The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation. (Numbers 14:18)
A God Who Is Slow To Anger But Does Not Excuse The Guilty
The Hebrews had suffered under the tyranny of the Egyptian bondage for generations before the Lord came and freed them by His mighty hand. Through the miracles of the plagues the Lord showed the Egyptians and the Hebrews there was no God as great as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promises made to the fathers would be kept as the Lord led the people out of bondage into a new land. When the people came to the Red Sea, the Lord showed His immense power to deliver His people as they walked across on dry land. Pursuing the Hebrews the Egyptian army was caught in the deluge of water that came crashing down upon them as the Lord destroyed the might and power of Egypt. Arriving at Mt. Sinai, the law was given to the Hebrews making them the nation of Israel. The Lord God would fight their battles and give them victory against any army. All the provisions of the people would be provided by the hand of the Lord as He fed them, gave them water and blessed them above any people on the earth. A new and fertile land was promised to them as the reward for obedience and faithfulness. Arriving at the borders of Canaan, everything was prepared for the rise of a new nation among the peoples of the world to show forth the glory of the Lord God of Israel. Spies were sent in to secure information about the Canaanite people and their cities. Ten of the spies returned disheartened and filled with fear. All they could see was disaster and death. The giants of the land were so large no army could defeat them. Their cities were fortified bastions that would resist any army. There was no hope in the heart of the people. Only Joshua and Caleb came back with a message of power and might. They suggested that with God’s help there was nothing to fear. Their message fell on deaf ears as the people rebelled against the Lord God who delivered them from Egypt and made them a great nation. God was angered and was determined to destroy all of Israel and begin anew. Moses interceded for the people and the nation was spared destruction at that time. The punishment for their rebellion came over the next forty years as the people wandered around in the wilderness. All those who were above the age of twenty would perish in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb would live to see the fulfillment of God’s promise.
When Moses interceded for the people, he described the incredible character of the Lord God. He defined the nature of God as slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. The people of Israel deserved to be destroyed for their constant bickering, complaining and murmuring. They complained about the conditions of the journey, the food provided by God and everything they could imagine to complain to their benefactor about. Their empty faith to enter the Promised Land was the last straw for the Lord. He wanted to destroy them and start over. Moses knew how compassionate the Lord was for His people and that mercy would save them from destruction. The people were guilty but God was able to forgive them and bless them. However, this did not mean there would not be consequences to their rebellion. Moses also said the Lord did not excuse the guilty. Those who rebelled were punished for disbelief. There would be many people who would die in the wilderness as the wrath of God meted out divine justice to those who disobeyed the word of the Lord. God is the Lord of mercy and pardon but He is also a God of wrath and justice.
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He died on the cross to provide a way of atonement for all men to come into the holiest by a new and living way. The promise of eternal life is given through the blood of the Son of God. There is no greater sacrifice than the love of God to give the world His only begotten Son who for the love He had for all humanity willingly died for the sins of all men. In the cross is found the eternal longsuffering and abundant mercy of God. By the sacrifice of Christ, forgiveness is offered to remove the stain of the transgression that mars the character of a man. Like God delivering the children of Israel from bondage, only through the power of God can man find salvation. The final plague of the death of the firstborn became symbolic of the death of God’s Son for the redemption of the fallen. All of the grace and power of God is demonstrated through the grace of a redeeming Savior. Like Israel, the need for obedience and faith is necessary for salvation. God could have just given the Promised Land to the people but they had to learn obedience – and they failed. Everything man needs to find hope in eternal life is provided by the mercy of the Lord but man must obey to find those promises. When a man refuses to obey the word of the Lord he faces the consequences of a God who will by no means clear the guilty. Disobedience brings the wrath of God. Without faith and obedience, there is no promise of better land. God is the Lord of mercy and He is the God of punishment.