Growing up I was a big James Bond fan. This was during the era of Roger Moore as 007. Maybe it is his last name, or just the one I remember as a kid, but he is my favorite Bond thus far. Honestly, they were all good (with the exception of Timothy Dalton). But the real intrigue was the character of a spy. They all had these really cool gadgets.
Numbers 13 tells us about Hebrew spies. As we noted in the last blog, it has been an exhausting journey in the wilderness, but they are finally within reach of the Promised Land. This has been a long time coming, as prophesied hundreds of years before.
Genesis 12:1, The LORD said to Abraham:/ Go out from your land,/ your relatives,/ and your father’s house/ to the land that I will show you./ I will make you a great nation,/ I will bless you,/ I will make your name great, (emphasis mine)
Yahweh sends out spies into the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, most of them lost focus of their mission. It wasn’t to determine if they could conquer the land. And get this, the spies were not God’s idea. Later on, Moses gives the people a history lesson of this day and provided more details.
Deuteronomy 1:21-22, “See, the LORD your God has se the land before you. Go up and take possession of it as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Then all of you approached me and said, ‘Let’s send men ahead of us and bring us back a report about the route we should go up and the cities we will come to.” (emphasis mine)
What God had told them was true. It was a land that flowed with milk and honey (13:27). This is exactly what Yahweh had told Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:8). After the golden calf incident, the LORD told Moses He still planned to give Israel the land that flowed with milk and honey (Ex. 33:3). Even in Leviticus, yeah that crazy book, God reiterates the promise (Lev. 20:24). The fact that the spies reported these specific characteristic of the land should have heightened their trust in God. They even brought back samples, for crying out loud!
However, ten of the spies gave negative (דבה) reports (v. 32). A word that means “evil, defamation, whispering.” They are double agents, if you will. They were supposed to represent the God of Israel, but they ended up representing the gods of the nations. In essence, they were saying these pagans were more powerful than Yahweh. How could they after all they had seen? (14:11) And it wasn’t just the ten spies who lacked trust – it was the whole community (14:1-4). The LORD is ready to destroy the people (14:12)… again. Moses intercedes for them (14:13-19). There is one aspect of his intervention I want to point out.
Numbers 14:18-19, “The LORD is slow to anger and rich in faithful love (hesed – חסד), forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love (hesed – חסד), just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (emphasis mine)
Sound familiar? It is a hyperlink. We alluded to it in my blog on the Glory of God, and given after the incident of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32). Moses asked Yahweh to reveal more about Himself. He wants to experience God’s glory. Things were not going well. The people deserved justice, which meant death for breaking covenant. But the LORD doesn’t destroy them. They are given a new set of stone tablets and Moses gets the gift of a lifetime – a partial glimpse of the God’s glory and the proclamation of His name.
Exodus 34:6-7, Yahweh – Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love (חסד) and truth, maintaining faithful love (חסד) to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the father’s wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. (emphasis mine)
Now does the verses in Numbers sound familiar? Moses is appealing to the character of Yahweh given to him at Sinai! And it is the very thing that allowed Israel to live.
Numbers 14:20, The LORD responded, “I have pardoned them as you requested.”
Even though Israel had been unfaithful, Israel’s God was rich in faithful love (חסד). The Hebrew for faithful love relates to loyalty within a relationship. In relation to the concept of love, it demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His people. It is the covenant Yahweh made with Israel. The psalmist says 26 times, His love (חסד) endures forever in Psalm 136. It is one of the most powerful words in Scripture and used of God’s act of redemption, mercy and forgiveness. Yahweh will be faithful to the covenant He made to Israel, even when they are not. They have tested the LORD 10 times already (14:22)! The number 10 is used figuratively to mean “too many” (Gen. 31:7). The point: they were habitually testing Yahweh. It is by grace, faithful love, God had delivered them from Egyptian slavery (Ps. 136:10-15). And now, by His grace, they will not be wiped off the face of the planet. Yahweh is true to His character.
What are we to learn from all of this?
We are people of the wilderness.
How many times have we rebelled against God? How many times have we questioned His plans? How many sins have we committed? At least 10, that is, too many. We cannot appeal to our goodness. We deserve death (Rom. 6:23). Like Israel, we have been disobedient, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature children under wrath (Eph. 2:2-3). We can only appeal to God’s character – grace! The Seed that came through this sinful people not only spoke words of grace, but He was/is grace! By Yahweh’s mercy and great love for us, He made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! (Eph. 2:4-5) That is the only way!
At the end of Numbers 14 something interesting happens. The people are ready to take the land without the help of God (14:39-45). Suddenly they become brave. Yet, they were told to go back into the wilderness where they would wander for 40 years before giving the land to the next generation.
They were told “no.” But the people still got up the next morning to take the land. It was a complete rout. They tried to gain God’s blessings without Him. It couldn’t happen.
Can we be the same way? We attempt to “get to heaven” or “not go to hell” based on our goodness. Rather than trusting God, we try to conquer the land of blessing alone. We believe it is about us and our goodness. We are justified by faith/trust in God and not our own works (Rom. 4:2-5). Paul sums it up best:
Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not of works, so that no one can boast.
Some people are still trying to obtain blessings on their own. God says “no”! Many in our world believe they will be saved by being “good people.” Even some Christians still believe it is up to them, by following God’s Word perfectly – perfect doctrine, perfect morality, etc. It will be a complete rout. It is impossible. Understanding grace should not lead us to a life of seeing sin flippantly or as if it doesn’t matter. Grace should humble us. We have been freed from a greater slavery than Israel – a freedom to walk in a new way of life (Rom. 6:1-4). We are not perfect but we have been made perfect by Jesus Messiah. We too continue our wilderness journey until the Day of the Lord. We should grow in faith and cultivate the fruit of Spirit of God in our lives. One day the Promised Land will arrive, but it will not happen of our own goodness.
*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible
*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; word studies from the Lexham Theological Wordbook, The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament and The Lexham Glossary of Literary Types