[For an older post, where I try my best to read this passage typologically, see here.]
I. The Subject of Numbers 13-14
The legalist would like to see in this passage justification for the idea that it is faith and obedience that leads to salvation. Well, I say to him: “Pharisee, and blind!” For the passage is not dealing with behavior primarily, but is dealing with faith. The land is Israel’s land (according to God in Genesis 15), but there is a division among the witnesses: There is a good testimony (Joshua and Caleb) and a bad testimony (the others), and this is the principle hinge upon which the behavior of Israel rests. Will they believe Joshua and Caleb’s assessment of (i.)the land, (ii.)God’s Word (past and present), and (iii.)their entrance into the land because of God’s inability to lie and/or break His Word? Or will they believe the report of those who thought that they would enter the land or not enter it by dint of their own strength (cf. 13:28-29)?
The difference is, really, between: Entrance by faith in God’s promises (alone) to deliver them, and Entrance by their strength or lack of strength. To put it in theological terms, the subject matter is not whether or not Israel would believe and obey in order to be saved, but if they would believe in God’s ability to deliver them in spite of their complete inability to do so for themselves, or if they would disbelieve God’s goodnews because they think that it is by their own strength that they are going to possess the land. This is Paul versus the Galatians; Christ versus the Pharisees; the Christian versus the anti-Christian legalist. Be not deceived.
II. Old Covenant/New Covenant
There is, therefore, a greater structure here that is to be observed here, namely: Who is Israel? If Israel is God’s special nation who, being the seed of Abraham, will inherit the land and all the promises of God, then who is Israel? The text tells us quite clearly: Not at all Israel is Israel, but only those whom God has, in His foreknowledge, has chosen to inherit the land of Israel – the younger generation of Israelites who, like Jacob, were favored over their elder (think – Esau). We read Numbers 13-14, and if we believe God’s promises, then we need to ask: Has then God forgotten His people? And to this we need to answer: NO! For it is those whom God has elected to be His own holy and special nation who are to inherit the land, and they will.
But they will not do so under the leadership of the representative of the Law and the statutes (i.e. Moses), but by the leadership of the one who will serve as their savior/ruler/judge, the one who will pass through the waters of the Jordan and bid they follow him – Joshua, who is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ! You see, it is not the generation who believes that it is up to them to enter into the promised land that will inherit it. That Israel is not Israel at all. NO. It is the weak, inexperienced and undeserving clan of younger Israelites who would be led by faith into the promised land by their victorious savior and judge, and not by the lawgiver. Open your eyes, all you who think this passage is justifying your legalism. This is God fulfilling His promises to Abraham. This is the covenant of grace being played out before our very eyes: Whom God has unconditionally elected in Christ to save by His grace alone through faith alone, He will save by His grace alone through faith alone. This is not, I repeat NOT, about (first and foremost) the lack of obedience of those who fall away in the wilderness, but about those who rejected the promises of God for salvation (i.e. the Gospel words preached to them by Moses), forfeiting their birthright by thinking that salvation is a matter that is entirely in their hands by their strength to obey and earn the promised land, or their lack of strength. This passage is showing us how those who look to their own abilities, their own achievements in “spirituality,” who consider themselves fit or unfit, fall away in the wilderness under the Lawgiver, dead to the Promised Land. And how God saves the undeserving, the powerless, the uninitiated, the weak and faltering youths who are not capable of handling the same difficulties, but whom He has chosen simply by His ineffable grace.
Notice the wicked response of these legalists who desire to save themselves by their own works (cf. 14:39-45). Note that they are rejected by the Lord, just as the self-righteous Cain was rejected for his unworthy sacrifice made by murderous hands. Lord, be merciful! And yet, note that God’s promises to true Israel, i.e. those who have been elected unto salvation by God Himself, are to be seen as fulfilled in chapter 15, where Moses is to write the Law, not for those who are in the wilderness, but for the children of God who would enter the land of promise by grace. These laws of God are the royal rule of life for His holy kingdom, just as the Law of God is the rule of life for those who are born again in Christ and are subjects of His holy kingdom. The legalists are dead in their sins and trespasses, seeking to make restitution for their sin of unbelief by trying to earn what God had promised those who would believe. This is the cry of the dead legalist who says in his heart:
“And they rose early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, “Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised, for we have sinned!”
They were rejected by the Lord for their faithless introspective inventory of their ability or inability to earn what God had promised to give them. And instead of repenting of their sin, they chose to work, yet again showing their deadness to the Lord, in order to gain what God had told them would be given to them by faith alone. Is this not the mindset of the legalist?
Note that it is not Moses who will lead “Israel” into the promised land, but Joshua. It is not the law that saves, but the Lord’s chosen savior who saves. And this savior is but a type of our Great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who passed beneath the waves of God’s holy and righteous wrath for the sins of His people. It is He with whom we have been baptized into His death, to be raised unto His likeness, and to serve under His righteous rule. He has swallowed the wrath of God up for us in Himself, bearing the brunt of the Law for us, and now Sovereignly reigns over us as King eternal, while Moses is no longer our tutor. Praise God for His inestimable grace!!!