Numbers 14
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Numbers 14
Less than two years have passed since the congregation marched out of Egypt, yet already they stand at the threshold of the land of promise. Turning their gaze northward and westward from Kadesh, they see the hills which form the outworks of the famous and goodly mountain which is to be their inheritance. A crowd of joyous thoughts fill the hearts of Moses and the faithful at the sight. "Those hills belong to the land for which Abraham left his native country, and was content to be a sojourner all his days. They enclose the sepulcher in which the bones of the patriarchs were laid, in the sure hope that the land should yet be the inheritance of their seed. The promise has tarried long; it is now at the door. Ere the clusters of Eshcol shall have again ripened under the southern sun, the Canaanites will have been dispossessed, and we shall have been settled in their place." So Moses and the godly in Israel fondly thought. But they were doomed to disappointment. For thirty-eight years more the Canaanites were to dwell undisturbed. Moses and all the grown-up people were to die in the wilderness. How this came about the present chapter relates. The people refused to enter the land. The Lord took them at their word, and declared that they should not enter.


"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries." This is a principle of God's government. He will open to men - to communities or individuals - a door leading straight to success. If they fail to discern their opportunity, or to take prompt advantage of it, the door is closed, and they are either shut out altogether, or enter after long delay and heavy toils. We must take the current when it serves. The Apostle Paul, himself an eminent example of the resolute promptitude he enjoins, used to say, "Redeem the time" (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5), i.e., seize the occasion while it serves; lay hold on the opportunity. To know when to go forward is no small part of Christian wisdom; to go forward resolutely when the hour has come is no small part of Christian virtue.

II. More particularly, there is here A SIGNAL EXAMPLE OF UNBELIEF AND ITS WOEFUL FRUIT. In this instance the failure was not due merely to blindness or slackness; it sprang from disbelief of God's promise. "They could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19). This is the Lord's account of the matter at the time. "How long will it be ere this people believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them?" (verse 11). Q.d., "Not only did I promise the hind to their fathers, but to themselves I have showed great signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, at Horeb, on the long march. After all this they might have believed my word; they might have trusted in me that, after having brought them so far, I would not now forsake them or fail to subdue the Canaanites before them. They do not believe my word; they do not trust me; hence their refusal to go forward." It is remarkable how exactly this fatal example of unbelief at the beginning of the Old Testament dispensation was repeated at its close. Read Hebrews 3:7-4:3. Among the many parallels with which history abounds, it would not be easy to find a parallel so close or instructive. When Christ came and the Spirit was given, the first offer of inheritance in the gospel Church was made to the Jews. The gospel was preached, "beginning at Jerusalem." The offer was not altogether fruitless. Thousands of Jews believed and thereupon entered into God's rest within the bosom of the Christian society. But, like Joshua and Caleb, they were in the minority. The great body of the people rejected Christ, and could not enter in because of unbelief. What was the consequence? They were taken at their word. The doom was spoken: "They shall not enter into my rest." We believe, indeed, that the doom is not final. As the children of the unbelieving generation which fell in the wilderness entered Canaan under Joshua, so the Jews are one day to be saved. Still the doom has been a terrible one. For more than 1800 years the Jews have been pining in the wilderness. There is another view of the matter which comes home to every one to whom the gospel of the grace of God has been preached. Here is the lesson deduced in Psalm 95 from the chapter in hand. "Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart." I can imagine that there may be amongst us some to whose hearts God has been speaking. He has taken you by the hand, has taught you something of the burden and foulness of sin, has made you sensible that worldly prosperity cannot give rest and satisfaction to the soul, has stirred in you desires after a worthier portion, has set before you Christ and his salvation. If this be so, do not let the matter remain undecided. Delays are dangerous. They provoke God's spirit. God has set before you an open door. It will not remain open for ever; it may not remain open long. When men will not hear Christ's invitation, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest," he does not go on repeating it for ever. He closes the door and says, "They shall not enter into my rest." - B.

The PRAYERS of the Bible open up a field of singularly interesting and instructive study. One thing particularly remarkable in them is that such a large proportion are intercessory. The earliest prayer of any length recorded in Scripture is that of Abraham in Genesis 18. It is an intercession for Sodom. It would seem that, while prayer of every kind is made welcome in heaven, a peculiarly gracious welcome is prepared for the prayers in which the petitioner forgets himself for the time, in the ardour of his desire for the good of others. It is in connection with the command to "pray one for another" that the assurance is given, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). And one can perceive that the intercessory prayers of the Bible saints have been recorded in Scripture by the Holy Spirit with a peculiarly affectionate care. In this highest kind of prayer Moses excelled. During his long leadership of the people, dangers from without and murmurings from amongst the people themselves gave frequent occasion for deprecating God's wrath and invoking his help; and Moses never failed to rise to such occasions. His intercessions are amongst the most instructive of any on record.

I. THE OCCASION OF THE PRESENT PRAYER. The people have at length reached the threshold of the promised land; but beyond the threshold they will not advance. Disbelieving the promise, they first insisted on sending spies; and then, when the spies returned, they would hear only the bad report. They even proposed to stone Moses, choose a new leader, and go back to Egypt. They would not listen to Joshua and Caleb, and were only restrained by a threatening' appearance of the Lord in the cloud above the tabernacle. So greatly was the wrath of God kindled, that he threatened to consume the congregation utterly, and raise up a more faithful people in their stead. "I will smite them; I will disinherit them; I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they." Moses may have been - I believe he was - unprepared for the incredible perversity of the present outbreak of rebellion; but he was not unprepared for the threatening which it provoked. A similar outbreak had been followed with the same threatening at Sinai. And Moses did not fail to remember how, on that occasion, the threatened destruction had been averted by his intercession (Exodus 32:7-14). So, now also, he with reverent boldness "stood before the Lord in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them" (Psalm 106:23).

II. THE PRAYER. It is summed up in one word, "Pardon!" (verse 19). "Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people." Forgive, yet this once, their perverse disobedience; revoke the sentence pronounced against them; fulfill thy promise by granting them the land. - I need not say more about this petition. The remarkable thing in the prayer is not what Moses asks, but THE ARGUMENT WITH WHICH HE ENFORCES HIS REQUEST. First, he pleads that the honour of God's great name is at stake. The Lord had been pleased to put his name on the children of Israel. He had chosen them to be his special possession, making them the depositaries of his oracles and ordinances, and the witnesses for his truth. All this was now become matter of notoriety. In the mind of the nations round about the name of the Lord was identified with the seed of Abraham. Verses 13-16, q.d., "If the tribes perish here, the Egyptians will hear of it, and what will they think? The signs wrought in their sight, both in Egypt and at the Red Sea, have taught them that thou, the God of Jacob, art the Most High, and that thou hast chosen Israel for thy people; and the report of thy doings in Horeb, and by the way, have deepened the impression made by the Egyptian signs. Let not this salutary impression be effaced by discomfiture now. Let not Egypt from behind, and the Canaanites in front, shout in derision of thy great name." - I much fear that this argument does not usually find the place of prominence in our prayers that it finds here in Moses' prayer. The interest of God's name - his truth and cause - in the earth does not lie so near our hearts. Yet it certainly ought. "Hallowed be thy name" should get the place of honour in our prayers. More particularly, we ought to guard against everything which would bring reproach on true religion in the view of the outside world. Christians are to "walk in wisdom toward them that are without." There are still Egyptians and Canaanites watching to hear, and eager to spread, any report regarding the professed people of Christ which they think can be made use of to the disparagement of Divine truth and the Christian cause. Secondly, Moses pleads the Lord's promise. Along with verses 17, 18 read Exodus 34:5-7. The reference cannot be mistaken. Q.d., "Didst not thou show me thy glory in Horeb, and was not thy glory this, viz., that thou hast mercy? Didst not thou declare to me that thy name is the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity and transgression? Into this name I will now run. In this name I take refuge. Remember thy word on which thou hast caused me to hope. Let thy name be now manifested in forgiving this people." - There is no encouragement in prayer to be compared with that which is got from the study of God's promises. "He hath said - therefore we may boldly say" (Hebrews 13:5, 6). What God has promised to give, we may ask without wavering. Thirdly, Moses pleads former mercies (verse 19). Next to the promise of God, the remembrance of former instances of kindness received in answer to prayer ministers encouragement to pray still, and not faint. - Such then was the prayer of Moses at Kadesh-barnea - the prayer which turned away the fatal sword of God's wrath from Israel. I am much inclined to think that instances of like success in prayer are not so rare as many suppose; that, on the contrary, if an inspired historian were to write the annals of our families, churches, communities, it would be found that not seldom public judgments have been turned aside by the intervention of the Lord's hidden ones - his Noahs and Daniels and Jobs. When all secret things are brought to light, these intercessors will not fail to obtain recognition and reward. - B.


1. By the fears of an all-devouring selfishness. Selfishness swallowed up every other consideration. Their vexation was caused not by the stirrings of a guilty conscience, but by suffering and fleshly loss. All they wanted was the suffering taken away. There was not the slightest sign of shame and penitence and return to God with fruits meet for repentance. Self-will was as strong in this night of weeping as it had been in the day when they proposed to send the spies (Deuteronomy 1:22).

2. By a false report. How many are terrified by representations of religion as far from the truth as what the spies said of Canaan! Even where there is nothing malevolent or base in purpose, the difficulties of religion may be set forth as if it were all the valley of the shadow of death from end to end, and heaven a mere peradventure at the last. These Israelites were given over to strong' delusion that they should believe a lie. Selfishness was the source of all their weeping, and a false report brought it forth. Such views of religion, got upon such representations, will have to be changed, or there can be no real return to God, no real achievement of the rest of his people.


1. In unjust complaints of their leaders. Moses and Aaron were neither of them faultless, far from it, but their faults were such as God marked, and not rebellious men. These faults the people bad no notion of, nor would it have mattered if they had. A Moses less faithful to God, more indulgent to their whims and caprices, would have suited them better. They blamed Moses when they should have praised him, and it was his highest glory that there was nothing about him they could praise.

2. In frenzied references to themselves. They speak as men with all judgment, self-control, and self-respect clean gone out of them. They were not in a state of mind to form a right estimate of anything whatever. "The mind must retain its full strength when engaged on such a work as repentance."

3. Their rash reproaches against God. There was but one thing they said of him that was true. He had indeed brought them into this land. Certain it is that they could never have found their way so far themselves. But their present strait was none of his bringing. It had come through unbelief, cowardice, and lying. Men have low, miserable views of what is good for themselves, and the end is blasphemous language with respect to the all-loving, all-wise-God above. He knew far better than they how to protect their wives and children.

III. AS WE CONSIDER HOW THE FOLLY OF IT WAS EXPOSED. Everything went contrary to their anticipations. The men who brought up the evil report died by the plague before the Lord. This was in itself a clear intimation of their wickedness in misleading the people. Caleb and Joshua stood out, vindicated both as wise counselors and speakers of the truth. Canaan was all they had represented it to be, but this thankless, rebellious generation should have no personal experience of it. They were indeed to die in the wilderness, gradually dropping off for forty years, and the children whose impending fate they deplored, themselves entered the land of which their fathers had shown themselves unworthy. Forty years! Who can tell how many during that time may have sought carefully, with tears, and in due time found, a place of true repentance and godly sorrow? Not able to enter the earthly Canaan, any more than Moses, Aaron, or Miriam, they may still have found their part in the heavenly one. - Y.

The sin of the Israelites at this time is almost incredible. Their rash words (verse 3) prompt to reckless resolutions (verse 4), which, if not actually carried out, are laid to their charge (Nehemiah 9:17). Their crime includes the following sins: -

1. Criminal forgetfulness, as though the bondage of Egypt were better than warfare under "Jehovah Nissi" (Exodus 17:15).

2. Gross ingratitude. They imply that God has spared them and cared for them thus far in order to destroy them at last.

3. Shameful distrust, notwithstanding all the promises God has given, and the "signs" of his faithfulness he has shown (verse 11).

4. Obstinate disobedience - a stubborn disregard of the word and will of their God.

5. Utter madness. In returning to Egypt they must part company with Moses their leader and Aaron their priest. They must abandon the ark and the altar. They could not expect the manna to feed them or the cloud to guide them. And if they ever reached Egypt, what a reception would meet them there! All these sins are seen in a still more glaring form in the shameful crime of apostasy from Christ. Such a "drawing" back to perdition implies a previous coming near to Christ, and an enjoyment of blessings analogous to the covenanted blessings of ancient Israel (Exodus 19:3-6; Exodus 24:4-8). In apostasy we see -

1. Criminal forgetfulness of the bondage of evil habits, the burden of an uneasy conscience, the yearnings of unsatisfied desire, and all the other evils from which we looked to Christ to deliver us. How can it be "better to return" to these?

2. Gross ingratitude to God for all the blessing's enjoyed during the Christian pilgrimage so far; as though such a God could fail or forsake us, and not "perfect that which concerneth us," as all his previous blessings are a pledge that he will do (Psalm 138:8; Romans 8:32).

3. Shameful distrust. "An evil heart of unbelief" is generally the primary cause of departing from God (Hebrews 3:12). Distrust makes us weak against temptations even of the grossest kind. We may lose courage amid foes or temptations which, but for shameful want of confidence in God, would have little power to alarm and divert us from the path of duty (cf. Psalm 27:1-3; Psalm 118:6-12, and, in contrast, 1 Samuel 27:1).

4. Obstinate disobedience. For we are "under law to Christ;" and "his will is our sanctification," our perseverance, our conflict and victory till we reach the heavenly Canaan (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Timothy 6:11-14; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:12).

5. Utter madness; for to "draw back" is to forfeit the fellowship of Christ's Church, the tokens of his favour, his promises, his consolations, and the good-will of God. To succeed is perdition (Hebrews 10:26-39). - P.

Very briefly and comprehensively put, with an appearance of decision and unanimity, but nevertheless utterly vain with respect to both matters mentioned in it.

I. THE MAKING OF A CAPTAIN. They could call a man a captain, but that would not make him one. The power of election may be a great privilege, but it is greater negatively than positively. No election can make a fool into a wise man, or a coward into a hero, any more than it can make the moon give the light of the sun, or thorns to produce grapes. Election may give a man opportunity only to show decisively that he is not able to use it. On the other hand, no election can give the most capable of men the power to do impossibilities. Captains are not made in this way at all. The true captain is he who, having been-faithful in that which is least, finds his way on by natural attraction to that which is greater. He is not so much elected as recognized. There is much significance from this point of view in Christ's words: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." The Israelites had rejected the word of the Lord and the leader he had chosen, and what wisdom was there in them to find a better leader for themselves? Even as God, for his own purposes, chooses men after his own heart, such as his penetrating, unerring eye sees can be trained and fashioned in the right way, so men make choice after their hearts only to show their folly and ignorance, and that oftentimes right speedily. The true election is to elect ourselves to follow the good, the true, the noble, and the wise, and only them so far as they are plainly following Christ (Hebrews 12:1-4).

II. THE RETURN TO EGYPT. The land they had been through and knew was even less accessible than the unvisited land of which they had such exaggerated fears. Where should they get provision without God to give them manna? and would not Egypt be even more hostile than Canaan? By this time the name Israel had become connected in the Egyptian mind with disaster of every sort. What sort of men then were these to talk of the welfare of wife and children when they proposed a step which would bring them into the direst destitution? Even while they spoke God was sustaining them and their families with bread from heaven. It was even from his manna that these rebels were made strong against him. Proud-hearted, vain, conceited man will propose the most silly ventures rather than submit to God. He is the last refuge, in more senses than one, of the perplexed. Anywhere, into any absurdity and refuge of lies, rather than give up the darling lusts of the heart, and face the necessities of true repentance. Every man is trying to return to Egypt who, having been disappointed in one earth-born hope, straightway proceeds to indulge another. It is poor work, when we find ourselves checked by difficulties in living a better life, to give up in despair. To make the future as the past is impossible; it must either be better or worse. God helps the man who steadily and strenuously keeps his face towards Canaan. - Y.

I. THERE COMES A TIME WHEN ALL EXPOSTULATION WITH MEN IS VAIN, at all events the expostulation of certain people. Moses felt no word he could say would be of the slightest use. In vain you throw the pearls of truth and soberness before the swinish multitude, and it is the humbling testimony of history that only too often men get so embruted in their prejudices and passions as to be for all purposes of rational action little better than swine. Caleb and Joshua spoke, only to be threatened with stones. Moses and Aaron make no attempt to speak, but fall on their faces before all the assembly. What the seventy elders were about all this time we know not. When even Moses has to be silent it is little wonder their presence should count for nothing. We need to recollect this madness and perversity of men, this ease and rapidity with which human passion mounts to the violence of a hurricane. The reasonableness of human nature is far too frequently glorified. There was a time when Paul's converts in Galatia would have plucked out their eyes, and given them to him; yet as years pass on, and they listen to another gospel, which is not another, he has to mourn that he seems to have become their enemy because he tells them the truth (Galatians 4:15, 16).

II. But when we can do nothing for men directly, WE MUST NOT, therefore, WAIT IN COMPLETE INACTION. Moses was obliged to be silent in words; not even to God does he seem to have spoken; but he fell to the ground in mute and humble appeal. There, prostrate before the tabernacle, were Moses and Aaron, the leader and the priest, brethren according to the flesh, united now by deep affliction, if a little while ago they were separated by envy. Nor was the lowly attitude simply an appeal to God; it might have effect on some of the better sort among the multitude, finding a way to the heart by the eye, which for the time was not open by the ear. Neither was the appeal simply for the sake of Moses and Aaron. The people had treated them badly, but this was a small matter compared with their treatment of God. How often we fume over injustice to ourselves, utterly forgetting the great world's huge and light-hearted negligence of him who made and redeemed it. Consider Martha, complaining so bitterly of Mary, while she herself was refusing the true hospitality to Jesus. A man with the mind of Christ Jesus in him will be always more affected by slights upon the Saviour than upon himself.

III. There is always then this one thing we can do in the turmoil of human affairs: we CAN RECOGNIZE WITH DEEP HUMILITY THE AWFUL PRESENCE OF GOD. As we are driven irate a sense of utter helplessness, let us think of him from whom, and by whom, and to whom are all things. It is only when we are humbled before him, and recollect his love and power in Christ, that we can be calm in the presence of the awful problems of human existence. How much better off was Moses in his extremity than the Israelites in theirs I They rejected Moses and the tabernacle to speak vain words about returning to Egypt; he, shut out as it were from service to them, found his sure refuge in prostration before God (Psalm 46:1-3). - Y.

Moses is silent from necessity, his power with men in abeyance, and he waiting humbly upon God. Joshua and Caleb, who were not only men of a different spirit, but also very imperfectly acquainted with Moses' peculiar burden, spoke out. As it was well for Moses and Aaron to be silent, it was also well for Caleb and Joshua to speak out. Moses and Aaron were for the time separated, forsaken, and as it were condemned; but Caleb and Joshua are still in the multitude - Caleb indeed partly declared, and only waiting further opportunity to speak his mind fully on the subject. Now Joshua and he take their stand without any hesitation or chance of being mistaken. They had something to say which Moses could not say, for they had been through the land. Thus, when God's servant is compelled to be silent, friends arise to say what is right and just. Consider -

I. THE MANNER OF THE SPEAKERS. "They rent their clothes." This was the symbol of hearts rent with grief and astonishment because of impending disaster. To the Israelites their only hope appeared in retracing their steps. To Caleb and Joshua this was the summary and utter extinction of a great opportunity. The multitude looked on Canaan as worse than the grave, a scene of vain struggles and harassing privations. Caleb and Joshua looked on the multitude as threatening the unutterable folly of drawing back from certain and inestimable blessings when they lay within their reach. Therefore they accompanied their speech with an action that indicated the distress and laceration of their hearts. Truth may do such things naturally in the very vehemence and consistency of its onset. We do not read that the spies who brought up a slander on the land rent their clothes while they were telling their story. Hypocrisy must always be careful in its histrionics not to overdo the thing.

II. THE MATTER OF THEIR SPEECH. They give the testimony of experience. They had passed through the land to search it. Although they were only two against ten who told a different story, yet, strong in the consciousness of sincerity and competency, they declared what they had seen with their eyes, looked upon, and handled. Though their testimony would not have been enough for some purposes, yet it was quite enough to throw as a check in the way of revolted Israel. They emphatically assert the goodness of the land. It was a land to be desired, corresponding to all the promises made and the hopes cherished, worth all the struggling and self-denial that might be needed in order to attain it. They show a devout recognition of Jehovah. This alone might make their word, though only two, outweigh the exaggerations of the other ten. The recognition shows itself in two ways.

1. They avow the necessity of his favour. "If the Lord delight in us;" that means, surely, "If we believe in the Lord." That which delights the Lord is to see men walking by faith, and not by sight, stepping forward into the darkness upon his clear command. Caleb and Joshua felt sure, from what they had seen of the fatness and beauty of Canaan, that God wished to delight in his people, if only they would allow it.

2. They avow the necessity of submission to God. Unbelief is not only separation, it is rebellion. This was the real danger of Israel - rebellion against God's appointments and restrictions. By their present conduct they were strengthening the nations of Canaan with more than all their walled cities, giants, and strong men could give them. They show that the Canaanites are really very weak. There is nothing more fallacious than outside show and casual inspection. The spies had brought some fruit, and doubtless tasted much more; but how could they report adequately on defenses which they could not examine in any accurate way? They did not know how all these people were undermined and enervated by their wickedness. The very wealth of the hind became a curse and corrupting influence to the idolaters who dwelt in it. Wicked nations in the midst of all their boasting and revelry are preparing their own destruction.


1. The exasperation, of the people reaches its highest pitch. "All the congregation bade stone them with stones, This was the punishment which God had appointed for serious transgressions (Leviticus 20:2, 27; Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35; Deuteronomy 13:10, &c.). And now the people adopt it, numbering Caleb and Joshua with transgressors against their sovereign will. If we speak the truth, all of it, and at the time when it should be spoken, we must be ready for the consequences. The two faithful witnesses would certainly have been stoned, as Zechariah long after (2 Chronicles 24:21), but -

2. God himself interfered. "The glory of the Lord appeared," &c. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the rebels were reduced to impotence. One can imagine the uplifted stone dropped, as if it had turned to a blazing coal. Israel may still be sullen and rebellious in heart, but its hand is in the power of God. He can rescue his servants from the power of their enemies, if that be most expedient. Caleb and Joshua still had much work to do. Or, as happened to Stephen, he can turn the unchecked fury of men into the agent, of, a quick, and glorious dismission from the toils and perils of earthly service. In God's house the more manifest the faithfulness of the servant, the more manifest also the faithfulness of the Master. - Y.

Caleb and Joshua here describe -


1. The unmerited good pleasure of God. "If the Lord delight in us." This is repeatedly mentioned as the origin of God's favour to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7, 8, &c.) and to Christians (Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Timothy 1:9, &c.). Only provided that this good pleasure is not forfeited by obstinate disobedience or distrust. So that the second condition is -

2. Obedience. "Only rebel not," &c. That generation sinned away the favour of God, though it could not annul his faithfulness.

3. Confidence in God. "Neither fear ye the people." To fear them was to distrust God (Isaiah 8:13, 14; Hebrews 13:6, &c.).

II. THE CERTAIN SUCCESS OF THOSE WHO ENJOY THE HELP OF GOD. Caleb and Joshua express their confidence in various ways; e.g., in Numbers 13:30 ("veni, vidi, vici"); verse 8, "he will bring us in;" verse 9, "bread for us," &c. The Canaanites dwelt in fortresses, but God, their strength, was departed from them. Israel dwelt in tents, but Proverbs 18:10. Such confidence we may have, when opposed by foes, human or diabolical, however numerous or powerful. With God on our side we are in the majority (Illus. Exodus 14:13; 2 Kings 6:16: 2 Chronicles 14:11; 2 Chronicles 20:12; 2 Chronicles 32:7, 8; Psalm 46:11; Romans 8:31, &c.). A good illustration may be found in a letter of the Prince of Orange after the fall of Haarlem, in which he says, "Before ever I took up the cause of the oppressed Christians in these provinces I had entered into a close alliance with the King of kings," &c. (Motley's 'Rise of the Dutch Republic,' Part 3. chapter 9). - P.

The crowning act of unbelief on the part of the Israelites at Kadesh brings God into their midst in righteous anger, lie remonstrates (verse 11) and threatens (verse 12). God's foreknowledge of Moses' prayer did not prevent this apparently absolute threat. This need be no difficulty to us, unless we hold opinions about God which would make the government of free, moral beings by promises and threats impossible. For illustrations of Divine words or acts contingent on human actions see 2 Kings 20:1-11; Luke 24:28, 29; Acts 27:22-24, 31. Moses stands in the breach, and skillfully urges two motives, suggested by -



I. (verses 13-16). The Egyptians would soon "make comedies out of the Church's tragedies." Our best pleas are founded on the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name." E.g.,

1. In pleading for a highly-favoured but guilty nation. After all God has done for Britain and by it, may we not feel as though it would be a dishonour on the Christian name and a reflection on the Christian's God if we were altogether cast off. Our plea is Jeremiah 10:24, and our hope is Jeremiah 30:11.

2. In pleading for a fallen Christian.

3. Or for ourselves (Psalm 79:9; Jeremiah 14:7, &c.). God feels the power of this motive (Deuteronomy 32:27; Ezekiel 20:9, 14). God is not) like some men, indifferent to his own reputation (Isaiah 48:11).

II. Note how skillfully Moses uses God's own declaration of his name in Exodus 34. He appeals

(1) to the pure mercy of God;

(2) to the past mercies of God (Psalm 25:6, 7; Psalm 51:1; Isaiah 55:7, 8). - P.

It was time now for the people to be silent. They had talked and acted enough of folly. The Lord asks certain questions, and follows them with certain propositions. We can hardly call them determinations, but rather suggestions of action, such as may be further modified, if modifying considerations can be introduced.

Verse Numbers 14:11. - God implies that it is useless to wait any longer. It is not a question of whether he is long-suffering, but whether the long-suffering will answer any good end. He had been engaged, as it were, in a solemn experiment with the liberated Israelites, and the experiment was now complete. No further knowledge could be gained, and no change in the direction of trust and obedience could be hoped for, from longer waiting. To wait, therefore, was only to waste time and simulate long-suffering. It must be plain to every one who will consider carefully, that the Israelites had shown by their conduct the great distance that the calamity of human nature's fall has placed between men and God. God knows the distance; it is we who deny it or trifle with it. This experiment with one generation was not for the information of God himself, but to instruct and impress all generations. Israel, unconsciously, was helping to lay a foundation in history for the great doctrine of regeneration. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Here is a generation, not born again but taken in the ordinary course of nature. Nothing is done to alter them, but a complete change is made in their circumstances. Liberated from the thraldom of oppressors, they are brought under authority of the law of God, holy and just and good. That law follows them into every hour of life. And the result of all proves that a man cannot by such strength and disposition as nature gives him inherit the kingdom of God. This generation was not fit even for the earthly Canaan. That land was no place for carnal minds to indulge their own inclinations. The people were not fit, and the unfitness is now perfectly clear. As they lift up the stones against Caleb and Joshua the experiment is complete. Hence we see the language of God here is in perfect consistency with all the Scripture that emphasizes the fact of his long-suffering. It still remains a duty of man, as it is an undoubted and gracious disposition of God, to forgive unto seventy times seven. Recollect, further, that God was dealing with these Israelites as a whole. What his relation was to each as a man, and not simply as an Israelite, is hardly to be considered here. The great lesson of Jehovah's questionings in this verse may be stated in the words of Jesus: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

Verse Numbers 14:12. - God makes three propositions.

1. As to the fate of the unbelieving nation. "I will smite them with the pestilence." If Israel is to perish, it shall not be at the hands of some other nation, which may thus glorify and exalt itself. The occasion is one on which, if a blow is to be struck, it must be a manifestly supernatural one, even as in the Deluge or the destruction of Sodom. The destruction, too, shall be sudden. The people shall not be left to wander and droop and die in the wilderness. The disease which comes from sin and works out death shall have its energy concentrated in one swift tremendous blow.

2. As to the aspect in which this visitation is to be regarded. "I will disinherit them." God looked on Israel as the legitimate and responsible heir to Canaan. It was considered as Abraham's land, by a solemn covenant, even when he was a stranger in it (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:7, 18-21; Genesis 17:8). The aspect of Canaan as an inheritance was still further confirmed in Isaac as the child of promise, and Jacob as acquirer of the birthright. But in spite of all this, Israel obstinately refused to make ready for the great inheritance. The heirs to high rank and great possessions in this world are watched with great solicitude. Hereafter they will not only have great means for indulgence, but great opportunities for good and evil. And sometimes a parent, with deep pain of heart, will feel compelled to disinherit an unworthy son. This word "disinherit," rightly considered, puts a tone of inexpressible sadness into this verse. Recollect that tone as well as words, manner as well as matter, has to be considered in listening to any judicial sentence of God. A skeptic talking' with Dr. Channing reproached Jesus Christ for what he called his angry denunciations in Matthew 11:20-24. In answer, Channing opened the New Testament, and read the passages referred to aloud. As soon as he had finished, his hearer said, "Oh, if that was the tone in which he spoke, it alters the case."

3. As to the future of Moses. "I will make of thee a greater nation, and mightier than they." Here is the suggestion of another experiment. Abraham was an eminent believer. Against all his shortcomings and infirmities in other respects, and they are very plain, his faith stands out in relief, conspicuous, almost colossal, one may say, in its manifestations. Nevertheless, his descendants turned out utter unbelievers. Take away from them for a single moment the light of things seen and temporal, and they become frantic and rebellious as a child left alone in the dark. And now God seems to suggest that possibly the seed of Moses may prove of a better sort. Thus we have in the propositions of this verse what we may call alternative suggestions. They show what things might, conceivably, and not unjustly, have happened at this critical turning-point. - Y.

God has presented some of the considerations which needed to be presented; Moses now presents others; and all taken together produce the decision actually arrived at. What God had said it was not for Moses to say, and so what Moses said it was not for God to say; nevertheless, all needed to be said.

I. NOTE THE CHARACTER IN WHICH MOSES CHIEFLY APPEARS. His first words indicate a concern for the reputation of Jehovah among the nations, and it would be wrong to suppose that this was not a matter of real concern, but it is evident the chief thought in his mind was how to secure mercy for rebellious Israel. He is the intercessor. All considerations he can appropriately urge are urged with the ingenuity of one who feels the calamity of others as his own. He is consistent here with past appearances on similar occasions.


1. He makes no attempt to extenuate the wickedness of the people. He can say nothing by way of excuse, lie does not plead as Abraham concerning Sodom, on the chance of a righteous remnant being found in the multitude. He does not distinctly plead for another trial, like the dresser in the vineyard (Luke 13:8, 9). The sin was fresh, patent, monstrous, coming as the climax of so much that had gone before. He does not attempt to make the sin of the people look less than the sin of the spies, but leaves all in its enormity. So we may say it is better for us not to go excusing self, when too often excuse but adds to existing sin. Our danger is to under-estimate our sin, to think of our sorrows and trials rather than our disobedience and ingratitude. God knows what may be said for us. At all times, and in all our transgressions, he remembers that we are dust. Let us rather aim to get a due sense of how much, how very much, needs to be done in us to make us holy and perfect.

2. He makes God's reputation among surrounding nations a matter of great concern. In God's government of the world, the consideration of his real glory is ever to be kept in view, and this of course is not dependent on what any man may think. Nevertheless, what men may think and say is by no means to be neglected. Whatever is done, some will criticize and jeer. Strange things have been said, and are said still, concerning the God revealed in the history of Israel. A monster of hideous attributes is conjured up and represented as the Deity of the Hebrews. Now as among men it is a consideration that their good should not be evil spoken of, if they can possibly arrange it otherwise, so, reverently be it said, a similar consideration may be present to God when he reveals himself in human affairs. What he said here asserted that there was no need for further probation of these Israelites. What Moses now suggests is that there was no need to cut them down at once, and good reason to do otherwise, so as to stop the mouth of Egypt and the nations of Canaan.

3. One more act of mercy would be consistent with God's character. God had said, upon the making of the two tables to replace the former two (Exodus 34.), that though he could not treat iniquity as a trifle, and must ever stamp on it signs of the serious way in which he regarded it, yet he was a God merciful and gracious, and disposed to pardon. Moses now humbly reminds God of these words, and pleads an application of them to the present transgression, he does not seem to have meant much by the word pardon; it was simply that God might turn away the pestilence. Indeed, for anything more it was not in the power of Moses to ask. A full pardon, a full reconciliation to God, these demand, as a pre-requisite, full repentance. And so far Israel had made no sign. Perhaps the people were dumb and stupefied with terror. Other people may ask pardon for us in a certain sense, but such pardon as will be complete can only come from the cry of awakened, enlightened, and truly penitent souls. - Y.

I. THE EXTENT OF THE BOON WHICH GOD GRANTED, "I have pardoned according to thy word." God gave all that Moses asked, and all that in the light of his former words (verses 11, 12), he could give. But what did it come to? Nominally: it might be called a pardon; in reality it came to no more than a reprieve. It did not put Israel where it was before. It was a boon, so far as it is a boon to a man condemned to die when he is told that his sentence is commuted to penal servitude for life. To him trembling under the shadow of the scaffold it may seem an inestimable mercy. So here Israel may have counted it the same to have been delivered from the pestilence. So a man will esteem recovery from a critical illness or the near chance of sudden death. Yet what has such a boon come to? Death and the demands of eternity are only put off a little into the future. We have not escaped them; we are pressed on towards them; every day of life narrows the distance, and at any moment the distance may be swept altogether away.

II. GOD SECURES THAT HE SHALL BE GLORIFIED IN THE BESTOWING OF THE BOON. "All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." As much as to assure Moses that he need not be in the least apprehensive. The nations of Canaan should have no cause for exultation, nothing to enable them to glorify their gods against Jehovah. They should have one pretext the less, if only one. There would be no chance to sneer at the swift destruction of Israel, as if it had come from one of the passionate and revengeful deities of Paganism. Still, if there was one pretext the less, there was only one. The removal of one pretext only opens up to the prejudiced and carnal mind the vision of another. The world will always have something to say against God, whithersoever the ways of his providence or his grace may tend. And so it is good for us to take the assurance he gave to Moses. All the earth, in a wider sense than Moses understood, shall be filled with the glory of God; for not only the kingdom and the power are his, but also and emphatically the glory. There will come a day when the most ingenious and admired criticism of men on the ways of God will be shriveled into everlasting oblivion before the full blaze of that glory.

III. HE SECURES IN PARTICULAR THAT HE SHALL BE GLORIFIED IN ISRAEL. What Israel might think of him now it was spared was a matter of more immediate importance than what the nations might think. There was to be no opportunity for them to say, "This is a God who threatens, and yet when the pinch comes, the terrible blow is withdrawn." The people were to behold both his goodness and his severity. He magnifies their sin before the eyes of Moses, and there was the more need to do so when he was sparing the transgressors. The mere lapse of time neither diminishes the impression made by sin on God himself, nor the destructive power of it on the transgressor. Repented and forsaken sins are blotted out, but a recurrence of them, and that in a more flagrant way, brings them back, and illustrates what an inveterate and ingrained thing sin has become. When Whately was principal of St. Alban's Hall, he would sometimes say after some escapade of an undergraduate, "I pardon this as a first offence, and I do not wish to remember it. I will not unless you force me to do so. But recollect that if you commit a second, I must remember the first." So God had to call up everything from the beginning, of his wonders in Egypt: on the one hand, all his glory and miracles, and impressive commands and promises; on the other hand, their persistent indifference, disobedience, and unbelief. Let them therefore understand, that even though they be spared, they cannot see Canaan. This is all the Lord says at present, but it is enough to secure that he shall be glorified in Israel

IV. The great practical lesson to us is, that WE SHOULD BE VERY OBSERVANT OF THE SIGNS OF GOD'S PRESENCE WITH US, AND PROMPTLY OBEDIENT TO THE GOD WHO IS REVEALED IN THEM. Of how many it may truly be said, that they travel through life unobservant of God's wonderful works to them, and tempting him many times l What a terrible thought, that as the fate of this generation was fixed, though some of them lived well-nigh forty years after, so the fate of many may be fixed even before they die - probation ended, though earthly existence may continue; dead even while they live I While still in vigorous health of body, and active in all worldly concerns, the last faint trace of spiritual sensibility may have passed away. Doing perhaps what they reckon to be good, and what is good in a certain way, they nevertheless miss the great end of life, because faith in the Son and in the Father who sent him has never been allowed to enter their minds (Romans it, 11:20-22). - Y.

The lessons from the narrative of chapters 13 and 14 may be summed up as follows. We see here a priceless privilege -

I. OFFERED. It is Canaan, "the glory of all lands," the gift of the God of their fathers, who redeemed them from Egypt that he might bring them to a land of liberty and rest. The first report of the spies (Numbers 13:27-29) is true in itself, but its style suggests faithless fears which infect the congregation (Numbers 13:30). The exaggerated or false reports that are now given (Numbers 13:31-33) increase the panic, but God's offer is still before them (2 Timothy 2:12).

II. REFUSED. The shades of evening were gathering when the report of the spies was delivered. (Sketch the spread of the panic during the night, Numbers 14:1.) In the morning the murmurings take a definite form (verses 2-4). The cogent reasonings of Caleb and Joshua are in vain (verses 6-9). They threaten to depose Moses, and to stone the faithful witnesses, and they deliberately reject the offer of God. Thus are sinners wont to believe lies and distrust true witnesses; to assent to fallacies and resist the soundest arguments; to neglect or persecute their best friends, and distrust and rebel against their Redeemer, God.

III. LOST. God interposes to protect his servants and sentence the rebels. Moses intercession saves them from immediate destruction, but not from irremediable loss. There are limits to the power of intercessory prayer (Jeremiah 15:1; 1 John 5:16). A new panic, another night of weeping (verse 39). On the morrow a reaction, a revulsion of feeling, but not a repentance of heart (cf. 1 Samuel 15:30). What was impossible yesterday is practicable today (verse 40). But they go without the prayer of Moses (Numbers 10:35) or the presence of God (verse 44). The mountain pass is impregnable. It is too late. The offer is lost to that generation. Their opportunity has been sinned away. Defeat and death await them (Isaiah 42:24, 25). These truths applicable -

1. To the offer of spiritual conquests to the Church. The Church of Christ often on the borders of a land promised to our conquests. Unbelief suggests fears, our enemies' strength, our own weakness, &c. Gradually faith in our own power may depart, because faith in God is lost. While others are useful we may be ciphers in the Church. Special excitement, or the pricks of conscience, may incite us to make spasmodic efforts; but the faculty for Christian service may be well-nigh extirpated by disuse (Matthew 25:29).

2. To the offer of a present salvation to the sinner. Christian Calebs bring a good report of God's promised land of rest; but indecision or unbelief may forfeit it (Hebrews 3:19). - P.

God grants the prayer of Moses for the people, and makes clear how small a boon it is by notifying at the same time their necessary exclusion from Canaan. The smallness of the boon compared with the greatness of the loss is still further shown when he goes on to make the promise to Caleb. Consider -

I. HOW CLEAR SUCH A PROMISE MAKES THE REASON WHY GOD'S PROMISES SEEM SO OFTEN UNFULFILLED. Men do not supply the conditions requisite for their fulfillment. The same claims, promises, and warnings were laid before others as before Caleb; but when they were rebellious he was obedient, and the end of it is indicated here. The law of sowing and reaping, of cause and effect, is at work. Let Christians consider how many promises given for the guidance and comfort of present life are yet unfulfilled in their experience. The power and disposition of God are toward us, as toward the Israelites, but the rebellious hearts are many and the Calebs few (Ephesians 1:19).

II. A BEAUTIFUL ILLUSTRATION OF SPECIAL PROVIDENCE. As we read on and learn that Caleb was to spend forty years in the wilderness before the fulfillment of the promise, then we discern how constantly he must have been under the eye of God, how. surely provided for and protected. He had known much of danger already: something as a spy and something as a faithful witness, and the lifting of stones against him was perhaps but an earnest of further perils from his own countrymen. And yet, although his wanderings were to be long and dangerous, God, speaking with that assurance which becomes God only, promises Caleb an entrance into the land at last. Who can tell what hearts this very promise made more hostile, and what special interpositions may have been required to protect him?

III. THE REASONS FOR GOD'S GRACIOUS TREATMENT OF CALEB. "He was a man of another spirit." Of another spirit as to his recollections of the past. The others thought much of the past, but it was in a selfish and groveling spirit. They hankered after the creature comforts and delicacies of Egypt, and continually bemoaned the simpler life of the wilderness. The ten misleading spies very likely took thoughts of Egypt into their inspection of Canaan, comparing it not with God's promises, but with what they recollected of the land they had left. On the other hand, Caleb's thoughts would run much on the bondage and oppression in Egypt. Humbly and devoutly observant of each wonderful work of God as it was being performed, be would have it more deeply impressed on his mind; and every time the thought returned there would be something of the power of a first impression. There would be the recollection also of God's forbearance and long-suffering with him in his own imperfect services. Of another spirit, consequently, as to his conduct in the present. To one who had learned to look on the past as he did, the present would appear in all its glory immeasurably better than the past. Hence, what made others mourn made him rejoice; while others were rebelling and hatching conspiracies, he was doing all he could to sustain Moses. May we not conjecture that be went on the search expedition not so much because he deemed it needful, as in order that one at least might bring back a faithful testimony? So let it be said of us that wherever the spirit of the world is manifested in greed, passion, false representation, or any other evil thing, we by our conduct in present circumstances, as they rise fresh and often unexpected day by day, show indeed another spirit. It is only by having the right spirit alive and strong within us that we shall be equal to the claims ever coming on Christ's servants. Of another spirit as to his expectations in the future. Every man who lives so that his present is better than his past has a growing assurance that the future will be better than the present. He who lives in the constant appreciation and enjoyment of fulfilled promises will consider the future as having in it the promises yet to be fulfilled. It would doubtless be a keen personal disappointment to Caleb when he found the people determined to retreat. He had known something of the future in the present when he visited the promised land, and joy would fill his thoughts at the prospect of speedy possession. A man of such a spirit as Caleb gives God the opportunity of accomplishing all his word. "He hath followed me fully." As fully, that is, as was possible for a sinful man in earthly conditions. God does not expect the service of glorified spirits during the life we live in the flesh. But wherever he finds diligence, caution, the spirit that says, "This one thing I do;" wherever he finds the loving heart, the giving hand, the bridled tongue, he is not slow to give approval. When the heart is fully set towards him, without division and without compulsion, he recognizes such a state in the most emphatic language. Hence, in spite of great blots faithfully recorded, Abraham is called the friend of God (James 2:23), and David the man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). So Caleb is described as having followed God fully; not that he was a faultless man, but there was that in him which in due time would make all the outward the full and beautiful expression of the inward. God sees the fruit within the seed, and speaks accordingly. Compare Caleb with the unbelieving multitude, and the words will not appear one whit too strong. Note in conclusion that Caleb was now required to exercise the high quality of patience. He himself deserved immediate entrance, but he must wait while the unbelieving generation died away, and those who at present were only striplings and infants rose to take their place. He had to be patient, but his patience was the patience of hope. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord" (Lamentations 3:26). Caleb had a spirit within him which could find the best things of Canaan even in the waste wilderness ('Paradise Regained,' 1:7). - Y.

What God has already said to Moses by way of answer to his intercession is now amplified in a solemn message to the people. The punitive aspect of the decision is made to appear still more distinctly. Cf. verses 11 and 27. In the first he asks how long the people mean to pursue their unbelieving conduct; in the second, how long shall he bear with them. The time has come for God himself to decide, and make his decision known in the clearest manner.

I. THIS GENERATION WAS NOT ALLOWED TO GO ITS OWN WAY. It was not to die at once, neither was it to enter the land; and perhaps some may then have anticipated dismissal altogether, like a disbanded army, that each might be free to take his own path. In reality, all was to go on as before, save that the promise was taken away. They were to continue in the wilderness, and die there. No relaxation is intimated as to the service of the tabernacle and the duties of the camp. We do not escape God's constraints because our hearts have rejected him. He spared Israel, but he did not let it go back to Egypt. Men may congratulate themselves on being free from the restrictions of a godly life, and talk wildly of those who shut themselves up in the service of Christ, yet they know very well that they are themselves under restraint. Anything like license and recklessness brings suffering on them very quickly. God takes care even now that if men will not serve him, neither shall they please themselves. The fruits of evil-doing sometimes ripen with wonderful rapidity.

II. IT WAS NOT LEFT TO ITS OWN RESOURCES. It is not expressly said that the manna would be continued, but doubtless all was continued that was not formally revoked. This doomed generation, which could neither go its own way, nor entirely in God's way, nevertheless had something to do for God which could be done by the ordinary provisions of nature. A generation mostly born in the wilderness had to be brought up to manhood. The lot was, therefore, to some extent mitigated by the continuance of family life, with all its affections, occupations, and enjoyments. In the course of time, as the first bitterness of their doom passed away, parents might even find a certain pleasure in the thought that their children would enjoy the land from which by their own folly they had been excluded.

III. No ROOM WAS LEFT FOR A MORE HOPEFUL PROSPECT WITH RESPECT TO THEMSELVES. They had said in their haste, "Would God we had died in this wilderness!" (verse 2). And now through their own folly what they hastily wished has become a necessity. All who had been numbered (chapter 1) are to die, as not being fit to fight the Lord's battles. No less than four times does the Lord refer to this doom, with variety of expression, which only makes more certain the identity of meaning. Are any of them saying that this very doom is a change of purpose, and therefore they may hope that in a short time God will gladden their ears with the words, "Arise, enter, and possess "? He closes the door against such a hope by giving the long term of forty years to exhaust the doomed generation. This stretch of time would bring even the youngest of them to be a man of sixty, and thus, though the wearing away might be very gradual, yet it would be none the less certain. The rule is made more express and rigorous by the very exceptions in Caleb and Joshua.

IV. THOUGH THEY THEMSELVES WERE DOOMED, CLEAR INDICATION IS GIVEN TO THEM THAT GOD'S PURPOSES WOULD BE ACCOMPLISHED. Forty years, and they would be gone! and what then? Why they themselves would be the instruments, and that to a large extent unconsciously, of fulfilling the very purpose which once they seemed to have imperiled. Their little ones God would bring into the land. "Your little ones, which ye said should be a prey." Men are fearful when they ought to be bold, and bold when they ought to be fearful. Israel was alarmed for its tender offspring, but not afraid to rebel against God, and treat his servants with contempt. And now God says that in the exercise of his providence and the carrying out of his extensive plans, these very children, these infants, helpless on the mother's breast, shall enter and conquer where their fathers were afraid to go. Another generation would arise, not knowing Egypt except at second hand, and which could not very well lust after things it had never tasted. The delay in accomplishing God's purposes was more apparent than real. The loss was chiefly a loss to the disobedient themselves. God can take the most adverse things, the most determined outbreaks of the wicked, and work them in with his own purposes.

V. AN ILLUSTRATION IS FURNISHED OF THE TRUTH THAT CHILDREN HAVE TO BEAR THE SINS OF THE PARENTS (verse 33). A dreadful name, and only too frequent in his after-dealings with Israel, does the Lord give to these sins - "whoredoms" he calls them. The generations of men are so interwoven that the blow which falls on the parent cannot be entirely averted from the child. Not only was the punished generation unfit for entrance, but its children had to wait in consequence. The children born on this very day of sentence would be well on in manhood when they entered the land. Sinners should well consider how their sin includes others in its consequences. The Israelites thought they were doing a good thing for their little ones when they rebelled; but the real result was the detention of them forty years in the wilderness. If the fathers had been believing, they could have entered at once, and brought up their children in the land flowing with milk and honey. As it was, they had to nourish them in the wilderness, and on the manna they so much despised.

VI. THERE IS SOMETHING THROUGH ALL THESE FORTY YEARS TO REMIND THEM OF THEIR SIN AND ITS PUNISHMENT. As the unbelievers died off one by one, and as each succeeding year began, and whenever Caleb and Joshua appeared, there was something to remind of God's chastising hand. - Y.

The faithless prayer was heard by God when the people murmured (verse 2). Now the answer comes to their own destruction. Apply to -

1. Reckless transgressors, who brave the consequences of their sins. Illustration - Jews (Matthew 27:25), who, however, soon, dreaded the answer (Acts 5:28; cf. Proverbs 1:31).

2. The discontented. E.g., Rachel (Genesis 30:1; Genesis 35:19); Hebrews lusting for flesh (chapter 11:18-20), or desiring a king (1 Samuel 8:6-22; Hosea 13:11; cf. Proverbs 12:13).

3. Profane swearers imprecating damnation and receiving it (Psalm 59:12; Psalm 64:8; Matthew 12:36).

4. Distrustful servants of God, who, in haste, may proffer requests which, if granted, would leave a stain on their memories, if not actually fatal to their reputation. E.g., Moses (Numbers 11:15); Elijah (1 Kings 19:4); Jonah (Jonah 4:3). What thanks are due to God that in his mercy he does not always answer our prayers, implied or expressed! And how much we need the teaching and the spirit of Christ, that we may pray thoughtfully and trustfully, and that he may not have to say to us, "Ye know not what ye ask" (Mark 10:35-40). - P.

The way of Israel seems now closed up. The way to Egypt is closed, and also the way to the promised land, where of late was fixed up the clear intimation, "This is the way, walk ye in it." There is now but one way open - to wander in this wilderness for forty years till all the rebels have passed away. The full measure of their doom is now before them, and as it appears in all its naked severity, it fills them with grief and consternation. Everything corroborates the word of Moses. The ten spies who brought up the slanderous report are lying plague-stricken corpses, while Caleb and Joshua stand among the living confessed by God himself as faithful and true witnesses. Nevertheless, in the midst of this utter collapse the people were not unprovided for as to their course of action (verse 25). God had told Moses the direction into which to take them. But they cannot learn even so much obedience as this without being taught it in a terrible lesson.

I. WE HAVE A CONFESSION CONTRADICTED EVEN WHILE IT WAS BEING MADE. The confession is, "We have sinned." It is very easy to say this, and to say it meaning something by it, but in a great multitude of cases it is said with very little understanding of what sin really is. Pharaoh said at last, when he had been visited with seven plagues, "I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" (Exodus 9:27); but as soon as the rain, hail, and thunders ceased at the intercession of Moses, he sinned yet more and hardened his heart So with the Israelites here; it was not sin they felt, but suffering. If they had truly felt sin, they would have submitted at once to the decision of God and his direction for their present need (verse 25). A mind filled with the sense of sin is filled also with the sense of God's authority. It is so impressed with its own sin and God's righteousness, that its first thought is how to end the dreadful alienation from God by reason of wicked works. It will at once attempt to bring disobedience to an end by prompt obedience in the nearest duties. But here the confession of sin is not even put first. They are occupied with self, its aims and disappointments, even while professing themselves humbled before God. What a proof that God judged them truly when he said that any further trial of their obedience was useless I They had forgotten that wisdom has to do with times and seasons. What was obedience yesterday may be disobedience today. They tried to open a door closed by him who shuts so that none can open. They said "We have sinned" in the same breath with the most audacious purpose of sin they could form. Learn from them how hard it is to have, not simply an adequate sense of sin, but a sense of sin at all. It is a dreadful filing to sin, and yet persistently deny it through failing to feel it (1 John 1:8, 10); it is also a dreadful thing to confess sin while the felt trouble is not sin, but mere fleshly vexation and pain. Read carefully Daniel 9 for a becoming confession of sin really felt.

II. A CONFESSION STILL FURTHER CONTRADICTED IN ACTION, EVEN AFTER THE CONTRADICTION HAS BEEN POINTED OUT. We have seen how the resolution to advance into Canaan made the confession of sin worthless. How worthless it was is made more evident by the action of the people. Notice that Moses takes not the slightest heed of their confession of sin, but aims direct at their wild resolution. What can be more urgent and more strongly fortified with reasons than his dissuasive words? He puts in the front, as the most proper thing to be put, that they are about to transgress the commandment of the Lord. Fresh from one transgression, and with its penalty pronounced, they yet rushed headlong into another. They are foolish enough to suppose that by an energetic effort they can release themselves from the penalty. Such a rebellious purpose must assuredly be frustrated. By so much as the presence of God would have been felt if they had gone onward at the right time, by just as much would his absence be felt now. As formerly they would have had a force far above nature against their enemies, now they have a force far below. But all that Moses can say is in vain. All their notion of sin was that they had not advanced into Canaan. They had such poor thoughts of God as to think that they could wipe the sin out by advancing with all energy now, forgetting that the sin lay in unbelief and disobedience. If by any chance they had got into Canaan, they would not have found it a promised land. God could and would have made it just as hard and unattractive as the wilderness they had left.

III. THE CONTRADICTION IS STILL FURTHER AGGRAVATED BY BREAKING AWAY FROM MOSES AND THE ARK. One can imagine that in their impetuosity all tribal order and discipline was lost. Possibly they had some commander; there may have been just enough cohesion to agree so far. But though a crowd may choose a commander, a commander cannot at will make a crowd into an army. The peculiarity of Israel was that its army was fixed and disciplined by Jehovah himself, and to break away from the ark, where his honour dwelt, was openly to despise it, as if it were nothing but common furniture. There was not only a rebellion of the people against its governor, but a mutiny of the army against its commander. Does it not almost seem as if a host of demons had gone into these men, carrying them headlong to destruction, even as they carried the swine down the steep place? Only a little while before, no argument, no appeal would have dragged them an inch against the Amalekites and the Canaanites, and now there is nothing can keep them back. Surely this crowns the illustrations of Israel's perversity, and makes it very wonderful that out of them, as concerning the flesh, the Christ should have sprung.

IV. THEIR DISCOMFITURE CAME AS A CERTAIN CONSEQUENCE. The enemy, we may conjecture, had been preparing for some time. Probably, as the Israelites sent spies into Canaan, so the Canaanites may have had spies in the wilderness. And so as Israel in this battle was at its very weakest, Canaan may have been at its strongest. Yet Israel would appear strong, advancing with furious onset, and bent on canceling these dreadful forty years. Hence the enemy would exult in a great victory gained by their own powers, being ignorant that they owed it rather to the disobedience of Israel. The world is not strong in itself, as against those who truly confide in God, but its strength is enough and to spare when God's people fight against it with fleshly weapons. The best allies of God's enemies are oftentimes found among his professed friends. - Y.

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