"I have pardoned them as you requested," the LORD replied.
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.
I have pardoned according to thy wordI. THE EXTREMITY OF THE SENTENCE IS RECEDED FROM (ver. 20). "I have pardoned," so as not to cut them all off at once and disinherit them. See the power of prayer, and the delight God takes in putting an honour upon it. He designed a pardon, but Moses shall have the praise of obtaining it by prayer; it shall be done "according to thy word." Thus, as a prince, he hath power with God and prevails. See what encouragement God gives to our intercessions for others, that we may be public-spirited in prayer. See how ready God is to forgive sin, and how easy to be intreated. "Pardon," saith Moses (ver. 19); "I have pardoned," saith God (ver. 20). David found Him thus swift to show mercy (Psalm 32:5). He deals not with us after our sins.
II. THE GLORIFYING OF GOD'S NAME IS IN GENERAL RESOLVED UPON" (ver. 21). It is said, it is sworn, "All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." Moses in his prayer had showed a great concern for the glory of God. "Let Me alone," saith God, "to secure that effectually, and to advance it by this dispensation. All the world shall see how God hates sin even in His own people, and will reckon for it; and yet how gracious and merciful He is, and how slow to anger." Thus when our Saviour prayed, "Father, glorify Thy name," He was immediately answered, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (John 12:28). Note, those that sincerely seek God's glory may be sure of what they seek.
III. THE SIN OF THIS PEOPLE WHICH PROVOKED GOD TO PROCEED AGAINST THEM IS HERE AGGRAVATED (vers. 22, 27); it is not made worse than really it was, but is shown to be exceedingly sinful. It was an evil congregation, each bad, but altogether in congregation very bad.
1. They tempted God — tempted His power, whether He could help them in their straits; His goodness, whether He would; and His faithfulness, whether His promise would be performed. They tempted His justice, whether He would resent their provocations and punish them or no. They dared Him, and in effect challenged Him, as God doth the idols (Isaiah 41:23) to do good or do evil.
2. They murmured against Him. This is much insisted on (ver. 27). As they questioned what He would do, so they quarrelled with Him for everything He did or had done, continually fretting and finding fault. It doth not appear that they murmured at any of the laws or ordinances that God gave them, through they proved a heavy yoke; but they murmured at the conduct they were under and the provision made for them. Note, it is much easier to bring ourselves to the external services of religion and observe all the formalities of devotion than to live a life of dependence upon and submission to the Divine Providence in the course of our conversation.
3. They did this after they had seen God's miracles in Egypt and in the wilderness (ver. 2). They would not believe their own eyes, which were witnesses for God that He was in the midst of them of a truth.
4. They had repeated the provocations ten times, i.e., very often. God keeps an account how oft we repeat our provocations, and will sooner or later set them in order before us.
5. They had not hearkened to His voice, though He had again and again admonished them of their sin.
IV. THE SENTENCE PASSED UPON THEM FOR THIS SIN.
1. That they should not see the promised land (ver. 2), nor come into it (ver. 30; Psalm 95:11). Note, unbelief of the promise is a forfeiture of the benefit of it. The promise of God should be fulfilled to their posterity, but not to them.
2. That they should immediately turn back into the wilderness (ver. 25). Their next remove should be a retreat; they must face about, and instead of going forward to Canaan, on the very borders of which they now were, they must withdraw towards the Red Sea again. "To-morrow turn ye"; that is, "Very shortly you shall be brought back to that vast howling wilderness which you are so weary of; and it is time to shift for your own safety, for the Amalakites lie in wait in the valley ready to attack you if you march forward." Of them they had been distrustfully afraid (Numbers 13:29), and now with them God justly frightened them.
3. That all those who were now grown up to men's estate should die in the wilderness; not all at once, but by degrees. They wished they might die in the wilderness, and God said "Amen" to their passionate wish, and made their sin their ruin.
4. That in pursuance of this sentence they should wander to and fro in the wilderness, like travellers that have lost themselves, for forty years, i.e., so long as to make it full forty years from their coming out of Egypt to their entrance into Canaan (vers. 33, 34). Thus long they were kept wandering —(1) To answer the number of the days in which the spies were searching the land. They were content to wait forty days for the testimony of men because they could not take God's word; and therefore justly are they kept forty years waiting for the performance of God's promise.(2) That hereby they might be brought to repentance, and find mercy with God in the other world, whatever became of them in this.(3) That they might sensibly feel what a dangerous thing it is for God's covenant people to break with Him. "Ye shall know My breach of promise, both the causes of it — that it is procured by your sin, for God never leaves any till they first leave Him; and the consequences of it — that it will produce your ruin. You are quite undone when you are thrown out of the covenant."(4) That a new generation might in this time be raised up, which could not be done all of a sudden.
V. THE MERCY THAT WAS MIXED WITH THIS SEVERE SENTENCE.
1. Mercy to Caleb and Joshua; that though they should wander with the rest in the wilderness, yet they, and they only of all that were now above twenty years old, should survive the years of banishment and live to enter Canaan.
2. Mercy to the children even of these rebels.
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. —I. THE IMPORT OF THE PROMISE BEFORE US. Glory is the manifestation of excellence. The glory of God is that display of His most blessed character and will which opens the way for His intelligent creatures to know, to love, and to obey Him. This glory is exhibited in various ways. It shines in all the works of creation. All the works of God, we are told, praise Him. Again, the glory of God is manifested by the works of His providence. But above all is the glory of God displayed in the work of redemption. Now, when the gospel, which proclaims this plan of mercy, shall be preached and received throughout the world, when every kindred and people and nation and tongue shall not only be instructed in its sublime doctrines, but also brought under its benign and sanctifying power, then, with emphatic propriety, may it be said that "the earth is filled," &c.
II. WHAT REASON HAVE WE FOR BELIEVING THAT THESE SCENES OF GLORY WILL ONE DAY BE REALISED?
1. Our hope is founded on Jehovah's faithful and unerring promise. "Hath He said, and shall He not do it?"
2. Our confidence that the religion of Christ will one day fill the whole earth with its glory is confirmed by the consideration that this religion is, in its nature, adapted above all others to be a universal religion. Its doctrines, its worship, and its system of moral duty are all equally adapted to universality.
3. The present aspect of the world furnishes much reason to hope that the accomplishment of this promise is drawing nigh.
III. WHAT IS OUR PRESENT DUTY IN RELATION TO THE PROMISE BEFORE US.
1. Undoubtedly our first duty is to believe the promise. Unbelief poisons the very fountain of Christian confidence, cuts the nerves of all spiritual exertion, and tends to despondency.
2. Another duty incumbent upon us in relation to this promise is to labour and pray without ceasing for its accomplishment.
3. A third duty in relation to the promise in the text is that in labouring for the spread of the gospel no adverse occurrence, however painful, ought to discourage us or at all to weaken either our confidence or our efforts.
4. A further duty in reference to the promise before us is that we pray without ceasing for the power of the Holy Spirit, to render all the means which are employed for its accomplishment effectual.
(H. W. Beecher.)
(R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
They shall not see the land.
I. HIS HOPES. As yet God had graciously veiled from him the weary journeys of the forty years that were to succeed. From the words he addressed to the people he evidently counted on a comparatively brief struggle, sharp but short, through which they would pass to their possession (Deuteronomy 1:19-21). As he said these words must there not have been, deep in his heart, a sigh of relief now his task was almost done and he might lay down his weighty responsibilities? Who can doubt that some such hopes and thoughts as these filled his soul, and whispered the one deep sweet word, "Rest! rest!" No more the daily gathering of manna, because it was a land of wheat and barley, in which they should eat bread without scarceness. Is it not thus that we all picture to ourselves some blessed landscape, lying warm and sunny under the smile of Heaven? Life is pretty hard just now — a march over a great and terrible wilderness, a stern fight. But never mind, it cannot last; there must be respite; the long lane must have a turning, the wilderness-march must have a Canaan. But suppose it be not so! What if He who loves us better than we love ourselves has marked out stations in a desert-march that lead right up to the mount from which we are to ascend to our Father's home! What if we are to fight with Moab, and meet Balaam, and see every one of those with whom we commenced life droop around us!
II. THE QUARTER FROM WHICH HIS DISAPPOINTMENT CAME. It came entirely from the people.
1. Their first mistake was in desiring to spy out the land (chap. Numbers 13:1). But the proposal did not emanate from the Lord; it had another origin. As in the case of Saul, the King of Israel, God gave them what they would have. It was a profound mistake. Had not God promised to give them the land, and could they not trust His choice? They had but, as Moses said, to go up and possess that which He had given.
2. Their second mistake was in receiving the discouraging report of the majority of the spies. The difference between the two lay in this, that the ten looked at God through the difficulties, as when you look at the sun through a reversed telescope and it seems indefinitely distant and shorn of its glory, while the two looked at difficulties through God. And the people sided with the ten. Here was a fatal mistake. Unbelief never gets beyond the difficulties, the cities, the walls, the giants. Faith, on the other hand, never minimises them, but looks them steadily in the face, turns from them, and looks up into the face of God and counts on Him. Note, that they lost Canaan not because of the graves of lust, but because of their unbelief. My brother, do not sit down beside that grave of lust and suppose that that is going to settle your future. Never 1 Know thou this, that the only thing which can exclude thee thence is that thou wilt not believe in a forgiveness and grace which are like the blue arch of heaven above thee or like the immensity of eternity itself.
3. Their next mistake was in their murmuring, which proposed to substitute a captain for their tried friend and God-given leader. "All the congregation lifted up their voice and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron," &c. This was perhaps the bitterest hour in Moses' life. They had proposed to elect a captain before, but it was when he was away; but this was proposed before his face. What unutterable agony rent his breast, not only that he should be thus set aside, but that the anger of God should be thus provoked by the people He loved! And as he lay there did he not also, in those dark, sad moments, see the crumbling of his fairy vision, the falling of a shadow over the fair prospect of his hopes, as when a pelting shower of rain hides all a landscape which a moment before had lain radiant in the summer light? So it has befallen in our own experience not once nor twice. We had been on the point of realising some long-cherished hope. We were within a day's march of it. And suddenly there is some one or more to whom we are tied, and their education is not complete. They cannot yet go over into the good land. Because they cannot we may not. And as we stand there the voice says, "To-morrow turn and get you back into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea."
III. HIS REFUSAL TO ESCAPE THE DISAPPOINTMENT. The dream of Moses for a speedy entrance into the land might even yet have been realised. If all the people were cut off, and he spared to be a second Abraham, the founder of the nation, it might be possible even yet for him to pass into the good land, and, like Abraham, settle there. And so the trial was put into his life. Satan tempts us to reveal the evil in us, God to reveal the good. So God, knowing the hidden nobleness of His faithful servant, and eager that it should be revealed to all the world, suggested to him a proposal that He should smite the people with pestilence and disinherit them, and make of him a nation greater and mightier than they. "Accept it," said the spirit of the self-life; "thou hast had trouble enough with them." "No," said his nobler, truer self; "it may not be. What would become of Jehovah's fame? and how can I endure to see my people cut off?" There are few grander passages in the whole Bible than that in which Moses puts away the testing suggestion as impossible. And so he turned away from the open gate into paradise, and again chose rather to suffer with the people in their afflictions than enjoy the pleasures of Canaan alone.
IV. A CONTRAST TO HIS ENDURANCE OF DISAPPOINTMENT. When the people heard that they were to wander in the wilderness for forty years, till their carcases fell in its wastes, they rose up early in the morning and gut them up to the top of the mountain, saying, "Lo, we are here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised. But Moses and the ark of the Lord departed not out of the camp." By force of will and energy they sought to reverse the sentence just passed on them. Moses meekly bowed his head to it, and accepted the discipline of those long years. Do not times come into our lives like this? We have come to the brink of some great opportunity, and the prize has seemed within our reach; but by some outburst we have shown ourselves unable or unfit to possess it. God puts us back. He says in effect, "You are not fit to enjoy the blessing yet. You must go back to the common round, sit at the daily task, plod around the dull millwheel." But we will not submit to it. "Nay, but we will go up." We will storm the position; we will not be thwarted. It is a hapless and useless resolve. You cannot force the gate. Better a hundred times wait meekly outside, learning the lesson of patience and faith. The obscure journeyings of the forty years will then yield their harvest of blessing.
V. MOSES' SOLACE IN DISAPPOINTMENT. Yet there were springs at which that weary spirit slaked its thirst. The sense that he did the will of God; the blessedness which unselfishness always brings to the elect spirit; the joy of seeing the result of the Divine discipline in the growing earnestness and strength of His people; the reception of daily grace for daily need — all these were his. But even better than these, there was the growing realisation that the true rest of which he dreamed was not to be found in any earthly Canaan, however enticing, but in that rest of heart, that repose of the nature in God which is alone permanent and satisfying, amid the change and transience of all human and earthly conditions.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)— A single false step may bring with it irretrievable forfeiture of good when the good is conspicuous and attainable. This is true in temporal things. In all lives there are crises, more or less observable, on which the complexion of all their future depends. Some great advantage is set before us that if improved will be the making of us; but we doubt its value or reality or the sincerity of the offer, or it is not quite to our taste, or we lack courage to encounter the difficulties, to incur the dangers that lie in the way of its attainment. There are walled cities to be stormed, sons of Anak to be fought, and the difficulty and peril are magnified by a timorous imagination. We refuse, and the golden opportunity is let slip and will not come again. There is nothing for us but a life of poverty, obscurity, meanness, of hard, unfruitful toil and meagre results. And in spiritual things such crises also occur, and are as much more solemn as the interests they involve are more momentous. There are instances when the soul is awakened to attend to its spiritual concerns, and the proposal of heavenly good is made to us with such distinctness that we are compelled to determine whether we will labour in the good "that endureth unto eternal life" or take up with what this world offers and can afford. The choice is inevitable. We cannot cheat ourselves into the belief that we are merely weighing the question and postponing the decision to a more "convenient season." We may doubt whether the good that is proposed to us is so essential to our welfare as it is represented to be, or whether our enjoyment of its benefits is really so dependent upon the resolution we then come to. Or we may timidly shrink from the requisite self-denial and labour, and cover up our cowardice under a pretty show of modesty and self distrust, a doubting of our competency to fulfil the obligations and meet the temptations of a consistent course, and may even plead our fear of dishonouring God's cause by our weaknesses and failings. But, nevertheless, the choice is made, and there is too much reason to fear that it may be made finally and for ever. The Canaan that seemed so near that we could see it with our eyes recedes, and the garish world again asserts the full influence of its tawdry beauties. The blessed vision may never come back to us again. Henceforward we can only look upon "the things that are seen and are temporal." And what is left to us if we make this mad and fatal choice? What is this world but a wilderness, where there is nothing to meet the wants of the immortal soul, where in our aimless pilgrimage we turn back upon our steps, and never reach a goal that can afford us solid satisfaction. Poor, poor portion of those whose aims rise no higher than the beggarly profits which a worldly life can give! And then when at last his "feet stumble on the dark mountains," naked he must return to go as he came," "and nought remains to him but the dark noisome grave and an awful accounting with God.
(R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
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