The fury of God’s wrath is fearful to witness; it’s frightening to even read about. Israel was close to feeling the heat of divine rage. God had been true to his promises by bringing them to the doorstep of Canaan, their soon-to-be home. Now all that remained was to march forward and take possession with God’s help.
Israel, however, chose to believe their eyes instead of God’s promises. They quickly forgot the plagues upon Egypt, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the gushing water from a rock, and other manifestations of God’s power. Upon hearing the pessimistic report of the ten spies they decided a return to Egypt was their best option (Numbers 14:1-4).
God’s anger was justified: “I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they,” vowed God to Moses (Numbers 14:12, NKJV). No longer would God’s people be called the children of Israel (Jacob); that race would be wiped from the face of the earth. If God did as he vowed, the new people would be the children of Moses.
Moses’ plea with God was for restraint. On the one hand, Moses argued, the world would lose respect for God if he didn’t fulfill his promise to give his people a new home. But it’s the second line of argument we wish to highlight: “And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as you have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression …'” (Numbers 14:17,18).
How would the world know the power of God? If he followed through on his threat to destroy Israel the world would see God’s power. But how would that destructive power be different from what can be seen every day? If God chose instead to be longsuffering and merciful, that would be a different kind of power. That’s power that the world doesn’t often see. That kind of restraint is more impressive than destructive power.
Before leaving to return to heaven Jesus instructed his apostles. “Behold, I send the promise of my father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). A few days later that power descended upon the apostles in the presence of the rebels who demanded the death of God’s son. The rebels weren’t destroyed that day, but those who gladly received God’s terms of pardon were forgiven (see Acts 2:36-41). The power of God was seen.
Military power is generally destructive. God can put to shame the mightiest weapons of man (see Psalm 46:8,9). But to see a different kind of power – the kind that forgives, saves, blesses – turn to God.