September 29, 2019, Numbers 14:10b – 20

Last week we read of the spies trip into Canaan, their return to the Hebrew encampment, and the problems and divisions, and threats of death which resulted from their reports.

This week we read of God’s appearing to the Hebrews … and it does not start well for them.

Read over the passage, maybe a couple of times, paying attention to God’s initial reaction, Moses’ exchanges with the God and what comes of the dialogue.


Numbers 14:10b – 20

Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for in your might you brought up this people from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people; for you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go in front of them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people all at one time, then the nations who have heard about you will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them that he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ And now, therefore, let the power of the Lord be great in the way that you promised when you spoke, saying,

‘The Lord is slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love,
forgiving iniquity and transgression,
but by no means clearing the guilty,
visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
to the third and the fourth generation.’

Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.”

Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked;”

What do the Hebrews deserve given their cry for blood? Given their turning their backs on God and God’s call into a land of promise? Given their turning away from Moses and desire to have another “captain.” (Numbers 14:1-4).

What should Moses do? Side with God’s call for judgement? Or argue with God?

What should God do? Pronounce judgement on the people? Visit judgment on them? Destroy them? Or … Listen to Moses’ intercession and offer the people another opportunity for a future living into His calling for them.

“Then the Lord said, ‘I do forgive, just as you have asked;’”

It appears God remembers his own promise of steadfast love for the people and continues to stand with the Hebrews.

But, wait a moment. Did you notice that as Moses reminds God of his promise of steadfast love he also acknowledges (to God? to himself? to the Hebrew encampment) that God “by no means [clears] the guilty.”?

The reading we have before us ends with a semicolon and not a period, and following the semicolon is the foreboding “nevertheless.” (Numbers 14:21 – 23)

Yes, they are forgiven and God’s grace does not depart from them, their threats and actions do have consequences.

While God (and Moses) will stand with them, they will face a future that has been limited by what they have done.

Do we (yes, you and I) escape the consequences of our decisions because of God’s forgiveness. Yes and No? No and Yes? How long does it take to work through or work past the consequences of bad choices? 40 years? 40 is one of those numbers that appears again and again in Scripture. It often seems to suggest a “complete” period of time. That is to say, 40 days or 40 years is how long it took to completely accomplish something.

How long will it take for God’s grace to accomplish God’s work in you. When will you and I arrive at the perfection/maturity God calls us to?

How far along that road are you today?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

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