The people murmur at the account of the spies. (1-4) Joshua and Caleb labour to still the people. (5-10) The Divine threatenings, The intercession of Moses. (11-19) The murmurers forbidden to enter the promised land. (20-35) Death of the evil spies. (36-39) Defeat of the people, who now would invade the land. (40-45)
Verses 1-4 Those who do not trust God, continually vex themselves. The sorrow of the world worketh death. The Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, and in them reproached the Lord. They look back with causeless discontent. See the madness of unbridled passions, which makes men prodigal of what nature accounts most dear, life itself. They wish rather to die criminals under God's justice, than to live conquerors in his favour. At last they resolve, that, instead of going forward to Canaan, they would go back to Egypt. Those who walk not in God's counsels, seek their own ruin. Could they expect that God's cloud would lead them, or his manna attend them? Suppose the difficulties of conquering Canaan were as they imagined, those of returning to Egypt were much greater. We complain of our place and lot, and we would change; but is there any place or condition in this world, that has not something in it to make us uneasy, if we are disposed to be so? The way to better our condition, is to get our spirits in a better frame. See the folly of turning from the ways of God. But men run on the certain fatal consequences of a sinful course.
Verses 5-10 Moses and Aaron were astonished to see a people throw away their own mercies. Caleb and Joshua assured the people of the goodness of the land. They made nothing of the difficulties in the way of their gaining it. If men were convinced of the desirableness of the gains of religion, they would not stick at the services of it. Though the Canaanites dwell in walled cities, their defence was departed from them. The other spies took notice of their strength, but these of their wickedness. No people can be safe, when they have provoked God to leave them. Though Israel dwell in tents, they are fortified. While we have the presence of God with us, we need not fear the most powerful force against us. Sinners are ruined by their own rebellion. But those who, like Caleb and Joshua, faithfully expose themselves for God, are sure to be taken under his special protection, and shall be hid from the rage of men, either under heaven or in heaven.
Verses 11-19 Moses made humble intercession for Israel. Herein he was a type of Christ, who prayed for those that despitefully used him. The pardon of a nation's sin, is the turning away the nation's punishment; and for that Moses is here so earnest. Moses argued that, consistently with God's character, in his abundant mercies, he could forgive them.
Verses 20-35 The Lord granted the prayer of Moses so far as not at once to destroy the congregation. But disbelief of the promise forbids the benefit. Those who despise the pleasant land shall be shut out of it. The promise of God should be fulfilled to their children. They wished to die in the wilderness; God made their sin their ruin, took them at their word, and their carcases fell in the wilderness. They were made to groan under the burden of their own sin, which was too heavy for them to bear. Ye shall know my breach of promise, both the causes of it, that it is procured by your sin, for God never leaves any till they first leave him; and the consequences of it, that will produce your ruin. But your little ones, now under twenty years old, which ye, in your unbelief, said should be a prey, them will I bring in. God will let them know that he can put a difference between the guilty and the innocent, and cut them off without touching their children. Thus God would not utterly take away his loving kindness.
Verses 36-39 Here is the sudden death of the ten evil spies. They sinned in bringing a slander upon the land of promise. Those greatly provoke God, who misrepresent religion, raise dislike in men's minds toward it, or give opportunity to those to do so, who seek occasion. Justly are murmurers made mourners. If they had mourned for the sin, when they were faithfully reproved, the sentence had been prevented; but as they mourned for the judgment only, it did them no service. There is in hell such mourning as this; but tears will not quench the flames, nor cool the tongue.
Verses 40-45 Some of the Israelites were now earnest to go forward toward Canaan. But it came too late. If men would but be as earnest for heaven while their day of grace lasts, as they will be when it is over, how well would it be for them! That which has been duty in its season, when mistimed, may be turned into sin. Those who are out of the way of their duty, are not under God's protection, and go at their peril. God bade them go, and they would not; he forbade them, and they would go. Thus is the carnal mind enmity against God. They had distrusted God's strength; they now presume upon their own without his. And the expedition fails accordingly; now the sentence began to be executed, that their carcases should fall in the wilderness. That affair can never end well, which begins with sin. The way to obtain peace with our friends, and success against our enemies, is, to have God, as our Friend, and to keep in his love. Let us take warning from the fate of Israel, lest we perish after the same example of unbelief. Let us go forth, depending on God's mercy, power, promise, and truth; he will be with us, and bring our souls to everlasting rest.
Numbers 14:1-45 . THE PEOPLE MURMUR AT THE SPIES' REPORT.
1. all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried--Not literally all, for there were some exceptions.
2-4. Would God that we had died in Egypt--Such insolence to their generous leaders, and such base ingratitude to God, show the deep degradation of the Israelites, and the absolute necessity of the decree that debarred that generation from entering the promised land [ Numbers 14:29-35 ]. They were punished by their wishes being granted to die in that wilderness [ Hebrews 3:17 , Jude 1:5 ]. A leader to reconduct them to Egypt is spoken of ( Nehemiah 9:17 ) as actually nominated. The sinfulness and insane folly of their conduct are almost incredible. Their conduct, however, is paralleled by too many among us, who shrink from the smallest difficulties and rather remain slaves to sin than resolutely try to surmount the obstacles that lie in their way to the Canaan above.
5. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces--as humble and earnest suppliants--either to the people, entreating them to desist from so perverse a design; or rather, to God, as the usual and only refuge from the violence of that tumultuous and stiff-necked rabble--a hopeful means of softening and impressing their hearts.
6. Joshua . . . and Caleb, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes--The two honest spies testified their grief and horror, in the strongest manner, at the mutiny against Moses and the blasphemy against God; while at the same time they endeavored, by a truthful statement, to persuade the people of the ease with which they might obtain possession of so desirable a country, provided they did not, by their rebellion and ingratitude, provoke God to abandon them.
8. a land flowing with milk and honey--a general expression, descriptive of a rich and fertile country. The two articles specified were among the principal products of the Holy Land.
9. their defence is departed--Hebrew, "their shadow." The Sultan of Turkey and the Shah of Persia are called "the shadow of God," "the refuge of the world." So that the meaning of the clause, "their defence is departed from them," is, that the favor of God was now lost to those whose iniquities were full ( Genesis 15:16 ), and transferred to the Israelites.
10. the glory of the Lord appeared--It was seasonably manifested on this great emergency to rescue His ambassadors from their perilous situation.
12. the Lord said, . . . I will smite them with the pestilence--not a final decree, but a threatening, suspended, as appeared from the issue, on the intercession of Moses and the repentance of Israel.
17. let the power of my Lord be great--be magnified.
21. all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord--This promise, in its full acceptation, remains to be verified by the eventual and universal prevalence of Christianity in the world. But the terms were used restrictively in respect to the occasion, to the report which would spread over all the land of the "terrible things in righteousness" [ Psalms 65:5 ] which God would do in the infliction of the doom described, to which that rebellious race was now consigned.
22. ten times--very frequently.
24. my servant Caleb--Joshua was also excepted, but he is not named because he was no longer in the ranks of the people, being a constant attendant on Moses.
because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully--Under the influence of God's Spirit, Caleb was a man of bold, generous, heroic courage, above worldly anxieties and fears.
25. (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley)--that is, on the other side of the Idumean mountain, at whose base they were then encamped. Those nomad tribes had at that time occupied it with a determination to oppose the further progress of the Hebrew people. Hence God gave the command that they seek a safe and timely retreat into the desert, to escape the pursuit of those resolute enemies, to whom, with their wives and children, they would fall a helpless prey because they had forfeited the presence and protection of God. This verse forms an important part of the narrative and should be freed from the parenthetical form which our English translators have given it.
30. save Caleb . . . and Joshua--These are specially mentioned, as honorable exceptions to the rest of the scouts, and also as the future leaders of the people. But it appears that some of the old generation did not join in the mutinous murmuring, including in that number the whole order of the priests ( Joshua 14:1 ).
34. ye shall know my breach of promise--that is, in consequence of your violation of the covenant betwixt you and Me, by breaking the terms of it, it shall be null and void on My part, as I shall withhold the blessings I promised in that covenant to confer on you on condition of your obedience.
36-38. those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord--Ten of the spies struck dead on the spot--either by the pestilence or some other judgment. This great and appalling mortality clearly betokened the hand of the Lord.
40-45. they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain--Notwithstanding the tidings that Moses communicated and which diffused a general feeling of melancholy and grief throughout the camp, the impression was of very brief continuance. They rushed from one extreme of rashness and perversity to another, and the obstinacy of their rebellious spirit was evinced by their active preparations to ascend the hill, notwithstanding the divine warning they had received not to undertake that enterprise.
for we have sinned--that is, realizing our sin, we now repent of it, and are eager to do as Caleb and Joshua exhorted us--or, as some render it, though we have sinned, we trust God will yet give us the land of promise. The entreaties of their prudent and pious leader, who represented to them that their enemies, scaling the other side of the valley, would post themselves on the top of the hill before them, were disregarded. How strangely perverse the conduct of the Israelites, who, shortly before, were afraid that, though their Almighty King was with them, they could not get possession of the land; and yet now they act still more foolishly in supposing that, though God were not with them, they could expel the inhabitants by their unaided efforts. The consequences were such as might have been anticipated. The Amalekites and Canaanites, who had been lying in ambuscade expecting their movement, rushed down upon them from the heights and became the instruments of punishing their guilty rebellion.
45. even unto Hormah--The name was afterwards given to that place in memory of the immense slaughter of the Israelites on this occasion.