Numbers 14:19
Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
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Numbers 14:19

See how in this story a divine threat is averted and a divine promise is broken, thus revealing a standing law that these in Scripture are conditional.

This striking incident of Moses’ intercession suggests to us some thoughts as to

I. The ground of the divine forgiveness.

The appeal is not based on anything in the people. God is not asked to forgive because of their repentance or their faith. True, these are the conditions on which His pardon is received by us, but they are not the reasons why it is given by Him. Nor does Moses appeal to any sacrifices that had been offered and were conceived to placate God. But he goes deeper than all such pleas, and lays hold, with sublime confidence, on God’s own nature as his all-powerful plea. ‘The greatness of Thy mercy’ is the ground of the divine forgiveness, and the mightiest plea that human lips can urge. It suggests that His very nature is pardoning love; that ‘mercy’ is proper to Him, that it is the motive and impulse of His acts. He forgives because He is mercy. That is the foundation truth. It is the deep spring from which by inherent impulse all the streams of forgiveness well up.

What was true when Moses prayed for the rebels is true to-day. Christ’s work is the consequence, not the cause, of God’s pardoning love. It is the channel through which the waters reach us, but the waters made the channel for themselves.

II. The persistency of the divine pardon.

‘As thou hast forgiven . . .even until now.’

His past is the guarantee of His future. This is true of every one of His attributes. There is no limitation to the divine forgiveness; you cannot exhaust it.

Sometimes there may be long tracts of almost utter godlessness, or times of apathy. Sometimes there may be bursts of great and unsanctified evil after many professions of fidelity, as in David’s case. Sometimes there may be but a daily experience in which there is little apparent progress, little consciousness of growing mastery over sin, little of deepening holiness and spiritual power. Be it so! To all such, and to every other form of Christian unfaithfulness, this blessed thought applies.

We are apt to think as if our many pardons in the past made future pardons less likely, whereas the truth is that we have received forgiveness so often in the past that we may be quite sure that it will never fail us in the future. God has established a precedent in His dealings with us. He binds Himself by His past.

As in His creative energy, the forces that flung the whole universe forth were not exhausted by the act, but subsist continually to sustain it, as ‘He fainteth not, neither is weary,’ so in the works of His providence, and more especially of His grace, there is nothing in the exercise of any of His attributes to exhaust that attribute, nothing in the constant appeal which we make to His forgiving grace to weary out that grace. And thus we may learn, even from the unfading glories of the heavens and the undimmed splendours of His creative works, the lesson that, in the holier region of His love, and His pardoning mercy, there is no exhaustion, and that all the past instances of His pardoning grace only make the broader, firmer ground of certainty as to His continuous present and future forgiveness for all our iniquity. He who has proposed to us the ‘seventy times seven’ as the number of our forgivenesses will not let His own fall short of that tale. Our iniquities may be ‘more than the hairs of our heads,’ but as the psalmist who found his to be so comforted himself with thinking, God’s ‘thoughts which are to usward’ were ‘more than can be numbered.’ There would be a pardoning thought for every sin, and after all sins had been forgiven, there would be ‘multitudes of redemptions’ still available for penitent souls.

There is but one thing that limits the divine pardon, and that is continuous rejection of it.

Whoever seeks to be pardoned is pardoned.

III. The manner of the divine forgiveness.

He pardoned, but He also inflicted punishment, and in both He loves equally. The worst, that is the spiritual, consequences {which are the punishments} of sin, namely separation and alienation from God, He removes in the very act of forgiveness, but His pardon does not affect the natural consequences. ‘Thou wast a God that forgavest them and tookest vengeance of their inventions,’ says a psalmist in reference to this very incident. Thank God that He loves us too wisely and well not to let us by experience ‘know that it is a bitter thing to forsake the Lord.’

It is a blessing that He does so, and a sign that we are pardoned, if we rightly use it.

IV. The vehicle of the divine forgiveness.

The Mediator. Moses here may be taken as a dim shadow of Christ.

‘Moses was faithful in all his house’ but Jesus is the true Mediator, whose intercession consists in presenting the constant efficacy of His sacrifice, and to whom God ever says, ‘I have pardoned according to Thy word.’

Trust utterly to Him. You cannot weary out the forgiving love of God. ‘Christ ever liveth to make intercession’; with God is ‘plenteous redemption.’ ‘He shall redeem Israel out of all his iniquities.’

14:11-19 Moses made humble intercession for Israel. Herein he was a type of Christ, who prayed for those that despitefully used him. The pardon of a nation's sin, is the turning away the nation's punishment; and for that Moses is here so earnest. Moses argued that, consistently with God's character, in his abundant mercies, he could forgive them.The syntax of these verses is singularly broken. As did Paul when deeply moved, so Moses presses his arguments one on the other without pausing to ascertain the grammatical finish of his expressions. He speaks here as if in momentary apprehension of an outbreak of God's wrath, unless he could perhaps arrest it by crowding in every topic of deprecation and intercession that he could mention on the instant. 17. let the power of my Lord be great—be magnified. After many and great provocations; show thyself still to be the same sin-pardoning God.

Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people,

according unto the greatness of thy mercy,.... Intimating, that though the sin of this people was great, the mercy of God to pardon was greater; and therefore he entreats that God would deal with them, not according to the greatness of their sins, and the strictness of justice, but according to the greatness of his mercy, who would, and does, abundantly pardon:

and as thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now; which shows both that these people had been continually sinning against the Lord, ever since they came out of Egypt, notwithstanding the great goodness of God unto them, and that he had as constantly pardoned; and therefore it was hoped and entreated that he would still continue to pardon them, he being the same he ever was, and whose mercy and goodness endure for ever: he had pardoned already sins of the like kind since their coming out of Egypt, as their murmurings for bread in the wilderness of Sin, Exodus 16:1, and for water at Rephidim, Exodus 17:1, and even a greater sin than these, idolatry, or the worship of the calf, Exodus 32:1.

Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
Verse 19. - From Egypt until now. From the first passion of despair in Egypt itself (Exodus 14:11, 12), through the murmurings in the wilderness of Sin, and the apostasy of Mount Sinai, to the last rebellion at Kibroth-Hattaavah. Numbers 14:19Intercession of Moses. - Numbers 14:11, Numbers 14:12. Jehovah resented the conduct of the people as base contempt of His deity, and as utter mistrust of Him, notwithstanding all the signs which He had wrought in the midst of the nation; and declared that He would smite the rebellious people with pestilence, and destroy them, and make of Moses a greater and still mightier people. This was just what He had done before, when the rebellion took place at Sinai (Exodus 32:10). But Moses, as a servant who was faithful over the whole house of God, and therefore sought not his own honour, but the honour of his God alone, stood in the breach on this occasion also (Psalm 106:23), with a similar intercessory prayer to that which he had presented at Horeb, except that on this occasion he pleaded the honour of God among the heathen, and the glorious revelation of the divine nature with which he had been favoured at Sinai, as a motive for sparing the rebellious nation (Numbers 14:13-19; cf. Exodus 32:11-13, and Exodus 34:6-7). The first he expressed in these words (Numbers 14:13.): "Not only have the Egyptians heard that Thou hast brought out this people from among them with Thy might; they have also told it to the inhabitants of this land. They (the Egyptians and the other nations) have heard that Thou, Jehovah, art in the midst of this people; that Thou, Jehovah, appearest eye to eye, and Thy cloud stands over them, and Thou goest before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Now, if Thou shouldst slay this people as one man, the nations which have heard the tidings of Thee would say, Because Jehovah was not able to bring this people into the land which He sware to them, He has slain them in the desert." In that case God would be regarded by the heathen as powerless, and His honour would be impaired (cf. Deuteronomy 32:27; Joshua 7:9). It was for the sake of His own honour that God, at a later time, did not allow the Israelites to perish in exile (cf. Isaiah 48:9, Isaiah 48:11; Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:22-23). - ואמרוּ...ושׁמעוּ (Numbers 14:13, Numbers 14:14), et audierunt et dixerunt; ו - ו equals et - et, both - and. The inhabitants of this land (Numbers 14:13) were not merely the Arabians, but, according to Exodus 15:14., the tribes dwelling in and round Arabia, the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Canaanites, to whom the tidings had been brought of the miracles of God in Egypt and at the Dead Sea. שׁמעוּ, in Numbers 14:14, can neither stand for שׁמעוּ כּי (dixerunt) se audivisse, nor for שׁמעוּ אשׁר, qui audierunt. They are neither of them grammatically admissible, as the relative pronoun cannot be readily omitted in prose; and neither of them would give a really suitable meaning. It is rather a rhetorical resumption of the שׁמעוּ in Numbers 14:13, and the subject of the verb is not only "the Egyptians," but also "the inhabitants of this land" who held communication with the Egyptians, or "the nations" who had heard the report of Jehovah (Numbers 14:15), i.e., all that God had hitherto done for and among the Israelites in Egypt, and on the journey through the desert. "Eye to eye:" i.e., Thou hast appeared to them in the closest proximity. On the pillar of cloud and fire, see at Exodus 13:21-22. "As one man," equivalent to "with a stroke" (Judges 6:16). - In Numbers 14:17, Numbers 14:18, Moses adduces a second argument, viz., the word in which God Himself had revealed His inmost being to him at Sinai (Exodus 34:6-7). The words, "Let the power be great," equivalent to "show Thyself great in power," are not to be connected with what precedes, but with what follows; viz., "show Thyself mighty by verifying Thy word, 'Jehovah, long-suffering and great in mercy,' etc.; forgive, I beseech Thee, this people according to the greatness of Thy mercy, and as Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now." נשׁא (Numbers 14:19) equals עון נשׁא (Numbers 14:18).
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