Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 16 2019 - Numbers 14:1-25 – Rebellion and judgment

Those who had explored the Promised Land delivered their report to the people who responded with bitter tears and complaints: "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?" (vv. 2-3). It's a familiar cry. We have heard before the refrain that the Israelites felt that they had been so much better off in Egypt.

Are there times when similar complaints rise up within us? Maybe we have refused an opportunity for a better paid job because of our commitment to serve Christ. Maybe we have broken off a relationship with someone because they did not share our faith. Now perhaps feelings arise within us that it would have gone so much better for us if we had not been so determined to follow Jesus. Who might be prompting such thoughts in us?

Two days ago our reflection was entitled, "Be careful what you long for." Here the people protest that it would be better for them to die in the wilderness than to attempt the conquest of the Promised Land and die by the sword. They have wilfully forgotten the promise, power and presence of the one who had graciously redeemed them from Egypt. He who had brought them safe thus far is quite able to give them this fruitful land – as Joshua and Caleb are keen to argue (vv. 5-9).

But the people would prefer to die in the desert. That, then, is what will happen to them; only their children will now enter the Land God had promised them.

Be careful what you wish for you. God might just grant your request only for you to discover that it brings bitterness and disappointment rather than blessing.

We should not pass over the role of Moses an intercessor with God on behalf of the Israelites (see Jeremiah 15:1). In today's passage we see that God threatens to destroy the people and to make Moses a kind of second Abraham, one from whom God will build for himself another great nation. One might have thought that this would have been an offer that Moses could not refuse but, on the contrary, Moses pleads with God to forgive this rebellious people and continue his saving purposes through them. In effect he reminds God that his reputation is bound up with the history of this people. If God abandons them now, the other nations will say, "The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness" (v.16). Moses pleads that God may act in accordance with his great love towards his people and forgive them. Such prayer pleases God for it reflects his own wounded but loving heart.

We need those today who will intercede with God like Moses. God's reputation is tied up intimately with that of us, his people, those whom he has redeemed at the cost of his own Son. Yet we remain a disorderly people – all too often half-hearted in our devotion and often bringing God's name into disrepute before a watching world. If it were not for the intercession of the risen Christ on our behalf, I think that God might well have washed his hands of the Christian church long ago.

But Christ calls us to join him in persisting with this perverse people and to join him in interceding for them – and for ourselves. We need to pray that God would continue the work that he has begun in us by his Spirit so that we might be those who attract others to him rather than causing them to blaspheme the name of our glorious Saviour.

Father God, we know that you are slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion, for we have seen you character displayed most fully and gloriously in the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgive us our sins and work powerfully within us by your Spirit that we may desire what you desire and do what you would have us do. Draw others to yourself through us until your glory fills the whole earth, for we ask it in Jesus' name.

Peter Misselbrook