As the people listened to this report, they gave vent to their disappointment in bitter reproaches and wailing. They did not wait to reflect and reason that God, who had brought them out thus far, would certainly give them the land. They left God out of the question. They acted as though in taking the
city of Jericho, the key to the land of Canaan, they must depend solely on the power of arms. God had declared that He would give them the country, and they should have fully trusted Him to fulfill His word. But their unsubdued hearts were not in harmony with His plans. They did not reflect how wonderfully He had wrought in their behalf, bringing them out of their Egyptian bondage, cutting a path for them through the waters of the sea, and destroying the pursuing host of Pharaoh. In their unbelief they were limiting the work of God and distrusting the hand that had hitherto safely guided them. In this instance they repeated their former error of murmuring against Moses and Aaron. "This, then, is the end of all our high hopes," said they. "This is the land we have travelled all the way from Egypt to possess." They blamed their leaders for bringing trouble upon Israel and again charged them with deceiving the people and leading them astray.
Moses and Aaron lay prostrate before God, their faces in the dust. Caleb and Joshua, the two who, of all the twelve spies, trusted in the word of God, rent their clothes in distress when they perceived that these unfavourable reports had discouraged the whole camp. They endeavoured to reason with them; but the congregation were filled with madness and disappointment, and refused to listen to these two men. Finally Caleb urged his way to the front, and his clear, ringing voice was heard above all the clamour of the multitude. He opposed the cowardly views of his fellow spies, which had weakened the faith and courage of all Israel. He commanded the attention of the people, and they hushed their complaints for a moment to listen to him. He spoke of the land he had visited. Said he: "Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." But as he spoke, the unfaithful spies interrupted him, crying: "We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we."
These men, starting upon a wrong course, set their hearts against God, against Moses and Aaron, and against Caleb
and Joshua. Every step they advanced in this wrong direction made them firmer in their design to discourage every attempt to possess the land of Canaan. They distorted the truth in order to carry their baneful purpose. They represented the climate as being unhealthful and all the people of giant stature. Said they: "And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight."
This was not only an evil report, but a lying one also. It was contradictory; for if the land was unhealthy, and had eaten up the inhabitants, how was it that they had attained to such massive proportions? When men in responsible positions yield their hearts to unbelief, there are no bounds to the advance they will make in evil. Few realise, when they start upon this dangerous course, the length that Satan will lead them.
The evil report had a terrible effect upon the people. They reproached Moses and Aaron bitterly. Some groaned and wailed, saying: "Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!" Then their feelings rose against the Lord; and they wept and mourned, saying: "Wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt."
Thus they manifested their disrespect for God and for the leaders He had appointed to conduct them. They did not ask the Lord what they should do, but said: "Let us make a captain." They took matters into their own hands, feeling themselves competent to manage their affairs without divine aid. They not only accused Moses of deception, but God also, in promising them a land which they were not able to possess. They actually went so far as to appoint one of their number as a captain to lead them back to the land of their suffering and bondage, from which God had delivered them with His strong arm of omnipotence.
Moses and Aaron still remained prostrate before God in the presence of all the assembly, silently imploring divine mercy for rebellious Israel. Their distress was too deep for words. Again Caleb and Joshua press to the front, and the voice of Caleb once more rises in sorrowful earnestness above the complaints of the congregation: "The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not."
The Canaanites had filled up the measure of their iniquity, and the Lord would no longer bear with them. His defence being removed from them, they would fall an easy prey to the Hebrews. They were not prepared for battle, for they felt so strong that they deceived themselves with the idea that no army was formidable enough to prevail against them.
Caleb reminded the people that by the covenant of God the land was ensured to Israel; but their hearts were filled with madness, and they would hear no more. If only the two men had brought the evil report, and all the ten had encouraged them to possess the land in the name of the Lord, they would still have taken the advice of the two in preference to the ten, because of their wicked unbelief. But there were only two advocating the right, while ten were in open rebellion against their leaders and against God.
The greatest excitement now rages among the people; their worst passions are aroused, and they refuse to listen to reason. The ten unfaithful spies join them in their denunciations of Caleb and Joshua, and the cry is raised to stone them. The insane mob seize missiles with which to slay these faithful men. They rush forward with yells of madness, when, lo! the stones drop from their hands, a hush falls upon them, and they shake with terror. God has interposed to check their rash design. The glory of His presence, like a flame of light, illuminates the tabernacle, and all the congregation behold
the signal of the Lord. One mightier than they has revealed Himself, and not one dares continue his resistance. Every murmurer is silenced, and the spies, who have brought the evil report, crouch terror-stricken, with bated breath.
Moses arises from his humiliating position and enters the tabernacle to commune with God. Then the Lord proposes to immediately destroy this rebellious people. He desires to make of Moses a greater nation than Israel; but the meek leader of His people will not consent to this proposition. "And Moses said unto the Lord, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for Thou broughtest up this people in Thy might from among them;) and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that Thou Lord art among this people, that Thou Lord art seen face to face, and that Thy cloud standeth over them, and that Thou goest before them, by daytime in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if Thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of Thee will speak, saying, Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which He sware unto them, therefore He hath slain them in the wilderness."
Moses again refuses to have Israel destroyed and himself made a mightier nation than they. This favoured servant of God manifests his love for Israel and shows his zeal for the glory of his Master and the honour of His people. Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now; Thou hast been long-suffering and merciful hitherto toward this ungrateful nation; and however unworthy they may be, Thy mercy is the same. He pleads: Wilt Thou not therefore spare them this one, and add this one more instance of divine patience to the many Thou hast already given?
Moses prevailed with God to spare the people, but because of their arrogance and unbelief the Lord could not go with them to work in a miraculous manner in their behalf. Therefore in His divine mercy He bade them adopt the safest course and turn back into the wilderness toward the Red Sea. He
also decreed that, as a punishment for their rebellion, all the adults who left Egypt, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, should be forever excluded from Canaan. They had utterly failed to keep their promise of obedience to God, and this released Him from the covenant that they had so repeatedly violated. He promised that their children should possess the goodly land, but declared that their own bodies should be buried in the wilderness. And the ten unfaithful spies, whose evil report had caused Israel to murmur and rebel, were destroyed by the power of God before the eyes of the people.
When Moses made known to Israel the will of God concerning them, they seemed sincerely to repent of their sinful conduct. But the Lord knew that they sorrowed because of the result of their evil course, rather than from a deep sense of their ingratitude and disobedience. But their repentance came too late; the just anger of God was awakened, and their doom was pronounced, from which there was no reprieve. When they found that the Lord would not relent in His decree, their self-will again arose, and they declared that they would not return into the wilderness.
In commanding them to retire from the land of their enemies, God tested their apparent submission and found that it was not real. They knew that they had deeply sinned in allowing their rash feelings to control them and in seeking to slay the spies who had urged them to obey God; but they were only terrified to find that they had made a fearful mistake, the consequences of which would prove disastrous to themselves. Their hearts were unchanged, and they only needed an excuse to occasion a similar outbreak. This presented itself when Moses, by the authority of God, commanded them to go back into the wilderness.
They had rebelled against His commands when He bade them go up and take the land that He had promised them, and now, when He directed them to retreat from it, they were equally insubordinate, and declared that they would go to battle with their enemies. They arrayed themselves in
warriors' dress and armour, and presented themselves before Moses, in their own estimation prepared for conflict, but sadly deficient in the sight of God and His sorrowful servant. They refused to listen to the solemn warnings of their leaders that disaster and death would be the consequence of their audacity.
When God directed them to go up and take Jericho, He promised to go with them. The ark containing His law was to be a symbol of Himself. Moses and Aaron, God's appointed leaders, were to conduct the expedition under His watchful direction. With such supervision no harm could have come to them. But now, contrary to the command of God and the solemn prohibition of their leaders, without the ark of God and without Moses, they marched out to meet the armies of the enemy.
During the time consumed by the Israelites in their wicked insubordination, the Amalekites and Canaanites had prepared for battle. The Israelites presumptuously challenged the foe that had not dared to attack them; but just as they had fairly entered the enemy's territory, the Amalekites and Canaanites met them in force and fiercely repulsed them, driving them back with great loss. The field of carnage was red with their blood, and their dead bodies strewed the ground. They were utterly routed and defeated. Destruction and death were the result of their rebellious experiment. But the faith of Caleb and Joshua was richly rewarded. According to His word, God brought these faithful ones into the land that He had promised them. The cowards and rebels perished in the wilderness, but the righteous spies ate of the grapes of Eschol.
The history of the report of the twelve spies has an application to us as a people. The scenes of cowardly complaining and drawing back from action when there are risks to be encountered are re-enacted among us today. The same unwillingness is manifested to heed faithful reports and true counsel as in the days of Caleb and Joshua. The servants of God, who bear the burden of His cause, practising strict self-denial and suffering privation for the sake of helping His
people, are seldom better appreciated now than they were then.
Ancient Israel was repeatedly tested and found wanting. Few receive the faithful warnings given them of God. Darkness and unbelief do not decrease as we near the time of the second advent of Christ. Truth becomes less and less palatable to the carnally minded; their hearts are slow to believe and tardy to repent. The servants of God might well become discouraged, were it not for the continual evidences their Master gives them of His wisdom and assistance. Long has the Lord borne with His people. He has forgiven their wanderings and waited for them to give Him room in their hearts; but false ideas, jealousy, and distrust have crowded Him out.
Few who are professedly of Israel, and whose minds have been enlightened by the revelations of divine wisdom, dare to come boldly forward, as did Caleb, and stand firmly for God and the right. Because those whom the Lord has chosen to conduct His work will not be turned from the course of integrity to gratify the selfish and unconsecrated, they become the target for hatred and malicious falsehood. Satan is wide awake and working warily in these last days, and God calls for men of spiritual nerve and stamina to resist his artifices.
Thorough conversion is necessary among those who profess to believe the truth, in order for them to follow Jesus and obey the will of God -- not a submission born of circumstances, as was that of the terrified Israelites when the power of the Infinite was revealed to them, but a deep and heartfelt repentance and renunciation of sin. Those who are but half converted are as a tree whose boughs hang upon the side of truth, but whose roots, firmly bedded in the earth, strike out into the barren soil of the world. Jesus looks in vain for fruit upon its branches; He finds nothing but leaves.
Thousands would accept the truth if they could do so without denying self, but this class would never build up the cause of God. These would never march out valiantly against the enemy,--the world, the love of self, and the lusts of the flesh,--trusting their divine Leader to give them the victory.
The church needs faithful Calebs and Joshuas, who are ready to accept eternal life on God's simple condition of obedience. Our churches are suffering for labourers. The world is our field. Missionaries are wanted in cities and villages that are more certainly bound by idolatry than are the pagans of the East, who have never seen the light of truth. The true missionary spirit has deserted the churches that make so exalted a profession; their hearts are no longer aglow with love for souls and a desire to lead them into the fold of Christ. We want earnest workers. Are there none to respond to the cry that goes up from every quarter: "Come over ...and help us"?
Can those who profess to be the depositaries of God's law, and who look for the soon coming of Jesus in the clouds of heaven, stand acquitted of the blood of souls if they turn a deaf ear to the crying needs of the people who walk in shadows? There are books to be prepared and distributed, there are lessons to be given, there are self-sacrificing duties to be performed! Who will come to the rescue! Who will, for Christ's sake, deny self and extend the light to those who sit in darkness?