Not many of us like to be corrected. Hebrews says the correction we received from our parents at the time seemed, not joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:11). But in actuality it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
The people of Israel, under Moses’s tutelage, experienced God’s correction from time to time. Most notable was His response to their rebellion when they reached the Promised Land.
At God’s direction, they sent twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against and what kind of land they’d be taking over. When they came back after forty days, ten of the spies concluded, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31b). Because of this report, the people decided it was a mistake to try and take possession of what God had promised to give them.
All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Num. 14:2-4)
Things got worse as the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to reason with them that God would bring them into the land, no matter what the obstacles. The people took up stones to put them to death. At this point God told Moses He’d had enough of their rebellion. However, Moses pleaded with God—not for the sake of the people, interestingly, but for God’s sake. He said, the Egyptians would hear of it and the nations around would hear of it and conclude that God simply wasn’t strong enough to give them the land. He made one of the great declarations of God’s character, then concluded with a plea for the nation:
“‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 15:18-19)
Moses had it right—God would by no means clear the guilty, though He would, and did, pardon their sin. In other words, there were consequences for what they did. God, by way of correcting them, gave them what they wanted. Those adults who said it was a bad idea to go into Canaan would not step foot in the land. Instead they would wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day the spies were in the land.
The punishment had its desired effect. The people mourned and recognized their sin, but they didn’t accept God’s correction. Instead, they apparently thought, since they’d finally gotten with the program, God should cancel their punishment:
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.” (Num. 14:40)
Nice try, Israel. But no, it’s too late, Moses said. Don’t go up aiming to win a battle because God isn’t with you.
You guessed it: they went anyway. The result was a good sound defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and the Canaanites on top of the forty years in the wilderness God had determined as their correction.
I notice a couple things in this story. One is how gracious God is. Because of their rebellion, the people of Israel deserved death. But God withheld His hand because of Moses’s mediation.
As he does throughout these chapters containing his story, Moses serves as a type of Christ. It is He who stood in the gap for us as our Advocate when we deserved death for our rebellion.
Third, the people responded incorrectly to correction. Sure, they were sorrowful—they didn’t want to wander in the wilderness for forty years! Who would? But a genuinely repentant heart would have responded with obedience, not more rebellion!
Today, God’s grace is poured out on His people so that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Our sins are forgiven. And yet, we may suffer the consequences of our rebellious ways. Or not. Because of His mercy, God can and does stay His hand. But not always, and not forever.
Either way, God’s correction or His forbearance is not reason for our continued rebellion.
As He did for Israel, God may use circumstances to correct us today. Back then He told Moses what He was doing. Today we have the Holy Spirit to prod us to repentance when we go our own way.
Of course, the ideal would be not to rebel in the first place. ;-) If only! I would so much rather I didn’t have to face God’s correction, and yet, as Hebrews says, it yields the fruit of righteousness.
What’s more, it’s a sign that God is our Father:
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Heb. 12:7-10)
In the end, holiness is the issue. God wants us to be like Jesus more than He wants us to have a rockin’ good time here and now.
Our response to His correction, then, should be quite different from that of the people of Israel. Sorrow, sure, but not because we’ve been caught or we don’t like the discipline facing us. Rather, it should be sorrow and acceptance, knowing that it comes from the hand of our Father:
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Ps. 37:24)