This chapter gives us an account of that fatal quarrel between God and
Israel upon which, for their murmuring and unbelief, he swore in his
wrath that they should not enter into his rest. Here is,
I. The mutiny and rebellion of Israel against God, upon the report of
the evil spies,
II. The fruitless endeavour of Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, to
still the tumult,
III. Their utter ruin justly threatened by an offended God,
IV. The humble intercession of Moses for them,
V. A mitigation of the sentence in answer to the prayer of Moses; they
shall not all be cut off, but the decree goes forth ratified with an
oath, published to the people, again and again repeated, that this
whole congregation should perish in the wilderness, and none of them
enter Canaan but Caleb and Joshua only,
VI. The present death of the evil spies,
VII. The rebuke given to those who attempted to go forward
And this is written for our admonition, that we "fall not after the
same example of unbelief."
|The Murmuring of the Israelites.
||B. C. 1490.|
1 And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried;
and the people wept that night.
2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and
against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would
God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had
died in this wilderness!
3 And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to
fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a
prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
4 And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let
us return into Egypt.
Here we see what mischief the evil spies made by their unfair
representation. We may suppose that these twelve that were impanelled
to enquire concerning Canaan had talked it over among themselves before
they brought in their report in public; and Caleb and Joshua, it is
likely, had done their utmost to bring the rest over to be of their
mind, and if they would but have agreed that Caleb, according to his
pose, should have spoken for them all, as their foreman, all had been
well; but the evil spies, it should seem, wilfully designed to raise
this mutiny, purely in opposition to Moses and Aaron, though they could
not propose any advantage to themselves by it, unless they hoped to be
captains and commanders of the retreat into Egypt they were now
meditating. But what came of it? Here in these verses we find those
whom they studied to humour put into a vexation, and, before the end of
the chapter, brought to ruin. Observe,
I. How the people fretted themselves: They lifted up their voices
giving credit to the report of the spies rather than to the word of
God, and imagining their condition desperate, they laid the reins on
the neck of their passions, and could keep no manner of temper. Like
foolish froward children, they fall a crying, yet know not what they
cry for. It would have been time enough to cry out when the enemy had
beaten up their quarters, and they had seen the sons of Anak at the
gate of their camp; but those that cried when nothing hurt them
deserved to have something given them to cry for. And, as if all had
been already gone, they sat down and wept that night. Note,
Unbelief, or distrust of God, is a sin that is its own punishment.
Those that do not trust God are continually vexing themselves. The
world's mourners are more than God's, and the sorrow of the world
II. How they flew in the face of their governors--murmured against
Moses and Aaron, and in them reproached the Lord,
The congregation of elders began the discontent
but the contagion soon spread through the whole camp, for the
children of Israel murmured. Jealousies and discontents spread like
wildfire among the unthinking multitude, who are easily taught to
despise dominions, and to speak evil of dignities.
1. They look back with a causeless discontent. They wish that they had
died in Egypt with the first-born that were slain there, or in the
wilderness with those that lately died of the plague for lusting. See
the prodigious madness of unbridled passions, which make men prodigal
even of that which nature accounts most dear, life itself. Never were
so many months spent so pleasantly as these which they had spent since
they came out of Egypt, loaded with honours, compassed with favours,
and continually entertained with something or other that was
surprising; and yet, as if all these things had not made it worth their
while to live, they wished they had died in Egypt. And such a light
opinion they had of God's tremendous judgments executed on their
neighbours for their sin that they wished they had shared with them in
their plagues, rather than run the hazard of making a descent upon
Canaan. They wish rather to die criminals under God's justice than live
conquerors in his favour. Some read it, O that we had died in Egypt,
or in the wilderness! O that we might die! They wish to die, for
fear of dying; and have not sense enough to reason as the poor lepers,
when rather than die upon the spot they ventured into an enemy's camp,
If they kill us, we shall but die,
2 Kings 7:4.
How base were the spirits of these degenerate Israelites, who, rather
than die (if it come to the worst) like soldiers on the bed of honour,
with their swords in their hands, desire to die like rotten sheep in
2. They look forward with a groundless despair, taking it for granted
that if they went on they must fall by the sword, and pretend to lay
the cause of their fear upon the great care they had for their wives
and children, who, they conclude, will be a prey to the Canaanites. And
here is a most wicked blasphemous reflection upon God himself, as if he
had brought them hither on purpose that they might fall by the sword,
and that their wives and children, those poor innocents, should be a
prey. Thus do they, in effect, charge that God who is love itself with
the worst of malice, and eternal Truth with the basest hypocrisy,
suggesting that all the kind things he had said to them, and done for
them, hitherto, were intended only to decoy them into a snare, and to
cover a secret design carried on all along to ruin them. Daring
impudence! But what will not that tongue speak against heaven that is
set on fire of hell? The devil keeps up his interest in the hearts of
men by insinuating to them ill thoughts of God, as if he desired the
death of sinners, and delighted in the hardships and sufferings of his
own servants, whereas he knows his thoughts to us-ward (whether we know
them so or no) to be thoughts of good, and not of evil,
III. How they came at last to this desperate resolve, that, instead of
going forward to Canaan, they would go back again to Egypt. The motion
is first made by way of query only
Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? But the ferment
being high, and the spirits of the people being disposed to entertain
any thing that was perverse, it soon ripened to a resolution, without a
Let us make a captain and return to Egypt; and it is lamented
that in their rebellion they appointed a captain to return to their
bondage; for they knew Moses would not be their captain in this
1. It was the greatest folly in the world to wish themselves in Egypt,
or to think that if they were there it would be better with them than
it was. If they durst not go forward to Canaan, yet better be as they
were than go back to Egypt. What did they want? What had they to
complain of? They had plenty, and peace, and rest, were under a good
government, had good company, had the tokens of God's presence with
them, and enough to make them easy even in the wilderness, if they had
but hearts to be content. But whither were they thus eager to go to
better themselves? To Egypt! Had they so soon forgotten the sore
bondage they were in there? Would they be again under the tyranny of
their taskmasters, and at the drudgery of making brick? And, after all
the plagues which Egypt had suffered for their sakes, could they expect
any better treatment there than they had formerly, and not rather much
worse? In how little time (not a year and a half) have they forgotten
all the sighs of their bondage, and all the songs of their deliverance!
Like brute-beasts, they mind only what is present, and their memories,
with the other powers of reason, are sacrificed to their passions. See
We find it threatened
as the completing of their misery, that they should be brought into
Egypt again, and yet this is what they here wish for. Sinners are
enemies to themselves; and those that walk not in God's counsels
consult their own mischief and ruin.
2. It was a most senseless ridiculous thing to talk of returning
thither through the wilderness. Could they expect that God's cloud
would lead them or his manna attend them? And, if they did not, the
thousands of Israel must unavoidably be lost and perish in the
wilderness. Suppose the difficulties of conquering Canaan were as great
as they imagined, those of returning to Egypt were much greater. In
this let us see,
(1.) The folly of discontent and impatience under the crosses of our
outward condition. We are uneasy at that which is, complain of our
place and lot, and we would shift; but is there any place or condition
in this world that has not something in it to make us uneasy if we are
disposed to be so? The way to better our condition is to get our
spirits into a better frame; and instead of asking, "Were it not better
to go to Egypt?" ask, "Were it not better to be content, and make the
best of that which is?"
(2.) The folly of apostasy from the ways of God. Heaven is the Canaan
set before us, a land flowing with milk and honey; those that bring up
ever so ill a report of it cannot but say that it is indeed a good
land, only it is hard to get to it. Strict and serious godliness is
looked upon as an impracticable thing, and this deters many who began
well from going on; rather than undergo the imaginary hardships of a
religious life, they run themselves upon the certain fatal consequences
of a sinful course; and so they transcribe the folly of Israel, who,
when they were within a step of Canaan, would make a captain, and
return to Egypt.
|The Expostulation of Joshua and Caleb.
||B. C. 1490.|
5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the
assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
6 And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh,
which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
7 And they spake unto all the company of the children of
Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it,
is an exceeding good land.
8 If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this
land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
9 Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the
people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is
departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.
10 But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And
the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the
congregation before all the children of Israel.
The friends of Israel here interpose to save them if possible from
ruining themselves, but in vain. The physicians of their state would
have healed them, but they would not be healed; their watchmen gave
them warning, but they would not take warning, and so their blood is
upon their own heads.
I. The best endeavours were used to still the tumult, and, if now at
last they would have understood the things that belonged to their
peace, all the following mischief would have been prevented.
1. Moses and Aaron did their part,
Though it was against them that they murmured
yet they bravely overlooked the affront and injury done them, and
approved themselves faithful friends to those who were outrageous
enemies to them. The clamour and noise of the people were so great that
Moses and Aaron could not be heard; should they order any of their
servants to proclaim silence, the angry multitude would perhaps be the
more clamorous; and therefore, to gain audience in the sight of all the
assembly, they fell on their faces, thus expressing,
(1.) Their humble prayers to God to still the noise of this sea, the
noise of its waves, even the tumult of the people.
(2.) The great trouble and concern of their own spirits. They fell down
as men astonished and even thunder-struck, amazed to see a people throw
away their own mercies: to see those so ill-humoured who were so well
(3.) Their great earnestness with the people to cease their murmurings;
they hoped to work upon them by this humble posture, and to prevail
with them not to persist in their rebellion; Moses and Aaron beseech
them, as though by them God himself did beseech them, to be reconciled
unto God. What they said to the people Moses relates in the repetition
of this story.
Be not afraid; the Lord your God shall fight for you. Note,
Those that are zealous friends to precious souls will stoop to any
thing for their salvation. Moses and Aaron, notwithstanding the posts
of honour they are in, prostrate themselves to the people to beg of
them not to ruin themselves.
2. Caleb and Joshua did their part: they rent their clothes in a holy
indignation at the sin of the people, and a holy dread of the wrath of
God, which they saw ready to break out against them. it was the greater
trouble to these good men because the tumult was occasioned by those
spies with whom they had been joined in commission; and therefore they
thought themselves obliged to do what they could to still the storm
which their fellows had raised. No reasoning could be more pertinent
and pathetic than theirs was
and they spoke as with authority.
(1.) They assured them of the goodness of the land they had surveyed,
and that it was really worth venturing for, and not a land that ate
up the inhabitants, as the evil spies had represented it. It is an
exceedingly good land
it is very, very good, so the word is; so that they had no
reason to despise this pleasant land. Note, If men were but
thoroughly convinced of the desirableness of the gains of religion,
they would not stick at the services of it.
(2.) They made nothing of the difficulties that seemed to lie in the
way of their gaining the possession of it: "Fear not the people of
Whatever formidable ideas have been given you of them, the lion is not
so fierce as he is painted. They are bread for us," that is,
"they are set before us rather to be fed upon than to be fought with,
so easily, so pleasantly, and with so much advantage to ourselves shall
we master them." Pharaoh is said to have been given them for meat
and the Canaanites will be so too. They show that, whatever was
suggested to the contrary, the advantage was clear on Israel's side.
[1.] Though the Canaanites dwell in walled cities, they are naked:
Their defence has departed from them; that common providence
which preserves the rights of nations has abandoned them, and will be
no shelter nor protection to them. The other spies took notice of their
strength, but these of their wickedness, and thence inferred that God
had forsaken them, and therefore their defence had departed. No
people can be safe when they have provoked God to leave them.
[2.] Though Israel dwell in tents they are fortified: The Lord is
with us, and his name is a strong tower; fear them not.
Note, While we have the presence of God with us, we need not fear the
most powerful force against us.
(3.) They showed them plainly that all the danger they were in was from
their own discontents, and that they would succeed against all their
enemies if they did not make God their enemy. On this point alone the
cause would turn
"If the Lord delight in us, as certainly he does, and will if we
do not provoke him, he will bring us into this good land; we
shall without fail get it in possession by his favour, and the light of
if we do not forfeit his favour and by our own follies turn away our
own mercies." It has come to this issue
Only rebel not you against the Lord. Note, Nothing can ruin
sinners but their own rebellion. If God leave them, it is because they
drive him from them; and they die because they will die. None are
excluded the heavenly Canaan but those that exclude themselves. And,
now, could the case have been made more plain? could it have been urged
more closely? But what was the effect?
II. It was all to no purpose; they were deaf to this fair reasoning;
nay, they were exasperated by it, and grew more outrageous: All the
congregation bade stone them with stones,
The rulers of the congregation, and the great men (so bishop Patrick),
ordered the common people to fall upon them, and knock their brains
out. Their case was sad indeed when their leaders thus caused them
to err. Note, It is common for those whose hearts are fully set
in them to do evil to rage at those who give them good counsel.
Those who hate to be reformed hate those that would reform them, and
count them their enemies because they tell them the truth. Thus early
did Israel begin to misuse the prophets, and stone those that were
sent to them, and it was this that filled the measure of their sin,
Stone them with stones! Why, what evil have they done? No crime
can be laid to their charge; but the truth is these two witnesses
tormented those that were obstinate in their infidelity,
Caleb and Joshua had but just said, The Lord is with us; fear them
and, if Israel will not apply those encouraging words to their own
fears, those that uttered them know how to encourage themselves with
them against this enraged multitude that spoke of stoning them, as
David in a like cause,
1 Samuel 30:6.
Those that cannot prevail to edify others with their counsels and
comforts should endeavour at least to edify themselves. Caleb and
Joshua knew they appeared for God and his glory, and therefore doubted
not but God would appear for them and their safety. And they were not
disappointed, for immediately the glory of the Lord appeared, to
the terror and confusion of those that were for stoning the servants of
God. When they reflected upon God
his glory appeared not to silence their blasphemies; but, when they
threatened Caleb and Joshua, they touched the apple of his eye, and his
glory appeared immediately. Note, Those who faithfully expose
themselves for God are sure to be taken under his special protection,
and shall be hidden from the rage of men, either under heaven or in
|The Intercession of Moses.
||B. C. 1490.|
11 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people
provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all
the signs which I have showed among them?
12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them,
and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
13 And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear
it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among
14 And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land:
for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people,
that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud
standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day
time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.
15 Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then
the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
16 Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the
land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in
17 And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great,
according as thou hast spoken, saying,
18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving
iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the
guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children
unto the third and fourth generation.
19 Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people
according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast
forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
I. The righteous sentence which God gave against Israel for their
murmuring and unbelief, which, though afterwards mitigated, showed what
was the desert of their sin and the demand of injured justice, and what
would have been done if Moses had not interposed. When the glory of
the Lord appeared in the tabernacle we may suppose that Moses
took it for a call to him immediately to come and attend there, as
before the tabernacle was erected he went up to the mount in a similar
Thus, while the people were studying to disgrace him, God publicly put
honour upon him, as the man of his counsel. Now here we are told what
God said to him there.
1. He showed him the great evil of the people's sin,
What passed between God and Israel went through the hands of Moses:
when they were displeased with God they told Moses of it
when God was displeased with them he told Moses too, revealing his
secret to his servant the prophet,
Two things God justly complains of to Moses:--
(1.) Their sin. They provoke me, or (as the word signifies) they
reject, reproach, despise me, for they will not believe
me. This was the bitter root which bore the gall and wormwood. It
was their unbelief that made this a day of provocation in the
Note, Distrust of God, of his power and promise, is itself a very great
provocation, and at the bottom of many other provocations. Unbelief is
a great sin
(1 John 5:10),
and a root sin,
(2.) Their continuance in it: How long will they do so? Note,
The God of heaven keeps an account how long sinners persist in their
provocations; and the longer they persist the more he is displeased.
The aggravations of their sin were,
[1.] Their relation to God: This people, a peculiar people, a
professing people. The nearer any are to God in name and profession,
the more he is provoked by their sins, especially their unbelief.
[2.] The experience they had had of God's power and goodness, in all
the signs which he had shown among them, by which, one would
think, he had effectually obliged them to trust him and follow him. The
more God has done for us the greater is the provocation if we distrust
2. He showed him the sentence which justice passed upon them for it,
"What remains now but that I should make a full end of them? It will
soon be done. I will smite them with the pestilence, not leave a
man of them alive, but wholly blot out their name and race, and so
disinherit them, and be no more troubled with them. Ah, I will ease
me of my adversaries. They wish to die; and let them die, and
neither root nor branch be left of them. Such rebellious children
deserve to be disinherited." And if it be asked, "What will become of
God's covenant with Abraham then?" here is an answer, "I shall be
preserved in the family of Moses: I will make of thee a greater
(1.) God would try Moses, whether he still continued that affection for
Israel which he formerly expressed upon a like occasion, in preferring
their interests before the advancement of his own family; and it is
proved that Moses was still of the same public spirit, and could not
bear the thought of raising his own name upon the ruin of the name of
(2.) God would teach us that he will not be a loser by the ruin of
sinners. If Adam and Eve had been cut off and disinherited, he could
have made another Adam and another Eve, and have glorified his mercy in
them, as here he could have glorified his mercy in Moses, though Israel
had been ruined.
II. The humble intercession Moses made for them. Their sin had made a
fatal breach in the wall of their defence, at which destruction would
certainly have entered if Moses had not seasonably stepped in and made
it good. Here he was a type of Christ, who interceded for his
persecutors, and prayed for those that despitefully used
him, leaving us an example to his own rule,
1. The prayer of his petition is, in one word, Pardon, I beseech
thee, the iniquity of this people
that is, "Do not bring upon them the ruin they deserve." This was
Christ's prayer for those that crucified him, Father forgive
them. The pardon of a national sin, as such, consists in the
turning away of the national punishment; and that is it for which Moses
is here so earnest.
2. The pleas are many, and strongly urged.
(1.) He insists most upon the plea that is taken from the glory of God,
With this he begins, and somewhat abruptly, taking occasion from that
dreadful word, I will disinherit them. Lord (says he), then
the Egyptians shall hear it. God's honour lay nearer to his heart
than any interests of his own. Observe how he orders this cause
before God. He pleads,
[1.] That the eyes both of Egypt and Canaan were upon them, and great
expectations were raised concerning them. They could not but have heard
that thou, Lord, art among this people,
The neighbouring countries rang of it, how much this people were the
particular care of heaven, so as never any people under the sun were.
[2.] That if they should be cut off great notice would be taken of it.
"The Egyptians will hear it
for they have their spies among us, and they will tell it to the
inhabitants of the land"
for there was great correspondence between Egypt and Canaan, although
not by the way of this wilderness. "If this people that have made so
great a noise be all consumed, if their mighty pretensions come to
nothing, and their light go out in a snuff, it will be told with
pleasure in Gath, and published in the streets of Askelon; and what
construction will the heathen put upon it? It will be impossible to
make them understand it as an act of God's justice, and as such
redounding to God's honour; brutish men know not this
but they will impute it to the failing of God's power, and so turn it
to his reproach,
They will say, He slew them in the wilderness because he was not able
to bring them to Canaan, his arm being shortened, and his stock of
miracles being spent. Now, Lord, let not one attribute be glorified at
the expense of another; rather let mercy rejoice against
judgment than that almighty power should be impeached." Note, The
best pleas in prayer are those that are taken from God's honour; for
they agree with the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, Hallowed be
thy name. Do not disgrace the throne of thy glory. God pleads it
I feareth the wrath of the enemy; and we should use it as an
argument with ourselves to walk so in every thing as to give no
occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme,
1 Timothy 6:1.
(2.) He pleads God's proclamation of his name at Horeb
Let the power of the Lord be great. Power is here put for
pardoning mercy; it is his power over his own anger. If he should
destroy them, God's power would be questioned; if he should continue
and complete their salvation, notwithstanding the difficulties that
arose, not only from the strength of their enemies, but from their own
provocations, this would greatly magnify the divine power: what cannot
he do who could make so weak a people conquerors and such an unworthy
people favourites? The more danger there is of others reproaching God's
power the more desirous we should be to see it glorified. To enforce
this petition, he refers to the word which God had spoken: The Lord
is long-suffering and of great mercy. God's goodness had there been
spoken of as his glory; God gloried in it,
Now here he prays that upon this occasion he would glorify it. Note, We
must take our encouragement in prayer from the word of God, upon which
he has caused us to hope,
"Lord, be and do according as
thou hast spoken; for hast thou spoken, and wilt thou not make it
good?" Three things God had solemnly made a declaration of, which Moses
here fastens upon, and improves for the enforcing of his petition:--
[1.] The goodness of God's nature in general, that he is
long-suffering, or slow to anger, and of great mercy; not soon
provoked, but tender and compassionate towards offenders.
[2.] His readiness in particular to pardon sin: Forgiving iniquity
and transgression, sins of all sorts.
[3.] His unwillingness to proceed to extremity, even when he does
punish. For in this sense the following words may be read: That will
by no means make quite desolate, in visiting the iniquity of the
fathers upon the children. God had indeed said in the second
commandment that he would thus visit, but here he promises not to make
a full end of families, churches, and nations, at once; and so it is
very applicable to this occasion, for Moses cannot beg that God would
not at all punish this sin (it would be too great an encouragement to
rebellion if he should set no mark of his displeasure upon it), but
that he would not kill all this people as one man,
He does not ask that they may not be corrected, but that they may not
be disinherited. And this proclamation of God's name was the more
apposite to his purpose because it was made upon occasion of the
pardoning of their sin in making the golden calf. This sin which they
had now fallen into was bad enough, but it was not idolatry.
(3.) He pleads past experience: As thou hast forgiven this people
This seemed to make against him. Why should those be forgiven any more
who, after they had been so often forgiven, revolted yet more and more,
and seemed hardened and encouraged in their rebellion by the lenity and
patience of their God, and the frequent pardons they had obtained?
Among men it would have been thought impolitic to take notice of such a
circumstance in a request of this nature, as it might operate to the
prejudice of the petitioner: but, as in other things so in pardoning
sin, God's thoughts and ways are infinitely above ours,
Moses looks upon it as a good plea, Lord, forgive, as thou hast
forgiven. It will be no more a reproach to thy justice, nor any
less the praise of thy mercy, to forgive now, than it has been
formerly. Therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed, because
they have to do with a God that changes not,
|God's Answer to Moses; The Israelites Threatened.
||B. C. 1490.|
20 And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
21 But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled
with the glory of the LORD.
22 Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my
miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have
tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my
23 Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their
fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:
24 But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with
him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land
whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.
25 (Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.)
To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of
the Red sea.
26 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
27 How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which
murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of
Israel, which they murmur against me.
28 Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye
have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:
29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that
were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty
years old and upward, which have murmured against me,
30 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning
which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of
Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
31 But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them
will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have
32 But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this
33 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty
years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in
34 After the number of the days in which ye searched the land,
even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your
iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of
35 I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil
congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this
wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
We have here God's answer to the prayer of Moses, which sings both of
mercy and judgment. It is given privately to Moses
and then directed to be made public to the people,
The frequent repetitions of the same things in it speak these resolves
to be unalterable. Let us see the particulars.
I. The extremity of the sentence is receded from
"I have pardoned, so as not to cut them all off at once, and
disinherit them." See the power of prayer, and the delight God takes in
putting an honour upon it. He designed a pardon, but Moses shall have
the praise of obtaining it by prayer: it shall be done according to
thy word; thus, as a prince, he has power with God, and prevails.
See what countenance and encouragement God gives to our intercessions
for others, that we may be public-spirited in prayer. Here is a whole
nation rescued from ruin by the effectual fervent prayer of one
righteous man. See how ready God is to forgive sin, and how easy to be
entreated: Pardon, says Moses
I have pardoned, says God,
David found him thus swift to show mercy,
He deals not with us after our sins,
II. The glorifying of God's name is, in the general, resolved upon,
It is said, it is sworn, All the earth shall be filled with the
glory of the Lord. Moses in his prayer had shown a great concern
for the glory of God. "Let me alone," says God, "to secure that
effectually, and to advance it, by this dispensation." All the world
shall see how God hates sin even in his own people, and will reckon for
it, and yet how gracious and merciful he is, and how slow to anger.
Thus when our Saviour prayed, Father, glorify thy name, he was
immediately answered, I have glorified it, and will glorify it yet
Note, Those that sincerely seek God's glory may be sure of what they
seek. God having turned this prayer for the glorifying of himself into
a promise, we may turn it into praise, in concert with the angels,
The earth is full of his glory.
III. The sin of this people which provoked God to proceed against them
is here aggravated,
It is not made worse than really it was, but is shown to be exceedingly
sinful. It was an evil congregation, each bad, but altogether in
congregation, very bad.
1. They tempted God--tempted his power, whether he could help them in
their straits--his goodness, whether he would--and his faithfulness,
whether his promise would be performed. They tempted his justice,
whether he would resent their provocations and punish them or no. They
dared him, and in effect challenged him, as God does the idols
to do good, or do evil.
2. They murmured against him. This is much insisted on,
As they questioned what he would do, so they quarrelled with him for
every thing he did or had done, continually fretting and finding fault.
It does not appear that they murmured at any of the laws or ordinances
that God gave them (though they proved a heavy yoke), but they murmured
at the conduct they were under, and the provision made for them. Note,
It is much easier to bring ourselves to the external services of
religion, and observe all the formalities of devotion, than to live a
life of dependence upon, and submission to, the divine Providence in
the course of our conversation.
3. They did this after they had seen God's miracles in Egypt and in the
They would not believe their own eyes, which were witnesses for God
that he was in the midst of them of a truth.
4. They had repeated the provocations ten times, that is, very often:
the Jewish writers reckon this exactly the tenth time that the body of
the congregation had provoked God. First, at the Red Sea,
In the wilderness of Sin,
The golden calf,
Then at Taberah. Then at Kibroth-Hattaavah,
And so this was the tenth. Note, God keeps an account how often we
repeat our provocations, and will sooner or later set them in order
5. They had not hearkened to his voice, though he had again and again
admonished them of their sin.
IV. The sentence passed upon them for this sin.
1. That they should not see the promised land
nor come into it,
He swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest,
Note, Disbelief of the promise is a forfeiture of the benefit of it.
Those that despise the pleasant land shall be shut out of it. The
promise of God should be fulfilled to their posterity, but not to them.
2. That they should immediately turn back into the wilderness,
Their next remove should be a retreat. They must face about, and
instead of going forward to Canaan, on the very borders of which they
now were, they must withdraw towards the Red Sea again. To-morrow
turn you; that is, "Very shortly you shall be brought back to that
vast howling wilderness which you are so weary of. And it is time to
shift for your own safety, for the Amalekites lie in wait in the
valley, ready to attack you if you march forward." Of them they had
been distrustfully afraid
and now with them God justly frightened them. The fear of the wicked
shall come upon him.
3. That all those who had now grown up to men's estate should die in
the wilderness, not all at once, but by degrees. They wished that they
might die in the wilderness, and God said Amen to their
passionate wish, and made their sin their ruin, snared them in
the words of their mouth, and caused their own tongue to fall
upon them, took them at their word, and determined that their
carcases should fall in the wilderness,
See with what contempt they are spoken of, now that they had by their
sin made themselves vile; the mighty men of valour were but carcases,
when the Spirit of the Lord had departed from them. They were all as
dead men. Their fathers had such a value for Canaan that they desired
to have their dead bodies carried thither to be buried, in token of
their dependence upon God's promise that they should have that land for
a possession: but these, having despised that good land and disbelieved
the promise of it, shall not have the honour to be buried in it, but
shall have their graves in the wilderness.
4. That in pursuance of this sentence they should wander to and fro in
the wilderness, like travellers that have lost themselves, for forty
years; that is, so long as to make it full forty years from their
coming out of Egypt to their entrance into Canaan,
Thus long they were kept wandering,
(1.) To answer the number of the days in which the spies were searching
the land. They were content to wait forty days for the testimony of
men, because they could not take God's word; and therefore justly are
they kept forty years waiting for the performance of God's promise.
(2.) That hereby they might be brought to repentance, and find mercy
with God in the other world, whatever became of them in this. Now they
had time to bethink themselves, and to consider their ways; and the
inconveniences of the wilderness would help to humble them and prove
them, and show them what was in their heart,
Thus long they bore their iniquities, feeling the weight of
God's wrath in the punishment. They were made to groan under the burden
of their own sin that brought it upon them, which was too heavy for
them to bear.
(3.) That they might sensibly feel what a dangerous thing it is for
God's covenant-people to break with him: "You shall know my breach
of promise, both the causes of it, that it is procured by your sin"
(for God never leaves any till they first leave him), "and the
consequences of it, that it will produce your ruin; you are quite
undone when you are thrown out of covenant."
(4.) That a new generation might in this time be raised up, which could
not be done all of a sudden. And the children, being brought up under
the tokens of God's displeasure against their fathers, and so
bearing their whoredoms (that is, the punishment of their sins,
especially their idolatry about the golden calf, which God now
remembered against them), might take warning not to tread in the steps
of their fathers' disobedience. And their wandering so long in the
wilderness would make Canaan at last the more welcome to them. It
should seem that upon occasion of this sentence Moses penned the
which is very apposite to the present state of Israel, and wherein they
are taught to pray that since this sentence could not be reversed it
might be sanctified, and they might learn to apply their hearts unto
V. The mercy that was mixed with this severe sentence.
1. Mercy to Caleb and Joshua, that though they should wander with the
rest in the wilderness, yet they, and only they of all that were now
above twenty years old, should survive the years of banishment, and
live to enter Canaan. Caleb only is spoken of
and a particular mark of honour put upon him, both,
(1.) In the character given of him: he had another spirit,
different from the rest of the spies, an after-spirit, which
furnished him with second thoughts, and he followed the Lord
fully, kept close to his duty, and went through with it, though
deserted and threatened; and,
(2.) In the recompence promised to him: Him will I bring in due time
into the land whereinto he went. Note,
[1.] It ought to be the great care and endeavour of every one of us to
follow the Lord fully. We must, in a course of obedience to God's will
and of service to his honour, follow him universally, without
dividing,--uprightly, without dissembling,--cheerfully, without
disputing,--and constantly, without declining; and this is following
[2.] Those that would follow God fully must have another spirit,
another from the spirit of the world, and another from what their own
spirit has been. They must have the spirit of Caleb.
[3.] Those that follow God fully in times of general apostasy God will
own and honour by singular preservations in times of general calamity.
The heavenly Canaan shall be the everlasting inheritance of those that
follow the Lord fully. When Caleb is again mentioned
Joshua stands with him, compassed with the same favours and crowned
with the same honours, having stood with him in the same services.
2. Mercy to the children even of these rebels. They should have a seed
preserved, and Canaan secured to that seed: Your little ones,
now under twenty years old, which you, in your unbelief, said
should be a prey, them will I bring in,
They had invidiously charged God with a design to ruin their children,
But God will let them know that he can put a difference between the
guilty and the innocent, and cut them off without touching their
children. Thus the promise made to Abraham, though it seemed to fail
for a time, was kept from failing for evermore; and, though God
chastened their transgressions with a rod, yet his loving kindness
he would not utterly take away.
|Death of the Evil Spies.
||B. C. 1490.|
36 And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who
returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by
bringing up a slander upon the land,
37 Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the
land, died by the plague before the LORD.
38 But Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh,
which were of the men that went to search the land, lived
39 And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of
Israel: and the people mourned greatly.
40 And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into
the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up
unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned.
41 And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the
commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper.
42 Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not
smitten before your enemies.
43 For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before
you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away
from the LORD, therefore the LORD will not be with you.
44 But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless
the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out
of the camp.
45 Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which
dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even
I. The sudden death of the ten evil spies. While the sentence was
passing upon the people, before it was published, they died of the
plague before the Lord,
1. God hereby showed his particular displeasure against those who
sinned and made Israel to sin.
(1.) They sinned themselves, in bringing up a slander upon the land of
promise. Note, Those greatly provoke God who misrepresent religion,
cast reproach upon it, and raise prejudices in men's minds against it,
or give occasion to those to do so who seek occasion. Those that
represent the service of God as mean and despicable, melancholy and
uncomfortable, hard and impracticable, needless and unprofitable, bring
up an evil report upon the good land, pervert the right ways
of the Lord, and in effect give him the lie.
(2.) They made Israel to sin. They designedly made all the
congregation murmur against God. Note, Ring-leaders in sin may
expect to fall under particular marks of the wrath of God, who will
severely reckon for the blood of souls, which is thus spilt.
2. God hereby showed what he could have done with the whole
congregation, and gave an earnest of the execution of the sentence now
passed upon them. He that thus cut off one of a tribe could have cut
off their whole tribes suddenly, and would do it gradually. Note, The
remarkable deaths of notorious sinners are earnests of the final
perdition of ungodly men,
2 Peter 2:5,6.
Thus the wrath of God is revealed, that sinners may hear and fear.
II. The special preservation of Caleb and Joshua: They lived
It is probable that all the twelve spies stood together, for the eyes
of all Israel were now upon them; and therefore it is taken notice of
as very remarkable, and which could not but be affecting to the whole
congregation, that when the ten evil spies fell down dead of the
plague, a malignant infectious distemper, yet these two that stood
among them lived, and were well. God hereby confirmed their testimony,
and put those to confusion that spoke of stoning them. He likewise
gave them an assurance of their continued preservation in the
wilderness, when thousands should fall on their right hand and on their
Death never misses his mark, nor takes any by oversight that were
designed for life, though in the midst of those that were to die.
III. The publication of the sentence to all the people,
He told them all what the decree was which had gone forth concerning
them, and which could not be reversed, that they must all die in the
wilderness, and Canaan must be reserved for the next generation. It was
a very great disappointment, we may well think, to Moses himself, who
longed to be in Canaan, as well as to all the people; yet he
acquiesced, but they wept and mourned greatly. The assurance which
Moses had of God's being glorified by this sentence gave him
satisfaction, while the consciousness of their own guilt, and their
having procured it to themselves, gave them the greatest vexation. They
wept for nothing
and now they have cause given them to weep; so justly are murmurers
made mourners. If they had mourned for the sin when they were
faithfully reproved for it
the sentence would have been prevented; but now that they mourned for
the judgment only their grief came too late, and did them no service;
they found no place for repentance, though they sought it carefully
Such mourning as this there is in hell, but the tears will not quench
the flames, no, nor cool the tongue.
IV. The foolish fruitless attempts of some of the Israelites to enter
Canaan, notwithstanding the sentence.
1. They were now eager to go forward towards Canaan,
They were up early, mustered all their force, got together in a body,
and begged of Moses to lead them on against the enemy, and now there is
no more talk among them of making a captain to return into Egypt. They
confess their fault: We have sinned; they profess reformation:
Lo, we be here, and will go up. They now desire the land which
they had despised, and put a confidence in the promise which they had
distrusted. Thus when God judges he will overcome, and, first or last,
will convince sinners of the evil of all their ungodly deeds, and hard
speeches, and force them to recall their own words. But, though God was
glorified by this recantation of theirs, they were not benefited by it,
because it came too late. The decree had gone forth, the consumption
was determined; they did not seek the Lord while he might be found, and
now he would not be found. O, if men would but be as earnest for heaven
while their day of grace lasts as they will be when it is over, would
be as solicitous to provide themselves with oil while the bridegroom
tarries as they will be when the bridegroom comes, how well were it for
2. Moses utterly disallows their motion, and forbids the expedition
they were meditating: Go not up,
(1.) He gives them warning of the sin; it is transgressing the
commandment of the Lord, who had expressly ordered them, when they
did move, to move back towards the Red Sea. Note, That which has been
duty, in its season, when it comes to be mistimed may be turned into
sin. It is true the command he refers to was in the nature of a
punishment, but he that has not obeyed the law is obliged to submit to
the penalty, for the Lord is our Judge as well as Lawgiver.
(2.) He gives them this warning of the danger: "It shall not
prosper, never expect it." Note, It is folly to promise ourselves
success in that which we undertake contrary to the mind of God. "The
Canaanites are before you to attack you, and the Lord is not
among you to protect you and fight for you, and therefore look to
yourselves that you be not smitten before your enemies." Those
that are out of the way of their duty are from under God's protection,
and go at their peril. It is dangerous going where we cannot expect God
should go along with us. Nay, he plainly foresees and foretels their
defeat: You shall fall by the sword of the Amalekites and
Canaanites (who were to have fallen by their sword); Because you are
turned away from the Lord, from following the guidance of his
precept and promise, therefore the Lord will not be with you.
Note, God will certainly leave those that leave him; and those that are
left of him lie exposed to all misery.
3. They venture notwithstanding. Never was people so perverse and so
desperately resolved in every thing to walk contrary to God. God bade
them go, and they would not; he forbade them, and they would. Thus is
the carnal mind enmity to God: They presumed to go up unto the
(1.) They struggled against the sentence of divine justice, and would
press on in defiance of it.
(2.) They slighted the tokens of God's presence, for they would go
though they left Moses and the ark of the covenant behind them. They
had distrusted God's strength, and now they presume upon their own
4. The expedition speeds accordingly,
The enemy had posted themselves upon the top of the hill, to make good
that pass against the invaders, and, being informed by their scouts of
their approach, sallied out upon them, and defeated them, and it is
probable that many of the Israelites were killed. Now the sentence
began to be executed that their carcases should fall in the
wilderness. Note, That affair can never end well that begins with
sin. The way to obtain peace with our friends, and success against our
enemies, is to make God our friend, and keep ourselves in his love. The
Jews, like these their ancestors, when they had rejected Christ's
righteousness, attempted to establish their own, and it sped as