Under orders from the Almighty, Moses dispatched twelve spies, a man from each tribe, to surveil the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:1-20). After forty days, the spies returned to the people, reporting that the land was as desirable as God had promised, but occupied by intimidating foes (13:21-33). Only Joshua and Caleb spoke with confidence of capturing the territory (13:30; 14:6-9). In open rebellion, the whole congregation intended to kill Joshua and Caleb (14:10), elect a new leader, and return to the land of their oppression (14:4).
Answering this insurrection, God’s wrath was fierce—He intended to annihilate the entire people and raise a new nation from Moses (14:12), but Moses, declining the honor offered him by the Lord, interceded for his rebellious countrymen (14:13-19). God spared the people the full penalty of destruction (14:20), but refused that generation entrance into the land of promise (14:23).
Recounting this event in later years, Moses said, “So Jehovah’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of Jehovah was gone” (32:13). The duration of their wandering was determined according to the length of the mission that brought about their rejection. God declared, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection” (14:34). Only the spies with a favorable report, Joshua and Caleb, survived the four decades in the wilderness (14:38). All others perished.
It was a fitting punishment for a people who refused to enter into and settle a land of plenty that they were made to wander a wilderness. And wander they did.
Moses recorded the waypoints of their journeys, listing all the locations in which they camped from Rameses in Egypt, before their momentous exodus through the Red Sea, to Beth Jesimoth by the Jordan River, before the sons of the rebels finally entered Canaan to conquer it and take possession of their inheritance (33:1-49). They dwelt temporarily in Rameses, Succoth, Etham, Pi Hahiroth, Marah, Elim, by the Red Sea, the Wilderness of Sin, Dophkah, Alush, Rephidim, the Wilderness of Sinai, Kibroth Hattaavah, Hazeroth, Rithmah, Rimmon Perez, Libnah, Rissah, Kehelathah, Mount Shepher, Haradah, Makheloth, Tahath, Terah, Mithkah, Hashmonah, Moseroth, Bene Jaakan, Hor Hagidgad, Jotbathah, Abronah, Ezion Geber, Kadesh, Mount Hor, Zalmonah, Punon, Oboth, Ije Abarim, Dibon Gad, Almon Diblathaim, the mountains of Abarim, and Beth Jesimoth. Spanning forty years, the people camped in forty-two sites, amounting to less than a year in each spot. Because they rejected the home God offered them, they were vagabonds—a nation without a country. Decade upon decade, they remained unsettled, nomadic, without permanent habitation.
The judgment rendered by God upon His people then prefigures the judgment on all in the last day. A land of “promise” is available (2nd Peter 3:13), a place to call “home” (2nd Corinthians 5:6), where the downtrodden may finally “rest” (Hebrews 4:9). Some “few” will eventually enter (Matthew 7:13-14); however, most will “reject it, and judge [them]selves unworthy of everlasting life” (Acts 13:46). Fearful of the hardships that beget rewards (Revelation 21:8), they will choose not to go where God leads and finally receive exactly that: alienation. “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2nd Thessalonians 1:9).
Just as the Israelites who did not want to go into the Promised Land got just what they wanted, so, too, God will grant in eternity what the wicked always desired on earth: separation from Him.
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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