THE FATAL DECISION
Mighty God, wise beyond my comprehension, holy beyond my understanding, I bless and praise you today.
Read NUMBERS 14:1–25
The People Rebel
14 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”
13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’
17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”
20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.[a]”
- Numbers 14:25 Or the Sea of Reeds
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Give thanks to God, who enables you to persevere in your faith.
This is the saddest chapter of the book. The expectation of entering the Promised Land within the lifetime of those who had escaped slavery in Egypt is ended. The lack of belief in God’s ability to give them victory over the Canaanites escalates into a desire to return to slavery in Egypt. Suddenly, that life of bondage gains the status of paradise. The remembered known is preferable to the uncertain future. They cannot embrace the risks and challenges of freedom. Sadly, there are some Christians who, once the heady glow of conversion fades into the reality of a steady walk with Christ in obedience, begin to see the attractiveness of their sinful past, or the seeming joys of their unbelieving friends, and fall away from their profession.
As the people here begin to turn on their leaders, so God intervenes directly. The threat to destroy the Israelites completely is met, as God knew it would be, by the pleas of Moses. He is not seduced by the prospect of the creation of a ‘children of Moses’ to replace the Children of Israel. Rather, he boldly intercedes for the people. He speaks about God’s known character as one who does forgive sin. In addition, he argues about the reputational damage God would do to himself if he destroys all the people he has brought out of Egypt. There is no immediate destruction, but those who had seen the deliverance from Egypt and the revelation of the Lord at Mount Sinai would not enter Canaan. They had treated God with contempt and would forfeit the blessing of the Promised Land. They had seen the good things that God had prepared for his people but would not partake of them. Caleb, however, would inherit the land. God honors those who honor him.
Pray that we might not fall short, but enter into the rest of God.1
Gracious God, I want to give thanks to those who have prayed for me throughout the years; I tremble to think where I would be without their intercession.
1 See Heb 3:7 – 4:11
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