Numbers 14:4 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Num 14:4-5. And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of Israel.
THAT the journeying of the Israelites in the wilderness is typical of our journey towards the heavenly Canaan is so generally known amongst you, that I need not insist upon it [Note: If this should be the subject of an Address to young people after Confirmation, this sentiment may be modified according to circumstances. But, if it be used on a common occasion, our baptismal engagements maybe substituted for those that are here specified.]. That being kept in mind, you will at once see the bearing of my present subject on the solemnities in which you have been engaged. The Israelites had now arrived at the borders of Canaan: and they sent spies, one from every tribe, to search out the land. They all agreed respecting the fertility of the country: but ten of the spies represented the attempt to conquer it as altogether hopeless. This report discouraged the whole congregation; who bitterly bewailed their disappointment, cast severe reflections on Jehovah himself as having deceived and betrayed them, and proposed to make a captain over them and to return to Egypt.
Let us consider the circumstances here recorded; and,
The proposal made by the people—
[The report given by the spies was very unfavourable: the cities were represented as impregnable, being “walled up to heaven;” and the people of such a gigantic stature, that the Israelites were no more than as grasshoppers before them. The climate, too, was represented as so unhealthy, that “the land ate up the inhabitants thereof [Note: Num 13:31-33.].” Hence the people were led to “despise the land” as unworthy of their pursuit [Note: Psa 106:24.], and to despair of attaining it against such formidable enemies: yea, they impiously wished that they had died in Egypt, when the Egyptian first-born were slain; or in the wilderness, when God sent a plague among the people for worshipping the golden calf.
Under the influence of their unbelieving fears, they proposed to make a captain over them, and to return to Egypt, from whence they had come out. They judged this to be so wise a measure, that no one could doubt of its expediency: “Were it not better for us to return into Egypt [Note: ver. 3.]?”
And are we not likely to hear of similar proposals at this time? You profess now to have dedicated yourselves to Almighty God, and to be bent on the attainment of the heavenly Canaan. But are you prepared to encounter the discouragements which you will meet with in the way? You have promised, before God, to “renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh;” but are you girt for the warfare, and ready to go forth, in the strength of Christ, against these mighty foes? What reports, alas! will you hear! The mortality amongst the Canaanites, which the spies represented as arising from the climate, was no other than that occasioned by the hornets, which God, according to his promise, had sent, to weaken the people of the land, and thereby to facilitate the entrance of Israel into it [Note: Compare Exo 23:28; Deu 7:20; Jos 24:12.]: yet was that made an additional ground for desisting from the enterprise. In like manner, the very exercises of mind, whereby God weakens the corruptions of his people’s hearts, and ensures to them a final victory over all their enemies, are urged, by ignorant and unbelieving men, as reasons for declining all attempts to secure the heavenly inheritance: and you will hear repentance itself decried as melancholy, and denounced as little better than a prelude to insanity. In addition to such obstacles from without, (for I confine myself to those which arise from report only, without noticing any from actual opposition,) will not your own hearts suggest, that to overcome such potent enemies, as the world, the flesh, and the devil, will be impossible, especially for persons so young, or so circumstanced, as you?
The result of such misrepresentations and misconceptions is but too likely to appear amongst you at no distant period. You will not in a formal manner actually appoint a captain over you, because every one can act for himself, without any combination with others; but that many of you will be like-minded, in relation to this matter, is greatly to be feared; and that you will even justify the measure as wise, saying, “Is it not better that we go back again to the world?”]
But let us turn our attention to,
The effect of that proposal on God’s faithful servants—
[“Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of Israel;” filled, no doubt, with grief and shame at so foolish and impious a proposal. What prospect could they have of succeeding in such an enterprise? Could they suppose that God would go before them; and cause the manna and the water to attend them in their retrograde motions, as he had done when moving according to his will? If not, without any enemy whatever, or any special judgment inflicted on them, they must all die of hunger and thirst in a few days. Or, supposing them to get back to Egypt, what would be their reception there? Would not the rigours of their bondage be increased by their vindictive oppressors to the utmost extent of human endurance? Granting that all their fears respecting the Canaanites were well founded, what could they suffer worse by manfully contending with them, than they would infallibly bring upon themselves by the measure they proposed?
But the impiety of the proposal was, if possible, still greater than the folly. What a contempt of the promised inheritance did it argue, when they did not deem it to be worth a manly contest! What a distrust of God, too, who had already shewn himself so mighty to save, and had engaged that not one of their enemies should be able to stand before them! What base ingratitude, also, did this express, when they could so soon forget all the wonders that God had wrought for them, and all the benefits he had conferred upon them!
We wonder not that Moses and Aaron, who were able to form a just estimate of their conduct, were so deeply affected with it.
And shall not we also fall on our faces with grief and shame, my dear young friends, if we see you forgetting the vows that are upon you, and turning back again, and abandoning those glorious prospects which have just opened upon you? For, what can you gain by going back to the world? I will suppose you gain all that the world can give. What is it? What satisfaction can it all afford? and how long will you retain it? Or, supposing you could retain it ever so long, would it repay you for the loss of heaven? To what a state, too, will your defection reduce you! Of all the men who came out of Egypt, not so much as one was suffered to enter the promised land, except Caleb and Joshua, who continued faithful in the midst of this general apostasy. A fearful type and pledge of the doom that awaits you [Note: Num 26:64-65 with Jude, ver. 5 and 1Co 10:11.]! Hear what God says on this subject, in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him [Note: Heb 10:38.].” Ah! know of a certainty, that all who draw back, “draw back unto perdition [Note: Heb 10:39.]:” and “if, after you have escaped the corruptions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you are again entangled therein and overcome, your latter end will be worse than your beginning: for it would have been better that you had never known the way of righteousness at all, than, after you have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto you [Note: 2Pe 2:20-21.].” You have all doubtless heard of Lot’s wife, who, though brought out of Sodom, was turned into a pillar of salt, because she looked back towards the city, when she should have thought of nothing but of pressing onward to the destined place of refuge. Ah! “remember Lot’s wife [Note: Luk 17:32.],” as our blessed Lord has warned you; for “if you only look back, after having put your hand to the plough, you are not fit for the kingdom of God [Note: Luk 9:61-62.].” How can your ministers, who have watched over you, contemplate such an issue of their labours, and not weep and mourn before God on your behalf [Note: Jer 13:16-17.]? I pray you, beloved, let not this be the recompence of all the pains we have bestowed on you: let us not have the grief of seeing that the very privileges you have enjoyed have only fitted you, like Capernaum of old, for a deeper and heavier condemnation: but let us have joy over you, in beholding your spiritual advancement; and let us have the sweet and blessed hope of having you for “our joy and crown of rejoicing to all eternity.” Be not afraid of any enemies: for God is with you: “if he be with you, who can be against you?” Read the exhortation of Caleb and Joshua to their unbelieving brethren, and apply it to your own souls [Note: ver. 7–9.]: and, instead of listening to the ruinous suggestions of unbelief [Note: Heb 3:18.], “be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”] Let me, in conclusion, address myself to the elder part of this audience—
[You must not forget, that the subject equally concerns you. For you also must “endure unto the end, if ever you would be saved:” and it is only “by a patient continuance in well-doing, that you can attain to glory and honour and immortality.”
But that which I would particularly impress on your minds at this time, is the vast importance of your watching over the young people who have now consecrated themselves unto the Lord. Set them a good example yourselves; and do all you can to induce them to follow it. Take the part that Caleb and Joshua took on this occasion: strengthen their hands: encourage their hearts: tell them what a gracious and powerful and faithful God they have to help them in every time of need. Speak to them of “the laud that floweth with milk and honey.” Invite them to taste of “the grapes of Eshcol,” which you have taken thence. Watch over the very “lambs of the flock, and carry them in your bosom.” So shall all of us, ministers and people, rejoice together, and “have an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”]
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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.