DEVOID OF GODS’ FAVOR, PRESUMPTION RECKLESSLY RUSHES FORWARD TO CERTAIN SPIRITUAL DEFEAT
When God calls us out for our disobedience, we should never try to fix things on our own. We must follow the divinely prescribed formula of repentance and submission to God’s revealed will. It is not faith to aggressively charge forward with our own plans for atonement in the arrogant determination of presumption. Especially when it comes to the issue of salvation, man’s self-effort and presumptive plans cannot achieve spiritual victory. We only compound the original problem when we try to follow our own schemes without the favor of God’s presence and protection.
Timothy Ashley: They now compound their sin of rebellion with arrogance in trying to capture the land on their own. They are like children who had broken a valuable vase and decided to “make it better” by gluing it back together. The result of such action looks nothing like the original. Moses attempts to tell the Israelites that Yahweh would not go with them and that his absence would mean disaster for them, but as elsewhere the people do not show a willingness or ability to listen either to God or to his servants. When they go into the hill country to face the Amalekites and the Canaanites, neither Moses nor the ark goes with them (thus changing the pattern of 10:32), and the engagement with these native peoples ends in disaster. The Israelites are pursued as far as Hormah. The fear of 14:3 has become a reality.
Dennis Cole: The conclusion is replete with antithetical statements in relationship to the initial instructions given by God and Moses. In Yahweh’s instruction to Moses, he stated that he was giving them the land; but now when they attempt to enter “the place the Lord promised,” they are warned against doing so. Moses instructed the Israelites to “go up” into the land (13:17); now they are commanded, “Do not go up!” In earlier episodes of rebellion, Israelite remorse often led to Moses interceding with Yahweh to withdraw his punishment of the nation or at least to lighten its effect. But in this case the prophet proclaimed further warning if the people should respond rebelliously again and attempt to conquer the land. In the end the Amalekites and Canaanites, whom they would have easily conquered with Yahweh the Divine Warrior on their side, would soundly defeat them.
Wiersbe: Pardon led to presumption (v. 39-45). The people had acted stubbornly like the mule, and now they acted impetuously like the horse (Ps 32:9). God forgives us that we might fear Him (Ps 130:4), not that we might tempt Him. The flesh can never accomplish what only faith can do. (Dt 1:41-44.)
Ryan Christie: Today we’re going to be looking at the Israelites and their story and how they mess things up horribly with God. They distrust him and when they mess everything up they too try to fix it on their own and end up failing miserably. What we’re going to see through their story is that when we mess things up with God, the solution is simply to repent and believe.
I. (:39-40) PRESUMPTIVE IN YOUR PLANNING – MAKING YOUR OWN PLANS WHILE IGNORING THE PREREQUISITE OF HOLINESS –
DETERMINATION IS NOT ENOUGH
A. (:39) Remorseful but Not Repentant
“And when Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel,
the people mourned greatly.”
Ryan Christie: Israel’s first reaction was to mourn and there is some legitimacy to this. People are dying before them; they have been cursed to a life of wandering through the desert only to finally die in that same desert. Things look terribly bleak and feel miserable. To mourn is such a normal response. I would be doing the same thing. Yet we have to see that Israel isn’t really even mourning over the fact that they sinned against the God who has been so good to them but they are mourning over the consequences of their sin. They are mourning over the fact that they are being punished for their distrust of God and that they now have a harsh new reality to deal with and it’s not pleasant. They no longer get to go live in the Land they were hoping for. They have to stay in this stupid desert for the rest of their lives and things look hopeless. This is something worth mourning about but mourning is not going to be enough. There is a sense here that the people of Israel think that their outcry to God may actually serve as some sort of atonement for what they have done, as if by feeling bad and putting on a scene of mourning they could appease God and show him that they felt sorry enough. We can see this by what they go on to do in the next few verses. It’s true that feeling pain and loss at the harsh consequences of sin is real and it’s normal but it’s not going to be enough to fix their relationship with God that they have just jeopardized. God has declared their punishment and their mourning is not a sufficient substitute for atonement.
B. (:40) Determined but Driven by Self Will
“In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, ‘Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.’”
Ryan Christie: What are the Israelites thinking here? They’re thinking, “Hey, we were wrong. We’ve changed our minds. We can make this all better. We’ll just do what God told us to originally.” It’s good that they have at least recognized that they have sinned. They have confessed. But what they’re doing is adding arrogance and disobedience onto their rebellion. Their hearts haven’t changed at all. They have in no way repented of their first sin, which was not believing in God. Before they didn’t trust him and now they are only trusting in themselves. They think that with a confession and by changing their minds, perhaps combined with a dramatic scene of mourning before God that this will be enough to change God’s mind about what has happened and to reverse the effects of what they’ve done.
Jon Quinn: “but we will go up” — In spite of the LORD’S words to the contrary, these people insisted. They were going to have it their way. When will they, and us today, ever learn that faith is submitting to the LORD’S way. Understand this: if we insist on our way, then the LORD will not be present with us, and we are doomed to failure. . .
Confession without submission is empty and worthless. It was a sin for these people to seek to possess Canaan after God had decreed that their generation would not possess it. No amount of confessing past wrongs allows us to commit a sin in the present without guilt. This confession was not from a contrite heart before God but rather a desperate gambit to try anything to recover what they had lost.
II. (:41-43) PURPOSELESS IN YOUR PURSUITS – NOT FOLLOWING THE LORD SO NOT PROTECTED BY HIS PRESENCE –
DEFEAT IS GUARANTEED
A. (:41) Disobedience Guarantees Defeat
“But Moses said, ‘Why then are you transgressing
the commandment of the LORD, when it will not succeed?’”
B. (:42) Disregarding Divine Warnings Guarantees Defeat
1. Clear Warning
“Do not go up, lest you be struck down before your enemies,”
2. Key Factor
“for the LORD is not among you.”
C. (:43) Denying the Obvious Guarantees Defeat
You are living in a dream world if you think you are going to be victorious on your own initiative and your own power when you have forsaken the Lord.
1. Enemy is Stronger and More Prepared
“For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you,”
2. Defeat is Certain
“and you will fall by the sword,”
3. God is Not on Your Side
a. Because of Your Apostasy
“inasmuch as you have turned back from following the LORD.”
b. Because of the Removal of His Favorable Presence
“And the LORD will not be with you.”
III. (:44-45) POWERLESS IN YOUR PERFORMANCE – HEADING UNDEFENDED INTO A BEAT DOWN –
DEFENSELESS IS RECKLESS
A. (:44) Foolish Attack
1. Defiant of God’s Warnings
“But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country;”
Wiersbe: The word translated “presumed” in 14:44 comes from a Hebrew word that means “to be lifted up,” that is “to be proud, arrogant, and swelled up with one’s own importance.” The soldiers’ boast “We will go up and fight,” was answered by God’s warning, “I will not be with you” (Deut. 1:42-43, NIV). Man’s efforts without God’s blessing do more harm than good, for Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Bruce Hurt: Heedlessly (aphal) has the basic meaning of “swelling, puffed up, or lifted up” figuratively picturing to be proud, to presume. It describes carrying on an act of presumption, arrogance, against the best advice. In the only other use it refers to a person who has become too audacious, proud (Hab. 2:4). The picture is of a person with their head held high or one having a swollen head, analogous to our modern idiom accusing someone of having “the big head”. This is someone who is thinking higher of himself then he ought to think (cf Ro 12:3). In Nu 14:44 Israel had “the big head” and so went up heedlessly (hif imperfect 3masc plural), with presumption, acting arrogantly and haughtily in complete disregard for Moses’ clear warning not to do so.
Alfred Edersheim: The obedience which is not of simple faith is of self-confidence, and only another kind of unbelief and self-righteousness.
2. Devoid of God’s Favorable Presence and Powerful Leadership
“neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp.”
B. (:45) Ferocious Beat Down
“Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country
came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah.”
Raymond Brown: The sad episode of Israel’s persistent rebellion moved to a tragic conclusion. Their defeated soldiers were buried in the desert and the dejected Israelites began a tediously delayed journey, which lingered in Israel’s corporate memory. Though a repeated psalm, it was to teach the generations to come that disobedience to God is the gateway to despair: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”