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This is a most interesting Chapter, and as an apostle had it in commission from the HOLY GHOST, to tell the church that the written account of Israel's history was intended for our example, that we come not into the same condemnation through unbelief; it demands our attention the more. Here are contained, the relation of the murmurs of the people at the evil report of the spies; the ineffectual attempts made by Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, to still the minds of the people; the LORD'S interposing: his awful sentence: Moses interceding: the immediate death of all the spies excepting Joshua and Caleb: the presumptuous attempt of some of the people, in going up without the LORD'S command to the conquest of Amalek: and their discomfiture in consequence thereof, before the Amalekites and Canaanites.
Reader! behold in this instance one proof more of human wickedness. GOD hath promised everything of blessing to Israel, and why distrust his word? Alas! GOD'S people in all ages are the same, prone to unbelief. If the sweet influence of the spirit be for a moment withheld, in that moment the faith of the best of men fails. They that are kept, are kept by the power of GOD through faith unto salvation. 1 Peter 1:5 .
Reader! stand still, and solemnly review the awful progress of sin. First, it broke out in unavailing cries and tears a whole night. Next, in murmurings against the divine government. Then, in daring wishes, that they had died in Egypt or even in the wilderness, and this in the very moment when they saw before their eyes, GOD'S solemn judgments by death, upon the spies who had brought back an evil report. And still advancing, (if it were possible to proceed further in impiety), they next bring forth blasphemous charges against GOD, as if the LORD had actually had no other design in view, in first bringing them forth from Egypt, but to deliver them and their wives, and their harmless little ones for a prey. And lastly, to crown all, observe the daring act of making a captain to return unto Egypt. It is probable that they actually did appoint a captain for this purpose. See Nehemiah 9:17 . Reader! if such be the progress of sin, how much need have we to pray the LORD to keep our hearts for us with all diligence, since out of it are the issues of life. Who should have conceived this of Israel? It was but a little more than a year and a half since they left Egypt. Had they forgotten their bondage so soon? A little straw to have helped them in making bricks, would have been thought a mercy: and now their souls loathed the quails and the manna. Besides what a madness must it have been to have thought of returning to Egypt! Could they expect that the pillar of cloud would have guided them back! Could they propose to themselves the LORD'S dividing the Red Sea for them to go through? And could they suppose, that the Egyptians would have taken them into their arms? But alas! in Israel we behold the universal corruption of human nature! The LORD'S people feel it, and groan under it like others. Happy is it for us, when a sense of our unworthiness leads the soul to GOD, and not from GOD. See a sweet picture of grace in exercise: Jeremiah 31:18-20 and another, Hosea 14:1-4 .
It is very refreshing to a gracious soul to behold through all this eventful history, how the LORD JESUS in his glorious character of our intercessor, is typified by his servants. The apostle hath given a faint idea of the strong cryings and tears of the Redeemer on these occasions. Hebrews 5:7 .
It is worthy the Reader's notice, the leading arguments the true spies made use of to still the minds of the people; that the LORD not being with their enemies, was a sure token of victory; while on the other hand his presence with Israel already insured their success. That is a precious scripture to this effect; Isaiah 4:5 .
It should seem that the rulers or persons of greater influence than the common people, were leaders in this rebellion. But is there not a spiritual sense here? Have not the holy men and prophets of the LORD in all ages, been stoned and persecuted by the enemies to divine things, when executing their commission with fidelity See the case of Stephen: Acts 7:57-60 .
Observe, how everything of grace and mercy is made to pass through Moses. Herein reader! do not overlook Moses as a type of the ever blessed JESUS. See Isaiah 42:1 .
Nothing can be more beautiful and interesting, than these pleas of Moses. Reader! remark with me the arguments he makes use of; all which terminate in this one grand consideration; namely, the glory and honour of the LORD'S holy name. Every promise of GOD which is in CHRIST JESUS, is secured to his people in the pledge of his great name. Joshua 7:9 . And GOD himself hath graciously condescended to add to this as an argument, the reproach of the enemy. See Deuteronomy 32:26-27 . And that was not the smallest part of Moses' address that the LORD had before pardoned their idolatry, and wherefore not now? If the mercy, rejoicing against judgment, had brought no reflection upon the LORD'S perfections in former instances, wherefore should it now? See Exodus 32:11-12 ; Malachi 3:6 .
Observe the expression, I have pardoned. Yes, JESUS is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Hence the efficacy of that blood which cleanseth from all sin, reacheth through all ages. Revelation 13:8 . It is one of the most precious doctrines of the gospel this, that our GOD hath already provided for his people in a covenant, that is ordered in all things and sure. The mercy you and I want, the pardon we this day need, is all laid up in JESUS. Reader! mark this down in the memorandums of your best remembrance; and as a striking instance in proof of the doctrine, take with it the case of Peter: whose fall JESUS not only foretold, but at the same time added to it this very assurance; I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not. Luke 22:31-32 .
GOD'S glory is the ultimate object of all his dispensations. The work of creation, is expressly put down to this design. Revelation 4:11 . The work of redemption the same. Isaiah 43:21 .
If the reader wishes to count the ten times here spoken of, he will find them as I have here marked them. First, at the Red Sea, Exodus 11:0 , Secondly, At the waters of Marah. Exodus 23:0 , Thirdly, In the wilderness of Zin. Exodus 2:0 , Fourthly, In rebelling against GOD'S commandment, in leaving of the manna until the morning. Exodus 20:0 , Fifthly, In going out to seek for manna on the LORD'S day contrary to command. Exodus 27:0 , Sixthly, In chiding Moses at Rephidim respecting water. Exodus 2:0 , Sevently, In the idolatry, of the golden calf, while Moses was in the mount. Exodus 4:0 , Eightly, At Taberah, in murmuring. Numbers 1:0 Ninethly, At Kibroth hattavah, in lusting. Numbers 11:4-6 . And Tenthly, the present instance, in believing the report of the evil spies.
This is that memorable instance so pathetically mourned over in the New Testament, and so solemnly held up to our view to warn against the same dreadful example of unbelief. The apostle Paul dwells upon it very largely. 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 . And again: Hebrews 4:1-11 .
Reader! while you pause over this verse, to mark, in the instance of Caleb, the blessed effects of distinguishing grace; be very particular to note the cause of this mercy, in the precious gift this man had of another spirit from the evil spies. It is this which makes all the difference between one man and another: between him that serveth GOD and him that serveth him not. Oh LORD! give to me that first, and best, and greatest of all the gifts, which JESUS as a prince and a Saviour is exalted to give, even the gift of thy most HOLY SPIRIT, by which alone the heart may be regenerated, and the soul sealed unto the day of redemption.
What an awful going back is here! They were now within a short stage of Canaan, but in consequence of their rebellion, they are to wander yet longer in the wilderness. And is there not in all this a most striking type of the wilderness dispensations of the LORD'S people how, when for backsliding and disobedience JESUS hides his face, and the soul wanders on the mountains of leopards, and among the dens of the lions. Dearest JESUS! call me in those seasons as thou didst the spouse of old, and I shall again run after thee. Song 1-8.
Reader! remark with me, with what precision and exactness even in divine judgments, a man's own ways determine the event. The people had waited for the spies' return very patiently 40 days: was it not just that in their punishment for unbelief they should wait 40 years for the fulfillment of GOD'S promise? It should be remembered however, that in this 40 years, the whole of their journey from Egypt to Canaan is included. And was it not a suitable punishment corresponding to their sin, that they who wished to die in the wilderness should also be buried there? The Patriarchs, their fathers, who died in the faith of the promised land being possessed by their children, commanded even their dead and dry bones to be lodged there. Whilst their unbelieving followers seemed to covet, that neither in life nor death would they lodge in Canaan. LORD! keep my soul from that most dreadful, base, and vile affection, which so much marks the character of our fallen state, an unbelieving heart; and from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word and commandment, I would say, Good LORD deliver me!
There must have been somewhat very striking and awful in the sudden death of these men. And the more so, as it was a specimen of what GOD had said of the death of all that congregation. Indeed the remarkable cases of divine judgments, which in every age have been shown in the sudden destruction of sinners, is declared by an apostle to be an example, like the destruction by the flood, and the fire in Sodom and Gomorrah, of what will be the final end of the ungodly. 2 Peter 2:5-6 .
Reader! do not overlook the care of a gracious GOD, which he exerciseth in the same moment with his chosen ones, while punishing the ungodly. That's a sweet scripture to this effect: Malachi 3:17-18 .
By what follows in the close of the chapter, it appears that this sorrow was not a gracious sorrow for having offended the LORD, but for having lost Canaan. Reader! learn to distinguish between that sorrow which worketh death, and that godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of; 2 Corinthians 7:10 .
Observe, the LORD had commanded the people to go back towards the way by the Red Sea. But they, self-willed and presumptuous, wilt go up towards Canaan. Alas! what a continual perverseness there is in our unhumbled nature! What unbelief and daring presumption. My soul! look within. Am I not too frequently doing the same, when I go out in my own strength, and in my own righteousness, against the enemies of my salvation? Reader! do not forget what the sacred historian so particularly describes here, that nevertheless, though the people went up, the ark of the covenant of the LORD went not with them. If JESUS, whom that ark represented, go not with us to the battle, the great enemy of souls, and the world of foes, like the Amalekites and the Canaanites, will soon discomfit our weak powers and smite us even unto Hormah. LORD! I would pray carry me not up hence, no not even to Canaan, itself, except thy presence go with me. And may it be my happiness, like one of old, to go forth in the strength of the LORD GOD, and make mention of thy righteousness even of thine only. Psalms 71:16 .
I WOULD charge it upon my soul, while reading in this chapter the unhappy conduct of Israel, to seek continually for grace, lest I fall after the same example of unbelief. For am I better than they! No! in no wise. They sinned, it is said, ten times, in tempting GOD, and not hearkening to his voice. Whereas my rebellious and unbelieving heart, hath made it a life of disobedience to the voice and call of GOD all the way along. Oh, thou gracious GOD and FATHER in CHRIST JESUS! how precious to my view is that endearing character in which thou art represented, as not executing the fierceness of thine anger, because thou art GOD and not man, the Holy One in the midst of thy people. And thou, no less ever precious, ever blessed JESUS, by whose unceasing merits, in the complete work of thy redemption, and thy perpetual pleadings, in which Moses as thy representative upon earth stood up for the people, thou ever livest to make intercession for sinners; how increasingly dear art thou in thy person, offices, and character, to my soul under all the renewed convictions I am continually receiving, of my unworthiness and unbelief before thee! LORD JESUS! undertake for me, and by the sweet constraining influences of thy HOLY SPIRIT, guard my poor heart from all murmuring, lest being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, wilderness frames extend the continuance of wilderness dispensations, and even, when in the very view of the promised land, the LORD lead me back again, instead of carrying me up to immediate possession.
Oh, thou HOLY SPIRIT! thou comforter of thy people, and guide into all truth, grant me the same inestimable blessing as Caleb thy servant, that I may follow the LORD fully. And then, under thy divine influences I shall be enabled as he and Joshua did, to stand up for the cause of a faithful master, amidst the gainsaying and evil slander of ungodly and profane men. Oh! for this new heart and right spirit within me, which are both thy free unmerited gift. For then gracious LORD shall I not come into condemnation with the ungodly and unbelieving world, whose carcases fell in the wilderness; but through the FATHER'S gift, and the Redeemer's blood and righteousness, I shall surely be brought by thee, thou HOLY SPIRIT, into the good land, and attain that rest which remaineth for all the people of GOD. Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 14". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19