Friday, April 15, 2011

Numbers 14: 1-25

1Then all the people began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2Their voices rose in a great chorus of complaint against Moses and Aaron. "We wish we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!" they wailed. 3"Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and little ones will be carried off as slaves! Let's get out of here and return to Egypt!" 4Then they plotted among themselves, "Let's choose a leader and go back to Egypt!"

5Then Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground before the people of Israel. 6Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. 7They said to the community of Israel, "The land we explored is a wonderful land! 8And if the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and he will give it to us! 9Do not rebel against the LORD, and don't be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don't be afraid of them!"

10But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the LORD appeared to all the Israelites from above the Tabernacle. 11And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people reject me? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? 12I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation far greater and mightier than they are!"

13"But what will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?" Moses pleaded with the LORD. "They know full well the power you displayed in rescuing these people from Egypt. 14They will tell this to the inhabitants of this land, who are well aware that you are with this people. They know, LORD, that you have appeared in full view of your people in the pillar of cloud that hovers over them. They know that you go before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. 15Now if you slaughter all these people, the nations that have heard of your fame will say, 16`The LORD was not able to bring them into the land he swore to give them, so he killed them in the wilderness.'

17"Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed it to be. For you said, 18`The LORD is slow to anger and rich in unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. Even so he does not leave sin unpunished, but he punishes the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations.' 19Please pardon the sins of this people because of your magnificent, unfailing love, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt."

20Then the LORD said, "I will pardon them as you have requested. 21But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the LORD's glory, 22not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they tested me by refusing to listen. 23They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will enter it. 24But my servant Caleb is different from the others. He has remained loyal to me, and I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will receive their full share of that land. 25Now turn around and don't go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea."

Points of Interest:

· We wish we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!’—as we discussed earlier, the hero’s journey always involves the hero being called out of her ordinary world into the special world of adventure. Her response is always to refuse that call. That seems to be what’s happening here. Caleb and Joshua are serving as heralds, calling the people to join the adventure of taking the promised land. They aggressively refuse, wanting to stay in the wilderness, or even go back to Egypt. Incidentally, the wilderness had at one time been the special world, and they’d resisted the call to go into the wilderness as well. Now, it seems kind of comfortable to them. It seems that no matter how many times we embark on a hero’s path, our first instinct when we hear a new call will be to resist.

· will be carried off as slaves’—they seem to have forgotten that they were already slaves in Egypt. They’re assuming that the worst will happen, but even the worst is only as bad as the life God has already rescued them from.

· if the LORD is pleased with us’—Joshua and Caleb have learned by now that without God on their side things could be bad indeed, but with God on their side anything is possible. In their fear of what might happen to them in Canaan, the people are putting themselves in danger of the far worse situation that could happen if they distance themselves from God.

· the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb’—the people are so resistant to what Joshua and Caleb have to say that they are willing to kill them to shut them up.

· Then I will make you into a nation far greater and mightier than they are!’—this is a repeat of the golden calf. The people’s unwillingness to go to the promised land is another breach of their contract with God. This time, interestingly, the people are refusing to accept the gift that God had promised to give them. God is committed to blessing someone and giving them the land. Since the people of Israel don’t seem to want it, God asks Moses if he’d like it instead.

· They know, LORD, that you have appeared in full view of your people in the pillar of cloud’—Moses points out that God has already been seen in public with the people of Israel. God can’t just quietly part ways with them now. It’s known that he is their God.

· ‘the LORD was not able to bring them into the land’—God has already expressed his intention of bringing the Israelites into the land. If he stops now, people will get the wrong idea about his character and his power—even though he would be perfectly justified in stopping because of Israel’s breach of contract.

· ‘pardon the sins of this people because of your magnificent, unfailing love’—the biggest barrier to bringing the people into the promised land is not the Canaanites, Hittities, Amorites, Jebusites, and Amalekites. It is their own sin and rebellion. Thankfully, God is willing and able to overcome this barrier as well. Making the people worthy and able to be led into the land will be the most awesome display of God’s glory.

· ‘not one of these people will ever enter that land’—this is a perfect illustration of the old saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ The people say, ‘We wish we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!’ God is granting their wish: they will indeed all die in the wilderness. This generation has shown that they belong in the wilderness. Now, God is going to take the slow approach of building a relationship from the beginning with a new generation which he will bring into the land as promised.

· ‘Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness’—they’re heading backward, not forward. What was meant to be a wilderness journey of a matter of months will end up taking 40 years.

Taking it home:

· For you: It’s not difficult to understand why the Israelites would refuse the call to move into the land. While there was much promise, there were also many dangers and uncertainties. The wilderness felt safe, and, above all, it was a known quantity. Has God been nudging you to move out of your ordinary life into some sort of new adventure with him? What are the things that hold you back from saying, ‘yes’? What are promises ahead? What assurances do you need from God before you can move forward?

· For your six: The people of Israel shut their ears to the encouragement of Joshua and Caleb, and it costs them 40 years in the wilderness. Pray that your six would have open ears to people who are encouraging them in the direction of peace, prosperity, healing, and blessing.

· For our church: Pray for God’s mercy to be with us. Pray that no matter how many times we fail, we complain, or we try to wriggle our way out of his plans for us that he would remain committed to making us his people and fulfilling his purposes through us.