Friday, September 10, 2010

Numbers 13, 14, 15 Exploring the land of Canaan

Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13Image via Wikipedi

I can’t begin to tell you just how many times I’ve done the exact opposite of what I knew to be God’s will.  No, I’m not boasting and I’m not proud of those decisions.  In fact, everything that I have ever done in opposition to God’s revealed will has brought heartache, trouble, grief or sorrow into my life. Over the course of my life, I’ve accumulated numerous regrets.  And always, I wonder, what would have been if I made God honoring decisions?

These chapters in Numbers document a national decision to listen to men rather than to God.  In the beginning of Chapter 13, God tells Moses to send a man from each tribe to explore (Hebrew תּוּר ) the land of Canaan which He was ready to give to them.  So, these twelve men, leaders among the tribes, explored Canaan for forty days.  While they found a fertile land with excellent crops, they also reported seeing the descendants of the Anak there.  Unusually tall and strong people, the Anak were reputed to be descended from “the sons of god” (Genesis 6:2) which was a phrase referring to fallen angels.  They were perceived as enemies of God as well as formidable enemies of those who loved God.  In addition to the Anak, they saw their old enemies, the Amalekites, who they defeated with God’s help, in an earlier battle.

At the end of forty days, leaders from the twelve tribes returned from their mission and reported that although the land was indeed fruitful, it was also terrifying.  They returned no longer looking to the God who brought them to this land, but rather they focused fearfully on the strength of the inhabitants.  They believed in neither God nor in His Word.  These tribal leaders trusted what they saw with their eyes rather than trusting in the spoken Word of God.

Only Caleb and Joshua tried to dissuade the people from listening to the other tribal leaders.  They, along with Moses and Aaron, pleaded with Israel “to trust that God is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:9). But Israel rebelled against God’s Word.

Though Moses interceded in prayer for the sin of the nation, God forgave them but did not remove the consequence of their sin.  God said that “not one of the people who saw His glory and miraculous signs … will ever see the land I promised on an oath.  No one who has treated Me with contempt will ever see it. …I will bring your children in to enjoy the land you have rejected. … For forty years, one year for each of the forty days you explored the land, you will suffer for your sins.” (Numbers 14:20 – 35) Everyone who was twenty years old and up (except for Caleb and Joshua) was included in this judgement.  Children referred to everyone under the age of twenty at the time that the twelve leaders explored the land of Canaan.

By not trusting in God to fight their battles, Israel doubted God’s character and ultimately, rejected His will for the nation.  The ten men responsible for fueling fear and distrust as well as spreading a bad report about Canaan, were immediately struck down with a plague.  Even though the Israelites then changed their minds and decided to enter Canaan after the death of these leaders, Moses told them that God had already pronounced His judgment and that it would be sinful and useless to try to enter Canaan without Him.
Predictably, the Israelites who attempted to enter the land suffered a military defeat.

What I find most reassuring about this account is that even though Israel sinned against God, God forgave them (Numbers 14: 20).  Even though they sinned, God never withdrew His covenant relationship with Israel.  God allowed the nation to bear the consequences of sin as a way of further teaching them that He was God, King of the Universe and Sovereign over all.  Bearing a consequence for sin has nothing to do with rejection or punishment.  Basically, it's learning from experience.  While God does give us the opportunity to learn from His Word, mankind typically resorts to "hands on" education.

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