Scripture: Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” Numbers 14:20-23 ESV
Observation: As a recap, Israel has arrived at Kadesh (in the Desert of Zin) at the southern border of Canaan (the Promised Land). Per the Lord’s directions, Moses sends twelve scouts (one from each tribe) to assess the Promised Land. When the people hear the fear-mongering report from ten of the twelve tribal leaders, they rebel against Moses, even threatening his life, and demand to return to Egypt. But rather than fire back for their unwarranted and disrespectful behavior, Moses immediately intercedes on their behalf to the Lord, appealing to his patience and steadfast love. Accordingly, Yahweh relents, but as we read in these following verses, he will not remove the consequences of their repeated acts of rebellion. While the Lord extends grace to his people in pardoning their sins and allowing them to live out the remainder of their lives, they will bear the outcome of repeatedly clamoring to return to the way of life before the Exodus. And so they will wander in the desert until all this generation passes away—missing out on a better way of life in the Promised Land.
Two noteworthy points from this passage: first, “ten times” (verse 22) likely conveys a symbolic meaning of ongoing rebellion rather than an accurate account. Secondly, the verb sālaḥ, translated as “pardon” (verse 20), serves as an antonym to the word nāqāh, used by Moses to describe God’s righteous judgment of the wicked in verse 18. Hence, the author’s audience would pick up on the contrast between their Lord’s mercy and justice. Both are indispensable elements of God’s character manifested in grace towards his people.
Takeaway: Grace is a complex word to explain. While its most straightforward meaning is “unmerited favor,” this phrase draws us no closer to understanding how it applies to our lives until we experience hardship and healing. For mercy, justice, forgiveness, and consequences are all held in tension by our Lord’s grace. Our Lord extends mercy and forgiveness in response to violations of his just commands that warrant discipline. Sometimes, the fallout is immediate and resolves quickly; other times, it lingers. Either way, consequences teach us missed opportunities: a better way of life. And they serve as a cautionary tale for the next generation.
For Israel, they would learn dependence on God for the next forty years as he provides provision (manna for the day) and protection (through enemy territory). Thus, when the next generation arrives at the Promised Land, they will earnestly seek to cross over the Jordan to a better way of life. Still, even those left behind who had repented will one day see the “best way of life” in the place prepared for them in eternity (John 14:2). And this promise fosters hope under the weight of consequences, regardless of whether the fallout lingers in this temporal life on earth!
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for reaching out to us in our hopeless state of rebellion and reconciling us to you through the sacrifice of your Son. Would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit and follow his lead under the weight of sin’s consequences as we journey onward and upward to the glorious place your Son has prepared for us? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling