Day 63: Israel's Rebellion
Numbers 14:1-45 Because of the growing rebellion against Moses in the camp of Israel, God told Moses that the Israelites would remain in the desert forty years and that NO ONE presently above the age of twenty would see the Promised Land except for Caleb and Joshua. The men among the spies who urged Moses not to confront the enemy forces were struck with plague and died. Some of the people decided to cross into the Promised Land without the command of God and were routed by the enemies of Israel. (CCC 1897-1903)
Deuteronomy Ch 12-26 These fifteen chapters contain laws that are sometimes called the “Deuteronomic Code.” As with certain other laws given by God in the Old Testament, the penalties enumerated for transgressing the law might seem disproportionate to the sins involved. These punishments, however, emphasized the seriousness of the offenses and served as an effective deterrent. The Promised Land was surrounded by pagan nations, and Israel had a history of falling prey to idol worship and other pagan practices. A strict discipline was needed to protect and preserve the people of God from infidelity and corruption. (CCC 56-57)
Psalm 95 On most mornings this hymn opens the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. This is appropriate since it calls everyone together to sing and pray to the Lord and become aware of his presence; it is a hymn of joy and thanksgiving to God our King. The psalm also urges his people to remain faithful and not to doubt and rebel as the Israelites did at Meribah. These words hearken to the time when the people, parched with thirst as they wandered through the desert, rebelled against Moses and believed that God had abandoned them. Moses, fearing he would be stoned, asked God to provide them with water, and God fulfilled the request MIRACULOUSLY by causing water to gush out of the rock when Moses struck it with his rod. Moses gave that place the name Meribah, which means “contention,” because the people challenged the Lord there. The psalm emphasizes “today” because we always encounter the Father, who stands outside of the confines of time, in the present; he sees every event as simultaneously present. The priest and victim of the Eucharistic liturgy is the Son of God made man. Precisely because the one who offers himself is a divine Person who took on a human nature, the re-presentation of Christ’s redemptive Sacrifice transcends time and space. (CCC 1163-1165, 2119, 2618, 2628, 2659)
The next day, they lament having ever left Egypt: “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!”
Then, questioning God’s motives, they ask, “Why does the Lord bring us into this land, to fall by the sword?”
Finally, they come to a decision. “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Nm 14:2-3).
Then they decide to choose a new captain to lead their return.
The remaining two spies, Joshua and Caleb, address Israel with an appeal to faith.
They exhort the people, saying that the land is an “exceedingly good land” and that with God they can have victory over those who dwell in the land.
They remind the people that Yahweh will overcome their difficulties: “The Lord is with us; do not fear” (Nm 14:9).
This call to faith falls on deaf ears, for from the people comes a cry to stone Joshua and Caleb!
It is at this point, when the lives of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb are imperiled, that the glory of God appears in a great cloud.
God speaks to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs which I have wrought among them?” (Nm 14:11; emphasis added).
In Hebrew, the word here to “believe” or “trust” is AMEN, a word universally used to confess one’s belief.
To believe is to act in faith, entrusting oneself to God.
This lack of trusting belief, first seen in the garden with Adam and Eve’s sin, is the root of all of Israel’s problems.
Only Joshua and Caleb believe.
These two men reflect the virtue of magnanimity, or greatness of heart.
They are willing to step out in faith and take the land God had called Israel to enter.
However, the ten spies and the rest of the people view this God-given mission of conquest with only a natural perspective that does not include God as a factor.
They can see only the temporal fact that they are runaway slaves, out-numbered, out-fortified, and out-armed, and they cannot hope to accomplish what God is calling them to do.
On the natural level, it would be impossible, but with God, all things are possible, as God’s gift of Isaac to Abraham made clear.
The weeping that marks the people’s despair illustrates the vice that is the exact opposite of the virtue displayed by Joshua and Caleb.
Acedia, or SLOTH, is the condition of heart that shrinks back from difficulties and arduous efforts and is content to wallow in sorrow rather than suffer while trying to succeed.
God calls Israel to great things, but slavery in Egypt appears easier to them than the work of obtaining the good that God has in store.
This condition of the heart is one that brings a progressive sense of depression and is marked by a constant sense of sadness.
Acedia, in other words, is the heart disease that often sets in when we give up faith and the pursuit of greatness to which God calls us.
Israel’s plan to return to Egypt does not simply mark a desire to return physically to the land of Pharaoh.
More seriously, it marks a spiritual shift in Israel’s heart, a breaking away from Yahweh, to whom they had pledged themselves at Sinai.
To return to Egypt is to repudiate the covenant at Sinai and all God had done for them.
This rejection of the land is a rejection of God, and it is as grievous a sin as the apostasy of the golden calf.
Indeed, much of what transpired at Mount Sinai after the apostasy of the calf will now be played out again.
God’s response to Israel’s rejection of the land is similar to his response to Israel’s worship of the golden calf: he tells Moses that he will strike Israel with pestilence and make an end of them.
Israel is to be “disinherited.”
Moses again takes up the role of intercessor and arbiter, first reminding God that if he does this, the Egyptians will say that Yahweh was unable to bring his people into their own land.
Moses then reminds God that since he has been present in “the midst of this people,” the nations will not understand God’s destroying his own people.
Moses continues, reminding God of what he had said on Sinai after the crisis of the golden calf, when he showed his glory to Moses: “Let the power of the Lord be great as thou hast promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression,’” (Nm 14:17-18).
Then Moses makes his final appeal: “Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray thee, according to the greatness of thy steadfast love, and according as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Nm 14:19).
God pardons the people, but there will be punishment.
For each of the forty days the spies looked upon the land and yet refused to believe God, they will spend one year in the wilderness.
Israel will spend forty years in the wilderness in punishment for their refusal to enter the land in faith.
This not only repeats the theme of exile as punishment for sin.
It ironically gives Israel what they wanted, for they had said, “Would that we had died in the wilderness” (Nm 14:2).
Now the entire generation numbered in the first census, those twenty years and older, will die in the wilderness, while their children, the second generation, will one day enter the Promised Land and experience the springtime of the people of God, the springtime that those who rebelled and dissented will never know.
The people respond to Moses’ declaration of this punishment with great mourning.
Meanwhile, a plague breaks out that kills the ten unfaithful spies.
Not only are Joshua and Caleb spared, but God promises that they will enter the land as a reward for their faith.
The people, despondent and distressed at their forty-year sentence, decide to take matters into their own hands.
They resolve to enter the land and fight for it.
Moses warns them that to do so is to disobey God, and, moreover, without God’s help they will be defeated by their enemies.
They ignore Moses’ admonitions and go up to fight the Amalekites, who rout them.
This defeat stands in striking contrast to the victory they had won against the Amalekites in their earlier journey to Sinai and signifies the changing fortunes of Israel.
The difference between defeat and victory is faith in God.
Testing and Trial
The theme of testing runs through the Old Testament and into the New Testament.
The number forty (or a multiple of it) is often associated with testing.
The rains last for forty days and forty nights during the flood.
Israel is enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years and wanders in the wilderness for forty years.
King Saul’s reign of thirty-eight years (which precedes the golden age of David) is consciously rounded up by the biblical writers to forty years to make clear that this too was a time of testing (Acts 13:21).
Jesus himself goes “into the wilderness” for forty days and is tested.
When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus quotes the Old Testament, recalling Israel’s unfaithfulness.
But unlike Israel, who fails the trials of the wilderness, Jesus, the eternal, firstborn Son of God, proves faithful.
Jesus’ triumph over temptation gives us confidence to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
Just another reminder
Numbers is RIGHT after the people of Israel were set free from slavery in Egypt
Deuteronomy is the “Previously on…..” 38 years later and the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land
Deuteronomy is Moses’ last speech, preaching, and teaching
Numbers tells the story that leads up to Deuteronomy
After the 12 spies had gone to scout out the land of Canaan, 10 of the spies were so intimidated and consumed by fear that they came back and said “This ain’t gonna happen” (RUN AWAY!!! RUN AWAY!!)
Their job was to assess and create a plan
Not necessarily to decide if it could be done
They needed to figure out where to go first, what kind of people are there, what do they need to prepare for?
You know, reconnaissance
But instead of scouting the land and preparing a plan, they became fearful and full of doubt
Once the spies share their fears with the Israelites, they become despondent
They even try to elect captains to BRING THEM BACK to Egypt and SLAVERY
The heart of the slave that still beats in the chest of the people of Israel says “Let’s just go back to Egypt, that place of slavery, and live our remaining days there.”
“Let’s take whatever punishment we get for running away.”
“Let’s just leave God and leave this land that He wants to give us.”
Because it is going to be hard
Because it is going to be dangerous
The Canaanites may even beat them
Fast Forward to Deuteronomy
Moses’ speech where he explains that they have to enter the Promised Land
The next book in this story is the Book of Joshua
They are going to have to fight
They are going to have to actually DO SOMETHING
It’s not just about being GIVEN
Even though the Promised Land was GIVEN to them by GOD, it still required THEIR COOPERATION with the Lord’s work
Since they were unwilling to cooperate and driven by fear and paralyzed by DISTRUST that marked their lives and heart, God tells them THEY WILL NOT ENTER THE PROMISED LAND
Their children, who the Israelites feared would be slaughtered by the Canaanites, are going to be the ones who will enter the Promised Land
Their children will be the ones who will have to fight
The Israelites were unwilling to fight, so they DO NOT GET TO SEE THE PROMISED LAND
Their children are going to have to fight since the Israelites WERE UNWILLING TO FIGHT
Isn’t this a lesson for us?
Those of us who are adults and in a place of responsibility, if we are given a task and we are not willing to battle and fight to break free from whatever burden has ensnared us, whatever slavery has been in our lives, if we are NOT WILLING to use the grace that GOD HAS GIVEN US to MOVE FORWARD IN FREEDOM and to FIGHT AGAINST THE SLAVERY, THE ADDICTIONS, THE BAD BEHAVIORS OF PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, then WHO IS GOING TO FIGHT THAT BATTLE?
Our CHILDREN are the ones who are going to have to do the battle that WE WERE UNWILLING TO FIGHT
This is a reminder for you and me and everybody we know
We have to take up arms against WHATEVER ENSLAVES US so that our children and our children’s children DON’T HAVE TO TAKE UP ARMS against whatever it is that enslaves us
This is SO IMPORTANT for EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. US.
If we have been given a position of authority and responsibility, then it is our RESPONSIBILITY in virtue of our AUTHORITY TO FIGHT so our children don’t have to fight the battles that we were supposed to fight,
Our children will have to fight other battles on their own
Let them fight the battles that THEY ARE MEANT TO FIGHT
NOT OUR BATTLES THAT WE WERE UNWILLING TO FIGHT
Deuteronomy 12: The Lord God, through Moses, commands that the pagan shrines be destroyed which makes complete sense
God also says to prepare themselves for the fact that there is going to be one place where God is asking them to worship
There will be ONE LOCATION they will have to go to when they offer these high and holy sacrifices
This is going to be important
It’s not this willy-nilly-hipster-with-a-funny-looking-mustache worship where you want and do whatever kind of worship you want
There is going to be a place that is POINTED OUT BY THE LORD
That is where the Tabernacle is going to be
That is where the Temple is going to be
This is going to be very important for the Israelites and us as well
There are restrictions when it comes to worship
Not just in HOW WE DO IT
But also in WHERE WE DO IT
We can pray anywhere, just like the Israelites
There is a place where the Levites, particularly the Sons of Aaron, will exercise their priestly worship faculties
That will be in the place where the Lord God points out
If you want to eat meat, it has to be a certain kind of meat
All kinds of animals were sacrificed to all kinds of “gods’ in the ancient world
God is making it clear that when it comes to certain animals, they could eat however much they want
But when it comes to other kinds of animals, particularly the animals that are offered in the temple and tabernacle, be careful
If you are close to the tabernacle and close to the temple, you cannot eat whatever meat you would like to
It is all connected to WORSHIP
This is important to keep in mind for all of us
This teaching in Deuteronomy 12 is NOT strictly speaking about eating, it is more connected to WORSHIP than anything
Keep praying for each other
Ask God to shape our minds, our hearts, and our world views so that we can see the world
So that we can see Him, and ourselves and each other the way that God wants us to
Especially as we are drawn closer and closer into battle for freedom
Especially as we are drawn closer and closer into worship in spirit and in truth with the TRUE LIVING GOD
We keep on this journey through our own wilderness and into the Promised Land that the Lord has prepared for us
Prayer by Fr Mike: “Father in Heaven, we thank you and give you praise. We thank you so much for hearing our prayers. We thank you for when we are unfaithful, you remain faithful. And that is what we need. You are who we need because, Lord, the depths to which our fears can control us, the depths to which our lack of faith can control us is paralyzing at times. And yet, Lord, when we know who you are there is no room for fear. When we love you there is no room for fear because that perfect love casts out whatever fear we might experience. Lord, if our day today is marked with fear, we ask that you please place your love in our hearts. If our day today is marked with uncertainty and insecurity, we ask that you place your courage and your strength in our hearts. Lord God, above all we ask that you place us in the palm of your hand and help us to never run away. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
It's astounding how the Israelites still doubt God's power, despite everything they have seen him do for them so far! Yet God, while angry with them, still doesn't give up on them. Makes one think how many times we doubt God after all the blessings we have received from him, and yet he still doesn't give up on us.