What would it take for us to believe in God? Will miracles do the work? Not necessarily! When Moses was called by God to deliver Israel out of Egypt, he was faced with the question of what it would take for Israel to believe that God sent him. Knowing that men would rather believe in something they see, God provided Moses with a staff. After giving some further instructions, God said to Moses, “But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it” (Exodus 4:17). Through the staff, God performed many miracles that convinced not only the Israelites, but also the Egyptians, that Moses was indeed sent by God.
However, even after performing many miracles before their eyes, the Israelites were not fully committed to following the words of the Lord. They continued to murmur and complain, and they rebelled against the Lord. They would rather go back to Egypt than press on in their journey to the Promised Land. While God was gracious and forgiving in the midst of Israel’s rebellion, the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was the response of the Israelite community to the report of the spies who went to explore the Promised Land. All of them, except for Joshua and Caleb, rejected the idea that they go up and take possession of the land. They not only rejected it personally but influenced the rest of the community to do the same. To this, the Lord said, “In this desert your bodies will fall-every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun” (Num. 14:29-30).
If you consider that there were more than six hundred Israelites aged twenty and above that were included in the census, it might be difficult to believe that all, except two, would die in the desert after wandering in it for forty years. But looking back, the word of the Lord came to pass. We are told, “The LORD's anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone” (Num. 32:13).
And do you think that the Israelites learned their lesson because of what happened to them in the desert? No so. During the time of the apostles, they continued to live in unbelief. After recounting the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the time of the Lord Jesus, Stephen, one of the leaders of the church, concluded, "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51). But what caused the Israelites to become stiff-necked?
Unbelief: “And when the LORD sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, ‘Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.’ But you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You did not trust him or obey him. You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you” (Deut. 9:23-24).
Ungratefulness: They would rather go back to Egypt as slaves than be free men in the Promised Land. They said, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3). They further said, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (Num. 14:4).
Experiencing temporary relief from God’s wrath: While God was bent on destroying Israel, he, time and again, would relent due to Moses’ intervention. “Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. ‘O LORD,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?’” (Exo. 32:11). “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (Exo. 32:14).
One thing that we should take into account is that while God is gracious, compassionate and slow to become angry, we cannot abuse his grace. He will certainly do what he threatened to do, in the same way that he will surely fulfill every promise he gave. Therefore, we need to heed his warnings and obey his commands. Let the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts that we may not be rebellious and stiff-necked. Amen!