Numbers 14:26-45 – Lesson Learned On Crime & Punishment

Posted: September 9, 2016 in 99-Uncategorized

Numbers 14:26-45

The Lord Punishes The Israelites

During the past week, I had told you that during my second marriage that I was the stepdad to three boys and the struggles that I had with that. And I said because boys are different than girls and a result the way that you deal with each is different. I also said that these boy vs. girl, my kids vs. your kids, issues were a major factor in the demise of that marriage. One of the areas that would drive me insane was the enforcement of discipline with regard to the boys. There were two things that would prove to be issues with the boys’ discipline.


One area of contention was that when my second wife would get mad at the boys for misbehaving, she would make claims that she would never stick to. In anger, she would say to them, “You are on restrictions for the rest of your life!” Really? The rest of your life. That kind of statement just sets you up for failure. I would tell her that you are ruining your own credibility with the boys when you say things like that. Only say what you can hold up to. If you say you are going to put them on restrictions for the rest of their lives, then, you damn well better follow through on it. Making claims to your children that you can’t keep up yourself just makes you look weak in front of them. If you are going to put them on restrictions for the rest of their lives, I should be able to go to them right now and ask them, are you still on restrictions and they would say, “yes, man, it’s been twenty years already but mom’s consistent and I have to respect her for that!” We must think before we make punishment claims to our kids. We must make their punishments noticeable and yet be something we can handle ourselves. Sometimes, putting kids on restrictions is more of a punishment to a parent than it is a kid. For example, if you restrict your teenage kid from driving, you better be prepared to take them to school each day and taking them to all the things they have to do during the period of restriction. Otherwise, we set ourselves up for failure and we lose credibility with our kids and they will then begin to run roughshod over you.


Another area of contention was the fact that punishments would be handed down by me and the boys would go behind my back and negotiate with their mother to lessen or even lift the punishment I handed down. Sometimes, if she was the one handing down the punishment, they would do the same thing to her with the punishments she handed down. They never tried to negotiate with me to lessen their punishments. I may have not been the best father in a lot of ways but I was consistent in my punishments. I guess that came from my dad. He was always a line in the sand kind of guy. If you crossed it, no matter what the excuses were, you paid for it. No negotiations. Cause and effect. That was how my dad did me and my brother. So, that was how I was about punishment. You did the crime. You did the time. However, my second wife would give in. Thirty minutes after the crime was done and the punishment handed down you would see the humbled version of the boys come with sad faces and sheepish tones of voice come in and start the negotiation process. I could guarantee you the timing of it all every time. Loud and defiant receiving punishment. Thirty minutes later, they would be quiet and sheepish and sometimes even crying about the punishment they were handed down. My second wife would reduce punishments each and every time and within 24 hours of these guerilla niceness attacks by the boys, they would be off restrictions. Their mom was their release valve from my discipline. My credibility was destroyed time and again. The results were boys knew that no matter what they did wrong, they could negotiate their way out of it. And, of course, you know what that meant to their behavior over time. Punishments meant nothing to them because the sentences were always commuted. It was like the horror stories you hear of a criminal with a rap sheet a mile long but never did any real time in jail because of the leniency of our justice system at times. Then, when that same career criminal does something majorly wrong, we sit and wonder how they could have gotten that far in their behavior until you look at their arrest records. No punishment means no discipline. No consequences means emboldened behavior. So, if I had any advice to parents who have kids at home still, it would be this. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page always. There can be no good cop/bad cop in parenting. If one parent hands down punishment, you must follow through on it regardless of what you think about it personally. Mom and Dad have to present the same party line. And above all, we must not let our lines in the sand with regard to discipline mean nothing. If you establish boundaries of behavior, there have to be consequences, enforced consequences, for those violations of family rules. Otherwise, you will lose control of your kids. Of that, I can guarantee you!


It was that idea of getting a punishment handed down to you and then trying to negotiate your way out of it so that you want have to deal with the consequences of your behavior that came to mind when I read today’s passage, Numbers 14:26-45. Let’s read it together now:


26 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: 29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”


36 So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it— 37 these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. 38 Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.


39 When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. 40 Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!”


41 But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! 42 Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, 43 for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”


44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.


After reading this passage, I immediately thought of my experience with the boys over that decade from the mid-90s to the mid-00’s. The boys would complain that the punishment was too harsh and try to negotiate their way out of it. I would not put them on restrictions “for the rest of their lives” but the restrictions were tough. But they would try to get back to a freedom state nonetheless through negotiation. If the crime’s punishment goes away, it would be as if the crime had never been committed at all.


Likewise, was this judgment of the Israelites too harsh? Was wandering in the wilderness for 40 years too harsh. It was a restriction for the rest of their lives for a generation of people. God threatened instant death for them but, in his parental love, he set the punishment back to 40 years. God allowed the people to live. He had brought them through so much. He had brought them to Promised Land, just as He promised. He was ready to give them the rich land, but the people rebelled. By this time, God had put up with a whole lot of misbehaving by His kids, the Israelites. Again and again, they had disobeyed Him. Virtually the whole nation showed contempt for God’s authority. When the Israelites realized that God was for real that they would be sentenced to 40 years in the wilderness, they were suddenly sheepish and humble and ready to do what God said. Sound familiar. What signal would it have sent if God said, oh ok, since you are acting all humble now (even though you have constantly been rebellious), I will let you have the new toy rather than the punishment that you deserve. God knew their admission of guilt was not repentance. He knew their humility was not genuine and that it was simply to avoid the punishment that they deserved.


Are we not like this with God sometimes? Just think of the how many times this happens where we negotiate with God when circumstances that we have created for ourselves have consequences. We often ignore God as we do what we want to do and what makes us feel good and not caring who or what is effected by our behavior. Then, when the ka-ka hits the fan, we are ready to recognize God as our supreme being who can fix our bad mistakes. Are you negotiating with God right now to get you out of jam? Have you ignored God until consequences of your actions have overwhelmed you? Do you negotiate with God and then go back to your old behavior not long after the crisis is over?


God wants our obedience all the time. Not because He is a mean, old, capricious, authoritarian dictator, but rather because He knows what is best for us. He knows the consequences of our choices. He could wave a wand and fix it for us but what would we learn from that. We must trust that the Creator of the Universe and the Ancient of Days knows better than us. We must trust Him and we must trust His Word. There will be consequences for not following His commands and it’s not because He is just waiting to punish us. We punish ourselves with the consequences of our bad choices. God has rules for living for us. Yes. But it’s not because he hates us or gets some sick joy out of punishing us. No. It’s because He is God and He knows better what’s best for us than we do. Just as a parent through their own experience know of the consequences that will come from certain behaviors, they make rules for their kids so that they will not have to live with those bad choices like their parents did.


God wants to have a relationship with you all the time and not just when you are in crisis. Your consequences have to be lived through so that you will learn. God wants to restore you to the Promised Land. Come to him in true repentance and say ok Lord I know that these are the consequences of my behavior and I will live with that but I am tired of living my way. I want to live your way. I am tired of my ways. Show me the way Lord even as I am in the midst of the consequences of my behavior. That is repentance. Seeking a new path while suffering the effects of our behavior not simply just to avoid the consequences.


Are you ready to come to the Lord? He will lead you out of the wilderness of your own making? Are you ready to obey and to trust?


Amen and Amen.

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