Tuesday, March 15
Reader: “The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.”
Response: “But he does not excuse the guilty.”
Scripture: Numbers 14:10-25
But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!”
But Moses objected. “What will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?” he asked the Lord. “They know full well the power you displayed in rescuing your people from Egypt. Now if you destroy them, the Egyptians will send a report to the inhabitants of this land, who have already heard that you live among your people. They know, Lord, that you have appeared to your people face to face and that your pillar of cloud hovers over them. They know that you go before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Now if you slaughter all these people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of your fame will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring them into the land he swore to give them, so he killed them in the wilderness.’
“Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed. For you said, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’ In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of this people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”
Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested. But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it. But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land. Now turn around, and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.
(Remember, when you read stories in the Bible of rebellious Israelites interacting with God, think of our society as modern day “Israelites” interacting with God. We are them!)
In our story, the twelve spies had just come back from checking out the land God had promised his children. The report of ten of the spies was if we go into their land, they will kill us. Those people are huge! The two spies, Caleb and Joshua, said let’s go and take the land God has given us. We can trust him. But the people wanted to stone them to death and fire Moses and Aaron and go back to slavery in Egypt in spite of the many miracles God had done to get them to this place! In a word, they preferred the old horrible life to trusting God and putting themselves in his care for what lay ahead. Then we come to today’s portion of Scripture.
We discover that God has run out of patience with these rebellious people. He appeared in his shekinah glory at the Tabernacle in the sight of all his people and had a conversation with Moses. He asked two questions: How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they ever believe me? In their conversation, God contemplated destroying the Israelites all together and starting over with descendents of Moses. You just read how Moses bargained with God quoting God’s own words.
In this pericope we get added insight into God’s character. What do we learn? 1) God is slow to anger. . .but his slowness is not infinite. 2) His love is unfailing which does not mean there is never any discipline. His is not a surface love. 3) There are no kinds of sin or rebellion that he will not forgive when there is repentance. 4) Because he is just, he does not excuse the guilty. There are consequences to wrong behavior not because God doesn’t love his people, but because he does love his people. 5) Unbelief brings death. What is interesting to me is that the Isralites’ unbelief in God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan fearing the “giants of the land” would kill them, when actually their lack of belief in God’s word caused them to die in the desert never having seen the Promised Land. How often has our own unbelief in God at different times prevented us from experiencing what he had in mind?
God pardoned the Israelites at Moses’ request to not wipe them out with a plague. Notice God addressed the two questions he had asked earlier. The people saw his glorious presence over the Tabernacle and they had experienced the many miracles he had done on their behalf both in Egypt and in the wilderness yet they rejected him. Their sentence was death in the wilderness, never to see Canaan. And at least 600,000 died during the forty year period of wandering. (This means approximately 41 people died everyday for 40 years!) But their children, along with Joshua and Caleb, entered the Promised Land. One of the saddest phrases in this passage is “Now turn around. . .and set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.” What should have been an eleven day journey to the gift given by God turned into a forty year long wandering in a desert ending in death, all because of a lack of belief in God’s promise.
It would seem our world is in a “wandering in the desert” mode. Moses asked God to pardon the sins of the people. Let us likewise ask God to pardon the sins of our peoples. Pray that the hearts of the people of our world would soften. As we have seen, there are serious consequences for unbelief.
Hebrews 3:7-19 picks up on this passage with powerful words directed to us:
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Remember what it says:
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled.
Music: “Find Us Faithful” Steve Green (A Classic)
Lord God, this is a tangled, rebellious self-centered power seeking world in which we live. Like the Israelites and the ten spies, our societies, and all too often our leaders, reject you wanting to control their own lives. Often there is outright hostility toward you and your word. All of us are experiencing the discipline of the desert. Our world is parched and thirsty, yet stubbornly holding out, refusing to repent and humble ourselves. Lord Jesus, have mercy on rebellious people. I pray for a great warming of cold hearts, a softening of hardened hearts. Help us, Holy Spirit, to be relentlessly believing. This we pray through your Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp