And when we departed from Horeb, we went through all that great and terrible wilderness…
Moses reminds his audience of the conduct of their fathers at Kadesh-barnea, when exhorted to go up and possess the land. Duty was clear. They had been brought up out of Egypt for the very purpose of entering into and possessing the land of Canaan. But instead of courageously following the path of duty, they resolved to send over spies. The result was an evil report and an evil resolution on the people's part not to attempt invasion. The bitter end was death in the wilderness and exclusion from the land of promise.
I. GOD OFFERED CANAAN TO HIS PEOPLE AS A SUITABLE INHERITANCE. It was the promise of this land which led to the exodus. The sojourn at Horeb was to organize the nation and give it laws. All was ready for an entrance into the land. Its suitability was guaranteed in the Divine promise; and if the people had been willing to walk by faith, then the invasion would have been immediate and successful. (On the suitability of the land, cf. Moorhouse's 'Hulsean Lectures,' the last sermon in the volume, on 'The Land and the People.' In Kinglake's 'Invasion of the Crimea,' we have a similar instance in the allies not taking Sebastopol by assault immediately after Alma.)
II. THE SUGGESTION ABOUT SPIES WAS REALLY A RESOLVE TO WALK BY SIGHT AND NOT BY FAITH. Moses at first approved of it, although it never came from him. He thought that anything the spies saw would only confirm them in the resolution to invade the land. But in principle it was unbelief in God. It was virtually resolving not to follow his advice unless it seemed the best. It was putting clear duty to the trial of prudence. It was a resolve to walk by appearances and not by faith. And this is the universal tendency of the human heart. Prudence often conflicts with faith and hinders wholesome action. Prudence has no voice in the matter after God has spoken. He may lead us through over-prudence, in absence of express commandment; but when the command is clear, prudence should hide its head and allow faith to obey.
III. IT WAS STILL WORSE TO HEARKEN TO THE SPIES WHOSE COUNSEL CONFLICTED WITH THE COMMAND OF GOD. Having embarked on prudential considerations, they must needs follow them out to their unbelieving end. The spies returned, and could not but acknowledge that the land was good. From Eshcol they carried on a staff a bunch of grapes sufficient of itself to vindicate the Divine choice of the land. "But the inhabitants," said ten of the spies, "are gigantic, and the cities walled up to heaven; and there is no use in thinking of successfully invading it." In vain did Caleb and Joshua counsel courage instead of cowardice, faith instead of fear. The people resolved to take counsel of their fears and unbelief. They would not enter the land of promise. So is it often in the lives of men. God offers salvation and a good land to all who will believe upon him. But men fear the giants and their castles. They imagine that the difficulties of the life of faith are beyond their powers, and so shirk them. But when God points out a path of difficulty, it is not that we may encounter its perils in our own strength, but in his. Faith will carry us through, while sense and sight are sure to fail us. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when we departed from Horeb, we went through all that great and terrible wilderness, which ye saw by the way of the mountain of the Amorites, as the LORD our God commanded us; and we came to Kadeshbarnea.
WEB: We traveled from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw, by the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as Yahweh our God commanded us; and we came to Kadesh Barnea.