Numbers 14:6 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
THE PEOPLE MURMURING AT THE REPORT OF THE SPIES
Num 14:6-9. And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes. And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, 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.
WHEN actions originate in an evil principle, however specious they be, the motives from whence they proceed cannot long be hidden: a thousand things in the course of tune will arise to elicit truth, and to discover the principles which we fondly hoped to conceal. The proposal of sending spies to search out the land, appears, from the first verse of the preceding chapter, to have been first made by God; but in fact it arose from the Israelites themselves: the whole body of the people took a lively interest in it, and came, by their representatives at least, to request that Moses would accede to it. Moses, taking it as a symptom of their readiness to go and possess the land, was highly delighted with it [Note: Deu 1:22-23.]; and consulted God respecting it. God, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, and seeing that their faith in him was not so strong but that they needed to have it confirmed by further testimony, consented; just as the Baptist did to his disciples, when they wanted to ascertain whether Jesus were the Christ [Note: Mat 11:2-3.]: he bore with their weakness, and permitted them to seek conviction in their own way. But when the spies “brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched,” the people instantly betrayed their unbelieving fears, and drew from Caleb and Joshua the remonstrance which we have just read.
That we may have a full view of the subject, we shall consider,
The remonstrance itself—
Let us examine,
The occasion of it—
[The spies who were sent, were twelve in number, one from every tribe. Of these, no less than ten agreed in representing the land as unconquerable. The inhabitants, they said, were giants, in comparison of whom they themselves were but “as grasshoppers; and they dwelt in “walled cities” that were impregnable. They represented too the climate as so unhealthy, that “the land ate up its inhabitants [Note: Num 13:28; Num 13:31-33.].” (God had, according to his promise, sent either hornets, or some kind of plague, to destroy the people before them [Note: Exo 23:28.]; and this they turned into a ground of dis–couragement!) The goodness of the land indeed they could not deny; because they had brought such a sample of its fruits, as was a clear poof of its luxuriant fertility [Note: Num 13:23.]. On hearing the report, the congregation gave way to utter despondency: they “wept the whole night:” they wished they had “died either in Egypt, or in the wilderness:” they complained that God had brought them thither on purpose to destroy them: they declared it would be better for them at once to return to Egypt; and they actually appointed [Note: This is not mentioned by Moses; but it is asserted by Nehemiah: Neh 9:17.] a captain over them, to lead them thither.
What “madness is there in the heart of man [Note: Ecc 9:3.]”! Who would conceive it possible, that that whole nation should so soon forget all their past deliverances, and form so strange a resolution as that of returning to Egypt? This was an expedient more impracticable in its nature than the conquest of Canaan, and more dreadful in its consequences than death itself upon the field of battle [Note: Could they expect God to follow them with miraculous supplies of bread and water; or their state in Egypt to be better than before?] — — — Yet such is the effect of discontent: it magnifies every difficulty; undervalues every enjoyment; and rushes upon evils greater than those which it attempts to shun.]
[The boldness of Joshua and Caleb, in opposing all their colleagues together with the whole congregation of Israel, was truly commendable. That it was at no little risk they ventured to remonstrate, is evident from the effect: for no sooner had they spoken, than all the people threatened to stone them; and would undoubtedly have carried their menace into immediate execution, if God himself had not interposed, by a signal manifestation of his glory, to restrain them [Note: ver. 10.]. But they would have accounted themselves happy to suffer martyrdom in such a cause. And this is the very courage which we also should possess. We should be witnesses for God in a degenerate world. We should never be deterred from testifying against sin, either by the number or authority of our opponents. If even we stood alone, as Elijah did, it would become us to maintain the truth with steadfastness, and to venture life itself in the service of our Lord.
Supposing these remonstrants not to be intimidated, we might expect them to be filled with indignation at the wickedness of the people, and to give vent to their feelings in terms of severity and reproach. But behold, they are penetrated with grief; and “rend their clothes” for anguish of heart: and in their whole address they exhibit a beautiful specimen of “the meekness of wisdom.” O that there were in all of us such an heart! that we could weep over sinners, instead of being angry with them; and that we could “in meekness instruct them that oppose themselves,” bearing with their frowardness, and pitying their perverseness! This union of fortitude and compassion is the very thing which we should labour to acquire, and which alone can fit us for reproving with effect.]
[Nothing could be more judicious than this address. The people had lost sight of God; and their faithful monitors set God before them. They acknowledge the existence of the difficulties; but they deny die inference deduced from it. True, say they, the people are mighty; but our God is mightier: their fortifications are strong; but not so strong that they can withstand God: the inhabitants fight only with an arm of flesh; we with the arm of the living God: What then have we to fear? they, how numerous or powerful soever, are only as “bread for us,” and shall be devoured by us as easily as the food we eat. We have nothing to do but to trust in God; and we are as sure of victory, as if all our enemies were already slain. Let us go up then; not to conquer the land, but “to possess it:” the food is prepared for us; and we have nothing to do but to go up and eat it [Note: Compare Num 13:30 with the text.].
How encouraging was this! how calculated to carry conviction to their hearts! not one word to irritate, but every thing to convince and comfort them! This is the true pattern for reproof: as it should never savour of our own spirit, so it should never touch on painful topics but with care and tenderness: every syllable should breathe love. It is a proverb in France, that ‘Flies are not caught with vinegar:’ and we shall do well to remember, that it is the sweet alone which renders the sour palatable. Faithful indeed we must be, and so faithful as oftentimes to give offence: but we must take care that the offence arise, not from any needless severity on our part, but from the force of truth itself.]
Having noticed the remonstrance, it will be proper to consider,
The use we should make of it—
In the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 3 and 4) the Apostle traces the correspondence between the events we are considering and the duties of Christians in all ages. He shews that Canaan represented the rest which remains for us; and he cautions us against falling short of it through unbelief, as that people did. Hence it is evident that the address delivered to them by Joshua and Caleb may with great propriety be made to us: at least, we may take occasion from it,
To excite your desires—
[Justly did these remonstrants, who themselves “had searched the land,” declare it to be good, “an exceeding good land.” And are there not those amongst us, who by faith have searched the heavenly land, and already tasted its delicious fruits? Is not the sealing influence of the Spirit said to be “the earnest of our inheritance [Note: Eph 1:13-14.]?” And may we not from the first-fruits of the Spirit which we have already received [Note: Rom 8:23.], judge in a measure what the harvest shall be? May we not at least take upon us to affirm that heaven is a good, an exceeding good land? Yes, truly, “it flows with milk and honey;” yet while it affords abundance to all, it gives satiety to none — — — How can that land be otherwise than good, which was prepared by God the Father from the foundation of the world, purchased for us on the cross by the blood of his dear Son, and secured to us by the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to fit us for it, and to preserve us to it [Note: 2Ti 4:18.]? — — — How can that be otherwise than good, which is emphatically called “Emmanuel’s land [Note: Isa 8:8.],” as being the place where our adorable Saviour displays the full radiance of his glory, and communicates to every one, according to the measure of his capacity, all the fulness of his richest blessings? — — — In whatever view we contemplate it, we cannot but see, that it is worthy of our utmost exertions, and will amply repay all that we can do, or suffer, in the attainment of it.]
To animate your hopes—
[Unbelief will say to us exactly what the people said to each other on this occasion; “Were it not better for us to return to Egypt? Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt.” “When we were in the world, we enjoyed its pleasures, which now we have exchanged for pain and trouble. When we turned our backs upon the world, we imagined that we should experience nothing but ease and happiness under the protection of our God; but, behold, here are constant difficulties and trials to be encountered, and such too as we can never surmount: it were better therefore to return to our former state, and to leave events to God, who is too merciful to exclude any of his creatures from his heavenly kingdom.” But, beloved, why should any of you be discouraged by your trials and conflicts? Have you not ONE on your side, who is able to make you “more than conquerors over all your enemies?” “If God be for you, who can be against you [Note: Rom 8:31; Rom 8:37.]?” Multiply the number and power of your enemies a thousand-fold, and you need not fear them. Only, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might [Note: Eph 6:10.]:” and know, that, though you are but as a worm, you shall, through, his almighty aid, be enabled to “thresh the mountains [Note: Isa 41:14-15.]” — — —]
To direct your exertions—
[One caution did Joshua and Caleb give to Israel; which also we would recommend to your attention; it is, to guard against an unbelieving and disobedient spirit: “Only rebel not ye against the Lord.” You have nothing to fear but sin. Nothing, but sin, can by any means hurt you. As for men and devils, so far from prevailing against you, they are only “bread for you,” and shall, by the very efforts which they use to destroy you, be made subservient to your spiritual welfare. But sin is a deadly evil: that will provoke your God to depart from you: that may cause him to “swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest [Note: Heb 3:11.].” O put away from you that deadly evil! Especially put away unbelief: it is “by an evil heart of unbelief that you will be tempted to depart from the living God [Note: Heb 3:12.].” Pray therefore to God to “increase your faith [Note: Luk 17:5.].” Guard also against a murmuring spirit. If the Lord bring you into difficulties, it is only for the magnifying of his own grace in your deliverance. It is not your place to be indulging solicitude about events. God “would have you without carefulness [Note: 1Co 7:32; Php 4:6. 1Pe 5:7.]:” he bids you “be careful for nothing;” but to “cast all your care on him.” Duty is yours: events are his. “Only therefore let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ [Note: Php 1:27.]” and your success is sure: for your God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”]
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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.