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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 14


Following the arrival in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh, the tribes settled down while the land ahead could be spied out. The oases of Kadesh would provide a welcome change from the harshness of the wilderness, and they were probably glad to be able to rest once more at a place where water was not scarce.

The sending out of the spies or scouts may be seen as a wise military manoeuvre. Scouting what lay ahead was always the precursor to military activity. But in this case it must surely be seen as more than that, for it was Yahweh Who was leading His people and He would not be unaware of what lay ahead. It therefore seemingly performed a two way function. Firstly that it would let the people know how fruitful and pleasant the land was, and secondly it would face them up to what lay ahead in the way of fighting for the land. Yahweh wanted to test out their faith to see if it would be strong enough for what they would have to face. It was very much a trial of what they could cope with.

Already in the wilderness the slave mentality of the people had raised its head and they had been revealed to be in a sad psychological state. They had complained, and murmured, and wept when things had gone wrong. Even the stay at Sinai and the assurance of His dwelling among them had not combated that. Faced with the problem of fighting for the land their first reaction would be the desire to return to ‘comfortable’ slavery in Egypt (Numbers 14:3-4). So Yahweh was right therefore to be concerned lest they be insufficient for what lay ahead. He was well aware that, if their faith was not strong enough, any entry into the land, which would necessarily be followed by sustained warfare, could only end in disaster. He would have to hold them up at every turn and the result would be a nation not worthy of the name. It would result in something far different from what He intended. That was not what He had brought them there for.

The sending out of the spies must therefore be seen as a test of whether they were in a fit state to enter the land. The outcome would determine whether the entry should be made immediately, or whether a further wait was advisable. In the event the latter proved to be the true position. And indeed when an abortive attempt was made in desperation it did turn out to be disastrous. We must not see God’s refusal to let them enter into the land as simply caprice on His part. It was a studied recognition of the fact that they were not yet ready, and could not cope with what lay ahead.

He thus accepted that until they had become hardened by a time in the wilderness, with the present generation being replaced by people who had been brought up to liberty and had more backbone, an advance on the land would be inadvisable. Had they gone forward it would have required miracles even greater than those wrought in Egypt, and Yahweh clearly did not think that they were worthy of them. If His people which were called by His name were not willing to trust Him and His name, then establishing them in the land would not produce a nation which brought glory to His name, but would simply result in a nation of selfish and weak misfits who simply forgot Him. And that was not His intention. That would not be a nation worthy of being seen as the Kingdom of God.

This section from Numbers 13:1 to Numbers 14:45 deals with that situation. It consists of:

a Scouts advancing into the land to search it out (Numbers 13:1-25).

b The scouts report on what lay ahead (Numbers 13:26-33).

c The people’s response (Numbers 14:1-10).

d The anger of Yahweh (Numbers 14:11-12).

d The intercession of Moses (Numbers 14:13-19).

c Yahweh’s response (Numbers 14:20-38).

b The people report on their plans (Numbers 14:39-43)

a The people advancing into the land with devastating results (Numbers 14:44-45)

The People Murmur Against Moses And Are Spared At His Intercession (Numbers 14:2-25 ).

a The people murmur against Moses and long to return to Egypt and decide to choose a leader to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:2-4).

b Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before the assembly (Numbers 14:5).

c Joshua and Caleb extol the good of the land (Numbers 14:6-9).

d The congregation commands to stone them with stones (Numbers 14:10 a).

d The glory of Yahweh appears among the congregation (Numbers 14:10 b)

c He determines to disinherit them from the good land and destroy them (Numbers 14:10-12).

b Moses pleads with Yahweh on behalf of the people (Numbers 14:13-19).

a Yahweh pardons the people, describes what He had done in Egypt, swears that they will not see the land and sends them back on the way to the Reed Sea (Numbers 14:20-25).

Yahweh Now Confirms The Future of the Current Generation of Israelites And How Their Children Must Suffer With Them (Numbers 14:26-35 ).

Later Yahweh came to Moses again and detailed out the position He was now taking up.

a Because of their murmuring the children of Israel will die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:26-30).

b Their little ones will be brought in and know the land (Numbers 14:32).

b But first they will wander in the wilderness for forty years for the sake of their fathers’ behaviour (Numbers 14:33-34).

a The evil congregation will die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:35).

The Aftermath (Numbers 14:36-45 ).

A number of things followed on Yahweh’s words.

a The men who brought the evil report died, while Joshua and Caleb lived (Numbers 14:36-38).

b Moses told the children of Israel of what Yahweh had said and they mourned greatly (Numbers 14:39)

b The people declared that they would go forward after all but Moses told them not to go up. Yahweh would not be among them (Numbers 14:40-43).

a Those who listened to the evil report yet still went forward were smitten down and driven out of the land (Numbers 14:41-45).

Verse 1

3). The Scouts Report Back (Numbers 13:26 to Numbers 14:1 ).

Once the scouts arrived back they immediately reported to Moses. What resulted can be summarised as follows:

a The scouts report back to Moses, Aaron and ‘all the congregation’ (Numbers 13:26)

b The scouts describe the land and the awesome sons of Anak (Numbers 13:27-29).

c Caleb stills the people (Numbers 13:30 a)

c Caleb says, ‘let us go forward’ (Numbers 13:30 b).

b The scouts report evil of the land and the awesome sons of Anak (Numbers 13:31-33).

a ‘All the congregation’ lift up their voice and cry and weep (Numbers 14:1).

Numbers 13:26

‘And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, to the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh, and brought back word to them, and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.’

The scouts returned to Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran to Moses and Aaron in order to report, but note the stress on the fact that they also reported to ‘all the congregation’. They brought word of what they had done and seen, and produced the fruit of the land for inspection. This brings out that the spying was not just military, otherwise the reports could have been restricted to Moses, Aaron and the officers. It was in order to face the whole people up with the decision whether to go forward or not.

As Moses’ representative Joshua would immediately have rejoined Moses, who would no doubt have been awaiting his special report. He probably felt that there was no need for him to accompany the other eleven, feeling it better that the people should hear the report from independent witnesses and not from one whom they would see as one of Moses’ cronies. He would be standing with Moses and Aaron to hear the report of the other eleven to the people.

Numbers 13:27

‘And they told him, and said, “We came to the land to which you sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” ’

First came the positive news. They had inspected the land and it really was a land flowing with milk and honey, and to prove it they produced its fruit. The promise of a land flowing with milk and honey was central to Israel’s expectations. The very words should have awakened faith. This was what Yahweh had promised them! And it was there for the taking. See Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 33:3; Leviticus 20:24.

Numbers 13:28

However the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified, and very great, and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.”

But then came the downside. The people in the land were strong, and their cities were well fortified, and very large. But what was even worse, the sons of Anak were there, the dreaded Anakim. It was probably the last that made the most impact. Superstitious dread accompanied talk about the Anakim. This was the language of unbelief.

Numbers 13:29

Amalek dwells in the land of the South, and the Hittite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, dwell in the hill-country, and the Canaanite dwell by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan.’

They then described the spread of the different enemies in more depth. Amalek dwelt in the Negeb; the Hittites (around Hebron), the Jebusites (around Jerusalem) and Amorites (spread across the hills) dwelt in the hill country; and the Canaanites dwelt by the sea in the Coastal Plain and along by the side of the Jordan. That should have been some encouragement. At least the enemy were divided up and therefore more vulnerable. They would not have to fight them all at once. But the hearers simply saw them as indicating an unexpectedly difficult problem. It was a good deal more than they had expected. They were being faced up with what lay before them.

Numbers 13:30

‘And 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.” ’

But Caleb saw the situation clearly. He firstly sought to quieten their fears. Then he urged that they immediately mobilise and enter the land in order to conquer it, for he was confident that they could take possession of it and overcome those who would oppose them. His eyes were on Yahweh and the fruitfulness of the land. He had no doubt that with Yahweh with them they would have no difficulty in possessing it.

Joshua, standing with Moses, said nothing. He had not only gone as a tribal chieftain, but as Moses’ representative. On returning he would have taken his place with Moses, and all knew that he would do whatever Moses said. Thus he wisely kept out of the discussions. The arguing was therefore left to Caleb, who would later turn out to be such a powerful chieftain by defeating the selfsame Anakim (Joshua 15:13-14). The people would recognise that he was unbiased. This mention of only Caleb actually authenticates the narrative.

Numbers 13:31

‘But the men who went up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”

However, the men who had gone with him took the opposite view. They claimed that they could not possibly go up against these people, because they were stronger than the Israelites. Their eyes were fixed firmly on the Anakim.

Numbers 13:32-33

‘And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had spied out to the children of Israel, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that eats up its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” ’

The result was that their report was totally discouraging. Indeed it was falsified. They gave an ‘evil report’ about the land. They said that it was a land which ‘ate up its inhabitants’. That signified that living conditions were difficult, and a living hard to come by (see Leviticus 26:38; Ezekiel 36:13). They were arguing that it was not a good land to live in. They were deliberately putting the people off. This contradicted their previous comment about its fruitfulness. Different spies would, of course, have seen different terrain, but whether they saw fruit or whether they saw barrenness would depend on what they looked at.

The truth was that they were put off because they were awed as a result of the height of some of the inhabitants. Those, they said, were men of great stature, and they included the dreaded Anakim, who it was rumoured were some of the Nephilim. The latter name referred to the superstitions of the time. The Nephilim were thought of as god-like men who had lived in the time of the ancients, as referred to in Genesis 6:4. Anyone of unusual size could expect to be linked with the Nephilim. This was enough to frighten everyone. So while on the one hand Caleb looked at Yahweh, the Almighty, the other scouts, and the people looked at the Nephilim. Whom we look at very often determines what we are and what we do.

Note the deliberate exaggeration which could only produce fear. ‘Compared with them we saw ourselves as grasshoppers, tiny and insignificant, and they looked on us as the same, to be dismissed or trodden on at will.’ What hope could there be against such people? In fact as Deuteronomy points out such people had been defeated by both the Moabites (Deuteronomy 2:10) and the Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:20-21), and could be by the Israelites. The gross exaggeration both as regards the goodness of the land and as regards its inhabitants came from craven fear. If the leaders were not able to have trust in Yahweh, what hope was there for their people?

Numbers 14:1

‘And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried, and the people wept that night.’

The people were devastated. They felt as though their dream had collapsed, as indeed it had. They lifted up their voice and cried, and they wept all night. This was exactly what they had done when there was a shortage of delicacies (Numbers 11:10). It was a sign of how pent up they were, and how much they were a slave to their emotional state. They were clearly in no state to engage in a large scale invasion. It would have done them no favours to allow them to enter the land in that condition. The only hope all along had been that their trust in Yahweh would have enabled them to overcome their servile fears, but because their faith was lacking it had not happened. And now they were caught short. In the end all resulted from a lack of faith. Had they trusted God their weakness would have been made strong.

Verses 2-4

Chapter 14 The Response of The People Leads To Rejection From The Land.

It is not difficult to guess at what their decision would be even before we learn of it. They were frightened and therefore incapable. It would be another generation before they would become strong enough to again contemplate a serious entry into the land. What followed can be quickly summarised:

4). The People Murmur Against Moses And Are Spared At His Intercession (Numbers 14:2-25 ).

a The people murmur against Moses and long to return to Egypt and decide to choose a leader to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:2-4).

b Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before the assembly (Numbers 14:5).

c Joshua and Caleb extol the good of the land (Numbers 14:6-9).

d The congregation commands to stone them with stones (Numbers 14:10 a).

d The glory of Yahweh appears among the congregation (Numbers 14:10 b)

c He determines to disinherit them from the good land and destroy them (Numbers 14:10-12).

b Moses pleads with Yahweh on behalf of the people (Numbers 14:13-19).

a Yahweh pardons the people, describes what He had done in Egypt, swears that they will not see the land and sends them back on the way to the Reed Sea (Numbers 14:20-25).

The People Murmur Against Moses and Against Yahweh (Numbers 14:2-4 ).

Numbers 14:2

‘And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron. And 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!’

The people were just distraught. They blamed Moses and Aaron for their predicament. All that they could do was wish that they had died when younger so as not to face this dreadful situation. If only they had died in Egypt, or in the wilderness, how much better it would have been for them. (They would have cause to remember those words, for they would come back to haunt them. How unlucky they were to have survived, they thought. Ironically, of course, they would have their wish. They would die in the wilderness).

Numbers 14:3

For what reason does Yahweh bring us to this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey. Were it not better for us to return to Egypt?”

They forgot all that Yahweh had done for them, and how He had revealed His mighty power, and delivered them from an enemy far worse than these. All they could think of was that Yahweh had brought them here to die at the edge of the sword. They would be slaughtered and their wives and little ones be at the mercy of the enemy. The best they could hope for was to become slaves. They had already been defeated in their own minds. They were certainly in no condition to take up arms.

We need not doubt that weapon training had taken place in the wilderness. Moses would have been greatly at fault if he had not seen to that. But they clearly had no confidence in their ability to use them. They had come to it too late. (It would be another thing with the next generation. They would have no slave background. They would have been hardened by the wilderness. They would have been trained to arms from their earliest years).

Numbers 14:4

‘And they said one to another, “Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt.” ’

So in their panic and folly they began to think of appointing a leader who would take them back to Egypt as a bunch of slaves. It was, of course, both pathetic and madness. What could be worse than that? But at that time they were temporarily deranged. And they still had their eyes on the fish, melons, onions and garlic. What a pathetic group they were. Just like some of us can be when God challenges us in the face of difficulties.

It would be a misnomer to call this a rebellion. They were rather revealing how pathetic their condition was. They were clutching at straws and babbling foolishness. It demonstrated what they were. Men who sought the flesh and had little thought of the Spirit. But it was still a rejection of Yahweh and His covenant. For Yahweh had delivered them from Egypt, and now they were rejecting His deliverance and wishing to get back to what they were before.

Verse 5

Moses and Aaron Plead for Israel (Numbers 14:5 ).

Numbers 14:5

‘Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.’

Moses and Aaron were appalled. Here were the people before the very Dwellingplace of Yahweh, and yet they were talking like this. What could Yahweh be thinking of it? They hardly dared to think. Indeed they were afraid for the people. They fell on their faces in trepidation and pleading before Yahweh (compare 16:4, 22, 45; 20:6; Genesis 37:29; Genesis 37:34; Leviticus 9:24; Leviticus 13:45). Let Him not now come and strike them all dead where they were. It was true that these people were seeking to reverse all that Yahweh had done, but let Him have mercy.

Verses 6-9

Joshua and Caleb Plead With Israel (Numbers 14:6-9 ).

Numbers 14:6

‘And Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, who were of those who spied out the land, tore their clothes.’

Joshua and Caleb, the only two scouts who had not spoken against going forward, now tore their clothes in order to demonstrate their anguish, before they pleaded with the people. The tearing of the clothes was a deliberate expression of deep emotion intended to gain the greatest effect (see Genesis 37:29; Genesis 37:34; Leviticus 13:45; 2 Samuel 13:31; Jeremiah 36:24).

The time for diplomacy was past and Joshua now took his stand with Caleb, and is named first as being of senior position. It was no longer a matter of prudence in allowing parties seen as unbiased to speak up, but a matter of desperation where every effort had to be used. He hoped that his added authority might carry some weight. They had after all become used to receiving Moses’ orders from him.

Numbers 14:7-8

‘And they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If Yahweh delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey.” ’

They assured the people that the land that they had passed through was an exceedingly good land. And that Yahweh, if He delighted in them because they trusted Him, was well able to bring them in to it, and give it to them. They assured them that it really was a land flowing with milk and honey, the land that Yahweh had promised to give them.

Numbers 14:9

Only do not rebel against Yahweh, nor fear you the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their defence is removed from over them, and Yahweh is with us, fear them not.”

So they pleaded with them not to rebel against Yahweh. Nor were they to fear the people of the land. Against Yahweh the people of the land would have no defence, their defence was removed. Their protecting shadow was gone. Rather than the land eating up its inhabitants, they would be eaten up by the Israelites. Defeating them would be as easy as eating bread. For Yahweh was with Israel, His people, so that they had no need to be afraid of them.

This paralleling of the killing people with eating bread is found elsewhere. The Psalmist spoke of those who ‘eat up my people like they eat bread’ (Psalms 14:4; Psalms 53:4), and Micah describes the unjust rulers of Israel as ‘those who hate the good and love the evil --- who eat the flesh of my people’ (Micah 3:3). Thus ‘eating flesh’ or ‘eating people’ signified killing them or doing them great harm. In the same way Caleb and Joshua saw the task of defeating the people in Canaan as being as simple as eating bread when they had Yahweh’s power with them.

Note that their words echoed many of those of the other scouts, but as seen from a different point of view. How we look at things determines how we behave.

“Their defence (literally ‘shadow”) is removed from over them.’ All in that hot country knew the value of the protecting shadow, and of what it could be like in the extreme heat if the shadow was removed. Possibly it indicated that they were dwelling in comfort under the protecting shadow of their gods, but that Yahweh would tear their shadow away and they would be left to face His blazing sun. More probable, however, is the meaning that the protecting shadow to be moved from over them was Yahweh’s restraint which had been held in place until their iniquity was full (Genesis 15:16)

Verse 10

The People React Against Them And Spur Yahweh To Visible Action (Numbers 14:10 ).

Numbers 14:10

‘But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of Yahweh appeared in the tent of meeting to all the children of Israel.’

The crowd in their deep distress, stricken in their own consciences although not willing to admit it, took this badly, for it emphasised their guilt, and guilty men often become angry in trying to justify themselves. Who were these men who dared to talk like this? They were guilty of treason against the people and their chieftains. The cry went up that they should be stoned with stones. How dare they defend Yahweh? The people were beside themselves. But then all were suddenly shaken by an unexpected event.

They were gathered around the Tent of meeting for the purpose of hearing the report from the scouts and without warning ‘the glory of Yahweh appeared in the Tent of meeting to all the children of Israel’. There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind. Everyone saw it. And they could hardly have been other than afraid. Note the parallel between the ‘all’ who sought to stone Caleb and Joshua and the ‘all’ who saw the glory of Yahweh. The one was Yahweh’s response to the other. He had seen Moses and Aaron as they cried to Him, He had seen His servants who were risking their lives in being faithful to Him, and He was here to act, and all were now aware of it. And now no doubt their memory of the past was also reawakened, and they remembered fearfully the past judgments of Yahweh.

This appearance of the glory of Yahweh in the Dwellingplace was not something totally new. They had experienced it before (Exodus 40:34; Leviticus 9:23). But then it had been an awesome religious experience without any direct personal bearing. Now it portended disaster for all. They had forgotten that Yahweh might be ‘in His Dwellingplace’ listening to them. (How easily we can forget that the invisible God is listening to us).

Verses 11-12

Yahweh Declares That He Has Had Enough of These People (Numbers 14:11-12 ).

Numbers 14:11-12

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, for all the signs which I have wrought among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” ’

Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, who had almost certainly been continually interceding for the people. He asked him how long these people could be allowed to despise Yahweh. How long could they go on not believing in Him in the face of the signs and wonders which He had wrought among them? Let Moses explain why He should not now destroy them all. He would smite them with pestilence and remove them from under the promises to the patriarchs, disinheriting them. Then He would fulfil His promises by raising up from Moses, who was a son of Abraham, a nation greater (more numerous) and mightier than them.

Here faith is revealed as a central issue in the covenant. Faith, while not prominent as a specific subject in the Old Testament, in fact underlay its whole message. Men responded to Yahweh because they believed. It was the whole basis of the covenant. Thus Abraham believed in Yahweh and He counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), and it was because he believed His covenant promises and acted on them that he was blessed. Faith was basic to the commencement of Yahweh’s deliverance in Egypt (Exodus 4:31). It was greatly strengthened by their deliverance at the Reed Sea (Exodus 14:31). Lack of it was a blot on Israel (Deuteronomy 1:32; Psalms 78:22) and on Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:12). But when they did believe they sang His praise (Psalms 106:12). It was only if Israel believed that they would be established (Isaiah 7:9). Men were to believe in the sure foundation laid down by Yahweh, and then they would be at rest and not be in a hurry (Isaiah 28:16). It was central to God’s whole purposes (Isaiah 43:10).

Thus the fact that these people did not believe in spite of the signs that He had performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, made it clear that they were not open to His deliverance. It demonstrated that they had closed minds.

Verses 13-19

Moses Successfully Intercedes For Them (Numbers 14:13-19 ).

Numbers 14:13-14

‘And Moses said to Yahweh, “Then the Egyptians will hear it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you Yahweh are in the midst of this people, for you Yahweh are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them, and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night.” ’

However, Moses resorted to a similar argument to the one that he had used at the incident of the molten calf (Exodus 32:12). Let Yahweh consider that when the Egyptians heard what He had done they would crowingly declare to the Canaanites ‘what Yahweh had done’. Here was a fierce God indeed, they would jeer. He had done the same to these people as He had previously done to the Egyptians.

So Moses asked Him, had they not heard about how Yahweh was in the midst of His people, and was seen by them face to face when His glory was revealed as it now was? And how His cloud was over them day and night, and that Yahweh went before them in cloud and fire? Would they not therefore mock all the more if these same people were destroyed? So much for His faithfulness and protection, they would say. He was not to be trusted.

Numbers 14:15

Now if you shall kill this people as one man, then the nations which have heard your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because Yahweh was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to them, therefore he has slain them in the wilderness.’ ”

And if Yahweh slew them all the observers would declare that with all His extravagant actions and claims He had been unable to do what He had set out to do, bring these people safely into Canaan, even though He had sworn that He would do so. And they would suggest that that was surely why He had slain them in the wilderness, because He had had to face up to His own inadequacy. So it was Yahweh’s reputation in the world that was at stake here, not just a matter of the deserving of the children of Israel.

Numbers 14:17-18

And now, I pray you, let the power of the Lord be great, according as you have spoken, saying, Yahweh is slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation.”

Having called on Him to consider what people would think, he then turned to a second argument, the compassionate nature of Yahweh as declared by Himself. Let Him now reveal how great His power was by revealing that compassion. Those who are truly great are great enough to show compassion. And who was greater than Yahweh? Had not Yahweh previously declared that He was slow to anger and abundant in covenant love (chesed)? That He forgave iniquity and transgression, although by no means clearing those who remained in their guilt by failing to repent? (see Exodus 34:6-7). On the guilty He brought His judgment even to the third and fourth generation, because they continued obstinate in the face of His mercy. But on those who repented He showed mercy, ‘forgiving iniquity and transgression’. Let Him now reveal this by forgiving these people for their iniquity and transgression.

Numbers 14:19

Pardon, I pray you, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your lovingkindness, and according as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

So for His honour’s sake, and for his reputation’s sake, and for the sake of the truth about His nature, Moses prayed that He would pardon this people’s iniquity in accordance with His great covenant love, just as He had continually forgiven them from the time when they left Egypt up to this point. Let Him reveal Himself as the unchanging One, and the One Who forgives.

Verses 20-25

Yahweh Grants His Pardon But Refuses to Consider Their Entering His Land (14:20-25).

Numbers 14:20-23

‘And Yahweh said, “I have pardoned according to your word, but in very deed, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Yahweh, because all those men who have seen my glory, and my signs, which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have tempted me these ten times, and have not listened to my voice, surely they shall not see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of them who despised me see it.”

Yahweh responded to Moses’ pleading. In accordance with Moses’ request He was granting His pardon. He would not totally cast them off. Nevertheless by His own life and by His own glory, that glory with which the whole world would one day be filled, He swore that because they had witnessed all His glory and His signs in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet had tested Him many number of times, refusing to listen to His voice, they would not be permitted to enter the land. None of those who had despised His glory would even see it. They were barred from Yahweh’s land.

“These ten times.” That is, ‘these many times’. Ten is used here as a round number signifying many times. Compare especially Genesis 31:7.

Numbers 14:24

But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and has followed me fully, him will I bring into the land into which he went, and his seed shall possess it.”

Only Caleb would be allowed to see it, because he along had proved faithful to Yahweh. He had within him a right spirit and had followed Yahweh fully. He therefore would be brought into the land and his children would possess it.

Some question why Joshua was not mentioned here, but the answer is simple. He was one of the establishment of Moses, Aaron and Joshua. His faithfulness and his future was never in doubt. And at this point all recognised that all three of these would not be included in Yahweh’s strictures. They did not need to be mentioned. Although two would eventually fail. (So the none mention of Joshua actually confirms that the writing was contemporary with these).

Numbers 14:25

Now the Amalekite and the Canaanite dwell in the valley. Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.”

He finished by pointing out that the valley ahead contained Amalekites and Canaanites. Thus by their own admission these foe were too powerful to fight. Well, so be it. In their present state they were right. Let them now turn round and go back to the wilderness from which they had come out. And let them make their way back to the Reed Sea. That was symbolic of Egypt. If they wanted Egypt they could have it. For that was what they had sought.

Verses 26-35

Yahweh Now Confirms The Future of the Current Generation of Israelites And How Their Children Must Suffer With Them (Numbers 14:26-35 ).

Later Yahweh came to Moses again and detailed out the position He was now taking up.

a Because of their murmuring the children of Israel will die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:26-30).

b Their little ones will be brought in and know the land (Numbers 14:32).

b But first they will wander in the wilderness for forty years for the sake of their fathers’ behaviour (Numbers 14:33-34).

a The evil congregation will die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:35).

Yahweh Confirms The Fate of the Rebellious People (14:26-30).

Numbers 14:26

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,’

Again it is confirmed that this is Yahweh’s word to Moses which is being recorded.

Numbers 14:27

How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, who murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.”

Yahweh first expressed His exasperation at the behaviour of His people. He wanted it to be quite clear that He had heard the murmurings of the people against Him, and that He was not sure how long He could put up with them. This was of course speaking of God from a human point of view. He had in fact known all along that this would happen. What He wanted them to face up to was what it was like and the appearance that it gave and that they must watch out for themselves. In fact as Deuteronomy points out His mercy did continue. He would continue to put up with them and would continually watch over them so that they did not become too poverty stricken and fall apart. There Moses could say of them, ‘Yahweh your God has blessed you in all the works of your hand. He knows your walking through this great wilderness. These forty years Yahweh your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing’ (Deuteronomy 2:7). But Numbers tells us nothing about it at this stage. The emphasis here is on their punishment.

Numbers 14:28-30

Say to them, ‘As I live, says Yahweh, surely as you have spoken in my ears, so will I do to you. Your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness, and all who were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upwards, who have murmured against me, surely you will not come into the land, concerning which I swore that I would make you dwell in it, apart from Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.’ ”

Moses was to point out to them the consequences of their actions. They had wished that they had died in the wilderness. Well, they would have their wish. Their dead bodies would fall in the wilderness. And this applied to all who earlier with such confidence had been numbered and mobilised as Yahweh’s host in Numbers 1-2. Under no circumstances would they enter the land which He had promised them, the only exception being Caleb and Joshua. They had been numbered with such hope. Now their numbering would count against them.

Here Caleb is mentioned first as the man who had stood out against the majority. But of course Joshua was also to be included.

Numbers 14:31

But your little ones, whom you said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected.”

But in startling contrast, their little ones, of whom they had declared that they feared that they would be victims of the Canaanites, they would be brought in and know the land, the land which these had rejected. Rather than being a prey they would make others a prey and hunt them down and destroy them, Anakim and all. Rather than being a prey they would possess the land.

Numbers 14:32

But as for you, your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness.”

But as for the faithless adults of Israel, their dead bodies would fall in the wilderness just as they had wished (Numbers 14:2). One by one they would die until none remained.

Numbers 14:33

And your children will be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and will bear your whoredoms (unfaithfulness), until your dead bodies are consumed in the wilderness.”

Meanwhile their children would have to bear the punishment of their fathers’ unfaithfulness by wandering with them in the wilderness for forty years (of which they had already done two) as shepherds, until their fathers’ dead bodies were consumed in the wilderness. They would have no settled lifestyle. They would possess no land of their own. Note the stress on the fate of the adults. That their carcasses would fall in the wilderness is repeated three times for emphasis and for certainty (Numbers 14:29; Numbers 14:32-33. See also Numbers 14:35).

Numbers 14:34

After the number of the days in which you spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year, shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years, and you shall know my alienation.”

So would their punishment fit their crime. For forty days they had spied out the land through their chieftains, so having despised it now they would suffer a year for a day, forty years in the wilderness. During that period the covenant would be suspended as regards its final fulfilment. They would be aware that His full favour was not towards them. For them the covenant would not be one of glorious hope. As far as entry into the land was concerned, He was alienated from them, and they from Him.

Numbers 14:35

I, Yahweh, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this evil congregation, who are gathered together against me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.”

The words were certain, for they were the words of Yahweh. Yahweh had spoken. Thus there would be no turning back from it. All who had gathered together against him, as the adult males of the tribes had, would be consumed in the wilderness. And there would they die. For they were an evil congregation, one which would not trust Yahweh and had rebelled against Him.

Verses 36-45

The Aftermath (Numbers 14:36-45 ).

A number of things followed on Yahweh’s words.

a The men who brought the evil report died, while Joshua and Caleb lived (Numbers 14:36-38).

b Moses told the children of Israel of what Yahweh had said and they mourned greatly (Numbers 14:39)

b The people declared that they would go forward after all but Moses told them not to go up. Yahweh would not be among them (Numbers 14:40-43).

a Those who listened to the evil report yet still went forward were smitten down and driven out of the land (Numbers 14:41-45).

Numbers 14:36

‘And the men, whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned, and made all the congregation murmur against him, by bringing up an evil report against the land, even those men who brought up an evil report of the land, died by the plague before Yahweh.’

The first sign of the fulfilment of Yahweh’s punishment was immediately seen in that, apart from Joshua and Caleb, all the chieftains who had gone as scouts into Canaan and had misled and misdirected the people died through a plague. Their guilt was clearly described. They had made all the congregation murmur against Him, and they had brought a falsified report (repeated twice for emphasis). Thus they had borne false witness of Yahweh.

Numbers 14:38

‘But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, remained alive of those men who went to spy out the land.’

Of the spies only Joshua and Caleb escaped the plague. They alone of all the spies remained alive.

Numbers 14:39

‘And Moses told these words to all the children of Israel, and the people mourned greatly.’

Then Moses told the children of Israel all that Yahweh had said. And they had meanwhile had had time to have second thoughts. They did not want to go back into that dreadful wilderness. Certainly on thinking about it they did not want to return to Egypt. Thus when they heard Moses’ words they regretted their folly. But it was too late. They had revealed that they were in no fit state to invade the land.

Numbers 14:40

‘And they rose up early in the morning, and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, “Lo, we are here, and will go up to the place which Yahweh has promised, for we have sinned.” ’

However, they rose up early in the morning and mustered their forces and gathered on the top of a rise from which they could go forward into Canaan in order to demonstrate their readiness to go forward into the place which Yahweh had promised. They admitted that they had sinned. But now, they said, they were ready to make amends. They would go forward. But it was too late. They had capped all their previous disobedience with this greatest disobedience of all. They could no longer be trusted. This day might be another day, but they were still the same old people. Yahweh now recognised, as they should have, that they were not in any state to begin an extensive campaign of warfare. The truth was that they would simply fall at the next fence.

“And went up to the top of the mountain.” This could simply indicate a nearby rise where they assembled on the side of the camp leading to Canaan. But compare verse 44. The use there may suggest that this phrase here means that they did it in thought and expressed willingness. In their minds they were expressing their willingness to go into the hill country and fight. When someone makes a firm final decision to do something difficult about which they have been demurring, we can say of them, ‘that moment it was as good as done’. That may have been the idea here. Or we may simply translate ‘towards the top of the hill country’ signifying that they made the first move in order to finally get there.

Numbers 14:41

‘And Moses said, “Why now do you transgress the commandment of Yahweh, seeing it will not prosper?” ’

But instead of welcoming their change of heart, Moses questioned their behaviour. Why did they still reveal their rebellious hearts by disobeying Yahweh? Why did they seek to go against His commandment? Why did they not accept His decision? He had said that they must not go. To go would therefore be to disobey Him. Had they not yet learned their lesson?

Numbers 14:42

Do not go up, for Yahweh is not among you, that you be not smitten down before your enemies.”

So he commanded them not to go up. For he warned them that if they did Yahweh would not be among them. They had forfeited His presence. If they did go forward they would be smitten down by their enemies.

Numbers 14:43

For there the Amalekite and the Canaanite are in front of you, and you will fall by the sword. Because you are turned back from following Yahweh, therefore Yahweh will not be with you.”

Did they not recognise that the same Amalekites and Canaanites of whom their chieftains had expressed their fears were still there? If they went against them they would fall by the sword, because Yahweh would not fight for them. And the reason why He would not was because they had so devastatingly and firmly turned back from following Him.

Numbers 14:44

‘But they presumed to go up to the top of the mountain. Nevertheless the ark of the covenant of Yahweh and Moses, did not leave the camp.’

However they determined that they would go. They did not want to go back into the wilderness. Presumptiously they marched forward under other leaders. But the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh and Moses did not leave the camp. They went on their own. There would be no divine assistance this time.

At this point we can only feel sorry for the people. They did not want the past and they had lost their future. They felt that this was the only way that they could go. They just could not take their families back into the wilderness. Even if it meant going alone they would face up to the enemy and seek to establish a position in Canaan. But they were no match for peoples who probably spent half their time fighting. They went without the incentive of the Ark. They went without Joshua their usual general. They went out of desperation rather than in confidence. They went without faith in Yahweh. And it told.

Numbers 14:45

‘Then the Amalekite came down, and the Canaanite who dwelt in that mountain, and smote them and beat them down, even to Hormah.’

There could be only one result. The Amalekites and the Canaanites swept down from the hill country and smote them, driving them back even as far as Hormah. Hormah means ‘devoted to destruction’. In this case the name was certainly symbolic. They were beaten back to be devoted to destruction. It was a name often applied to mounds resulting from devastation.

But why did Yahweh not accept their repentance and go forward with them? The answer is because God knows men’s hearts. He recognised that whatever the short term for these men, to attempt the invasion would be fatal. They did not have sufficient faith either in Him or in themselves. And their failure had proved it. Enough time would have to pass until a new generation had been developed which had sufficient faith in Yahweh.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 14". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.