Exploring the Promised Land
- Wonder why the people forgot God's promises to them.
- Wonder at God's patience with the people who forgot to trust God's promises.
- Trust God's promises to us, as Joshua and Caleb did.
- Thank God for keeping each promise to us.
After months of hardship and miracles in the wilderness, and after covenanting with God at Sinai, the moment has come for the Israelites to return to the land of their ancestors, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God directs Moses to choose a man from each tribe to explore the land before they enter. While God has promised to "give" them the land, it seems wise to get some sense of its contours and potential problems they might encounter. The exploration seems to be intended more to raise expectations than to dash hopes.
At first the explorers' report seems exciting and wonderful; the promised land is truly a "land flowing with milk and honey" (13:27). But soon they warn of its large, fortified cities and its wild tribes of supersized people. You can almost feel the people's hearts sinking as they listen. Then Caleb, one of the explorers, speaks up: "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." But his response gets lost in further doom and gloom about the huge men before whom "we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes" (v. 33).
Soon there is a full-scale rebellion. The Israelites grumble against their leaders and even against the Lord himself: "If only we had died in Egypt. . . . Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to fall by the sword?" (14:3). They are ready to vote in another leader and march back to Egypt.
The Lord becomes very angry and tells Moses he is going to destroy the people, much as he threatened after they had worshipped the golden calf. God even offers to start over by making of Moses a new nation. Moses, again as at Sinai, pleads for the people. His arguments are similar. Basically they're a variation of "What will the neighbors say?" God's name, he points out, will be mud if he abandons his people now (v. 16).
What follows next is one of the most powerful, heartfelt prayers for mercy anywhere in the Bible. It pleads for forgiveness, not based on any possible change in the people of Israel and certainly not on any merit on their part. Moses' plea is based solely on the character of God himself: "slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . . In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people" (vv. 17-19).
Then God displays the very character Moses had described in his prayer. The Lord replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked." The power of prayer! But God also punishes sin, and God's just judgment falls on this rebellious generation, who will never see the land but who are condemned to forty more years of wandering in the wilderness. Only their children will see the promised land.
While the Israelites want to accept the forgiveness, they refuse to bow under the judgment. They decide that in repentance they will march against the people of the land in their own strength. But Moses says, "Because you have turned away from the Lord , he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword" (v. 43). The Amalekites and Canaanites would send them running in defeat.
Step 1 Breathe
Use this time to focus your attention on God.
Do this with me: calm your head, heart, and hands as you slowly breathe in . . . and out. (Demonstrate a few deep "in and out breaths" with eyes closed.)
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DWELL helps kids find their place in God's Big Story. Learn more about this popular and trusted children’s ministry curriculum.