“And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
Because 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 hearkened to my voice;
Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.”
It was a troubled spirit that moved through the camp of Israel. God had brought them to what appeared to be an utterly impossible situation. Spies had been sent to find out what the land of Canaan was like, and upon returning the great majority of them had agreed that the land was impossible to conquer. Only two out of the twelve had felt that they could take the land, and that was merely on the basis of a faith that Jehovah could do what was apparently impossible to them. Once the people saw what stood before them, a cry of anguish went up from their lips. Agitation moved in waves throughout the nation. A movement quickly gathered strength to do away with Moses and Aaron and to return in mass to the land of Egypt. Openly the people wept, but inwardly they were really pleased. This was exactly what they wanted. So often they had been proved wrong by Jehovah, and now the tables were turned. Now it seemed quite evident that Jehovah was in the wrong. His promises to them could not be kept. That was a soothing balm to their wounded pride. It gave added strength to the volume of their complaints. The more Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Caleb circulated through the camp telling them not to rebel, the louder their cries of anguish became. They had a good case, they thought, and they were not going to let it rest. Boldly they picked up stones and told them to be silent or suffer death.
And then God came. His glory shone in all of its holy brilliance before the tabernacle, and a hushed silence settled over the camp. This the people had not expected. Somehow they had felt that in the difficulty of the situation He would not dare to appear. Or, if He did, that it would be to beg and to plead that they would help Him along in this time of trouble. But now they gazed upon the full glory of God as so often before. They never could seem to get used to that glory. Before it they trembled in spite of all they had said.
Once again the drama of God’s righteousness was repeating itself. His wrath was kindled and would not be silent. When Moses appeared before Him, God spoke, “How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.”
Just as before at Mt. Horeb, Moses found himself standing in the position of a mediator between Israel and God’s holy wrath, a type of the true Mediator to come. The people had sinned a great sin; and, if he would stand aside, the justice of God would consume them in a moment. The seriousness of the situation brought from within him the deepest love which he felt. Nothing could detract him from it, not even the possibility of highest exaltation for him and his own children. Only one thing finally mattered to Moses, and that he, quickly expressed. “Then the Egyptians shall hear it (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;) and 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 in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou wilt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because 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. And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my LORD be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The 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. Pardon, 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.”
This was the deepest love of Moses’ heart. It was true that he loved Israel, the people that he led. It was true that he loved the promise of God to bring them into Canaan land. But more than anything else, he loved his God and was jealous for the glory of God’s name. He desired with all his heart that the goodness of God should be revealed and maintained unto the ends of the earth. For this he first pleaded, and from this derived all the rest. There was nothing on Israel’s part that could be pleaded as an excuse for what they did. There was no virtue on Israel’s part which warranted that their sin should be overlooked. There was only one thing that demanded Israel’s preservation. God had promised forgiveness and redemption, and for His name’s sake Moses pleaded, “Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy.”
The intercession of Moses was good and in accord with God’s own purpose. The answer He gave to Moses immediately, “I have pardoned according to thy word.” But there was also more that had to be considered for the glory of His name. As He had also said on Horeb’s mountain, He could not allow sin to go unpunished. His justice also had to be maintained. Thus He went on to add, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD. Because 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; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: but 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. Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea. How long shall I bear with this evilcongregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear you whoredoms, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness. After the number of days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all the evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.”
The history of Israel had come to a very critical juncture. Ten times the people had rebelled against their God, and ten in the Old Testament typical language was the number of completeness. Theirs was a complete rebellion. And over against them God would maintain His glory. In faithfulness to His promises, He would pardon and save the nation. But He would also be faithful to His justice. No one would be allowed to think that He overlooked Israel’s sin and allowed it to go unpunished. Those who had sinned this great sin would not be allowed to enter the rest of the promised land. For many this would be a judgment. They were inwardly enemies of God and wandering in the wilderness would die in their sins. For some who had joined this rebellion against their better judgment, it would be a chastisement to remind them of their unworthiness and turn them in repentance to God. Forty years Israel must wander in the wilderness and only the few faithful, such as Joshua and Caleb, would be preserved to enter the promised land.
The true depth of Israel’s iniquity came to the light when Moses informed the people of this which the Lord had said. A deep mourning fell over the camp, but it was not a mourning of repentance. As long as the opportunity was there for them to enter the land, they found a certain pleasure in refusing to go. Now that the way was closed, they wanted the land as never before. Their mourning was that of a people who felt themselves greatly misused. This was their trouble all along. They just did not want the way of Lord. What the Lord commanded they did not want because the Lord had commanded it and for no reason else. All of their heated reasoning was but a making of excuses to justify the basic wickedness of their hearts.
Suddenly the feelings of the camp took an entirely different tack. Those who before had been so determined to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt now exclaimed that they had to enter the land of Canaan and that they had to do it right away. With God they would not go near the land, but without Him they felt no restraint. Even more they would do so under the pretense of religious dedication. Like a wave they began to move all the time muttering the cry, “Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.”
Aghast at their inconsistent folly, Moses tried vainly to stop them. “Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the LORD, therefore the LORD will not be with you.”
It was a pitiful sight. Without order, without preparation, and without plan, the children of Israel moved in mass toward the strongly fortified borders of Canaan. But what was far more serious, they went without their God. It was but a small group of faithful that remained behind with the ark of God, looking on in anguished horror at the mass of Israel’s fighting men rushing toward Canaan as cattle to the slaughter. And then from the hills came the Amalekites and the Canaanites. Strong, hardened warriors, they swept through the host of Israel as a tide of death. In what seemed but a matter of moments, the great nation of Israel was scattered. As the spies had reported, from a human point of view the strength of Canaan formed an impenetrable barrier. Without faith in their God, Israel before them was as nothing. The people fled for their lives unto Hormah.
Forty years the children of Israel were given to wander in the wilderness and contemplate their presumptions and folly. They had yet to learn that without their God they were as good as dead.