Project Augustine

Numbers 14: 11

 

4/18/08

 

11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?  – Numbers 14: 11

 

Q: In Numbers 14: 11ff, God threatened to destroy the Israelites and offered to make Moses the founder of a new nation, one mightier than that which formed around the descendants of Jacob (Israel).  What is the significance of Moses’ reply to God?  What can we learn about the balance of divine forgiveness and divine justice?

 

Exegesis

 

Content & Context:

 

  1. The Book of Numbers represents about 38 of the 40 years of exile. It describes two generations of exiles from Egypt.  The first generation grumbled and longed for the easy comforts of Egypt compared to the harsh reality of the desert life.
  2. The Book of Numbers is not just history but also torah, instruction in holy living. It includes different literary genres: law, poetry, narrative history, census lists, and prophecy.
  3. The narratives and laws give the conditions of Israel’s possession and enjoyment of the promised land. If they were faithful to God’s covenant conditions then they would enjoy the Promised Land and their lives would go well.  If not, then they would suffer great loss.
  4. One of the primary themes of this book is describing God’s intent and purpose in making these nomadic exiles to become a holy nation (their status) and a kingdom of priests (their function).
  5. The Book of Numbers, as in the case of all Scripture, has a target audience. The primary audience for this book is the second generation, the sons and daughters of these people who behaved so egregiously. The second generation was to learn a lesson that their parents did not learn: God can be provoked only so far. Finally, his wrath is kindled.

 

Exegesis & Analysis:

 

  1. In Numbers 12: 16 – 13: 2, the Lord commanded Moses to send out spies and gather information about the inhabitants of Canaan. Afterwards they were to come up with a strategy to coordinate efforts to conquer the land.
  2. The spies return with reports that the land had rich fruit and indeed “flowed with milk and honey” but could not be taken because of its powerful inhabitants.
  3. The Israelites grumbled (i.e. “complained”), rebelled, complained against the Lord, and rejected the land which was equivalent of rejecting the covenant and God himself. Then they began questioning God and rejecting his chosen leader Moses.  In Num. 14: 10, they were so angry that they wanted to stone Moses, Aaron, and their supporters.  They desired to appoint and new leader and return back to Egypt.
    • Only Joshua and Caleb were clear-sighted enough to understand the gravity of the people’s sin so they tore their clothes as a sign of grief and anger.
  4. God points out the people’s chief sin- unbelief. They refused to believe in God and treated Him with contempt.  Their main fault was to think that God was not able to keep his promises.  This is in stark contrast with the faith that their forefather Abraham had.
    • When God appears, he does not thunder against the people; but he speaks to his servant Moses about their outrageous behavior. His words have the sense of incredulity: “How long will these people treat me with contempt?” The verb na’as (verses 11 and 23) is a strong term for utter disregard of a person.
    • God expresses to Moses his innermost feelings even in the midst of his burning anger against his people.
  5. God’s response is threefold: 1) He declares to strike them down with a plague and 2) destroy them, which literally means to disinherit them and thereby not inherit the land God had promised them and then 3) essentially start over again with a new generation directly from Moses’ line.
  6. However, Moses interceded on the basis of the covenant (verse 16) and the mercy of God (vs. 18 – 19). Moses acts as a powerful intercessor and savior of the people from God’s wrath.
    • In verse 13, Moses desires to protect the Lord’s reputation and reasons that if other nations (particularly Egypt) catch word that Yahweh had destroyed his very own people whom he had just rescued from slavery, they will say that Yahweh was incapable of keeping his promises. To Moses such a prospect was intolerable.
    • It is very interesting to note that Moses had stood on the very same ground when Israel made the golden calf at Horeb as described in Exodus 32: 9 – 14 and the circumstances and similarity are quite striking.
      • God’s reaction to the Israelites’ sin in Exodus 32: 10 and in Numbers 14: 12 is quite similar.
      • In both instances, from what we can gather from the text, Moses doesn’t seem to be “tempted” by God’s great offer to make him into a great nation. In fact, in both cases, he doesn’t even mention it.
      • The idea of the reputation of Yahweh among the nations relates to the manifestation of the God’s glory. It also speaks to the “pre-evangelism” of the nations. There was a marketplace of ideas about gods in the ancient world. But there was no God like Yahweh; never had a deity done for his people what Yahweh had done for his. And the nations were watching.
      • Whereas in Exodus 32: 13, Moses appealed to God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, here in Numbers 14: 17 – 19, he appeals to God’s character.
      • The celebration of Yahweh as a God of patience and forgiveness (14: 18) reiterates themes from Exodus 34: 6 – 7.
      • In both instances, after listening to Moses’ plea, God relents his original plan to destroy the Israelites.
  7. The decision of the Lord is one of mitigated judgment.
    • Only their children would be able to enter the land.
    • But of the first generation none would enter the land of God’s promise (with the exception of the two righteous spies, Caleb and Joshua).

 

Hermeneutics 

 

  1. This passage illustrates and reveals the character of God. Many modern people today have been taught through popular culture and through misinformed religionists that the “God of the OT” is a god of wrath whereas the God of the NT is all mercy and grace.
  2. But Moses knew God intimately. He knew him as a consuming fire, but he also knew his warm embrace. We tend to focus on the flashes of God’s wrath. Moses reminds us that while the wrath is real, it is long delayed.
    • The most remarkable thing about the wrath of God is how much provocation he tolerates before he finally acts in righteous judgment.
  3. There’s a living, active, intimate, and most of all thoughtful relationship and an “I-Thou” dialog between Moses and God- between a mortal and the all-powerful and holy Creator.
    • Moses sits down and reasons with God; specifically, it can be argued, he talks (biblical) theology with God. He talks about what significance God’s character should play out in God’s actions and he “reminds” God of the future (political) ramifications of what his actions might be if he were to essentially wipe out his own chosen people.  This is much like what a presidential advisor or the Secretary of State might suggest the president to do to keep his reputation in an international or global affair.
    • This is how we obey and live out Romans 12: 1 – 2 when relating to God and be changed, renewed, and transformed by “wrestling” with God the tough issues in life. It takes time, effort, understanding, and patience to grow and mature with God.
  4. Moses was known to have a rather impetuous nature (he murdered a man in Egypt, in anger he smashed the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and he struck the rock twice before water came out of it), but then again Numbers describes him as being “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (Num 12: 3)” ! Does he display his humility here in Numbers 14: 13 – 19?
    1. There were instances where Moses complained to God that handling these Israelites were too much. Would he have given in if God promised to start a new generation with him when Moses complained?
      • His anger doesn’t kick in immediately to their rebellion. Instead, Moses asks God for forgiveness on their behalf.
      • Perhaps he learned a great deal when God reacted to the people’s grumblings when He provided manna and quail to the rebellious people to reveal his grace and mercy.
      • Perhaps that reminded Moses in reminding God that He was “slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness.”
    2. From his response in Exodus 32: 11- 13 to his response in Numbers 14: 18 – 19, he sees God’s covenant and promises as inextricably linked to God’s character- to his love, mercy, and grace. Yet he maintains that God is a God of justice and grace.  In terms of justice, sin and evil must be punished.  But without grace, God’s burning wrath would consume the entire world and all hope would be lost.
      • Perhaps we see his mind renewed as he focuses on God’s character, but more importantly expresses his thoughts and theology back to God in an active and reverent manner. This is where change really occurs when we pray with a mature mind, stop reciting shopping lists of our selfish wants and desires to God as if he were a giant slot machine in the sky, and really pray, converse, and have a relationship with a living person (or persons since God is a Trinity – a community of being if you will).
      • God desires a living, active, relationship with us where he can reveal, communicate, and relate his character, love, and grace back to us.
      • We should realize that God is truly glorified when intelligent worship is given to Him where people take the time to understand the Scripture and listen to the Holy Spirit’s wisdom during those moments.
    3. There are thoughts of open theism here where I cannot go in depth for obvious reasons. But it seems clear, from Scripture, that God does react to human requests and takes the actions and thoughts of people quite seriously.
      • For instance, in Exodus 32: 12, Moses pleads for God to “change [His] mind about doing harm to [His] people” and so in response, God “changed his mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” in Exodus 32: 14.
      • Likewise in Numbers 14: 20, God pardoned the people “according to [Moses’] word.” God does seem to be persuaded by a man’s prayers.
      • Is God “thinking” along while He’s listening to Moses’ line of reasoning and arguing? Is God pondering different paths and avenues to take while He’s listening to Moses?  Moses makes a theologically sound and rational point with his intercession and God more or less likes Moses’ way of thinking.
        • Does God not know something? Does He need reminding of his own loving and kind nature and character?  Did it just “slip” his mind?
      • But how can God change his mind if He’s omniscient and all powerful? Just how much foreknowledge does God have?  Was this just a test to see what was in Moses’ heart where in the background God knew all along that He wasn’t going to destroy the people after all?  Is God doing that with us when we make prayers to Him?  Can God be trustworthy?  In prayer, is it we who have to conform our minds and wills to God’s or can God’s mind and will be changed?
        • Such thoughts might alarm many believers and fill them with fear that God can (capriciously?) change his mind at a whim.
          • Perhaps some believers stubbornly or religiously hold on to God’s “timelessness” to quell their existential psychological fears or pathologies that they may have about the “unknown” nature of the future.
        • Does God’s omniscience “bind” Him to act and behave in a certain, “mechanical” way or does God’s omniscience entail his sovereign freedom to do what he pleases and deems fit to accomplish, even if it means the possibility (or the reality) of changing his mind?
        • Can we trust God to keep his promises even if it is true that he does indeed change his mind?
        • Can love between God and man exist if there is no free will and everything is strictly governed and predetermined by His omniscience, omnipotence, absolute sovereignty over time- past, present, future, etc.
          • Can a true, viable relationship even exist b/w God and man if there is no free will and the ability for both parties involved to choose and change their thoughts and minds about things? Even if that implies the risk of one party rejecting the love of the other?
        • … questions, questions….

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

  1. Naylor, Peter John, “Numbers”, The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Ed., Wenham, Motyer, Carson, France editors
  2. Budd, Phillip J., “Numbers”, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, Dunn and Rogerson, editors
  3. Dockery, David S., editor, Holman Bible Handbook
  4. Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM:Numbers/Exposition of Numbers, Book Version: 4.0.2

 

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