(Numbers 14) A lesson from the experience of the rebellious

I am now studying chapter 14 of the book of Numbers, where it tells of a turning point in the life of the people of Israel. After the twelve spies returned from the land of Canaan and told the people what they saw, the people sank into depression and began to murmur against Moses and Aaron as one:

Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-3)

The panic was generated based on the report of those 10 from 12 spies who “gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out”.

Thus they told him and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.” Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:27-33)

Two years had passed since the people came out of the land of Egypt, when Moses sent messengers to the land of Canaan, according to the commandment of the Lord. They were about to enter the promised country. He had to take the decisive step and get hold of the promise given by God to Abraham, but it was not so. The people have been influenced by the quenched spirits of the spies, and began to mourn against the Lord screaming and weeping. Though God kneeled down before them the great Egypt, they passed miraculously through the Red Sea, fed them daily with a manna from heaven, was always present in their midst in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar fire by night, the heart of this people had been hardened and unbelieving. That is why God has decided that the generation of people who have rebelled against Him will not enter the Promised Land, but only their children.

Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the Lord, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die. (Numbers 14:28-35)

Among the twelve spies, however, there were two men who were inspired by another spirit, Caleb and Joshua. Unlike the other 10, they believed that God would give the promised land to the people of Israel:

Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:6-9)

God took care that this negative experience of the people of Israel was passed in the book of Numbers and served us, the faithful of the New Covenant, as a teaching not to fall into the same example of disobedience.

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

In Hebrew, chapter 3, the author urges Christians to keep their confidence and hope in God from the beginning until the end of their lives. He urges them to watch, lest they wake up with evil and unbelieving heart, like the Jews in the wilderness who have rebelled against God:

Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways’ as I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’” Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”
For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrew 3:7-19)

We, all who have entered the New Covenant with the Lord Jesus, have become partakers of Christ. God has brought us out of the bondage of sin (Egypt) and leads us now into His everlasting kingdom (the heavenly Canaan). Our life on earth is like a journey through the wilderness, with blessings and trials. How do you pass through your wilderness on the road to the country where “milk and honey” flow, full of faith like Caleb and Joshua, or having an evil and unbelieving heart, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin? Did you grow weary and lose your heart? Did you turn away from the grace of God, having a heart full of root of bitterness?

But a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrew 10:27-31)

Let us search our hearts and repent as long as it is still called “Today”, to be able to enter God’s rest!