At the end of Numbers 14 we see the result of the rebellion and disbelief that the Israelites exhibited. Of the original men who spied on the land, those who gave a bad report about the Promised Land are struck down with plague, reaping the consequences of their deliberate disbelief. Only Joshua and Caleb survive.
In response the Israelites mourn bitterly and repent. In order to try and make good the situation, they determine as follows:
“We have sinned,” they said. “We will go up to the place the LORD promised.” (v40)
Although they have good intentions, this is not what God wanted at that moment, and Moses warns them that God is not with them in this endeavor, telling them that the Amalekites and Canaanites will face them there and defeat them. This is indeed what happens, and they are beaten back, all the way down to Hormah.
I have to admit, I have some sympathy for the response of the Israelites here, and I understand it. God asks them to do something – they fail to do it – he punishes the naysayers with death – they then determine to do what he originally asked of them. We do not know the motive. Was it out of fear? (“Let’s obey quickly before he kills more of us.”) Or was it out of a desire to make it right? We can understand their impulse. It makes sense.
Unfortunately, it happens to be completely wrong. There is no quick fix. What God requires of them is not some grand self-sacrificing gesture, but a settled attitude of obedience and a responsiveness to future commands.
I think that’s a worthy goal for us too. We may genuinely repent of our disobedience and deeply desire to put things right, but a grand, impulsive gesture is not what is required. What is needed, to borrow a phrase from Eugene Petersen, is A Long Obedience in the Same Direction – a settled determination to follow God, a decision for obedience, a heart that is seeking and responsive to his direction.
And as for a grand gesture to put things right? I think Jesus took care of that.