feast: Are We Ready To Enter The Promised Land?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 14-Oct-08; Sermon #FT08-03; 88 minutes
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the episode of the twelve spies sent into the land of Canaan, calculates that this expedition may have occurred close to the Feast of Tabernacles. Ten of the spies developed weak knees, even though the land seemed to flow with milk and honey, a verdant land with abundant natural resources. The cowardly spies claimed there was no room for them, fearing the war-seasoned Amalekites, Amorites, Canaanites, Jebusites, Hittites, and Philistines (five mighty nations). The Anakim allegedly had superior height and strength. The spies exaggerated the difficulties, claiming the land (a natural land-bridge between three major powers) will "devour" them. The mountains also probably seemed formidable to these former inhabitants of the flatlands. The negative talk made the children of Israel fearful and timid. God's called out ones aren't troubled with giants or enemy nations, but we have trials of similar magnitude. We dare not behave as the timid spies, but instead should emulate the boldness of Caleb and Joshua. The wilderness wandering of our forebears (Abraham, Moses and the children of Israel) is a type of our journey into God's Kingdom— a spiritual Godly realm (or the New Jerusalem). We should take care not to murmur, grumble, or complain (about our calling) as did the majority of our forebears, perennially, in rebellion and fear (1) complaining they would be better off dead, (2) playing the victim role, (3) desiring to return to their captivity, and (4) playing the blame game, demanding new leaders. This idolatrous, faithless, fear-motivated rebellion and fear of other men will lead only to death, but the fear of the Lord will lead to faith, courage, wisdom, confidence, and ultimately to eternal life.
In Numbers 13, God said to Moses:
Numbers 13:2 "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them."
Numbers 13:17-20 Then Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, "Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains, and see what the land is like: Whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not. Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land." Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.
Numbers 13:25 And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.
At God's command, Moses sends out the twelve spies into the Land of Canaan.
If we would have turned to Numbers 33:18, we would have seen that they were in a place called Rithmah. After you go through all the studying and looking through references and such, it appears that Rithmah is the original name of the place we now know as Kadesh Barnea.
During their forty-year journey through the wilderness, Israel was at Kadesh Barnea most of the time. They would go out and journey for a while, and then they would end up back at Kadesh Barnea. And then it would be a while, but then the cloud would rise, and up they go again. Eventually, they would be at Kadesh Barnea again. It seems to have been a base of operations for them.
But the most interesting thing in this section of Scripture, (for us) is the time markers given in the text. In verse 20, it said that it was the season of the first ripe grapes. If you know anything about growing grapes, you would know that the first grapes begin to ripen on the vine in mid-summer. Most commentators believe that this is probably early to mid-August. And if you add forty days to August, you come out near the autumn feast days.
When these events were happening in the text of chapters 13 and 14, it was the end of summer, coming quickly upon the fall holy days and the Feast of Tabernacles. We do not know for sure if it was during the Feast of Tabernacles per se, it might have been early enough for the Feast of Trumpets, or the Day of Atonement. But it was very near the Feast of Tabernacles, an end of the harvest festival. And that is what the men were bringing back from spying out the land—some of the fruits of the late summer/early fall harvest.
Numbers 13:26-29 Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told him, and said: "We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. "Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan."
They go into the land, and they search it from south to north, then back again, and they see where everybody is, and they bring back their report.
In terms of the land itself, the report is glowing and very positive. "It is a good land, and truly flows with milk and honey. And look at the fruit." Do you remember the picture of the two men holding a single cluster of grapes the size of plums in the old Bible Story Series illustrated by Basil Wolverton? It was a very verdant land.
A land that flows with milk and honey suggests not only an abundance of natural resources, but also an abundance of prime agricultural lands. It was far better than the wilderness where they were. It was far superior. It hardly rained in the wilderness of Paran. It was indeed a wilderness with few, if any, people there. It just could not support many people at all. It was desert-like.
Basically, what they said when they returned was: "This land is everything that God advertised it was. It is a great land! There is so much there, and look at the fruit we brought back!"
The problem, as you can see as we get to verse 25 which starts with the word, "Nevertheless," was that the spies felt that there was a downside. The problem was the people who currently occupied the land. The spies list five different peoples, and the places where they lived. Initially their argument has two basic prongs to it.
The first is that there is no room for Israel to live among them. "Look! The people there cover the whole land. There are Amalekites in the south; there are Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites up in the mountains; and then near the Jordan River, or the seashore, there are Canaanites there. The whole place is covered. We can't get our 2.5 million people in there. There's no place for us to go in and pitch our tents in. There are just too many people."
The second thing they say is, "We would have to fight all these people in succession to get this land. First thing, since we're in the south, is that we will have to go in and defeat the Amalekites. It's only been about 18 months since we fought with them, and you remember how tough that battle was! Poor Moses was up there on the hill sitting on the rock, having to hold his hands up all day so we could prevail over them. It could have gone either way depending on how tired Moses' arms were!
"And then, should we defeat these Amalekites, we then would have to defeat the Hittites. They're colonists from this huge empire in Anatolia way up north. And they are known for their military prowess. Look at how far down the coast they conquered! And the only thing that stopped them was that Egypt was here. And we know how strong Egypt was! We can't get past the Hittites!
"And the Jebusites are there too! Do you know what is so bad about the Jebusites? They have this stronghold named Jebus, which had been Salem, and Jeru Salem, and it has got this wall around it, and it goes thirty miles up into the air! There's no way we could scale that, and take this city.
"And then there are the Amorites too! They've got cities throughout the mountains, and every one of them is a castle! We can't go there. That would really be too difficult! Can you imagine fighting all these people, one after the other, with this measly little band of people using sticks? We can't do it.
"And, you know, the good land is down by the ocean, with the coastal plain called the Svelah, such good crop ground. But you know what? There are some Philistines there, and though not many, they're in league with the Canaanites. Canaanites go all the way up the coast, and over, and down along the Jordan River. They've got this place covered. And you know what? If we fight them, they've got boats. They would just go out, and come back raiding and killing us all the while.
"Can't you see the problem we've got here? We've got at least five mighty nations in the land, and we are just this measly little group. Oh, we just do not know."
These were their arguments. It was just too big a job for them. That is how they saw it.
That is not the end of the story, by the way. You can imagine how Israelites were acting at this point. "Amalekites? Oh no! And Jebusites? And Hittites too? And even Canaanites? Wail and gnashing of teeth for us! We're doomed!"
And they are all shouting (maybe two and a half million of them), "We cannot do it!"
Numbers 13:30-33 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it." But the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."
"Look at all those small people down there coming to spy out our land! They look like beetles or something!"
Caleb then counters with a faithful answer, "We beat Amalek! It wasn't as close as you thought! God was holding up Moses' arms! You can take these people! No problem! Whatever it takes!"
But they come back with a third argument. Actually, their third argument is a distortion and contradiction of their first two arguments. And that is this, "The land will devour us!" Then they say that all the warriors are giants.
If nothing else, these are exaggerations, if not outright lies. These spies should have known better. But, they saw the way that the crowd was going, and they saw how fearful the people were, and so they went and took their original argument to the next level of incredulity.
What they meant by, "The land will devour us," could mean two different things. It could mean either their armies, when they would go into the land, would be easily beset by attackers—in other words, if we go in there, the land is not conducive to attack by us coming in from the south. We would be fully exposed to the other armies. There were no defensible positions. They would actually have to go into the land of Canaan as the aggressor, and Israel was already at a disadvantage.
Or it could mean that even if they were to succeed, they would become so depleted that they would not be able to hold up against the next nation to take, or to hold out against an aggressor themselves. It is sort of the flip side of the first. They would be going in there, using up all their strength, and then somebody stronger than them would come in behind them, and take it from them. They would be in a position of weakness.
There is a bit of truth to this argument. First, from the standpoint of militarily coming in and taking the land, it was difficult, especially from the south where they were coming from at that time. The majority of the people were in the mountains, and they would have to be assaulted while they were in their fortified positions.
The other thing is that the land of Canaan—the Levant, if you will—is a natural land bridge between Europe, Asia, and Africa. The big powers always wanted to secure that area because it was an excellent base from which to strike out from, and a natural choke-point to defend against others. And so, the Israelites were saying while aware of this fact, that if they actually took this land, they would be constantly fighting wars—constantly defending this piece of property.
This land will devour us. And the constant defending of the land came true, because going back and forth over that land were Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and later the Romans. They all came through there, and they wanted to take Jerusalem, and the trade routes running through there, and the very significant strategic military center that it naturally was.
A third possibility, just to mention this, is that they may have been alluding to the ruggedness of the region. You must remember that these people were born and raised in Egypt, which is very flat for the most part, especially in the coastal plain and Nile Delta of Goshen. Any mountains looked formidable to them. "How can we ever take a land like this?" Even though the mountains there are not huge at all, they are at most 5,000 to 6,000 feet high. But, to them it was a significant challenge.
Their excuse regarding the giants is a huge exaggeration—pun intended. As far as we know, only a few of the Anakim were truly giants like Goliath. Goliath may have been nine, ten, or even up to 13 feet tall, and that would indeed be a big guy, especially coming at him with a sling shot. But through the faith in God, David was able to slay that giant. But, these men with Joshua and Caleb did not see it that way. They saw all these giants as invincible warriors. They could not defeat a whole army of giants. That did not mean much to David, a faithful man, but these people were not like David. These Anakim seemed not invincible at all.
"Giants," in verse 33, is the Hebrew "nephilim." It is the same word used in Genesis 6 about the giants living before the flood. Think about this logically. They are saying that the Anakim—the sons of Anak—came from the giants of old. This parenthetical phrase—that the Anakim came from the giants—is what they said.
How many people went onto the ark? It was only the eight people in the family of Noah. How in the world would the sons of Anak be descended from the Nephilim in Genesis 6? Did they not all die, or were they too tall to drown?
What is happening here is that they are all gathered around their campfires and telling 'ghost stories.' "These giants are the sons of the Nephilim, you know! They come from before the flood, and they were like 92 feet tall, and they had wings, and big claws! We cannot go up against them!"
Do you see how their fears are getting into the people and stoking them into a frenzy? They are so fearful that they believe that they would all go in there and be chopped down and die. So they try the argument of the boogie-man. And it works.
Numbers 14:1 "So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel [murmured] complained against Moses and Aaron,..."
Can you imagine the sound of two and a half million people just wailing all night! "Oh woe is we! We have come all this way, and cannot go into the land because these big bullies will not let us...and the land is just going to eat us up!" That is so really sad.
While our entering the Kingdom of God is somewhat different from the Israelites entering the Promised Land, there are some similarities that we need to consider. We do not face warring nations, or difficult topography, or ten foot giants, but we still have to overcome certain obstacles. It might be a boss, or somebody in the church, or it might be an employment situation, or it might be a lack of this or that, or facing an economic crisis. We always have trials that come up in front of us.
The question that I have for today is, "Do we face these obstacles like the mighty Caleb and Joshua, or are we more like the weeping and murmuring children of Israel who wailed because they exaggerated things to be so much worse than they really were? Are we bold? The righteous are as bold as a lion! Or, are we timid rabbits who will run back to their burrow at the first sign of movement? Are we faithful, or are we fearful? Are we obedient, or rebellious? Those are my questions for today. This sermon could be a bit of a downer, but my Last Great Day sermon is going to be the other side of the coin. If it sounds like I am brow-beating you today, then do not worry—those bruises will heal! And on the Last Great Day, you will have something to hope for—actually something to work on. I want to be a bit more serious in this first sermon.
Let us look at God's command in Leviticus 23 concerning this feast, and do not forget the ideas in this lengthy introduction we have just gone through. It should come back into it later.
Leviticus 23:39-43 'Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day [today] there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.'"
As we saw here in these last couple of verses, the Feast of Tabernacles is commanded to commemorate the fact that the Israelites dwelled in booths in their journey toward the Promised Land. They lived in tents. They were temporary dwellings—dwellings that could be put up quickly, and taken down quickly. They were light enough to move from place to place without too much trouble.
The children of Israel at this time, while in the wilderness, as we all know were nomads. They were unsettled—well, semi-settled. They were at Kadesh Barnea for a good long time, and they probably had little subdivisions. They would go around, and then they would come back, and set up camp again. But they were pretty much nomads. They moved from place to place.
Throughout the whole time, they were on their way to a destination. They had a goal in mind, and an end. There was that God-given homeland that they were looking for, that they were walking toward. It was a land of blessing and rest. They had their eyes fixed on that, that they would get there and have their own land. As a slave people, that was a wonderful thing, that they would have their own land, that they could work on their own patches of garden, and work on their own house, and they would not have a task master telling them what to do.
It is for this reason—temporary booths—that the Jews connect this feast with the wilderness wanderings. It is right there in verses 42 and 43. They look backward to their forefather's experiences in the wilderness. We understand this. We have spoken about this a lot in times past. But we do not look backward to the same extent as we look forward toward the Kingdom of God. We see in the wilderness wanderings a type of our journey to the Kingdom of God. God, as He brought the Israelites out of Egypt, has brought us out of this world. He brought us out of the tyranny and the slavery to Satan, and the life-long bondage we had to him. God redeemed us from our sins, just like He redeemed them from physical slavery. He has set us on a path of overcoming and growing in grace and knowledge, just like they had a path through the wilderness in which they had many trials.
Of course, ultimately, He gave them their reward. He gave them their Promised Land, just like He will give us the Kingdom of God. We are looking forward to that through the resurrection from the dead into entering His family—the Kingdom of God.
We too are on a journey. It is a spiritual one to our promised homeland, because our citizenship, as Paul says, is in heaven with God.
Let us see this for a moment. Paul uses the unsettled life of Abraham, the father of the faithful, just as he is the father of Israel, to show the pattern for all of God's people.
Hebrews 11:13-16 These all [in the previous context] died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
We, too, are strangers and sojourners who seek a homeland. We do not seek a particular plot of land, like our own forty acres, or whatever. That is not what we are looking for. We seek something far better than that—a heavenly country it says. That is a spiritual, Godly realm. In fact, what we seek is a city—the New Jerusalem that God has prepared for His children. That is our goal.
Understanding that our life as Christians is patterned on, first of all, the life of Abraham, and secondly as a type, on the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel, we can learn something from all this. As Paul says in I Corinthians 10:11, particularly talking about the children of Israel:
I Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
So we go along our journey. And he says that it is written to those upon whom the ends—purposes and goals—of the ages have come. That is us. He is writing it for the people who need it the most. God had it written for those who need it the most. We have to listen; we have to heed.
Numbers 14:1-5 So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?" So they said to one another, "Let us select a leader and return to Egypt." Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
As soon as this false report reaches them, the children of Israel cry, "Woe is me!" They wail, and they cry, and they murmur against Moses, and Aaron—"mur-mur-mur." And at a distance, that is exactly how it sounds—"mur-mur-mur-mur-mur." I am doing this for a reason. This is onomatopoeia—a word that sounds like what it is.
Murmur, in English, means, "to grumble," "to complain," or "object in a subdued manner." It is complaining in a low voice so that someone else cannot tell what is being said—someone who you do not want to know what you are saying.
In Hebrew, the word is, "lun," or "loon." This Hebrew word definition is much better than the English, and means, "to express resentment, dissatisfaction, anger, and complaint by grumbling in half-muted tones of hostile opposition." As you can tell by the definition, the sense of complaining is far stronger in the Hebrew word than in the English word. In Hebrew, murmur is rebellious, and antagonistic. It is not, "mur-mur-mur-mur-mur," but rather, "MUR-MUR-MUR-MUR-MUR!"
It has a hard and bitter edge to it. It is this close to drawing a sword. It is a type of quiet rumble of discord and displeasure that promises to take action. That is what happened here. Did we not just read that? "MUR-MUR-MUR-MUR-MUR! Let us get new leaders and return to Egypt!"
Well, you must ask the question: What are you going to do with the old leaders? Just leave them out there in the wilderness? "Bye Moses! Thanks for the trip. We are going to go back now!"
No! What do you suppose they would have done? They would have wanted to cover their tracks. There would have been a mutiny in the wilderness. And, Moses and Aaron would have died had God allowed something like this to go that far. We think of murmuring as just the quiet complaining. But what God saw was this attitude of aggressive murmuring that would have lead to the killing of Moses.
Thinking about that, let us notice the four points of their complaint. I might add that people bring up the same points today. I believe it is best to think about these things with a bit of humility because many of us, I dare say, have either said, or thought similar things ourselves when faced with serious trials.
The first thing they said was, "We'd be better off dead." Now, Job, as righteous as he was, said a similar thing in his trial,
Job 10:18 'Why then have You brought me out of the womb? Oh, that I had perished and no eye had seen me!
And Jonah—Jonah did a wonderful thing. He (eventually) went to Nineveh, and he preached, and they proclaimed a fast, and repented. And then Jonah said, "It is better for me to die, than to live! These Ninevites repented! I cannot believe it!" Jonah was feeling sorry for himself.
Yet, we need to think about what actually—"I wish I were dead"—really means. If you think about it, especially applying to us today, saying that you would be better off dead, it entirely denies God's purpose for the individual. Think about it. "God! I wish I had never been born! God! I wish you had never done anything with me! I wish I never had all these problems!"
What a person is doing when he says these things is actually saying, "God! You totally 'bumbled' the course of my life! Look at what I am now! I would have been better if I had never started this journey!"
Another thing that it does is that it totally denies God's power and ability to turn your wretched mess into something good! "God! You got me into this mess. You cannot turn it around. I am doomed!" What we find in an attitude like this is that we have judged God as lacking. And of course, we have made ourselves into extremely self-righteous self-pitying people. "Oh, I am in such straits, no one can rescue me! I wish this had never gotten going." This is the attitude that they had, and have.
The second point of their complaint is that they said, "We are victims in all of this! We're victims!"
In the Parable of the Talents, you remember the servant that was given only one talent, and he said, "I knew you were a hard man, so I did not want to get brow-beaten when you came back, so I buried it in the ground." He played the victim there.
Delilah played the victim too. "Oh, Samson! Why don't you ever tell me the truth? You tricked me all these times!" And she wore him out, and he finally said, "Okay, cut off my hair." She played the victim to him.
The same claim to victim-hood is alive and well today. We see it all the time. People moan and groan, and gripe about how someone took advantage of them, or about their horrible circumstances, and, "There's nothing I can do. I'm just a poor sheep being led to the slaughter. Woe is me!"
Today, people are victims of their gender, their color, their ethnicity, their lack of education, (I mean for their lack of education, they could have done something about that, like study?), their lack of affordable housing, their lack of access to healthcare, their lack of technology, their lack of, well you name it. People will come up with any excuse in order to put them into the status of victim in order to get pity and help from someone else, but will not lift a finger, it seems, to help themselves. It is all done to them as if they had no part in it at all. They will grab at any excuse to portray themselves as victims if it will somehow give them an advantage.
Playing the victim denies personal responsibility, which we have heard a bit about already here at the Feast of Tabernacles—it denies personal responsibility for one's decisions, and actions. And, more importantly, it accuses God again of failing to watch out for their well-being. It points the finger at God, once again. "You got me into this mess. Now I'm a victim here! Why didn't you help me when I needed it?"
Their third point of their complaint is that they cried, "Let's return to our captivity. Let's go back to Egypt." Today, we are more likely to say wistfully, "I wish we could go back to the good ol' days—sigh—when things were easier, and better—sigh."
We often desire to return to a time and place when we were seemingly carefree, when we were unburdened by trial and hardship. And in a way, that is not bad. I mean, we do all yearn for better times to be sure. But, if it is only that, then I suppose that it is okay. However, think about it. When we talk about the good old days, for many of us, that was before we were converted.
Do you know why they were "good old days?" It is because back then, we did not have this big old "target" on our back; and God was not directing things in our lives to the extent He does now—"Oh! They're coming to a fork in the road. Let's see, that fork takes them to green pastures by way of a nice smooth road, while this fork is full of pot-holes with a washed out bridge. Okay, let's send them down this one. Let's see how he handles that one. He'll get back on the main road later, but I want him to go down this one because, well, if he's allowed to take the smooth road, then he will not learn a thing. But if he takes this rutted, pitted, washed out road, he might actually be more like My Son when he gets to the end of it." That is when we begin saying to ourselves, "Wow! I wish I were back on that smooth road."
We have these two things, seemingly, going against us: We have Satan against us, and we have God for us! "Thanks God!" No, but He does put us through the paces. Once we are His sons, He says, "This one, son. This is what it takes to be in My Kingdom."
Sometimes when we yearn for those good old days, what we are saying underneath it all is, "I wish that God had never called me! I wish that God had never put me into a place where I had to overcome so much!"
Now, this considers, of course, all that God has done for us—from Jesus' sacrifice, which is a pretty big thing, to the smallest of blessings that He has given us—as nothing.
Look at what the Israelites did. What did they see? They saw walls of water on each side of them while they walked straight through the middle on dry ground. They had already seen that once, and some would see it a second time when they crossed the Jordan River. They had seen ten plagues that devastated Egypt, and the tenth one killed all the firstborn in all of Egypt, both of men and livestock. They saw the Pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire that stayed with them all the time.
Now, I am getting a bit ahead of myself, but look at all that they had seen, and all the things that God had done for them, and they said, "I want to go back! Waaah!" They discounted all that God had done for them already! And, He was going to do more.
So this, "Let's return to our captivity, to go back to the good old days," totally disregards God's promises concerning our goals, and our potential. When it comes down to it, what it is, is absolute ingratitude toward God for what He has done, saying, "I don't care what you've done for me up to now, I want to go back to when there were easier times."
The fourth point of their complaint was, "We need new leaders!" Now, this is actually the flip-side of, "We are victims." It is playing the blame-game. It is pointing the finger of accusation. This has happened from the very beginning. Adam blamed Eve, while Eve blamed the serpent. Were not Adam and Eve essentially blaming God for His lack of leadership? You can look at it that way, because what they did was that instead of believing God and following His instruction and leadership, they chose a new leader. "We like this snake better, because he gives us things you will not give us!" Of course, that is forgetting all the other wonderful and good things He did give them, and us, in His providence.
What they did was choose a new leader. How well did that work out? They were out of a home and garden real quick.
There are still many people (in fact I get many e-mails quite regularly in response to something on the website, or in a daily Berean that will be from one of Mr. Armstrong's booklets) who state just how bad Mr. Armstrong was.
I am getting to the point, now, where all I want to say is, "GET OVER IT! The man's been dead, now, 22 and a half years! Why are you still hung up on Mr. Armstrong? He is waiting the resurrection from the dead. He is no longer leading the church of God. For a generation he has not been leading the church of God. We have moved on. We have had to. He is not here any longer. God had chosen new leadership, and we are moving forward in His truth. Let Mr. Armstrong rest in peace."
People have held a grudge for over 22 and one-half years, and the man is dead. I have to catch myself when I decide to respond to these people's e-mail, because I really want to say something like, "WAKE UP! Move on! These things were never Mr. Armstrong's doctrines. They are God's doctrines!"
What they are really doing is exactly what these Israelites in Numbers 14 were doing: They were criticizing the leadership—grumbling, murmuring—and they are still doing it 22 years after the man died! They just cannot let go of it.
Maybe they never read Luke 10:16.
Luke 10:16 "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me."
I do not know. Like it says above, if you reject the servant of God, you are rejecting the Head of the Church of God, Jesus Christ. And if you reject the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, you reject the Father who sent Him. It just goes right up the ladder.
Now do you realize why Moses and Aaron fell on their faces, and hit the dirt as soon as they heard these things? They were dodging lightning bolts! Or at least, they were expecting them to come down from heaven! They knew what these people were really saying, when they said, "We're better off dead; we're victims; let us return to Egypt and our captivity; let's get new leadership." Moses knew that it was not aimed at them, but it was aimed at God, and He was not going to take it.
In reality, they hit the dirt to intercede for the people before God. It is truly the opposite of what I just said above. They were not dodging lightning bolts, but they were putting themselves in front of the lightning bolts, saying, "God, please don't strike these people down," because God had said (verse 11), "Moses! Let me wipe these people off the earth, and start over with you!" Moses said in effect, "Do not put that on me, God. I have got a few reasons: The people are watching what is going to happen. They saw all your miracles in Egypt, and they are wondering what you are going to do. And, if you wipe them all out, well, that is going to come back, and will not bring You any glory. Let us continue to work with these people." And God agreed. However, "But they are dead anyway! We will work with their children." And that is what happened.
I have gone through this to such an extent because we need to compare our own reactions to trials and obstacles to what the Israelites said here in Numbers 14. Do we still make some of these same complaints? I am talking to you, converted church of God members.
I have been baptized since 1984. That gives me 24 years in the church. I have been in and around the church of God for all my life. That makes 42 years. And many of us have been around that long, and longer! Do we still make some of these same complaints?
Do we still say, "Woe is me!" Do we still say, "I'm the victim, here!" Do we still say, "I wish things would go back to the way they used to be! Wasn't it great in the Worldwide Church of God?" Do we still say, "I've been misled all these years by those leaders; the ministry is just not giving the truth!"
What we have seen is that these attitudes expose our selfishness, our irresponsibility, our faithlessness, our spiritual blindness, our short-sightedness, our lack of love for God, and many, many, many ungodly traits of character too long to list.
Ask yourself, "If God didn't want such people in the Promised Land, would God want such attitudes in the Kingdom of God?" It is a legitimate question. If the type holds up, would He not react the same way to such attitudes?
In this next passage, Paul has just gone through his doctrinal section of his letter to the Ephesians, and then he says,
Ephesians 4:25-27 Therefore [since we are a new creation, and a new man], putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another. [We are family.] "Be angry, and do not sin"; do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
Watch what you say. Make sure that what you say is good and helpful.
Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking [mur-mur-mur!] be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Except for that last verse, Paul shows us some of the same sinful attitudes that the Israelites showed there on the doorstep to the Promised Land. If we are still nursing some of these attitudes, even now, after so many years in God's church, we have some work to do. We are on the threshold! Who knows? This economic crisis could be the first step in something far worse. Jacob's trouble could be just about here. We do not know. It looks bad. How bad will it get? I do not know. But if we have these same attitudes, I do not think that we are ready for the Kingdom of God. We are not ready to enter our Promised Land, because we are showing the same attitudes that the children of Israel were kept out for.
Numbers 14:6-10 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them." And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel.
Yes, just as soon as they started to pick up rocks, God said, "Enough!" And He was there. It had reached the tipping point. And God showed Himself in power.
Now Joshua and Caleb—they present the truth—the true situation as it was. They saw things perfectly clearly. They saw reality. They saw through the eyes of great faith in God. They knew God. They remembered His power. They remembered all that He had done for them.
The truth was that these ten other spies, who said that the land would devour them, were lying! The land would not devour them. In fact, it was an exceedingly good land. Everything that God had promised them it would be, it was, down to the blades of grass, and the sand on the seashore. It was a beautiful land. It was so fertile. It was just right. "And we can take them! We are going to have them for breakfast! Just you wait! Let us go on in! They are 'Cheerios' man!"
They knew that the inhabitants of the land would have no chance against them, because God was their Captain! "Let's go people! It's right here!"
The murmuring Israelites we see, as they were picking up stones to slay Joshua and Caleb, had two fundamental problems underlying their complaints. And these were two attitudes—rebellion, and fear.
Numbers 14:9 "Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them."
Those are the two underlying attitudes to their complaints.
Now we have all seen I Samuel 15:23,
I Samuel 15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king."
Mostly what I am concerned about here is the first clause, "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." Many of you may have wondered how rebellion and witchcraft go together. Why are they so similar?
They are actually more similar than we tend to think. Rebellion is seeking for, or striving after one's own answers for direction; that is, you are taking your life and everything about it into your own hands. You are going to guide yourself. You will seek your own path.
Divination (which is probably a better translation of this word, "witchcraft) is seeking guidance from spirits and false gods. They are both seeking guidance and direction. But, one is to trust yourself for it (rebellion), and the other is to trust some false god or spirit (divination).
As one commentary put it, "To know God's will and deliberately disobey it is to put ourself above God, and therefore, become our own god. This is the vilest form of idolatry." That is what divination is—a form of idolatry. It is trusting in a false god for guidance.
Now that we have got that down, let me repeat this one point: Rebellion is seeking for, or striving after one's own answers for direction—making oneself into a god—just as divination is seeking one's guidance from spirits and false gods.
The Proverbs have something to say about this.
Proverbs 17:11 An evil man seeks only rebellion; therefore a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
This first half of the verse is probably flipped backwards. I researched it very thoroughly, and it most likely should read, "A rebel seeks only evil." You will see it translated that way in some Bibles. "A rebel seeks only evil; therefore a cruel messenger will be sent against him." In other words, this is talking mostly about a rebel against a king. A rebel is against the constituted authority—the king in this instance. And what does the king do? He sends his executioner. The king says to go kill the rebel. That is the cruel messenger.
What is being said here is that a rebel at heart is an evil person. And his heart is only going to seek evil, because that is what human nature does. It leads a person to do more and more evil—to get his own way. And so, the constituted authority, seeing this evil rebellion, will do what he can to eliminate it.
If we would read Romans 13 which says that all authority comes from God, and He appoints those He wishes over the nations, in all levels of authority, then to be a rebel against one of those is to rebel against God. It makes a rebel an enemy of God's sovereignty and will.
A rebel, then, having set himself against the ruler of the land, and ultimately against God, will come to a cruel end. There is no other way that it can end. Either the human authority will put an end to it, or God Himself is going to get him—or both! Probably under God's authority, the human ruler is going to get them.
Hebrews 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
And so, it befell these rebels in the wilderness.
Let us look at fear for a moment. I have a long string of verses, and I want you to get the tenor of them. Let us start in the Psalms.
Psalm 147:10-11 He does not delight in the strength of the horse; He takes no pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.
Proverbs 1:7a The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.
Proverbs 3:7-8 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones.
Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.
Proverbs 9:10-11 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by Me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you.
Proverbs 14:26-27 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 16:6 In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the LORD one departs from evil.
You will notice that all of these had to do with, "The fear of the Lord." Fear is a powerful motivator. I went to these specifically because I wanted it to be positive, rather than negative. I could have gone to verses where fear is not good.
I John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
This is the flip side to all the others above. If a person has the fear of God, then he will follow God's will. He will do it out of love, out of respect, and out of dread. It runs the whole gamut, because that is what fear is. The fear of the Lord runs from the love of God all the way to the dreaded terror of God. That is how powerful it is.
Do not you think that those Israelites were terrified when God came down and put a stop to their rebellion? They saw Him work before, and they suddenly remembered just how powerful He was.
But Moses and Aaron, with some of that same fear mixed in them, fell on their faces before God out of love—love for the Israelites, and love for God. And Moses' argument is a study in love for God. "Look God! I don't want anybody saying any bad thing against you, because you are my God. And, you have a powerful name. And, we need to make a witness before the nations."
The person who fears God fears to displease Him, fears to disappoint Him, and fears to incur His wrath in any way. So, he avoids committing sin. He hates evil. He does whatever he can to make sure that God is pleased and satisfied with his life.
This fear works on several levels. But, what it does on every level is to encourage obedient and conformity to what God desires of him. And as we saw in a couple of these verses, a better longer life results. And, the ultimate is eternal life. The person who really fears the Lord is going to live forever. That is a long life, if you ask me!
What if one does not fear God as much as he fears something else? Ah! We are back to the Israelites—despite seeing all of God's wonderful works, as mentioned before, and His mighty power over the gods of Egypt, and Pharaoh, and his army, and the Amalekites, bringing manna every day without fail, except the Sabbath when the manna would keep while on other days it would spoil. He brought water out of a rock, enough to water a couple of million people, and all their livestock—drinking and washing too—rivers of living water! (Hold on to that for next time!)
And of course, the Pillar of Cloud, and Pillar of Fire—they saw all these things. They had them in their short-term memories! Just that morning the manna had fallen again. In even shorter term, all they had to do was look over their shoulder, and there was the Pillar of Cloud. It was still there providing shade for all of them. They could have looked at the soles of their feet, because their sandals were not wearing out. And their feet had not swollen. All of those things that God had said He would do for them—their clothes were still okay.
But they feared the people of Canaan more than God. What did they know about the Canaanites? They had only sent twelve men in there, and ten of them brought back a bad report, but two of them came back with a glowing report. But, they believed the ten, rather than the two. Other than this, they had no idea about what the Canaanites were like. They knew the Amalekites, but the rest was only hearsay. But this hearsay was to them more important, and stronger than God. It is wacky.
So what did they do? Instead of obeying God, remembering all that He had done for them, they appeased their own fears.
Psalm 78:41 Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
They limited God! They said, "Oh! All these Canaanites are so powerful! God can't defeat them! They're stronger than the Amalekites, you know! We whipped them when Moses had his hands up! But these Canaanites are very tough. And they have got walled cities. We can't do it. God just isn't powerful enough."
Psalm 78:42 They did not remember His power: The day when He redeemed them from the enemy.
And then, it goes on and lists all these things that He had done for them. It is point after point after point of things that God had done. And they should have been in the forefront of their mind. But, they forgot!
How did they forget? Their fear chased it out of their minds! They were out of their minds, by the way—they were crazed scared. They did not remember His power when He redeemed them from Pharaoh in Egypt. They had more faith in the Canaanites power than in God's power. So essentially, fear is faithlessness. They had more faith in the enemy than they did in God. And that is just sad.
When it is all boiled down, the Israelite's problems were idolatry and faithlessness. The idolatry was in their rebellion because they made themselves into their own god, and faithlessness was in their fear.
We know the rest of the story. God is very angry and wants to wipe them all out, but Moses intercedes for them. Then, God decrees at that point that they will wander for 38 more years so that every one of them over the age of 20 would die in the wilderness and not enter the Promised Land—all except Joshua and Caleb.
And then, hearing this sentence, the people regret what they have done. They wake to what they have done, and then they presumptuously—if you read the account in Deuteronomy, Moses uses the word presumptuously—decide to attempt to enter the land anyway, after the sentence is spoken by God, thinking that they will now obey God. "Okay God, we were wrong, we will go in now," after He had said, "No, you're not going to go in, you're going to wander until you are all dead, and your bones strewn in the wilderness."
God had already passed sentence upon them, and this rash attempt is another act of rebellion. It is rebellion upon rebellion. They just did not get it. They did not have the mind to understand that everything they were doing in the wilderness was rebellion against God. They were driven by their own fears and their own human natures.
"We want this; we want that. Give us this; give us that. And do it now. Boo hoo! Poor us." And then they do something stupid, and more of them would die. That is what happened here. They tried to go up, and the Amalekites and the Canaanites repulsed them, and slew many of them. The dying started immediately.
Let us compare this with what happened in Joshua 1.
Joshua 1:1-11 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying: "Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, "Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, 'Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess.'"
Joshua 1:16-18 So they answered Joshua, saying, "All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you. Only the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your command and does not heed your words, in all that you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and of good courage."
Are we ready to inherit the land? Are we ready to enter God's rest? Which example will we follow? Will we follow the example of the fearful Israelite rebels of Numbers 13 and 14? Or, will we follow the humble and courageous Israelites of Joshua 1?
There is quite a difference of attitude here. In the later case, rebellion would not be tolerated one bit. If anyone dared rebel, it would be the end of that person.
These were the kids—the children—whom God, Moses, Joshua, Aaron, and Caleb trained for 38 years in the wilderness so that they could go up into the land and take it—without fear—without rebellion.
The common watchword of the day was, "Be strong and of good courage!"
Have we rooted out rebellion and the fear of men? Are we faithful and courageous, willing to go wherever, and do whatever God commands, like these people said?
God has promised to be with us every step of the way. He is in us, giving us strength, and giving us faith, helping us along the way. And yet, we still murmur every once in awhile. We still long for those 'good old days.' We will, sometimes, wish we were dead.
But do not do it.
This last passage is a New Covenant admonition and encouragement from the apostle Paul. If only those Israelites had heard this message,
Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? [Who is going to accuse us?] It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. [Look at what we have got going for us.] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? [Will these fears keep us from God?] As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. [We have got to take the land!] For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us take this confident assurance forward with us through whatever trial or hazard besets us, and faithfully prepare to enter the Kingdom of God.