Moses also appealed to the Lord’s reputation as a God of integrity who is able to do all that He promises: Moses told Him,
“They [the Egyptians] have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people. … if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’” (Numbers 14:14–16)
Because of Moses’ intercession and his appeal to God’s reputation and merciful nature, God relented from completely destroying the entire nation of Israel; nevertheless, He decreed judgment on those who refused to trust in God the way Joshua and Caleb trusted in God.
“I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors.
“No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Numbers 14:20–24)
The entire generation (ages 20 and up) who had just been counted in the census would not enter the Promised Land they so feared; instead, they would die in the wilderness. But Joshua and Caleb would live to enter the Land.
Lessons for Us Today
What lessons can we learn from this account of Israel in the wilderness?
First, we need to be people of faith, seeing ourselves as sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—and not tiny grasshoppers to be crushed under some giant’s foot. We need to believe that no matter what challenge we face today, we are “well able to overcome it” with God’s help.
This is the kind of faith that pleases God. Without it, it is impossible to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Second, as people of faith, we need to guard our speech and speak forth faith-filled words.
Why did the whole community of Israel die in the wilderness? They reaped the fruit of their faithless, fearful words.
The people said many times, “We will surely die in this wilderness,” and God allowed them to speak their own future into existence.
“Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above.” (Numbers 14:28–29)
Being the most humble man on the face of the earth, however, Moses refused to accept God’s offer to replace Israel then and, again, now.
Instead, he appealed to the Lord’s merciful nature, asking to forgive the people—the same people who railed against Moses and Aaron and threatened to stone Caleb and Joshua just a short time earlier. Moses reminded the Lord:
“The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, … Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Numbers 14:18–19)
For each of the 40 days that the Israelites spied out the land of Canaan, the Israelites would wander in the wilderness a year until that generation died—40 years. Only Joshua and Caleb, who had a different spirit and wholly trusted in the Lord would enter the Promised Land along with the next generation.
“According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the LORD have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.’” (Numbers 14:34–35)
Third, we need to repent of our unbelief and begin trusting in God or else we cannot move forward. And sometimes, our lack of faith may prevent us from moving forward in a particular area even after we repent.
The Israelites were suddenly remorseful for their behavior and gathered up the courage to go up and take the Land, but it was too late.
Moses warned them, “Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, lest you be struck down before your enemies,” but they rebelled again, went up in presumption and were, therefore, defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites.
Also, the ten spies who had brought back the evil report of the Land were struck down by the Lord in a plague, but Joshua and Caleb were left alive.
God had rendered His final decision; they were now “not able,” just as they had spoken over themselves.
Fourth, we should be a humble people given to intercession for others—from family members to complete strangers. May we all be like Moses, who pleaded for mercy on behalf of his people.
Our faith matters to God!
The Word of God says that the power of life and death is in our tongues and we shall, in a sense, eat our words. (Proverbs 18:21)
Yeshua said that it is by our words that we will be acquitted and by our words we will be condemned. (Matthew 12:37)
May we be careful and deliberate in the words that we speak over ourselves and others, since faith comes by hearing.
May our words and actions be a testimony of the goodness and greatness of the God of Israel, and may we take hold of His promises by faith.
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Haftarah (Prophetic Reading): Faith Moves Us into His Promises
In Haftarah Shelach Lecha (Joshua 2:1–24), we see that Joshua, Moses’ assistant who was one of the two spies who trusted God, has been appointed by the Lord to lead the next generation of Israelites into the Promised Land.
As Abraham’s faith moved Him forward into the role of the Patriarch of the Chosen People and recipient of the covenant, so did Joshua’s faith move him forward into his role of a leader who, with God’s help, was “well able to overcome” all the obstacles before him and take possession of the Promised Land.
In this Haftarah, Joshua sends out two of his own spies into Jericho, in preparation for battle. Although Jericho is a well-fortified city with a well-equipped army and great walls surrounding it, the spies tell Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Joshua 2:24)
Now in the land that their parents so feared, the next generation of Israelites witness God move and have great faith, being “fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises.” (Romans 4:21)
May we be fully convinced of that truth as well.