This chapter in Numbers is probably one of the most important chapters in the Bible -- not because it is a matter of doctrine, but because of what it shows about ourselves and God's character. In verses 1-4, we see the people's reaction to the report brought back from the Promised Land. They did not pay attention to the two, Joshua and Caleb, but to the ten who talked about how impossible it would be to conquer the land, and how they would only be going to their deaths. And so verse 1 tells us that ALL the people panicked. Not just a few, but all. Verse 2 repeats that. They want to go back to Egypt so badly and their fear has become so great that in verse four we see them say "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt." In verses 5-9, with Moses and Aaron facedown in front of the whole assembly, Joshua and Caleb address the Israelites begging them not to rebel, but to trust the Lord and know they can take the land by the power of the Lord. They close their speech with "Their [the Canaanites] protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them." The reaction of the Israelites? They discussed stoning Joshua and Caleb! We ask ourselves, "HOW could they forget the Plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculous water and manna, the quail, the Shekinah Glory cloud? How could they rebel like this and not trust this mighty God?" Let us look at our own lives and we will find the answer. Time after time God has proved His faithfulness and care to and for each of us. And yet THIS time..... maybe all the rest were coincidences.... maybe THIS time I am on my own and I have to use my own head to save myself....maybe THIS time.... We are no different, folks. It is at this point the Lord Himself intervenes. His reaction? Anger. "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?" Does the Lord not know? Yes, He knows. The questions are rhetorical, meaning they do not need an answer. And yet here we have the Lord, even though He knows ahead of time, RESPONDING to the people. This is extremely important. The Lord did allow them the freedom to rebel, and then He responded to that rebellion. He knew it would all happen, but He nevertheless allowed them to go their own way and then showed them, and us, His response to that rebellion. In verse 12, the Lord tells Moses He will strike the people down with a plague and raise up a new race from Moses' line. Why would the Lord say this? He was not going to do it. If He was going to do it, He would do it. Period. So why did He say this? Look back at verse 5: Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. This was when Joshua and Caleb had started to speak. Moses had not answered the people. Neither had Aaron. If we look back at the past we can see Moses' uncertainty and his own fears and disgust with this people several times. But now they were not going to be able to enter the promised land and Moses was going to have to be strengthened for 40 more years of them! And so the Lord told Moses He would destroy the people. And Moses immediately objected. But it is not the objection per se which is the most important thing here, but the reason why Moses objected. We can see it in verses 15-16: If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 'The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.' Moses is standing up for the strength and character of the Lord TO the Lord! But the Lord already knows all this! So what is happening here? The Lord has put Moses in a position where Moses Himself is enunciating the purpose of the Lord in raising up the Israelite people and then calling them out of Egypt: to show Himself in character and power to the world. Now that Moses has said it for himself, he is more in line with God's purpose for them and will be more capable of leading them during the long sojourn ahead. In short, the question and answer were for Moses' sake. Moses did not change God's mind. God used the situation to prepare Moses' mind. Moses continues talking to the Lord, and in his response to God, Moses repeats phrases the Lord Himself had spoken to Moses in Exodus 20:6 and 34:6-7. Moses closes his response to God saying, "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." How many times do we hear from those who challenge the Bible that the "God of the Old Testament" is a God of anger and vengeance, while the "God of the New Testament" is a God of love. Moses knew better. So should we. The character of God has been the same through eternity. He has loved these people as He has loved all people. Love is an integral part of the essence of His character. In verse 20, the Lord does not say "I will forgive them," but, rather, "I HAVE forgiven them, as you asked." What follows in the Lord's speech is incredibly important for us to understand. He has forgiven the Israelites. Done deal, past act. Nevertheless, God continues, there is going to be a consequence to their rebellion. In other words, forgiveness does not mean that consequences can be avoided. We often think that somehow forgiveness means everything is OK and there will not be anything bad happening because of what we did. Not so. Here is what the Lord said, swearing by Himself: "Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times -- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it." They will die in the desert. And the entire assembly of Israelites will end up staying in the desert until all have died. All of who? This is the next interesting point. All those 20 years of age and older. These are the people God is holding accountable for their rebellion. He is not holding the teenagers responsible, and this is an important point. Is there an "age of accountability" where spiritual matters are concerned? If so, consider the age of 20, which is the age at which God held the Israelites accountable for their rebellion. Surely the teenagers joined in with their parents to some extent or another! But the Lord is not forcing them to suffer the worst of the consequences of those actions. Even though they will be forced to wander in the desert for forty more years, they will live, and not die. The Israelites had been so afraid that going to war in Canaan would mean their children would be taken as plunder and their losses be past counting. Now, however, the Lord tells Moses and Aaron to tell them: "As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you -- your bodies will fall in this desert. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert." The Lord closes His pronouncements saying "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 desert; here they will die." The only two exceptions to this decree of death were to be Joshua and Caleb. Joshua would later take over the leadership role from Moses, and Caleb would be there to assist. The other ten spies, who had been responsible for starting the panic with their report were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived. The judgment on the spies was immediate. The people would suffer the rest of their lives for their persistent rebellion. And the people -- what about them? They got the news from Moses and Aaron and their reaction was so typical that it would have been funny if it had not been so tragic. First, they mourned bitterly and repented. Then they decided to do things their own way! They would go into the Promised Land and take it! Moses tries to stop them asking them why they are disobeying the Lord -- there is no way they can take the land now, as the Lord is not with them. Moses warns them they will die. They have turned away from the Lord and they must suffer the consequences. Do they listen? No. Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord's covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them all the way to Hormah. It was a rough way to learn a lesson.