Have you ever set yourself about a task that you wanted to accomplish, but you could see that it was teetering in the balance between success and failure? Even though you do everything that you can to make it succeed, it fails. Do you, when someone asks you about the outcome, have a tendency to minimize the failure and to maximize the part that did succeed? Pride will not allow a person to exercise their faith because of the fear of failure.
Ten of the spies that had been sent into the Promised Land were scared to death, looking around and among themselves, that if the children of Israel went to the Promised Land, they were going to fail. (Numbers 13:25–14:1.) They did not want to face that. As a result of their fear, they began to work against Caleb, Joshua, Moses, and God. It appeared that they were against everything.
That is the process that we can go through. It happens that way sometimes. It seems that things can go along smoothly, and then, all of a sudden, a foul spirit can upset things so badly that everything is in an uproar.
Ultimately, the bottom line for the ten spies was not that they were concerned about Caleb and Joshua and Moses. They just did not want to obey the Lord.
That is usually the bottom line. If you begin to deal with issues and there are those of a rebellious spirit, it is usually because there is an area of rebellion in their hearts. They are not willing to surrender to the Lord, and it is really God that they are rebelling against and not the flesh and blood with which they have to deal. That is precisely what we see being taught in this lesson given from the experience of the children of Israel.
A Big Lie
“And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, [is] a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof . . . .” Numbers 13:32. This was an out and out lie. It was a fabrication of the first order. They went over to the Promised Land, and if indeed the land was eating up inhabitants, from where did the giants come? From where did the huge amount of grapes come that they brought? They fabricated the idea that it was the land.
“And all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.” Verse 32, last part. Well, that was not really true either. There were giants that were there, but now the story begins to grow. At this point the evil spirit had so influenced their thinking that they began to do things that, under other circumstances, they would never have done. They determined that they would discourage all effort to go in and possess the Promised Land, so they lied about it. They claimed there was not really anything good in it at all.
There is only one way that we can keep ourselves from falling into a similar trap, and that is, when God comes to us and reveals to us His will, we do it immediately. That is the only way we will be saved from getting involved in some kind of trap that will ultimately close us out of the Promised Land and leave us dying in the wilderness. When God comes to us, when we know what His will is, we must immediately set things in action, so we can follow what He has asked us to do.
Reaction to the Lie
What was the response of the congregation upon hearing this lie? They were rejoicing earlier, but now they have heard a lie. Their reaction is given in Numbers 14:1: “And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.”
We cannot begin to measure the amount of torment that these people experienced in their minds that night. The only reason they were tormented at all, however, was because they had forgotten that pillar of fire that was giving light through the darkness of night—and they had chosen to believe a lie. They were in their tents with the flaps closed, crying all night.
“And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And 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 to Egypt?” Verses 2, 3. Little did the people realize that their words would be fulfilled. They would die, but not in the land of Egypt.
Maybe they had forgotten about God, but He had not forgotten about them. He had heard every word that they were saying. Right in the shadow of the cloud, right while they were in the shade of His presence, they rebelled against Him. They began to murmur and complain, and God heard it all.
There is another aspect of this lesson that needs to also be considered. That is the fact that the children of Israel not only rebelled against Joshua and Caleb, but against Moses and Aaron. They rebelled against their leaders.
Need for Leadership
We wrestle with this today, wondering how we are to relate to leadership. A spirit similar to that of the children of Israel is circulating in and amongst the congregation of modern Israel today. I believe that a lot of this came from the 1960s and the 1970s eras, when a spirit took control of a large majority of the world, and they were determined that they would not be beholden to anyone—nobody was going to tell them what to do. If they wanted to have free love, then they were going to have free love. If they wanted to do drugs, they were going to do drugs. If they wanted to just do their own thing, that was what they were going to do.
That prevailing spirit of the world in the ’60s and ’70s has made its way into the church, and we find that a lot of the turmoil within the church is because the people are not going to be beholden to anyone but God. There is a truth to that. We know that we are not to put any man before God.
Ellen White counseled: “I do hope you will not look to man, nor trust in men, but look to God and trust in God.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, 395. She also wrote: “Man’s inventions [sayings of others] are not only unreliable, they are dangerous; for they place man where God should be. They place the sayings of men where a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ should be.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 109.
Although we should not put man in the place of God, at the same time, we are told that an order of leadership was put in place by God to lead His people as they were making their way to the Promised Land. This order was followed by the disciples as they established churches, and is important in our groups today.
Writing of this, Mrs. White said: “The same principles of piety and justice that were to guide the rulers among God’s people in the time of Moses and of David, were also to be followed by those given the oversight of the newly organized church of God in the gospel dispensation. In the work of setting things in order in all the churches, and ordaining suitable men to act as officers, the apostles held to the high standards of leadership outlined in the Old Testament Scriptures. They maintained that he who is called to stand in a position of leading responsibility in the church ‘must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.’ Titus 1:7–9. ” The Acts of the Apostles, 95.
However, as the children of Israel began to entertain some of the thoughts that came to them, it was their determined effort to rebel against the vision of a Promised Land that was flowing with milk and honey. They first rebelled against those who tried to encourage them to enter the Promised Land; then their rebellion went up the line of command until it reached Moses and Aaron. The people began to murmur and complain against the leadership, which ultimately ended with God.
How do we understand the issue of leadership today? What is its ordained place within the congregation today? I have come to the conclusion that we need to have leadership today. We need to have people in positions that can lead the congregation. The lack of such leadership is why, in many aspects, the home church movement is in shambles. It does not have the leadership that it should.
The lessons of the children of Israel are speaking to us in these verses from Numbers. How are we going to work out the issues facing the home church movement? We must get beyond our fears, first of all. We look out and see the walled cities; we see the giants that are out there. We have been told this, and we have been told that, and as a result, we are scared to death to move forward and to bring things into the order that God would want them to be. As a result, we are still just kind of wandering along.
Determined to Rebel
Numbers 14:5–8 says, “Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, [which were] of them that searched the land, rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, 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.”
I would like to take a little ministerial license on verse 9. It begins with the word only—“Only rebel not ye.” I would like to substitute, for the word only, the word please—Please do not rebel against God. I really believe that was the intent of the pastoral heart of these men in making an appeal to the people to follow the promises of God. In spite of how circumstances seemed, God was still in control of things. “[Please] rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they [are] bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord [is] with us.” Please do not be afraid of them.
We would like to believe that they followed the pastoral counsel of Caleb and Joshua and that they were willing to submit to the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Friends, this lesson is speaking to us who are living in the twenty-first century. What is to be our relationship as we make our way to the Promised Land? In reality, we in the United States are sailing along pretty well, compared to some places in the world. I am speaking even spiritually. There are places around the world where your head is cut off if you even think about changing faith. How does this relate to the pleading of Caleb and Joshua? Notice verse 10: “But all the congregation bade stone them with stones.” The people were starting a campaign to see if they could gain control and do things their way. They wanted to go back to Egypt.
Interestingly, when a person rebels against God and no longer wants to serve Him, the course that he or she takes is never a course into blatant atheism; it is a course into idolatry. As we begin to read the story of the history of the children of Israel, we see that this very same thing took place. Those Seventh-day Adventists whom I have known, who had served the Lord with faithfulness of heart and then began to rebel against God and what He wanted them to do, slid into the area of idolatry. They began to do all the things that brought them pleasure before they were Seventh-day Adventist Christians.
The shamefacedness that is to be addressed, according to the New Testament, now becomes a proud face. (See 1 Timothy 2:9.) All the bangles and bobbles are once again worn. The health message goes out the window. The modesty of dress and the places visited become an idolatrous involvement. It is not an atheistic involvement; it is an idolatrous involvement.
This is what we are actually to learn from the experiences of the children of Israel. The congregation wanted to stone the godly leadership to get them out of the way, so they could slip back into idolatry. If it had not been for the immediate intervention of God, that would have happened.
Sometimes we wonder why things are in the state that they are. The limit of God’s forbearance has not yet been reached. When God’s forbearance has been reached, He will personally intervene and put a stop to what is happening. I never want to be in a place or in a set of circumstances where I have pushed God to the point where He has to personally intervene and bring me to the place He wants me. I want to be able to follow Him where He leads; I do not want to have to be driven with a whip. There are times when that will happen, and many experiences could probably be related as illustrations.
Numbers 14:10 continues, “The glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.” You would think that, with the next words spoken, Moses would have stood back and said, “Lord, have at it.” God said, “Moses, I want you to get out of the way. I am going to destroy all these miserable wretches. Then I will use you, and I will make a nation out of you.”
But Moses said, “Oh no, Lord, please do not do that. Spare your people.” I have never quite been able to work that out in my own thinking, but it is recorded for us. It is something we must consider.
The people had sinned, but Moses interceded on behalf of those people, and because of his action, God said, “All right, I have pardoned the people because of your intercession.” (Verse 20.) There is something to be said for personal confession and personal involvement, but we have this example that, because of the intercession of another, pardon is extended. This tells me that there is a place for the work of intercession which we do not totally understand.
One thing that needs to be emphasized in this lesson from the children of Israel is the fact that, even though God requires obedience of His people, He is still a God of great mercy. He is longsuffering; He is of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression.
“And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word: but [as] truly [as] I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Verses 20, 21. The Lord said, “My plan may know some delay. I may have to wait for a little while, but ultimately, this is going to move back out into the eternity of time, and My glory is going to be known.”
“Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.” Verses 22, 23.
The Lord continued, declaring that Caleb had a different spirit. Caleb had followed Him, and Caleb would go into the Promised Land, and his seed would possess the land. (Verse 24.)
“(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long [shall I bear with] this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say unto them, [As truly as] I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me. Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, [concerning] which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. 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. But [as for] you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.” Verses 25–33.
This is an interesting declaration that God makes concerning their “whoredoms.” To what is God referring? He is referring to the idolatrous practices in which they were involved. For some reason, they had not yet been cleansed of all of that. It was their lapse into idolatry—their seeking another god—that had brought them to rebellion against Jehovah. And He declared, “Because of these whore-doms, because of this idolatry, your carcases are going to waste in the wilderness.”
You would think that somehow this would be all there was to Scripture, because the lessons are so clear, but we find that is not the case. There are repeated instances of God’s chosen people turning their backs on Him.
Verse 34, which is a favorite text for Seventh-day Adventists, is then given: “After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, [even] forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, [even] forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.”
Seventh-day Adventists have always looked at this text as a formula which outlines prophetic time—and rightfully so, because this is a prophecy. This formula has been utilized to determine prophetic time, because it is in the setting of prophecy that it is given. God said this is what is going to happen; this is why it is going to happen; and this is how long it is going to happen. We can very comfortably utilize this formula when we need to measure time in prophetic settings and when we need to place things in their right perspective.
This formula has correctly and successfully been applied many times, particularly so in the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9. Application of this formula to the 70 weeks prophecy accurately identified the very time when Jesus would begin His ministry and how His ministry would be executed. When we see how the formula of this text fits so precisely, we are encouraged, for the Lord has given us the key to unlock other prophecies. The more prophecies we unlock, the better our understanding is of Scripture and coming events. We do not have a thing to be ashamed about as far as our understanding of the Bible is concerned; it is based on good, biblical interpretation.
Verse 35 says, “I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.” So the story continues that after this pronouncement, conversion flourished among the children of Israel. They suddenly decided that what the Lord had said about them going in and taking the land, they wanted to follow.
They said, “We need to go to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.” (Verse 40.) They recognized the fact that they were not doing what God wanted, but there is more involved in gaining God’s acceptance than just saying, “I have sinned.”
Judas, clutching the bag of 30 pieces of silver, went in before the priests and, throwing the bag down before them, said, “I have sinned,” but Judas found no place for pardon. (Matthew 27:3, 4.) Many instances are given in Scripture where the confession, “I have sinned,” is voiced, but it does not bring the approbation of God upon the person.
“We are going to go up,” the people said, “and we are going to do what God told us to do after all. We have sinned, we know that this is what God wanted us to do.”
Moses said, “I am sorry; do not even try it. Do not go there.” (Verse 41.)
“Go not up, for the Lord [is] not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.” “But they presumed to go up unto the hill top; nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.” Verses 42, 44. The presence of God and the leadership of God stayed in the camp. But the people decided that, in spite of the fact that God’s presence and the leadership were not with them, they were going to go anyway.
That is what we call presumption. That can happen even in our own experiences. We can recognize that we have failed the Lord, but if we have not taken the proper steps to come back into His favor, and we go off on a tangent again, we will find that we will again suffer defeat. That is where confusion begins. We cannot begin to understand why we are experiencing the trouble that we are. It could be that we have not really understood what is outlined for us in the lessons from the past.
Is history indeed going to repeat itself in our generation? I hope not. I hope you have dedicated your life as I have dedicated my life to finishing the work of God. There is a lot of work that is yet to be done. It is a work of faith. God expects us to step out in faith, regardless of the circumstances; whatever the walled cities or giants may be, He says, “I want you to follow Me.”
To be continued . . .
Pastor Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to Life. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.