Saturday, February 17, 2007

God wants to destroy his people but Moses talks him out of it

Numbers 14:11-19 The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they."

Moses said to the LORD, "Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 'The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.'

"Now may the Lord's strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now."


Where do I start on this?

1) God is upset with his people so he is ready to strike them down with a plague and destroy them.

2) He's then wanting to make Moses a great nation instead of fulfilling his previous promises.

3) Moses talks about seeing God "face to face" when Exodus 33:20 says "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."

4) Moses reminds God that he punishes "the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." which is in line with Exodus 20:5 which states "for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation" (also see Deuteronomy 5:9 & Exodus 34:7). Of course, this is in direct contradiction to Deuteronomy 24:16 which states "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin" (see also Ezekiel 18:20).

However, my real question concerns this issue:

5) Moses, a mere human, had to reason with God and talk him out of this action by reminding him that he is "slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion." Moses also plays on God's ego by asking him what will the Egyptians think. How can this be?

Your thoughts?


Jason said...

May I...?

Roopster said...


Of course you may......

Jason said...

Thanks :)

1. The Israelites, having just been delivered from Egypt, had already started complaing and even had the gall to want to appoint a new leader to take them BACK to Egypt. The sheer stubborness and arrogance of this really is quite astounding. God's intended punishment was to destroy them all, and then through Moses, establish a new, more 'worthy' group of Israelites.

2. Moses, Aaron, Caleb, Joshua, a few select others plus the children of the complaining parents were spared God's wrath because they weren't involved in the post-Egypt meltdown. This is why God wasn't 'breaking' His previous commandment.

3. "Face to face" simply means "in the presence of". See also other "face to face" references in:
• Genesis 32:30 - Jacob had just wrestled with an angel of God, he had been in the "presence" of God but hadn't actually seen His face;
• Deut 5:4 - an angel of God spoke to Moses in the burning bush but Moses didn't literally see the face of God;
• Judges 6:22 - Gideon sees an angel of God, not God's literal face.

4. That's a good one. I've always had a bit of a problem with that too. Any suggestions or thoughts or am I on my own here to figure this one out? :)

5. This was an example of intercession. The same thing happened when Moses pleaded to God not to kill the people with the fiery serpents in Numbers 21:7. The idea of intercessory prayer can also be found in James 5:14. I don't agree that Moses was playing on God's ego since God doesn't possess or need self-esteem in our sense of the word. I would instead say that Moses was trying desperately to save his people and he was going to try everything possible for God not to kill them.

Roopster said...

Here's what says about #3

Has Man Seen God?

Mark Wilson said...

On point 4, John Wesley said (paraphrase)

For though God do visit the father's sins upon the children (see Exo_20:5) yet he will not suffer men to do so.

The issue in the bible text you have quoted is that God is saying that PEOPLE should not put a son to death for what the father has done.

God on the other hand will visit the iniquity (or extend grace I guess)

God bless you for seeking!

Bless you,

jason said...

Hm. I can see how that could be the case. I'd like to look into it a bit further but thanks for your insight.

Another Jason said...

1.) Yup.

2.) At this point, God had made Israel/the seed of Abraham a great nation. His promise was fulfilled. Israel was large, powerful, and wealthy. I don't know what his intent was, whether he wanted to make Moses a great nation (which would also have been an extension of Abraham) or to allow Moses to search his heart. What if Moses became greedy and decided he wanted to be a great nation by himself?

3.) I believe this is a figurative face to face. I supposedly sit in a classroom face to face with a teacher but most of the time their back is to the whiteboard. Besides, do we even know that God has a physical face?

4.) Mark Wilson is right on. God does say that HE will hold a grudge (this is later repealed) but tells MAN that they are not to put these people to death. Imagine that if God had not said this. People would likely have twisted his words into an excuse to wipe out a whole family.

5.) This is the big point of the passage. Why would God listen to a human? The fact is that he does, including King Hezekiah. Think of it this way, God requires perfection. We can't offer God perfection. That is why Christ prays for us, that God will forgive our mess-ups. Moses is simply illustrating what Christ is doing today. My sins are worth being punished, but Jesus Christ pleads on my behalf.

We honestly don't have all the facts. Was this a test? Would God have really wiped out Israel? We don't know. But the important truth is that we need to commune with God. We need to seek Him and we need to ask Him questions, just as this blog does.

Moses is shown here as a type, or illustration, of Christ, the great Intercessor.

Christopher said...

I know this is old, but it came up in a search so here goes.

I think this is a very spectacular story. As for God wanting to kill the Israelites that is nothing new, especially in the Old Testament. The wages of sin are death. No human deserves life anyways, it is God's right to do with us as He pleases. Yet, He still loves us. I read this story more as a commentary on Moses' relationship with God and find it quite beautiful. God is angry, He has caught his children with their hands in the cookie jar yet again! He is rightfully (righteously) angry. He comes to Moses, His friend venting. Moses wisely doesn't plead for them, doesn't ask like Lot did to find a righteous man among them, Moses with great wisdom related to God, and was able to see things from God's perspective in terms of Gods great vision for the nation of Israel and intercedes.

For me this verse is more about God and Moses having an intimate conversation together about their children, almost as a husband and wife would. My son came home drunk and driving, I say, "I am going to kill him, we can have another." My wife on the other hand, "Imagine what others will think, we have to deal with this in another way." This is what God wants in a relationship. He wants us to know Him and He wants to know us. It is beautifully close.

Steven Churchill said...

Good answers above. To add a bit, my take-away from that passage is: 1) God is merciful and patient towards us, wanting us to succeed spiritually (archetypally, to enter the promised land). 2) God desires that we grow in relationship with Him, including prayerful discussion with Him about the things we're dealing with. Isaiah 1:18 says, "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord."