Book of Numbers Chapter Fourteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
This chapter in Numbers is about a group of people, a nation that was called to invade a land for the purposes of God, but they did not go. Then they went anyway, at a time not selected by the Lord, and they failed miserably. Has something like that happened to you? Did God prompt you to do something and you did not do it? Or did He tell you to NOT do something, but you did it anyway? What was the result? We'll see how it was for Israel in this chapter.
Verses 1-4: "Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. 2 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! 3 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?' 4 So they said to one another, 'Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.'" Fear is contagious. The twelve spies had returned from the land of Canaan as we saw in Chapter 13, and even though they agreed that the land was fertile just as God promised, nevertheless it frightened everyone as ten of the spies excitably described those in Canaan who were of larger stature than the people of Israel, and they wept because the cities there were well fortified. Their fear of people was greater than their trust in the Lord, and so they decided to get rid of Moses and Aaron and appoint a new leader who would take them back to slavery in Egypt. Unbelief is similar to the alcoholic who decides to have another drink as a "solution" to some kind of problem. Disobedience is the dangerous drug that kills us.
Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, had faith in the Lord, and, along with Moses and Aaron, they were upset that the people were acting unfaithfully—and we should all see that God's report is always the right one. Verses 5-8: "Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. 6 Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 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. 8 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." A look at a daily news report will tell us that humanity makes poor decisions, and our only real option is God who knows the right way and time for us to do what needs to be done. In every instance, when He calls we should respond because He will bring us safely through.
The four faithful men continued in Verse 9: "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.'" Why does your nation exist? Because the Lord has been protecting it. Why are YOU alive? For the same reason—God is protecting you. You or the enemy who threatens you may seem formidable, but if the Lord removes His protection, all is lost. Our only hope is to trust in the Lord, for He is our Protector. Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua told Israel the truth, and the sad response is in Verse 10: "But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the Lord appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel." Humanity has the bad habit of killing the very ones sent by God to help us, which can be glimpsed here and also in places like Hebrews 11:37, where we see that God's people "were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword..." There is short-term risk in trusting the Lord, but He is wonderful and so is the eternal reward promised to His faithful ones.
Our Lord is not pleased with our unbelief, seen clearly in Verses 11-12: "The Lord said to Moses, 'How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? 12 I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.'" The unbelieving person, the atheist, agnostic or follower of a false religion, is in great danger. Your life and mine could end in an instant, except, as we have seen, God is protecting us right now.
Answered prayer also sustains you. Here was Moses, being offered the opportunity to get rid of the people who wanted to kill him, wipe the slate clean and start again, but instead he prayed, essentially arguing with the Lord for them. Read Verses 13-19 carefully: "But Moses said to the Lord, 'Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, 16 ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.' 17 But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.' 19 Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.'" In church, while walking along a street, at your place of work, or wherever you may be, people have been praying for you; even those who do not know you. God has the interesting way of prompting us to pray for someone, "Help them, Lord," even when we don't know them or anything about them, and He is doing it for you. Just as Moses prayed for rebellious Israel, prayers are being continually offered on your behalf.
Moses' prayer was answered, as seen in Verses 20-25: "So the Lord said, 'I have pardoned them according to your word; 21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. 22 Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, 23 shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. 24 But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it. 25 Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys; turn tomorrow and set out to the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.'" God heard and answered the prayer of Moses, and this people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would live, both then, to this day and beyond. Yet, like a wound may heal but the scar remains, the effects of unbelief can live on, even though we are forgiven. That generation of unbelieving Israelites would die in the desert, but notably Caleb, and as we shall see, Joshua, would enter the land because of their faith in the Lord. Indeed, obstacles may seem like Amalekites and Canaanites that block our way, but like Caleb and Joshua, we are to see that God is greater than our problems.
Verses 26-32: "The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27 'How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; 29 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. 30 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. 31 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. 32 But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness.'" The unbelieving complaints by the people continued, spreading from person-to-person like a disease. And just like it was for them, God hears our discouraging words. That generation would die out in the trackless desert—it was their children who would enter the land of promise.
Verses 33-35: "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. 34 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. 35 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.'" It's obvious that the mistakes we make will adversely impact our children. The little ones of Israel would not enter the land of Canaan protected by the citizen-soldiers who were their parents, but instead those children would be "shepherds for forty years." That sounds all right, except that Israel had been in Egyptian slavery for over 400-years, a place and a people that strongly felt, "every shepherd is an abomination..." (Genesis 46:34). The Egyptians forced their slaves to be shepherds because they didn't want to do it themselves. No one wants to be embarrassed by their parents, but these parents would feel and express guilt for a generation, forty years, and all were damaged by their opposition to God. Then they died, and their children exprienced the grief and loss that only such offspring can understand.
Verses 36-38: "As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, 37 even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the Lord. 38 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land." Does God kill people? Well—yes He does. He's the One who invented death in the first place, and here He sent out a "plague" that precisely killed the ten spies who brought back a bad report, gossiped about it and frightened the people so badly that a whole generation was to be lost in the desert. Joshua and Caleb, however, the spies who trusted in the Lord and gave a good report—they lived, and the people saw it all happen.
The people of Israel got it. They understood what happened, which was God's intention that they (and we) would understand, and so in Verse 39, "When Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly." But then Israel compounded the problem by trying to solve it in their own strength. They should have gone, they didn't, and now they went, not comprehending that in their own strength the Lord was not with them.
Verses 40-45 record the sad outcome of Israel's decision at that moment: "In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, 'Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the Lord has promised.' 41 But Moses said, 'Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the Lord, when it will not succeed? 42 Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the Lord is not among you. 43 For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned back from following the Lord. And the Lord will not be with you.' 44 But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses left the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah." If you have faith in the Lord, you will increasingly notice that He is leading you. When you know in your heart that you should do something, then do it, and the resulting blessings will be yours. When the Holy Spirit prompts you—"Don't do it," then stop, because, even though it may seem to be a good thing, it will fail in surprising ways because God is not with you, just as He was not with Israel at that moment.
has a plan for this world that is much larger and more complex than anything we can understand, though His faithful ones are given glimpses of His intentions, each from the perspective He has assigned to us. Collectively, as the people of God, we know a lot, which is why we are supposed to listen to one another, understanding that we need their perspectives, and even more, we are to love and respond to the ones God has sent. Disobedience is dangerous. Disobedience is sin. When He calls you—pray. And when He sends you—go. He will be with you and you will be blessed.
Father, I have gone where I should not go, and I have also failed to go when I should have gone. I confess my sin, ask for forgiveness and I trust in You. Please help me to "hear" You more effectively and do what You want me to do. In Jesus Name. Amen.