Meditating on the Judgements of God:
5.4 Canaan Rejected
Num 14:1-4 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
God’s plan for Israel which was declared over four hundred years back was that they should take and clear the land of Canaan and make it their own home. As they approach the boundaries, the Lord tells Moses to send in twelve spies, one from each tribe to check that the land is as God described it (Num 13:1,2). When they return they acknowledge that it is as good as God had said but ten of them focus on the people there who create fear in them (Num 13:27-29) but one of them, Caleb, silences the others with the declaration that they can do it. Nevertheless the majority persist and the result is that they undermine the confidence of the people and, as we see above, they grumble again against Moses and Aaron and refuse to go in.
Although we believe the Lord’s response was to test Moses, nevertheless it was a fair response: “The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Num 14:11,12) Indeed as we noted in the previous study the people of Israel have seen so much of the Lord’s activity that they should now have confidence in Him.
Moses rightly pleads for them and so we then see, “The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times– not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20-23) His judgment is that this present generation (which would have been counted as all those over the age of twenty – see Num 32:11,12), with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, will not enter the land but die in the desert. The ten men who brought a bad report and undermined Israel died of plague (Num 14:36-38).
To keep the story short, the people then appeared to repent and decided they would go in and take the land but when they tried they were fiercely repulsed (Num 14:39-45); the Lord did not fight for them and enable them to enter. The die had been cast and His judgment on them remained. Thus over the next forty years all those over the age of twenty at the beginning of that period died off in their travels around.
As a form of judgment, although frustrating perhaps, at least Israel were not slaves and they still had God’s provision which kept them throughout the forty year period of waiting so that the next generation was preserved. During that time many children would have been born and a complete new generation who had never known the experience of Egypt, but all they knew was that they were God’s people waiting for the appropriate time to take the Promised Land. The youngest of those destined not to enter, would have been 21 at the start and would have died off before reaching sixty. The oldest of the younger generation were 20 at the start and would have been sixty at the time of entering the land. Thus most of those who could be considered warriors would have been younger at the start or were those born in the desert. It was in many ways ‘starting with a clean slate’.
Considering the overall history of Israel, each of these current judgments are clearly designed to motivate the present and future generations and act as a brake on their sin and unbelief. Every additional judgment was an additional experience of the Lord. This may appear a very negative time for Israel but hanging over them as a future reward is the anticipation of taking this land that is flowing with milk and honey. As we said just now, there must have been a sense of frustration at having to wait but as every year passed there was an increased anticipation that it is getting nearer and nearer.