When the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land after hearing the report of the ten faithless spies in Numbers 13:31–33, they wanted to choose new leaders to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1–4). At this rebellion, God was going to strike the entire nation down and start a new nation through Moses (Numbers 14:5–12). It was only through Moses’ pleading with the LORD for mercy that the Israelites were not destroyed (Numbers 14:13–20).
While Moses’ entreaty saved the Israelites from total destruction, it did not save them from judgment. In Numbers 14:21–23, the LORD declares, “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it” (ESV, emphasis added).
No adult Israelites who departed Egypt in the exodus would be allowed to enter the Promised Land. At first glance, this seems like a particularly harsh punishment. However, the LORD was not judging the Israelites only for lacking the faith to enter the Promised Land. The Israelites had previously “tested” the LORD on ten separate occasions. It was the cumulative effect of all those incidents that led the LORD to pronounce this judgment on the Israelites.
What were the ten times the Israelites tested the LORD?
(1) Lacking faith before the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11–12)
(2) Complaining over the bitter water at Marah (Exodus 15:24)
(3) Complaining in the Desert of Sin (Exodus 16:3)
(4) Collecting more manna than they were supposed to (Exodus 16:20)
(5) Attempting to collect manna on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:27–29)
(6) Complaining over the lack of water at Rephidim (Exodus 17:2–3)
(7) Engaging in idolatry in the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:7–10)
(8) Complaining at Taberah (Numbers 11:1–2)
(9) Complaining over the lack of food (Numbers 11:4)
(10) Failing to trust God and enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:1–4)
Truly the LORD is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression,” just as Moses said (Numbers 14:18). Were it not for the LORD’s patience and mercy, judgment would have occurred earlier. God’s mercy toward Israel is a powerful illustration of 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is . . . patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”