You know those snack bars that you can get from the grocery store? The Kind snacks company has what they call a healthy snack bar. In their commercials they make this claim:
“People confuse nice and kind, but they’re different. Nice tells you what you want to hear, but kind is honest. This bar is made with cranberries and almonds; so guess what? They call it cranberry almond. Give Kind a try.”
So, I went to the grocery store excited because I was going to be healthy. I went into the snack bar aisle and picked up these kind bars, bought them and took them home so I could begin my new, healthy lifestyle. I looked at the ingredients and this is what I saw:
“Almonds, Dried Cranberries (Cranberries, Sugar, Sunflower Oil), Macadamias, Honey, Non-GMO Glucose, Puffed Rice, Chicory Fiber, Soy Lecithin. Vitamins: Vitamin A Acetate, Ascorbic Acid (Vit. C), D-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit. E). Allergen Information: Manufactured in a facility that uses peanuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds and soy. May contain nut shell fragments.”
It wasn’t very kind of them to mislead me in such a way. In their commercial, they simply told me what I wanted to hear. In reality, the snack bars had much more in them than simply cranberry and almond. There is something so different about a person who is genuine with people. There is something rare about it. What does it mean for us, as individuals and as the church, to be genuine? What would we mean if we were to say that we are made of real Christian stuff? What would it be like if our label matched our composition?
Numbers 14:5-19 HCSB
Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces to the ground in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!”
While the whole community threatened to stone them, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the tent of meeting.
The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people despise Me? How long will they not trust in Me despite all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them with a plague and destroy them. Then I will make you into a greater and mightier nation than they are.”
But Moses replied to the Lord, “The Egyptians will hear about it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from them. They will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people, how You, Lord, are seen face to face, how Your cloud stands over them, and how You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. If You kill this people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of Your fame will declare, ‘Since the Lord wasn’t able to bring this people into the land He swore to give them, He has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’
“So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.”
Does God Change?
In this passage of Scripture, we see how seriously God hates it when people who are called by His name do not follow His direction. As we think about this we remember Numbers 13:2, where God promises to give the land of Canaan to the Israelite people. It is His plan to do so. The twelve spies enter the land of Canaan, spy it out, and ultimately come back to spread a bad report. They convince the people to denounce Moses’ leadership and the whole community wanted to choose a leader for themselves who would take them back to Egypt (the land of bondage). They did not trust God, who had already delivered them in a major way.
Now, we see the same God reveal His glory before all of the Israelites. God talked to Moses in the presence of the whole community. “How long will the people not trust me?” God asks. He then tells Moses, in the presence of the whole community, that He will destroy the people and give this promise to a new generation. We see that God promises to give Canaan to this people. Now, we witness God state that He is going to destroy this people. In verses 20-25, we see God pardon the people with one caveat: this generation will die before the land is given to the nation of Israel.
This becomes a difficult passage for people who believe that God is sovereign and who believe that God has all knowledge. How could a perfect God change His mind twice within the span of two chapters in Scripture? This is one area where we learn how important it is not to add or subtract from God’s Word. In chapter 13, verse 2, God promises to give the land to Israel. He does not specify a generation. In chapter 14, God states that He will inflict the rebellious people with a plague so that they will die and the next generation, a nation made from Moses, would inherit the promised land. When Moses pleads with God, God states that He will pardon the people, but that the first generation will still die and the land given to the second. God had not changed His mind in this story, neither did He stray from His plan to give the land to the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 15).
Why would God go through this verbal process with Moses so that the whole community could hear Him? I remember the words of Peter in his second letter:
“Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9 HCSB).
In Genesis 15 God, when He is telling Abraham that Abraham’s descendants will inherit the land of Canaan, also states that they will not inherit the land until the iniquity of the Canaanites is complete. The process would take 400 years, but the God of all knowledge was working all things together. Here, with Israel, God knew that this first generation would reject His plan, but He was still working all things together. God does not stray from His plan. He does not change His purpose. His character is infallible. God practices long-suffering because He does not desire for any to perish.
In this text, we read of the great mercy that God has toward a people called by His own name. Moses responds to God, “What will the Egyptians think of you if you take-out this people with a single blow?” When I read this, I also notice that God did not say anything about destroying an entire generation with a single blow. He stated that He would do so by plague or pestilence. Plague or pestilence could be sickness or decay. These things were inflicted on the nation of Israel over the next forty years before the next generation would be brought into the promised land. In this instance, God was already planning to have mercy. Moses, being close with God at this part of the story, seemed to understand God’s merciful character. He states that God is slow to anger and rich in faithful love. Moses mentions, in the presence of all the Israelites, that God forgives rebellion. He is also just, not leaving the guilty unpunished.
God does not change. He is just. He is also so merciful. As I think back on my own life, I am so thankful that God forgives rebellion because I was once rebellious toward Him. This is grace to us and hope for us as individuals and as local churches: God does not desire that any perish, but instead that all come to repentance. So, He is ever-patient with us. This is why God doesn’t just destroy heathen nations. It is why He doesn’t burn every false church to the ground. His desire is not destruction. It is restoration. There is hope for every sinful person. There is hope for every earthly kingdom. There is hope for every politician. There is an amazing amount of hope for every local church. God is patient and ever-merciful. When He punishes people for their rebellion, He is always just. Even in this punishment, we witness here that He has much grace. This means that God punishes with a heavy heart. It is not something He enjoys.
The godly and the ungodly
God’s mercy astounds me. His tendency to have such a loving-kindness even when so many people are hateful toward Him or don’t listen to His direction is awe-inspiring. God is truly worthy of every word of praise. In this story, there are three human characters out of all the people who reflect God’s character: Moses (who by God’s grace led the people to the land of Canaan), Aaron (Moses’ brother who rebelled against God two chapters earlier), Joshua (who feared God), and Caleb (who trusted God). There were at least these three who loved the Lord in the midst of a people that were rejecting God. This is not a foreign concept to us. Noah preached to a whole world that had rejected God. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because many people would reject Him. In John 6, almost everyone who was following Jesus left Him because His teaching was too difficult. In Revelation, we read of a whole world under the judgment of God. Jesus taught that it would be this way:
“He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’
“ ‘An enemy did this!’ he told them.
“ ‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him.
“ ‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30 HCSB).
What is the difference, though, between the person who genuinely loves God and the person who is just, at the surface level, called by God’s name (e.g. an Israelite, Jew, or Christian)? Let’s read together:
“Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces to the ground in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:5-9 HCSB).
First, the genuine people of God did not attack the people but pleaded desperately with them to follow God. When they pleaded with Israel, trying to convince Israel that God’s way was the best, the ungodly people threatened to stone them. The godly person is concerned with restoring others to God while the ungodly person is concerned with having his own way. The godly person pleads and reasons with the people while the ungodly person condemns and attacks verbally or physically without sufficient, just cause.
A person’s focus, and how a person reacts to others is evidence of whether or not that person fears and loves God. The same is true of a church. This evidence presents itself in the way we parent, in the way we love our spouses, in the way that we engage politics, in the way we practice discipleship, in the way we treat our leaders, in the way leaders treat the people, in the way we play video games, in the way we listen to music, in the way we watch videos, in the way we preach and teach, in the way that we disagree with others, and in everything we do.
This is something we can’t just do. How many of us as children had someone that we just tried and tried to please without any luck? With God, we need a new heart before these evidences will produce in our lives. Moses argued with God at the burning bush. Aaron was rebellious toward God just two chapters before this. God was sanctifying them before they produced godly fruit.
The foundation and the goal
Is there another reason God chooses to be patient and have mercy on the ungodly? The first reason was that God does not desire any to perish, but to come to repentance. As Moses talks to God in the presence of the whole Israelite community, we learn something very important about God’s work:
“But Moses replied to the Lord, ‘The Egyptians will hear about it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from them. They will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people, how You, Lord, are seen face to face, how Your cloud stands over them, and how You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. If You kill this people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of Your fame will declare, ‘Since the Lord wasn’t able to bring this people into the land He swore to give them, He has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’
So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified…’” (Numbers 14:13-17a HCSB).
Moses, who at this juncture fears and loves God, is not only concerned with the repentance and restoration of a people called by God’s own name; but also with the glory of God’s name. God has patience and long-suffering toward people for His name’s sake. Let’s briefly take another journey through Scripture together.
God was this way in Egypt as He delivered the Israelites, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will pursue them. Then I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh” (Exodus 14:4 HCSB).
The Apostle, Paul, even quotes Exodus 9:16 in his letter to the Roman believers (9:17 HCSB). “For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
“Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the Lord. Instead, worship the Lord with all your heart. Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or deliver you; they are worthless. The Lord will not abandon His people, because of His great name and because He has determined to make you His own people” (1 Samuel 12:20-22 HCSB).
“I (God) will delay My anger for the honor of My name,
and I will restrain Myself for your benefit and for My praise,
so that you will not be destroyed.
Look, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
I will act for My own sake, indeed, My own,
for how can I be defiled?
I will not give My glory to another” (Isaiah 48:9-11 HCSB).
“‘Now My soul is troubled. What should I say — Father, save Me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!’
Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again!’” (John 12:27-28 HCSB).
God is concerned with two things as He acts in this world: that people come to repentance and that His own name be glorified (not the name of a pastor, church, denomination, nation, company, family, or a people). God is not concerned with furthering the name of some guy named Andrew, or Matt, or David, or Vodie, or John, etc… God is not concerned with furthering your name or mine. So, then, this is true of those who fear God and love Him: they also become concerned with the repentance of people (this is why evangelism is so important) and with the glory of God’s name (this is why discipleship and good works are important). A true Christian, a person who has been given a new heart, will reflect this. An ungodly person will not. A true church, a church that is ruled by King Jesus, will reflect this. An ungodly community will not. God is the starting point. He draws people into repentance for the purpose of restoration (praise Him!). He brings glory to His own name. When we take part with this new heart, there is a satisfaction beyond compare because we are fulfilling the purpose that we have had from the foundation of the world: to be God’s image and to fill the earth with God’s image (Genesis 1).
“[God] approached me through a sickness so severe that I despaired of my life. Seeing His terrible judgment before me, I could not think what to do with my wretched life. Finally, after endless suffering of body and soul, God showed pity upon His miserable lost servant and consoled me so that I could not doubt His mercy. With a thousand tears I renounced my former self, implored His forgiveness, renewed my oath to serve His true church, and in sum gave myself wholly over to Him. So the vision of death threatening my soul awakened in me the desire for a true and everlasting life. So sickness was for me the beginning of true health” (Theadore Beza, 1560).