The twelve men returned with a report about the land of Canaan during our last study session. Ten of the men stirred up anxiety and distrust among the congregation, stating that the occupants of the promised land were too big to defeat. The people believed their negative report instead of the positive report of Caleb and Joshua, who have faith that the Lord will enable them to do what He's promised. Today we find the doubters rebelling against the Lord's plan to go forward.
"That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites mumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, 'If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?' And they said to each other, 'We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.'" (Numbers 14:1-4) I am not sure what kind of report the people expected from the twelve spies. That taking the promised land would be like a walk in the park? That the Lord was going to hand it to them on a platter by miraculously throwing down fortified cities and sending the heathen tribes of Canaan running for the hills? Lest we think the Lord never made it clear that the promised land would be taken through military might (with His help), we must recall that earlier in Numbers we found the Lord telling the Israelites to make a count of all the men of military age who were able-bodied enough to serve in the army. If Israel did not need an army, the Lord wouldn't have had her men registering for the draft, so to speak. If Israel did not need an army, the Lord wouldn't have gone into great detail describing exactly where each military division was to camp and in what order each military division was to move out whenever it's time to break camp.
But as we've said before, we can hardly point a finger at Israel without pointing one back at ourselves. Do any of us really want to fight battles of faith? Wouldn't we all like life to be easy, with the achievement of great things not requiring us to believe in a glorious outcome when we're having trouble picturing how the Lord will accomplish our victory? Many times in life the Lord calls upon us to get down in the trenches with Him and fight side by side with Him; He doesn't always do all the work for us. If He did we'd be spiritual weaklings and, like any good and loving father, the Lord wants His children to be strong and healthy.
The congregation wants to choose a leader to replace Moses---a leader who will take them backward instead of forward. At heart it's not so much Moses who is being rejected but the Lord who's being rejected. The Lord is the true leader of Israel. When Moses speaks to the people, he's saying what the Lord tells him to say. When Moses assures them they will have victory in battle and will possess the land, Moses is relaying the Lord's unbreakable promise to them. Moses is not stating his own opinion. He's not lying to them or leading them on a suicide mission. He's telling them, on the authority of the God who loves them and who rescued them from Egypt, that where they're going is far better than where they've come from. If they give in to doubt and fear they'll miss out on one of the biggest and best promises the Lord ever made to Israel.
Moses and Aaron are overcome with sorrow and frustration over the direction things have turned. They're also frightened of the people. The dissent has reached fever pitch and the crowd appears be on the verge of physically attacking them. When they suggest choosing a man to lead them back to Egypt and deposing Moses, Moses takes this as a threat to his life. Aaron's life is also in danger, for together he and his brother represent the political leadership and the religious leadership of the nation. "Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there." (Numbers 14:5) These men do the only thing they can think to do: they fall to their knees in prayer. There's nothing they can say to the crowd in this moment that will deflect their anger. The resentment toward Moses and Aaron is so bitter, and the cries of the people are so loud, that it would be futile for these two to attempt to call the assembly to order. Appealing to their dissenters is not going to be successful in this moment so they appeal to the Lord for protection.
Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve spies sent into Canaan, stand firm in their faith that the Lord will do what He's said He will do. It's too dangerous right now for Moses and Aaron to stand and address the crowd, but thankfully there are godly men like Joshua and Caleb to bravely stand up for them. "Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, 'The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.'" (Numbers 14:6-9)
The Lord has given the pagan tribes of Canaan centuries to repent of their idolatry. Yet they've persisted in their rejection of the one true God in favor of false gods who will never call them to righteous living. They've persisted in cruelty and oppression of their fellow man, in human trafficking, in fertility orgies, in child sacrifice, in drunkenness, in gluttonous feasts where they've eaten unclean foods and drunk blood....we could go on and on describing the barbarism and blasphemy of these tribes who long ago turned away from the Lord and refused to ever turn back. Now their time is up. The Lord gave them time in which to repent and provided an untold number of opportunities to repent, yet they've chosen to keep wallowing in sin and filth. This is why Joshua and Caleb assure the people, "Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us." If the Lord is not with the tribes of Canaan they cannot possibly stand against the army of Israel, no matter how large the armies of Canaan and no matter the great stature and experience of Canaan's soldiers. As the Apostle Paul said in this famous statement of faith, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)
It's imperative, of course, to make certain God actually is with us in our endeavors---to make certain we are living in His will and operating on His instructions. We can't just charge forward on our own initiative and expect God to fall in line with our plans. We can't assume that God is always on board with our plans just because we are His children. We are the ones who are to get on board with His plans, not the other way around. But when we know God has prescribed a specific course of action for us, and when He has promised us a beautiful victory, we can move forward in faith knowing that God is with us and that His indescribable power is behind us.
Our next verse proves to us that Moses and Aaron were correct to fear that their lives were in danger. "But the whole assembly talked about stoning them." (Numbers 14:10a)
This situation appears quite dire for Moses and Aaron, and perhaps even for Joshua and Caleb, but the Lord is about to show up. He shows up to protect these men and also to defend His name and His honor for, in rejecting the words of these faithful men, the people are rejecting the words of God Himself. Later in the Bible we'll find the prophet Samuel mourning when Israel demands a king like other nations have instead of continuing to accept and honor God as their King and Lord. Samuel will try to reason with them but will not be successful; the people will scorn his advice. The Lord will say to him, "It is not you they have rejected; but they have rejected Me as their king." (1 Samuel 8:7) In our passage today, when we find the people rejecting the leadership of Moses, they are actually rejecting the leadership of the Lord.
The Lord has had enough and it's time for Him to say something that needs to be said. "Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, 'How long will these people treat Me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?'" (Numbers 14:10b-11) The cloud of the Lord's glory appears in the sight of everyone. Everyone hears His voice as He speaks to Moses. If they needed any further proof that Moses speaks on authority of the Lord and that the Lord is with Moses, here it is. If they had any doubts that Moses is operating within the Lord's will, here it is.
Join us tomorrow as Moses and Lord converse with each other in the sight and hearing of all the people. Just as Moses interceded in prayer for his sister when she tried to usurp his authority, Moses will intercede in prayer for the very people who want to stone him to death. What a humble and unselfish man Moses was! He wasn't a perfect man but we are going to be able to learn a lot from him about godly living.