“Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,” (Num 14:29)
Was this just a cruel punishment that God inflicted on people who had murmured and complained against Him? I’m sure there were many difficulties living in the desert. The Israelites probably had more reasons to complain than most of us do. Some might charge God with killing the complainers but really He just prevented them from going into the Promised Land and they died, probably mostly of natural causes.
Earlier verses show that Israel had actually suggested this:
“Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:” (Num 14:28)
What they had spoken is recorded:
“And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!” (Num 14:1-2)
So really, in response to their complaining, God was giving them what they wished for – the opportunity to die in the wilderness. God often gives what people wish or pray for – be careful how you pray!
Also, note that it is a principle in scripture that God was often said to do what He merely permitted or allowed. While He said “so will I do to you” in verse 28, the meaning was that He would allow what they asked for to happen. There are many examples of this principle in scripture.
And, of course, God, who is not willing that any should perish, would act accordingly:
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)
“Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Eze 33:11)
The answer to the question “why will ye die” is not because God will kill you but because you have turned from His ways and spurned His protection.