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I was reading in Numbers chapter 13 how the Jewish people arrive at the border of the Land of Israel. They send prominent men from each tribe as spies, to explore how best to conquer the land. The spies spend 40 days in Israel. When they return, they bring back massive fruit as evidence of the land's prodigal fertility. But they also warn that the land's inhabitants are fearsome and their cities heavily fortified.
The Jewish people are disheartened. They cry and clamor to appoint a new leader to bring them back to Egypt. God decrees that the Jewish people spend 40 years wandering in the desert (one year for every day the spies spent in the land). Only when the generation that left Egypt dies, will the next generation be permitted to enter the Promised Land.
Why did they rebel against entering the land?
A covenant with God is a great privilege. It's also a burdensome responsibility. After 210 years of slavery in Egypt and a trek through the desert, the Jewish people were ready to kick off their shoes, so to speak. But when they heard the spies' report, they realized they would need God's ongoing help to conquer and settle the land. At that point the burden became unbearable. Even the oppression and misery of Egypt seemed more attractive than living up to God's expectations.
Until now, God endured the people's complaining pretty patiently. Why is His reaction suddenly so harsh and unforgiving?
God in His relationship with the Jewish people is frequently mischaracterized as "the vengeful God of the Old Testament." But studies consistently indicate that children flourish best when raised in an environment that is neither permissive (all love) nor authoritarian (all discipline). Children need love and support. They also need clear boundaries and expectations, as well as predictable consequences for their actions.
If you use only love, you communicate "whatever you do is okay." You'll wind up with spoiled, selfish brats.
If you use only punishment and consequences, you communicate "I hate you." You'll wind up with no relationship with your children.
God's patient nurture of the Jewish people through trials and difficulties clearly communicated His love. But the tenth time they rebelled, God decided that without consequences, they would never learn.