Chapter fourteen shows Israel’s response to the spies’ report. Shocked and scared, the people began to wail for their lives, wondering again why God had brought them to this place, only to die (Numbers 14:1-4). They feared for their wives and children, and even considered replacing Moses as their leader and returning to Egypt. Seeing what had happened, four men fell on their faces before God – Moses, Aaron, and two of the spies – Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 14:5-10). Caleb tried to persuade the people that God would lead them, but they would not listen. They actually prepared to kill all four of them right there. Then God appeared.
As the shekinah glory filled the area, God threatened to kill them all, offering to start over with Moses’ family (Numbers 14:11-19). Moses, again, pleaded on their behalf, noting that God’s name and reputation among the nations was at stake. It is noteworthy that Moses did not disagree with God; the rebels needed to die. Their continued disobedience was not good for God’s glory either. However, if God killed “this entire people at once,” fulfilling his promise to bring them into the land would be impossible right away, also defaming him. Of course, God already knew this, but the people needed to see Moses praying on their behalf.
God agreed and forgave the people, yet he did not withhold the consequences (Numbers 14:20-39). These consequences came in three parts. First, because of Caleb’s faithfulness, God rewarded him with his life and with a special inheritance in the land. Second, the people who accepted the bad report and turned against God and Moses would die, but not right away. In response to Moses’ request, God promised that the people would die over forty years – one year for each day of the spies’ mission – never entering the land they longed for; instead, their children would receive it. Third, the ten faithless spies died immediately at the hand of God for leading the people astray.
As humans so often do when faced with consequences, the people tried to change their minds (Numbers 14:40-45). Now they were ready to enter the land, even against Moses’ advice. Upon their attempt without God, “the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country” attacked them, resulting in the first casualties of their disbelief.