Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 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 a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.
And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:1-12 ESV)
The fear of the people that they are unable to conquer Canaan is expressed in weeping, then grumbling, then open rebellion against Moses and the spies who urge them to trust God. Irrationally they say they would rather have died in Egypt. But if they are to choose how they die is it not better to have seen the hand of Yahweh on their behalf and at least die fighting? Irrationally they argue that Yahweh did all these miracles of preserving them from Pharaoh’s army, the parting of the Red Sea, provision of food and water throughout their journey, God’s appearance to them on Mt. Sinai, etc., only to lead them to death by the sword.
They assert that their wives and children will be prey for the enemy when they are defeated in battle and talk of choosing another leader to take them back to Egypt. What do they hope? That they will be received back with open arms, restored to their place as miserable slaves? Is there not as much likelihood that the Egyptians will come against them with an army to exact vengeance?
Moses and Aaron prostrate themselves before Yahweh. Joshua and Caleb seek to persuade the people only to be threatened with death. Only the appearance of Yahweh’s glory over the tent stops them. Yahweh takes their response as despising Him, not believing Him, and promises to destroy them and make of Moses a new nation, like He said before (Exodus 32) when they made the golden calf to worship it. In that instance Moses interceded for the people and God relented.
What are you irrationally afraid of right now by removing from your heart the presence and power of God as a reality bigger than anything you could ever fear?
The right fear is the fear of losing God. Meister Eckhart (C. 1260-C. 1327)
The wicked is a coward, and is afraid of everything; of God, because he is his enemy; of Satan, because he is his tormentor; of God’s creatures, because they, joining with their Maker, fight against him; of himself, because he bears about with him his own accuser and executioner. The godly man contrarily is afraid of nothing; not of God, because he knows him as his best friend, and will not hurt him; not of Satan, because he cannot hurt him; not of afflictions, because he knows they come from a loving God, and end in his good; not of the creatures, since “the very stones in the field are in league with him”; not of himself, since his conscience is at peace. Joseph Hall (1574-1656)