When God Says No, He Means It!

Numbers 14:22-24, 36-45

“‘Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs, which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it.’
“And when Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, ‘Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the Lord has promised.’ But Moses said, ‘Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the Lord, when it will not succeed? Do not go up, lest you be struck down before your enemies, for the Lord is not among you. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, in as much as you have turned back from following the Lord. And the Lord will not be with you.’ But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses left the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah”
(14:22-24, 39-45).


What is the hardest word for you to say and back up with action? For all of us it most likely is the word “no.” It is especially hard to use this word as a parent or a spouse. We do not like to tell our children, husband, or wife no when they want something from us.

The Old Testament describes the actions of God in word pictures. One of those pictures of God, especially in His relationship to Israel, is that of a husband. In that relationship, we have seen some of the great love and care that God, as Israel’s husband, has shown to His bride. It was difficult at times for God to say no when they wanted something from Him. However, when God did tell them no, He meant it. We have seen the unfaithful report of ten of the twelve spies sent out to survey the land of Canaan. We have examined the reaction and mental defeat of Israel and their resolve that the land was unconquerable. Now we will study “the rest of the story.”

I. We see that discipline is immediate (14:36-38)

God immediately put the ten, faithless spies to death. Joshua and Caleb, because of their faith in God, were the only two spies allowed to live. Israel’s punishment would be that they were to be confined to the wilderness for forty years. Some talk had filtered out among the ranks that they would return to Egypt. After a night’s sleep, others changed their minds and started up to take the land. God had told them no, but they went anyway. The Canaanites came from the surrounding countryside and killed many of the Israelites who attempted to go into the hill country. When God said no, He meant it. Israel was confined to wander in the wilderness and their conditions could not improve. What can we learn from God telling Israel no? Several applications can be made of this principle.

First, we will have to handle discipline when it comes. We will have to follow through with our resolve and do what we say we will do.

Second, we must be careful what we resolve to do. We will have to be consistent and firm in our commitment. If we do something one time, we must do it the next time the problem occurs. When discipline is inconsistent, behavior is inconsistent. This application to the home can be made in the church. When leadership is inconsistent with discipline, member behavior will also be inconsistent. Discipline must be both fair and firm; it must be applied equally to each offender. Congregations, like homes, must be managed with a loving, but firm, guiding hand.

This seems to be why God selected men for leadership who had experience in handling family matters (1 Timothy 3:1f.; Titus 1:5f.). The church is God’s household, God’s family (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). When God disciplines, it is out of His love for us (Hebrews 12:5-11). God disciplines only His children. The discipline is administered, not for sin’s sake; but that character might be built and our lives transformed into the likeness of God. Its end result is to produce maturity and more righteous living in us.

II. We have a picture of the heart of a true leader.

While the Old Testament shows that the patience and love of God is working with sinful humanity, it also shows that God has limits to His toleration of sin and unbelief. Israel had reached those limits with Him. In His dialogue with Moses, God rehearsed all of the times Israel had been unfaithful before; at least ten previous times, they had shown unfaithfulness. With this latest rejection of His promise to give them the land, Israel was now walking totally by sight and not by faith. God was ready to dispossess them all, save Moses, the Levites, Joshua, and Caleb. God, while He has limits, is also a God of reason. Moses intervened for Israel and bargained with God as his forefather Abraham had done generations before (Genesis 18). Moses had the heart of a shepherd in reasoning with God for Israel’s continued existence. It took quite a leader to plead with God to allow Israel to enter the land when Moses himself would be denied entrance (Deuteronomy 1:37). Moses made no attempt to excuse the wickedness of the people. This is exactly what Abraham had done before. He had prayed to God for the righteous in Sodom, not the wicked. Moses prayed for the righteous remnant (14:13-16). He made a case for God’s reputation among the nations; for surely they would hear of what had happened in the wilderness if God destroyed them. Moses reasoned that God had to punish the guilty; that is consistent with His nature. Thus, the ten spies died immediately. Perhaps most importantly, Moses addressed God’s nature of love and kindness. He reasoned that one more act of mercy would also be consistent with God’s character (13:19). Several principles come from Moses’ attitude and example as a shepherd.

First, from the position of leadership, we must realize that it is neither popular nor desirable to be a leader. Biblical leaders must have a true shepherd’s heart. They must always be trying to deepen the relationship between God and His flock. A shepherd learns that the more you work with people, the more difficult it becomes. It reminds me of Charlie Brown’s statement in “Peanuts”: “I love humanity; it’s just people I can’t stand!”

Next, we must never give up on one another. Jesus thought we were worth dying for (John 10:14, 15). Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man; therefore, I need to get to know him better.” In our struggle against sin, we need to learn to stand for one another and plead for one another to be faithful. John says that we especially need to pray that we can overcome sin (1 John 5:16).

III. We learn of the importance of standing with God.

The righteous in Israel were always in the minority: Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, the Levites. Yet, when God took a stand, the people were called to stand with them. Only a few chose to do so.

This is a principle that must be a part of our lives. God and ourselves, alone, do not make up the majority in numbers. Since God is the standard of righteousness, numbers do not count; being right does. Truth will remain truth whether anyone believes and obeys it or not. What God had promised Israel remained true whether or not they ever went into the land. Their unfaithfulness did not nullify God’s promise and the truthfulness of it. When we make an unpopular decision as parents, we believe we are standing alone. But if it was right to make that decision in the first place, it will remain right whether it is ever appreciated or not. Whenever the leadership of a congregation makes a decision that is right, they need to have the courage to stand by it. As one brother wisely said, “If it’s right on Sunday, it will be right on Thursday!” We must stand with God in the righteousness of His Word whether it is popular or not.


An application to eternal salvation must be made when we consider God saying no. When it comes to the entrance into the right relationship with the Father, Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). If “no one” can be right with the Father outside of Christ, then how many will be saved without obeying the gospel? None. Some tragically view judgment as a time when they have the opportunity to change God’s mind about their spiritual state. That is not what the Bible says judgment is all about. God’s plan has been carried out in life. The sentence will be carried out in death (Hebrews 9:27).

On the positive side, when God says yes, He also means it. He fulfills His promises and keeps His agreements, especially in regard to salvation. God is as consistent in saying yes when our lives are in accordance to His will as He is in saying no. What is God’s answer for your life, a yes or a no? You can determine what the answer will be.