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God’s Word for You

Numbers 14:1-9 Crisis at Kadesh

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The spies had given their report. The majority admitted that the land was rich and filled with good things God had promised, but they were afraid of the Canaanite people. They couldn’t get the image of towering giants out of their minds. The minority (Caleb and Joshua) encouraged the people and showed faith in the Lord’s promises. Now it was time for the nation to react and show its faith, or its lack of faith.

The People Rebel
14 The entire community raised a loud cry. The people wept that night. 2 All of the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The entire community said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! If only we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our children will be taken as captives! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let’s put someone in charge and return to Egypt.”

When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the people wanted an image of God to follow, and they compelled Aaron to make them one. “They made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal. They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass” (Psalm 106:19-20). Now their rebellion was different. Now they rejected God so completely that they wanted to put somebody else in charge who would lead them back to Egypt. They were afraid of being killed by the Canaanites, of their wives and children being enslaved. What did they think would happen back in Egypt? Would their wives and children somehow escape slavery there, just a year after they had been pursued by Pharaoh’s chariots into the miraculous corridor through the Red Sea? “They despised the pleasant land; they did not believe God’s promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the Lord” (Psalm 106:24).

Rejecting God’s appointed leadership was the same as rejecting God. In the closing years of the first century A.D., a pastor named Clement had to write an urgent letter to the Corinthians: “We see that you have removed some men from the ministry that they have honored without reproach!” (1 Clement 44:6). And again: “Your division has caused many to sin, many to doubt, many to despair, and has brought grief to all. And still your rebellion continues!” (1 Clement 46:9). The pastor urged them to restore the deposed ministers, because a righteous church, a sinless community would never remove righteous and sinless pastors. For Israel, suddenly turning on Moses, we might ask: Was Abel’s blood spilled by a righteous brother? Was Joseph sold into slavery by pious brothers? Was Joseph accused of adultery in Potiphar’s household by a chaste, noble, and heroic woman? Was Lot carried off into captivity by godly kings from the north? Why then was this nation of Israel suddenly turning on Moses, just days after Miriam had done so, only to be struck with leprosy and sent outside the camp for a week? The rebellion was appalling; their reasoning was corrupted by their mistrust and unbelief. Their desire to go back to Egypt was ridiculous. It was madness. They proved Isaiah’s words: “The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud” (Isaiah 57:20). And Paul rightly exposed the devil at the heart of unbelief: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown before the entire assembly of the Israelite community. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, two of those who had scouted the land, tore their clothes.

Faced with this rebellion of two million Israelites, the four men reacted in fear. This wasn’t fear for their own lives, as if they were afraid of the crowd. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). No, they were not afraid of the crowd; they were afraid for the crowd. Who knew better than Aaron what God’s wrath would do? His sons Nadab and Abihu had been put to death in the tabernacle for offering fire in a way that displeased the Lord. Moses and Aaron fell down on their faces to beg God for mercy. Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes to show their grief and fear of what might happen to this people. A righteous man can always pray, “Vindicate me, O God, against this ungodly nation” (Psalm 43:1), but what is the righteous man to do when that ungodly nation is his own people, his own congregation, his own church? Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb were not afraid for themselves. “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you” (Psalm 91:9-10). But what about this vast group of doubters, falling fast into the pit of unbelief? “The wicked spring up like grass; they will be forever destroyed” (Psalm 92:7). These few men were the last ministers of the gospel in the face of such widespread rebellion. What could they do?

7 They spoke to the entire Israelite community, “The land that we explored and scouted is a very good land. 8 If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that is flowing with milk and honey. 9 Only do not revolt against the LORD. Do not fear the people of the land, for we will eat them up. Their protection is taken away from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”

“The sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). Joshua and Caleb spoke up once again by reviewing all of the blessings and bounties of the land, blessings God had promised, and that God had also fulfilled. “Only do not revolt against the Lord!” they cried. If the nation mistrusted God, God might chasten, correct, or punish them, or even make them into an example for generations to come. Did the countless people who drowned in Noah’s flood die because they were righteous? Did Pharaoh’s chariots and horses that still lie at the bottom of the sea get there because their master and drivers put their faith in the God of Armies, the eternal Creator? The sea was close by, an arm of it was just a few short miles to the east, visible from the hills that surrounded this valley of Kadesh—did Israel have no fear at all of God’s wrath?

For those who are shown their sins and turn back to God in repentance and faith, there is forgiveness. God’s kind compassion and mercy is reserved for them. “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you!” (Psalm 70:4). For those who repent, who turn back and serve the Lord, “They will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment” (Job 36:10). What a blessing it is to be able to listen to God’s law and gospel so that our sinful rebellion, our corrupt state of being content in our sins, is thoroughly crushed. “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord!” (Acts 8:22a). That was the message of the law from Peter and John, and to it they added the gospel: “Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart” (Acts 8:22b). They did not withhold the gospel by saying “Perhaps,” but they were cautious, because Peter added: “For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:23). Repentance means turning to God; but it also means turning away from sin. One cannot cling to the idol of sin and hope to grasp the horns of God’s altar. The danger was real and immediate. God says: “I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the Lord” (Psalm 101:1). The preacher must keep preaching repentance. In the face of sin, he must proclaim the law. We expose sin to those who are content with their sin, so that the gospel can come to soothe the broken-hearted. “To Israel, you were a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds” (Psalm 99:8). God’s forgiveness is every bit as real and immediate as his wrath. But when we turn to him, he will not turn away from us.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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