Here Moses passes from the judges to the people at large; from charging officials to judge righteously, to reminding the people that they also had received from him commandments which they had to obey. The "things" referred to are either the injunctions specified in Exodus 21:1-36; etc; or simply the instructions mentioned in the preceding verses. God had called the Israelites out of Egypt that they should go up at once to Canaan, and he had by Moses done all that was needed for this. But they had been rebellious, and had opposed God's commands, the consequence of which was that they had been made to experience various trials, especially to wander nearly forty years in the wilderness, so that of those who came out of Egypt only two were privileged to see the Promised Land. The words of Moses in this section supplement and complete the narrative in Numbers 13:1-33.; but the words are those, not of a compiler, but of one who had been himself a witness of all he narrates.
That great and terrible wilderness: the desert forming the western side of the Stony Arabia. It bears now the name of Et-Tih, i.e. The Wandering, a name "doubtless derived from the wanderings of the Israelites, the tradition of which has been handed down through a period of three thousand years It is a pastoral country; unfitted as a whole for cultivation, because of its scanty soil and scarcity of water". In the northern part especially the country is rugged and bare, with vast tracts of sand, over which the scorching simoom often sweeps (see on Deuteronomy 1:1). This wilderness they had seen, had known, and had experience of, anti their experience had been such that the district through which they had been doomed to wander appeared to them dreadful. Passing by the way of the Amorites, as they had been commanded (Deuteronomy 1:7), they came to Kadesh-barnea (see Numbers 12:16). Their discontent broke out oftener than once, before they reached this place (see Numbers 11:1-35; Numbers 12:1-16.); but Moses, in this recapitulation, passes over these earlier instances of their rebelliousness, and hastens to remind them of the rebellion at Kadesh (Numbers 13:1-33; Numbers 14:1-45.), because it was this which led to the nation being doomed to wander in the wilderness until the generation that came out of Egypt had died. It was through faith in God that Canaan was to be gained and occupied by Israel; but this faith they lacked, and so they came short of what God had summoned them t, attain. Hence, when they had come to the very borders of the Promised Land, and the hills of Canaan were before their eyes, and Moses said to them, in the name of God, Go up, possess ("asyndeton emphaticum," Michaelis), they hung back, and proposed that men should be sent out to survey the land and bring a report concerning it. This was approved of by Moses; but when the spies returned and gave their report, the people were discouraged, and refused to go up. They were thus rebellious against the commandment (literally, the mouth, the express will) of Jehovah their God; and not only so, but with signal ingratitude and impiety they murmured against him, and attributed their deliverance out of Egypt to God's hatred of them, that he might destroy them (see Numbers 13:1-33, to which the narrative here corresponds).
Ye murmured in your tents; an allusion to what is recorded in Numbers 14:1, etc. Moses addresses the people then with him as if they had been the parties who so rebelled and murmured at Kadesh, though all that generation, except himself, Joshua, and Caleb, had perished. This he does, not merely because of the solidarity of the nation, but also that he might suggest to them the possibility that the same evil spirit might still lurk among them, and consequently the need of being on their guard against allowing it to get scope.
Our brethren have discouraged our heart; literally, hate melted or made to flow down our heart ( הֵמַסּוּ, Hiph. cf מָסַס, to flow down or melt), have made us fainthearted. The cities are great and walled up to heaven ; literally, are great and fortified in the heavens. To their excited imagination, the walls and towers of the cities seemed as if they reached the very sky; so when men cease to have faith in God, difficulties appear insurmountable, and the power of the adversary is exaggerated until courage is paralyzed and despair banishes hope. Sons of the Anakims; elsewhere (Numbers 13:22; Joshua 15:14; 1:20) children or sons of the 'Anak. 'Anak may originally have been the proper name of an individual, but it appears m the Bible rather as the designation of the tribe. It is the word for neck, and this race, which were strong and powerful men, or their progenitor, may have been remarkable for thickness of neck; this, at least, is more probable than that it was from length of neck (Gesenius) that they got the name, for a long neck is usually associated with weakness rather than strength. Some have supposed the Anakim to have been originally Cushites; but the origin of the tribe is involved in obscurity.
Moses endeavored to rouse the drooping courage of the people, and persuade them to go up by reminding them that God, who was with them, would go before them, and fight for them as he had often done before; but without success, so that God was angry with them, and forbade their entrance into Canaan. This is not mentioned in Numbers, probably because Moses' appeal was unsuccessful. The whole of that generation was bound to fall in the wilderness, except Caleb and Joshua; only their children should enter the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy 1:29, Deuteronomy 1:30
Moses exhorts the people not to be afraid, as if they had to encounter these terrible enemies solely in their own strength; for Jehovah their God was with them and would go before them, as he had gone before them hitherto, to protect them and strike down their enemies.
Not only at the Red Sea did God appear for the defense of his people and the discomfiture of their enemies, but also in the wilderness, which they had seen (as in Deuteronomy 1:19), where ( אֲשֶׂר, elliptically for אֲשֶׂר בוֹ) Jehovah their God bore them as a man beareth his son, sustaining, tending, supporting, and carrying them over difficulties (comp. Numbers 11:12, where a similar figure occurs; see also Isaiah 46:3, Isaiah 46:4; Isaiah 63:9, etc.; Psalms 23:1-6.).
Deuteronomy 1:32, Deuteronomy 1:33
Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God; literally, With this thing [or With this word] ye were not believing in Jehovah your God. The Hebrew דָבָר, like the Greek ρῆμα, signifies either thing or word. If the former rendering be adopted here, the meaning will be, Notwithstanding this fact of which you have had experience, viz. how God has interposed for your protection and deliverance, ye were still unbelieving in him. If the latter rendering be adopted, the meaning will be, Notwithstanding what I then said to you, ye remained unbelieving, etc. This latter seems the more probable meaning. In the Hebrew text there is a strong stop (athnach) after this word, as if a pause of astonishment followed this utterance—Notwithstanding this word, strange to say! ye were not believing, etc. The participle ("believing") is intended to indicate the continuing of this unbelief. So also in Deuteronomy 1:34, the participle form is used—"who was going in the way before you," to indicate that not once and again, but continually, the Lord went before them; and this made the sin of their unbelief all the more marked and aggravated. (For the fact here referred to, see Exodus 13:21, etc.; Numbers 9:15, etc.; Numbers 10:33-36 .)
And the Lord heard the voice of your words, and he was wroth, and sware, etc. (comp. Numbers 14:21-24).
Deuteronomy 1:35, Deuteronomy 1:36
They were all, the whole generation of them, evil, and therefore not a man of them should see the good land which God had promised to their fathers, with the exception of Caleb, who had wholly followed the Lord—had remained steadfast and faithful whilst the others fell away. Joshua also was exempted from this doom; but before mentioning him, Moses refers to himself as having also come under the Divine displeasure.
The Lord was angry with me also for your sakes, saying, Thou also shalt not go in thither. This must be regarded as parenthetical, for what he here refers to in regard to himself occurred, not at the time of the rebellion at Kadesh, but at the time of the second arrival of the people at that place, many years later. This parenthetical reference to himself was probably thrown in by Moses for the purpose of preparing for what he was about to say respecting Joshua, in whom the people were to find a leader after he himself was gone. It may be noted also that Moses distinguishes between the anger of the Lord against him, and the wrath which broke forth upon the people—a distinction which is aptly preserved in the Authorized Version by the words "was wroth" ( קָצף ) and "was angry" ( אָנַף). For your sakes; rather, because of you, on accent of you. The Hebrew word ( גָלָל ) comes from a root meaning to roll, and signifies primarily a turn in events, a circumstance, an occasion or reason. Moses reminds the Israelites that the misconduct of the people was what led to God's being angry also with him (see Numbers 20:7, etc.; comp. Psalms 106:32, Psalms 106:33).
Though the rebellious generation were to perish, and Moses was not to be permitted to enter Canaan, God would not depart from his promise, but would by another leader bring the people to the inheritance which he had sworn to their fathers to give them. (For the account of Joshua's appointment and installation, see Numbers 27:15-23.) Which standeth before thee; i.e. to be thy minister or servant (Exodus 24:13; Exodus 33:11; Numbers 11:28; comp. for the meaning of the phrase Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:7; Daniel 1:5). Encourage him; literally, strengthen him (comp. Deuteronomy 3:21, Deuteronomy 3:22; Deuteronomy 31:7, Deuteronomy 31:8). Inherit it; the "it" refers back to Deuteronomy 1:35, "that good land." In Deuteronomy 1:8 and Deuteronomy 1:21, the land is spoken of as to be possessed by the Israelites; here it is spoken of as to be inherited by them. The former has reference to their having to wrest the land by force from the Canaanites ( יָרַשׁ, to occupy by force, to dispossess; cf. Deuteronomy 2:12, Deuteronomy 2:21, Deuteronomy 2:22, where the verb is, in the Authorized Version, rendered by "destroy''); the latter has reference to their receiving the land as a heritage ( נָנחל ) from God, who, when he divided to the nations their inheritance, assigned Canaan to the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:8). "Joshua the executor of the inheritance" (Schroeder).
Only among the young of that generation should the inheritance be divided, as they had no part in the rebellion of their seniors. Your little ones; i.e. children beginning to walk ( טַף, from טָפַף mo, to trip, to take short and quick steps). And your children—boys and girls—which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil; rather, of whom [ye said] they know not today good and evil. The Hebrews were wont to express totality or universality by specifying contradictory opposites, as, e.g. great and small (2 Chronicles 34:30), master and scholar (Malachi 2:1-17 :20), free and bond (Revelation 13:16; Revelation 19:18), shut up and left (Deuteronomy 32:36, where see note; 1 Kings 14:10), etc. Accordingly, when good and evil are set over against each other, the notion of entireness or universality is expressed. Thus, when Laban and Bethuel said to Abraham's servant "We cannot speak unto thee bad or good" (Genesis 24:50), the meaning is, We can say nothing at all. Absalom spake to Amnon "neither good nor bad" (2 Samuel 13:22); that is, he did not say anything to him. The woman of Tekoa said to David, "As an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad" (2 Samuel 14:17); i.e. There is nothing the king does not know—his knowledge is universal. Hence to know good and evil came to mean to be intelligent, and not to know good and evil to be unintelligent, as is a babe. The children here referred to knew nothing, and consequently could not be held as morally responsible; comp. Isaiah 7:15; Homer, ' Odyssey,' 18.228—
ἐσθλά τε καὶ χέρεια παρὸς δ ̓ ἔτι νήπιος ἠᾶ
The command to go to the mount of the Amorites (Deuteronomy 1:7) is recalled, and they are ordered to turn into the wilderness and go by the way leading to the Red Sea (setup. Numbers 14:25).
The people, appalled at the prospect of another sojourn in the wilderness, yet still rebellious and disobedient to God's command, though professing penitence, determined, in spite of direct prohibition on the part of God by Moses, to go up and force their way into Canaan; but were punished for their presumption by being utterly defeated and put to flight by the Amorites (comp. Numbers 14:40-45).
We have sinned; in Numbers it is simply said that "the people mourned greatly" (bemoaned themselves, יִתְאַבְּלוּ ); but this is not incompatible with the statement here that they confessed their sins; the one would naturally accompany the ether. Their confession, however, was in word only; their conduct showed that it was not sincere. In Numbers (xiv. 44) it is said, "They presumed to go up;" here it is said (verse 41), Ye were ready to go up, rather, Ye acted heedlessly with levity, or rive. lonely, to go up. The verb here ( וַתָּהִינוּ ) occurs only in this place, and is of doubtful signification. The Rabbins compare it with the הננו, lo we! here we be! of the people in Numbers 14:40 . It is the Hiph. of הוּן, which is supposed to be the same as the Arabic, see Arabic word, to be light, easy; and from, this the meaning, "ye went up heedlessly, is deduced. None of the ancient versions, however, give this meaning. The LXX. has συναθροισθέντες ἀνεβαίνετε εἰς τὸ ὄρος; the Vulgate, instructi armis pergeretis in montem; Onk; ושׁרתון למסק (and ye began to ascend); Syriac, see Arabic word, (and ye incited yourselves to go up).
Moses, by the command of God, warned the people that, if they presumed to go up, they should go without his protection, and so would certainly fall before their enemies.
In vain were they thus warned. Moses spoke to them as God commanded, but they would not be persuaded. Went presumptuously; rather, acted insolently and went up; margin, Authorized Version, "Ye were presumptuous, and went up" The verb here ( חֵזִיד, from זוּד, to boil) signifies tropically, to act proudly, haughtily, insolently (comp. Nehemiah 11:29, Authorized Version, "dealt proudly").
The Amorites, for the Canaanites generally; in Numbers, the Amalekites are specially mentioned as joining with the Amorites in chastising the Israelites. These tribes came down from the higher mountain range to the lower height which the Israelites had gained, and drove them with great slaughter as far as Hormah, in Seir, chasing them as bees do, which pursue with keen ferocity those who disturb them. Hormah (Ban-place), the earlier name of which was Zephath ( 1:17), was a royal city of the Canaanites, taken by the Israelites towards the close of their wanderings, and placed by them under a ban (Numbers 21:1, etc.), which ban was fully executed only in the time of the Judges. It is here and elsewhere called Hormah by anticipation. The old name Zephath seems to have survived that given to it by the Israelites in the name Sebaita or Sepata, the Arabic form of Zephath, the name of a heap of ruins on the western slope of the rocky mountain-plateau Rakhmah, about two hours and a half south-west of Khalasa. This is a more probable identification than that of Robinson ('Res.,' 2.18), who finds Hormah in the rocky defile of Es-Sufah, an unlikely place for a city of the importance of Zephath to be in.
Ye returned; i.e. either to Kadesh, where Moses had remained, or from their rebellious and defiant attitude to one of apparent submission and contrition, or the whole phrase, "Ye returned and wept," may mean merely that they wept again, as in Numbers 11:4, where the same words are used. And wept. They mourned their misfortune, and complained on account of it (comp. for the meaning of the phrase, Numbers 11:4, Numbers 11:18, Numbers 11:20). Before Jehovah; i.e. before the tabernacle or sanctuary (comp. 20:23, 20:26). Their mourning was not that of true repentance, and, therefore, the Lord would not listen to them or give heed to their wail (comp. Proverbs 1:24, etc.).
It was unnecessary that Moses should tell the people the precise length of time they abode in Kadesh after this, because that was well known to them; he, therefore, contents himself with saying that they remained there as long as they did remain (comp. for a similar expression, Deuteronomy 9:25). How long they actually remained there cannot be determined, for the expression, many days, is wholly indefinite.
Sending the spies.
This paragraph contains a brief review of events which are recorded in Numbers 13:1-33; Numbers 14:1-45. Israel had left the wilderness of Sinai; the cloud now rested in the wilderness of Paran. At this point they were not very many days' journey from the land of promise. But it would seem that they did not like to go in and take possession of the land without more information than they as yet possessed as to its accessibility and its fitness for their permanent home. So they proposed that spies should be sent ahead. We gather that, at the desire of the people, Moses asked advice of the Lord, and in consequence he wag bidden to accede to their request. Twelve men were sent. Ten brought an evil report of the land; two only were full of heart and hope, strong in faith, giving glory to God. Numbers carried more weight than worth. The report of ten bore down that of two. The people would not believe the Lord. They said in their unbelief, "Let us make a captain, and return into Egypt," and even (Nehemiah 9:17) "appointed a captain to return to their bondage." And a sad and sorrowful glance does Moses cast over the sin of that time. Let us glance at it too. We will endeavor to gather a true estimate of the course which Israel took, taking care, as we go on, to see how far the incidents recorded here convey instruction to many whose feelings are analogous to theirs, In estimating this case, let us look—
I. AT THE COURSE ISRAEL TOOK IN SENDING THE SPIES.
1. It was unnecessary. For they had been redeemed by a strong hand and by a stretched-out arm from the bondage and degradation of Egypt; their deliverance had been effected for them by the free love, spontaneous care, and watchful providence of God. Surely it should not have been hard to argue on this wise: "He who has shown us such wondrous mercy will not be wanting to us to the end." It was surely needless to send out any scouts to Canaan, to survey the land before them. A wiser and better care than theirs had done this for them, and there was no more need for them to send to spy out the land than to have sent pioneers to clear their way through the deep! But, in thus chiding Israel, are we not really rebuking ourselves? We have to bethink us of a rescue, before which that of Israel fades into nothingness. And how has our rescue in Christ been effected? By our power or skill? Nay, but by a wisdom, power, and love, which in blessed union did combine in the cross of Christ to save us. Is not, then, the inference more than warranted, "He that spared not," etc. But if so, why need we strain our eyes to pierce the gloom that hangs over our future course? We need not faithlessly forecast.
2. It was undesirable, and that on several grounds.
II. LET US LOOK AT THE CONCLUSIOIN TO WHICH ISRAEL CAME ON THE REPORT OF THE SPIES. They resolved to go back and to return to Egypt, and appointed a captain to lead them. It was one-sided, forgetful, ungrateful, and ruinous.
1. It was one-sided. True, the sons of Anak were in the way. But who was above them all? See Caleb's putting of the case, in Numbers 14:6-9.
2. It was forgetful For was not the fact of all these enemies being in the land explicitly named in one of the earliest promises (Exodus 3:17); and had not God promised to drive them out?
3. It was ungrateful. After all the love which had been shown them, how could they so requite it?
4. It was ruinous (see Numbers 4:33-38; Deuteronomy 1:32-39). But are there not some now who start fairly in the Christian race, or seem to do so, and yet who, when some difficulty meets or threatens them, turn hack and go away (cf. Matthew 13:20, Matthew 13:21)? Nor can we safely neglect the warning consequent on this incident given in Hebrews 3:4. To quit the leadership of Christ because of present or impending difficulties will be much more grievously sinful than it was for Israel to propose to quit the leadership of Moses. The four points named above will apply also here. It will be:
1. One-sided. For supposing, as we try to peer into the future, possible or even certain difficulties do present themselves, ought we not to remember that with the demand on the strength there will be given strength to meet the demand? Why look at one without looking at the other?
2. It will be forgetful. For what are the words of Holy Writ? What are we bidden to expect? Have we ever been told that we are to have a smooth path through life? Have we never read that "through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom?" Have we not read that we must expect to be "partakers" of Christ's sufferings?
3. It will be ungrateful. Did not our Savior tread a thorny path for us; and have we no return to make in treading a thorny path for him? Do we thus intend to repay the sorrow and blood of Calvary?
4. It will be ruinous if we turn back. Difficulties we seek to shun will be multiplied a hundred-fold. The ease we would fain secure will not be ours. While, instead of having to conquer the sons of Anak, we shall have to encounter the condemnation of our Savior and Lord. Let us press onward still to the rest which remaineth. On! for honor demands it. On! for gratitude requires it. On! for love, infinite love, expects it. On! only a step at a time, and if the giant Anakim appear, the Lord will fight for us. On! and if we come to Jericho's walls, faith's trumpet blast shall bring them to the ground. On! and you will have many a cluster of grapes sent to you by the Lord of the land, to show you its richness, and that you may taste of its fruits ere you enter there! Trust your God, ye people, follow the Lord fully, and not all the powers of earth or hell shall keep you from the promised rest!
The grievous consequences of unbelief.
Moses rehearses in the hearing of Israel the strange story of "their manners in the wilderness," and reminds them how their unbelief had provoked the Lord to anger, and had deprived vast numbers of them of the rest they had hoped to enjoy. We ought to be at no loss how to apply this to present day uses. The Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, renews the warning voice. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, both by argument and exhortation, repeatedly says, Take heed lest a like evil befall you (Hebrews 3:7-19; Hebrews 4:1-11). Whence observe—
I. HERE IS A REMARKABLE FACT TO BE NOTED: viz. Divine arrangements apparently failing of their end through the misconduct of man.
1. God had made provision for securing the entrance of Israel into their land. Early had the promise been made. Long and patiently did the patriarchs await its fulfillment (Hebrews 11:13). God had watched over his people's wanderings. He beheld them in Egypt. When the time for liberating them was come, Moses was at hand. Israel had but to stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, again and again. The Law was given from Sinai. Manna descended from heaven. Water gushed from the rock. The pillar of fire and of cloud was their guard, light, or shade. They knew what God intended to do for them. The promise was clear; the conditions were plain; the warnings were solemn; the threatenings were terrible. No excuse of ignorance could be pleaded by the people. Yet:
2. All were insufficient to prevent their defection of heart from God. They were perpetually doubting God. "Ten times" £ (Numbers 14:22). Unbelief led to the breaking forth of lust. They forfeited the promise; and of the many thousands who started for Egypt only two survived to enter Canaan. "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief."
II. THERE IS GREAT DANGER LEST THE PARALLEL BETWEEN OURSELVES AND ISRAEL, ALREADY SEEN IN GREATER MERCY, SHOULD BE SEEN AGAIN IN A GREATER RUIN. There is already a parallel in mercy.
1. There is a complete arrangement for meeting all our wants on the way to a nobler rest.
2. In treading the way, we have a far better Leader than Moses.
3. We have far clearer light than Israel had.
4. We have fuller and richer promises.
5. We have a far higher rest in view.
6. Throughout the way there will be demands on our faith.
7. There is a danger from within, lest we should distrust God.
Are we not conscious of such a danger? Our hearts are sinful, and predisposed to doubt. We have doubted God very much, and thus wronged him in times gone by. Such unbelief may take or may have taken the form of presumption or of despair. For an illustration of the former, see next Homily. The latter kind of unbelief may be almost indefinitely varied. Men may doubt
Whichever of these forms a despairing unbelief may assume, the evil of it is sufficiently manifest. It is the greatest dishonor which we can cast on God, to allow the thought to gain the mastery, that we are flung down hither without any sure destiny of blessedness being disclosed, or without any certainty of reaching it being made known. Besides, doubt prevents work; it paralyzes. Doubting God gives the rein to every lust.
8. And unless we "take heed," if we suffer doubt to get the mastery, as Israel lost their rest, we shall lose ours. What present rest can we have while unbelief has the upper hand? Doubt is essentially unrest. How can we enjoy any future rest? What sympathy with God can we have? Besides, God declares, "They shall not enter into my rest." In that heavenly rest none can or will share who do not implicitly believe the promise and loyally obey the precept.
9. And how much more serious it will be to trifle with Christ, than to slight Moses (Hebrews 10:28-31) But there is a very bright side to this subject. While unbelief will shut us out of heaven, nothing else will! Nothing can shut us out of heaven but doubting God! Poverty cannot. Persecution cannot. Reproach cannot. Obscurity cannot. No one shall ever sink who trusts his God. See that young and weak believer who has turned his back on the world, and set his face heavenward. A thousand difficulties bristle up in all directions. But he meets them all, saying, "God called me, God will help me, God will lead me, God will guard me."
"A feeble saint shall win the day,
Though death and hell obstruct the way!"
Yea, even so! "Them that honor me," saith God, "I will honor." But, must we not look to him who awakened our faith, to sustain it? 'Tis even so. Ever have we to say, "Give what thou commandest, and then command what thou wilt." "Lord, we believe; help thou our unbelief." And is there not enough revealed of God and of his wondrous love in Christ to put every doubt to flight, when all that God is to us is laid home to our hearts by the Holy Ghost? Here, indeed, is a quickening, inspiring, sustaining force, of which Israel knew little or nothing. "Greater is he that is for us than all they which be against us." "He that spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Let us doubt ourselves as much as we will, but our God and Savior—never. He hath said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." "Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"
In the preceding paragraph we had an illustration of unbelief in doubting the promise of God, and of the effect of that unbelief in excluding from the promised rest. Here we have an illustration of a like unbelief working in precisely the opposite direction; as Israel feared to go up notwithstanding the promise of God, so now we find them resolving to go up in spite of the prohibition of God, "acting," as an expositor remarks, "in contempt of the threatening, as they had before acted in contempt of the promise, as if governed by a spirit of contradiction." The points in the history which should be noted are these.
1. As the men of that generation (two only excepted) were debarred from entering Canaan, they have to wander in the desert for forty years.
2. They rebel against this Divine arrangement, though we, who at this distance of time "see the end of the Lord," can perceive how much mercy there was in it.
3. There was a short way to Canaan, through a hill country, which to human judgment would seem preferable to a "march far wandering round."
4. In this route enemies would surely assail—Amorites, Amalekites, etc.
5. Israel made light of these difficulties.
6. God forbade their going up. Moses forbade them. The ark was not moved from its place in the camp.
7. The people were resolved to go up, defiantly, insolently (Gesenius, sub verb.).
8. They paid dearly for their presumption. They were forced back.
9. They grieved and wept over their disappointment.
10. Such weeping God does not regard. "Tears of discontent must be wept over again." As they had before found out the folly of distrusting God's strength, so now they had to bewail the uselessness of presuming on their own! We cannot be wrong in continuing to follow the apostolic teaching in regarding the Canaan of Israel's hope as a type of the higher "rest" which "remaineth for the people of God' (cf. Hebrews 4:1).
I. THE LAW OF OLD IS IN FORCE STILL, THAT THE UNBELIEVING SHALL NOT ENTER INTO REST. This is the teaching, under varied forms, of no small part of the Old Testament and of the New. We may inquire, if we will, into the philosophy of this; and in doing so, we shall find but little difficulty in seeing the essential impossibility of one who doubts God finding rest anywhere. Doubt is unrest. But whether or no one can discern the deep reason of it, there stands the word, with its awful bar, "He that believeth not is condemned already."
II. IT IS A DREARY OUTLOOK FOR THE UNBELIE
To wander on, and to be moving towards some destiny or other, but yet to have no prospect of rest at the end of the journey, is it not dreary? We do not deny that men may, as they say, resign them, selves to the inevitable. And we even admit that men may so far control themselves, as, with stoical unfeelingness, to take "a leap in the dark." But not all this can blind us to the misery of those who move on under the ban, "The unbeliever shall not see rest."
III. THE SAME UNBELIEF WHICH DOUBTS THE PROMISE ALSO DESPISES THE THREATENING. Both promise and threatening come from one and the same God; hence whoever doubts him will be as likely to question one as the other. And it is very, very easy for unbelief to urge plausible arguments or questionings concerning the threatenings; e.g. "Has God said that?" "God will not be so severe;" "God cannot mean me;" "Who can tell whether the judgment day will ever come?" etc.
IV. THIS UNBELIEF MAY MAKE A DESPERATE EFFORT TO PROVE THE THREATENING NULL AND VOID. "We WILL go up!" How much does this remind us of what our Savior says in his Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 7:22)! As if unbelief would carry its daring up to the very judgment seat (see also Matthew 25:10-12; Luke 13:24-26).
V. AN ATTEMPT TO ENTER THE REST IN A WAY CONTRARY TO GOD'S WORD, WILL BE FORCED HELPLESSLY BACK. Israel was disastrously repulsed, and found it "hard to kick against the pricks." "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!" "Hath any hardened himself against God, and prospered?" (see continuation of New Testament passages referred to above). Man can do many wonderful things, but there are five things he never can do: He cannot evade the sentence of God; he cannot postpone it; he cannot nullify it; he cannot modify it; he cannot impeach it. "We are sure that the ( δικαίωμα) sentence of God is according to truth."
VI. THE WEEPING OF DISAPPOINTMENT WILL BE UNAVAILING. "Ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you." It will be of no use whatever trying to enter Canaan if the sentence has finally gone forth against us, "Ye shall not see my rest;" nor will it avail to try to enter by any other than God's own appointed way; nor will the murmuring, or wailing, or gnashing of teeth at all alter the matter. There may he as much unbelief in tears as in trifling. By no other means than implicit faith in and unswerving loyalty to God in Christ, can we find rest for our souls either here or hereafter. Oh that sinful men would "hear the voice of Jesus say," "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" Apart from Christ, our souls must wander in dry places, seeking rest and finding none.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
Irrecoverableness of wasted opportunity.
I. THE CULMINATION OF OPPORTUNITY OFTEN FINDS A MAN UNPREPARED TO OCCUPY IT. The point of time referred to here was the supreme moment in Israel's history. They had relinquished Egypt, endured privation, performed a toilsome journey, for one object, viz. to possess Canaan; yet, when they touched the threshold of the inheritance, they failed to rise to the conception of their privilege. They hesitated, dawdled, feared—and failed. Men play with opportunity as a toy, and when their eyes open to see its value, lo! it has vanished. Possibly, there is a supreme moment in every man's history; yet often he is too indolent to improve it. Every morning is not a May-day. Many reach the margin of a glorious destiny, and then turn back to the desert, The path of duty is very plain; but self-indulgence makes us blind as a mole.
II. THE DISHONESTY OF PRUDENTIAL PLEAS. These Hebrew men thought themselves very sagacious to suggest the experiment of the spies; and God endured their whim. Yet there was no reason for this precaution. With God as a Pioneer and Protector, they might have known that it was safer to follow the fiery pillar than to remain at ease in their tents. The command was plain—"Go up and possess." Therefore all delay, and all reconnoitering, was sin. If we were to deal honestly with inclination, if every whisper of conscience were obeyed, we should often see through the thin guise of our own pretences; we should strip the veneer of insincerity from our deeds. In some dark cavern of our hearts we may find, by honest search, some wish that we are ashamed to avow. There is often a conspiracy in the man against himself. We hunt for excuses to cover disobedience.
III. UNBELIEF DEVELOPS, THROUGH MANY STAGES, INTO RANK REBELLION. The report of the spies confirmed the word of God. This always accords with external fact, and with human experience. God had not said that the Canaanites were few or weak. What mattered it how tall and brawny they were, if so be God were on their side, and fought for them? Old Unbelief is a fool, and ought to be decorated with cap and bells. Unbelief is poison, and saps the basis of our strength, enervates our courage, and melts our iron into flux. Unbelief develops into falsehood, and perverts the truth of God into lying. Unbelief maligns and traduces God—charges him with the basest crime. It calls evil good; purest love it styles blackest hate. It is the essence of blasphemy. It is the crime of crimes—the seed of misery—the germ of hell.
IV. THE RETRIBUTIONS OF GOD ARE SEVERE AND EQUITABLE. Much that human judgment deems to be retribution is not penalty. Bodily suffering is usually corrective, not destructive. The retributions of God are co-related to the sin. Men pamper the passion for drink: inappeasable thirst shall be their doom. Men say to God, "Depart from me!" God responds, "Depart from me!" The Hebrews would not march into possession of Canaan: therefore they shall dwell and die in the desert. Retribution is related to sin as fruit to blossom—as wages to work. There comes a point where return is impossible. God swears that it shall be so. The oath is an oath of righteousness. Nevertheless, out of the crowds of the nameless ungodly, individual liegemen shall be honored, even Caleb and Joshua. These are elect spirits—choice natures. In the day of overwhelming calamity, God does not overlook the solitary righteous. "He hideth him in the hollow of his hand." The proofs of inviolable equity are written in gigantic capitals on the heavens and on the earth.
V. THE FORECASTS OF FEAR ARE OFTEN THE REVERSE OF REALITY, Cowardly and disobedient Hebrews pretended a far-reaching concern for their children. "If we are slain in this invasion of Canaan, what will become of our little ones?"—thus argued these malcontents. "Can we endure to think that they shall become a prey to these human wolves?" They were frightened at a mirage—terrified at the shadow of their own folly. Facts were the very reverse of their fears. These "little ones" God would take into training—drill them by the hardy discipline of the wilderness, and qualify them for warfare and for conquest.
VI. REPENTANCE HAS MANY COUNTERFEITS. There is often confession of our folly, and yet no repentance; promise of amendment, yet no repentance. There may he poignant regret for the past, bitter shame, sharp remorse, deep compunction, severe self-judgment, yet no repentance. For repentance is soul-submission unto God. It brings our feeling, desire, will, into harmony with God's feeling and will. Repentance has not thoroughly penetrated the soul until we love what God loves, and hate what God hates. True repentance works for righteousness. Deceit may so worm itself in the heart as to intertwine itself round every fiber of our being. We may ultimately become so blind as not to discern between truth and falsehood. The repentance of these Jews was a carnal sorrow that produced fruits of death.
VII. PRESUMPTION IS AS CRIMINAL AS PUSILLANIMITY. We dishonor God as much by going beyond the line of duty, as by falling short of it. Each alike is an act of disobedience. We cannot atone for cowardice yesterday by an excess of rashness today. The essence of obedience is promptitude. It is not the same whether we observe the command today, or tomorrow. Between the two there may be a gulf deep as hell itself. The prohibitions of God are as sacred as his positive commands. What is a duty today may be a sin tomorrow, because the precept may be withdrawn. Some commands are eternally permanent; some have only temporary prevalence.
VIII. REPENTANCE OFTEN COMES TOO LATE. During lifetime, repentance has moral productiveness. We may not attain the precise object, which by repentance we hoped to gain; nevertheless, real repentance brings relief and gladness to the soul! Esau was afterwards a better man for his repentance, though he could not recover his birthright. To these Hebrews, repentance came too late for them ever to possess the earthly Canaan: let us hope it availed to gain them the heavenly. It is possible for repentance, long-delayed, to be unavailing. "Because," says God, "I have called, and ye refused … I also will laugh at your calamity, Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer." "He swore in his wrath, They shall not enter into my rest." When all gracious remedies are exhausted, "it is impossible to renew men unto repentance." It is a perilous thing to tamper with conscience, or to trifle with God.—D.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
That great and terrible wilderness.
An emblem of the rough and afflictive way by which God leads his people to the higher rest.
I. THE FACT OF THIS WILDERNESS DISCIPLINE. We need not exaggerate. We admit all that can be said of the world as a fair and delightful residence, in which we have much to make us happy. But it cannot be denied that the picture has a darker side. The man who has drunk deepest of the world's pleasures is he who can tell best how unsatisfying it is as a portion for the spirit. There are more sad and weary hearts in this same world than a glance at the surface of society would lead us to suspect. There are numbers to whom life is one hard, dreary, terrible, hopeless struggle with adverse conditions. The joy of a life is often blighted by a solitary stroke; and in how many eases does some secret grief embitter what seems from the outside a prosperous existence! The believer is no more exempt than others from these ordinary griefs of life—from poverty, trial, pain, bereavement. But he has thoughts and feelings of his own, which add to the pain of his situation. He is a Christian, and contact with the world's evil tries and grieves him as it will not do a worldly man. His hope is beyond, and this makes earth, with its imperfect conditions, its broken ideals, its unsatisfied yearnings, seem drearier to him. Like his Master, his ear is quicker to catch the strain of human woe—"the still sad music of humanity"—than the strain of noisier mirth. All this compels him to look at life prevailingly under an aspect of privation, discipline, and trial, and it is in no unreal sense that he speaks of it as the "wilderness." When troubles crowd on him, it is literally, as to others, "waste and howling," a "great and terrible" desert.
II. THE ENDS OF THIS WILDERNESS DISCIPLINE. These are numerous.
1. In part the discipline is inevitable—bound up with the conditions of existence in a world "made subject to vanity." But:
2. The discipline is useful.