Numbers 14


‘That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled 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.” Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 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.” But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites.’ Numbers 14:1-10

The People Rebel

In the previous chapter we read that the spies came back with a negative report about the Promised Land, except Joshua and Caleb, Numbers 13:30. They were lacking any real faith in God and as a result, the people wept, Deuteronomy 1:27 / Hebrews 3:17-19.

Notice once again they thought they were better off in Egypt. They knew that there was no way they could survive in the wilderness, hence, why they planned to go back to Egypt.

The problem was, their plan was outright rebellion against God’s will. Oh how quickly they forgotten the bondage they were in under the Egyptians.

Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in disgust, because they too had spied out the land. They saw everything the other spies saw, the difference is Joshua and Caleb trusted in God, Romans 8:31, and because they trusted in Him, they focused on the positive things they saw within the land.

Notice that after listening to Joshua and Caleb, there was a discussing about stoning them. When anyone, especially leaders, stand up for God and what is right, they will often be persecuted for doing so, Acts 6:8-7:60.

However, here we read that God intervened at the exact moment by appearing at the tabernacle for everyone to see, so that He could  pronounce judgment upon all those who rebelled against Him and went against His leaders.

‘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? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, LORD, are with these people and that you, LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” Numbers 14:11-19

It’s very clear that God is angry with His people, especially in light of everything He had done for them. God is so angry that He intends to make Moses into a greater nation that Israel were, Exodus 32:7-14.

God says, Israel had seen the signs He sent with their very own eyes, but despite sending these signs, they still refused to totally trust in Him, John 20:26-31.

God had spoken to Israel and promised them the land was theirs, but they totally refused to act upon God’s promises and act in faith to take the land.

As a result of this, God was willing to wipe out the nation of Israel and start all over again with Moses in order to fulfil the seed promise He had given to Abraham, Genesis 12:1-3. Remember, the Messiah, the head crusher, was to come through Abraham, Genesis 3:15.

The love Moses has for his people is clearly seen here, despite their lack of faith and rebellious nature. As the mediator between the Israelites and God, Moses now gives us the example of what Christ would do for all of mankind.

Moses pleads Israel’s case on the foundation of God’s attributes, His slowness to get angry, His abundant love and His forgiving nature, Exodus 34:6-8 / Joel 2:13 / Jonah 4:2.

‘The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.” The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.” So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it—these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.’ Numbers 14:20-39

After Moses pleaded with God on behalf of Israel, the Lord tells them He has forgiven them. However, there is still a price to pay for their disobedience and lack of trust in Him. Everyone who were twenty years old and over wouldn’t now be permitted to enter the Promised Land, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following concerning the number ten.

‘Ten is the number which signifies completeness. It seems to refer to the ten evil spies’. The Talmud understood this literally. Dummelow thought that ten is a round number indicating ‘full measure’. Rabbi Judah from the second century enumerated ten instances of Israel’s rebellion. Gray listed these as follows. ‘There were two instances at the Red Sea, Exodus 14:11 / Psalm 106:11, two in demanding water, Exodus 15:23 / Exodus 17:2, two for food, Exodus 16:27, two for flesh, Exodus 16:3 / Numbers 11:4, in the matter of the golden calf, and in the sending out of the spies.’

Notice because the spies were in the land for forty days, their punishment was going to be forty years, Psalm 95:7-11. This was a whole generation of Israelites would live in the wilderness and pass away in the wilderness, Nehemiah 9:16-17 / Psalm 106:24-27. Note also that it was only those unbelieving spies who died by a plague.

 ‘When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the LORD promised. Surely we have sinned!” But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the LORD’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the LORD, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.” Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.’ Numbers 14:40-45

After news concerning those who died in the plague reached Israel, they all mourned bitterly. It wasn’t so much a lack of believing God’s promises concerning the land, it was more to do with not taking the land straight away as God commanded. They did believe concerning their fate to live in the wilderness for forty years, hence, why they all mourned.

Regardless of the pronouncement of God’s judgment they couldn’t take the land, the people wanted to go on their own without the blessing of God. However, Israel had to pay the price for their rebellion, and so, they wouldn’t be able to change God’s mind by trying to take the land by their own merit.

Notice they were beaten back by the Amalekites and the Canaanites, this was proof enough, that they couldn’t take the land on their own. Their children will remember this event when they sought to take the land forty years later under the command of Joshua. They would finally understand that when they go into the land, they need God’s blessings and God’s help to achieve their goal.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following concerning Hormah.

‘The original name of the place was Zephath, a royal city of the Canaanites on the south border of the Holy Land. The circumstances that led to the change of its name to Hormah are given in Numbers 21:1-3. The name has the meaning of the ban place, coming from a root that means total destruction. It was given because of the slaughter of a vast number of Israelites there. The word is used proleptically both here and in Joshua 19:4, for it was so named only after Israel conquered the place and renamed it. This indicates that we have here another passage in which certain facts were added to the Pentateuch by Joshua, who was also inspired and who did so under the direct commandment of the Lord.’

Go To Numbers 15


"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"

Psalm 133:1