We pick up our reading today after the spies who were sent into the land denied God’s ability to give them the land (13:31). In 14:1, we see that most of Israel sided with the ten spies. And again, we see that they rebel against God and desire their captivity over His salvation (vv. 2-4). Like all fallen people, gratitude and trust quickly give way to “what have you done for me lately.” This is the necessary outcome of living by sight rather than faith.
In verse 6 we see that there are two spies that had faith: Joshua and Caleb. I do not think it is insignificant that these are the representatives of Judah (13:6) and Ephraim (13:8). These are the two that received Jacob’s blessing (see Gen 48:19 and Gen 49:8-12). These are the two tribes that would become the greatest in the Southern Kingdom (Judah) and the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim). They encourage Israel to have faith and trust God (vv. 7-9), and Israel reacts faithlessly, and God intervenes before the two faithful spies are stoned to death (v. 10).
In verse 11, God explicitly states that Israel is doing nothing less than despising Him through their faithlessness. What He has already done should have been more than enough for them to believe His every promise, no matter how things in the world may seem. Don’t judge them too harshly. We often have the same problem.
In verses 12-20 we have an interesting exchange between God and Moses that, on the surface, can appear to be a real theological dilemma. God tells Moses that He will destroy the nation of Israel, and start over with him (Moses). First, we need to realize that this would in no way violate God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. But then we have some questions. Did the impassible* God act rashly out of anger? Did the God Who does not change His mind truly intend to wipe out Israel, but then change His mind? Did the God Who cannot lie have no such intention and lie to Moses? I answer no, no, and no. What God is doing is testing Moses – He is willing to forgive the trespass of the people based on the actions of the mediator of the covenant and his righteousness. And note Moses’ reaction. His concern is not for himself. It is not for the people of Israel. It is only for the glory of God. Moses was jealous for the good name of his God. And Moses invokes the self-description of God from Exodus 34:6-7, trusting that God cannot change and that He cannot break His promise. And in verse 20, God pardons the sin of the nation on account of Moses’ intercession. It is the same pardon He provides through the intercession of the Mediator of the New (and better! – Heb 7:22 and 8:6) Covenant.
Notice that right after pardoning Israel (v. 20), God pronounces temporal judgment on them. Failure to follow God in faith will necessarily lead to the missing out on blessings in this world. But don’t let what God says in verse 21 slip by without recognizing the importance of His promise. As He lives (as He – YHWH – is), so shall all the earth be filled with His glory. In other words, the final salvation of God’s elect is as sure as His very existence. We see that Israel’s lack of faith that God would bring them to the physical Promised Land results in God proclaiming the absolute surety of His elect entering the true Promised Land – His presence in the new heaven and the new earth, which will be filled with His glory.
In verse 24, Caleb (and as we will see, Joshua) who had the faith to follow God, will enter into His rest. The rest of that generation will physically die outside the land. And then God destroys, not all the faithless, but only those whose faithlessness encouraged faithlessness in others (vv. 36-37). A little leaven leavens the whole lump… Then, beginning in verses 39-45, the people want to undo what their faithlessness has done. But this is not repentance. They are reluctantly, dare I say begrudgingly, obeying God simply for the sake of avoiding punishment.
Chapter 15 begins God’s commands for life and worship when Israel is in the land. In 15:2-12, God commands a grain offering with every animal offering. In verses 17-21 we see that this is in recognition of God’s provision when they are in the land. What is important to notice is verses 13-16. God again makes it clear that the worship He demands is not just for physical Israel. This is especially clear in verse 15 where He says: “You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord.”
Verses 22-29 we again see commands about “unintentional” sin (the word in the Hebrew is the verb for “to stagger” – it is a stumble, not a fall). It is clear that this is speaking about unintentional sin because of the use of the words “mistake” throughout (v. 25, 26, 28). Again, this is for anyone who worships the Lord (v. 29). But here, God goes a step further and speaks about intentional sin, or sinning with a “high hand.” The penalty is separation from God (vv. 30-31). And through the recounting of the Sabbath-breaker in verses 32-36, we see that separation from God and death are the result of this high-handed sin. God then commands all Israel to keep a visual reminder of His commands and their call to holiness (vv. 37-40), which is remembering Who He is (v. 41).
In chapter 16, the rebellion against God continues. Korah, a Levite, organizes a group of men to challenge Moses and Aaron’s God-given authority. This is a group motivated by jealousy and selfish ambition stemming from pride. In contrast, Moses acts in humility (v. 4). In verse 5 Moses invites these men to see whom God has chosen. Moses rebukes them as they have been called and gifted by God, as well (v. 9), but they sought more, the High Priesthood itself (v. 10). This is rebellion against God (v. 11). God has gifted and called and equipped His people with everything we need. To not use our gifts is a sin. To seek our own glory through using our gifts is a sin. It is lack of faith in God Who is all in all and does all in His sovereign power.**
And we see the result of this prideful rebellion against God. We again see the mediation of Moses and Aaron (the mediator and the High Priest) save lives (v. 22), but we see those responsible for sowing the discord and encouraging faithlessness are destroyed (vv. 23-35). A little leaven leavens the whole lump (are we seeing a pattern, here?). And we see again the rebellious heart of man (v. 41), God’s righteous anger against sin (v. 45) the need for mediation to assuage God’s righteous anger against sin (vv. 45-46).
*The doctrine of the impassibility of God means that He does not suffer, feel pain, or have emotional changes.
**For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14–21 (ESV)