Watching What We Speak
Many of us believers tend to already know there are various levels on which Israel rebelled against the Lord, and various specific points could be pointed at in the wilderness narratives as the cause of their spending 40 years there instead of inheriting their promised land immediately after leaving Egypt. However, it is interesting to note how seriously this incident affected their destiny. It is worth taking serious consideration for our own lives. For our study today, it will be more effective if I copy and paste large sections of the text from the English Standard Translation (only because that’s what I read from, not because I favor it the most) and I will embolden and add emphasis to the text, as it would be easier than to comment and refer to passages individually.
In the book of Numbers we have the account of the twelve spies entering the land of Canaan for forty days, and then checking it out. I’m not sure if I’ve heard anyone preach or teach this passage of Scripture this way, but I think it deserves to be looked at in a different light than at least I’ve heard taught in the past. Keep in mind the Lord has already promised to give Israel this land, and it was the Lord’s instruction to send out the spies in the first few verses of chapter 13. It’s interesting to me to note not just the pessimism with which 10 of the 12 spies shared their findings, but what reaction they caused in the rest of the congregation–who did not see these things for themselves, but believed the bad report–they believed what they were told.
How amazing that we can be so quick to believe the negative, instead of the positive. My mom used to say to me bad news travels fast, but good news doesn’t go anywhere most of the time. I want to draw your attention to the words “all of the congregation.” We know already there were roughly 2 million people who were in the exodus out of Egypt, and only twelve spies, two of whom had a positive outlook and didn’t look at what they saw with their eyes, but on what God had promised when they looked upon their future country’s land. A mere ten people stirred up 2 million people into wanting to kill Moses and Aaron right here. Can you believe it? Can you believe the power of words?
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Orwould that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”(Numbers 13:25-14:4, ESV. Emphasis mine)
What on earth happened?
I’ve always asked myself how could they go this far into the wilderness, coming this close to seeing the land, having seen all the works of the Lord that they have so far, and then want to give up and turn around and go back to Egypt?! More importantly, I get a little indignant reading that a mere ten men caused this scene all by themselves! What do you cause with your testimonies or your words? Do you stir people up to go on and inherit their promises, or get them to give up and turn around back to where they came from in their own lives?
God takes slander, gossip, and bad reports that contradict what He has already promised to do–very seriously.
Moses intercedes for this people, but God doesn’t negate punishment:
Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.”
And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land,forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the LORD, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”
And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— the men who brought up a bad report of the land— died by plague before the LORD. Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.
(Numbers 14:20-38, emphasis mine)
- In verse 23 the Lord says these people despised him. It’s a serious charge, when we might view it as ‘only’ complaining, it smacked against the very promise God was making them–but that’s for another entry, I wish to focus on our speech.
- Caleb had a different spirit, what did he say? He tried to encourage the people of Israel into their promise, and only he and Joshua were rewarded for it.
- Notice how the Lord “heard” them grumble. For some reason, the sentence “the Lord heard them” sends a chill down my spine. What does the Lord “hear” from you and I in our words to others? Do you hinder the promises of God in the lives of others by what you speak to them?
- Do you notice how the very things the people of Israel were grumbling and complaining about happening to them, the Lord had never intended or thought of doing to them, but then said He will now make sure to allow those things to fall upon them? “What you have said in my hearing I will do.” What do you say in His hearing?
- In verse 35, I find it more interesting than other times how it is phrased. “I the Lord have spoken.” I almost want to say “yes, we know.” But there’s something more profound, ironic– even impacting–that the very thing that got them into trouble with a faithful and holy God, He “does back”: He speaks. But when He speaks, it’s not a grumbling and a faithless complaining: it’s a righteous and merciful pronouncement of His judgment. Sobering indeed.
- Only Joshua and Caleb wound up entering the promised land. The only of the bunch who kept a positive attitude and fully obeyed the Lord.
So, what do you say? What thoughts are you left with as you read this passage?
In closing, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15)