I’m writing over at The Glorious Table today.
Do you ever read the Old Testament and get frustrated with the Israelites? Do you read their responses to leaders or prophets or God and think how selfish or whiny they seem? God is constantly showing the Israelites he will protect and provide for them, only to see them turn and worship idols. From the posture of a distant observer, it’s easy to judge the Israelites and believe that if they had made better choices, their lives would have gone another way. But is that the whole story?
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Moses eventually led them out of Egypt and into the wilderness, where they had a difficult time adjusting to their new lives. The Israelites were used to worshipping the Egyptian gods, in addition to Yahweh, and they often allowed fear, anger, and grumbling to dictate their responses to Moses as he communicated on behalf of God. They complained about everything, yet God continued to provide generously. They needed water, so God provided water (Exodus 17). They needed food; God provided manna. When manna wasn’t good enough, God provided quail (Exodus 16). The Israelites, complaining, eventually convinced Aaron to use their gold to fashion a calf to worship. They made a statue to worship (Exodus 32).
Fourteen months after the exodus from Egypt (see Numbers 10:11), God told Moses to send twelve spies to check out the promised land. Moses heard about the land God had chosen for the Israelites when God spoke to him for the first time. Exodus 3:7-10 says:
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Moses sent one leader from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to observe the areas for forty days as God commanded. When they returned, the spies confirmed what God had promised Moses in Exodus 3. The land was flowing with milk and honey. They also brought back grapes so the people could see how big the fruit was, proving there were rich soil and good water available (Numbers 13).
God’s word was true, and the spies agreed that what he promised was present, but ten of the twelve spies raised concerns about how powerful the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites all looked.
The council gathered to decide how to respond to the news. Numbers 14:2-12 says:
All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothesand said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”
Caleb and Joshua alone saw the whole story. They understood that God would follow through with his promise. The other leaders were afraid of the task ahead, and they didn’t trust Moses. Even though God had shown them he was powerful enough to free them from slavery, divide a body of water for them to walk through, and provide for their needs, they didn’t believe he could protect them in a battle.
The tribal leaders complained that it would be better to go back into slavery in Egypt rather than take the gift of the promised land God had chosen for them. They wanted new leaders to carry out their plans. As they argued, God appeared at the tent to all the Israelites, and he spoke to Moses.
The glory of the Lord appeared to every Israelite. They not only saw him in the as a cloud guiding them in the day or a pillar of fire at night, but they saw his glory, and they heard him speak to Moses.
Sit with this for a minute. The Israelites were talking about God, and he interrupted them and then had a conversation with Moses about them. Can you picture this moment? Read the rest here…