Here is, I. The sudden death of the ten evil spies. While the sentence was passing upon the people, before it was published, they died of the plague before the Lord, Num. 14:36, 37. Now,
1. God hereby showed his particular displeasure against those who sinned and made Israel to sin. (1.) They sinned themselves, in bringing up a slander upon the land of promise. Note, Those greatly provoke God who misrepresent religion, cast reproach upon it, and raise prejudices in men’s minds against it, or give occasion to those to do so who seek occasion. Those that represent the service of God as mean and despicable, melancholy and uncomfortable, hard and impracticable, needless and unprofitable, bring up an evil report upon the good land, pervert the right ways of the Lord, and in effect give him the lie. (2.) They made Israel to sin. They designedly made all the congregation murmur against God. Note, Ring-leaders in sin may expect to fall under particular marks of the wrath of God, who will severely reckon for the blood of souls, which is thus spilt.
2. God hereby showed what he could have done with the whole congregation, and gave an earnest of the execution of the sentence now passed upon them. He that thus cut off one of a tribe could have cut off their whole tribes suddenly, and would do it gradually. Note, The remarkable deaths of notorious sinners are earnests of the final perdition of ungodly men, 2 Pet. 2:5, 6. Thus the wrath of God is revealed, that sinners may hear and fear.
II. The special preservation of Caleb and Joshua: They lived still, Num. 14:38. It is probable that all the twelve spies stood together, for the eyes of all Israel were now upon them; and therefore it is taken notice of as very remarkable, and which could not but be affecting to the whole congregation, that when the ten evil spies fell down dead of the plague, a malignant infectious distemper, yet these two that stood among them lived, and were well. God hereby confirmed their testimony, and put those to confusion that spoke of stoning them. He likewise gave them an assurance of their continued preservation in the wilderness, when thousands should fall on their right hand and on their left, Ps. 91:7. Death never misses his mark, nor takes any by oversight that were designed for life, though in the midst of those that were to die.
III. The publication of the sentence to all the people, Num. 14:36. He told them all what the decree was which had gone forth concerning them, and which could not be reversed, that they must all die in the wilderness, and Canaan must be reserved for the next generation. It was a very great disappointment, we may well think, to Moses himself, who longed to be in Canaan, as well as to all the people; yet he acquiesced, but they wept and mourned greatly. The assurance which Moses had of God’s being glorified by this sentence gave him satisfaction, while the consciousness of their own guilt, and their having procured it to themselves, gave them the greatest vexation. They wept for nothing (Num. 14:1), and now they have cause given them to weep; so justly are murmurers made mourners. If they had mourned for the sin when they were faithfully reproved for it (Num. 14:9), the sentence would have been prevented; but now that they mourned for the judgment only their grief came too late, and did them no service; they found no place for repentance, though they sought it carefully with tears, Heb. 12:17. Such mourning as this there is in hell, but the tears will not quench the flames, no, nor cool the tongue.
IV. The foolish fruitless attempts of some of the Israelites to enter Canaan, notwithstanding the sentence.
1. They were now eager to go forward towards Canaan, Num. 14:40. They were up early, mustered all their force, got together in a body, and begged of Moses to lead them on against the enemy, and now there is no more talk among them of making a captain to return into Egypt. They confess their fault: We have sinned; they profess reformation: Lo, we be here, and will go up. They now desire the land which they had despised, and put a confidence in the promise which they had distrusted. Thus when God judges he will overcome, and, first or last, will convince sinners of the evil of all their ungodly deeds, and hard speeches, and force them to recall their own words. But, though God was glorified by this recantation of theirs, they were not benefited by it, because it came too late. The decree had gone forth, the consumption was determined; they did not seek the Lord while he might be found, and now he would not be found. O, if men would but be as earnest for heaven while their day of grace lasts as they will be when it is over, would be as solicitous to provide themselves with oil while the bridegroom tarries as they will be when the bridegroom comes, how well were it for them!
2. Moses utterly disallows their motion, and forbids the expedition they were meditating: Go not up, 14:41-43. (1.) He gives them warning of the sin; it is transgressing the commandment of the Lord, who had expressly ordered them, when they did move, to move back towards the Red Sea. Note, That which has been duty, in its season, when it comes to be mistimed may be turned into sin. It is true the command he refers to was in the nature of a punishment, but he that has not obeyed the law is obliged to submit to the penalty, for the Lord is our Judge as well as Lawgiver. (2.) He gives them this warning of the danger: “It shall not prosper, never expect it.” Note, It is folly to promise ourselves success in that which we undertake contrary to the mind of God. “The Canaanites are before you to attack you, and the Lord is not among you to protect you and fight for you, and therefore look to yourselves that you be not smitten before your enemies.” Those that are out of the way of their duty are from under God’s protection, and go at their peril. It is dangerous going where we cannot expect God should go along with us. Nay, he plainly foresees and foretels their defeat: You shall fall by the sword of the Amalekites and Canaanites (who were to have fallen by their sword); Because you are turned away from the Lord, from following the guidance of his precept and promise, therefore the Lord will not be with you. Note, God will certainly leave those that leave him; and those that are left of him lie exposed to all misery.
3. They venture notwithstanding. Never was people so perverse and so desperately resolved in every thing to walk contrary to God. God bade them go, and they would not; he forbade them, and they would. Thus is the carnal mind enmity to God: They presumed to go up unto the hill-top, 14:44. Here, (1.) They struggled against the sentence of divine justice, and would press on in defiance of it. (2.) They slighted the tokens of God’s presence, for they would go though they left Moses and the ark of the covenant behind them. They had distrusted God’s strength, and now they presume upon their own without his.
4. The expedition speeds accordingly, Num. 14:45. The enemy had posted themselves upon the top of the hill, to make good that pass against the invaders, and, being informed by their scouts of their approach, sallied out upon them, and defeated them, and it is probable that many of the Israelites were killed. Now the sentence began to be executed that their carcases should fall in the wilderness. Note, That affair can never end well that begins with sin. The way to obtain peace with our friends, and success against our enemies, is to make God our friend, and keep ourselves in his love. The Jews, like these their ancestors, when they had rejected Christ’s righteousness, attempted to establish their own, and it sped as this.
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