Numbers 13:26-14:23

The Consequence of Disobedience


How many times do we go through life facing one challenge after another?  Sometimes problems and difficulties stack up on top of one another to the point that it is difficult to figure out which way to turn.  Sometimes the questions come far quicker than answers.  Much of the way we experience the circumstances around us is determined by our basic attitude towards them.  Sometimes we respond in fear, forgetting that fear is not a fruit of faith.[1]  Sometimes we choose to act before we have the resources to effectively respond to situations.  Sometime we make up rationalizations and excuses in order to circumvent the issue rather than deal with it.[2]  These are all approaches to life’s issues that are a basic part of a godless and faithless culture, the culture within faithful believers are immersed, and by which we are all quite well trained. 




When we respond in a faithless manner to the circumstances of life, we are not placing ourselves in a position for the LORD to bless us through those circumstances.  God’s purpose is that He would bless us in all of the events of our lives, both those that we recognize as a blessing, and those that we might interpret as a curse.[3] A life of faith is one that is filled with both the blessings that God showers on us, and a heart and mind that recognizes those blessings.


Numbers 13:26And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.


The book of Numbers contains a recorded history of the experience of the ancient Israelites from their arrival at Mount Sinai following the Exodus from Egypt, to the point where the nation is ready to cross into the Promised Land of Canaan.  God’s purpose was to bless the nation of Israel.[4]  God’s plan was to deliver the nation of Israel, a nation that has now grown to a couple of million people (an estimate based upon the number of men who were able to serve in a military capacity, over 600,000).[5]  It was about an eleven day journey from Sinai to their present location of Kadesh Barnea, literally the entrance to the Promised Land that Israel had left behind nearly 400 years ago when they moved to Egypt as a community of twelve families.  The people were now in a position to receive the blessing that God had promised.


Prior to taking the land, Moses sent a “committee” of twelve men, each representing one of the tribes of Israel, into the land to report back what they find there, and the truth of their report is evident:  God’s gift of blessing was ready to be received.  The men brought back some of the fruit of the land, and referred to it with the proverbial phrase, as a land “flowing with milk and honey,”[6] referring to the land as prosperous and fertile.  The nation was poised to end their trek through the wilderness and enter the land that was given to Abraham.  One would think that, having experienced the power of the LORD to deliver them, having brought them out of Egypt and in a likewise miraculous manner provided for them in the wilderness, that they would have made plans to follow the pillar of fire into the new land without hesitation.  


Number 13:28-29.  Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. 29The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.




It would appear that the “spies” brought back a comprehensive report that was initially accurate in its details.  Not all of their report was laudatory.  Their discouragement began to show in the word translated, “Nevertheless.”  The word is like the English word “but” that we use as a conjunction in a sentence in order to use a second argument to negate the first.  The “spies” found several circumstances that instilled some doubt and fear within them.  When they responded to fear instead of faith, the report brought by the committee took on a new and unfortunate turn.  Rather than simply report what they found and leave it to Moses to decide their next step, they determined to influence that decision by interjecting their own commentary and communicating their own evaluation of it. 


It is evident that their intransigence was motivated by fear, by a lack of faith in the LORD who had already delivered them from harm in the past.  We often respond to change by interpreting it as a threat.  We will sometimes build a defense of rationalizations to prevent a journey into unknown territory.  By acting upon that defense we need not step forward in faith.  We eliminate the need for faithfulness by placing our future in our own hands.  We may observe this behavior in the remainder of their report that quickly changes from fact to commentary to outright lies.


They described a land where several of the cities had defensive walls built around them, a common architecture considering the continual warring between the various tribes in the region.  They also described a population that was practiced in the art of war.  Much of the history to follow describes walls, city gates, and warring tribes.  Consequently, such a report would not be surprising, and would be expected.  However, the word for “walled” that is used here is also found in 2 Kings and in the prophecy of Jeremiah to refer to things that are inaccessible.  They were describing these walled cities as impregnable fortresses that posed a barrier that would be impossible to overcome.  It has not been a long time since they crossed another impenetrable barrier: the Red Sea.  When we look at the future we do not yet know how obstacles will be overcome, so we may faithlessly assume that they cannot be.  Faith looks at situations with a different view:  obstacles are simply barriers that will fall when the LORD leads us to them.  Faithlessness blinds us to that possibility.  Faith moves us forward.   Not all of those who reported were so faithless.


Numbers 13:30And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.


It is evident that the initial report was not made by Caleb or Joshua and incited the people in fear and distress.  Of the twelve members of this “exploratory committee,” these were two who experienced the task through eyes of faith.  They had seen the same fortified cities.  They had seen the same militarily strong communities.  However, they did not perceive these as an obstacle at all.  The statement “at once” and “well able” implies that Caleb (and Joshua, also) fully believed that they were ready to take the land.  Their faithful response to the situation led Caleb to attempt to calm the people. 


One can assume that Joshua and Caleb did not know exactly how the barriers that stood before them would be overcome.  The LORD did not give them a prophecy that opened up to them the details of their future.  To them, the details were of no consequence, as they fully trusted in the LORD to deal with those details.  Joshua and Caleb were not encouraging Israel to blindly enter the land.  They were encouraging the nation to enter the land through wide-open eyes of faith, trusting in the LORD who promised the land to them and who already proved His faithfulness to them as He brought them out of Egypt and through the wilderness.


It is a blessing that, whenever we face the future as a community of faith, there are always a vocal few (and a not-so-vocal larger community) who look at the future through eyes of faith.  If we listen to the Holy Spirit, and seek out those who demonstrate faith in their lives, we can find true and wise counsel as we approach future decisions.  However, if we listen to those who respond faithlessly, we will receive contradictory counsel.


Numbers 13:31But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.




At this point, the faithful report of Joshua and Caleb directly conflicted with those who responded to the Promised Land with fear, a conflict that necessitated a direct attack upon Caleb’s testimony.  However, since a testimony of faith is the one true testimony, an attack on that testimony can only take the form of lies. 


Those who stood against Caleb flatly and directly announced their assessment that “they are stronger than we,” presenting a direct challenge.  Taken at face value without any further thought, the testimony of the fearful may appear to be reasonable.  However, we only need to be reminded that the Israelite army numbers over 600,000 and is lead by the LORD YAHWEH.  Israel could put two million people around a city.  No city, regardless of its size would even choose to defend itself against such a large and powerful adversary. 


Faced with a faith argument that also makes logical sense, Caleb would be able to easily convince the faithful remnant of Israel to follow the LORD’s plan.  Consequently, this put the antagonists on the direct offensive.


Numbers 14:32-33And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. 33And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.


The antagonists now turned from their attack on Caleb to a direct attack on the LORD, bringing an “evil” report of the land.  God had already established this land of “milk and honey” as their own, blessed and ordained by God to be the Israelite homeland.  An attack against the land was an attack against God, the promises that the LORD had made, and against the testimony of faithfulness that the LORD had already shown them. 


In order that their argument would be more forceful, the antagonists pronounced some clear lies.  There is no basis in their report for any statement that “The land eats up its inhabitants.”  Certainly the Canaanites, Hittites, Jebusites, and others were living quite meaningful and successful lives in their land, a land that they themselves would fight to protect.  The examples of fruit that the men brought back did not sow themselves.  Then, in order to make the land look more ominous, they declared that the warriors who would defend their walled cities were giants, particularly referring in the Hebrew to the “Nephilim,” a mythical race of human/angelic beings who became generally understood as huge giants who tower over men.[7] 


Certainly, this is one part of their report that would not find agreement with that of Joshua and Caleb who clearly knew at this point that their true and faithful testimony was no match for ten fearful and shouting men who were willing to blatantly blaspheme God and lie to the people in order to get their way.


The writer of the book of James states that the LORD will exact a greater judgment upon those who have taken upon themselves positions of leadership.[8]  Those who are called to lead have great influence over the direction of a community of people, and this is particularly true in the community of faith.  People will follow the prevailing decision of their leadership, and when that leadership is based upon worldly culture rather than on godly faith, the end result will always fail to realize the full measure of blessing that the LORD intends.  Faithless leadership will direct a body into faithlessness, a state that opens the body up to all manner of pollution by the spirit of the lord of death, satan.  In the circumstance of ancient Israel, the faithlessness of their leadership, exercised through adamant demands that are based upon self-centered fear and hypocrisy, would lead the nation to a disaster greater than that which they declared would happen at the hands of the Canaanites. 




Numbers 14:1-4And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. 2And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! 3And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? 4And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.


Some have argued that the Christian church should be a democracy, and if considered without much thought, such a conclusion sounds logical.  However, the very definition of democracy demands that the authority in a democratic community is held entirely by its people.  Such a model makes sense for secular government by disallowing dictatorship.  Though it may make sense to give all authority to the people in secular government, it does not make sense when applied to the community of faith, for if we place all authority in the people we have rejected the One who has all authority:  God Himself.  God is to be the authority of His people as they follow Him rather than men: a model that is a direct opposite of democracy.  True Christianity is a theocracy.  A Christian community follows the LORD’s lead by sincerely seeking His will and listening to one another as they form a consensus that is based upon sound biblical doctrine and the testimonies of the faithful ones in the group. 


It is quite evident that this is not the model of leadership that was demanded by the Israelites.  Rather than trust the LORD and the uncompromising testimony of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb, they chose to listen to the opinion of the loud and demanding majority.  This choice caused no little hurt among the people as they “wept that night.”  Faithless leadership in a faith community produces no shortage of tears among its members.  Many churches today are crumbling under the baggage of conflict that is promoted and maintained by spiritually corrupt leadership.  Just as the leadership in Israel stood against Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb, many churches maintain worldly and pride-filled leadership that stands against the faith leadership of their pastors.  The result is a community that is fractured, hurt, and like the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea, find themselves crying through the night. 


Sometimes the solution for the church is to “get rid” of their pastor.  This was the decision of Israel.  The people turned against Moses and Aaron as they demanded that they turn away from God’s purpose of faith and return to the bondage of Egypt.  It is not difficult to see an allegorical parallel that could happen in our churches today as they call pastors who seek to lead them in faith, but have leadership that seeks to lead them in worldly pride and self-will. 


By heeding the lying and malicious counsel of the antagonistic leadership, Israel spoke with a single voice as they rejected the blessing that God had both promised and provided for them.  Not only would the godless members of the community fail to receive the blessing, but because they are a nation, the remnant of faithful who had endured through all of these experiences would also fail to receive the blessing.  The sin of the leadership and the sin of the faithless in the congregation impacted them all.


Numbers 14:5-6Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. 6And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:


The response of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb is predictable.  The arrival at Kadesh Barnea should have been a time for celebration, the greatest celebration ever experienced by the nation.  It was to be a day that would have been commemorated for the remainder of their national life.  Moses would have understood that his very purpose was to lead these people here, and then into the Promised Land.  No other future would make sense to him.  What should have been the greatest experience of celebration was turned into what for them would have been up to that time their greatest expression of grief.  They found themselves alone against a mob psychology that had turned the entire nation of Israel against the LORD and against them. God was handing His blessing to them, and the people refused to move forward simply because of the lies of ten fearful, worldly, and malicious men.


7And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. 8If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. 9Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.


At this point the voice of Joshua is added to the voice of Caleb as they desperately try to bring the nation to repentance by preaching the truth.


·        They also passed through and saw the land. 

·        It is an exceedingly good land.  It does indeed “flow with milk and honey.”

·        All that is needed is that the LORD is “pleased” with Israel, a verb similar to “smile over” that speaks of the type of relationship that God wants to have with His people.

·        Their success in conquering the land is held in the hands of the LORD, not in the hands of their leadership or in their army.  They understand that the LORD will “give it us,” that if they are obedient to the LORD, no battle will even be necessary, that the LORD will bring them in. 

·        Their rejection is a rebellion against the LORD.


The people have heard the truth, and they have heard the lies.  The choice is up to them:


Numbers 14:10a.  But all the congregation bade stone them with stones.


The writer of this book has presented us a vivid picture of the setting.  Joshua and Caleb are standing before the people at the entrance of the tabernacle, giving an impassioned plea for them to repent and come to the LORD.  Moses and Aaron are overwhelmed and lie prostrate before the people, at the feet of a crying Joshua and Caleb.  At this point the people begin to shout, “Stone them!  Stone them!”



This would have been the darkest hour for Israel, but yet their sin stands as a portend of the voices of their own children who, when presented with the same opportunity to enter the eternal Promised Land, shouted “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”




Numbers 14:10b.  And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.


The work of sin is complete.  The nation has turned its back to God, and left unabated would surely have put Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb to death.  The darkness and despair of the moment was abruptly interrupted when the Glory of the LORD, the Holy Presence of YAHWEH descended into the center of their camp.  One might envision the Glory standing between four devastated saints and the angry mob that is about to kill them.  The circumstances of the next few moments would support this idea. 


A conversation from the LORD is about to ensue, but not between Himself and the people, but rather between Himself and Moses.  As God reaches down to lift those who need Him, He meets Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb at their point of need.  Moses needs encouragement, and needs to understand God’s purpose of redemption, and so the LORD takes Moses through a particularly instructive dialogue. 


Numbers 14:11-12And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them? 12I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.


Place yourself in the shoes of Moses for a moment.  Presented with such violent rejection, what do you suppose was going through Moses’ mind at this point?  If we consider our natural response to this situation we might be able to better understand the dialogue that is about to take place. 


If we were Moses, and had the power to judge the people, our natural response would be to simply call upon the LORD to destroy them, right here at the gate to the Promised Land.  Because of the dialogue to follow, this was mostly likely one of the thoughts going through Moses’ frustrated thoughts and broken heart.  I am reminded of several books that I have read that deal with the subject of church conflict that bear titles like “Well Intentioned Dragons”[9] and “Never Call them Jerks.”[10]  Our natural spirit wants to strike at those who cause so much damage to the LORD’s kingdom on earth, yet our heart of love demands that we love the ones causing the hurt and seek their redemption.  There is a conflict that boils within us that will find a solution only through the Word of God. 


Consequently, God presents Moses with this natural scenario, presenting the thesis that these people be destroyed and that the nation of Abraham would be given to the descendents of the four prostrate saints.  Presented with the truth of his own emotions, Moses stands on the truth of his heart and mind that is in submission to the grace of God.


Numbers 10:13-19.  And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;) 14And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.


15Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, 16Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness. 17And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, 18The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. 19Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.


Speaking like a pastor who desperately loves his wayward congregation, Moses pleaded with the LORD for mercy.  It is as though the LORD offered to Moses an opportunity to exercise vengeance.  When presented with the reality of such a possibility Moses is led to offer up one of the greatest prayers of his experience as he, through his own words, reminds himself of God’s great patience and mercy, something that he desperately needs himself.  He is reminded of God’s capacity to forgive when he himself is struggling with how to forgive a people who are poised to stone him.[11]


Numbers 14:20-25And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: 21But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD. 22Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; 23Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: 24But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it. 25(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.


The work of the ten malicious spies is completed.  The nation will not enter the Promised Land at this time.  However, God’s ultimate purpose cannot be changed by the whims of sinful man.  God’s glory will, indeed, fill the earth some day, but this is not that day.  God’s forgiveness is not predicated by a single event, but is rather a condition of His eternal nature.  However, though forgiveness is given, there is always a consequence of sin.


Though Moses would not see the nation die of pestilence before his eyes, exacting a judgment that he might think they truly deserve, the judgment upon those who reject God is still the same:  they will die in the wilderness.  Since the people rejected God and rejected the Promised Land that He offered to them, they will never see it. 


The “unpardonable sin” is simple:  if one rejects God, and takes that rejection to their grave, they cannot be saved.  Through the experience of Israel at Kadesh Barnea we find an illustration of the death that is always a consequence of sin.  Death does not mean an end as much as it refers to an eternal separation.  God is in the business of giving to us the desires of our heart.  If our desire is to reject Him and we take that desire with us to the grave, He will grant that desire with eternal rejection.  However, if our desire is to accept Him as our Savior and LORD, He will also give us the desire of our heart as He will bring us to Himself in relationship.


God’s command to Moses was to lead the people back into the wilderness when the morning breaks.  The nation moved by following the Shekinah Glory as it moved, and on the morrow it would be moving away from Kadesh.  It would require two generations, numerated as forty years, for the last of those who rejected the LORD to die in the wilderness.  We can surmise that the command to cross the Jordan came quickly after the last of the rebellious generation died.  Moses will have aged to about 120 years.  Aaron will have died.  Caleb and Joshua would be aged men when the sentence against the nation would be fully carried out.  Moses would not enter the Promised Land, but rather the nation would be then led by Joshua, who stood for the truth at Kadesh.


As we observe the tragedy at Kadesh Barnea, we might take a look at our own attitudes toward corporate worship and leadership.  We have seen how much hurt and devastation can take place when those who the LORD has called to lead His people fail to live in total submission to the Holy Spirit, and choose to lead on their own power and in their own direction. 


Each of us who are called to lead may look sincerely into his or her own leadership style and motive, repent of self-centeredness, and turn the reigns of leadership over to the LORD who is to be the LORD of the congregation.


Those of us who are not in leadership can respond in several ways. 

·        First, to always be faithful to pray for those who are called into church leadership, and for your pastor who may find himself in situations similar to those that Moses endured. 

·        Second, to always be sensitive to the true spirit in those who we ordain to leadership, choosing those who are spiritually mature over those who are worldly attractive or worldly powerful. 

·        Finally, it may be necessary to speak for the LORD among the congregation when such a need arises.  The four saints at Kadesh stood alone.  Yet there was a remnant of faithful in the nation, a remnant who, if vocal, might have changed history.


George Santayana is famous for one statement, “Those who are ignorant of history are destined to repeat it.”  Let us not repeat the history made at Kadesh, but work together to lead our congregations in the work of the LORD, not the work of men.


[1] Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7.

[2] James 1:4.

[3] Romans 8:28.

[4] Genesis 12:2-3.

[5] Numbers 1:46.

[6] Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 11:9-12.

[7] The ignorance of the people is evident in their acceptance of their finding mythical men.  Furthermore, the mythical tradition held that the Nephilim came from God, not from satan, so even their tradition held them to be angels, not adversaries.  Some held that these mythical men were giants, leading to their use by the reporters.


[8] James 3:1.

[9] Marshall Shelley.

[10] Arthur P. Boers.

[11] Acts 7:59.