Moses is the leader of the people that God had delivered from oppression in Egypt. Aaron is his brother who assisted Moses in carrying out the work that God had sent them to do. Caleb and Joshua were two of the twelve spies that were sent to survey the land that God was going to give to the Israelites.
The way the people responded to the news that was brought back from the land is what sets the stage for the plot in this story. The setting is the Wilderness of Paran; the Israelites arrived there after leaving Hazeroth, and the people had been murmuring the whole time.
Now they get to the edge of the Promised Land that God was going to give them, and Moses sends out twelve spies to survey the land that they are supposed to occupy according to the promise that God made to Abraham. It is God who tells Moses to send the spies into the land, and when they return after forty days of surveying the land, ten out of the twelve spies give Moses a pessimistic report.
This causes the people to complain about being led to what they consider a death sentence after leaving Egypt. The people are afraid that the Canaanites will kill them and plunder their young ones. They call for a leader to take them back to Egypt.
Caleb and Joshua try to tell the people that they should put their trust in God, and that He will give them the land only if they do not rebel against Him. The people responded to Joshua’s and Caleb’s pleadings with threats to stone them, and then the plot thickens.
As they are threatening to stone Caleb and Joshua, the glory of God appears to them and He says to Moses that He will destroy these people because they despise Him. He tells Moses that He will make a great nation from Moses alone. Moses pleads with God and tells Him that if He were to destroy the Israelites, then all of the nations around them would say that God was unable to keep His promise and instead slaughtered them in the wilderness.
Moses reminds God of His faithfulness and longsuffering; He reminds Him of the many times that He has forgiven His people since delivering them up out of Egypt. Moses succeeds in turning the plot around, because God responds to Moses’ pleas by telling him that He will not destroy the Israelites, but instead the present generation of Israelites will not see the Promised Land.
God tells Moses that He will cause the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years and that their children would be the ones to enter and enjoy the land. He says this twice, and the second time He gives more detail about what He would do to the people, and He asks Moses, “How long must I endure this evil community that keeps complaining about me?” He concludes by telling Moses that the current generation of Israelites will die in the wilderness except Caleb and Joshua, because they gave a good report and they were pleading with the people to obey God. Caleb, Joshua, their families, and the Israelites’ children will be allowed to enter the land after the last of the current generation dies.
After God told Moses this, Moses went and reported all of it to the people, and they realized that they had sinned against God. The people decide to take things into their own hands, and again, sin against God by going up against the Canaanites and the Amalekites. Moses once again tries to talk the people into trusting God and not going up against the Canaanites and the Amalekites, because God will not help them. The people do not listen, and the Canaanites and Amalekites beat them and chase them as far as Hormah.
There are a few things that we can learn from this story. The most obvious one is to trust the Lord. How often, as we go through our lives seeking the will of God, and we come up against an obstacle, that at first seems like there is no way to overcome it, do we begin to complain? How many times have you heard a Christian ask the question “How can God have let this happen to me?”
Instead of realizing that God has put the obstacles into our lives in order to glorify His name by helping us overcome that obstacle, we complain about it. God’s strongest desire is to glorify Himself, and sometimes He does it by putting obstacles in our lives that can only be overcome with His help; but when we start to complain and mumble about it, that obstacle will remain an obstacle until we trust in God for His help.
What we do instead is try to take matters into our own hands. The Israelites took matters into their own hands and wanted to go back to Egypt. So God told Moses that He was going to destroy them. Moses talked Him out of it, but God was still going to punish the people. When Moses told them this, they decided to take things into their hands, once again, and they failed. So we learn that without trusting in God to help us overcome obstacles, there will be no victory from God, but instead more heartache.
This account in the Bible teaches us about salvation and that salvation comes from God and not by our own effort. Follow me here: our culture complains and grumbles about the fact that the Bible says that there is only one way to Heaven––Jesus Christ. They call Christians arrogant and narrow minded for believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. They call Jesus arrogant as well. They decide to take matters into their own hands and follow other religions that promise heaven by different methods other than faith in the one true way, Jesus Christ. So they try to take heaven by their own effort and they will end up in hell. This story is God telling us that salvation comes by His power, not by our own effort.
God was bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land and He was going to defeat the Canaanites and Amalekites for them so that they would know without a shadow of a doubt that it was God who gave them the land. Christians are also going to inherent a Promised Land––Heaven. God does not want people to be mistaken as to by what power the Christian will come into the Promised Land. It is God who delivers us by His own power and it is only through His Son that people will enter heaven.