Scripture: Numbers 14:18-25
18 ‘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.’ 19 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.” 20 Then the LORD said, “I will pardon them as you have requested. 21 But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the LORD’s glory, 22 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. 23 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. 24 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. 25 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.”
This is one of the hard passages in Scripture for it brings to mind the truth that there are consequences for disobedience and lack of trust in God. You recall God told Moses to send twelve spies into Canaan to check out the land for forty days and bring back a report as to what it was like. The twelve tribal leaders brought back their assessment. Joshua and Caleb responded with “The Lord has given them into our hands. Let’s go and take the land.” The other ten men brought a bad report. The long and the short of it was those ten men died of a plague for their lack of trust in God’s word.
The Israelites then changed their minds and decided to go fight the Canaanites after all and were crushed. As a result, every Israelite twenty years and older died in the desert over the next forty years, one year for each day the spies were gone. Forty years later, only faithful Joshua and Caleb, who were now in their eighties, entered the Promised Land of Canaan with the descendants of those who had doubted God. The children did not suffer for their parent’s lack of faith. They had seen how God provided during those four long decades.
Though God has tremendous love, compassion, and forgiveness for his children, we read some of the saddest words in the Old Testament, (v.25). “Now turn around, tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness . . .” Can you imagine the frustration of not trusting and then after trying to force God’s hand after your first disobedience, you disobey Moses and fail again; and then after that, must live with the consequences of your own disobedience causing your children also pay the price for forty years? With all their parents finally gone, now in their sixties and seventies, the “children” finally get to cross the Jordan into Canaan. Forty years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, the faithful children of the unfaithful parents entered the Promised Land along with Joshua and Caleb. What’s the lesson?
There comes a moment, a right time to make a decision to proceed in faith trusting God. Do it again and again. The sad news is these children of the faithless parents did the same thing to their children which eventually ended with their descendants being hauled off into exile. The “again and again” part of faith from the Shema was missing. Let us encourage one another to trust and walk by faith (“Buy the Truth!”) every day and experience God’s blessing so that we pilgrims and our children for generations to come may spend little time “wandering in the desert” and much time on the narrow path that leads to the Promised Land and everlasting life.
Some familiar words of wisdom from C. S. Lewis: “And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.” –Mere Christianity, Book I, Chapter 5
A very short antidote: Several decades ago we attended the Sharp Amish reunion in Big Valley, Pennsylvania. The butcher paper on the wall listed a family tree of at least seven generations back to the early 1800’s. After finding our place on the tree, the first thing we did in our gathering was to pray and then sing hymns. Will seven generations from you and me sing and pray when they gather? Stay on the road; teach the Narrow Path.
Music: “On Jordan’s Story Banks I Stand” -Alabama
Prayer: O Lord, Jesus Christ, who art as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, who beholdest thy weak creatures, weary of labor, weary of pleasure, weary of hope deferred, weary of self; in thine abundant compassion, and fellow feeling with us, and unutterable tenderness, bring us we pray thee, unto thy rest. –Christina Rosetti 1830-1894