The Rebellion of God’s People

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Leader Guide ESV, Unit 7, Session 1
© 2018 LifeWay Christian Resources, Permission granted to reproduce and distribute within the license agreement with purchaser, edited by Rev. Lex DeLong, M.A.
Summary and Goal
God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, provided for them in the wilderness, and brought them to the promised land. God demonstrated His patience and faithfulness over and over again. The Israelites’ failure to trust God and enter into the land He was giving them was not a small misstep but outright rebellion against Him. However, Israel was not alone in their rebellion. The nations of Canaan, from their ancestors to their inhabitants lived in outright rebellion against God revealed to them. Even more, the nations of the world today rebel against God revealed in creation around them and the written Word of God. Tragically, there are even times when believers rebel against God and His Word, ignore his statutes for them, and trust man’s wisdom over God’s.
Session Outline
++1. Rebellion against God begins by ignoring His provision and promises (Num. 13:1-2,30-33).
++2. Rebellion against God impacts others (Num. 14:1-4).
++3. Rebellion against God has consequences (Num. 14:30-35).
Session in a Sentence
Rebellion against God is rooted in doubting God and always has consequences for both the one who rebels and for those around them.
God’s people rebelled against Him and refused to enter the land He had given them because they failed to trust His provision and promises.
Missional Application
Because we have experienced God’s forgiveness of our rebellion through Christ, we trust God as we obey His calling to share His kingdom with the nations.
Firefighters responded to the call of a building on fire. Upon arrival, they noticed a girl on the tenth floor, but they could not reach her with their ladder truck because the street was too narrow. So the firefighters set up a net for the girl to jump into. They pleaded with her to jump into the net, doing their best to assure her that she would be safe. But there was a problem: the girl was blind. The girl could not see the net and could not bring herself to trust the pleas and assurances of the firefighters.
Then the girl’s father arrived on the scene, grabbed the bullhorn, and called out to his daughter for her to jump into the net. The girl leapt from the window and landed safely. Throughout the girl’s life, she had trusted the sound of her father’s voice to guide her where she could not see. The girl heard her father’s voice and knew she could trust him because he had faithfully guided her so many times in the past. Because of her trust in the faithfulness of her father, she walked away from the burning building unscathed. 1
(Adapted from Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, by Tony Evans (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2009) [eBook])
Interact: Ask group members the following question.
What is the difference between trusting someone you know and trusting someone you do not know?
(trusting someone you know is usually easier to do; you will likely trust someone you know over someone you don’t know; trust in someone you know is usually stronger)
· The Christian life is similar to the story of the blind girl: God has promised eternal life and all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), but for that promise to be made a reality in our lives, we have to trust Him for both salvation and everything we need for life and godliness in Him. We have to take our Father at His word.
· But, The Christian life is unlike this story: Our trust in God is not a blind leap. We can trust that God will be faithful to fulfill His promises to us because of who He is and His faithfulness throughout history (Heb. 11+12, cloud of witnesses). We need to remember what God has done so that we can look ahead in full confidence to what He will do.
The Israelites’ failure to trust God and enter into the land He was giving them was not a small misstep but outright rebellion against Him. Israel was not alone in their rebellion. We too, at times, have rebelled against God. God created us for His glory, but we all fall short of His glory. The consequence of our sin is death for those who have not trusted Him as Savior and the product of death even though we are alive, for those who have trusted Him as Savior.

Point 1: Rebellion against God begins by ignoring His provision and promises (Num. 13:1-2,30-33).

After the Lord rescued His people from Egypt, He led them into the wilderness to Mount Sinai, where He gave them His law through Moses.
They spent about a year there, camped around the mountain. Then the Lord, in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, guided them to the edge of the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Read Numbers 13:1-2,30-33 (DDG p. 12).
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.”
30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
DDG (p. 12)
God promised the Israelites the land of Canaan, and He also showed them, quite clearly, that He had the power to make good on that promise because He had made good on another promise—deliverance from Egypt. But Israel’s ability to take residence in the promised land was contingent on their faithfulness to the God who had always been faithful to them.
· In Exodus 6:6-8, God promised the people of Israel that He would deliver them from the hand of Pharaoh and into the freedom of the promised land.
· In Exodus 7–14, God sent the ten plagues to break Pharaoh’s will, He parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape, and He caused the Red Sea to flow back together and crush the pursuing Egyptian army.
· In Exodus 15–17, God provided water for the Israelites to drink in the wilderness and bread and quail for the people to eat.
· In Exodus 17, the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the nation of Amalek, who came to fight them.
Interact: Ask group members the following question.
What are some moments of God’s faithfulness in your life that you can remember to help you remain faithful to God in the future?
(be prepared to give an answer of your own to jump-start the conversation)
DDG (p. 12). Caleb and Joshua feared the LORD and were ready to go in and possess the land; the other 10 spies feared man and were ready to run from God’s promise.
I wonder how often we do the same thing.
The spies Moses sent saw that the land was flowing with milk and honey, confirming the truth of what God had said about the land, and they acknowledged this before the people (Num. 13:27). But when they spoke about the cities and the people in the land, their report turned negative (vv. 28-29,31-33). Ten of the spies saw their own weakness and stopped there, but Caleb and Joshua looked through their weakness and looked upon God. The spies may have felt like grasshoppers compared to the people in the land, but the people of the land were not even ants compared to the God of Israel. In fact, in comparison to the power of Egypt at the time of the Exodus, these nations were much less powerful. All the Israelites had to do was trust in God’s power and faithfulness that he proved back in Egypt. Sadly, they did not.
· It was true that the Israelites were not mighty (Deut. 7:7). They were not trained warriors, they did not have superior weapons, and they were not a world power. And it was also true that the people of the land were strong and that they lived in fortified cities. But God had promised to hand the inhabitants of the land into the hands of His people.
· Sometimes God places opposition in our lives that we clearly can’t handle to teach us to lean on Him and not on ourselves. In this, God is good and kind to allow us to face such opposition so we remember the truth that our salvation is from God.
(DO NOT USE) Commentary: “The reference to the descendants of Anak as Nephilim was designed to instill fear in the hearts of the Israelites. The Nephilim, ‘fallen ones’ (‘giants’ in the LXX), are noted in Genesis 6:4 as the offspring of the ‘sons of God’ (‘angelic beings’ or ‘divine warriors’) and the ‘daughters of men.’ The Nephilim were of large stature, but they all would have been destroyed in Noah’s flood (Gen. 6:11), so it is best to conclude that the frightened spies gave an exaggerated report.” 2
Just as He had with the Israelites, God has shown us that we have every reason to trust and obey Him. Yet in our foolishness, at times we have found it easier to trust in our sin instead of God because we can see it, we can feel it, and it gives us instant gratification. So like the Israelites, we too have stared into the freedom and bounty of the promised land and foolishly longed for the captivity and despair of Egypt.

Point 2: Rebellion against God impacts others (Num. 14:1-4).

Read: Ask a volunteer to read Numbers 14:1-4 (DDG p. 13).
1 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 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! 3 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?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
DDG (p. 13) , The Israelites failed to trust that God is faithful, which led to disobedience as they refused to enter the land He promised them. The Israelites’ response was not a surprise to God. Their rebellion against Him only revealed the sinfulness that was already deep in their hearts, of which God was fully aware (1 Sam. 16:7). Because of their unbelieving hearts, the Israelites complained like a people who were without hope, though God had made it plain to them that He would provide for them and protect them from their enemies.
Voices from Church History
“Conduct, is what we do; character, is what we are … Character is the state of the heart, conduct its outward expression. Character is the root of the tree, conduct, the fruit it bears.” 3 –E. M. Bounds (1835-1913)
Interact: Ask group members the following question.
What are some actions that reveal heart issues?
(obedience to God’s commands should reveal faith; disobedience reveals unbelief; actions out of fear reveal that we don’t trust God to take care of us; sinful actions reveal a selfish, self-focused heart; sin reveals rebellion against God in our hearts)
Fill in the blanks: DDG (p. 13).
Sin as Rebellion: The Bible often portrays sin in terms of defiance and rebellion toward God the King. Sin is personal and willful disobedience, the raising of a clenched fist toward the One who made us.
Essential Doctrine “Sin as Rebellion”: Because the Bible portrays people as responsible beings, called to respond in faith and obedience to God’s revelation, the Bible often portrays sin in terms of defiance and rebellion toward God the King. Isaiah 1:2 is one of many passages that describes sin in terms of rebellion against God: “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me.” Seen in this light, sin is personal and willful disobedience, the raising of a clenched fist toward the One who made us.
The Israelites’ rebellion impacted others, DDG (p. 13).
The Israelites, swayed by the negative report of the ten spies, decided it would be best for them to choose a new leader for themselves and return to Egypt, to the place of their captivity. Therefore, they threatened to kill the leaders God had placed over them (Num. 14:10). Furthermore, their rebellion deserved immediate judgment from God, but Moses interceded for them once again on account of God’s glory before the nations, and He relented (vv. 11-19). The sin of the Israelites affected the way they viewed the leaders God had given them, and it had the potential of affecting how the nations around them viewed God.
· When we sin, even sin that’s done in the dark, we are not the only ones affected. Our sin always affects those around us, directly or indirectly, whether we see it or not. Our sin has the ability to hurt those around us and cause us to disdain the godly wisdom that God makes available to us through others. The result is often a compounding of our sin. One sin leads to another as our hearts are further hardened against God, leading us to hurt others.
· Our sin also has the ability to cause those around us, both believers and non-believers, to see God as someone He is not—One who encourages or tolerates sin.
We must be careful to obey all that God commands (Deut. 8:1).
The truth is that we are broken by sin, so we will mess up, and these mess-ups may very well affect the way people see God. But God can redeem even the most sinful of actions.
When we repent of our sin and turn from rebellion to obedience, the grace of God is proclaimed, believers are called to walk in faith, and sinners are called to turn to Christ in faith.

Point 3: Rebellion against God has consequences (Num. 14:30-35).

Read Numbers 14:30-35 (p. 14).
30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”
DDG (p. 14) The purpose for which we were created is to glorify God. Salvation is one of the greatest ways God makes His glory known; another is obedience and living in His salvation.
God’s glory is paramount to Him, and by extension, it should be for us as well. That’s why He created us—to glorify Him. That is why He formed a nation through Abraham and his descendants, so that He might be glorified through His great and glorious acts of redemption (Isa. 43:7).
Yes, God has a faithful love for His people; He is great in His compassion and mercy. But these are not all that drive Him. His glory does too. The wondrous beauty of it all is that the salvation of people is one of the greatest ways God makes His glory known. The Israelites missed this and suffered the consequences.
· As with the Israelites, the primary purpose of our lives is to glorify God. It’s what we were designed to do. We are to do everything with this singular focus (1 Cor. 10:31). If we do so, we will not only fulfill our created purpose, but we will also experience the abundant life that comes through Jesus (John 10:10).
· If we live for anything else other than the glory of God, our lives will fall apart. Nothing but God can sustain us. The great tragedy of humanity is that we all fall short of what we were created to do—glorify God (Rom. 3:23). But in His faithfulness, in Christ, God has promised to save us where we fall short.
Interact: Ask group members the following question.
What are some ways can we glorify God and make His glory known through our lives?
(by doing what He commands; by telling others about the wonderful things He has done, most notably the gospel of Jesus Christ; by living with a heart toward repentance and faith; by acknowledging God in Christ as our Savior from sin)
DDG (p. 14) In Numbers 14:30-35 we see the chilling reality of the consequences of sin. The Israelites had disobeyed God time and time again, and time and time again, God had been patient with them (v. 11). But now their rebellion had earned their eventual death in the wilderness because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). God had been patient with these people, but God’s patience does not mean He will spare sinners from the consequences of their sin forever.
Commentary: Sin is serious because it offends God. When we sin, we are sinning against a holy, righteous, just, and eternal God. Therefore, our sin deserves a holy, righteous, just, and eternal punishment. The reason why we earn death from our sin is because sin is rebellion against and rejection of the one, true God, who is the source of all life (John 1:4).
Pack Item 2: God’s Patience:Direct the attention of your group to the
Spurgeon quote
Emphasize that God’s patience with persistent unbelief may be long but not forever. God’s patience is an opportunity for salvation (2 Pet. 3:15), so we should respond in one of two ways:
· Sinners should respond to God’s patience with repentance and faith. God spared Caleb and Joshua from dying in the wilderness of judgment because they had a different spirit and followed God fully; in other words, they had faith in God (Num. 14:24). In God’s kindness, He responds to faith to rescue people from death. This is the essence of the gospel: God sent His Son, Christ Jesus, into the world to take the punishment of our sin on Himself. He laid down His life and He pleads for the lives of those who trust in Him, and He saves them from the eternal punishment for sin.
· Christians should respond with an urgency to live for Him and to share the gospel with the world. God wants everyone to repent of their sin and turn to Christ in faith (2 Pet. 3:9), but we must not presume upon His patience for others. Instead, we share the gospel faithfully and urgently so they too may believe for eternal life. For this, Christ has sent us into the world to proclaim the message of salvation.
Interact: Ask group members the following question.
What does sharing the gospel with urgency look like?
(praying constantly for unbelievers; looking for ways to love and serve others in the name of Jesus; sharing the gospel with boldness, regardless of our fears or the potential consequences)
My Mission
Explain: Understanding the rebellious nature of our sin and its consequences should shape the way we see grace.
We know that grace is the unmerited favor of God.
We know that it is a beautiful gift from a loving God. But we must never forget that it was for grace that Jesus went to the cross, and now He sends us with this gospel message. When God commanded the Israelites to go into the land of Canaan and take possession of it, He promised to go before them and ensure the victory. God promised to do the work; all they had to do was obey.
It is the same today with Christ’s command to take the gospel to all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). It is a command that comes with the presence and power of God. God does the work; we simply walk in obedience, trusting Him to be faithful. The land is before us—what will we do?
DDG (p. 15) Because we have experienced God’s forgiveness of our rebellion through Christ, we trust God as we obey His calling to share His kingdom with the nations.
· How will you respond in faith to God’s patience toward rebellion?
· What are some ways your group can remind one another of God’s faithfulness and encourage each other toward obedience?
· How will you share the gospel of Jesus Christ with urgency in the coming days?
Close in prayer:
Additional Commentary
Point 1: Rebellion against God begins by ignoring His provision and promises (Num. 13:1-2,30-33).
“In light of Moses’ rehearsal of the sequence of events in the sending of the spies in Deuteronomy 1:19-46, in which we learn that the initiative to spy out the land came from the people, not from God, one should likely put the instruction from the Lord to ‘send some men to explore’ subsequent to the initial request of the people. Moses thought well of the idea and chose the men for the reconnaissance mission under God’s direction.” 4
“We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are. This statement reflects lack of faith in the Lord, for the spies are evaluating the situation only from a human perspective. As a result, they have no courage. By contrast, trust in the Lord would produce genuine courage, as it does when the people of Israel are given a second opportunity to enter and conquer the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (cf. Josh. 1:5-9).” 5
“The report began positively; the land flowed with ‘milk and honey’ (a phrase that appears fifteen times in the Pentateuch) … The tone of the report, however, quickly turned negative. The spies testified that the people who lived in the land were powerful and the cities were large and fortified. Specifically, the spies mentioned the descendants of Anak, the Amalekites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Nephilim. The sons of Anak were notoriously large warriors who lived in the western region of Canaan in the cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Josh. 11:21-22) … Some scholars believe the mentioning of the Nephilim may have been an exaggeration for rhetorical effect; they were a legendary people thought to be semi-divine (Gen. 6:1-4). The land that ‘flowed with milk and honey’ had turned into a land that ‘devours’ (Num. 13:32). The spies were not referring to cannibalism but to the fact that the people of Canaan had warlike inclinations and were well prepared for battle.” 6
Point 2: Rebellion against God impacts others (Num. 14:1-4).
“This rebellion was different from the one involving the golden calf (Ex. 32–33). In that incident, the people had not rejected God but had made an image to represent him and lead them on their journey to the promised land. But now the Israelites refused God’s offer and denied his promises. In the plain sense of the word, they rejected God. They also rejected the leaders God had given them and suggested choosing their own leader who would take them back to Egypt (14:4). The people’s desire to go back to Egypt and to choose their own leader aroused God’s wrath because it was a total rejection of ‘the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ (Ex. 20:2).” 7
“The grumbling rebellion against God and his gift of the land reached a climax when the Israelite congregation moaned, if only we had died in the land of Egypt. Persons in fear and depression tend to focus on the negative side of events and circumstances rather than turning their hearts and minds to God, the source of hope and deliverance.” 8
Point 3: Rebellion against God has consequences (Num. 14:30-35).
“Instead of the Israelites’ children being enslaved in Canaan as they feared, their children would be held for forty years in the desert by their parents’ sin and would share their suffering. Then the children would inherit the land and enjoy what their parents had rejected (14:31-35). The whole family would experience what it is like to have the Lord against them, and no one would forget the lesson.” 9
“As with Caleb and Joshua, the Israelite children would not perish in the wilderness; they would be punished less severely. They would suffer deprivation and various temptations in the austerity of the desert. Punishment for the sins of the fathers could last for generations, as noted before in the Moses and Yahweh speeches. Those whom they thought would be taken into slavery in the wars against the Canaanites and Amalekites would instead continue in the traditional role of pastoral nomads, shepherding their flocks of sheep and goats in the austerity and barrenness of the Paran Wilderness. The children of the unfaithful Israelites would bear this lengthy punishment for the gross infidelity of their fathers. The term used to describe this infidelity is zenûtêkem, which is normally used in the context of sexual immorality and (metaphorically) for idolatry. The text reads literally, ‘They [your children] shall bear your fornications [harlotries]’ … Bearing the guilt of their fathers’ spiritual adultery meant that the forty years in the wilderness was the necessary reparation or punitive consequence of their rebellion.” 10
1. Adapted from Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, by Tony Evans (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2009) [eBook].
2. R. Dennis Cole, “Numbers,” in CSB Study Bible (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2017), 225, n. 13:33.
3. E. M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer, in The Works of E. M. Bounds (, 2015), 337.
4. R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, vol. 3b in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2003) [Wordsearch].
5. Gordon J. Wenham, “Numbers,” in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 286, n. 13:31.
6. John L. Harris, “Spies in the Land,” Biblical Illustrator (Fall 2017): 65-66.
7. Anastasia Boniface-Malle, “Numbers,” in Africa Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 186.
8. R. Dennis Cole, “Numbers,” in CSB Study Bible, 225, n. 14:1-4.
9. Abraham Saggu, “Numbers,” in South Asia Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Brian Wintle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 186.
10. R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, vol. 3b in The New American Commentary [Wordsearch].
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