Studies in Torah

Numbers 14: Bad report about Promised Land sparks rebellion

The “bad report” brought by the spies about the land God promised to give Israel was a dishonest report. Yet because the majority of the spies were willing to spread lies, the honest report of the two faithful spies was drowned out. The leaders of Israel believed the false report so completely that they were planning an insurrection to have Moses and Aaron stoned and then appoint a “leader” who would return them to Egypt. Numbers 14 is an example of democracy gone wrong. It is also a story that shows us God’s great forbearance with us in our lack of faith. We would not have tolerated the 10 times of grumbling that God tolerated. Yet He had to enact discipline too. 

The “bad report” brought by the spies was a dishonest report. It was from a different spirit than the spirit in Caleb and Joshua. We all have a spirit in us given to us by God. It’s built to hear from God but the majority of the spies did not want to hear from God so they brought the bad report. 

The people of Israel believed the bad report of the 10 spies rather than the good report of Caleb and Joshua. This is an example of majority rule that goes wrong. 

They were in the area of Param, just south of where Israel is today, heading north. God later moved them to the other side when they refused to accept the land. 

“Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:1–2 NASB)

They weren’t grumbling silently in their hearts, they were very vocal and even some of them were planning a insurrection against Moses and Aaron and planing to appoint a leader to lead them back to Egypt. 

As we go on, we will see that the people didn’t just disdain Moses and Aaron but they were also showing disdain against God. 

We think that God has infinite patience but even God has His limits. He had to enact discipline at some point. He reached his limit and death took place. After all, He created the flood to eliminate the majority of mankind. He has the power to take life at will. We try to soften God but God is bigger than us. 

They rejected God’s gift of the promised land, the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, preferring slavery and degregation in Egypt. 

“…Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.'” (Numbers 14:2–4 NASB)

This is interesting, they wanted to appoint their own leader, rejecting the leaders God chose for them. Even willing to kill the leaders God had given them because they were too scared to go into the Promised Land. 

Moses and Aaron responded with humility, not self-defense or hubris. The righteous spies even tore their clothes in response, mourning the rebellion. They mourned that they were not able to convince the children of Israel to have faith in God. God was giving them a land that already had what we needed to live: orchards, vineyards, fields, homes and public buildings. They would have lacked nothing. 

What are we supposed to learn from this? Where should we focus our attention? Should we be like Aaron? Moses? Joshua?

“Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:9 NASB)

The phrase in Hebrew translated as  “they will be our prey” is literally “they will be our bread.” Bread back in those days did not come from a bakery, pre-sliced. It was torn apart by hand and eaten that way. 

Yet, Joshua and Caleb’s plea fell on deaf ears and the crowd responded with murder in their hearts. It was ten against two. 

“But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel.” (Numbers 14:10 NASB)

The glory of God is His power, not physical beauty. It comes with might and destruction. We see here that God then turns to Moses and starts His own lament. 

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.'”(Numbers 14:11–12 NASB)

It does sound like God can’t control His anger, but that is not the case. Moses responds to Him and reminds Him that His name is known all over the world because of what He did to Egypt. The eyes of the world are on them now and if God kills all the people of Israel the world will see it too. God was testing Moses. 

When Moses tells God: 

“The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” (Numbers 14:18 NASB) 

The English phrase “forgiving iniquity” literally means “carrying iniquity” in the Hebrew. This is what Messiah Yeshua did for us on the cross. He carried our iniquity. How long can you carry your suffering? God can carry it for far longer. When justice remains undone, how long does your mercy hold out? How long do you hold back your anger? God extends mercy longer than we do. God holds back His anger longer than we do. We would not have tolerated 10 times of grumbling that God tolerated. Each of us will have to go through this as time goes by. We want God to “hurry up” and come in our world and bring about the Messianic Age but in the meantime, great tragedy will come first before all is resolved. 

Adam and Eve’s first sin was their lack of trust in God. They did not trust God’s word. They didn’t believe that God told them the entire truth. Lies have become truth and truth has become a lie, not just in the USA but in all parts of the world. When Adam and Eve realized they had taken hold of a lie, they had to pay the consequences. 

“So the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.'” (Numbers 14:20–23 NASB)

This issue is going to come up again. When God says “trust Me” and “do what I tell you to do even though the odds are against you.” Are you ready to believe God that He will deliver you into His kingdom. There will be a lot of death and destruction to get there. Can you witness the death of 10,000? Do you have that kind of faith in God?

How was Caleb different? This verse is the most important verse in this entire chapter. 

“But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it.” (Numbers 14:24 NASB)

Caleb was willing to “pick up his cross” and follow God all the way. The cross is an implement of torture and death. Caleb was willing to follow God all the way. Are you willing to give up something small to follow God fully? Do we have to give up our home? Work somewhere else? Go someplace else that isn’t as pleasant as it is where we are now? Yeshua tells us “Blessed is he who endures to the end.” 

This is not the end of troubles Moses had to endure in the wilderness. They could not plant trees, or vineyards, eating nothing but manna and the occasional goat, lamb or steer for 40 years. No garlic, onions or spices. 

“The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. ‘Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. ‘Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. ‘Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey ― I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. ‘But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. ‘Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. ‘According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. ‘I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.'” (Numbers 14:26–35 NASB)

Their grumbling was an act of disdain against God. They looked down on Him, they did not trust Him, they doubted Him. 

Be careful what you ask for. They had previously spoke out against Aaron and Moses saying they wanted them to die in the wilderness. They said it often enough that God gave them what they wanted as a punishment for their disobedience. They would have lived in abundance and safety in the Promised Land but they did not believe that God could terrorize and clear the land of the evil inhabitants.

They were going to appoint their own leader and leave. Remember what their main complaint was? 

“Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3 NASB)

God says that the women and those who are 20 or under at this time will enter the land in safety while the men 20 years old and up will be the ones to die in the wilderness. 

“Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey ― I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. ‘But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. ‘Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.” (Numbers 14:31–33 NASB)

All the good blessings we have come from God, not us. Everything we have that we give to our children and to others are simply gifts from God we are passing on. 

The children had to suffer for the sins of their elders. They had to endure until all that generation passed away. 

Why do we bear one another’s burdens? This is not bearing one another’s sins. God bears our iniquity and transgression, He carries them on His shoulders. That’s heavy. He created all of mankind and He wants us to come back. 

He doesn’t “put up with” our sins, transgressions and iniquities. His Son carried them and paid the ultimate price for them.

Reader: Jeff. Speaker: Richard Agee. Summary: Tammy. 

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