Numbers 14
(Grave Consequences)
February 13th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

That night all the members 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 wilderness!

- Numbers 14:1-2 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

These two chapters capture the turning point in the journey of the Israelites through the desert. God had been caring for them and guiding them regarding the ways to build an organized and righteous civilization in preparation for entry into the Promised Land. They could have entered that land after the first year, but they were gripped by fear and doubt, as described in the study of chapter 13.

In chapter 14, these emotions morphed into anger, as the people lashed out at God: “ ‘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’ (Numbers 14:3 - NIV).”

Caleb and Joshua had been part of the reconnaissance team that had explored the Promised Land, as described in chapter 13. They were the only men from this mission who expressed confidence in the Israelites ability to conquer the land with the help of the LORD. They made one more plea for the people to have faith that the LORD would enable them to conquer the Canaanites:

    Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, members of the scouting party, ripped their clothes and addressed the assembled People of Israel: “The land we walked through and scouted out is a very good land—very good indeed. If God is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land that flows, as they say, with milk and honey. And he’ll give it to us. Just don’t rebel against God! And don’t be afraid of those people. Why, we’ll have them for lunch! They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them!”

    - Numbers 14:6-9 (MSG)

Caleb and Joshua's statement that they would have the Amalekites and Canaanites for lunch was a retort to their colleagues' opinions that these other people would consume them. Other translations say that they will be food for us or they will be our bread. But the people would not listen and threatened to stone these young men for having an opposite opinion (which happened to be the truth). Now the LORD was even angrier than before. He said he would strike all of those people with the plague, but Moses convinced him to reduce the sentence. In his mercy, the LORD agreed, but did proclaim a stiff sentence consisting of 40 years of living in the desert (including the first year already served). Caleb and Joshua would be the only men from the current generation to be allowed to enter the Promised Land. All other adults over twenty years of age would pass away before they left the desert:

    Your little ones, however, who you said would be taken as spoil, I will bring in, and they shall know the land you rejected. But as for you, your bodies shall fall here in the wilderness, while your children will wander for forty years, suffering for your infidelity, till the last of you lies dead in the wilderness.

    Corresponding to the number of days you spent reconnoitering the land—forty days—you shall bear your punishment one year for each day: forty years. Thus you will realize what it means to oppose me. I, the LORD, have spoken; and I will surely do this to this entire wicked community that conspired against me: here in the wilderness they shall come to their end and there they will die.”

    - Numbers 14:31-35 (NAB)

When the people realized the mistake they made they tried to put on a charade of repentance by attacking the Canaanites and Amalikites. However, it was too late. The LORD was not with them and they were defeated. The people had been humbled because of their lack of faith and arrogance. Perhaps now their rebellious spirit has been broken. We shall see.

Reflection and Application

The main message in these last two days of reading is to trust in God. If the Israelites had reviewed their last year with God they would have realized that he had performed many miracles to protect and provide for them and had demonstrated that nothing was beyond his power. He created multiple plagues to convince the Egyptians to let his people go and used water to defeat the Egyptian army. He created food in the desert and defined laws that allowed them to live in harmony with him and one another. Given all he had done, they should have trusted God to get them to the next step in his plan.

What about us? How do we feel about what God has done? Do we feel that he has brought us out into the desert only to be devoured by hostile forces? We have been following him for a long time but have not escaped misery or drudgery or disease or war. There are hard times for us in the spiritual desert in which we have been wandering. But we can trust that God is with us. If we hear him call us to take on a large task we can trust that he will provide what we need. If we are afraid, and shut our ears to Heaven, but hear testimony from one or two of us his witnesses on earth, then we should listen, because they may be his messengers, giving us encouragement and confidence to move forward. The messenger of God who wrote the book of Hebrews encourages us to have faith in all situations and warns of repeating the mistake made by our spiritual ancestors in the desert:

    For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

      “Today, if you hear his voice,
      do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

    Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

    - Hebrews 3:14-18 (NRSV)

The 20th century German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) maintained his faith in all circumstances, event to his unwarranted death. There may have been numerous occasions where he was able to relate to the courage of Caleb and Joshua. He and a minority group of colleagues spoke out continuously against the compromises that the German church had made on behalf of Hitler and his National Socialist regime. These conflicts are described with interesting detail in Eric Metaxas' biography, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. For example, in 1933 Bonhoeffer and a group calling itself the Young Reformation movement decided to write a "Confession of Faith" that would force a decision by the group known as the "German Christians." This group was actively redefining its interpretation of Christianity and the meaning of the original Reformation (1).

One of the early controversial statements by the German Christians was an "Aryan Paragraph" that would prevent people of Jewish descent from serving in the ministry of the German churches. Bonhoeffer and his colleagues addressed this statement and others in a draft of the “Confession.” However, they received a lot of edits from a group of experts and Bonhoeffer subsequently found that it was so watered down that he could no longer support it. He decided to write his own pamphlet called the "The Aryan Clause and the Church" which ruffled the feathers of the leaders so much that they threatened to decline a previously approved move for him to represent the German Church in London(2).

This consequence was not quite the equivalent of the threat to stone Caleb and Joshua over their challenge to the report of their fellow explorers, but it was a threat intended to change Bonhoeffer's public stance. As with Caleb and Joshua, Bonhoeffer was unable to win over the minds of the whole nation. Having beaten down the opposition, the German church decided to go forward with its Aryan Paragraph (albeit with a temporary reprieve for current ministers). As we all know from our history books, this was only the beginning of ethnic cleansing in Germany, and the worst was yet to come. That generation also was subjected to grave consequences. God always wins in the end.

One of the other messages from today's study is to do what is right at the right time. The rebellious Israelites did not have courage to take on the Amalekites and Canaanites when God wanted them to, and then failed when they tried to do it without God. It was too little, too late. One of Bonhoeffer's opponents realized the truth after it was too late. Martin Niemöller was a supporter of the Aryan Paragraph because he did not want to see the church torn apart, but then he was eventually imprisoned in the German concentration camps, where he wrote the following (3):

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
    because I was not a Socialist.
    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
    because I was not a Trade Unionist
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
    because I was not a Jew.
    And then they came for me-
    and there was no one left to speak for me.

    - Martin Niemöller (14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984)

When God calls, don’t put him on call-waiting. If we do, he may send a messenger, like Caleb, Joshua, Bonhoeffer, and others. Instead of throwing stones at these dissenters we should be opening our hearts and praying for wisdom and courage. Instead of relying on our own judgment based on human limitations we should do what he tells us to do at the time he tells us to do it, and believe that he will get us to the Promised Land.

    Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man,
    And I believe in a promised land.

    There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
    I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
    Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
    That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
    Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
    Blow away the dreams that break your heart
    Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

    -Bruce Springsteen (September 23, 1949 - Current), Excerpt from “The Promised Land”

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is one of the situations where you overcame what had seemed like an insurmountable obstacle?
    2. Who are the Calebs and Joshuas in your life that are telling an unpopular truth?
    3. What are the tools for survival if we find ourselves in a spiritual desert for a prolonged period?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to hear your truth and speak your truth, even when it is unpopular.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Political dissenters who speak the truth about justice and respect for human life


    (1) Metaxas, Eric, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2010; p. 182
    (2) Ibid, p.183-186
    (3) Ibid, p.186,192

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Numbers 15-18 (Rebellion in the Desert Part II)

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