Numbers 14:13-25 (Part 1 of 4)

Moses Intercedes for the People

Have you ever noticed that one of the most common objections to the Christian faith is the God of the Old Testament? Even many of us Christians refuse to read the Old Testament because of its perceived “wrath of God” stuff. We don’t want to deal with God’s judgments and seemingly harsh ways of dealing with not only His enemies but also His own people. Both the general public and many immature Christians think of these judgments as too quick and too complete. Do you feel that way? Why is it that we sympathize with this view? Is it that we live in a modern world where the sins we commit are specifically forbidden in the Bible and we need a way to lessen the impact of God’s wrath against our disobedience. Maybe we begin by saying that the Bible is old-fashioned and out-of-date. Next, we say that because it is out-of-date, it is no longer valid and you do not have to pay attention to it. Next, comes then, that since the Bible is out of step and out-of-date and what is contained in it is no longer valid, we then become free to chase after our favorite sins without any internal guilt at all. Homosexuality becomes mainstream and acceptable. Heterosexual promiscuity becomes commonplace. So commonplace that if you are a virgin before you get married even the first time is rare. Greed becomes acceptable. Screwing other people over to get what we want becomes OK. Being a baby daddy instead of a father in the home becomes acceptable and common place. Being a single mom becomes a norm rather than an aberration. All the things that God gave us as rules and regulations for an orderly society and one where He knows what is best for us and just wants to prevent us from harming ourselves become open season. These things become commonplace in as we become more enlightened, as we think of ourselves.


We think that without all that judgment of the Old Testament dragging us down and keeping us from self-actualizing our own desires and dreams, we are free to become and do what we want to do. It is more enlightened to allow ourselves to pursue and act upon our desires than it is to blindly and faithfully accept that God says it is wrong so therefore we obey. Without the Old Testament, we make Jesus our friend and not a necessity for life eternal. Without the Old Testament and its judgment, we can offset our bad deeds with good ones. If we do more good than bad, then, we will exist in an eternal happy state of perfection. You know this. You see all around us. Even some Christians really and truly believe this because they are “New Testament Christians” going to “New Testament churches.”


You have heard unchurched people say that they love the God of the New Testament and that they do not care for the God of the Old Testament. You hear Christ followers sometimes say, when they have not been discipled properly, that they are “New Testament Christians” and sometimes you hear churches call themselves a “New Testament church” to gain some greater appeal to the masses. We just want to write-off the Old Testament altogether. We think of God, in the Old Testament, as one who is full of anger, rules, regulations, and punishment. We think of God, in the Old Testament, as ruthlessly rigid. There was a famous line from the movie, Bruce Almighty, starring Jim Carrey, where Bruce says to God, “Smite me, oh mighty Smiter!” Many of us so completely have this view of God that they will not even consider reading a book of the Old Testament. Too much smiting! Too much judgment! We do not want God’s judgment coming down on us!


However, when you read this passage in context of the previous passages and in context of the previous books, this concept of God of the Old Testament is just so mistaken. Let us read about this supposed “wrathful God of the Old Testament” that we think of as mean and ruthless (mainly because we have never taken the time to read the Old Testament):


13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’


17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”


20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”


Here in this passage, Numbers 14:13-25, we see an Old Testament God that is different from the common conception. Here, we see Moses pleading with God, asking Him to forgive his people. His plea reveals several of the characteristics of God that are a theme throughout the Bible and not just the New Testament. First, God is patient. Second, God’s love for us is enduring. Third, God is always willing to forgive. Fourth, God is merciful. This is not exactly wrathful, mean, kid stomping on an ant hill kind of God, right?


First before we get into to some of God’s characteristics on display here. Should God be a God of judgment? If we accept the premise that God exists, and I do, and that He created the universe, as I do, then by extension it must mean that He is an amazingly powerful and knowledgeable entity. He is all knowing and thus can establish how the universe works with all its intricate details and processes working together in tandem that makes this whole universe work synchronously. The laws of the cause and effect of the universe were created by Him. It makes the universe operate. He created all the mechanical laws of the universe and of our planet to make sure it does not all go spinning out of control. These laws of the universe, of causes and an effects, have existed since the universe was created by Him. These laws will be in effect til the end of time. They are unchangeable. So, then, if He defines how the universe works, then, why can He not define right from wrong. He can and does.


Therefore, his laws of human behavior would have been in Him since the beginning of time, even before man came onto the scene of universal existence, and would then be forever true both from the beginning of time, to now, and to the end of time. Could you not stipulate that? Therefore, in the logic of the universe and in the economy of God would it not be equally true that if we violated and an eternally true law of human behavior established by the Creator of the universe, then, would we not stand in judgment before the Lord for this crime of subverting and eternally true law. Do we not deserve judgment when we do wrong? With our parents, we get punished as children when we do wrong and we accept that as being acceptable. In a court of law, crimes are always punished in one way or another. There is always some price to be paid for violating the laws established by society. If we have committed a crime, we may negotiate a lesser sentence but there is always an acceptable supposition that we must pay for our crime in some way. We might bring up our past behavior of always being a law-abiding citizen and it may work for us to lessen our sentence but that does not take away from the basic premise that we must pay for our violation of law of our society. We operate, as a society, from a premise that if found guilty that you must pay for your crime, plain and simple. There is a premise that some price must be paid, whether it be large or small, for violations no matter how good we have been before we committed our violation of an established law of our society.


It is the same way with God’s judgment. He, who is eternally true and who established what is right and what is wrong in our universe, has a right to judge us. There is a penalty to be paid for our sins. Even if we act as if the laws do not exist, it does not make God’s law not exist. Claiming ignorance of the law in a human courtroom is no defense. Neither is it in God’s courtroom. One violation of universal and eternal laws of God deserves punishment. We will be judged. In eternal terms, that means that if we violate God’s law, it makes us unclean and imperfect before a holy and just God. Our crime, our sins, require that we be taken away from God and cast into hell, where we will be eternally punished and eternally separated from His presence because of the black mark on us for having committed sin, violations of God’s established law. Just like a crime is on your record when you violate human law, we are eternally marked as imperfect and unworthy of being in the presence of God. So, there you have it, God does have a right, as the Creator of the universe and being the all-knowing writer of the laws of human behavior, to judge us.


However, we find here in this passage, that God uses restraint in His judgment. He is not some kid with a magnifying glass over an ant hill just waiting capriciously to burn us up. First, we see here that God is immensely patient with us. He is willing to give us every opportunity to turn away from our sins. Why do you think He has not ended the world already? He is waiting as long as He can so that we all have the opportunity to turn away from sin and return to Him.


God’s love for us is eternal and abiding. He does not want to us cast us into hell. He does not condemn us to hell. We do that ourselves through our rejection of God and thumbing our nose up at Him as some antiquated creation of man to keep society from doing whatever feels good to its citizens. God want to be in relationship with us. However, our sins get in the way and they must be punished. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can regain our purity and have our black marks erased. God is showing his love for His people here in this passage. Because He has the right to punish us by casting us out and eternally separated us from Him, His love for us is shown in this passage. That He was willing to let His people survive another day shows His unending love for His children. Just as a parent continues to love a child even though they have done wrong and must suffer the consequences of it, the parent does not stop loving the child. God allows us to deal with the consequences of our sin but that does not mean He stops loving us. That love is on display here in this passage. God is not being some mighty Smiter here, is He?


God is a forgiving God. Here, he forgives the obvious rebellion of His people against Him. Yet, even though they have sinned, He is willing to forgive them and give them the opportunity to return to obedience and they will be restored to a right relationship with Him. His forgiving nature is on display here. Just think of all the rebellions of the people in Exodus and here in Numbers. When you read through the Old Testament books you see the cycles of obedience and rebellion of the people of God. God’s wrath, the allowing of us to pay the consequence of our sin, is equally matched with His forgiving nature when His people came to their senses and repented of their sins. He is the same way with each one of us today. He will forgive every sin and restore us to a right relationship with Him through the perfection of Jesus Christ if we simply repent. All of His wrath against our sin has already been paid for by Jesus Christ. Therefore, all we must do to receive God’s reprieve of our sentence for sin is to proclaim Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. He will forgive us through that proclamation and belief. The only way that we see Jesus as Savior is to understand that we are sinners in need of a reprieve. We must turn from our sin. Repent. We will be forgiven, just as God continually forgave the Israelites.


God is a merciful God. His mercy is on display here through not smiting the Israelites. He had every right to judge them and smite them, if you will. He loves His children to the point of showing mercy upon them even when they do not deserve it. The people here, even if you are just reading the Bible as interesting literature and not the Holy Word of God, are just plain rebellious and deserve punishment. Non-believers reading this chapter would agree with you that, man, these guys are just stupid and deserve punishment from this fictional god in this story. They would agree with the premise of the literature that, though God had a right to punish, he showed mercy. For us as believers, it demonstrates the character of the Almighty God who created all things and who is our Judge. He is like a parent just wanting His kids to get it and learn to live in the ways that He knows is best for them. He wants them to have every opportunity to “get it” so He shows mercy. We have been shown mercy by God through Jesus Christ. As we have stated before, in human courts of law, ignorance of the law or demonstrating that we have been good boys or good girls outside of this crime does not take away the need for punishment for a violation of the law. A price must be paid for violations of the law or anarchy would result. It is the same with God, our sins taint us forever. We have black marks on our record from the time we commit our first sin not to mention all the sins we add to it after that. We are repeat, habitual sinners before the court of God. We deserve to be thrown into the worst prison. However, Jesus enters the courtroom as the defense attorney for us before the Father. He says that I will take the punishment for this criminal if you will set Him free as if He had committed no crimes. God is merciful through Jesus and we see His mercy here way back in the Old Testament days.


God has not changed. He is the same now as He was yesterday. He is the same today as He will be in the future. There is no Old Testament God and New Testament God. He is the same. He judged then, after so many opportunities to get their stuff together, and he judges now, after giving us every opportunity to repent. Without really reading the Old Testament, we fail to see the right that God has to judge us and we fail to see that His love for us is so often on display there. We fail to see that our continued rebellion despite His love gives Him the right to judge us. Without the Old Testament and its laws and its judgment established, Jesus becomes an option not the absolute necessity that He is. God was merciful then and He is merciful now. He forgives through our repentance. But we first must recognize that we have sinned. Without the Old Testament, we do not know we have such great rebellion in us that God has every right to condemn us. Without the Old Testament, we do not see the extreme love and patience that God has shown us and that we must throw ourselves at His mercy through Jesus Christ. I am not New Testament Christian. I am a whole Bible Christian. Without the whole Bible, we fail to see the patience, the abiding love, the forgiving nature, and, yet, at the same time, the rightful justice of God. Without those things, Jesus becomes one path of many to goodness and not the absolutely necessary covering for our sins that, by all rights, should condemn us to hell eternally. That’s my Bible. That’s my Jesus, my absolutely necessary Jesus!


Amen and Amen.

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