"Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to have us fall by the sword? Our wives and little ones will be taken as booty. Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt? …Let us appoint a leader and go back to Egypt" (Num. 14:3-4 NAB).
In response to this display of faintheartedness Yahweh expressed his anger:
According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die. And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation complain against him by bringing a bad report about the land— the men who brought an unfavourable report about the land died by a plague before the Lord. But Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh alone remained alive, of those men who went to spy out the land. When Moses told these words to all the Israelites, the people mourned greatly. (Num. 14:34-39)
So now the Israelites were filled with remorse and decided that they needed to fix things between themselves and God. They decided that they were going to show their courage, and, ignoring God's announced plan to use forty years of wandering to form them as a people, they announced to Moses that they were now going to invade Canaan right away:
They rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, ‘Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.’ But Moses said, ‘Why do you continue to transgress the command of the Lord? That will not succeed. Do not go up, for the Lord is not with you; do not let yourselves be struck down before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will confront you there, and you shall fall by the sword; because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.’ But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, even though the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, had not left the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them, pursuing them as far as Hormah. (Num. 14:40-45)
Sometimes we too wish a certain painful or uncomfortable situation would end; but it turns out that God has a different plan, and needs us to spend some more time in the wilderness. We would do well at that point to remember the misadventure of the Israelites who got impatient with God's plan and tried their own.
This is a good place to say a word about the so-called "vocations crisis" that so many Catholic religious communities and diocesan seminaries and are experiencing. The statistics are staggering, of course, and the phenomenon of the decrease in new entrants to the religious and priestly life is too evident to need further description. However, our look at the "wilderness experience" of the Israelites might suggest a useful perspective on this so-called "crisis." A typical remark might be, "We used to have 400 members in our religious community and now we have only 150!" There sometimes seems to be an underlying assumption behind such a statement, namely that 400 was and still is the "best" number, and that God must still be calling people to come and join but they are all refusing.