Numbers 14:20 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
GOD’S ANSWER TO THE INTERCESSION OF MOSES
Num 14:20-21. And the Lord said, I have pardoned, according to thy word: but, as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
LITTLE do the world think how much they are indebted to the saints. They are the cluster for the sake of which the vineyard of the Lord is spared [Note: Isa 65:8.]; the elect, for whose sake the days of vengeance have been often shortened [Note: Mat 24:22.]; the little remnant, without which the whole world would long since have been made as Sodom and Gomorrha [Note: Isa 1:9.]. In the passage before us we have this very matter exhibited in a striking point of view. The whole people of Israel were in a state of rebellion against God; and God was meditating their utter extermination. But Moses lifts up his heart in prayer for them; and, by his importunate intercession, averts the judgments which were ready to burst upon them.
Let us consider,
The prayer he offered—
This did not relate to the eternal salvation of the people, except incidentally and by remote consequence: it had respect only to the threatening which God had denounced against the people. Having reason to fear that God would “smite them all with a pestilence, and disinherit them” utterly [Note: ver. 11, 12.], Moses entreated God to spare them, and urged such arguments as he judged most suitable to the occasion. These pleas of his deserve an attentive consideration.
He pressed upon the Deity,
A regard for his own honour—
[”What will the Egyptians and the Canaanites say? Will they not ascribe the destruction of this people to a want of power in thee to accomplish thy projected plans [Note: ver. 13–16.]? O let them not have such cause for triumph! let them not have so specious an occasion to blaspheme thy name!”
This was an argument of great weight. He had used it successfully on a former occasion [Note: Exo 32:12.]; and God himself had acknowledged its force [Note: Deu 32:26-27. See also Eze 20:9; Eze 20:14; Eze 20:22; Eze 20:44.]. This therefore is a plea which we should use: we should use it with God, as an inducement to him to keep us [Note: Psa 5:8; Jer 14:21.] — — — and we should use it with ourselves, as an incentive to vigilance and circumspection [Note: 1Ti 6:1.]. We should be exceeding tender of God’s honour: and, when tempted to the commission of any sin, we should think, How will the Philistines rejoice, and the uncircumcised triumph [Note: 2Sa 1:20.]! how will they “blaspheme that sacred name by which I am called [Note: Jam 2:7.]!” O that I may “never thus give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully [Note: 1Ti 5:14.]!”]
A conformity to his own perfections—
[Didst thou not, O my God, when proclaiming thy name to me, represent thyself as “long-suffering, and of great mercy, and as forgiving iniquity and transgression, though thou wouldest not clear the guilty [Note: ver. 17, 18 which refers to Exo 34:6-7.]?” Let it now be seen that this is indeed thy character. I do not ask that thou shouldest “leave them altogether unpunished; but only that thou shouldest not make a full end of them [Note: That clause, “by no means clearing the guilty,” may, both in Exo 34:7 and in this place, be rendered “clearing, I will not clear,” i.e. not make desolate. The word “guilty” is not in the original. In that sense it will be exactly parallel with Jer 30:11. But the sense affixed to it in the Translation is probably the right, though the other is better suited to the purpose for which it is here adduced.], as thou hast threatened.”
Here, methinks, is a plea, which, almost above all others, it becomes us to urge in all our supplications at the throne of grace. The character of God, as a God of infinite mercy, is that which encourages our addresses to him. When every other ground of hope fails, this is still firm. If only we do not “limit the Holy One of Israel,” we can never be at a loss for “arguments with which to fill our mouths” at a throne of grace. O let us study well the representations which God has given of himself, and especially that to which Moses referred: then, even in our lowest state of guilt or misery, we shall never despair of obtaining mercy at his hands.]
A consistency with his own conduct—
[”Thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt even until now: and wilt thou abandon them at last? O let it not be so: pardon, I beseech thee, yet again and again their iniquity, according unto the greatness of thine unbounded mercy [Note: ver. 19.].”
This plea, if used with men, would have had no weight: it would have operated rather to prevent the repetition of mercies which had been so abused. But, with God, it availeth much: and in our minds too it is a most encouraging consideration. We may look back and see how God has borne with all our frowardness from our youth up to the present moment; and may take occasion from his past forbearance to supplicate the continuance of it: “Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies, and thy loving-kindnesses; for they have been ever of old [Note: Psa 25:6.].” Yes; we should “account the long-suffering of God to be salvation [Note: 2Pe 3:15.],” and the goodness he has already exercised towards us as a motive and encouragement to repentance [Note: Rom 2:4.].]
Such was the prayer of Moses, a prayer peculiarly excellent, because it was a holy pleading with God. Let us now proceed to consider,
The answer he obtained—
“I have pardoned,” saith God, “according to thy word. Thou hast entreated me to spare them; and I will spare them: but, I swear by my own life, that the whole of my conduct on this occasion shall be such, as shall procure me honour to the remotest ends of the earth, and to the latest period of time. Every one of my perfections shall be now displayed: now will I exhibit before my people such rays of my glory, as shall illumine the benighted heathen, and fill the whole earth with wonder.”
Now then, my Brethren, let us contemplate this subject with holy awe: let us beg of God to take away the veil from our hearts, that we may see wherein this glory of his consists. Let us behold,
His condescension in hearing prayer—
[Here was a whole nation involved in actual rebellion against God: and one single individual betakes himself to prayer. What, it may be said, can a single individual do? Read the answer of God, and see. He replies, not, “I will pardon,” but, “I have pardoned:” “the very moment thou liftedst up thy voice, my hands were tied, and I could no longer persist in my resolution to destroy them [Note: Compare Dan 9:20-21; Dan 9:23.]. I have pardoned according to thy word, and to the full extent of thy petitions.” O, who after this will ever doubt the efficacy of prayer? If God answered so speedily the prayer of one on behalf of a rebellious nation, what will he not do for those who supplicate mercy for themselves? Will he ever cast out their prayer? No: let the whole universe know, that he is “a God that heareth prayer,” and that not even the vilest of the human race shall “ever seek his face in vain.”]
His mercy in forbearing vengeance—
[Consider the mercies which that nation had experienced, and the extent of that wickedness which they now committed; consider that they cast the most bitter reflections on God himself, and actually appointed a captain to lead them back to Egypt [Note: Neh 9:17.], and were proceeding to murder those who exhorted them to obedience: could it be supposed that such persons should be spared, spared too after God had said he would instantly cut them off? Whom then will he not spare? Who, whilst on praying-ground, can be considered as beyond the reach of mercy? Let us not despair of any; nor let any despair of themselves: He is the same God as ever; “slow to anger, and of great kindness, and ready to repent him of the evil” which he has thought to inflict upon us, the very moment that he can do it in consistency with his own perfections.]
His justice in punishing sin—
[Though he forbore to destroy the nation at large, he executed immediate vengeance on those who were the leaders and instigators of the rebellion [Note: ver. 36, 37.]. Nor were the people themselves left unpunished. They had expressed a wish that they had died in the wilderness: now God gave them their wish; and declared that not one of those who had rebelled against him should ever see the promised land. Forty days had been spent in searching the land of Canaan; and forty years were they condemned to bear their iniquities, till their carcasses should be consumed in the wilderness.
What an awful lesson does this give to the ungodly world! Who must not tremble for fear of his judgments? Who does not see that it is vain to hope for impunity on account of the number of those who tread the paths of wickedness? The question is often confidently put by sinners, Do you think that God will condemn so many? We answer, If you would know what God will do, look at what he has done: inquire, how many of those who came out of Egypt ever were admitted into the land of Canaan: and when you have learned that, you will know how God will proceed in the day of judgment [Note: See 1Co 10:11; Heb 3:17-19; Heb 4:1; Jude, ver. 5.]. Let all the world hear this, and tremble: for “verity there is a God that judgeth in the earth.”]
His goodness in rewarding virtue—
[Two of the spies were faithful to their God: and behold how God interposed for them! The congregation was just going to stone them, and God instantly displayed his glory in such a manner as to appal the hearts of their enemies. To them also he bore testimony, that they had “followed him fully:” and he promised them, that though every other man throughout all the tribes should die in the wilderness, they should go into the promised land, and enjoy the inheritance reserved for them [Note: ver. 24, 30.].
Do any of the human race wish to ascertain whether their works shall be rewarded? Let them look to this history: let them here see how God will protect his people; and how assuredly they who serve him in time, shall dwell with him in eternity. Surely none who hear these records will ever be afraid of being singular, or of bearing persecution for righteousness’ sake. No: from henceforth every soul should be emboldened to “confess Christ before men,” and to “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.”]
His faithfulness in fulfilling his word—
[Here was a strong temptation to rescind his promises: and indeed, because of the appearance of so doing, God says, “Ye shall know my breach of promise [Note: ver. 34.].” But the promise was not made to that people, that they at all events should inherit the land of Canaan: it was made to Abraham, that his seed should inherit it: and, both on this and a former occasion, when God threatened to destroy the present generation, he offered to raise up a nation from the loins of Moses, and to give the promised land to them [Note: ver. 12 with Exo 32:10.].
God fulfilled his word in every point: and Joshua appealed to the whole nation of Israel for the truth of this [Note: Jos 23:14.]; as did Solomon many hundred years after him [Note: 1Ki 8:56.]. None therefore need to be afraid of trusting in God: for “he is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent [Note: Num 23:19.].” Let the whole world be assured, that they may safely rely on him; that “not one jot or tittle of his word shall ever fail;” that “faithful is He who hath promised;” and that “what he hath promised he is able also to perform.” Be it known therefore, I say, “that they who trust in him shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end [Note: Isa 45:17.].”]
His power to accomplish his own sovereign will and pleasure—
[The people had expressed their fears that their little ones would fall a prey to the warlike inhabitants of Canaan. Now, says God, “those very children, who ye said would be a prey, even them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised [Note: ver. 31.].” Weak as ye judge them to be, I will give them the victory; and not an enemy shall be able to stand before them.
Hear this, ye drooping, doubting Christians! let the whole world hear it: yea, let it never be forgotten, that “God ordaineth strength in babes and sucklings;” that “his strength is perfected in their weakness;” and that through him the weakest of us shall be “more than conquerors.” Who weaker than Paul in his own apprehension? “I have not,” says he, “a sufficiency even to think a good thought:” yet who stronger in reality? “I can do all things,” saith he, “through Christ who strengtheneth me [Note: Php 4:13.].” Let the weak then say, “I am strong [Note: Joe 3:10.]:” “let the feeble be as David, and the house of David be as the angel of the Lord [Note: Zec 12:8.].”]
[Behold now this glory of the Lord! see how it shines throughout this mysterious dispensation! see his condescension in hearing prayer—his mercy in forbearing vengeance—his justice in punishing sin—his goodness in rewarding virtue—his faithfulness in fulfilling his word—and his power to execute his sovereign will and pleasure! Let the whole earth contemplate it: let all transmit the knowledge of it to those around them; and assist in spreading it to the remotest heathen: let all expect the time when this view of God shall be universal through the world, and all shall give him the glory of his immutable perfections.
And, whilst we view the glory of God in his past works, let us remember what will be the final issue of all hit dispensations. His glory will hereafter shine in still brighter splendour. When his answers to the prayers of all his people shall be known, how marvellous will his condescension and grace appear! When the sins of the whole world shall be made manifest, how shall we be filled with wonder at his long-suffering and forbearance! How tremendous will his justice and severity be found, when millions of impenitent sinners are cast headlong into the bottomless abyss! And when his obedient people shall be exalted to thrones of glory, how will his goodness and mercy be admired and adored! Then also will his truth and faithfulness be seen in the exact completion of every promise he has ever given; and his power and might be gratefully acknowledged by all whom he has redeemed, sanctified, and saved.
This then is certain, that in every human being he will be glorified. But the question is, How will he be glorified in me? will it be in my salvation or condemnation? In answering this question aright we are all deeply interested: nor will it be difficult to answer it, provided we inquire what our real character is. Do we resemble the unbelieving and rebellious Israelites, or those believing spies who “followed the Lord fully?” Vast was the difference between them, and consequently the discrimination will be easy. The Lord grant that we may “so judge ourselves now, that we may not be judged of the Lord” in that awful day!]
Consult other comments:
Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.