In my last blog posts on Numbers, beginning in Numbers 13 and moving on into Chapter 14, we began to look at the rebellion of the people of Israel, and what the consequences would be.
And, the rebellion centered on the scouts of the 12 tribes going to Canaan to gather intelligence and bring it back to the decision makers. Ten of the 12 scouts advised that to try and take the land from the various peoples who occupied it, would be suicide.
As word of the scouts’ report circulated the camp, the people began to panic. As happens when we let our guard down, the truth comes out: the people openly expressed their feelings that they wished the Lord had never redeemed them from Egypt in the first place.
They preferred to stay in slavery to a cruel taskmaster in Egypt than to have the opportunity to claim the inheritance God had set aside for them. Why? They preferred to stay in slavery because the task ahead seemed dangerous, and daunting, and unfamiliar. What was required of them was outside their comfort zone.
In the leaders deciding not to enter the land, and the people agreeing with them, God saw this as a rebellion against Him, of the worst sort.
READ NUMBERS 14:1–12
In the first few verses, we see something interesting that we’ll get into a little later in the lesson. We see the people wailing and crying all night long, and though it doesn’t say so, it was simply cultural and understood that they would have been crying out to God.
Middle Eastern culture is so different than Western. Western Culture tends to be more reserved, and emotions are outwardly limited to what is acceptable in our society.
When we of the Western Church want to feel especially pious before God we’ll attend church a little more often, maybe volunteer, talk about the Lord a bit more, or go before our congregation and ask for prayer (not a thing wrong with any of that, by the way).
In the Middle Eastern culture loud and public wailing and tears and flinging oneself on the ground is more the norm.
When we look on the news about tragic events in Iraq and Israel and Afghanistan, and we see people upset or in mourning, we see all of what I just described and more going on. However, culture is culture and sincerity is sincerity, and they aren’t necessarily connected; whether it’s the actions of a Western or Eastern culture.
Thus we have the people of Israel wailing and crying out to God all night long, and at the very same moment they are grumbling and threatening rebellion against God’s handpicked leader and ordained Mediator, Moses. And to boot they accuse God of not having their best interests at heart; rather this whole exodus thing is just some cruel hoax played on helpless folk.
I think we can say this much for the first four verses of Numbers 14: if you have a problem, or a worry, or even a bone to pick with God, these passages show us precisely the WRONG thing to do! And God’s reaction to all this was going to be pretty predictable.
Verse 5 of Numbers 14 says that Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the congregation. No, they weren’t worshipping the elders; they hit the dirt because they were expecting a VERY severe reaction from God.
That, and they were in utter disbelief at what was happening before their eyes, such that their knees grew weak and they fell to the ground in utter despair. But, now enters Joshua and Caleb.
It is interesting that up to now Joshua apparently had been silent. It was a sign of mature leadership that he had let the others have their say because he was already Moses’ assistant and protégé, so the people knew where he stood. Caleb had stated his position well, and Joshua had no reason to repeat it.
But, now, as a team, Joshua and Caleb exhort the people to reconsider. They remind them how wonderful the land is; that if Israel will but obey God, trust Him, He will deliver the land over to them.
The pair turns the conclusions of the elders inside out; the elder’s fear the people of Canaan. Joshua and Caleb say do NOT fear. The elders say disobey God, and stay out of the land, Joshua and Caleb say do NOT rebel against the Lord, go forward and take the land.
In fact, they say that because the Lord has “removed the protection” from the Canaanites, that they are now “our prey.” Pretty bold and THIS is the attitude that Our Father is seeking from us. Not foolish chutzpah based on a false sense of self-importance or delusions of grandeur about our abilities and strengths.
Rather, absolute trust that when the Lord says, “He will,” He will. That when the Lord says, don’t worry, the game is fixed; the outcome is determined, and nothing can change that decree.
However, the winning outcome can, at times, be postponed out of fear and disbelief of God’s followers. Or, the Lord will use other people or later generations to achieve His will, when the current one could have been blessed if only they had been obedient.
There have been some interesting Midrashim by the Rabbis of old about what is meant by Joshua’s statement that the Canaanites’ protection has departed from them. Was this just an expression? Or did it reflect part of an ancient belief system?
The Hebrew word that is here usually rendered “protection” is tsel, and it means shade. Like sitting under the shade of a tree. It indeed does give the impression of an umbrella of protection in this case over Canaan.
But, because the sentence in its ordinary Hebrew meaning is “their protection (meaning Canaan’s) is gone and INSTEAD the Lord is with us”… the apparent intention is to indicate that the past security over Canaan was of divine nature.
But, that divine protection has been lifted and so now Canaan is vulnerable and ripe for the taking. And, this is where the Rabbis go off into discussions of Guardian Angels of nations.
Now, this in and of itself is a fascinating subject. Because, in actuality, the Bible says very little about the nature of angels. We get hints of spiritual beings, godly spiritual beings, that are assigned by the Lord to watch over a nation. Or carry a message to a nation, or even fight for a nation, but no details whatsoever.
So, most of what we observe today and think today about angels and demons comes NOT from Scripture, but from the writings of Rabbis. Point being that what Joshua is getting at is that God is on the side of Israel and that there IS no longer any spiritual protection over Canaan, whether evil or good, that can prevent Israel from succeeding.
Now, is there a sound Scriptural basis for making this the proper interpretation? That indeed Joshua meant that the protection of a real and existing spiritual being over Canaan had been withdrawn? Yes. Turn your Bibles to Daniel 10.
READ DANIEL 10:1-14
I’ll pretty much just let this stand-alone. Here we see Daniel directly told of a confrontation between a prince of Persia…meaning a spiritual force (apparently one in opposition to God) that had hold of Persia…and this angel of God who received the help of the mighty Archangel Michael, to overcome the evil prince.
So, the idea that there are angels assigned to watch over people and nations of people not just God’s people but other people as well is directly spoken of in Scripture.
Therefore, when in Numbers 14 Joshua says that there was no more spiritual protection over the people of Canaan, indeed he meant that literally.
Joshua’s response to the people and his siding with Moses and Aaron brought the people’s anxieties and rage to the boiling point. And, they threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb…and presumably Moses and Aaron as well. The people had made up their minds, and they didn’t want to hear any more sermons to the contrary.
The Lord Himself now comes to the rescue, by His presence coming down upon the Tent of Meeting, so that all Israel could see it. And this seems to have put a stop to the mob’s murderous intentions.
And, the Lord says to Moses: that does it. I’m going to wipe them all out, and start all over again with you. From you, Moses, I’ll create a people of faith. In fact, the nation I make out of you will be even larger than the 3 million Israelites now alive…but whom about to be dead at My hand.
But that’s just part of the story. We will continue with the rest of Numbers 14 in my next blog post.