And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.
Nothing is more surprising to us at first reading than the history of God's chosen people; it seems strange that they should have acted as they did age after age, in spite of the miracles which were vouchsafed to them.
I. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better; the history of Israel proves it. The only mode of escaping this conclusion is to fancy that the Israelites were much worse than other nations, which accordingly has been maintained. But as we see that in every other point they were exactly like other nations, we are obliged to conclude, not that the Israelites were more hard-hearted than other people, but that a miraculous religion is not much more influential than other religions.
II. Why should the sight of a miracle make us better than we are? (1) It may be said that a miracle would startle us, but would not the startling pass away? Could we be startled for ever? (2) It may be urged that perhaps that startling might issue in amendment of life; it might be the beginning of a new life though it passed away itself. This is very true; sudden emotions—fear, hope, gratitude, and the like—all do produce such results sometimes; but why is a miracle necessary to produce such effects? Other things startle us besides miracles; we have a number of accidents sent by God to startle us. If the events of life which happen to us now produce no lasting effect upon us, then it is only too certain that a miracle would produce no lasting effect upon us either.
III. What is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts if the absence of miracles be not the reason, as assuredly it is not? There is. one reason common both to us and the Jews: heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love.
IV. In another respect we are really far more favoured than the Israelites. They had outward miracles; we have miracles that are not outward, but inward. Our miracles consist in the Sacraments, and they do just the very thing which the Jewish miracles did not: they really touch the heart, though we so often resist their influence.
V. Let us then put aside vain excuses, and instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must be from within. Let us rouse ourselves and act as reasonable men before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth in religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven.
J. H. Newman, Selection from the Parochial and Plain Sermons, p. 432. (See also Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. v., p. 217.)
References: Numbers 14:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1498 (see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 241); Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 240. Numbers 14:21.—Parker, vol. iv., p. 55. Numbers 14:24.—J. H. Hitchens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 28; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 281; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 538; R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 381. Numbers 14:26-45.—Parker, vol. iii., p. 213. Numbers 14:27.—Parker, vol. iv., p. 55.
Numbers 14:31I. Notice how completely Almighty God recognises the sense of preciousness which all parents with a spark of heart in them attach to their children, and how God turns the faculty and instinct of affection in parents to their children to the parents' condemnation if they will not use their affection or their responsibility in the direction of securing eternal life for those whom they love.
II. Children, in the providence of God, and according to the rules of God's government, do, in a certain degree, share their parents' privileges, suffer their parents' penalties, nay, even sin with their parents' sin.
III. The children did not altogether inherit the parents' punishment. In some degree they were spared the consequences of their parents' guilt. The parents must not go up to Canaan to possess that pleasant land, but the Lord will bring the children up when their parents are gone.
IV. The great reason why the children of Israel refused to go up to the land of Canaan was a want of faith. So the great reason why so-called Christian parents do not take the trouble to prepare their children for eternity is that their own personal belief about eternity is not as strong as it should be.
The duties of parents towards their children are: (1) to give them careful and continuous instruction concerning the things of God; (2) to teach them by their life and example that these things are true; (3) to pray for their children; (4) to have faith that God will bless their children.
Bishop Thorold, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 17.
References: Numbers 14:43.—Parker, vol. iii., p. 222. Numbers 15:30-36.—Ibid., p. 230. Numbers 15:37-39.—W. F. Hook, Parish Sermons, p. 1. Numbers 15:37-41.—Parker, vol. iii., p. 239. Numbers 15:38.—H. Sinclair Patterson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 200. Num 15-19.—J. Monro Gibson, The Mosaic Era, p. 273.
And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.
But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)
And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.
Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.
And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
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.
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;
Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.
Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:
Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,
Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.
But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.
After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.
I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land,
Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.
But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still.
And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.
And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.
And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper.
Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.
For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the LORD, therefore the LORD will not be with you.
But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.
Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah.