The people of Israel were afraid to enter into the land of Canaan as the Lord had commanded them. God wanted to give the land to His people but they were too afraid to take it. As they had done many times before the people began to complain. In the past they had been afraid of the Egyptian army when they left the land of Egypt. (Exodus 14:10-14) Again they complained in the desert when they had no water to drink. (Exodus 15:22-27) They complained at Taberah and God sent fire. (Numbers 11:1-3) They even complained about the manna. (Numbers 11:6)
There are two choices that we have when the trials of life come upon us. We can call upon the Lord or we can complain against the Lord. We can call upon Him and ask Him to lift our burdens or we can fight against Him and continue to suffer difficulties. It is the choice that the Israelites had and they choose to complain and fight against the Lord.
They did not trust God to give them the Promised Land and they no longer wished to follow Moses who had great faith in God’s promises. They decided to choose a new leader who was weak and wold lead them back to bondage in Egypt.
This rebellion of sorts greatly upset Moses and Aaron and they laid prostrate on the ground to show their humility towards God. They prayed to the Lord knowing that He was angry at the people of Israel and would have to punish them for their disobedience. Joshua and Caleb also tore their clothes to show their destress. This was a custom of the Israelite people to tear their clothing when they were unhappy. This expression is often seen when people had died. Joshua had agreed with Caleb when he gave his encouraging report of the Promised Land and now he tore his close to show that he supported Caleb. Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua had faith in God’s promise and trusted Him to give the Promised Land to the Israelite people.
Even so Joshua and Caleb continued to encourage the people to trust God at His word. They repeated the positive point of the country that God wanted to give them. That if they would only trust their God, then He would lead them into the Promised Land. There were two things the people needed to do. Stop opposing God and not be afraid of the people of Canaan. God was with them and therefore the people of Canaan had no protection greater that the God they served. With God on their side the people of Canaan would not be able to stop them from possessing the land.
The people refused to believe what Joshua and Caleb were saying and became angrier. They wanted to kill all four of them, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. Then God appeared in the cloud.
Then the Lord spoke angrily to Moses of the wicked behavior of the Israelite people. His anger was because the people did not trust Him. They did not trust Him in spite of the many wonderful things that He had done for them. God had brought the ten plagues against the Egyptians so that they would allow the Israelite people go. God had separated the Red Sen so the people could walk across on dry land. God had provided food and water for them while in the desert. And still the Israelite people did not believe that God had the power to give them the land of Canaan.
God then wanted to destroy the Israelite people and intended to let disease destroy them all. Then God would make a new nation from the seed of Moses and this was the second time that God wanted to do this. (Exodus 32:33) Then the people of this new nation would trust and obey God.
Moses did not want a new nation from his family as he was a humble man. Moses expressed to God what the people in the land of Egypt might say if He slaughtered the people of Israel. He felt that they would say bad things of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Other nations knew that the Israelite people were special to God and that He spoke to them. That is was God that looked after them and that if God killed them the other nations would not know the reason why. They might think that God was not powerful enough to do what He had promised. That God could not lead His people into the Promised Land. Moses was not worried what people might say about the people or about what they would say about Moses but what they would say about God.
Moses appealed to the attributes of God. Moses expressed that God is kind and forgiving towards people even when they do not deserve it. That He is slow to anger. That God is a Holy God. Thus meaning that even as He is forgiving that He is also just and must punish the sinner. (Exodus 34:6-7) Sin is a serious action and it can affect the whole family and even their descendants. (Exodus 20:3-5)
There are those who see God in the Old Testament as strict and angry. People who see this think that God is different in the New Testament but God does not change. His character is the same and God loves us always. But God is a just God and though He is always ready and willing to forgive He will not spare punishment for sin. This is why He sent His only begotten Son Jesus. Jesus bore the punishment that we so much deserve. God did this by sacrificing His Son Jesus to pay the wage of our sin which is death. (Romans 6:23) If we are sorry for our sins God will forgive us. God will not punish us because Jesus has already taken the punishment for us.
God had forgiven the Israelite people many times already and now Moses remembered that. Moses asked God to forgive them again. Moses knew that God was very angry but He also knew that God was always ready to forgive and had forgiven them before.
God listened to Moses and considered the prayer that he offered. This is an encouragement to us all that we should often offer our prayers to the Lord, especially when we have sinned against Him. It is not so much the words that we speak but the truth in our hearts. If we are humble before the Lord and speak to Him in truth, as Moses was, God will answer our prayers.
God forgave the Israelite people but they would still receive His judgment. God is a loving God and He is a just God. There punishment was that they who showed a lack of faith and trust in God would not be allowed to enter the land that He had promised them. This privilege would be given to the next generation and none who left Egypt saw the Promised Land except Joshua and Caleb.
Because of God’s judgment God told the people to turn back towards the Red Sea. They would not have to fight the Amalekites or the Canaanites. The people had said that they wanted to return to Egypt and now it had seemed to the people that their request was to be granted. This was not the case as the Israelite people wondered in the desert for the next forty years until all their generation had died off.
This was the judgment that God brought upon the Israelite people. They wanted to die in the desert and therefore they wondered in the desert until all of them had died. Only Joshua and Caleb would be allowed to enter into the Promised Land. The people were afraid to enter into the Promised Land because they believed the 10 spies that said it could not be done. They feared that many of their children would die in the military conquest. But God had promised that they would gain the victory and that He would give the land to them. Now, because of their unbelief they would wander in the wilderness for another 40 years until their generation had passed away.
God’s judgment had decreed that they would all be killed for their disobedience but Moses had prayed for them and God let them live. There was an exception that the men who spoke adversely about the Promised Land died immediately. Of that generation only Joshua and Caleb were spared God’s judgment, as they believed that God would lead them into the Promised Land.
After hearing the judgment of God some of the people decided to attempt to enter in to the land that God had promised them. Moses warned them that God was not with them and they would not gain a victory.
These people who had complained against God now thought if they went on their own that God would forgive them. Disobedience never gains forgiveness. Still they went fearlessly into the hill country of Canaan. There they faced defeat because God was not with them and they were in disobedience to His word.