20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. 25 Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.”
Right at the border of Canaan, Israel rebelled against the Lord. Listening to the report of the ten spies, their hearts were overwhelmed with fear. They ignored the report of the two other spies, Caleb and Joshua. Their fear got the best of them. As they couldn’t manage their fear, they burst into self-pity. The result was putting blame to God and His servants.
1Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 14:1-4
The rebellion did not go unnoticed. The Lord heard everything. But the people did not stop at grumbling. Their self-pity led them to self-righteous feeling, which in turn gave birth to unholy anger and uncontrolled rage. Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua tried to plead with them that they would listen to the Lord and obey. The people got raving mad listening to them.
10 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Numbers 14:10
If God did not intervene, those four would have died by the hands of the angry mob. For they were ready to return to Egypt. They were ready to pick new leaders. They were challenging God’s authority. So in turn, God was burn in anger against them. In vv. 11 & 12 God said:
11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”
This was the second time God said something like this. The first time was when Israel attempted to replace God with the golden calf in Exodus 32. Exodus 32:9-10 records the burning anger of God:
9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
The penalty for rebellion is death. The Bible speaks of it repeatedly that the penalty of sin is death. Romans 6:23a says it clearly: “23 For the wages of sin is death.” And so in the case of Israel’s rebellion at the border of Canaan God also stated that the people deserved to die.
In our life today we often think quite lightly of our sin and its penalty. People who do not know the Lord treat the Lord as if He doesn’t exist. So they sin so liberally believing that there is no judgment would come to them. But worse is the so called Christians who treat the Lord with contempt. Instead of repenting from their sin, they find excuses to continue dwelling in sin. In their depraved way of thinking they shift the blame to God and build arguments that all is God’s fault to make them who they are. They think that they are sinning because God has so ordained them to do so. Just like Israel blamed God for rescuing them from the hands of the Egyptians, they too blame God for being sovereign over their life. Romans 3:7-8 points out:
7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
The depraved mind always tries to find excuses to continue in sin. In the one that Paul points out above, people wish to justify their sinning by saying that their sinning produces good. To these people Paul says that their condemnation is deserved. Yet people are relentless in their pursuit for excuses to sin. So in Romans 9:19 Paul points out another cunning excuse:
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
Sin drives people mad like a drug addict is driven mad by his addiction. They would blame anyone as long as they can enjoy the pleasure of sin. The Holy God they blame so they can dwell a bit longer in their sin. As Israel blamed God for liberating them from slavery, people today too blame God for making them the way they are. No repentance, no remorse, no feeling guilty, for all the sins they have committed. Instead, they prefer living in sin and enjoying it every day of their life, all the while demanding God to accept them as they are. It is as if they say to God: “No you can’t punish me for sinning, because You have made me this way. Nothing can happen outside Your will, so I can’t stop sinning because You have willed it for me to sin. I will continue to sin for who can resist Your will? So when I sin, it is Your responsibility God! If You punish me then You are unjust! No You cannot be unjust, can You?” Yes their condemnation is just.
It would be the end of the story if God would wipe all the Israelites out that day. Since day one Adam and Eve sinned, He could have just wiped humanity out. He could just destroy the entire world and started anew. But He didn’t. In the time of Noah, He could wipe out the entire world with water, yet He chose to save Noah and his family. In the time of Abraham, He could just let Abraham and Sarah died childless, then the entire world would just collapse in their sin and depravity. Yet God chose to call Abraham and gave him a son. God could also leave Israel to rot in Egypt under the yoke of slavery. But He chose to rescue them with His mighty hands and wonders. And in the golden calf incident, He could just consume Israel in His rightful wrath. Yet He chose to pardon them. Yes over and over again God chose to pardon Israel. Here at the border of Canaan, God also chose to listen to Moses and pardon Israel. Numbers 14:20 testifies of the mercy of the Lord:
20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word.
Great is the mercy of the Lord, the saying is true. God did not opt to wipe the entire people out from the face of the earth. He forgave them of their offence. He pardoned their rebellion. God showed His long suffering and loving kindness quality even when He had every right to completely demolish the people. If we pause here, then all is heaven. Offenders would love to see this as the end. That their past offences and rebellions would just be forgotten. That their madness would bear no implication whatsoever. That they could continue life the way it is without any discomfort. But the story of the people of Israel did not stop in God pardoning them. His words to Moses did not stop right there. In fact, He made an executive decision that would change the entire course of the people of Israel. Their rebellion had hurt the Lord. Even though He pardoned them, He made a drastic decision that resulted in the people’s great discomfort all their lives. Numbers 14:21-25 tells:
21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. 25 Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.”
God decided that he would not let this generation to enter the Promised Land. This generation had rebelled against the Lord ten times. Even though they were pardoned from the total annihilation, they would not enjoy life that they dreamed about their entire life. The decision of the Lord was set and the people of this generation would not enter the land except Caleb and Joshua. This was not a punishment of their rebellion. For the only fitting punishment was death. God made a decision to grant their deepest desire that refused the Lord’s design. They wanted to die in the desert rather than obeying the Lord to possess the land (Numbers 14:2). Numbers 14:26-35 discloses the painful decision God made:
26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”
God’s displeasure was displayed in that decision. The execution of His decision was to be completed in the span of forty years. Israel had to suffer God’s displeasure. They did not die the ultimate death. Yet they could not enjoy life. The goodness of the land was withheld from them. They could only taste the sweetness of the fruit of the Promised Land one time, and that’s about it. They took God for granted. They did not honor Him the way they should. Yet a punishment deserving their rebellion was not applied to them. God’s mercy let them live another forty years. In a way God also waited patiently for them to repent. They needed to learn to honor God. They needed to learn to know God. They needed to learn not to take God for granted.
Isn’t it true that God’s mercy to Israel at that time is also often displayed to us from time to time? God does not smite us right away. God doesn’t give us the punishment we deserve. We are not wiped out from the face of the earth after we sin. More often than we realize, God gives us time to repent. He has pardoned us through His Son Jesus Christ for all eternity. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to learn to honor Him. He gives us plenty of opportunities to learn to obey Him. He might show His displeasure however. Our life would not be fun anymore. We would not be able to enjoy life the way we desire it anymore. But it is still God’s mercy for us to grow as His children. But in our sin we often consider the inconvenience of life that God decides for us subsequent to our transgression as our just punishment. The story of Israel above proves that it’s not true. Our just punishment is death. The inconvenience of life we often experience subsequent to our sin is meant to give us time to be better people. It is true that not every transgression will be followed by a discomfort life. But when it is, consider it as God’s mercy for us to grow. It is also true that not every discomfort is always following a transgression one commits. But do remember that He has pardoned our sin. When life is still granted us, it means that God is waiting for us to return to Him.
Consider the life of Jacob. Jacob’s story is a reflection of how God is merciful to each individual person even after a terrible sin is committed. Jacob deserves death, but he gets more time to learn and to repent. Jacob’s sin is that he steals the blessing of Isaac that is supposed to be given to Esau by way of deceiving his father into thinking that he is Esau. That is a grave sin. The blessing from Isaac is not rightfully his, but yet his mother and him devise and execute a plan to steal it when Esau is away. And so when Esau comes back from hunting and is ready to be blessed by Isaac, no more blessing can be given to him. Jacob’s theft causes a terrible pain to Isaac and Esau. Certainly his sin offends God. Jacob deserves death. But God shows mercy, even though through great inconvenience. Jacob has to flee to his uncle Laban in Padan Aram. Jacob leaves home with practically nothing. Suddenly he becomes poor. In Laban’s house he is treated as a slave. Jacob is the second son of a very wealthy and successful man in Canaan. But now he has to work extremely hard to survive. A great discomfort. But it is not a punishment. God has so decided that Jacob is to go through some difficulties. And through the inconvenience Jacob may learn to know God, learn to obey Him, learn to humble himself and repent. So he does. He learns to humble and repent. He learns to obey the Lord. He learns to know the true God of his grandfather and father. Jacob no longer seeks blessing from man. He now seeks blessing from the Lord. Jacob no longer relies his life on earthly possessions. He has learned to depend on God completely. His sin has been pardoned. And there are many other examples in the Scripture that portrays God’s pardon yet the person pardoned lives an inconvenient life. Miriam for example, has to suffer a discomfort of leprosy for one full week because of her rebellion, even though she is pardoned by God. Moses has to be greatly disappointed because he can’t enter the Promised Land even though he is so close, and all because he dishonors God. Certainly Moses is pardoned by God, but God decides to not allow Moses to enter the land he so desires to enter. David is pardoned as he repents from his terrible sin he commits, adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, yet he has to suffer a huge discomfort when Absalom launches his coup d’état.
If you can read this, it means you are still alive. Time is still given to you. Perhaps today your life is not comfortable. Perhaps this uncomfortable life is directly following your transgression because God has so made a decision to display his displeasure to you. In that way you may learn to know Him. Through it you may learn to honor him. And then you may learn to obey him in every way. The discomfort is not a punishment for your sin. We all know that the punishment for sin is death. Yet the Son has died in our place. So you have been pardoned. The “forty years desert wandering” is an opportunity for you to repent. To those He loves God does this. Never consider inconvenience of life as God hating us. A wise man once said that beware of the time when after committing sin your life remains the way it is, no problems, no difficulties, but instead your life becomes merrier and more successful. Beware, because it might mean that God is not giving you time to repent, but instead you are blinded by your success that you are walking down the path toward eternal death. In that case, it might mean that God does not pardon your sin. And that’s a great disaster. So be glad when God gives you time to repent through a life of discomfort. Forty years in the desert is nothing compared to eternal death.