Numbers 14:12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.
Once again, the Lord was so angry with the Israelites, that he was willing to destroy the whole nation, and start over with Moses. Given the trouble they had been to Moses, it’s surprising he didn’t agree. But Moses was so humble (Numbers 12:3) that he was still less concerned about his legacy than with God’s reputation. He thought the Egyptians might hear of it and say, The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness (Numbers 14:16). God listened to Moses, and did not destroy his people. But there would still be consequences.
Numbers 14:29-30 In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more . . . except Caleb . . . and Joshua.
God did not kill his people at once, but over the next forty years, they would wander in the desert until all the adults were dead. They could have conquered the Promised Land, but would have to die in the desert. They could have lived by faith, but would have to wander aimlessly.
The journey of life has forks in the road, where we must choose to follow Christ, or go another way. Our faithless choices are not always fatal, but their consequences diminish our lives, and the lives of others. God’s path is seldom easy, but it’s the only one that will take us where we want to go.
Numbers 14:37 [The] men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord.
Most of God’s people lived the rest of their natural lives, but the ten explorers who incited rebellion were struck down by God and died. This was not unfair considering the negative effect their leadership had on others. It also shows that leaders are held to a higher standard.
This idea appears in the New Testament as well. Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), wrote James. People in leadership are held to a higher standard because others follow their ways.
Numbers 14:40 Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised.
When God’s people saw the consequences of their sin, they decided to obey, but by then it was too late. Moses told them not to go into battle because the Lord would not be with them (Numbers 14:42). But rebellious to the end, they went into battle anyway, and fell by the sword. Sometimes it really is too late.
A country preacher stood over the casket of a local outlaw. Too late for Joe, he said. He heard the gospel a hundred times but always put it off. Too late for Joe. Too late for Joe. Some in the church were upset at the preacher’s bluntness, but most agreed he was right. Sometimes it really is too late. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2), wrote Paul.
Numbers 15:30 But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel.
A man who gathered wood on the Sabbath became an example of this. [T]he Lord said to Moses, The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp. So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses (Numbers 15:35-36).
The Bible makes a distinction between those who sin carelessly and those who sin defiantly. Defiant sin is looking God in the face and shaking your fist at him. Such sins are normally premeditated, and not followed by repentance. They are extremely dangerous.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, It is mine to avenge; I will repay, and again, The Lord will judge his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31), says Hebrews.
This is why Paul required believers who were sinning defiantly to be put out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:2). The goal was not their eternal doom, but repentance and restoration, so their spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5), he wrote.
Everyone sins carelessly, every single day (Matthew 5:48), and many sin defiantly at one time or another. But God is profoundly merciful (James 5:11), and will forgive every sin as long as we trust in Christ, and keep turning back to him (1 John 1:9). [A] broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:17), wrote David.
Reflection and Review
Why does God hold leaders to a higher standard?
Is it ever too late to be saved?
Why is defiant sin so dangerous?