For what seems like an eternity, there is a holy hush in Numbers 13. Caleb has just challenged the people to rise up in faith and take the land God has promised, but while they are processing his request, ten of the men who went with him rise up against him.
Just because everyone had a window seat on their trip to the Promised Land doesn’t mean that everyone saw the same thing. Caleb wasn’t denying the fact that the inhabitants of the land were as intimidating as Sumo Wrestlers. He just chose not to focus on that fact.
It’s like when God tells you to do something and you start to look at your bank account to see if it’s workable or not. Usually, the answer is not. At this point, you can do one of two things: make sure you heard from God and then step out or wait for God to do everything while you do nothing. Having been down Faith Avenue a few times, I don’t think it generally works that way—99% of the time, you have to move before God makes His move. And what you choose to focus on usually determines what you will or won’t do.
This is the challenge God’s people are struggling with in Numbers 13. Unfortunately in Chapter 14, Verse 1, they’ve already made up their minds. We don’t see them seeking God, praying or asking Him what they should do next. We just see them going through an entire box of Kleenex because all hope is gone of ever being able to beat the bad guys in the Promised Land.
In just one verse, tears have dried up and hearts are hardening against God. It makes you wonder how close to the surface bitterness and rebellion were before hearing the report. Nothing like a crisis to reveal what’s really in your heart.
The Hebrews start talking behind Moses’ and Aaron’s backs and convince themselves that they would have been better off to have died in Egypt or in the wilderness. Notice God doesn’t argue with them on that point.
The bellyaching is relentless and before long, some idiot suggests that they make another idiot captain to lead them back to Egypt. Like they’re going to Niagara Falls for the weekend. Did they forget they’re the housekeepers and not the guests of Hotel Egypt?
When Moses and Aaron catch wind of the plan, they fall on their faces while Caleb and Joshua rip their garments in repentance for the people. Like a mother trying to bribe her unruly child at Walmart, Moses tries to coerce the Hebrews to be on their best behaviour but once again, they refuse to listen.
By this point, it’s a scene from the G-20 riot, with the mob threatening to stone the leaders to death. Just as it’s getting out of control, God steps in. The fiery spotlight of His glory beams down onto the scene and like a bunch of kids, they straighten out when Dad enters the room. But God knows exactly what they’ve been up to and there’s no hiding from Him.
God calls Moses aside and makes him an offer he can’t refuse: the people will be hit hard with a pestilence. God will then start with a fresh batch of people. This new nation will grow up to become even greater and mightier than their predecessors and everyone will live happily ever after in the Promised Land.
It’s sounding like a dream come true, that is, until Moses’ conscience kicks in. This is nothing more than a test of his leadership—not so much the ability to lead, but the ability to love those he leads. Although he passed with flying colours the first time in Exodus 32:10, can he do it again, especially after an attempted assassination?
Moses, knowing God, appeals on the basis of His character and compassion. Without hesitation, God pardons their iniquity, but chooses not to scrub the consequences. Due to the fact that they provoked God no less than ten times and refused to listen despite all the signs, wonders and miracles He performed for their benefit, the trip to Disneyland is off.
God makes it very clear that Caleb, however, will still be going to the Promised Land. Why should he be punished with the rest when he was ready to step out of the boat? And not only him, but Joshua believed too that God would do what He said He would do.
But aside from these two, the rest would live out their days in the wilderness. As disappointing as that is to both them and God, the people have rendered themselves useless. God was willing to work with them, but they gave Him nothing to work with. A herd of donkeys would have been more cooperative.
When I worked with thoroughbreds, if an animal was not trainable, it didn’t matter what its bloodline was or how much they paid for it. On the other hand, if a horse was willing and teachable, its bloodline or price tag didn’t matter—the horse had potential to win. Here’s a warning: after the excitement of salvation has worn off, you too can eventually become unteachable and unwilling to change. When that happens, God will only prod you so long before retiring you to pasture. When that happens, you miss out on your purpose and destiny and no one but you is to blame.
After the tears have stopped flowing, a second rebellion erupts, though less volatile than the last one. Early in the morning, the people hit their alarm clocks, finish their corn flakes and make their way to the top of the mountain as though nothing ever happened. Fearless, they declare to Moses that after sleeping on it, they’ve decided they’re ready to go in and take the land. Say wha…?
Moses is as stunned as I am and asks them outright how they can be so bold to go up against God a second time and think they can just go ahead and do whatever they want. He strongly advises them that if they go out on their own, things will not go well because God is not with them. But like a rebellious teenager, the Hebrews do whatever they feel like doing, regardless of the consequences. And sure enough, they are crushed by their enemies.
How many times do these people have to be told? It makes God sad to see people get hurt needlessly, especially at their own doing, but when you don’t or won’t listen, the consequences speak for themselves. Have you been trying to push down a door that God has closed? If so, don’t make it harder for yourself. If God is not in it, you will not succeed long-term.
God is not Hitler. He is good and His plan for you is good. If there’s something in you that refuses to believe that, examine your heart for bitterness. A past experience with authority could be your root of rebellion. Forgive and learn to dissociate that experience from God. Get to know the Father’s heart and understand that He loves you deeply and unconditionally. If you are willing and teachable, He will work His perfect plan as you learn to trust and obey, one step at a time.