The Apostle James says, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to control his whole body” (James 3:2).
Have you ever said something that you instantly wished you had never uttered? I suspect all of us have experienced this at some point. It happens. If you speak for a living you are bound to say wrong things at times. But what about those times you deliberately say things that provoke? In your passion you got angry about something and before you had time to really examine the issue your mouth opened and the words just came out. And the damage was done!
Today’s portion of HIStory speaks about the consequences of letting loose the tongue without thinking about the consequences.
We all know that wars have been started from words uttered in haste. And when people choose to stir up rebellion the results are often unpredictable. Even words that are not meant to harm can break long term relationships. Case in point…
Today is Karemi’s birthday and I remember that day like it was just yesterday. She was such a beautiful baby. I maybe bias but I think all my kids were good looking babies! Anyway…I remember one day a friend of ours was over with her new born baby. Lorna was dressed in a lovely creation from her Oma and picture perfect. (OK so I’m a little bias). But our friend was flowing with compliments about her lovely chubby cheeks and beautiful smiles, enamored at just how beautiful a baby we had. And then she would look at her baby and then back to ours and back again to her baby.
So I thought she was looking for some constructive criticism about him. Now you have to realize my filters were not as good back then as they are today. In fact, I often said exactly what I was thinking. And apparently that day was no exception.
Yes, I felt we had been blessed with a beautiful baby girl. The facts laid right there before us and even this woman didn’t dispute it. So it had to be true. And then I said something like, “someday your son may be hansom and sweep my little girl off her feet”.
Well, instantly her countenance changed, so I’m told. I don’t always pick up on such things. And she took such offence with my comment that their family stopped coming over to our house for quite some time. What I later found out from her was that she interrupted what I said to the effect of her baby boy was ugly.
Now, I know that I had good enough filters not to come straight out and say that even if I might have been thinking something like that. In my defense her baby was rather unique. His strange curvature of the skull was beyond the symmetry for what we normally think of as beautiful or handsome. But I was sure that was temporary. And while the truth is I did think he wasn’t as beautiful a baby as mine I tried as best I could to think up and give a compliment.
Anyway, damage was done. I wrecked a four-year friendship with what turned out to be misplaced emphasis. Apparently if I had left out “may be” all would have been fine? It took them 7 years to come back over to our house and share with us why that relationship suddenly ended. I had no idea at the time that being honest with my feelings could cause her such hurt. I apologized when I heard her but truly the damage was done and couldn’t be reversed. We both lost out on what was looking to be a lasting friendship.
Thank God for grace right? Thank God we know that there is forgiveness to be found from Him even when our lips cause offence. It may not be forth coming from the people who heard us but we know that God accepts us when, in humility, the prayer of repentance comes from our lips and we know He extends forgiveness. And yet today’s passage in HIStory reminds us that there are always consequences for our words and actions and especially those bad attitudes when they leak out. And sometimes the consequences last an awful long time. Especially when, with a bad attitude, we complain about what God is doing and refuse to repent.
If you have your Bible or App alone turn to Numbers 14 and I’ll be focusing on just a small section beginning at 22. Numbers 14:22-30
“ 22 not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times– 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.” 26 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites.
28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29 In this desert your bodies will fall–every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” (Numbers 14:22-30 (NIV)
I know this seems like a strange place to start this passage. After all we are only hearing part of the story. And what we are hearing doesn’t paint a very positive picture of God’s grace. So, just what happened to cause our God who is slow to anger, abounding in love, forgiving of sins, to send His chosen people to wander for a whole decade in the dessert?
In a word, “contempt”. God said to Moses, “No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it” (Num. 14:23) We saw that same attitude last week with the neighbours and family of Jesus, according to Mark 6:3 when the people “took offense at Jesus”. It was contempt of authority. And it always starts with a bad attitude. An attitude that says we know better than those who are leading us. Even better than God himself.
See the spies had just come back from the promised land and reported to the people that there were giants with huge swords that would in their estimation bring on devastation, to the people of God, if they attempted to take the land.
This wasn’t the report that Moses and Aaron or the rest of Israel were hoping for but it also wasn’t completely accurate. Yes, there were some Goliath sized enemies in that land but hey God had just delivered Israel from Egypt’s chariots and vastly superior armies. Remember those overwhelming forces lay dead on the bottom of the Red Sea. And not one Israelite was lost in battle fighting them! God had won the victory for them. But clearly that wasn’t good enough for them. And so they grumbled and complained yet again.
If you scroll up in that passage to the beginning of chapter 14 you’ll find what their lips uttered.
Verse one and forward says, “ 1 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.“ (Numbers 14:1-4 (NIV)
Now, quite understandably they were fearful because of the report they had received. And fear causes in all of us this fight or flight reaction. So I certainly can understand the weeping and to some extent even the grumbling. And I don’t think for a moment that the God who said, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), was mad at them for their fearful reaction to the news. The problem was they projected that fear towards who?
Towards the leaders that they had chosen to lead them out of Egypt? Had they chosen Moses and Aaron? Who chose Moses for that role? Yet they said “we should choose another leader and go back to Egypt” (4).
It’s not that they didn’t have a say in following Moses out of Egypt. The truth is they left that former way of life of their own free will. They chose to follow God’s ambassador to the promised land. But the one thing they didn’t get to choose was who that ambassador from God was to be. That was God’s choice and His alone!
Fear warps our perception and causes what appears in this case to be temporary amnesia. For they had cried out to God in Egypt (cf. Exodus 3:7-9; 6:5-6) because of the cruelty they were facing daily. But suddenly now they want to return to it?
This wasn’t the first time they wanted to go back to the ‘good ol’ days’. In fact, every time they faced opposition they got amnesia and forgot what God had said and done for them. And you and I aren’t much different in that regard. We selectively remember the things of the past that we thought were “so good” but forget about all the other stuff, the heart aches, the sin that snared us, even the sacrifice that we went through to be where we are. We humans have selective and easily distorted memories.
And Satan counts on that fact and takes advantage of every opportunity to deceive us into believing that we were better off before knowing Jesus. Before He became our LORD and Saviour. And at just the most opportune time Satan whispers let’s go back to the way things were.
Well just how were things before you knew Christ as LORD? The Bible says you belonged to your father the devil and worshiped the things of his world, doing his bidding (cf. John 8:44). The devil was your lord and he would like that role back. He would truly enjoy making you curse God and die or at least truly miserable trapped in the desert of rebellion.
If rebelling against God’s chosen leaders wasn’t enough to merit a 40 year sentence what they went on to do showed the proclivity of their hearts. They actually accused God of bringing them through the desert so that they could die by the sword. Like as if He was some cosmic kill joy who planned for new ways of torturing His chosen ones. And not only that but they accused God of wanting ill for their wives and children too, as though they cared and could protect them more than God. They grumbled and complained to Moses and said, “3 … Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.”
It’s hard for us to understand when trouble overwhelms us that God is still good. When we feel powerless to change the circumstances we find ourselves in we may even be tempted to blame God. And you know what? I don’t think He minds hearing those doubts and fears coming from our lips to His ears. Look at the Psalms and you see David a man after God’s own heart lamenting time and time again about the circumstances he finds himself in.
And isn’t that exactly what we find Moses and Aaron doing in verse Numbers 14:5 and forward. When they heard the latest grumbling they fell on their faces before the whole assembly. (Part of me thinks they might have ducked so as not to be hit by lightning from on high. 🙂 But truly their reaction to the rebellion taking place was to intercede and call out to God to hold back His fury because they knew the sting of this unruly crowd’s words and the threats from their mouths of stoning of those who tried to calm the storm (cf. Numbers 14:6-9) would not be taken likely from on High. (cf. Numbers 14:10)
In verse “11 The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you (Moses) into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Numbers 14:11-12 (NIV)
Again I wonder if Moses later regretted what he did next in this part of HIStory? After all, the offer was a pretty good one. Start all over fresh with God’s help and the promise to make him (Moses) into a great nation. He could have distanced himself from those people who were making life so difficult for him.
But this truly humble man named Moses pleaded for them, and reminded the Lord of how HIStory might be recorded should He wipe out all those grumblers and complainers with one mighty act from on high (cf. Numbers 14:13-17).
And Moses reminded God of what God Himself had told Moses about God’s character. “18 ‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. (cf. Exodus 34:6) Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’
And then Moses leaped out in faith interceding on behalf of those grumblers and complainers. 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:18-19 (NIV).
Sure they had repeated trampled upon and threatened the servants of the Most High from the moment God sent them to lead Israel out of Egypt but why stop forgiving them now?
God heard Moses prayer. “ 20 The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked” (Numbers 14:20 (NIV). Imagine if Moses in his hurt and anger hadn’t asked God for mercy on their behalf? What would have been the outcome?
Actually you don’t have to imagine that. Verse 12 says what God was about to do. “ 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them…” (Numbers 14:12 (NIV). This was not an empty threat … it was a call to prayer and to intercession. So next time you think praying and intercession doesn’t change things read this passage and particularly verse 20 again. God said it was because Moses asked! Instead of the death penalty God chose life for His chosen ones because Moses cared enough to ask.
Yes there was still consequences as we read at the beginning of today’s passage. But instead of the plague God actually used the people’s own words determine their punishment.
They said, according to verse 3, “If only we had died …in this desert!” As though somehow the desert was better than what God wanted for them? They basically said, we would prefer not going into that promised land then to risk following God (cf. v. 4). God basically said, “Ok, I’ll give you what you asked for.” Just remember you asked for it!
But I don’t think your children will have the same desire as you. Yet if you insist, “28 … ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29 In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”
They were the two spies that saw the same giants in the land and still they tried to persuade the people (cf. vs 7-9) that God is bigger than any enemy they saw.
But dying in the dessert was only half of what they said, half of what God heard. God said in verse 31, “31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected” (Numbers 14:31 (NIV)
God noticed that they justified their grumbling and rebellion as though it was for the sake of their wives and children while accusing Him of ill intentions towards them. So He said that He would deliver their children to the promised land they had rejected. But wait, there were even more consequences for their rebellion.
God said to them in verse 33, “33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert.” Numbers 14:33 (NIV) They were the ones who caused their children hardship and harm not God. Their choices, their bad attitudes, their grumbling and complaining not only effected them but would radically effect their children for the next forty years until every last one of the people 20 and over on the day God pronounced His Judgment had died in the desert. Even with forgiveness the consequences of their sin took it’s toll.
Now you would think that after hearing from God about what your sin wrought that you might repent and fall on your face before the Lord, wouldn’t you? But God wasn’t finished with curing the bad attitudes. The men who actually spied out the land and then stirred up the community to rebel against Moses got to find out first hand what a plague from God does. Those spies died almost instantly. (cf. Numbers 14:36-38) Shocking the whole nation I’m sure. And showing that God truly meant what He said.
Which then was followed by that bargaining thing we do when we know the gig is up and we were in the wrong. It says in verse 40, “40 Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. “We have sinned,” they said. “We will go up to the place the LORD promised.” (Numbers 14:40 (NIV)
When they heard about God’s judgment on the spies some of the people had a sudden change of heart. They mourned their naughtiness, which was good. And just as suddenly they were not only willing but insistent upon entering the promised land. (cf. Numbers 14:39-45).
Seems they actually thought they were the ones in control of their destiny and not God. Perhaps they thought they could appease Moses and cause God to relent by doing what they were told albeit after the fact. Like, “better late then never”. Proving once again that two wrongs don’t make it right.
The truth is when God says something will not happen there is nothing the world that can over rule Him. God said they would not enter the promised land and in fact warned them to not go because He was not with them and their enemy was in the direction they were heading (cf. Numbers 14:41-43). But once again they refused to listen to those God sent to warn them. They presumed that God would get on board with their plan now that they were on board with His promised land directive. And God, ever true to His word, was not with them and thereby let them take a beating for their presumption.
God has a cure for bad attitudes and ill faith and let me tell you this part of HIStory reminds us that it is a dangerous thing not to heed God’s warnings.
But it also tells us that God rewards faith even from those who do not exercise it perfectly. True to His word, Joshua and Caleb and their families did indeed get to set foot in the promised land some forty years later. You can read about it in Joshua 1-5
God truly is, “18 ‘… is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.” He blesses and often doesn’t treat us as our sin deserves. (see Psalm 103:10-14)
But more than that, God sent His only son that whosoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus paid the penalty of our sins. There is forgiveness of all our sins for all who ask. All you need to do to escape the desert is call on the name of the Lord.
In humility, pray out to the LORD, admit you have not followed the LORD but chosen to go your own way. (Romans 3:23) And then do as Israel did in Numbers 14:39, mourn and grieve your sinful actions for Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10) . Ask Jesus to forgive your sins, and every sin that comes to mind, confess it to Him and then accept He is good to His Word and will prepare you to go to the promised land. He is faithful and just and will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John. 1:9). And He’ll give you His Holy Spirit to guide you all the way home.
And when you’ve accepted Christ’s gift to you don’t keep it to yourself but go and share it with someone who needs God’s grace to escape the desert! AMEN!
1. When you are out in public and see a child throw a tantrum do you form an opinion about the parents?
2. What pleases you most about God? What scares you the most about Him?
Read Numbers 14:22-30 in several translations if possible.
1. What punishment did Israel’s sin wrought? (Numbers 14:22-23; 28-29 )
2. What was their sin? (see for back ground: Numbers 13:27-33 ; 14:1-4, 10, )
3. What did Moses and Aaron do when they heard the grumbling? (Numbers 14:5, 13-19; Psalm 106:23)
4. Does God listen to prayers on behalf of others? (Numbers 14:20; Exodus 32:31-33; 34:9-10; Dan 6:10;9:19 ; Psalm 78:38-39; Jonah 1:1-3; Jonah 3:7-10; Jonah 4:1-2; Eph 6:18-19; Isaiah 26:16; Acts 1:14; 12:5; Romans 12:12; Phil 4:6; Col. 4:2; 2 Tim 1:3; 1 Tim 2:1 )
5. Did God actually forgive Israel in our passage today? (Numbers 14:20 ; Micah 7:18-20; 1 Jn 5:14-16)
6. Who were exempted from dying in the dessert? And Why? ( Numbers 14:24, 29-30 , 6, Num 32:12; Jos 14:8-9)
7. Did Moses and Aaron go to the promised land? (Deut 3:23-26; 34:4-5; Numbers 20:28 )
8. How does a bad attitude lead to bad choices?
9. In what part of your live do you need to show an attitude of gratitude towards God this week?
10. In what area of life are you praying for more strength from God?
11. Who are you currently praying and intercedeing for before God.