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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Numb. 13]

IN the second year after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites set out from Mount Sinai, and pursued their march to the desert of Pharan. Thence Moses sent twelve men, one of every tribe, to explore the Land of Chanaan. He said to them: “Go and view the land, whether it be good or bad; and the people, whether they be strong or weak; and the cities, whether they be walled or without walls.” So the men went out and viewed the land, entering at the south side and arriving at Hebron. Thence they proceeded as far as the torrent of the cluster of grapes. Here they cut off a branch with its cluster of grapes, and the men carried it upon a pole. After forty days they returned bringing with them figs, grapes, and other rich fruits, as specimens of what the land produced.

They told Moses and all the people that the Land of Chanaan was good, flowing with milk and honey, as might be seen by these fruits; but that it would be very difficult to conquer the country, as the men were big and strong, and the cities surrounded by walls. They added: “There we saw certain monsters of the sons of Enac, of the giant kind, in comparison to whom we seemed like locusts.” Then the people, losing courage and confidence in God, began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, wishing that they had died in Egypt, or in the desert. They exclaimed: “Let us appoint a captain and return to Egypt!”

In vain did Caleb and Josue, who were of the number of the spies, or explorers, endeavour to appease the anger of the multitude, saying that the Land of Chanaan was very good, and that, if the men of that country were strong, the Lord would fight for the children of Israel. But the people would not listen to reason. They threatened to put Josue and Caleb to death.

Then the glory of the Lord appeared over the Ark, and God said to Moses: “How long will this people detract Me? How long will they not believe Me for all the signs that I have wrought before them? I will strike them, therefore, with pestilence, and consume them.” Moses interceded for the people, saying: “Forgive, I beseech Thee, the sin of the people, according to the greatness of Thy mercy.”

The Lord answered: “I have forgiven, according to thy word. But yet, all the men that have seen the signs that I have done in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted Me now ten times, shall not see the land. You shall wander forty years in the desert, and faint away and die in the desert; but your children shall possess the land.”

After pronouncing this sentence on the rebellious Israelites, the Lord struck dead the ten spies who had excited them to sedition. But Josue and Caleb were spared and blessed. In spite of the divine sentence “that they should not see the land”, the rebellious Israelites determined to enter at once. Moses warned them, saying: “Go not up, for the Lord is not with you; it shall not succeed prosperously with you”; and he remained with the ark in the camp, while they in their blindness set out and were routed by the Amalekites and Chanaanites. After this the Israelites returned once more into the interior of the desert towards the Red Sea.

The Justice, Mercy, and Wisdom of God. Almighty God had borne for a long time with the murmuring, refractory Israelites; but at last His divine patience was exhausted, and His justice demanded that they should be punished. The people of Israel were condemned to wander about the desert for forty years, and of the 600,000 fighting men who left Egypt, only two entered the Promised Land. But even while He punished, God showed mercy; for at the request of Moses He so far forgave the people that He did not destroy them. He excluded all those who were grown up from the Promised Land, which, however, He explicitly promised anew to the younger generation. By the wisdom of Divine Providence the forty years of wandering served this end, that the Israelites put aside all the heathen ideas and customs which they had imbibed in Egypt, and grew accustomed to the observance of the law of God and obedience to those whom He had placed over them, and were trained to be a valiant, warlike people.

The sins of the Israelites. In the story you have just heard the Israelites sinned against the First Commandment by their want of faith, hope, and charity. They sinned against the Second Commandment by cursing and blaspheming, and speaking and acting as if God were not the one, true, almighty Lord. These sins were all the more grievous, because God was ever before their eyes, and was constantly working wonderful miracles for their benefit. They sinned against the Fourth Commandment, by rising against Moses, the servant of God; and also against the Fifth Commandment, by trying to kill the true and faithful spies, Josue and Caleb.

Cursing. The people called a curse on themselves: “Would to God that we might die in the wilderness!” Their sinful wish was granted for their punishment: they were condemned to die in the wilderness, and never entered the Land of Chanaan. This should be a warning to us to avoid all kind of imprecations. The cry of the unbelieving Jews in the time of our Lord: “His Blood be upon us and upon our children” (New Test. LXXII), is another terrible instance of an imprecation being fulfilled.

The power of intercession. Because Moses, the just servant of God, prayed earnestly for his people, God forgave them their many and grievous sins.

Temporal punishment. God told Moses explicitly that He forgave the people their sin on account of his intercession. Nevertheless He visited them with a temporal punishment.

Lies and scandal. By a lying exaggeration of the strength of the Chanaanites, the spies (with the exception of Josue and Caleb) induced the Israelites to murmur against God. “Thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie” (Ps. 5:7).

Sudden death is the worst punishment that can befall a sinner, because he has no time given him to do penance. Therefore, in the Litany of the Saints, the Church prays thus: “From sudden and unprovided death, O Lord, deliver us!”

God’s blessing is everything. The Israelites were completely routed by the Chanaanites and Amalekites, over whom they had previously obtained a victory (chapter XXXV). This was because God neither blessed nor helped them. Our help comes from the Lord: without Him we can do nothing.

The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence. The grown-up Israelites did not enter the Promised Land, because they shrank from the burdens involved in the journey. For the same reason many Christians do not reach heaven, because they do not correspond with God’s grace, and will not fight against the enemies of their souls. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Mat.11:12).

APPLICATION. Are you inclined to tell lies and to exaggerate? It was on account of a lie that God punished the ten spies with sudden death. Learn from this how much God, who is truth itself, abhors lies. “Putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbour” (Eph. 4:25).

Have you the evil habit of uttering curses or imprecations?








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