Wednesday after Judica - Numbers 14.1-24 - March 25, 2015
Order of Matins (pg.32)
320 Lord Jesus Think On Me
613 Jerusalem the Golden
158 Glory Be To Jesus
1) The Sons of Israel refuses to enter Canaan to take possession of it. Moses had sent twelve spies into the land on a forty day reconnaissance mission. The twelve came back a house divided. Ten men brought an evil report with them. Two of them, Joshua and Caleb brought back a good report. The ten spies had told Israel, “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.” (Numbers 13:27-28) What they are in effect telling Israel is that the Lord’s description of the land, a land flowing with milk and honey, is true. But the obstacles to taking possession of their promised inheritance are insurmountable. The people of the land are strong. Their cities are well fortified. The descendants of Anak, reputably larger than life people, dwell in Canaan. And just like that Israel’s courage crumples like a piece of paper. Their complaint is the same as it has been in all the other episodes we have heard this Lent. “Why couldn’t we have stayed in Egypt?” They have hardened their hearts further though. They claim that the Lord brought them out of Egypt in order to murder them, and not them only, but their wives and children. The Lord has not only betrayed them but has dashed their posterity against the rocks so that this nation will have no future but death in the desert. Joshua and Caleb try to rally them with that the Lord’s promise is true, “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.” (Numbers 14:9) But Israel’s recalcitrant heart will hear none of God’s promise at this point, so these men with hearts of stone pick up stones with which to crush these preachers of the Gospel.
2) We can understand how the situation would escalate like this. The temptation to doubt God’s promises in the desert is the same temptation to unbelief that all generations of God’s Israel face. The ten spies bring a bad report which plays to the fears and desires of the Israelites. The sinful flesh, even in those who had been baptized into Moses in the Red Sea, still hates God’s judgments, flees from His word, and despises His promises. When the Lord revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush He gave Moses not only His name, but said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6) By calling Himself thus He calls to mind the promises He gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promise of inheriting Canaan began when Abraham bought the field of Ephron the Hittite where the cave of Machpelah was. There Abraham buried Sarah and his descendants were buried because they took the Lord at His word and wanted to buried in Canaan as a sure sign that God would fulfill His promise. In spite of these promises, in spite of the show of force in the ten plagues, in spite of a Red Sea baptism, in spite of pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them, in spite of manna and quail, in spite of twelve water wells at Elim, in spite of water gushing from a rock, Israel would not believe. They’d rather believe their doubts. They would rather drink deeply from fear of what they could see with their eyes. They would rather despise God’s promise than let the Lord fulfill His promises to made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
3) The Lord intervenes to judge wicked, unbelieving Israel. He will not be a liar, so He offers to take Moses, a son of Abraham, and make him into a great nation at the expense of the multitude of Israel. But Moses will not allow the Lord be anything less than He has promised to be. He appeals to the Lord’s honor first. In a manner reminiscent of Abraham wagering against God’s mercy for Sodom, Moses says, “The nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness.’” (Numbers 14:15-16) “You, O Lord, do not want to be seen as inadequate. Killing Israel will not add to your glory.” Then Moses rushes in and appeals to the true glory of God, His mercy. “And now, I pray, let the power of my LORD be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19) Show your glory. But show your glory in mercy, not judgment. The Sons of Israel will refuse to appeal to God’s mercy in the face of their temptation because of their unbelief. Moses intercedes for them on that fact alone, that God has promised to be merciful to sinners by forgiving their sins when they repent.
4) In this episode from Numbers we see very clearly a warning to repent of our sins. We also see the basis for our appeal to God. Like the Sons of Israel in the wilderness, our flesh would much rather listen to its own fears, to its own desires, to its own lusts, to its own pride, than to God’s Word. Contempt of God, doubt concerning the Word of God, doubt concerning the threats and promises, all these things adhere to our flesh throughout this life. So we must be on guard against the temptations of the flesh to listen to the report of the ten spies. This word encourages us to disbelieve His promises, to doubt that He is able to fulfill His them, and to rebel against the Lord by making up our own word and calling it God’s word. For our sinful rebellion against God’s commandments in thought, word, and deed, we have nothing but to repent. For believing Satan’s accusations more than the absolution, which is God’s very word spoken to us, we ought to repent. For allying our thoughts with the ways of the world so that we disbelieve the Word God gives, so that we neglect hearing it and meditating upon, we must pray that the Lord grant us repentance. Israel did not do this in Numbers 14 and their punishment was to die in the wilderness as they feared, while their children were made fit to inherit the land of Canaan. So the Lord would show us that if we fail to repent of our sins and turn from them, the Lord will most certainly punish us.
5) But we must also learn from Moses how we are to approach the Lord in repentance. The Lord does not want us to flagellate ourselves and beat ourselves into a bloody pulp. He instead wants us to sorrow over our sins and turn immediately to His chief glory which is showing mercy and forgiving iniquity and transgression. Moses does not appeal to Israel’s good works. They had none. Nor does He appeal to his status for God shows no partiality. Moses calls only upon the Lord’s mercy to forgive theses sinners. That is how the Lord wants to be known. In repentance and sorrow over our sins we are to turn solely to God’s mercy located in Christ Jesus. We have no works to hold before God. No “best intentions.” No “I’ll try harder next times.” We are to look to nothing except Christ crucified for sinners. If we want to bring anything of our own before God’s tribunal, we will be judged according to all our works. But the Lord establishes a throne of grace were sinners can appeal not to themselves, but to Christ who IS the mercy and compassion of God.
6) Not only does He forgive the sins of the penitent, the Lord creates new hearts in those who come to Him contrition and repentance, hearts like those of Caleb and Joshua. Moses writes at the end of today’s chapter that Caleb had “a different spirit.” (Numbers 14:24) This is the Holy Spirit which the Lord bestows upon all who repent and believe the Gospel. That different spirit from the flesh and that of the world, enables us to believe the Gospel, that are sins are absolved and removed from us, and enables us to return to our vocations to live according to God’s will in the commandments. That different spirit will, as long as we don’t run Him off through willful sinning, preserve us in the true faith unto life everlasting, the heavenly Canaan, Jerusalem the Golden with milk and honey blest. Amen.