When we last left our beloved Israelites, they were hearing a committee report that was less than positive regarding the invasion of the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve spies return the recommendation that the people return to the wilderness and not attempt the conquest.
The people agree. They determine to return to Egypt, rejecting the leadership of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb and planning to appoint a new leader. This is ultimately a rejection of God’s leadership of the people. Their declaration is this: we will go back. Or we will die in the desert. But we will not go into the Land.
There then occurs an interchange where God expresses to Moses that He would destroy all the people and raise up a complete nation out of Moses. I think one could safely extend that into a nation raised out of Moses, Joshua, Caleb, and their families, but this is not explicit in the text.
Instead, however, God assigns the judgment that so often seems to happen: He allows the people to have what they want. He tells them to go on, wander in the wilderness, and die there. Here we find, in essence, one of the sources of C.S. Lewis’ classic statement of the two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, "Thy Will Be Done,” and those to whom God says “Fine then, have it your way.”
Moses informs the people of this judgment, and the people have a change of heart. They decide that maybe God’s way was better, after all. So, they finish the chapter going up to invade the Promised Land. And they lose. This is one of two defeats of Israel recorded in the entire Exodus-Conquest narrative that runs through FIVE books of Scripture, from Exodus through Joshua. What is the cause of both?
They then back up and head back to the desert. It is going to be a long generation, while all those who have rejected God’s leadership fall by the wayside.
What can we learn here? It is not simply about conquests, is it?
It is about these three things:
1. Choosing to obey and trust God at the outset is always better. ‘Nuff said.
2. God is still a God of grace and forgiveness, and will graciously allow for repentance.
3. Judgment often takes the form of facing our own choices to their finality. At its heart, this is what occurs with rebellion: we reject God’s authority as King over our lives, and so lose the protection that comes from being His people. This holds true whether we see it manifest in drug abuse or other patterns of sin. Eventually, this destroys the person who did it.
4. There is also something to be noted here about the permanence of consequences. As bad as we hate to admit it, there are simply times that the damage cannot be undone. The people should have gone in, and been established in the land. Canaan should have been conquered in a sweep from south to north, the Twelve Tribes should have all settled on the west side of the Jordan River.
Instead, there was another generation of wickedness in the land. Children who should have been born to peace had to fight in the wars of conquest. The tribes end up divided, leading to the troubles in 1 Samuel 11 (Note, especially, the Septuagint addition to the beginning of that, found in the footnote here in the NIV.)
The nation suffers long-term consequences because obedience was abandoned by one generation. And there was no going back: not even the very next day. There was one moment to do it right, and that moment was lost.
What is that moment for your life? What is that moment for your church? What is that moment for our nation? We have seen so many moments lost in our nation, from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson; from one election to the next; from any one of many moments where the following generations have had to suffer the consequences.
Consider the church God has placed you in: what are you kicking down to the next generation to fix? Minor poor teaching? Small compromises? They do not get better. It takes time to heal wounds, and it would be far better not to make them!
Your own life: walk with God now. There may be lingering consequences of the past, but do not pile them up.
Today’s Nerd Note: I’m not seeing much nerdy to address here. There is something to be considered by looking at a good atlas and contemplating the differences of approach to the Promised Land between here and Deuteronomy, but I don’t really have a comment other than just that: it’s interesting.
Also, note that the people do not take the Ark with them at the end of the chapter. It shows that the Levitical leadership had accepted the command of Moses not to go up and try the invasion. Also, it symbolizes the attempt to go without God. Not that the Ark is a weapon, note 1 Samuel 4, 5, and 6 on that.
Putting this whole incident into history, the Israelites possibly would have been established before the Philistines really try to move ashore in the coming years. How much better would life have been with that?