The friends of Israel here interpose to save them if possible from ruining themselves, but in vain. The physicians of their state would have healed them, but they would not be healed; their watchmen gave them warning, but they would not take warning, and so their blood is upon their own heads.
I. The best endeavours were used to still the tumult, and, if now at last they would have understood the things that belonged to their peace, all the following mischief would have been prevented.
1. Moses and Aaron did their part, Num. 14:5. Though it was against them that they murmured (Num. 14:2), yet they bravely overlooked the affront and injury done them, and approved themselves faithful friends to those who were outrageous enemies to them. The clamour and noise of the people were so great that Moses and Aaron could not be heard; should they order any of their servants to proclaim silence, the angry multitude would perhaps be the more clamorous; and therefore, to gain audience in the sight of all the assembly, they fell on their faces, thus expressing, (1.) Their humble prayers to God to still the noise of this sea, the noise of its waves, even the tumult of the people. (2.) The great trouble and concern of their own spirits. They fell down as men astonished and even thunder-struck, amazed to see a people throw away their own mercies: to see those so ill-humoured who were so well taught. And, (3.) Their great earnestness with the people to cease their murmurings; they hoped to work upon them by this humble posture, and to prevail with them not to persist in their rebellion; Moses and Aaron beseech them, as though by them God himself did beseech them, to be reconciled unto God. What they said to the people Moses relates in the repetition of this story. Deut. 1:29; 30, Be not afraid; the Lord your God shall fight for you. Note, Those that are zealous friends to precious souls will stoop to any thing for their salvation. Moses and Aaron, notwithstanding the posts of honour they are in, prostrate themselves to the people to beg of them not to ruin themselves.
2. Caleb and Joshua did their part: they rent their clothes in a holy indignation at the sin of the people, and a holy dread of the wrath of God, which they saw ready to break out against them. it was the greater trouble to these good men because the tumult was occasioned by those spies with whom they had been joined in commission; and therefore they thought themselves obliged to do what they could to still the storm which their fellows had raised. No reasoning could be more pertinent and pathetic than theirs was (Num. 14:7-9), and they spoke as with authority.
(1.) They assured them of the goodness of the land they had surveyed, and that it was really worth venturing for, and not a land that ate up the inhabitants, as the evil spies had represented it. It is an exceedingly good land (Num. 14:7); it is very, very good, so the word is; so that they had no reason to despise this pleasant land. Note, If men were but thoroughly convinced of the desirableness of the gains of religion, they would not stick at the services of it.
(2.) They made nothing of the difficulties that seemed to lie in the way of their gaining the possession of it: “Fear not the people of the land, Num. 14:9. Whatever formidable ideas have been given you of them, the lion is not so fierce as he is painted. They are bread for us,” that is, “they are set before us rather to be fed upon than to be fought with, so easily, so pleasantly, and with so much advantage to ourselves shall we master them.” Pharaoh is said to have been given them for meat (Ps. 74:14), and the Canaanites will be so too. They show that, whatever was suggested to the contrary, the advantage was clear on Israel’s side. For, [1.] Though the Canaanites dwell in walled cities, they are naked: Their defence has departed from them; that common providence which preserves the rights of nations has abandoned them, and will be no shelter nor protection to them. The other spies took notice of their strength, but these of their wickedness, and thence inferred that God had forsaken them, and therefore their defence had departed. No people can be safe when they have provoked God to leave them. [2.] Though Israel dwell in tents they are fortified: The Lord is with us, and his name is a strong tower; fear them not. Note, While we have the presence of God with us, we need not fear the most powerful force against us.
(3.) They showed them plainly that all the danger they were in was from their own discontents, and that they would succeed against all their enemies if they did not make God their enemy. On this point alone the cause would turn (Num. 14:8): “If the Lord delight in us, as certainly he does, and will if we do not provoke him, he will bring us into this good land; we shall without fail get it in possession by his favour, and the light of his countenance (Ps. 44:3), if we do not forfeit his favour and by our own follies turn away our own mercies.” It has come to this issue (Num. 14:9): Only rebel not you against the Lord. Note, Nothing can ruin sinners but their own rebellion. If God leave them, it is because they drive him from them; and they die because they will die. None are excluded the heavenly Canaan but those that exclude themselves. And, now, could the case have been made more plain? could it have been urged more closely? But what was the effect?
II. It was all to no purpose; they were deaf to this fair reasoning; nay, they were exasperated by it, and grew more outrageous: All the congregation bade stone them with stones, Num. 14:10. The rulers of the congregation, and the great men (so bishop Patrick), ordered the common people to fall upon them, and knock their brains out. Their case was sad indeed when their leaders thus caused them to err. Note, It is common for those whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil to rage at those who give them good counsel. Those who hate to be reformed hate those that would reform them, and count them their enemies because they tell them the truth. Thus early did Israel begin to misuse the prophets, and stone those that were sent to them, and it was this that filled the measure of their sin, Matt. 23:37. Stone them with stones! Why, what evil have they done? No crime can be laid to their charge; but the truth is these two witnesses tormented those that were obstinate in their infidelity, Rev. 11:10. Caleb and Joshua had but just said, The Lord is with us; fear them not (Num. 14:9): and, if Israel will not apply those encouraging words to their own fears, those that uttered them know how to encourage themselves with them against this enraged multitude that spoke of stoning them, as David in a like cause, 1 Sam. 30:6. Those that cannot prevail to edify others with their counsels and comforts should endeavour at least to edify themselves. Caleb and Joshua knew they appeared for God and his glory, and therefore doubted not but God would appear for them and their safety. And they were not disappointed, for immediately the glory of the Lord appeared, to the terror and confusion of those that were for stoning the servants of God. When they reflected upon God (Num. 14:3), his glory appeared not to silence their blasphemies; but, when they threatened Caleb and Joshua, they touched the apple of his eye, and his glory appeared immediately. Note, Those who faithfully expose themselves for God are sure to be taken under his special protection, and shall be hidden from the rage of men, either under heaven or in heaven.