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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 14



Verse 8


‘If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it us.’

Numbers 14:8

Let us notice in reference to the heavenly Canaan:—

I. Who they are in whom the Lord delights.—(1) He delights not in the unpardoned sinner. How should He? The carnal mind is enmity against God. The unconverted man is God’s enemy by his wicked works. And how can two walk together except they be agreed? Instead of delighting in the wicked, we are told God is angry with the wicked every day. He is ever whetting His glittering sword; and were it not for the great Intercessor crying out, ‘Spare him this year also,’ He would say, ‘Ah, I will ease Me of My adversaries. That rebellious sinner I have sworn shall never enter into My rest.’ It is the very nature of God to loathe and abhor that which is sinful. ‘Thou art not a God,’ says David, ‘that delighteth in wickedness.’ ‘Surely Thou wilt slay the wicked.’ It matters not whether we profess to be the Lord’s people or not. If our sins are unpardoned, and our hearts unchanged, God delights not in us. These 603,550 Israelites were God’s professed people, but they never saw the promised land. It is impossible for God to view unpardoned sinners with delight. He has long patience towards them, hoping that His long-suffering will lead them to repentance, but after a time His patience is exhausted, and He at length cries, ‘Bind them hand and foot, and cast them into outer darkness.’

Do you ask then, In whom does the Lord delight? (2) He delights in the justified believer. ‘The Lord’s delight is in them that fear Him, and that put their trust in His mercy.’ He delights in those who are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus. ‘Christ hath loved us,’ says St. Paul, ‘and hath given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.’ God delights in the justified believer, who depends upon the death of Christ. He smelt a sweet savour in the sacrifice Noah offered after the Flood. So is He pleased with the atoning blood offered in sacrifice for the believer’s iniquities. When He passed through the land of Egypt on that memorable night of Israel’s deliverance He delighted in sparing those houses on which He saw the blood. So does He delight to spare all those whose hearts are sprinkled with the precious blood of Jesus. When He sees you a poor sinner, broken under a deep sense of sin, reviewing your past life, and grieving over your numberless iniquities, and looking with the eye of faith upon your crucified Lord, what does His eye then see? Why, He sees the precious blood of Jesus sprinkled upon your soul, and in you He is infinitely delighted. He sees you dipped, as it were, in the blood of the Redeemer. He looks upon you as having suffered all that Christ suffered.

And how will He manifest His delight in you? This is my next subject. I have described who they are in whom the Lord delights. Now let us consider:

II. Their sure prospect of heaven.—You see the argument of Caleb and Joshua. ‘If the Lord delight in us,’ then we are safe, then we may depend upon His promise,’ then will He bring us into this land and give it us, a land which floweth with milk and honey.’ You say there are many difficulties in the way. And was it not so with Israel? The cities were walled and very great. The inhabitants were gigantic and strong, and they were but as grasshoppers before them; and yet all these difficulties gave way under the guidance and power of their God. And so shall it be with yourselves. ‘God will bring you into this land.’ Who shall interfere to prevent?

The land is ‘an exceeding good land.’ It is a land that floweth, indeed, with milk and honey. ‘There everlasting spring abides, and never-withering flowers.’ Moses said to the Israelites, ‘For the land whither thou goest in to possess it is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out; but the land whither ye go to possess it is a land which the Lord thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.’ How much rather may we use that language concerning our better Canaan! The land is, indeed, a ‘land which God careth for.’ It is His own residence and pavilion. ‘His eyes are ever upon it,’ because He dwells there. How exceeding good then must be that inheritance!

—Canon Clayton.


‘Every one of the twelve saw fertile fields and vineyards; every one of them saw battlements and towers. Yet though they saw the same things, how differently did they see them! What a diverse note there was in the two reports! How different was everything in the eyes of Caleb and Joshua, from what it was in the eyes of the other ten! And the point we can never dwell upon too seriously is, that this sharp contrast in the vision of the land, sprang, not from any difference of eyesight, but from the presence and the lack of faith. It was a laud of possession to Caleb and to Joshua, because they trusted in Jehovah and delighted in Him. It was a land of fearfulness to the other ten, because their faith in the living God was feeble. Both parties had the same facts to report upon, yet how strangely divergent was their tale, and the divergence was the measure of belief. We must learn that priceless lesson when we are young. It is our heart that gives the meaning to all we see. We are all of us spies, and the reports we bring depend not on what we see, but on what we are. That is why we are never too young to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O, God;” that is why, even in our earliest years, we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight; for a clean heart and an unclean heart (like the twelve spies) look out on the same faces and the same world, yet to the one the presence of God is everywhere, and to the other there is nothing glorious nor great.’

Verse 11


‘And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke Me? and how long will it be ere they believe Me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?’

Numbers 14:11

Nothing is more surprising to us at first reading than the history of God’s chosen people: it seems strange that they should have acted as they did, age after age, in spite of the miracles which were vouchsafed to them.

I. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better; the history of Israel proves it.—The only mode of escaping this conclusion is to fancy that the Israelites were much worse than other nations, which accordingly has been maintained. But as we see that in every other point they were exactly like other nations, we are obliged to conclude, not that the Israelites were more hardhearted than other people, but that a miraculous religion is not much more influential than other religions.

II. Why should the sight of a miracle make us better than we are?—(1) It may be said that a miracle would startle us, but would not the startling pass away? Could we be startled for ever? (2) It may be urged that perhaps that startling might issue in amendment of life; it might be the beginning of a new life, though it passed away itself. This is very true; sudden emotions—fear, hope, gratitude, and the like—all do produce such results sometimes; but why is a miracle necessary to produce such effects? Other things startle us besides miracles; we have a number of accidents sent by God to startle us. If the events of life which happen to us now produce no lasting effect upon us, then it is only too certain that a miracle would produce no lasting effect upon us either.

III. What is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts if the absence of miracles be not the reason, as assuredly it is not?—There is one reason common both to us and the Jews: heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love.

IV. In another respect we are really far more favoured than the Israelites.—They had outward miracles; we have miracles that are not outward, but inward. Our miracles consist in the Sacraments, and they do just the very thing which the Jewish miracles did not: they really touch the heart, though we so often resist their influence.

V. Let us then put aside vain excuses, and instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must be from within.—Let us rouse ourselves and act as reasonable men before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth in religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven.


‘There was a scene of Oriental despondency, strong men weeping like children. In vain did Caleb and Joshua strive to reanimate their courage, and quicken their faith in God. Fiercely they murmured against their leaders, and proposed to choose a captain to return to Egypt. They mourned over the fate of their wives and children, and in hot anger at the renewed remonstrances of Caleb and Joshua commanded to stone them with stones. Moses and Aaron had thrown themselves prostrate in prayer before Jehovah.’

Verse 33


‘Your children shall wander in the wilderness … until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.’

Numbers 14:33

It is very common to hear Christian preachers refer to the forty years’ wandering of the children in the wilderness as the type of the Christian’s pilgrimage in this world. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The allusions of Moses to the way in which the Lord led them and blessed them during that melancholy period of their history, proves, not that they were walking in God’s way, but that they were reaping the bitter results of their own unbelief and rebellion. Look at one or two facts. When they rebelled at Kadesh-Barnea, God turned them back into the wilderness in anger and said: ‘I will smite them with pestilence and disinherit them.’ Then Moses interceded for them, and God pardoned their sin, but he added: ‘Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers; neither shall any of them which provoked me see it.’ Moreover, he said to them plainly: ‘Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness.’ Surely a life under such a curse and ban cannot be the typical life for the people of God. It did not end in the land, but in the wilderness. In long after years that wilderness life was held up as a beacon, warning Christians against the sin and danger of unbelief. ‘But with whom was He grieved for forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?’ To ‘whom He sware that they should not enter into His rest,’ because they believed not. ‘So that we see they could not enter in because of unbelief.’ Then this exhortation is added: ‘Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it’ (Hebrews 3:11-19; Hebrews 4:1-6). These beautiful words of Moses are recorded in Deuteronomy 8 : ‘And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee and to prove thee and to know what was in thine heart, to know whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no. Thou shalt also consider in thy heart, that as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.’ These words were addressed to the younger generation who had come up at the end of the forty years, and were intended to admonish them by reverting to the sins of their fathers.

The fact is that the ‘good land and the large,’ into which Joshua brought the people, was God’s thought for them and not the wilderness life.

I. The wilderness was one long history of unbelief and chastisement for sin.—There is not a single act of faith recorded of the children of Israel during all their forty years of wanderings. In the summary of the history of the faith of Israel, the wilderness is entirely left out. Consider this record and let it suggest the truth to our hearers. ‘Through faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land; which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.’ Does the record go on to say, By faith they wandered forty years in the wilderness? By no means. The next act of faith recorded of Israel is in these words: ‘By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.’ Then it was that they began a new life and walk and war after God’s mind, in the land which He sware unto their fathers.

There is a most important lesson in this history for us. Too many, far too many, of God’s people are living and wandering in the wilderness, when they should be shouting the victory in Canaan. This is where God wants us to be, both individually and collectively.

II. How are we to get out of the wilderness and into Canaan?—Why, just as that new generation of Israelites did. By faith. But what is meant by faith? The story is simple and easy to those who are ready to read it and put the principles therein unfolded into practice. Faith is not merely a mental exercise, which believes what God says is true. Faith is that, but it is more. It is acting upon that word, and doing what God commands, nothing doubting that He will bring His promises to pass, though a city, walled as high and thick as Jericho, were to stand in the way.


‘The people were only saved from swift destruction by the fervent and self-forgetful intercession of Moses. Still, they had shown how unfit they were for the great work of the conquest of Canaan. As the spies had been forty days in their search, for every day Israel would wander a year in the wilderness, until the Egyptian generation had died out, and a generation bred under the new moral power, and under the iron discipline of the wilderness, should arise, who would not be afraid to meet the enemy in the gate. Only two above the age of twenty years, Caleb and Joshua, would ever enter the promised land. The faithless spies miserably perished.’


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 14:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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