“But Moses objected. ‘What will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?’ he asked the Lord…”
I’m currently on my second round of reading through the Bible in its entirety. Right now I am in the middle of the book of Numbers. It’s not one of my favorite books to read. I find all the census stuff and statistical information to be boring. But when I start reading about Moses and the Israelites, God gets my attention. Chapter 14 is a prime example.
In this chapter, the Israelites are complaining about God’s way of rescuing them. In fact, they don’t feel rescued at all. They not only grumble, but they question if God is even helping them. The chapter begins with the Israelites saying, “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!…Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle?…” (Verses2b-3a) This grumbling makes God’s anger boil. Enter Joshua and Caleb to intervene by reminding them of what the Promised Land looked like. The Israelites want nothing to do with their encouragement. Instead, they actually discuss stoning Joshua and Caleb. Now, God is enraged. He appears before all of them but He speaks only to Moses. This is where the passage gets interesting.
God is so fed up with the Israelites doubting Him that He declares He will disown them. He is ready to wipe them out with a plague and make a new nation “greater and mightier than they are!” (verse 12) But Moses objects. Now if you’re familiar with Moses, then you’re probably aware He questioned God’s calling for Him to even lead the Israelites. He ended up with Aaron as a helper because He doubted God’s ability to make Him an effective leader. Now He is in the wilderness with this same group, they’re mad and grumbling, ready to stone Joshua and Caleb. God is enraged and Moses is caught in the middle. Suddenly he gets a bout of courage and objects, TO GOD! Here’s a paraphrased version of how Moses responds to God (and by paraphrase I mean my own modern day terminology of Moses’ rebuttal to God’s wrath.)
Moses musters up courage and responds to God with,
“Dude listen-I get it. You did all these amazing acts of rescuing them from slavery, providing for them every step of the way and defeating every enemy they crossed paths with. I mean You’ve literally made it rain with bread (manna) and foul (quail) just to prove Your power in their lives and again, to shut them up from all their whining.
“Here we are again dealing with their doubts, lack of faith and grumbling. But the Egyptians are still around. I’m just curious, and I mean no disrepect in asking this question, what do you think the Egyptians would say if You wiped out the Israelites now, here, in this wilderness? What message would this send Your enemy? They know the power You displayed rescuing Your people from their land. They know You’ve appeared to us face to face and that it’s Your cloud that hovers over us. They know that You go before us by day and by night. If You destroy Your people now, Your enemy will say, “The Lord was not able to bring them into the land He swore to give them, so He killed them in the wilderness.” (Verse 16.)
Moses continues by asking God to prove His power once again and even reminds Him of His own words that He is a God “slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion…” (verse 18.) God responds by agreeing to pardon the Israelites as Moses requests, but denying all who have grumbled against the Lord access to the Promised Land. Their death sentence is secured right in that wilderness.
If you read this passage at face value, it could be interpreted as Moses changing God’s mind. In fact, it’s almost as if God is being irrational and Moses steps in and says, “Ok God, before You bring the plague, let’s take a deep breath and see if there’s another solution that won’t ruin Your reputation with the enemy.” Seriously, it almost looks like God is flying off the handle and Moses is like, “Calm down! Let’s rethink this.” Did Moses actually change God’s mind? Can you or I change God’s mind? The answer is, ABSOLUTELY NOT!
God is not a being who can be reasoned with or who’s mind can be changed. God is also not a being who gets irrational. God is God. He is omnipotent and omnipresent. He always was and He always will be. He ordained everything that has happened and will happen throughout the entire world’s existence. He is the Master of the Universe. Therefore, nothing that happens, not even an entire nation grumbling against Him, surprises Him. Before God even ordained Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God knew most of them would be faithless and never see the Promised Land. But He chose to rescue them anyway. I don’t believe He ever intended on destroying them with the plague he threatened either. I believe God said what He said to Moses in chapter 14 to test Moses’ character and to sharpen his leadership skills. God already knew how Moses would respond to His wrath against the Israelites. He knew yet He made the threat anyway. He did so, giving Moses the opportunity to intervene for the people God called him to lead. I also think God did this to remind Moses of the kind of Power God really has and that His word is not void. God always keeps His word.
Numbers chapter 14 is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and His ability to test our character. If your character is being tested, God is simply sharpening you for the position He’s called you into. If His direction or response seems irrational, step up and speak out His own word to remind yourself that He is in control, He is all powerful and His word is never void. Don’t try to change God’s mind. If you or a loved one is messing up, do intervene, with prayer, concession and confession. Like Moses, your confession and intercession could be the game changer in their life or your own.