“So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’”
Did the Lord bring them out of Egypt and place them in the wilderness to kill them? No. The Lord brought them out of Egypt to save them and to do a work in them because He is doing a great work through them, bringing salvation to the world through His Son Jesus! God is training His people to trust Him and walk by faith not sight, without fear or their own thoughts about their circumstances. Joshua and Caleb understand walking by faith as they urge the people not to fear, to trust the Lord, and to take the land. Remember, the Lord already provided a great victory for the Israelites when Joshua led the people in battle against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16). Joshua and Caleb knew the Lord gave them victory then, and they know that He will provide victory again. However, taking a stand alone for the Lord is not easy as we see here with Joshua and Caleb. After Joshua and Caleb spoke “the congregation said to stone them with stones.”
The Lord is displeased with the people’s lack of faith, but Moses intercedes for the people – “And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty.” Therefore, there are consequences as a result of the people’s rebellion. The Lord states that anyone who was twenty years old and older and saw all the miraculous signs He performed in Egypt and in the wilderness and still didn’t trust Him will die in the wilderness. The only ones of that generation who will enter the promised land are the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb. They will lead a whole new generation into Canaan after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, a year for each day the spies spied out the promised land. However, the people don’t like this punishment so the next day they go and try to take the land without the Lord. The Israelites learn the hard way that you will not succeed without God! As Psalms 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Unless God is in it, man’s efforts are futile.
Toward the end of the reading, we learn that the whole congregation stones to death a man for collecting sticks on the sabbath. I know this seems harsh, but we have to remember that it isn’t about what we think is fair or isn’t fair. It is about what He said, and we read in Exodus 31:14-15 the punishment for working on the sabbath is death. The Lord desires for His people to obey Him, and it is for their own good! God is teaching His people to obey His word in the wilderness. He even helps them by telling them to put tassels on their clothing so they will remember His commandments and not “follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own mind are inclined.”
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” God knows how bad it is. This is why He is sending His Son as the final sacrificial Lamb. The Lord is going to give to anyone who believes in His Son Jesus Christ a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). Also, remember that we aren’t saved based on works. We are saved based on our faith. God knows hearts, minds, and intents of each person. He knows which ones have faith in Him and which ones don’t, just like he knew the heart, mind, and intent of the man picking up sticks on the Sabbath. Our faith is what leads us to desire obedience (James 2:14-26). So we have to trust the Lord, knowing that His judgment is always just.
Keep reading because shockingly enough there is more disobedience tomorrow. Will the Israelites ever learn to trust and obey the Lord?! (Numbers 14:1-15:41)