God’s Word for You
Numbers 14:26-35 Condemned for Forty Years
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 27, 2021
26 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the Israelites’ constant grumblings against me. 28 Tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you just as I have heard you say. 29 In this wilderness your corpses will fall. All of you who were registered in the census, every one of you twenty years old and up who have grumbled against me, 30 I swear that none of you will go into the land where I promised to settle you, except for Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 But your children, whom you said would become plunder, I will bring in, and they will experience the land which you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your children will be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years. They will have to endure your prostitution until your corpses perish in the wilderness. 34 You will bear the consequences of your guilt for forty years, based on the number of days that you scouted the land, forty days, one year for every day. You will experience my opposition.’ 35 I, the LORD, have spoken. I swear that I will do this to this entire wicked community, who are gathered together against me. In this wilderness they will perish. There they will die.”
The Lord punished Israel for their rebellion. He did not exclude them from forgiveness for their sins, but he certainly excluded them from entering into the Promised Land of Canaan. This is a point we should always keep in mind when reaching out with the gospel to modern Jews. Many, but not all Jews, have been taught by their leaders that the land of Israel itself (Canaan) is their salvation; that living in Israel is equal to paradise. This is a rejection of the promise of heaven. But many Jews still believe in heaven as a place to be enjoyed after the death of the body. When we share the gospel, we need to keep this in mind so that we can understand why, sometimes, we fail to communicate. Our terms mean something different to us than they do to them.
There are seven things that I feel are valuable lessons from this passage; there might naturally be more than these. Let’s meditate on each one briefly:
1, The Lord says: “You will experience my opposition” (verse 34). God had been with them to protect them all throughout their journey from Egypt until now, but since they had rejected him again and again, ten times, he was now rejecting them and he was going to oppose them if they tried to enter the land without his blessing.
2, This generation will die. God does not simply say, “They will not enter,” he says, “They will die.” He puts this in different ways, but all with the same meaning: “Your corpses will fall” (verses 29 and 32), “Your corpses will perish” (verse 33), “they will perish” (verse 35), and “they will die” (verse 35). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). There is still forgiveness, but the consequences of certain sins may mean the death of the body today. The one who was grieving: “I am counted among those who go down to the pit… I am set apart with the dead” (Psalm 88:4,5) could also pray, “But I cry to you for help, O Lord” (Psalm 88:13).
3, The Lord hears “the Israelites’ constant grumblings” (verse 27). There is both law and gospel in this. First, there is law: God is aware of things that we say, and he knows when doubt and unbelief are behind our words. “The Lord knows the thoughts of man” (Psalm 94:11). But there is also gospel, since God does not hear the prayers of the wicked. He knows what his chosen people, righteous in his sight, are saying and thinking. Even when a Christian sins, God is with him, because there is the paradox of a loving and compassionate God who forgives us for Jesus’ sake. “You, O God, bring salvation upon the earth” (Psalm 74:12).
4, The children, 19 and under, would survive (verse 31). The people had accused God of abandoning their children to die in the wilderness, but God would actually spare those children, raising them up as the next generation, ready to enter into the promised land. Apart from Joshua and Caleb, no one at the Battle of Jericho would be older than 59.
5, Those children would spend the forty years learning to shepherd the flocks of Israel (verse 33). In Egypt, many of the Israelites had been forced to make bricks, build cities, and do other kinds of field work for Pharaoh (Exodus 1:11-14). Now it was time for the younger generation to return to their old way of life.
6, Those children would have to endure the “prostitution” (unbelief and grumbling) of the earlier generation “until your corpses perish in the wilderness” (verse 33). Discipline is a blessing since its purpose is to turn the sinner away from sin and toward God who forgives and saves. The children who would wander as shepherds in the wilderness were going to have the constant reminder of what rebellion could mean, as all of their elders, even Miriam, Aaron, and Moses himself, would die before they entered the land.
7, The time of the wandering was set at forty years; one year for each day that the spies were in the land (verse 34). “For forty years,” God said, “I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’” (Psalm 95:10-11).
God does not want us to serve him only in fear and terror of what he might do to us, like children who cower before a raging teacher, or a wife who endures the fury of a jealous husband. He wants us to serve him out of love, out of thanks, and in joy. When we sin, he corrects us. There is no better example of this in the Scriptures than this moment when God condemned his people to the forty years of wandering in the desert. But he is also gracious and compassionate, “slow to anger, abounding in love, and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).
Of the 21 chapters remaining in the book, about half contain laws for the people. Some of these are about the division of the land, but most are the same types of laws found in Exodus and Leviticus. God was still treating his people as the people of God. Even as the older generation was dying, they were learning about service and obedience to their Lord. This would have been impossible for them if they were simply condemned and thrust from God’s presence forever. “Do not drag me away with the wicked… Save your people and bless your inheritance. Be their shepherd and carry them forever” (Psalm 28:3,9). This is always our prayer: “Be our shepherd, and carry us forever.”
Pastor Timothy Smith