The Israelites Are Punished
26The Lord told Moses and Aaron 27-28to give this message to the people of Israel:
You sinful people have complained against me too many times! Now I swear by my own life that I will give you exactly what you wanted. 29 You will die right here in the desert, and your dead bodies will cover the ground. You have insulted me, and none of you men who are over 20 years old 30will enter the land that I solemnly promised to give you as your own—only Caleb and Joshua will go in.
31You were worried that your own children would be captured. But I, the Lord, will let them enter the land you have rejected. 32You will die here in the desert! 33 Your children will wander around in this desert 40 years, suffering because of your sins, until all of you are dead. 34I will punish you severely every day for the next 40 years—one year for each day that the land was explored. 35You sinful people who ganged up against me will die here in the desert.
36Ten of the men sent to explore the land had brought back bad news and had made the people complain against the Lord. 37So he sent a deadly disease that killed those men, 38but he let Joshua and Caleb live.
The Israelites Fail
39The people of Israel were very sad after Moses gave them the Lord's message. 40So they got up early the next morning and got ready to head toward the hill country of Canaan. They said, “We were wrong to complain about the Lord. Let's go into the land that he promised us.”
41But Moses replied, “You're disobeying the Lord! Your plan won't work, 42-43so don't even try it. The Lord refuses to help you, because you turned your backs on him. The Amalekites and the Canaanites are your enemies, and they will attack and defeat you.”
44But the Israelites ignored Moses and marched toward the hill country, even though the sacred chest and Moses did not go with them. 45The Amalekites and the Canaanites came down from the hill country, defeated the Israelites, and chased them as far as the town of Hormah.
The people have reached the edge of the Promised Land only to be told that they must turn around and head back into the wilderness. They are facing the consequences of their unbelief and rebellion. God tells the people that they have complained “against me too many times” and every person who “ganged up against me” will die “here in the desert”. Their children will wander in the desert for forty years – one year for each day the land was explored.
The consequences of their unbelief will be appropriate and ironic. They worried that their children would be captured but God would lead them into the land their parents rejected. They had declared that it was better to die in the desert than be destroyed by the Canaanites – and God would give them exactly what they wanted. God sent a disease to kill the ten spies that gave the negative report. Joshua and Caleb were spared. The people now grieve and decide that they have indeed been wrong to complain against the Lord. They now determine to enter the land, ignoring Moses’ warning that God would not be with them, and that they would be attacked and defeated. They march into the hill country anyway, only to be defeated and chased all the way to the town of “Hormah,” which means “destruction.”
There are short and long term costs to unbelief and rebellion. Sometimes when God lets me have exactly what I want I find out that it wasn’t the best after all. Actions have consequences, and tragically, sometimes it is too late for me to change my mind
O God, you are the just judge who is holy and true. You are merciful and your loving-kindness endures forever. Help me to keep my eyes on you and to be obedient. By your Spirit lead me and help me avoid trying to take shortcuts that take me any place where you are not with me. This I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.