sheer omnipotence, without respect to character. But Moses appeals to all the moral attributes of God, and he prevails.
18. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers For the distinction between the natural consequences of sin and punishment, see Exodus 20:5, note.
19. Pardon… the iniquity Moses makes no attempt to appease God by bloody sacrifices. He knows that Jehovah cannot be bought off by gifts and slain victims. Here Mosaism is in striking contrast with Gentilism, which, in the hour of peril, always runs to its altar with its sacrifice to placate some offended deity. Moses casts himself upon the divine clemency, pleading the glory of Jehovah’s great name.
The greatness of thy mercy Mercy, and mercy only, is the plea of Moses. Not one moral excellence, not one meritorious act of Israel, is adduced as the ground of pardon. Under both the old covenant and the new, salvation is grounded solely on reasons existing in the divine mind, while the condition of that salvation is man’s asking for it by faith. The faith of Moses prevails for Israel.
From Egypt… until now Every instance of God’s mercy in the past may be urged as a reason for its repetition; but the past clemency of human governors toward offenders justifies a more severe penalty.
20. I have pardoned The Hebrew language has only two tenses, the past and the future. The present tense maybe expressed by either of them, “the choice in every instance depending on whether the writer’s attention is more particularly directed to the commencement of the action in the past or to its continuance in the future.” Nordheimer. The use of the past tense here implies that the divine forgiveness never covers future sins. Only the Church of Rome grants perpetual indulgences, which cancel future sins and require no renewal.
According to thy word A wonder of wonders! the divine purpose is changed on account of a human word, when that word is uttered in faith! Thus all things are possible to two persons to God and “to him that believeth.” Mark 9:23, note. The nation was preserved, but the merited temporal punishment of its individual unbelievers was not remitted. Such a plea as that of Moses could not remain unheeded; it was typical of the great plea for mankind, and the great Pleader. But, as when long afterward Israel called down upon themselves and their children the penalty for shedding the blood of Jesus, long and sore judgments were to befall the stiffnecked and rebellious, even although ultimately all Israel should be saved, (Romans 11:26,) so was it at Kadesh. This answer to prayer is a sufficient response to the supposed sceptic’s query in Job 21:15.
21-23. All the earth shall be filled In the version of King James these verses are incorrectly translated and punctuated. Better thus: “Nevertheless, as truly as I live, and the glory of Jehovah will fill the whole earth, all the men who have seen my glory and my miracles… shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers,” etc. See the R.V. The verb “will fill” is the Hebrew for the present tense continuing in the future, (see Numbers 14:20, note,) and its clause is grammatically an apposition to “as I live.” Jehovah proves his being by his works; his living, by his glory now and forever filling the whole earth.
Have tempted me By doubting his help and by clamouring for additional proofs that his word is true, men are said to tempt or try God. Again, it is evident that unbelief is the damning sin. Numbers 14:11, note.
Ten times Genesis 31:7, note. Ten symbolizes completeness and full measure. The rabbins thus reckon up the actual ten: (1.) The murmuring at the Red Sea, Exodus 14:11-12. (2.) At Marah, Exodus 15:24. (3.) In the wilderness of Sin, Exodus 16:2. (4.) At Rephidim, Exodus 17:2. (5.) The idolatry at Horeb, Exodus 32:0. (6.) Complaining at Taberah, Numbers 11:1. (7.) At the graves of lust, Numbers 11:4. (8.) Here at Kadesh. (9 and 10.) The disobedience of certain individuals in respect to the manna, Exodus 16:20; Exodus 16:27.
24. Another spirit Trust in Jehovah and its fruits, courage, humility, obedience, and probably the indwelling of the divine Spirit by a special mission of the Comforter. Perfect faith always raises the soul above disquietudes and fears, and affords perfect rest and serenity amid hardships and adversities.
Followed me fully Literally, and he filled after me; that is, followed with unquestioning obedience and unwavering trust, all the injunctions Moses had thus far given to them from God. Into the land Canaan. No mention is made of Hebron, though in Joshua 14:6-15, Caleb asserts that Moses did specify Hebron as his inheritance. But this is omitted here, as is the name of Joshua.
25. Amalekites See Numbers 13:29. Canaanites In the wide meaning of the term, including all the inhabitants of Canaan exclusive of the Amorites dwelling in the southern mountains. Deuteronomy 1:44. See Numbers 13:29, note, for the narrow meaning. The valley is identified by Keil with the broad Wady Marreh, including a portion of the Negeb, in which the Amalekites roamed, while the Canaanites really dwelt upon the mountains (Numbers 14:45) close up to this wady. The statement relative to this valley supplies the reason for the following command. To advance into this valley would be to enter Canaan, from which they have been by solemn oath excluded.
Turn you The probation of adult Israel, so far as Canaan is concerned, is ended. From this hour their corpses must be sown in the wilderness to which they are now remanded.
By the way of the Red sea We find in the itinerary of Israel (Numbers 33:35) that Ezion-gaber was one of the stations, and in Deuteronomy 2:8, Elath is named with this place. They were situated near together at the head of the gulf of Akabah, the eastern arm of the Red sea. Here ends this communication to Moses. Numbers 14:26 begins the formal sentence of exclusion from Canaan. See Introductory Remarks.
THE FORMAL SENTENCE OF EXCLUSION, Numbers 14:26-35.
27. Murmurings are especially offensive to God, because they impeach his wisdom and goodness. Trust in Christ is the cure for all heart troubles, enabling the sinner to rejoice in the forgiveness of the moral evils of his life, and the saint cheerfully to acquiesce in all providential trials as a part of that discipline wisely chosen for the development of the Christian graces. See John 14:1, note. Israel’s murmurings are the fruit of his unbelief.
29. Your carcasses By the use of this word, which, especially in modern usage, conveys contempt or ridicule, the English translation does injustice to Jehovah’s solemn oath of exclusion from Canaan. The original signifies simply corpses or dead bodies. See Genesis 15:11.
All that were numbered 603,550. See Numbers 1:46. Caleb and Joshua only were excepted. Since the women were not numbered, they are not excluded. The tribe of Levi was not included in the general census. From this fact, and from the mention of Eleazar in Joshua 14:1; Joshua 24:33, we conclude that this tribe was not excluded.
30. Doubtless “Surely,” R.V. The Hebrew form of oath usually is a grammatical protasis, or condition with the apodosis or conclusion omitted; thus, If they enter into the land, (let me be untrue.) Hence it is customary to translate the if by not. Comp. Hebrews 3:11; Hebrews 4:3.
I sware Literally, lifted up my hand. Every promise of God to man is conditioned on man’s faithfulness and obedience.
31. Your little ones By something akin to poetical justice, the unbelieving fathers shall perish in the wilderness, and the helpless children, the objects of their skeptical solicitude, shall flourish in the land of promise. See Numbers 14:3. They despised the land when they distrusted the word of its great Giver. Thus the impenitent despise heaven when they reject Christ, its central attraction.
33. Bear your whoredoms Disobedience to God is in the Scriptures often expressed as infidelity to the marriage vow. The highest ideal of spiritual life is that of the bride’s heart-surrender in marriage. The Bible is full of this aspect of consecration, and of warning against the loathsomeness of divided affections. See Leviticus 17:7; Judges 2:17, notes. It is one thing for the innocent to bear the natural consequences of others’ guilt, and quite a different thing to bear their punishment. See Exodus 20:5; Numbers 14:18, notes.
34. Forty days… forty years Thus the sin of the spies and the unbelief of the nation would be vividly set before them as the cause of their exclusion from Canaan. At every question, “How long?” the mind would revert to the forty days’ search by the spies, to their majority report, and to the slough of despond into which the people fell at Kadesh.
Shall ye bear your iniquities In the next verse we find an explanation of bearing iniquities. “In this wilderness shall they be consumed, and there shall they die.” “The weight of guilt is so great that they stagger under it in crooked ways for many years, till they sink exhausted with the weary load. The transition is very easy from the idea of bearing sin to that of bearing punishment.” Bibliotheca Sacra. As Prof. Park expresses it, “Sin presses the sinner down in punishment and into punishment.”
My breach of promise Here is but one Hebrew word, t’nooah, used elsewhere only in Job 33:10, and rendered occasions. It literally signifies removal or alienation, the withdrawal of one’s self from a person, and so metaphorically expresses enmity. Hence the strong rendering of the Septuagint, τον θυμον της οργης μου , the vehemence of my anger, and of the Vulgate, ultionem meam, my vengeance. Luther’s translation, though more correct, is not so concise and vigorous What it shall be when I withdraw my hand. The breach of promise is induced by the wilful and persistent disobedience of Israel in refusing to carry out Jehovah’s purpose of love. His immutability requires him to treat unbelievers as rebels. The justice of their punishment is vindicated by their own contumacy.
35. I will surely do it In the Hebrew this is the conditional part of an oath. See Numbers 14:30, note. The threatenings of God are never exaggerations of his real purposes designed merely to intimidate the transgressor, and not to be fully executed.
Against me Unbelief puts a person into the attitude of hostility to God; it is the root of all disobedience. See John 3:19; John 16:9, notes.
Consumed Utterly destroyed.
36. Made all… to murmur While the people, as free agents, were culpable for their free act, of which their own unbelief was the cause, yet the spies who made the unfavourable report were guilty, not so much because they furnished the occasion for the unbelief to manifest itself in action, but because they contributed to that unbelief. He who undermines his fellow’s faith in God, by his words, his writings, or his influence, assumes a tremendous responsibility.
A slander “Evil report,” R.V. This consisted chiefly in the declaration that the land was unconquerable. See Numbers 13:32, note.
THE FATE OF THE SPIES, Numbers 14:36-39.
After the general sentence of the nation a particular condemnation must be passed upon the cowardly ten spies, who are specially culpable, inasmuch as they afforded the occasion of the national sin. At the same time the faithful two are commended and rewarded.
37. By the plague Literally, by the stroke. Thus the Vulgate, percussi, SMITTEN in the presence of the Lord, they died. A sudden and fatal epidemic seized upon them in a supernatural manner, as is indicated by the words before the Lord, that is, immediately from Jehovah without the intervention of any second cause. Thus Israel received a practical proof of the awfulness of their sentence from the mouth of God. This solemn judgment, when publicly announced to the people by Moses, caused a vivid realization of the greatness of their guilt, and they mourned greatly.
THE PRESUMPTION OF THE PEOPLE PUNISHED, Numbers 14:40-45.
40. The top of the mountain Some plateau on the northern border of the valley mentioned in Numbers 14:25. Lo,
we… will go up That this apparent spasm of faith is not faith, but sheer presumption, is seen in its utter disregard of Jehovah’s command, “To-morrow turn you.” True faith always bears the fruit of obedience. Its highest exercise brings the human into perfect harmony with the divine will. Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24-25. The pendulum of unbelief, oscillating from the paralysis of despair to the rashness of self-confidence, is in either motion alike displeasing to God.
For we have sinned The Hebrew כי , for, is susceptible of two renderings: (1.) Although. This sense would imply an Antinomian view of the divine promise as wholly unconditional. (2.) For, in the sense of, “we admit that we have sinned, and we regret it.” In this case their confession was not of the heart but of the lips only, involving the radical error of Universalism that, after the final sentence of the sinner, any expression of regret is sufficient to unlock the gates of hell and open wide the portals of heaven. But there are in the divine government irreversible verdicts. Repentance may be too late.
41. It shall not prosper R.V., “seeing it shall not prosper.” Before sin can ultimately prosper, the holy God must abdicate the throne of the universe. The wrong of rebellion and unbelief is not turned into right by attempting the exact opposite. It is still the same spirit. The obedience which is not of penitent faith is of self-confidence, and only another kind of unbelief and self-righteousness. “Israel’s determination to go up on the morrow, and so to retrieve the past, argued as great spiritual ignorance and unfitness as their former faintheartedness and rebellion at the report of the spies.” Edersheim.
42. For the Lord is not among you His protecting presence will not shield you. In this invisible presence, symbolized by the shekinah, Moses trusted with unwavering confidence. See Exodus 33:15. But Israel, alas! did not share his confidence. This warning is prompted by a tender and loving heart, as are all the divine threatenings. They are as a hedge of thorns to keep men from stumbling over the precipice of eternal ruin. “It is not the doing this or that, nor the circumstance of outwardly belonging to Israel, which secures victory over the enemy or possession of the land. It is that Jehovah is among us. The victory is ever of faith.” Edersheim.
43. Amalekites See Numbers 13:29, note.
Are there before you Either they had withdrawn from the valley (Numbers 14:25) to a more defensible position in the mountains, or they had sent a strong force to seize the passes, and successfully contest the passage of Israel. This fact was communicated to Moses by his scouts or by direct revelation from Jehovah.
Ye shall fall This divinely inspired prediction rests on the fact that Israel had turned away from the Lord. He who is most conscious of the divine presence and support, as was Moses, most feels his dependence on His favour, and most forbodes disaster when that favour is withdrawn. But the worldling neither recognizes the presence nor misses the absence of God. Such was unbelieving Israel at Kadesh.
44. But they presumed Presumption and despair are two opposite phases of unbelief. Within less than one day the Israelites despaired of conquering Canaan with the assured alliance of Jehovah, and then presumed to enter upon its conquest though he had announced the withdrawal of his aid. The natural man, when exhorted to religious effort, first avers that he can do nothing, even with God’s aid, and soon asserts that by his own good works he can save himself without God. The ark was both the symbol and seat of Jehovah in the camp of Israel. In subsequent history, in the estimation of the Jews, the life of the nation depended on the presence of the ark. Joshua vi; 1 Samuel 4:4-18, note.
This confidence in part grew out of their present bitter experience of defeat when facing their foes with no pillar of cloud over their heads.
And Moses, departed not The moral sublimity of this scene is worthy the brush of the historical painter: Moses, not like Achilles sulking in his tent while the Greeks went out to battle, but calmly standing alone with God, while his people madly rush to danger and to death.
45. Discomfited Literally, pounded into pieces. “Chased you, as bees do,” Deuteronomy 1:44, that is, with great ferocity when exasperated.
Hormah This was the key point from which the roads across the desert, after having been all united, again diverge toward Gaza and Hebron; and its site is still marked by the ruins of a square tower of hewn stones, on the top of a hill which rises a thousand feet above the wady on the edge of which it stands. See Numbers 21:3, note.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 14". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany