chapter is based on Numbers 13 and 14.]
days after leaving Mount Horeb the Hebrew host encamped at Kadesh, in the
wilderness of Paran, which was not far from the borders of the Promised
Land. Here it was proposed by the people that spies be sent up to survey
the country. The matter was presented before the Lord by Moses, and
permission was granted, with the direction that one of the rulers of each
tribe should be selected for this purpose. The men were chosen as had been
directed, and Moses bade them go and see the country, what it was, its
situation and natural advantages; and the people that dwelt therein,
whether they were strong or weak, few or many; also to observe the nature
of the soil and its productiveness and to bring of the fruit of the land.
and surveyed the whole land, entering at the southern border and
proceeding to the northern extremity. They returned after an absence of
forty days. The people of Israel were cherishing high hopes and were
waiting in eager expectancy. The news of the spies' return was carried
from tribe to tribe and was hailed with rejoicing. The people rushed out
to meet the messengers, who had safely escaped the dangers of their
perilous undertaking. The spies brought specimens of the fruit, showing
the fertility of the soil. It was in the time of ripe grapes, and they
brought a cluster of grapes so large that it was carried between two men.
They also brought of the figs and pomegranates which grew there in
rejoiced that they were to come into possession of so goodly a land, and
they listened intently as the report was brought to Moses, that not a word
should escape them. "We came unto the land whither thou sentest
us," the spies began, "and surely it floweth with milk and
honey; and this is the fruit of it." The people were enthusiastic;
they would eagerly obey the voice of the Lord, and go up at once to
possess the land. But
after describing the beauty and fertility of the
land, all but two of the spies enlarged upon the difficulties and dangers
that lay before the Israelites should they undertake the conquest of
Canaan. They enumerated the powerful nations located in various parts of
the country, and said that the cities were walled and very great, and the
people who dwelt therein were strong, and it would be impossible to
conquer them. They also stated that they had seen giants, the sons of Anak,
there, and it was useless to think of possessing the land.
Now the scene
changed. Hope and courage gave place to cowardly despair, as the spies
uttered the sentiments of their unbelieving hearts, which were filled with
discouragement prompted by Satan. Their unbelief cast a gloomy shadow over
the congregation, and the mighty power of God, so often manifested in
behalf of the chosen nation, was forgotten. The people did not wait to
reflect; they did not reason that He who had brought them thus far would
certainly give them the land; they did not call to mind how wonderfully
God had delivered them from their oppressors, cutting a path through the
sea and destroying the pursuing hosts of Pharaoh. They left God out of the
question, and acted as though they must depend solely on the power of
unbelief they limited the power of God and distrusted the hand that had
hitherto safely guided them. And they repeated their former error of
murmuring against Moses and Aaron. "This, then, is the end of our
high hopes," they said. "This is the land we have traveled all
the way from Egypt to possess." They accused their leaders of
deceiving the people and bringing trouble upon Israel.
were desperate in their disappointment and despair. A wail of agony arose
and mingled with the confused murmur of voices. Caleb comprehended the
situation, and, bold to stand in defense of the word of God, he did all in
his power to counteract the evil influence of his unfaithful associates.
For an instant the people were stilled to listen to his words of hope and
courage respecting the goodly land. He did not contradict what had already
been said; the walls were high and the Canaanites strong. But God had
promised the land to Israel. "Let us go up at once and possess
it," urged Caleb; "for we are well able to overcome it."
But the ten,
interrupting him, pictured the obstacles in darker colors than at first.
"We be not able to go up against the people,"
"for they are stronger than we. . . . All the people that we saw in
it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as
grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight."
having entered upon a wrong course, stubbornly set themselves against
Caleb and Joshua, against Moses, and against God. Every advance step
rendered them the more determined. They were resolved to discourage all
effort to gain possession of Canaan. They distorted the truth in order to
sustain their baleful influence. It "is a land that eateth up the
inhabitants thereof," they said. This was not only an evil report,
but it was also a lying one. It was inconsistent with itself. The spies
had declared the country to be fruitful and prosperous, and the people of
giant stature, all of which would be impossible if the climate were so
unhealthful that the land could be said to "eat up the
inhabitants." But when men yield their hearts to unbelief they place
themselves under the control of Satan, and none can tell to what lengths
he will lead them.
the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept
that night." Revolt and open mutiny quickly followed; for Satan had
full sway, and the people seemed bereft of reason. They cursed Moses and
Aaron, forgetting that God hearkened to their wicked speeches, and that,
enshrouded in the cloudy pillar, the Angel of His presence was witnessing
their terrible outburst of wrath. In bitterness they cried out,
"Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had
died in this wilderness!" Then their feelings rose against God:
"Wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the
sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not
better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us
make a captain, and let us return into Egypt." Thus they accused not
only Moses, but God Himself, of deception, in promising them a land which
they were not able to possess. And they went so far as to appoint a
captain to lead them back to the land of their suffering and bondage, from
which they had been delivered by the strong arm of Omnipotence.
humiliation and distress "Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before
all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel," not
knowing what to do to turn them from their rash and passionate purpose.
Caleb and Joshua attempted to quiet the
tumult. With their garments rent
in token of grief and indignation, they rushed in among the people, and
their ringing voices were heard above the tempest of lamentation and
rebellious grief: "The land, which we passed through to search it, is
an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us
into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the
land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and
the Lord is with us: fear them not."
Canaanites had filled up the measure of their iniquity, and the Lord would
no longer bear with them. His protection being removed, they would be an
easy prey. By the covenant of God the land was ensured to Israel. But the
false report of the unfaithful spies was accepted, and through it the
whole congregation were deluded. The traitors had done their work. If only
the two men had brought the evil report, and all the ten had encouraged
them to possess the land in the name of the Lord, they would still have
taken the advice of the two in preference to the ten, because of their
wicked unbelief. But there were only two advocating the right, while ten
were on the side of rebellion.
unfaithful spies were loud in denunciation of Caleb and Joshua, and the
cry was raised to stone them. The insane mob seized missiles with which to
slay those faithful men. They rushed forward with yells of madness, when
suddenly the stones dropped from their hands, a hush fell upon them, and
they shook with fear. God had interposed to check their murderous design.
The glory of His presence, like a flaming light, illuminated the
tabernacle. All the people beheld the signal of the Lord. A mightier one
than they had revealed Himself, and none dared continue their resistance.
The spies who brought the evil report crouched terror-stricken, and with
bated breath sought their tents.
arose and entered the tabernacle. The Lord declared to him, "I will
smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee
a greater nation." But again Moses pleaded for his people. He could
not consent to have them destroyed, and he himself made a mightier nation.
Appealing to the mercy of God, he said: "I beseech Thee, let the
power of my Lord be great according as Thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord
is long-suffering, and of great mercy. . . . Pardon, I beseech Thee, the
iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Thy
mercy, and as
Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now."
promised to spare Israel from immediate destruction; but because of their
unbelief and cowardice He could not manifest His power to subdue their
enemies. Therefore in His mercy He bade them, as the only safe course, to
turn back toward the Red Sea.
rebellion the people had exclaimed, "Would God we had died in this
wilderness!" Now this prayer was to be granted. The Lord declared:
"As ye have spoken in Mine ears, so will I do to you: your carcasses
shall fall in this wilderness, and all that were numbered of you,
according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward. . . .
But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring
in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised." And of
Caleb He said, "My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with
him, and hath followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto
he went; and his seed shall possess it." As the spies had spent forty
days in their journey, so the hosts of Israel were to wander in the
wilderness forty years.
made known to the people the divine decision, their rage was changed to
mourning. They knew that their punishment was just. The ten unfaithful
spies, divinely smitten by the plague, perished before the eyes of all
Israel; and in their fate the people read their own doom.
seemed sincerely to repent of their sinful conduct; but they sorrowed
because of the result of their evil course rather than from a sense of
their ingratitude and disobedience. When they found that the Lord did not
relent in His decree, their self-will again arose, and they declared that
they would not return into the wilderness. In commanding them to retire
from the land of their enemies, God tested their apparent submission and
proved that it was not real. They knew that they had deeply sinned in
allowing their rash feelings to control them and in seeking to slay the
spies who had urged them to obey God; but they were only terrified to find
that they had made a fearful mistake, the consequences of which would
prove disastrous to themselves. Their hearts were unchanged, and they only
needed an excuse to occasion a similar outbreak. This presented itself
when Moses, by the authority of God, commanded them to go back into the
that Israel was not to enter Canaan for forty years was a bitter
disappointment to Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua; yet without a murmur
they accepted the divine decision. But those who had been complaining of
God's dealings with them, and declaring that they would return to Egypt,
wept and mourned greatly when the blessings which they had despised were
taken from them. They had complained at nothing, and now God gave them
cause to weep. Had they mourned for their sin when it was faithfully laid
before them, this sentence would not have been pronounced; but they
mourned for the judgment; their sorrow was not repentance, and could not
secure a reversing of their sentence.
The night was
spent in lamentation, but with the morning came a hope. They resolved to
redeem their cowardice. When God had bidden them go up and take the land,
they had refused; and now when He directed them to retreat they were
equally rebellious. They determined to seize upon the land and possess it;
it might be that God would accept their work and change His purpose toward
God had made
it their privilege and their duty to enter the land at the time of His
appointment, but through their willful neglect that permission had been
withdrawn. Satan had gained his object in preventing them from entering
Canaan; and now he urged them on to do the very thing, in the face of the
divine prohibition, which they had refused to do when God required it.
Thus the great deceiver gained the victory by leading them to rebellion
the second time. They had distrusted the power of God to work with their
efforts in gaining possession of Canaan; yet now they presumed upon their
own strength to accomplish the work independent of divine aid. "We
have sinned against the Lord," they cried; "we will go up and
fight, according to all that the Lord our God commanded us."
Deuteronomy 1:41. So terribly blinded had they become by transgression.
The Lord had never commanded them to "go up and fight." It was
not His purpose that they should gain the land by warfare, but by strict
obedience to His commands.
hearts were unchanged, the people had been brought to confess the
sinfulness and folly of their rebellion at the report of the spies. They
now saw the value of the blessing which they had so rashly cast away. They
confessed that it was their own unbelief which had shut them out from
have sinned," they said, acknowledging that the
fault was in themselves, and not in God, whom they had so wickedly charged
with failing to fulfill His promises to them. Though their confession did
not spring from true repentance, it served to vindicate the justice of God
in His dealings with them.
still works in a similar manner to glorify His name by bringing men to
acknowledge His justice. When those who profess to love Him complain of
His providence, despise His promises, and, yielding to temptation, unite
with evil angels to defeat the purposes of God, the Lord often so
overrules circumstances as to bring these persons where, though they may
have no real repentance, they will be convinced of their sin and will be
constrained to acknowledge the wickedness of their course and the justice
and goodness of God in His dealings with them. It is thus that God sets counter agencies
at work to make manifest the works of darkness. And though the spirit
which prompted to the evil course is not radically changed, confessions
are made that vindicate the honor of God and justify His faithful
reprovers, who have been opposed and misrepresented. Thus it will be when
the wrath of God shall be finally poured out. When "the Lord cometh
with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon all," He
will also "convince all that are ungodly among them of all their
ungodly deeds." Jude 14, 15. Every sinner will be brought to see and
acknowledge the justice of his condemnation.
the divine sentence, the Israelites prepared to undertake the conquest of
Canaan. Equipped with armor and weapons of war, they were, in their own
estimation, fully prepared for conflict; but they were sadly deficient in
the sight of God and His sorrowful servants. When, nearly forty years
later, the Lord directed Israel to go up and take Jericho, He promised to
go with them. The ark containing His law was borne before their armies.
His appointed leaders were to direct their movements, under the divine
supervision. With such guidance, no harm could come to them. But now,
contrary to the command of God and the solemn prohibition of their
leaders, without the ark, and without Moses, they went out to meet the
armies of the enemy.
sounded an alarm, and Moses hastened after them with the warning,
"Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it
shall not prosper. Go not up,
for the Lord is not among you; that ye be
not smitten before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are
there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword."
Canaanites had heard of the mysterious power that seemed to be guarding
this people and of the wonders wrought in their behalf, and they now
summoned a strong force to repel the invaders. The attacking army had no
leader. No prayer was offered that God would give them the victory. They
set forth with the desperate purpose to reverse their fate or to die in
battle. Though untrained in war, they were a vast multitude of armed men,
and they hoped by a sudden and fierce assault to bear down all opposition.
They presumptuously challenged the foe that had not dared to attack them.
Canaanites had stationed themselves upon a rocky tableland reached only by
difficult passes and a steep and dangerous ascent. The immense numbers of
the Hebrews could only render their defeat more terrible. They slowly
threaded the mountain paths, exposed to the deadly missiles of their
enemies above. Massive rocks came thundering down, marking their path with
the blood of the slain. Those who reached the summit, exhausted with their
ascent, were fiercely repulsed, and driven back with great loss. The field
of carnage was strewn with the bodies of the dead. The army of Israel was
utterly defeated. Destruction and death was the result of that rebellious
submission at last, the survivors "returned, and wept before the
Lord;" but "the Lord would not hearken" to their voice.
Deuteronomy 1:45. By their signal victory the enemies of Israel, who had
before awaited with trembling the approach of that mighty host, were
inspired with confidence to resist them. All the reports they had heard
concerning the marvelous things that God had wrought for His people, they
now regarded as false, and they felt that there was no cause for fear.
That first defeat of Israel, by inspiring the Canaanites with courage and
resolution, had greatly increased the difficulties of the conquest.
Nothing remained for Israel but to fall back from the face of their
victorious foes, into the wilderness, knowing that here must be the grave
of a whole generation.