Then the LORD said: “I have pardoned, according to your word.” (Num.14:20)
After the 12 spies returned from Canaan with their reports, things began to turn negative in the Israelite camp. Ten of the twelve spoke words of fear and discouragement that made the people want to go back. Only Joshua and Caleb stood in faith in the power of God. But, the Israelites gave in to the counsel of the ten and began to wail and weep and suggest to return to Egypt. This angered God who told Moses that He would now destroy all of them and make of Moses a great nation. But, Moses pleaded God and reasoned that if God killed them all in one day, the Egyptians would mock at them and their great redemption from Egypt would ultimately appear meaningless. He prayed that God would pardon them. Then, God replied to Moses that He would pardon them according to his word but certainly all the adults who rebelled would not see the Promised Land.
Like passages where it’s mentioned that God repented of what He wanted to do, this story seems to portray Moses as able to change the mind of God through strong reasoning. However, in both the cases, the fact is that God is unchangeable; but, people are responsible for either appealing to the principle of divine mercy or be consumed by divine wrath.
Repentance. In the history of Jonah, for instance, God decides not to destroy the Ninevites when they repent. Repentance, while there is time for it, appeals to the attribute of divine mercy. Divine mercy is like a cloud of redeeming rain that pours out and cools the fire of divine justice. It is not that God changes His mind regarding justice, but that genuine repentance makes it possible for God to act in mercy. As sin invites the wrath of God, repentance appeals to the mercy of God.
Intercession. Prayer and Intercession have a deep and signicant role that must not be undervalued. Abraham was an interceder who pleaded for Abimelech and also for Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaac pleaded for his wife and God opened her womb. Here, Moses pleads for the Israelites that God would pardon them. Of course, God pardons them in the sense that they would not be immediately consumed, but since they had no genuine repentance and room for it, God would later destroy them.
This episode unravels to us the power of intercession as reasoning with God, as the act of appealing to the mercy of God on behalf of someone else. A single prayer of an intercessor who is intimate with God can change the course of world history.