"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Images of the Savior (37 -- The Failure to Enter the Promised Land)

    And Yahweh said, “I have pardoned according to your word; but truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of Yahweh: because all of the men who saw my glory, and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tested me these ten times, and have not obeyed my voice, shall certainly not see the land which I swore to their fathers; even all who despised me, they shall not see it. But my servant Caleb, because a different spirit is with him, and he has been fully after me, I will bring him into the land whither he went, and his seed shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:20-24

    In the events following Israel's first setting out for the Promised Land, from the foot of Mount Sinai, we are instructed in many particulars of the dangers of grumbling and rebellion, the several ways in which the Lord responds to these treacherous dispositions, and the serious and devastating consequences of continuing in such a frame of disbelief; and we see, moreover, the consolatory and beneficial ministry of Moses, who mediates, intercedes for, and guides the people, as a type of the Messiah, together with the favorable effects of this office, but only upon the believing remnant within the largely apostate Church. In the confluence of these two lessons, we are taught to fear, and not to be highminded at all; but also, to hope for and be confident of victory, though all the world should oppose us, if we continue steadfast in the faith. Let us now see how the scriptures holds forth these lessons to us.

    First of all, we shall notice the many different faces of unbelief, and the different ways in which the unbelieving hosts of Israel tempted the Lord; for, although the times and circumstances were different for them than they are for us, we may be sure that the attitudes and actions of unbelief are always consistent; so that, if we look at the histories of that generation which perished in the wilderness, and see much that is the same in our own lives, we will learn to tremble and flee from the wrath that will surely come, unless we repent.

    Immediately upon leaving Sinai, Moses tells us that the people complained (Numbers 11:1). Ah, how sure a sign of unbelief is complaining and murmuring, even though God has done never so many great and mighty acts of redemption among us! Can we look back upon the cross of Calvary, remember our free salvation, justification, sanctification, adoption as children, yes, and upon every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3), all of which have come down to us freely from the Father of Lights (James 1:17), and then fill our tongues with grumblings about our difficult jobs, our financial troubles, the afflictions of our bodies, the oppositions of our friends and relatives, and the many other trials which always beset us on the way? If we are characterized by complaining, and do not remember how much God has freely given to us, let us tremble and implore our gracious Father for mercy, lest we perish in the wilderness at last!

    Then, the people lusted for flesh, even when God had given to them his manna, which continually sustained them. But let us examine our own lives: when God has supplied us with all we need to be satisfied, by the body of his own dear Son, can we then lust and yearn for the fine things of the world to keep us happy? Are we still consumed with the desire for more money, finer houses, fame and accolades, gluttony, drunkenness, debauchery, etc.? If we lust after all the things the world desires, when God has given us all that heaven can offer for our satisfaction, let us fear, for we have then become as the unbelieving Jews of old.

    After that, the people were rebellious against their spiritual leaders, and murmured and complained against them, in these various ways: first, even Joshua was disposed to complain against those true prophets, Eldad and Medad, who had not come together with the seventy out of the camp, until Moses rebuked him. We may learn, from this, that we are in no wise to resist and oppose anyone who speaks truth by the power of the Spirit and in accordance with his Word, even though he may not be recognized by all the Church as he should. Were not very many of God's true saints opposed and rejected by the Church at large? Did not John Bunyan, and many others like him, preach faithfully, without an ordination, because the Church would not have them? Let us not judge outwardly, but learn this lesson well: wherever the gospel is truly proclaimed, there is truth and the work of the Spirit; so that, even if spoken by someone not a part of our movement, denomination, and so on, if the gospel is pure, we ought rather to rejoice, as the Apostle Paul, that it has been preached (Philippians 1:15-18), and not to resist it.

    But the people were also rebellious against Moses himself, and even Aaron and Miriam complained against him, and were rebuked. Now, as Moses was a type of Christ, and spoke face-to-face with the Lord, this rebellion was very serious, and called down a fearful judgment. Only consider how much more serious it is to reject Christ, who is greater than Moses by as much as he who built the house is greater than the house (Hebrews 3:3)! So then, let us honor and respect the elders of the Church, and follow them faithfully, as they follow Christ (1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17).

    Finally, the people rebelled in this ultimate way, that they did not believe in the salvation of God, and so would not go in and take the Promised Land; but then, after refusing God's salvation, they were stirred up to try and take Canaan by their own force, though God did not go with them, and the ark remained in the camp. This is what all men do who do not believe the gospel so thoroughly that, resting supremely in the grace and power of God, they go on from strength to strength, and fight against sin and the devil, with their eyes fixed always on the prize; but instead, they rely on the works of their flesh, and hope by their mighty deeds and self-willed sacrifices to earn a place, as it were, in the Kingdom. O brothers and sisters, let us examine our hearts, and see that we be not as they, or we will likewise perish eternally!

    But let us now examine how God dealt in various ways with these rebellions and grumblings of unbelief. In the first case, he sent fire among the people, to consume them, until Moses interceded. So, when his people are in rebellion, God often sends fiery persecutions and tribulations to purify them, and turn them back to himself. Then, he sent the meat that they lusted for, in so much quantity that they became utterly sick of it, and loathed it. So, when we lust for the goods of the world, God sometimes turns us over to our lusts, for a season, so that we might know how unsatisfying and abominable are all those things that distract us from the blessings of the Gospel.

    After that, in the case of Joshua, God restored him with merely a word, spoken in season from his servant Moses, in order to rebuke his evil jealousy. Ah, how blessed we are when God gives us true brothers and faithful leaders to rebuke us when they see any sin in us! Let us not despise the loving words of reproof which God brings into our lives, but rejoice at them, and repent, and consider ourselves blessed that God is dealing with us as sons, in his great love for us (Hebrews 12:5-8). And also, in the case of Aaron and Miriam, God rebuked them very sternly, and made Miriam to undergo a very severe trial, for a time, before he restored her fully. Likewise, sometimes we sin a much more grievous sin than at other times, so that God in his mercy deals very harshly with us, to spare us from the bitter end we are so close to finding. This is a great mercy! Let us rejoice when God corrects us with a gentle rebuke, but rejoice more fervently yet when he corrects us with a fearful scourge; for in the latter case, we may know that the calamity from which he is saving us is far greater and more severe, so that, being plucked out of the fire, we ought to glorify his name.

    And finally, the most tragic end of all was God's response to the failure of Israel to trust in his promises and enter the Promised Land, so that instead they tried to gain Paradise by their own works; for then, God damned them utterly, and barred them off from ever entering his rest; and thus their punishment became eternal and implacable. Let us not be highminded, but fear! For we have been given the same promises as they, and we too will be overthrown in the wilderness, if we evince the same spirit of unbelief. But consider, how much more severe will be our punishment than theirs? For if they refused to enter the fruitful land of Canaan, and so perished in a bleak and howling wilderness, where will we perish, if we refuse to enter the new heavens and the new earth, with its new Jerusalem where the Lamb is its light and temple, and God dwells among us forever (Revelation 21)? What eternal and fiery hell, where the worm dies not and the flame is not quenched (Mark 9:42-49), awaits us if we are mere impostors, who do not seize hard upon the promises of God, and press on in faith, looking always to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-3)? Oh, let us tremble and fly to the Savior in faith, hoping for the eternal reward of faith!

    Now, before we conclude, we must reflect just a little on the nature of Moses as a type of Christ in his mediatorial office: for Moses many times pleaded with the Lord for the salvation of the people, and cried out with deep groanings and utterances, so that God was often pleased to spare them, and to hold back his judgment, and to continue to guide them in the wilderness; but for all that, at brink of the Jordan, when the Promised Land was just before them, God swore in his wrath that only those who had a different spirit, as Caleb and Joshua, would enter his rest. Let us lay this truth to heart: for Christ ever lives and pleads for his people, and God for Christ's sake is very merciful and patient, and forbears with us in our weaknesses and sins for never so long; but still, even with the constant and faithful intercession of the Christ, the Day of Reckoning is coming, and if we do not have his Spirit, and have not turned from our wickedness to follow fully after him, he will ultimately destroy us, and all the mercies we had seen for so many years will be to no avail. We will have used God's forbearance to treasure up wrath (Romans 2:4-5). Oh, what a depth of horrors await to confront those who call themselves by the Name of Christ, but are not his indeed, and have not given up everything to follow him! So let us remember the fruitfulness of this land of Canaan, and be motivated to press on in faith. For in this land, the leaders of the Church found a tree dropping down with a very sweet and heavy cluster of grapes, so that it was more than enough to fill the company with delight; in the same way, our true Promised Land has in it a tree which drops down with the fruits of sweet fellowship with our Lord, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2); but let us not forget what this tree symbolizes; for it is only the cross of Christ, that tree upon which he hanged, and let his blood flow down, which should become the sweet wine of communion with him, gushing forth from his side in such bounty that all the Church might drink of it and find joy and everlasting comfort in fellowship with him. If this is what awaits us in Canaan, dear brothers, then let us cast aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and run the race with patience, looking steadfast to Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3), and hoping for the marriage feast of the Lamb, where he will rejoice our hearts for all eternity with his sweet wedding wine (Revelation 19:6-9).

    Posted by Nathan on December 19, 2008 12:24 PM

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