Everything was in place for an Israelite invasion of the promised land. As I said yesterday’s blog, God had given His people every reason to trust Him no reason not to. But the people chose to believe the majority report of the scouts and they chose not to believe the Lord.
With imaginations of impregnable cities, marching hordes of killer Canaanites, and bloodthirsty giants, the people cried and complained. In their panicked state they said, “God brought us here to kill us! Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” (v.4).
In verses 5-10, Scripture sets four men of faith against an entire nation of unbelievers. Moses and Aaron fell down on their faces — perhaps to pray, perhaps to take cover in anticipation of God pouring out His wrath. Joshua and Caleb had a different response. They tore their clothes (a sign of deep distress) and began to speak: “God brought us into this good land to give it to us. If He is with us, the enemy has no protection and we will eat them alive!”
Joshua and Caleb appealed to their nation with two wise warnings: do not be afraid of the Canaanites and do not rebel against the Lord. But the congregation persisted in their unbelief and wanted to stone (kill) Joshua and Caleb. They certainly would have, but God intervened, appearing at the Tabernacle in a glorious, visible manifestation (v.10).
The Lord asked a question that demanded an answer (v.11): “How long will they not believe Me, in spite of all the signs I have done among them?” That is a good question for us, too. When we consider all the Lord has done for us — His salvation, provision, comfort, and answered prayers — why would we ever entertain even a single moment of doubt?
Then the Lord made a startling statement: “I’m finished with the Israelites and I’m starting over with Moses.” In an amazing display of love and leadership, Moses prayed for his people. He appealed to the reputation of God (v.13-16) and to the power of His compassion for His people (v.17-18). Moses pleaded with God to pardon them.
God immediately granted Moses’ request, but with this caveat: there would be a forty-year delay in entering the land, long enough for the entire generation of unbelievers to die as wanderers in the wilderness. There were two exceptions, the scouts who believed the Lord: Caleb, who had a different spirit (v.24), and Joshua, who would one day lead the invasion. (The other ten scouts immediately got sick and died, v.37.)
The tragic end of the chapter shows the congregation repenting too late. They went into battle but left the Lord in the camp (v.44). Without His presence and blessing they were embarrassingly defeated by the enemy. It is a chilling lesson for us: if we are bound to sin, we are bound to suffer. When we leave God behind and go in our own strength, defeat will follow our rebellion as surely as night follows day.