Numbers 13–14 records Israel’s failure to initially take the promised land. Concerning this story and others from Israel’s history, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11; cf. 10:5, 10). While the list below is not exhaustive and does not delve into the larger story of redemption, it is nonetheless a handful of points that can be instructive and helpful for us today.
Our God is a God of the impossible.
Though Israel’s enemies were numerous, physically imposing, and dwelt in fortified cities in the midst of a difficult terrain (Num 13:28–29, 31–33), God could have easily removed their protection (Num 14:9) and eventually did so when Joshua led Israel to conquer Canaan.
We follow God by faith so that He can do the impossible through us.
This generation of Israelites despised God and refused to believe in Him (Num 14:11). They were exhorted to overcome the enemy, and if they had believed, God would have delighted to grant them victory (Num 13:30; 14:6–8). Caleb and Joshua would see this lesson come true in time.
If the leadership languishes, the congregation will crumble.
The twelve spies were chiefs of Israel’s tribes (Num 13:1–14). In bringing back a bad report, ten of the spies incited chaos and a rejection of Moses and Aaron (Num 14:1–4; cf. 13:25–33). Israel even wanted to stone Caleb and Joshua who opposed this bad report (Num 14:10). If only these ten had believed with Caleb and Joshua and led their fellow Israelites to do the same.
God holds leaders to a higher standard.
As to those ten who disbelieved and gave a bad report, God killed them immediately (Num 14:36–38), a different punishment than simply letting a generation die away over the next forty years (Num 14:26–35).
The prayer of a righteous man avails much.
God was initially ready to strike the whole nation down with the pestilence, disinherit them, and make a new nation from Moses (Num 14:11–12). As Moses did before (cf. Exod 32:7–14), he interceded for Israel, and God pardoned Israel from such a fate (Num 14:13–20).
Watch your mouth—you might just get what you wish for.
Fearing their foes, Israel wished that they might have died instead in the wilderness (Num 14:2). God granted them this wish as a punishment for their unbelief (Num 14:28).
Unbelief can delay the blessing of God and bring disaster at worst.
Israel would receive the Promised Land sooner or later because God always makes good on His promises. For this generation of Israelites, they did not believe and follow God, so He changed His plans for them, giving them forty years and death in the wilderness instead of receiving the land (Num 14:25, 32–35). Yet worse, they then chose to go contrary to this new plan and tried to take the land without His help, resulting in defeat, death, and disaster (Num 14:39–45).