“So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19)
We get reassurance from the promise that God “will not leave the guilty unpunished,” and we apply it to the “them” in our lives, often a “them” we categorize and distance ourselves from. It’s easier to make accusations from a distance. When we get close, we realize just how human people are. We see that we have much in common with “them.” Really, there is little difference between us and them. We are guilty, too.
We sometimes focus so much on the promise to punish the guilty that we forget the context of this promise, which also includes the reminder of God’s character of being slow to anger and rich in faithful love. Yes, God is just as much those things to “them” as He is just. He is just as much those things to “us” as He is just.
Also in these verses is a humble plea for God to pardon “their” wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness for “them.” It’s not a blaming, condemning plea. It’s not an assault on “them.” It’s a plea to God. There is no finger-pointing, declaring that YOU need God’s forgiveness. It’s having such compassion, gentleness, and mercy on people that we go to God on their behalf first and foremost, continually and confidently. We tear down the wall between us and them so that we stand and speak on their behalf.