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"You Shall Know My Rejection"
The Israelites, it appears, had come to the point where they could have immediately possessed the Promised Land. But a lack of faith would keep them out of this land that flowed with milk and honey for several more decades—making their time in the wilderness a total of 40 years.
Discouragement set in as a result of the evil report of the 10 faithless spies, and once again the children of Israel speak against Moses and Aaron. They begin by wishing they had already died in Egypt or the wilderness rather than face the "dangers" of the land of Canaan (verse 2). But the complaining doesn't stop there. They accuse God of intentionally putting them and their families in harm's way to kill them (verse 3). And then an even more incredible thing happens. They decide that it would be much better to return to Egypt, so they actually call for the selection of a new leader to lead them back to the land of their enslavement.
At this point Moses and Aaron "hit the deck," as it were (verse 5), probably to intercede for the people and perhaps to "dodge the bullets" of God's wrath that would surely follow such outrage. Indeed, how out of touch with reality can people be? Of course, we probably consider ourselves impervious to such a frame of mind. Yet discouragement can also cause us to want to give up and go back into the world. Egypt, a type of sin, for us represents those things we believe and do before the Father calls us and grants us repentance and faith. We must, then, never look back.
But again, the people were not merely looking back—they had already determined to actually go back. They were picking a leader for this rebellion when Joshua and Caleb step forward in utter grief. They encourage the people to go forward toward the Promised Land. In Numbers 13:16, we see that Moses has changed the name of Hoshea (Hebrew "Salvation" or "May the Eternal Save") to Joshua (Hebrew "The Eternal Saves")—thus providing an "answer" to the "request" in the former name. The Latinized Greek form of Joshua is Jesus. Indeed, Joshua was a type of Jesus Christ in many respects. Joshua's encouragement gives us a picture of Jesus, our Savior, our Deliverer, our Captain, cheering us on and helping us into His Kingdom (verse 8). With Caleb, he exhorts the people, "Don't rebel, don't fear our enemies, we'll eat them alive, they will fall apart" (compare verse 9). Like Joshua, Caleb was appropriately named, as his name carries the sense of being "Bold" or "Wholehearted" in Hebrew.
Clearly, to not follow God's lead, to refuse His promises, is rebellion. But the Israelites' rebellion is further magnified when their response to the faithful witnesses is a call to stone them to death. Then the thing that Israel should have truly feared happens—God's presence is manifested before them in the shekinah glory (verse 10), and He is furious. God again considers wiping Israel out altogether, and starting over with Moses. Notice, however, that Moses doesn't seek preeminence for himself. Rather, he is primarily concerned with God's reputation. He reminds the Lord that the nations are watching (verses 13-16). Furthermore, despite the rebellion of the people and their threats against him personally, Moses loves them and seeks their welfare. In coming to their aid, he appeals to God's patience and mercy (verses 17-19). Moses is very obviously, then, a type of Christ in obtaining pardon for the people.
But for the Israelites it is only a temporary pardon—because they will not repent. And ultimately, the very thing that they wished for, that they had fallen dead in the wilderness (verse 2), will come upon them (verses 28-29, 32, 35). Of the older generation, only Joshua and Caleb will enter the Promised Land (verses 24, 30). And rather than God placing the Israelites' children in jeopardy as the people had accused, the children would be the only ones spared: "Your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised" (verse 31). Yet for 40 years, the nation will be rejected from entering the Promised Land. Incredibly, as severe as this might sound, it actually displays the tremendous mercy of God that He would still make it possible for a purged Israel to enter the land.
But now we come to an amazing tendency of human nature. When God says, "Do," the carnal mind wants to not do. And when God says, "Don't," the carnal mind wants to do (compare Romans 8:7; Romans 7:8). Now that God says they can't enter the Promised Land, the people suddenly want to—and attempt to do just that. They do acknowledge their prior sin, but they do not see that by seeking what God has now forbidden by His judgment, they are guilty of the sin of rebellion just the same. Though Moses warns them, they mount a futile invasion attempt of the land. But it is, of course, doomed to failure from the start because God is not with them (verses 42-45).
Consider then: As a result of the fear and lack of faith of 10 cowardly men, and the people's response to it, the Israelites would have to die in the wilderness. They hardened their hearts, and God made up His mind that they would not enter His rest (Psalm 95:8-11)—that is, the Promised Land. They refused to follow God, though He was visibly with them in the cloud and the fire. We must take warning from all this. God's Word states that the Israelites falling in the wilderness should serve as a powerful example to us (1 Corinthians 10:1-12). They took their eyes off the goal, a mistake we are repeatedly warned not to make. Let us therefore fear, we who have the promise of entering into God's future rest, His millennial Kingdom, lest any of us should come short of it. We can miss out just as assuredly as they did, and for the same reason—a lack of faith. And yet, like the children of Israel, we are so close to entering in (Hebrews 3:8-4:11).