Always seeing and never believing describes the people of Israel in the wilderness. Out of the thousands initially delivered from bondage to Egypt, two men crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Joshua and Caleb led the nation of Israel into the land of Canaan. Both men witnessed the Lord’s exacting judgment upon Israel’s unbelief. At or around eighty years of age, Joshua and Caleb were far from being spring chickens. They were old men, but God’s Spirit kept them young at heart.
Whenever I read through the book of Numbers, I wonder what unbelieving Israel makes of Joshua and Caleb. The Lord declared through Moses that none of the adult generation would see the land of promise. Immediately after this word of judgment, a plague struck down the ten spies who stirred up their brothers and sisters into unbelief and rebellion. Because of this sudden act of judgment, the people hastily entered the land of promise only to be attacked and pursued by the Canaanites. After this defeat, the harsh desert remained before them.
Joshua and Caleb do not make an appearance until near the end of Numbers. One by one, they watch their fellow brothers and sisters die in the wilderness according to the word of the Lord. Some of their countrymen raise themselves up against Moses and Aaron such as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. These three men gathered their families and allies to head back to Egypt. The very next day, the earth opened up beneath the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Many of the people screamed in terror at the sight of the earth swallowing up their countrymen. It was a harrowing display of judgment.
Nevertheless, the people grumble and oppose Moses the very next day, which leads to a plague breaking out over the camp. In the midst of this severe judgment, the Lord demonstrates great mercy toward the Israelites as Aaron heads out into the camp with a censer to halt the plague. Nearly 15,000 people lost their lives. Once again, the Lord proves himself and his word true to all. No doubt these various incidents may have confirmed to Joshua and Caleb their standing before the Lord. It seems like the people suffered from severe short-term memory loss. Always seeing and never believing…much of the Israelites’ experiences in the wilderness could have been avoided by simple faith in God.
Nowhere in the book of Numbers does the writer indicate the musings or ruminations of Joshua and Caleb. Everything I could say is pure speculation. Did Joshua and Caleb experience affirmation and confirmation of their union with the Lord each time he distinguished between those for him and against him? Each time these judgments took place, did the unbelieving Israelites ever second guess their decision? These questions intrigue the mind and heart, but the biblical narrative remains silent. For all I know, the rebellious Israelites probably did not care at all about God or Moses or their conscience. The sad fact remains that most of them failed to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4, ESV).