“And Moses said unto the Lord. . .” (v. 13). Moses was responding to that which the Lord announced in verse 12. The Lord stated that He would smite the unbelieving children of Israel with pestilence, disinherit them, and make a great nation of Moses.
This is not the first occasion on which the Lord proposed making a great nation of Moses. When Israel turned from the Lord at the mount in Sinai to create and worship a golden calf (Ex. 32:10), the Lord stated that He would make a great nation of Moses. At that time, Moses asked the Lord to turn from His anger. Moses said that the Egyptians would think that He had led Israel out of the land to slay them. Moses asked the Lord to remember His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 32:13). That which takes place in the text before us mirrors that which occurred in Exodus 32.
In verses 14-16, Moses stated that the nations who witnessed the Lord’s power and presence as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night would attribute the death of the children of Israel (the Lord’s people) to His failure to deliver upon His promise to bring them into the land that He had promised to the seed of Abraham.
Moses asked the Lord to pardon the iniquity of the people. He implored the Lord to let His long-suffering and mercy be seen. Moses challenged God to show His greatness by continuing to forgive the children of Israel (v. 19).
Why? Why did Moses petition the Lord as he did? It was not for personal gain. The Lord had stated that He would make of Moses a nation greater than the two million individuals whom He had led out of Egypt. Moses did not harbor doubt of the Lord’s power to fulfill His word. The Lord had repeatedly spoken to Moses in a direct manner and Moses had seen all that the Lord had said come to pass. Moses knew with certainty that the Lord could make a greater nation of him than the multitude which passed through the waters of the sea.
Moses did not want God to smite the people because he feared that the Egyptians and others would interpret the demise of Israel as the Lord’s inability to do that which He had promised. Moses wanted all people to know that the Lord God of Israel is a keeper of His promises and the God above all gods. Moses wanted all people to revere God because He is the one God. Moses desired that the Lord’s name be lifted up. His heart’s desire was Lord-directed, not self-directed.
These things are recorded such that believers might know the Lord in a more perfect way. The Lord’s promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham’s seed was not dependent upon His long-suffering and mercy. Moses was of Abraham’s seed. The Lord could have fulfilled His promise to Abraham through Moses.
In verse 20, we see His long-suffering and mercy with clarity. The Lord pardoned Israel as Moses had asked. Moses had asked the Lord to forgive the iniquity of the people as He had done from the coming out of Egypt until now (v. 19). The Lord’s forgiveness is not one-and-done. The Lord is a giver of second chances. New Testament believers, like the children of Israel, fail to love Him as He loves us. We rejoice in that God gave His only begotten Son upon the cross as payment for our every sin. We rejoice in that He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and clean us from all unrighteousness when we confess our iniquities (I Jn. 1:9).
In verse 21, the Lord swore to Moses that as surely as He is, the earth shall be filled with His glory. New Testament believers have been called to make His glory known. We are to go, and to teach, and to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
While the Lord pardoned and forgave the people as Moses had petitioned, there would be everlasting consequences for failing to trust in Him, the Lord God. All who had seen the Lord’s glory and miracles and tested His long-suffering and mercy would not see the land which He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v. 22). Only two of all of adult age, Caleb and Joshua, would see the land.
“But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it” (v. 24). The spirit which was in Caleb that was absent in the others was the spirit of belief. Caleb believed that the Lord had given the land to the children of Israel. Caleb acted upon his belief. He urged the people to go into the land and possess it (Num. 13:30). Caleb’s belief would be rewarded. The seed of Caleb would possess the land because God is a rewarder of those who believe Him.
New Testament believers have come to God, believing that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6). Let us diligently follow our calling. Let us declare His glory to all.