I believe that when we approach the Bible, it answers at least three questions about God: Who is God? What is God like? What is God asking of me? Today's passage from Numbers 14:10-33 gives us insight into these three questions and challenges us as to how we will respond to the answers.
Last week, we saw that as the Israelites are at the edge of the Promised Land, they had a decision to make. Would they be ruled by fear or by faith? Unfortunately it was a battle between four men filled with faith and 600,000 plus filled with fear.
God was not pleased. Now it's God's turn to complain. "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?" (Numbers 14:11)
Who is God? God is Creator and the Sovereign Lord. He is the God who called out a people to be His own, who chose Abraham to be a blessing to the whole world and promised him descendants, a relationship with God and a land.
Every step of the way, God has been faithful to His promise. But the people refuse to believe, trust and obey. Then Moses and God have a very interesting conversation. God declares that He's going to strike down the people and start over with Moses. (Numbers 14:12)
What? Is this what God is like? Yes and no.
Moses can't believe it either. To his credit, Moses doesn't say, "Yes! They deserve to be wiped out and let's start again." Instead Moses, who has walked with God for decades, repeats what He knows God is like. In Numbers 14:16-19, Moses recounts the fact that God is faithful, strong, patient, loving and forgiving.
God agrees to forgive the people. However, God is also holy and just. Their sin deserves punishment. And it will be severe. Although the Israelites will eventually conquer the Promised Land, it won't be through the current generation (except for Caleb and Joshua). Instead that generation will wander for forty years and meet their end in the wilderness (Numbers 14:35).
How do the people respond to this judgement? Numbers 14:39-45 tells us that they "mourned bitterly" and realize their sin. But regret is not the same as repentance. Although they confess their initial sin, they are blind to their continued sin: they are still not obeying God.
Again there is no sense that the people cry out to God in prayer for mercy regarding their sin and its consequences but they decide in their own minds the best course of action.
What is God asking of them? God wants their obedience! He wants their trust and faith to be in Him, in what He is like and who He is.
1 Corinthians 10:6 tells us that the experiences of the Israelites were examples to "keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did." Do you know who God is? Do you know what God is like? Do you know what God may be asking of you?