“But they rose early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, ‘Here we are, and we will go up to the place the Lord spoke about, for we sinned.’” (OSB)
In his Epistle to the Hebrews, chapters 3-4, the Apostle Paul uses this story in Numbers 14 (Israel at Kadesh-Barnea) and its commentary in Psalm 94/95, as an icon of the situation that faces the Christian individually and the Church corporately. Just as Israel was redeemed out of slavery to Egypt, so Christians have been liberated from slavery to the devil and the fear of death (Heb 2:10-18). Just as Israel was being led by God on a journey through the wilderness to “rest” in the Promised Land, so the Church is on a toilsome journey through the present world unto the eternal rest of the heavenly Kingdom and Heavenly Zion.
The first generation of Israelites died in the wilderness through their lack of faith and perseverance, even though the land God had promised them was already theirs. All they had to do was receive their inheritance, to unite faith and works, with trust in God. Indeed, if we recall, Israel already had a foretaste of “the good things to come” (Heb 9:11), for when the spies searched out the land, they
came to the valley of the cluster and surveyed it; and they cut down a branch there with one cluster of grapes upon it, and bore it on staves, and they took of the pomegranates and the figs. (Num 13:24)
Do we not hear and see in this “word” an echo of what St. Paul says?
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come... (Heb 6:4-5)
Christ Himself is the Kingdom, the “Promised Land.” He who “tasted death” on our behalf (Heb 2:9) has given us a taste of our inheritance now. The Church as Christ’s Bride has already tasted “the fruit” of Her Bridegroom (Song 2:3; cf. Ps 33:9), for we have already been united to Christ by Baptism (“enlightened”), Chrismation (“partakers of the Holy Spirit”), and the Eucharist (“tasted the heavenly gift” and “the good word of God”).
This union is eternal, for “what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:6). “We and Christ are One: let us not then distrust Him” (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. Heb. VI.9). For the Christian who has entered into the “age to come” through union with Christ, to turn back and renounce Christ is to “re-crucify the Son of God” and “to hold Him up to contempt” (Heb 6:6).
While nothing limits God’s freedom to save and heal, the Scriptures hold out a strong word for us: if we willingly separate ourselves from Christ, we may find ourselves in the place of Esau who “sold his own birthright for a single meal,” and then, “when he desired to inherit the blessing,” “was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Heb 12:16-17). We must not presume upon God’s grace and mercy as Israel did at Kadesh-Barnea, and so fall far short of the Promised Land.
May God grant that our “entrance” into His eternal Kingdom be “richly supplied” (2 Pet 1:11)!