New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

 

Num 14:1 All the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.

Num 14:2 All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against 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!-

Israel continually "murmured" against Moses (Ex. 15:24; 16:2,7,8; 17:3; Num. 14:2,27,29 cp. Dt. 1:27; Ps. 106:25; 1 Cor. 10:10). Nearly all these murmurings were related to Israel's disbelief that Moses really could bring them into the land. Likewise Israel disbelieved that eating Christ's words (Jn. 6:63) really could lead them to salvation; and their temptation to murmur in this way is ours too, especially in the last days (1 Cor. 10:10-12).


Num 14:3 Why does Yahweh bring us to this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey: wouldn’t it be better for us to return into Egypt?-
They recognized the Lord had brought them out of Egypt. Their lack of faith was not the same as atheism, rather was it a lack of faith in the possibilities of the God they believed in. There should be no question amongst us, not in our deepest heart, about returning to the world / Egypt, the life we knew before our baptism (cp. the Red Sea crossing, 1 Cor. 10:1,2). If we do allow this question, then it will lead to actually doing this in practice (:4).


Num 14:4 They said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt-
Human beings so want human leadership. God through Moses was their captain, but they wanted a leader who would lead them where they wanted. The large number of human religions and religious leaders is proof enough of this desire for human leadership.


Num 14:5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
Num 14:6 Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were of those who spied out the land, tore their clothes:
Num 14:7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, The land which we passed through to spy it out is an extremely good land.
Num 14:8 Since Yahweh delights in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us - a land which flows with milk and honey.
Num 14:9 Only don’t rebel against Yahweh, neither fear the people of the land; for they are bread for us. Their defence is removed from over them, and Yahweh is with us. Don’t fear them.
Num 14:10 But all the congregation threatened to stone them with stones. The glory of Yahweh appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the children of Israel.
Num 14:11 Yahweh said to Moses, How long will this people despise Me? and how long will they not believe in Me, for all the signs which I have worked among them?-
It’s not that the people were atheists. They speak about the existence of Yahweh quite freely (:3). But to not believe that He will give us the Kingdom, the promised land, is to effectively be in denial of Him. We too can be effective atheists when we doubt our salvation by grace.

The idea of "provoke" is to scorn, to blaspheme, and this is what we do to God if we doubt we shall inherit the Kingdom. The language used about Israel's lack of faith is extreme. They "despised" the land (:32) even though it seems they didn't doubt it was a good land, they just doubted whether they could. They gathered together against God (:35). The language all shows that the most fatal error is to not believe we will be saved- this is far and more fundamentally worse than any sin of hot blood. See on Jn. 12:37.

 

Num 14:12 I will strike them with the pestilence-
The "pestilence" which was the plague upon Egypt (Ex. 9:3) was to come upon a hard hearted Israel (s.w. Lev. 26:25; Num. 14:12; Dt. 28:21; Jer. 21:6). The plagues upon Egypt form the basis for the vials and seals of Revelation, which speak of judgment to come upon the land of Israel. It is a theme with God that His apostate people are "condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32). If their hearts are really with Egypt / the world, then they will share the judgments of this world. The time for separation is now, just as the Egyptians had to identify with Israel if they wished to escape the plagues.

And disinherit them, and will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they-
This is the same word translated "inherit" or "possess" in 13:30 and 14:24. The word also means 'to destroy'. We are God's inheritance- we are to be totally devoted to Him. If we don't want to be, then He will inherit / destroy us anyway. This is the logic of total devotion- we are devoted to Him, and must willingly go along with this or else He will destroy us. The idea is alluded to in 14:22- because God's glory must fill the earth, therefore the sinners would be destroyed. And again in 14:33,35 we read of the sinners being "consumed", a Hebrew word meaning to be perfected or even cleansed.


Greater... mightier nation- The same three words used of how God would make Abraham's seed a great and mighty nation (Gen. 18:18). God was alluding to that intention, but saying that He could cease fulfilling it the way He had been working on, and do it another way- through Moses. They would then have become as He intended- a nation of Levites. God's purposes are therefore open ended to some extent. 

 



Num 14:13 Moses said to Yahweh, Then the Egyptians will hear it; for You brought up this people in Your might-
To have done this would’ve resulted in God changing His stated purpose with Israel. He is prepared to alter His intentions, according to human behaviour. And He shows Himself here open to dialogue, to persuasion, from His faithful children like Moses who reason according to a desire to see God’s glory rather than their own glory. It may be that it becomes clear that God intends to do something- perhaps to end a life, to relocate us geographically, to close one road and open another. Our prayers shouldn’t be simply asking Him to do or not do something. Rather should we reason with Him, giving our reasons as to why we wish Him to act in the way we are asking. This is for our benefit and reveals our motives to ourselves; and also deepens our faith that we are really asking according to God’s will as revealed in His word.

From among them-
"From their midst". It is stressed that Israel were taken out from the "midst of Egypt" (Dt. 4:34; 1 Kings 8:51). The plagues and wonders were done in "the midst of Egypt" (Ex. 3:20; Dt. 11:3). The midst of Egypt appears to be defined in Ps. 135:9; Is. 19:3; Ez. 29:3 as being Pharaoh and his servants. The narrative therefore stresses so much his response to the plagues. God's especial focus had been upon his conversion, and yet he refused. Israel were taken out right from under his nose, from the very heart of Egypt. Ez. 20:8 reveals what is not recorded in the historical record; that because the Israelites were so devoted to Egyptian idolatry still, His thought had been to destroy them "in the midst of the land of Egypt" (Ez. 20:8). But God's pole of grace overcame the pole of necessary judgment. He tolerated them and saved them, with enthusiasm, by the grace which comes from love- love taken to its ultimate, saving term. The whole narrative speaks as if the Hebrews were all at one place at one time and left "the midst of Egypt" together. Although unrecorded in the historical narrative, this would have meant that they gathered together "in the midst of Egypt" with Moses, who was not in Goshen but in the locality and presence of Pharaoh.   


Num 14:14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Yahweh, are in the middle of this people; for You, Yahweh, are seen face to face, and Your cloud stands over them and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night-
It was only Moses who saw Yahweh face to face. But his personal relationship with God had been shared not only with Israel, but somehow the Gentile world of Canaan had got to hear about it. If we have a close relationship with God, we will not need to boast of this to others, it will become apparent, and the knowledge of it will somehow spread widely.


Num 14:15 Now if You killed this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of You will speak, saying,
Num 14:16 ‘Because Yahweh was not able to bring this people into the land which He swore to them, therefore He has slain them in the wilderness’-
 
Caleb and Joshua perceived that Israel were “well able” to overcome the tribes and inherit the land, seeing that the Angel-hornet had gone ahead and prepared the way; and yet due to Israel’s disabling of this possibility at the time, it was in some ways so that God Himself was “not able” to give them the inheritance, because they judged that they were “not able” to take it (Num. 13:30,31; 14:16).

The way Moses pleaded with God to change His mind and not destroy Israel for the sake of what the surrounding nations would say is indeed inspirational to us all. It surely inspired David to pray likewise- for “wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now there God?” (Ps. 115:2).


Num 14:17 Now please let the power of the Lord be great, according as You have spoken, saying-

 


Num 14:18 ‘Yahweh is slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and disobedience; and that will by no means justify the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and on the fourth generation’-

Moses asked to know God deeper in Ex. 33 and 34, and was subsequently given an inspiring theophany in which the Name of Yahweh was declared. This wasn't just a piece of exquisite intellectual stimulation for Moses. He quoted that very theophany, the things he had there learned of the essentially merciful character of God, in his matchless prayer of Num. 14:17-19, where he pleads with God not to destroy Israel and not to glorify him as God had offered. All we learn of the Father, the richness of the vision we see in Christ, all this cannot remain within us, as jottings in our Bible margins, as notes of addresses, as dimly recollected ideas in brain cells. If we have really seen, there must, inevitably and naturally, be a giving out of the vision.


Num 14:19 Please pardon the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your grace, and according as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.

Num 14:20 Yahweh said, I have pardoned according to your word-
Others can be forgiven because of our intercession (see too Mk. 2:5,6). This has huge implications; for in this case we should be praying constantly for others, if the prayers of a third party can have such power in another’s life. Thanks to Solomon’s prayer, and if he had been obedient, all Israel would have been blessed and experienced Yahweh dwelling amongst them (1 Kings 6:12,13). Moses prayed for God to forgive Israel; and He responded: “I have pardoned, according to thy word” (Num. 14:20) rather than according to their repentance and prayer. Indeed it would seem from Heb. 11:28 that Israel were delivered from the Egyptians due to Moses’ faith in the Christ whom the sprinkled Passover blood pointed forward to.


Num 14:21 but in very deed, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Yahweh;
Num 14:22 because all those men who have seen My glory and My signs which I worked in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have tempted Me these ten times, and have not listened to My voice;
Num 14:23 surely they shall not see the land which I swore to their fathers, neither shall any of those who despised Me see it.
Num 14:24 But My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and has followed Me faithfully, him will I bring into the land into which he went; and his seed shall possess it-
Caleb was head of a household within the tribe of Judah. It could be argued that he was directly related to Judah through Hezron and Pharez (1 Chron. 2:5,18,25). But "Kenizzite" (also Num. 32:12) could refer to the Gentile tribe of Gen. 15:19; or to a man called Kenaz, memorialized by Caleb naming his son with that same name (1 Chron. 4:15). And Jud. 1:13 could mean that Caleb's father was called Kenaz. ‘Caleb’ means ‘dog’ in Hebrew, and God alludes to this in describing Caleb as His faithful follower. The intimacy between a man and his dog can be seen between God and His man. The genealogies are constructed in such a way that they don't preclude Caleb having been a Gentile who was fully accepted into the tribe of Judah.  

We must consider at this point Caleb's words of Josh. 14:12 "Now therefore give me this hill country, of which Yahweh spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and great and fortified cities". Although not recorded in Num. 14:24, it appears Caleb was specifically promised Hebron at that time. Caleb had explored that area as a spy (Num. 13:22) and taken a special liking to it. We see therefore his spiritual ambition; 'this shall one day be mine'. And we can do the same, as we in this life spy out our future inheritance. 

Joshua allowed the leaders of Israel to lead him into wrong decisions about the initial attack on Ai, and also into being deceived by the Gibeonites. And yet as a younger man, he had boldly stood up to the peer pressure of the princes of Israel in faithfully declaring that Israel could and should go up into Canaan; when the other princes must have put huge pressure upon him to agree with them. He is described as maintaining “another spirit” to theirs (Num. 14:24). The resolution of youth seems to have been somewhat lost as he grew older.


Num 14:25 Now the Amalekite and the Canaanite dwell in the valley. Tomorrow, turn and go into the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.

Num 14:26 Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying-
It was as if God needed someone to talk with, to share His feelings of frustration...


Num 14:27 How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, that murmur against Me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against Me-
The Hebrew for "murmur" is the word for "stop", and is usually translated in that way. The idea is that they didn't want to go further on the journey; they wanted to return to Egypt. Despite the wonder of the Red Sea deliverance. Their hearts truly were in Egypt. This sense of not wanting to go onwards towards the Kingdom, to put a brake on God's saving process, is the same temptation which in essence afflicts all God's people who have started the journey with Him.


Num 14:28 Tell them, ‘As I live, says Yahweh, surely as you have spoken in My ears, so will I do to you-
 In My ears
- But the people thought they were only quietly murmuring (:27). God hears our inaudible grumblings and faithless doubts, just as He did Sarah's.


Num 14:29 Your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness; and all who were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against Me-


Num 14:30 surely you shall not come into the land, concerning which I swore that I would make you dwell therein, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun-
This promise was solemnly made, with uplifted hand as it were, to that generation who left Egypt (Ex. 6:8). But they did not enter the land, as Num. 14:30 makes clear. This was because Israel broke their side of the covenant, and did not in fact want to enter the land; and continued serving the idols of Egypt, which they took with them through the Red Sea (Ez. 20:8; Acts 7:43). But that promise was guaranteed by the fact that "I will bring you into the land... I am Yahweh" (Ex. 6:8). The very essence of Yahweh, that 'I will' save, as surely as 'I will be who I will be', a saviour God, was fought against by Israel's idolatry and unfaithfulness to the covenant. And because 'Yahweh' involves His character, which includes His judgment of sin and not turning a blind eye to it (Ex. 34:4-6), human intransigence and faithlessness was allowed to as it were even counteract His most essential 'being' a saviour God for His beloved people.    


Num 14:31 But your little ones, that you said should be for a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected-
 
In the end, God gives us our dominant desire. Israel in the wilderness “despised the land of desire, they believed not his word” of promise, that they would enter it (Ps. 106:24 AVmg.). They didn’t really desire the land, so they didn’t receive it. Israel both despised the land, and they despised their God (Num. 14:11,23,31 RV). Our attitude as to whether or not we want to be in the Kingdom is essentially our attitude to God. This has far reaching implications. Ps. 107:30 likewise speaks of how the faithful are brought to the haven of their desire (RVmg.). All those who truly love the Lord’s appearing- with all that implies in practical life and belief- will be accepted (2 Tim. 4:8). And yet Israel didn’t have the dominant desire to be in the Kingdom, as Joshua and Caleb had. Why didn’t they? It is vital that we understand the reasons for their failure – such an understanding will be a safeguard to help prevent us from making the same mistake (Rom.15:4).


Num 14:32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness.
Num 14:33 Your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness forty years, and shall bear your prostitution, until your dead bodies be consumed in the wilderness-
 
Their concern about their children being killed by the Canaanites was only an excuse- their children ended up bearing their sins, i.e. bearing the consequence of them. The figure of 'carrying iniquity' means 'carrying the consequence of sin'; which is what the Lord did on the cross. Others suffer the consequence of our sin; and the consequence of sin can be carried by Jesus.

To disbelieve we will enter the promised land of God’s Kingdom is effectively prostitution against God. The Bible often describes unfaithfulness in terms which are startling to us, but this is to show how serious is unbelief.

 


Num 14:34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year, you will bear your iniquities, even forty years; and you will know the altering of My purpose’-
See on Heb. 3:9-11. That God can change His mind is an indication of the extreme sensitivity He has to human behaviour. The only thing in which He is unchanging is His patience with sinners (Mal. 3:6).


Num 14:35 I Yahweh have spoken, surely this will I do to all this evil congregation, who are gathered together against Me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
Num 14:36 The men, whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation to murmur against Him, by bringing up an evil report against the land,
Num 14:37 even those men who brought up an evil report about the land, died by the plague before Yahweh.
Num 14:38 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land.

Num 14:39 Moses told these words to all the children of Israel, and the people mourned greatly.
Num 14:40 They rose up early in the morning, and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, Behold, we are here, and will go up to the place which Yahweh has promised; for we have sinned.
Num 14:41 Moses said, Why now do you disobey the commandment of Yahweh, since disobedience shall not prosper?
Num 14:42 Don’t go up, for Yahweh isn’t among you; that you not be struck down before your enemies-
 v. 42,44: "Go not up, for the Lord is not among you. . but they presumed to go up. . nevertheless, the ark of the covenant of the Lord (which the Angel had made with them) departed not"- as if to imply that the Lord (the Angel) was in the ark, and therefore did not go up with them because the ark did not. See on Ps. 78:60.

:44  David's bringing up / going up / ascending of the ark (2 Sam. 6:2) recalls how the ark did not go up into Canaan in Num. 14:44 (s.w.); for the land was not to be given to Israel. But when the time came, the ark was brought up into Canaan (Josh. 4:16,18 s.w.). And so now, the land was being given to them again. David felt as if he was as Joshua reconquering Canaan in fulfilment of the promises. This may explain why Paul in Acts 13:21 parallels the 40 years wanding of Israel with the 40 year reign of Saul; and he may speak of Saul reigning 40 years because of this, even if it was not literally true. It creates big chronological problems if we read that 40 year reign of Saul literally.

 

Num 14:43 There the Amalekite and the Canaanite are before you, and you shall fall by the sword, because you are turned back from following Yahweh; therefore Yahweh will not be with you.
Num 14:44 But they presumed to go up to the top of the mountain; nevertheless the ark of the covenant of Yahweh and Moses didn’t depart out of the camp-
Those rejected by God at His judgment still desperately want to enter His Kingdom (Mt. 25:11). In that day of final judgment, all present will desperately want only one thing- to enter the Kingdom. Nothing else will matter. We should have that spirit with us now.


Num 14:45 Then the Amalekite came down, and the Canaanite who lived in that mountain, and struck them and beat them down, even to Hormah.