The Israelites Rebel
1After the Israelites heard the report from the twelve men who had explored Canaan, the people cried all night 2and complained to Moses and Aaron, “We wish we had died in Egypt or somewhere out here in the desert! 3Is the Lord leading us into Canaan, just to have us killed and our women and children captured? We'd be better off in Egypt.” 4Then they said to one another, “Let's choose our own leader and go back.”
5Moses and Aaron bowed down to pray in front of the crowd. 6Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in sorrow 7and said:
We saw the land ourselves, and it's very good. 8If we obey the Lord, he will surely give us that land rich with milk and honey. 9 So don't rebel. We have no reason to be afraid of the people who live there. The Lord is on our side, and they won't stand a chance against us!
10The crowd threatened to stone Moses and Aaron to death. But just then, the Lord appeared in a cloud at the sacred tent.
11The Lord said to Moses, “I have done great things for these people, and they still reject me by refusing to believe in my power. 12So they will no longer be my people. I will destroy them, but I will make you the ancestor of a nation even stronger than theirs.”
13-16 Moses replied:
With your mighty power you rescued your people from Egypt, so please don't destroy us here in the desert. If you do, the Egyptians will hear about it and tell the people of Canaan. Those Canaanites already know that we are your people, and that we see you face to face. And they have heard how you lead us with a thick cloud during the day and flaming fire at night. But if you kill us, they will claim it was because you weren't powerful enough to lead us into Canaan as you promised.
17Show us your great power, Lord. You promised 18 that you love to show mercy and kindness. And you said that you are very patient, but that you will punish everyone guilty of doing wrong—not only them but their children and grandchildren as well.
19You are merciful, and you treat people better than they deserve. So please forgive these people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.
20Then the Lord said to Moses:
In answer to your prayer, I do forgive them. 21 But as surely as I live and my power has no limit, 22-23I swear that not one of these Israelites will enter the land I promised to give their ancestors. These people have seen my power in Egypt and in the desert, but they will never see Canaan. They have disobeyed and tested me too many times.
24 But my servant Caleb isn't like the others. So because he has faith in me, I will allow him to cross into Canaan, and his descendants will settle there.
25Now listen, Moses! The Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys of Canaan. And tomorrow, you'll need to turn around and head back into the desert toward the Red Sea.
The twelve leaders have reported – they have drawn divergent conclusions from their mission observations. The community must now choose, and they give into fear. They cry “all night” and then complain against Moses and Aaron, wishing they had died in Egypt or the desert, fully convinced that God is leading them into Canaan “just to have us killed and our women and children captured”. They revolt and decide to choose a new leader who will take them back to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb tear their clothes and remind the people that the land is very good and that “if we obey the Lord, he will surely give us that land … we have no reason to be afraid of the people who live there … the Lord is on our side and they won’t have a chance against us!”
The people respond in an irrational manner familiar to most of us who are afraid – they threaten to kill the leaders who are urging them to obey God’s call to step into the wild. Mark Buchanan reminded us that “Our God is too Safe” (1), that we like a safe God who does not take us into the unknown where scary giants await us. God shows up during this time of outright rebellion, proposing to destroy this nation who have seen him work in power but cannot believe in him, and make a great nation out of Moses’s descendants instead. Moses advocates for the rebels, appealing to the honour of God’s great name and his character. The surrounding nations will claim that God was not powerful enough to lead them into Canaan, says Moses, and he appeals to God’s mercy, patience and kindness and asks him to forgive.
God does forgive and yet there are consequences to irrational unbelief and rebellion. God condemns an entire generation to aimless wandering (they have disobeyed and tested God too many times), except for Caleb, who “has faith in me.”Caleb will cross into Canaan and settle there. Am I wandering aimlessly through life because of my irrational unbelief and rebellion? Having seen God’s unlimited power, have I allowed fear to cause me to attack leaders irrationally, leaders who wish to lead me into God’s promised land?
1. Mark Buchanan. Your God is Too Safe. Multnomah Publishers, 2001
Oh God Almighty, thank you that you are merciful, patient and kind. Please forgive my irrational unbelief and rebellion and help me to trust in your goodness and plan for my life. May I not test your patience but may you be glorified in my faithful obedience. Lead me into places where I see I am only safe with you. This I ask in Jesus name, Amen.