The Bible Story
Volume 1, Chapters 31-40
The Tabernacle Built
MOSES had now returned from atop Sinai. God had given him plans for a tabernacle. "Every detail of how the tabernacle should be built, I have with me," Moses explained.
Why the Tabernacle?
"God has ordered us to build this tabernacle as a temporary dwelling for Him to be present with us. God has not yet promised to dwell in you by His Spirit. He has promised to be among you and with you in every crisis so long as you obey Him," Moses said to the crowd. "For now He will be pleased with us if we give generously and willingly of our materials, wealth, skills and labor. Every one can have a part in doing something for our Creator."
Shouts of "What can we do?" and "Just how can we help?" came from all parts of the vast congregation.
Moses answered by telling them that all who were willing and able should bring in gold, silver, brass, cloth dyes, fine linen, goats' hair, red rams' skins, seals' skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, incense and precious stones.
"There is also a need for willing workers who are skilled in carpentry, metal work, weaving, carving and all the crafts and arts necessary to build and decorate the tabernacle and everything connected with it." (Exodus 35:4-19.)
Moses didn't beg the people for anything. He simply told them what was required. The huge crowd broke up, and the Israelites returned to their tents.
Before many hours, much of the necessary material was brought.
Laborers, craftsmen, artisans and maidservants volunteered their services so readily that a crowd grew close to Moses' tent. (Exodus 36:1-3.)
Israelites Bring Many Valuable Offerings
"These people say they have come to give gifts for the tabernacle," an officer explained to Moses and Aaron. "What shall we do?" (Verses 20-29.)
"Assign men of good character to receive the gifts at once," Moses answered. "Summon skilled men to immediately set up tents and enclosures in which to store these things."
For the next several days thousands of people came to give the things for which Moses had asked. Because the camps were spread out for a few miles, it was far into the night when some of the gift-bearers arrived. They also wove diligently on their looms to produce the beautiful fabrics that were needed, and they brought daily that which had been finished. So generous were the people that more than enough was brought for the building of the tabernacle.
Moses was pleased at this great display of zeal, unselfishness and ambition by so many of the people. It was plain to him that thousands of them were anxious to make up for their past sins. Still too fresh in their minds were the unpleasant memories of their wanton prancing before the golden calf. But most of the people who came to give simply had a sincere desire to help because they realized that this was a wonderful opportunity to be of service to God.
God had already told Moses on Mt. Sinai whom to choose to head this task of making the tabernacle, so Moses proclaimed to the people that Bezaleel, a grandson of Hur from the tribe of Judah, would be in charge. Bezaleel's assistant was to be Aholiab of the tribe of Dan.
Israelites Work Industriously
These two men were of good character, highly skilled in all the crafts of building and decoration, in teaching their helpers, and possessing good Judgment and wisdom in the arts of material design and production. Moses had passed on to them the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle. (Exodus 35:30-35.)
Knowing how much material was necessary, through figures Moses had given him, Bezaleel realized that more than enough had been brought in. Even so, the people kept on coming with more. Bezaleel spoke to Moses, who quickly made it known that nothing more should be given. But there were some who had put off giving their share, and who rushed their offerings in too late to be accepted.
Bezaleel and Aholiab lost no time in teaching those who needed instructions and assigning craftsmen and laborers to their various tasks. Soon everyone was busily and happily working. Carpenters started hewing boards out of the acacia logs and planks that had been brought in. Metal workers melted down or pounded out the metals. Weavers and seamstresses worked on cloth. Gem-cutters planned how to use the precious stones.
Work on the tabernacle was something that couldn't be rushed. It required great care and skill, for everything that went into this project was to be made as close to perfection as human hands could make it. The men and women were very careful to perform superior workmanship in making God's tabernacle and its furnishings.
Bezaleel and Aholiab did much of the work themselves -- especially on such objects as the chest that was to contain the two tables of stone on which the Ten Commandments are written, the altar on which sacrifices were to be made and the priests' garments. (Exodus 37, 38, 39.)
Even though the workers applied themselves ambitiously, it required about six months to build the tabernacle. That was because there was a need for so much intricate and detailed workmanship.
Tabernacle Richly Decorated
Nearly fifteen tons of gold, silver and brass were used. This represented only a small part of the wealth of the Israelites, much of which had come from their former Egyptian neighbors or from being washed up on the east shore of the Red Sea after Pharaoh's army had been engulfed in water.
Among the things made last was the special clothing for the priests As the items were finished, they were brought to Moses for inspection Nothing was approved until he was satisfied that it was made strictly according to God's instructions. Finally Moses called all the workers together to commend them for tasks done well, and to ask God's blessing on them. (Exodus 39:43.)
He reminded them that God, who is perfect, is pleased when men strive toward perfection in anything worthwhile, whether it is material physical or spiritual. That's worth remembering when something needs doing. Too many people try to get more and give less, which is the opposite of God's way. Quality pleases Him, and quality requires one's best efforts.
The Israelites had been gone a year from Egypt by the time the tabernacle was finished. It was set up and ready for use on the first day of the second year of the journey to Canaan. (Exodus 40:1-4, 17) Just to the west of Moses' tent was an open area centering the twelve camps. There workmen erected God's tabernacle that was to be taken down and moved whenever the people moved. (Numbers 1:50-54; 3:38.)
An Enclosure for the Tabernacle
To give privacy to the priests who would preside there, a long curtain of fine linen was strung on braced posts of brass about ten feet high. This fence enclosed an area about two hundred feet long and half as wide. The space between the tabernacle and the fence was called the court of the tabernacle. (Exodus 27:9-19 and 38:9-20.)
The only entrance into the court was an opening left in the east fence. The altar, about six feet high and ten feet square, was just beyond the opening. Its boards, hewn from acacia trees grown in the Mt. Sinai area, were covered with brass. It was hollow inside (Exodus 27:8), but filled with earth to prevent the wood from burning. (Exodus 20:24.) Wood and offerings were to be placed on the dirt part, from which ashes could be removed daily (Leviticus 6:8-13) with shovels and pans made for that purpose.
Like everything of the tabernacle, the altar was made to be carried. There were heavy brass rings on the corners of the brass grate encircling the lower half of the altar. The boards of the altar rested on a narrow rim of the grate. (Exodus 27:4-5.) Through the rings long poles were to be inserted for lifting the altar from the dirt filling for conveyance whenever the Israelites were directed to move their camps. (Exodus 38:1-7.)
Between the tabernacle and the altar was a large brass bowl called the laver, always to be full of water. In it the priests were to wash their hands and feet before going about their duties. (Exodus 30:18-21.)
The tabernacle was put up in the west section of the court. It was about sixty feet long. Its width and its walls were a third of the length. The walls were built of gold-covered acacia boards set on bases of silver. The front end was open except for a curtain. Another heavier, larger curtain of sealskin was stretched over lighter ones of rams' skins, goat hair and linen. Only the colorful, figured linen curtain could be seen inside the tabernacle, which needed no floor because it was always to be set on level ground. (Exodus 26:1-25; 36:8-34.)
There were two rooms. The first one, covered with gold, was about forty feet long and half as wide. This was known as the holy place. It contained a gold-covered table that was to hold twelve loaves of bread to represent the food offerings of the twelve tribes of Israel, a gold lamp stand with places for seven oil lamps and a gold altar for burning incense.
The second room was half the size of the first. This very sacred area was to be entered only by the high priest and only on the Day of Atonement, once a year. Here was a gold-covered wooden chest called the ark of the covenant, about the size of a large trunk. It had a solid gold lid called the mercy seat, on which were mounted two gold figures facing each other. Inside the chest were the two stone tablets on which God had engraved the Ten Commandments. Aaron's shepherd's rod was there. There was also a special container for manna, holy anointing oil and other objects of unusual meaning. (Exodus 37:1-9; Hebrews 9:3-8.) This holy of holies, as the inner room was called, was the place God designed for His glorious Presence while leading the Israelites on the journey to Canaan.
A huge crowd formed to see how the tabernacle would appear when its many parts were put together. It was colorful and majestic, but only the upper part of the outside could be seen. The curtained fence prevented the people from witnessing even the sacred rites of ordaining the equipment in the court.
Moses was the first to enter the court. After he anointed the articles and utensils there and in the tabernacle, they were to be regarded as holy. He then brought Aaron and Aaron's sons into the court. They washed at the laver and dressed in their priestly attire. Moses anointed them with oil, and they were ordained by God's power to be priests. This meant that their following generations were also to be priests.
Everything was put in order. Bread was placed on the table in the holy place. The seven lamps were lighted. Sweet incense was burned on the golden altar. A burnt offering and a meat offering were made at the large altar. (Exodus 40:17-33.)
The Israelites were accustomed to seeing the cloud move down from above Mt. Sinai and hover over the tent where Moses went to talk to God. This time it moved down toward the middle of their camps, appearing so close and large that some of the people fled to their tents. Those who stayed to watch noticed that the cloud had a beautiful, sparkling quality that exuded the feeling of vibrant life. While awed millions watched, it floated down over the tabernacle.
Moses, Aaron and his sons were still inside when the luminous vapor settled down to impart a sensation of peace and energy Moses had experienced before. Rays of multicolored light moved through the vapor, becoming so intense the humans had to back out of the tabernacle to leave it to God to occupy.
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The Levitical Priesthood
GOD Will allow you to enter completely into His tabernacle service only after you have spent seven days and nights in your duties at the door," Moses told Aaron and his sons. "Do exactly as you have been told, or you may have to pay with your lives." (Leviticus 8:1-4, 31-36.)
A week later the elders were told to bring offerings for the first services in use of the altar. All the people were also told to be present. After the first carcasses were placed on the altar, Moses, Aaron and his sons went out to stand before the people while Moses informed the crowd that God was pleased with the offerings.
A Fire from Israel's God
Suddenly a hissing bolt of fire shot out of the tabernacle, arched upward enough to be seen from outside the curtained fence, and struck the altar! The offering there was quickly consumed by an energy more like lightning than ordinary flames. This close display of God's power so startled the people that they fell forward in awe. (Leviticus 9:22-24.)
"This is God's holy fire," Moses told Aaron. "Your sons should never allow it to die." (Leviticus 6:13.) "Twice a day live coals should be taken from the altar and carried in a censer to the holy place to be sprinkled with incense at the golden altar." (Exodus 30:1-9.)
From then on the tabernacle was in constant use. Early each morning Aaron's sons came to carry out their preparation duties. Then animals were slaughtered, dressed and offered for all Israel. This was done again in the afternoon, so that an offering was always on the altar. (Leviticus 6:9, 12-13.) The unblemished animals used for burnt offerings typified the Messiah who would later come to die for the sins of the people instead of the people having to die.
Why Animal Sacrifices?
Aaron and his sons had to carry out their duties properly. There were several kinds of offerings planned by God to distinctly remind the Israelites of their sins, and to give them an opportunity to worship Him with a feeling of close contact. THESE OFFERINGS WERE TO TEACH ISRAEL THE HABIT OF OBEYING THEIR GOD. (Galatians 3:24.) THEY ALSO TAUGHT THE NEED FOR THEIR GOD TO COME AS A SAVIOUR TO PAY FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD. The offerings were not to pay for sin. Salvation never came through animal sacrifices. They were given to Israel until the coming of the Saviour (Galatians 3:19), and were to remind the people that One would come to shed His blood for their sins. (Hebrews 10:3, 4, 18.)
There were burnt offerings, food offerings, peace offerings, offerings for sins of ignorance, trespass offerings and others. For each there was a special ceremony outlined by God. (Leviticus 1-5.) For example, if a man wished to make a personal burnt offering as a gift to God or in recognition of the coming Messiah, he was to bring one of three things. It had to be a healthy, unblemished male from his cattle, sheep or goats, or turtledoves or pigeons. There was a ceremony for each kind of creature, some of which were more involved than others, but each ending with the animal's flesh being burned.
Most of the people didn't realize their sacrifices pointed to a time when the Being in the cloud would come in human form and would be sacrificed for the sins of all the world's inhabitants.
Sacrificial ceremonies included more than animals. Olive oil, flour from grains and incense were used. Some, if to be burned, were used in combinations, such as unleavened breads not sweetened by honey. Whatever the ritual or its necessities, all had to be done exactly according to how God had instructed Moses. Nothing was to be changed, added or omitted.
Two Priests Rebel
Two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, arrived for work one morning to find the altar fire barely alive. In their eagerness to get the flames going, they piled on wood that was moist from the morning dew, burying the last of the live coals.
"Our father, Aaron, will be here any minute to get live coals for the altar in the holy place, and now they're under this wet wood," Nadab observed worriedly. "We'll have to pile some of it off."
"Why go to that trouble?" Abihu asked, snatching up a censer. "There's a campfire outside the gate where we can get live coals right away!"
Knowing that only fire from the large altar was to be used in the holy place, Nadab was about to protest, but said nothing when he thought how much easier it would be to obtain coals at the campfire. Silently he picked up another censer and hurriedly joined his brother. Then the two rushed back with the glowing coals, relieved to find that Aaron still hadn't showed up.
After a few minutes they realized the campfire coals were becoming ash-covered. If they weren't used right away, coals would have to be dug out from under the new fuel on the altar after all. Unwisely, they decided to make the delivery of live coals to the holy place, something only Aaron was to do. After leaving the fire in the holy place, a strong uneasiness seized them. They made a frantic rush for the door, but too late.
Fingers of fire hissed out of the inner room and struck them lifeless under the curtains of the tabernacle entrance. (Leviticus 10:1-2.)
A little later, when Aaron arrived, he was concerned to find nobody in sight, although fire was now beginning to burn vigorously on the altar. Across the court, in the doorway of the tabernacle, he then saw his sons lying motionless. He hurried to reach down to them.
"Don't touch them!" Lesson in Obedience
Aaron glanced up to see Moses approaching and motioning him away from the dead men.
"They died because they disobeyed God by bringing strange fire before Him and trying to take over duties that were yours," Moses explained. "God warned them, and He means His warnings."
Aaron stood in silent misery, gazing at the flame-blackened bodies. Finally he turned away, realizing that disobedience had to bring punishment. In spite of the shock of his nephews' deaths, Moses lost no time in arranging for burials, and for replacements by Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's two other sons.
"Don't mourn because of Nadab and Abihu," Moses warned Aaron and the two other sons. "If you do, it would show that you feel God has dealt unjustly with them." (Leviticus 10:6-7.)
People were sobered when they heard Nadab and Abihu had died by the direct hand of God. Even a funeral wasn't to interfere with tabernacle ceremonies. Aaron had to carry on with his duties, and Eleazar and Ithamar had to start with theirs. Their period of service began with a new ruling that priests on duty would have to abstain from wine and strong drink, the excessive use of which could dull one's best judgment. It was possible that such had happened with Nadab and Abihu.
Serious events didn't necessarily steer matters smoothly. In one case of a goat being used as a sin offering for the people, Moses happened to go to the holy place to find nobody there. Neither was the goat that was to be eaten (at least in part). Moses then discovered that the goat had been completely burned on the altar. He quickly found Eleazar and Ithamar.
"Why was the offering left to burn?" he angrily asked. "Why wasn't it eaten in the holy place, as holy meat to bear the sins of the people?" (Verses 16-18.)
Embarrassed and feeling guilty, the brothers were trying to think of reasonable answers when Aaron walked up to explain that he had told his sons not to bring him any meat to eat because his recent losses had left him with little appetite.
"Would forcing down food under such circumstances be acceptable to God?" Aaron asked.
Moses felt sudden compassion. He realized Aaron had done well to continue his duties under his emotional strain. He knew that God pardons human errors not willfully committed. He put a comforting hand on Aaron's shoulder and said nothing more about the matter. Inasmuch as God gave no indication of displeasure, Aaron obviously was forgiven for breaking a ceremonial rule.
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Laws of Health
EVERYBODY should be healthy. God intended that His own people should not only know the truth about food but live radiant, healthy lives.
What "Clean Food" Means
Food that is clean doesn't always mean that it is free of every kind of dirt. It can be pure in that respect, but at the same time it can be unfit to eat. God made animals, birds and fish in a class good for human food and in another class unfit for humans to eat. The Bible calls one kind "clean" and the other kind "unclean."
This was known before the Flood. Noah knew what to do when he was told to take seven pairs of each kind of clean animals and birds into the ark along with one pair of each unclean kind. (Genesis 7:2-3.) The detailed knowledge of such things had been lost over the centuries that the Israelites had mingled with the heathen Egyptians, who had no interest in obeying God.
The same was true of the Ten Commandments. Adam knew what they were. So did Noah, Abraham and many others. At Mt. Sinai they were brought to the Israelites so they could know again what was God's will. To Israel went the responsibility of preserving the laws in writing and keeping pagan beliefs and rules from becoming mixed with them.
God gave a simple rule by which clean animals could be known from the unclean. If an animal chewed a cud and had parted hoofs, it was made to be eaten. (Leviticus 11:3-4 and Deuteronomy 14:6-8.) Cattle, as well as several other kinds of animals, take in their food without spending time to chew it enough. They later bring mouthfuls back up from their stomachs for more careful chewing. These rechewed bits are called cuds.
The Bible also gives examples of animals not fit for food. The camel chews the cud, but doesn't have divided hoofs. They are slightly indented on the front, and with grooves on top, but not divided. The rabbit has paws with toes instead of hoofs. Cats, dogs and horses don't chew cuds. Raccoons, squirrels and opossums are also unclean to eat. Pigs have divided hoofs, but don't chew cuds.
"You shall not eat swine or any other animals that do not part the hoof and chew the cud," God warned. (Leviticus 11:7-8; Deuteronomy 14:8.)
God Always Has Good Reasons
The Creator never does anything without a good reason. His mind is far superior to human minds, which are rarely able to understand divine decisions and actions. Nevertheless, man tries to figure out why God tells him to do certain things. And when he can't discover God's reasons, he generally decides obedience is unnecessary.
Man should obey for his own good, regardless of how little he understands. Only then is he blessed. Unhappily, millions have decided that such animals as pigs and rabbits are proper to eat, especially if God is thanked for them.
Now that more is known about animal anatomy, it is evident that certain animals have digestive systems that don't carry off as many poisons as do others. A hog digests its food in about three and a half hours. A cow requires twenty-four hours to do the same thing through two digestive processes screening out impurities that would otherwise pass into its flesh and milk.
The main reason any animal is unclean is that it wasn't made to be eaten by man. God made some animals for human food. Others were for work, for pets, for consuming waste products and for controlling the numbers of creatures. If man could have discerned which animals were unclean, there would have been no need for the Bible to inform him.
Water Creatures Fit for Food
God also gave a similar way of knowing what water creatures were to be used as food. To be clean, they must have two features -- fins and overlapping scales (which sometimes drop off with age). (Leviticus 11:9-12; Deuteronomy 14:9-10.)
Wide varieties of creatures are ordinarily considered great delicacies. Crabs and lobsters are acclaimed around the world as succulent delights, though they are nothing more than flavorful but unclean, spider-like crustaceans that feed mainly on decaying carcasses.
Other unclean denizens of the water include the frog, turtle, abalone, scallop, shrimp, shark, whale, eel, squid, various catfish, European turbot, sturgeon, lobster, octopus, clam and oyster. Most of these are thought of as wholesome and nutritious food by millions of people, including most of those who descend from the ten tribes of the House of Israel. Whale oil is also used in foods by many who do not know it is unfit for food. Almost all other common fish on the market are clean. The human body has degenerated since Adam. Should man be surprised if he found that much of that degeneration has been due to centuries of consuming unclean creatures?
The Bible doesn't directly give a rule by which clean birds can be recognized. It simply lists all different kinds of those that are unclean. Outside of mentioning the quail, the dove, the pigeon and the sparrow, God doesn't specifically name the clean ones. (Leviticus 11:13-20; Deuteronomy 14:11-18.)
It is easy to learn which fowl are clean simply by noticing the characteristics of birds which are named as clean or unclean.
Studies of fowl have revealed some striking differences between the two kinds. Clean fowl have six unusual characteristics. One or more of these characteristics is lacking in unclean birds. A clean bird has a craw or crop AND, second, a gizzard with a double lining which can easily be separated. Two such digestive organs are doubly helpful in changing its food into meat that is good for humans and insuring against poisonous waste matter going into its flesh.
Third, a clean bird does not prey upon other birds. Fourth, it does not devour food while flying. Fifth, its hind toe and middle front toe are both long. Sixth, when it stands on a perch, it spreads its toes so that three front ones are on one side of the perch and the hind toe on the opposite side. All unclean birds lack at least one of these characteristics. Clean birds have all these characteristics.
Clean fowl include the chicken, pheasant, peafowl, ptarmigan, guinea fowl, prairie chicken, pigeon, dove, partridge, grouse, quail, turkey, duck, goose, all song birds and the teal and swan. (The swan is named in the King James or Authorized Version as being unclean, but this is a mistranslation. The water hen should be mentioned instead.)
Unclean birds include the eagle, vulture, kite, buzzard, osprey, raven, crow, magpie, ostrich, owl, hawk, cormorant, sea gull, water hen, sandpiper, plover, pelican, stork, coot, heron, bittern, crane, grebe, rail, roadrunner, woodpecker, penguin, parrot, albatross and bat.
God also named other creatures that are to be regarded as unclean and detestable. (Leviticus 11:20-23.) They are the weasel, mouse, lizard, snail, mole, snake and worm. Such were to be considered so detestable that anything their dead bodies touched, such as food or dishes was to be regarded as unfit for use until thoroughly washed. (Verses 24-43.)
"Do not defile yourself with these unclean creatures," God warned. "Keep yourselves clean and sacred, so that you will be more acceptable to your holy God." (Verses 44-47.)
Regardless of what God said, millions who claim to be faithful, obedient Christians feel anything with a high vitamin content must be good for them. They argue mistakenly that the laws of clean and unclean food, inspired by God for all people for all time, were merely "old Jewish laws" "nailed to the cross" at Christ's death.
Some People Lust for Forbidden Food
To justify their eating unclean foods, many of these people turn to the fourth chapter of I Timothy, and point with triumph to the fourth and fifth verses, wherein Paul said:
"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (RSV).
Taken out of its context, this statement would probably cause the reader to conclude that either Paul didn't agree with God or that God has changed His mind and favors the eating of the filthiest of fare as long as God's blessing is asked on it. But Paul didn't disagree with God, who never changes. (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8.) Neither do His laws. (Matthew 5:17-18.)
To understand I Timothy 4:4-5, one must read from the beginning of the chapter. Paul was referring to religious extremists who fall away from the truth or never quite get to it. They are the kind such as are against marriage and certain clean foods. The word EVERYTHING in the fourth verse refers to every creature "consecrated by the word of God." Only clean creatures were consecrated or approved as fit for human food.
Picking certain words and phrases out of the Bible and adding them together to try to prove untruths is an ancient trick. Such deceit can generally be uncovered by comparing scriptures and by carefully reading whole chapters to find exact meanings of certain words, phrases and sentences.
God Did Not Cleanse the Unclean Creatures
Another example of misunderstanding is based on Acts 10:9-16. If one reads only those verses the impression is conveyed that Peter was told that God had cleansed unclean creatures, and that Peter should not hesitate to eat them. But verse 17 shows that Peter knew God did not mean for him to eat unclean meat. Peter noticed that no animal's nature had been changed; they were still unclean! So he began to wonder what the vision did mean! He did not jump to a hasty conclusion.
Verses 28 and 29 show that the vision was for pointing out that Peter should not regard any MAN, regardless of nationality, as common or unclean if he seeks to live rightly.
No matter what is believed about clean and unclean creatures, the two kinds still exist. The nature of unclean animals has not changed. They are the same today as they were before the Flood, in Moses' day and in Peter's time. Those who obey the Creator in these matters receive definite blessings.
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The Plan of Salvation
GOD'S great plan for man's future has to do with salvation -- being spared from sin and death and being given the gift of eternal life. Moses wanted to know about this. God explained it to him so that he could pass on the vital information to the Israelites.
Why Man Needs Salvation
If there were no sin, man wouldn't have to be saved from it. People who say they don't need salvation don't know what sin is or what eternal life means. Man should know he is mortal, subject to death, and needs the Spirit of God as a gift to make it possible to live forever. God made this plain to Moses about the time the tabernacle was erected. Most of the book of Leviticus, written by Moses, has to do with the rules meant to keep Israel the wisest and cleanest nation on Earth. God also made known the rituals required to teach the Israelites the need of a Saviour and the habit of obedience. These temporary ceremonies are called "the works of the law" in the New Testament. They ceased to be needed at Jesus' death.
The book of Leviticus makes it obvious that God's laws, which explain right from wrong, are helpful in making all people much happier. But down through time many religions have sprung up who ignore those rules by labeling them "Jewish laws," and referring to Leviticus as an account of the ancient "laws of Moses."
Many people regard the words LAW, JEW, MOSES and ISRAELITE with contempt. Their religious leaders unknowingly have either failed to teach them the truth or have deliberately withheld the truth from them. Those who have brought the truth, including Jesus Christ -- the Creator of men and all things -- have been slain or ridiculed because the truth they announced conflicted with the beliefs of many religious sects. Men have always hated those with God's truth. (Mat. 23:29-35.) Those who sneer at the Commandments given to Israel are inviting on themselves the miserable results of sin.
What's Wrong with God's Laws?
There is nothing wrong with the laws given to the Israelites through Moses. Here are some of them. Because they were broken, Jesus had to die.
Having anything to do with idols or foreign gods is forbidden. (Leviticus 19:4.)
No marking, such as tattooing, is to be done on the body. (Leviticus 19:28.)
There are to be no evil sexual practices. (Leviticus 18.) No one is to marry anyone to whom he or she is closely related. (Leviticus 18:6.)
Pagan holidays are not be observed. (Leviticus 20:1-5.) No interest is to be charged in giving financial help to an Israelite or anyone journeying with the Israelites. (Leviticus 25:35-37.)
No one is to go to a fortune teller or medium for advice. No one is to have anything to do with a wizard or sorcerer or anyone in contact with demons. (Leviticus 20:6.)
God reminded Moses that the Israelites, who had been influenced for centuries by the Egyptians, should refrain from consuming blood in their meat. (Leviticus 17:12-13.) He made it plain that the life of all flesh is in the blood. "Anyone who kills or catches any beast or fowl for food must thoroughly bleed the creature and bury the blood. No one is to eat any creature that dies of itself or is killed by other beasts." (Verse 15, first part.)
The only use of blood was as an atonement, by sacrifice, to remind Israel of their human sins and of the death of Jesus Christ as Saviour.
Plan of Salvation Revealed
Israel's God told Moses the Plan of Salvation for mankind was so important He would require the people to observe certain annual holy days as reminders. He had already given in Egypt a time to keep Passover, which foreshadowed the death of the Messiah to pay for sin. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which followed, symbolized putting away sin out of one's life. Another special time, celebrated when Israel's God spoke the Law at Sinai, was the Feast of Firstfruits or Pentecost. This feast signified that only a few are being called to salvation now. They are the firstfruits of God's spiritual harvest. Then came the Feast of Trumpets, foretelling God's intervention in world affairs. The Day of Atonement, or harmony, followed. It was ordained by the Creator to fall on the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishri. That is in September or October of the man-made Roman calendar, which will soon be replaced by God's correct calendar. God reckons days from sundown to sundown, so this whole day was to start at sundown on the ninth of Tishri and end at sundown of the tenth. During those twenty-four hours the people weren't to work or consume food in solid or liquid form, although very young children could nurse. (Leviticus 23:26-32.)
It was the only day of the year on which the high priest was to enter the inner room of the tabernacle on ceremonial business. God told Moses to warn Aaron that if Aaron otherwise came into the room without God's permission, he would lose his life in the way his sons had lost theirs.
In performing his duties as high priest, Aaron ordinarily dressed in the elegant garments designed by the Creator. But on the Day of Atonement he was to be especially clean bodily and dressed in spotless linen clothing designating simplicity and humility rather than high office. Only then could he approach God in the inner room where the ark and mercy seat were placed. (Leviticus 16.)
The special ceremonies that day were to make it clear to the people that sinners must come to God through His high priest. The human high priests of the family of Aaron typified the coming Saviour who would die to forgive sins. Today, our high priest and Saviour is Christ.
Aaron was first to sacrifice a bullock or young ox for himself and his family as a sin offering. He was to sprinkle some live coals from the altar with incense. Then they were to be taken to the Holy of Holies so that the sweetened smoke would waft over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. If he failed to carry this out properly, he would be subject to death. (Leviticus 16:12-13.)
He also was to take some of the bullock's blood into the inner room to sprinkle it on and before the mercy seat as an act of atonement for himself, his family and the other priests. Having his sins forgiven, he would qualify to ask God to forgive the sins of all Israel. The priests and all the Israelites were to be in a repentant state of mind, not only this day but all year, even if they were not promised the Holy Spirit and eternal life.
The high priest was then to be presented with two goats. One was to be placed on his right and the other on his left. He was to take a bowl in which there were two identical coin-like emblems called lots. One was marked "FOR GOD" and the other "for AZAZEL," one of Satan's names. In many Bibles the word Azazel is mistranslated SCAPEGOAT. Being guilty of sin, Satan is no scapegoat.
After the bowl was shaken, Aaron was to put each of the lots on a goat. The goat on which the "FOR GOD" lot happened (by God's choosing) to be placed was the one to be used for a sin offering for the people. It represented Christ's sacrifice to reconcile the world to God. The goat's blood was to be sprinkled before and upon the mercy seat as atonement for all the sins Israel had committed. (Leviticus 16:15-19.)
On returning to the court, Aaron was to confess the sins of Israel over the goat marked "FOR AZAZEL." Thus the wrongdoings of the Israelites that were motivated by Satan were to be heaped on the animal representing Satan, the author of sin. The goat representing Satan was to be led into the desert to portray the banishment of Satan, who will be removed from mankind when Christ returns to make the world at one with God. (Revelation 20:1-3.) The person who took the goat was to wash his clothing and bathe before returning to camp. (Leviticus 16:20-22, 26.)
After these ceremonies Aaron was to exchange his special linen clothing for his ornate priestly garments, and give a personal burnt offering of a ram and another for the people. (Verses 23 and 24.)
All went well in carrying out these things. In spite of their weaknesses, the Israelites became aware that they were the only people to whom God was revealing His plan pictured by the holy days. In choosing them to preserve His truth, He was mercifully willing to forgive their sins even though He did not promise them eternal life at that time.
The Day of Atonement became an annual Sabbath to be observed forever by all people (Leviticus 23:31), but the sacrificial acts of the priests were required only until Christ came to die for the sins of the world.
No More Need of Sacrifices
The sacrificing of animals on that day was no longer necessary after Jesus Christ was sacrificed, many centuries later, as the Lamb of God to die for the sins of this world. (Hebrews 10:4, 10-12, 18.) When Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself there ceased to be any need to sacrifice animals as a reminder of sin. (Hebrews 10:3.)
The Day of Atonement remains, however, a holy period of resting and fasting, but most church authorities ignore it. They claim that it is an ancient Jewish day. If one asks who the Jews were, one would ordinarily be told that they were a people known as Israelites who came out of Egypt under Moses' leadership.
That answer wouldn't be very factual. Most people have never thought about who the "lost" ten tribes of Israel might be or where they went after their nation was taken captive into the ancient land of Assyria, or where they are now. God purposely hid their identity until these latter days. Yet it was to these people, as well as to the Jews, that God commanded the keeping of the seven annual festivals!
These ten tribes can at last be identified! The matter is crystal-clear to millions who have found the truth in their Bibles. However, religious groups in general refuse to recognize this discovery because it doesn't fit with what they have taught for so long.
For centuries there has been an erroneous belief that the Earth has two kinds of people -- Jews and Gentiles. They are actually ISRAELITES and Gentiles. The Jews are of Judah, only one of Israel's twelve tribes. Israelites of today, which include peoples of Northwestern Europe and their descendants in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, should be doing the things God commanded them to do, and converted Gentiles should be obedient in the same way.
For the genuine Christian, the Day of Atonement pictures a better era not far away, when sin will be placed on the one who originated it. That is Satan. Not until then will man come into true accord with his Creator. That time is only a few years away. Meanwhile, many things must occur. Even now false prophets are proclaiming Christ has already arrived or is about to arrive at any moment. They don't know God's timetable and His Plan of Salvation because these don't keep the holy days.
Seven Steps to Plan of Salvation
In summary, the seven steps in God's Plan are pictured by seven special holy periods of time. These special days are Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Festival of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day. People who have forgotten these days have forgotten the TRUE PLAN of Salvation which these days picture. They have come to believe in a COUNTERFEIT plan!
We have already learned the meaning of Passover when we read about the Exodus.
The Days of Unleavened Bread picture putting sin out of our lives. (I Corinthians 5:7-8.) Leaven is a type of sin. A wave sheaf offering was made during the Days of Unleavened Bread after the Israelites reached the land God had promised them. (Leviticus 23:10-11.) This sheaf of grain pictured the ascended Christ being accepted by God the Father as the perfect sacrifice and as the very first of the firstfruits from the dead. (Compare John 20:17 with Matthew 28:9.) Very few people know that Christ ascended to Heaven and returned that same day.
On the fiftieth day after the resurrection, always on a Sunday in May or June on the calendar in use by today's world, Pentecost is to be observed. Even the Apostles were keeping it after the law of Moses ceased to be needful. (Acts 2:1.) This day points to the time when the Holy Spirit was first made available to mankind since Eden. It could not come until after Christ's death, except for those few prophets, judges, priests and kings whom God specially called. This festival also points to the time of the FIRST HARVEST of souls -- to be reaped at the return of Christ. Those who have forgotten this day have forgotten that this is only the time of the first harvest.
The Festival of Trumpets, another day of rest, is to be observed on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri, in the fall. (Leviticus 23:2325.) It pictures the time mentioned in the book of Revelation when the last of seven trumpets will sound, and when Christ will come to meet in the air those who will be resurrected to rule with Him on Earth. (Revelation 11:15-17; I Corinthians 15:52.) Not every nation will give in at the very hour Christ arrives, but every nation and government will soon be made aware that there is no choice but to accept Christ's perfect, loving rule. (Zechariah 14:16-19.)
Next is the Day of Atonement. It pictures Satan imprisoned, no longer deceiving the world, for 1,000 years. Then comes the final time of harvest of souls pictured by the Festival of Tabernacles.
The Festival of Tabernacles, beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (sometime in September or October), is ordained to last for seven days. It is a time God's people come together to worship Him after the summer crops are harvested. The first day was (and still is) a holy day of rest. This festival foreshadows the thousand-year period when Christ and the resurrected Christians will rule the Earth. (Revelation 5:10; 20:4, 6.) People such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, dead and with no knowledge of anything over many centuries, will be among those resurrected in the first resurrection to eternal life. They will rule with Christ in the Millennium. (Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 11.) Millions not yet born will be saved in the great spiritual harvest during the Millennium when Satan isn't around to deceive them.
After the seven days, there follows another special holy day of rest.
Today most people never think of observing the eighth, or Last Great Day, as a time of rest, not realizing that it is to commemorate the period after the Millennium when millions who have died in the past who have not had any opportunity to understand the truth, will be brought to physical life in the second resurrection and be given their first opportunity to come to the knowledge of salvation. Just think of the joy to be experienced by those who never before heard or knew the truth. Those who do overcome will eventually join the joyous ranks of the immortal saints who will have met Christ at His Second Coming more than a thousand years before! (Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 12:42; Isaiah 65:19-25.)
Every human being who has ever lived or ever will live must have the opportunity of learning of God's great Plan. (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:4.) God will deal justly with everyone. Each person (Romans 2:11) will have a full understanding of the right way and must make his own decision as to whether he will obey God. (Hebrews 8:11.) Some have already had their one and only opportunity today. There is no second chance.
Finally, the Earth will be enveloped in a fire that will consume everything on its surface. Even the seas will be completely evaporated by the intense heat. (II Peter 3:10-12; Revelation 21:1.)
Then God will come down from heaven in His gigantic holy city, which will descend to Earth. Many doubt Bible statements about this jewel-like city. From then on this mammoth city will be the headquarters and dwelling place of God and His children -- now spirit beings -- who will help Him rule the universe forever. (Revelation 21:2-8.)
Bible Story Book Index
"Choose You This Day"
MAN was put on earth with the power to choose between good and evil. No mere animal has such power -- or such a great responsibility to make the right choice.
But Man has to be told what is good and what is evil. God has to reveal it. That is why, again and again, God told Israel, generally through Moses, that the people must observe all the laws He had given them if they are to do good. He promised them many wonderful things if they would faithfully keep the rules given to them for their own happiness and security.
What God Has Promised
"If you will do as I have directed," God said, "many worthwhile rewards shall come to you. You shall receive plenty of rain. The land you are coming to shall yield such large crops that your grain harvest shall last till the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last till it's time again to plant grain.
"You shall have plenty to eat. I will drive all evil beasts out of your land. You shall be safe from your enemies. If a hundred of them try to attack you, it will require only five of you to chase them away. If ten thousand soldiers come at you, it will take only a hundred of you to cause them to turn and flee for their lives!
"I will respect you. I will cause you to have many healthy children and grow into a great nation. I will be pleased to continue dwelling among you." (Leviticus 26:3-9.)
What else could any people ask for? Good health, plenty of good food, safety from enemies, safety from any evil creatures, good weather and peace of mind for obeying God -- all these could be theirs on and on into the future. What would any nation give right now in these troubled times to have all these good things?
Then God went on to relate the terrible things that would come on the Israelites if they disobeyed.
Why Wrong Living Brings Hardship
"If you ignore my rules," God told them, "and if you refuse to live by them and break the agreement we have made, then your future shall be one of misery, hardship and despair.
"You shall become full of fears and constant worries. Your enemies shall kill you in great numbers. They shall win many battles and take over your homes and the crops you have sown. Your feeling of dread and danger shall be so great that you shall flee in fright even when no one is after you.
"If you still refuse to listen to me after all this punishment, then I will bring many other awful things upon you. I will send severe famines and horrible plagues. At the same time, your enemies will trouble you more and more.
"I will send ferocious wild beasts to destroy your livestock and eat up your children. So great shall be your fear of evil things to come on you that you shall even be afraid to venture out on the nearest roads or trails." (Leviticus 26:14-22.) Then God continued:
"If these things fail to convince you that I mean what I say, and if you continue to refuse to live by the laws that are best for you, then I will punish you even more severely!
"Your enemies shall completely conquer you. I will send terrible diseases on you. They shall spread among you when you gather together in your cities. Your supply of food shall dwindle down and down until you become aware that you are facing starvation!
"If you still feel that your ways are better than mine, your food shall become so scarce that some of you shall roast and eat your own children!" (Verses 23-29.)
Such a prediction probably seemed absurd to the Israelites, but it came true in Samaria and in Jerusalem many years later when their enemies cut them off from their food supplies.
What Idolatry Is
God also foretold what would happen if the people insisted on secretly worshipping ridiculous objects regarded as having miraculous powers.
The foolish respect and adoration of certain lifeless objects isn't something done only by people considered primitive and ignorant. Even in civilized nations today there are many who prize such articles as coins, rabbits' feet, crosses, statues, images, insignia and such which are believed to bring "good luck" or harbor some unusual influence. This is a form of silly idolatry in which the first two Commandments are being broken. Having undue regard and desire for wealth, prestige, influence and pleasure -- that is, they mean more than respect for the Creator -- is also idolatry in God's sight.
God had this to say to the Israelites concerning idols: "I will destroy them and the places in which you worship them. I will wipe out your cities and make your fields barren. Your families, tribes and nations shall be scattered as slaves to heathen nations." (Leviticus 26:30-33.) "But to those who realize they have sinned, and become humble and wise enough to admit it, I will be merciful."
One would think that these wonderful promises and stern warnings would have caused the Israelites to make the right decisions for the future. Some were inspired to better living, but what most of them did afterward is an unhappy story that will come later, proving that God means what He says He will do.
Resentment Leads to Anger
There was a man living among the Israelites whose father was an Egyptian, and whose mother was an Israelite of the tribe of Dan. Because he was half Egyptian, he was regarded by some as an unwelcome outsider.
One day this man started to pitch his tent in a desirable spot amid the tents of the tribe of Dan. An Israelite saw what he was doing, and angrily strode up to him.
"Who told you to take the best tent site?" the Israelite indignantly asked.
The Egyptian-Israelite was greatly upset by those remarks. He stopped what he was doing and in loud tones told the critical Israelite what he thought of him.
In his mounting rage he went on to yell out some terrible things about God. He cursed his Creator and called Him vile and awful names. Some of the Israelites who witnessed the scene were hardened men to whom profane language was commonplace. But such foul profanity aroused them to seize the offender and bring him before Moses.
Witnesses went with the officers to tell what had happened, and to ask what punishment should be given to one who had so loudly mocked and reviled the Creator.
"Hold the man for now," Moses instructed them, "I must find out from God what should be done with him." (Leviticus 24:10-12.)
Why God Required Capital Punishment
"This man who has cursed his Creator and others so spitefully is unfit to live," God told Moses. "If he continues to live he will cause others to sin and make themselves and their neighbors miserable. Take him to a place far outside the camps where witnesses to his profanity and hatred must cast heavy stones on the curser until he is dead!"
Moses passed on these instructions to the people, who did as God commanded. The Egyptian-Israelite died soon afterward. (Verses 13-23.)
The penalty of death imposed swiftly after a crime probably seems harsh and unjust treatment to some readers. Some might even think of God as a stern monster, eager to see people suffer for even the slightest reason.
A careful reading of the whole Bible will bring out the fact that, rather than being cruel, God is far more merciful, just, patient and forgiving than any human being. If He were like you or me, He would have become so disgusted with mankind that He would have blasted every one out of existence many centuries ago.
One of the judgments given to Israel was that anyone who cursed his parents should be subject to death. If breaking the Fifth Commandment is thus punishable, the punishment could be no less for one who curses God, the Creator of all parents.
God's judgments are just, but humans try to substitute lesser ones. A person guilty in God's sight isn't overlooked. The only hope of escaping punishment is through Jesus Christ, who came to Earth for several reasons, including dying for man's sins. Sinners who feel very sorry for their wrong deeds, call on God for forgiveness and strive to live according to God's laws, can look forward to a bright future.
Those who see others doing wrong and seemingly avoiding punishment should never feel envious. Why feel envious of those who will eventually be punished? Punishment is certain unless there is repentance. (Ps. 37.)
Moses Has Visitors
Perhaps you will recall that Moses was raised and educated in the palaces of Egypt, but that he later fled from there and went eastward to the land of Midian, where he became a herder of sheep. While he lived there he started writing the first book of the Bible. There, too, he was married to Zipporah, daughter of a priest named Jethro, the man for whom he worked. Two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, were born to Moses and Zipporah. (Exodus 2:21-22; 3:1;18:1-4.) When Moses, at God's command, set out to return to Egypt, he took his family with him. (Exodus 4:20.) However, Moses later decided there were good reasons not to take his family, and he sent the three back to stay with Jethro.
Months had passed since Moses had seen his family. One day a stranger rode into camp -- this was shortly before all the events at Mt. Sinai we have been reading about. He told alert guards who quickly surrounded him that he had a message for Moses. He was escorted to Moses' tent after the guards made certain he wasn't armed.
Moses was so pleased to hear of the approaching caravan of his father-in-law that he decided to go back with the messenger. Some of his officers went along. They found Jethro's tents pitched only a few miles from the camps of the Israelites.
Moses was happy to again be with his wife and two young sons. He greatly enjoyed a visit with them inside Jethro's tents. (Exodus 18:1-7.) Afterward, he had a long talk with Jethro, who was aware of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt but who was surprised to learn that his son-in-law had taken such a prominent part in the matter. Jethro was highly interested to hear from Moses all about the plagues, the miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, and the manner in which God had provided for the people.
Jethro was of a priesthood family that served God among the Midianites who descended from Abraham. Assured by Moses that he would be welcome, Jethro gave orders for the tents to be taken down and packed. Accompanied by Moses and the Israelite aides, the caravan moved on and into the camps of Israel.
Later, Jethro made a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. As a priest, he had an important part in the ceremonies. Afterward, Aaron and Moses and the elders joined him in a feast. (Exodus 18:12.)
Jethro Sees Moses in Trouble
Early next morning, when Jethro came out of his tent, he was puzzled to see a crowd in the middle of which Moses sat, listening to some of the people talking intently to him.
"Moses often sits there till sundown judging those who are having trouble with their neighbors," an officer explained to Jethro.
Jethro slowly shook his head, but said nothing about the matter until that evening when he could again visit the weary Moses.
"I am surprised," Jethro told Moses, "that you try just by yourself to hear all the cases of the people. See how tired you are now! If you continue in this manner, you will wear yourself down till you will be far from the healthy person you should be in God's service. Besides, the long lines of people become weary waiting for you to get around to them.
"Let me suggest something," Jethro continued, moving his tent cushion closer to Moses. "Surely there are many hundreds of capable men among the tribes -- men who have the eagerness and time to help you in this thing. Why not try to seek out a number of honest, unselfish, fair-minded men of good judgment? Place the best of these men as judges over groups of a thousand. Place men of lesser ability over groups of a hundred, and still others over groups of fifty and groups of ten.
"If a judge over ten people doesn't have the wisdom to decide a case, let him go to the judge of fifty who is over him. If the judge over fifty fails, let him go to the judge over a hundred. If even the judge over a thousand can't decide a case, let it be brought to you. Thus a great part of your task of judging could be on the shoulders of others, because surely most of the lesser problems could be judged or solved by other men whom you have instructed in God's ways of justice and fair conduct."
Coming from a wise and devoted priest of God, this advice seemed to have much weight. It occurred then and there to Moses that God was suggesting this through his father-in-law, using human agencies as God has always done to such a great extent. (Exodus 18:13-23.)
"I believe God would have me do as you say," Moses declared. "Tomorrow morning I shall send out officers to summon the best leaders, from whom I can choose the kind of men who can help me!" To them God imparted His Spirit even though it was not the time for the Israelites in general to receive the Holy Spirit and be converted.
In the days that followed, Jethro's suggestion worked out well. It was a great relief to Moses, who couldn't have carried on and on with such a heavy load unless God had imbued him with tremendous, superhuman vitality. (Verses 24-26.)
Although Moses wanted Jethro to go on with the Israelites, Jethro felt that he could be of greater service by returning to his people. Moses was sad when Jethro's caravan departed, but he was thankful for the advice and the joy that had come to him. (Verse 27.)
Bible Story Book Index
Israel Breaks Camp
A month had passed from the time Moses had the tabernacle built and put into operation. It was a year since the Exodus. God informed Moses that that it was time to find out how many males of twenty years and older were among the Israelites. (Exodus 40:17; Numbers 1:1-3.)
The First Census
It was necessary to have accurate record of the people so that order could be maintained, especially when the people broke camp.
Accordingly, all males of twenty years and older were required to register at certain points, and to give information about themselves and their families. (Numbers 1:17-19.) This census wasn't to include strangers, men of the tribe of Levi, or any who were too old to go into battle in case the Israelites had to wage war against attacking armies. (Numbers 1:45, 47.)
When all were registered and their numbers added, the able-bodied male Israelites amounted to 603,550. (Numbers 1:45-46.) This was quite an increase over the seventy males who had gone down into Egypt when Joseph was ruler. Together with women, children, strangers and the tribe of Levi, there were at least two million people compactly camped near Mt. Sinai! Besides, there were many tens of thousands of animals to feed. So much food and water were required that there had to be special order and control by God's leadership through Moses.
Of the twelve tribes, Judah was the largest with 74,600 men. (Numbers 1:26-27.) It is today one of the smaller. The smallest tribe numbered at that time was Manasseh, with 32,200 men, but the tribe multiplied rapidly in later years and is today one of the largest! In these last days, Manasseh -- whose descendants are the stock that founded the United States of America -- has become the most powerful nation on Earth. Yet it is just one of the ten tribes of the "lost" House of Israel, which can no longer be considered as "lost." Nevertheless, there are many self-styled authorities who are struggling to keep the knowledge about the ten tribes hidden forever because true knowledge of them doesn't fit in with their narrow, erroneous doctrines. God said that the identity of the ten tribes would be made clear near the time of the end. It has long since been made clear to those who study the evidence with a desire to understand. Without that knowledge, one can't understand very much of the Bible or of God's great plan of salvation for the nations.
God Requires Order
The census having been completed, Moses and Aaron were instructed by God concerning the lay-out of the camps of the various tribes. Up to that time there was fair order, but God wanted precise order and arrangement so that from that time on there would be proper system and control whenever the people camped. (Numbers 2.)
Although the tribe of Levi wasn't included in the census that had just been taken, it was numbered later by God's order. Males were counted from a month old and upward, and were found to number exactly 22,000. (Numbers 3:39.)
Specific and definite duties were assigned to the various families of the Levites. Everyone learned what he was to do. God had planned all of it so that there wouldn't be any confusion. (Numbers 3:5-38; 4:4-33.)
God dislikes confusion. (I Corinthians 14:33.) That means that everything our Creator does is carefully thought out, systematic, orderly, true and perfect. He doesn't like half-truths, disorder, conflict, theories, guesswork, false doctrines, lies or propaganda. God has nothing to do with today's religious confusion except to draw out from this confused world the individuals who are zealously seeking the truth.
Before Israel left Sinai, God also gave them the order in which the various tribes were to break camp and spread out in their vast caravan on the move toward Canaan. (Numbers 10:11-28.)
Meanwhile, there were other necessary instructions for that day from God. All unclean people -- those with leprosy and other contagious diseases and those exposed to dead bodies -- were to be separated within the camp or put far outside the camp to stay for various periods. (Numbers 5:1-4; Leviticus 13:1-8; 15:1-13; 21:1-3.) This was not only a health measure for the good of the people. God didn't want unclean persons existing so close to the holy area in which He was to dwell with the Israelites. These measures were necessary before the coming of the Holy Spirit. Cleanliness outside was to teach the people the need of God's power to clean the human being from within through the Holy Spirit.
At this same time God also made plain certain rules for those who were not Levites, but who wished to be set apart for a time of special service to God. Israelites who wanted to do this were called nazarites. They are not to be confused with the Levites. God honored the intentions of those individuals who wished to take nazarite vows and blessed them for their zeal.
During the time people were nazarites they (men or women) weren't to shave nor cut their hair. They weren't to touch any dead body. They weren't to consume any wine. Neither were they to drink grape juice. Grapes, either fresh or dried, weren't to be eaten. (Numbers 6:1-8.) This was a SIGN of their special service.
Christ Was No Nazarite
Many people have believed that Jesus Christ was a nazarite because he was raised in Nazareth, a town in the district of Galilee about seventy miles north of Jerusalem. This is not true. People who come from or who are in Nazareth are called Nazarenes. They aren't nazarites unless they have taken the nazarite vow. Christ was not a nazarite. He drank wine. (Matthew 11:19.) If He had been a nazarite He could not have drunk wine without sinning and losing His place as our Saviour.
Some who believe Jesus was a nazarite mistakenly claim that the wine Jesus drank was grape juice -- but even grape juice was forbidden to nazarites!
Because of assuming that Christ was a nazarite, many people have believed that He had long hair flowing down to his shoulders. Christ didn't have long hair! By-gone half-pagan artists, trying to make Jesus look pious, gave him a sick, sad, effeminate appearance, and even went so far as to add long hair in their vain imagination. No man knows how Jesus looked.
Inasmuch as Christ was a hard-working carpenter who ate only clean foods and observed the laws of good health, we know he was a very masculine fellow with physical strength and endurance. Because he loved all people, he was a sociable, friendly, cheerful person who was thoughtful of others and courteous at all times. What matters most, however, is what Christ is like now. Hebrews 1:2-4 and Revelation 1:12-16 tell us of Christ's present power and appearance.
Transporting the Tabernacle
One morning Moses was called out of his tent to see an unusually large crowd slowly approaching the tabernacle from a distance. But it wasn't the crowd that commanded his attention.
Six covered wagons, each drawn by two oxen, stood between the crowd and the tabernacle! "These are gifts from the heads of the twelve tribes," an officer explained. "They're being offered to help carry the equipment of the tabernacle." (Numbers 7:1-3.)
Moses was a little puzzled as to whether or not he should accept the wagons for that purpose. He knew that the ark, for one thing, was to be carried on the shoulders of men, but God hadn't yet made it known how most of the heavy equipment would be moved.
Later, back inside his tent, Moses quickly knelt in prayer to ask God what should be done.
"Accept the gifts they have offered," God answered. "Give the wagons to the Levites to use. This is as I have planned it to be." (Numbers 7:4-5.)
Moses was relieved to hear this from God, and he was happy to realize that the gifts from the Israelite princes were of their own idea and free will. -
After donning his best attire, Moses went out to the waiting princes of the twelve tribes. He happily accepted the wagons and the oxen, and turned them over to Aaron so that they could be put into special use by the Levites. (Verses 6-8.)
The wagons and the oxen weren't the only gifts from the heads of the Israelite tribes. So many other things were brought in that the prince of each tribe was assigned a particular day in which to present his gifts and make his offerings. (Verses 10-11.)
The total from all the tribes amounted to twelve large silver dishes in which to knead dough for the shewbread, twelve deep silver bowls (all of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil) for receiving blood for sacrifices, twelve golden spoons filled with incense, twelve kids, thirty-six bullocks, seventy-two rams, sixty male goats and seventy-two lambs. (Numbers 7:12-23, 84-88.)
After the tribes had finished giving these things, Moses went into the tabernacle to thank God for what so many people had contributed. Thereupon a voice spoke out of the mercy seat. It was God's voice directing Moses to tell Aaron concerning matters having to do with the tabernacle and the Levites. (Numbers 7:89; 8:1-2.)
The instructions included those touching on the Passover. The Passover is always to be observed on the fourteenth day of the first month, Nisan. But for those away on a journey, those who for any reason are unable to keep it on that date, the Passover is to be observed on the fourteenth day of the SECOND month, Iyar. (Numbers 9:9-12.)
This also applies to the New Testament Passover memorial to be observed by Christians today, as recorded in Matthew 26:26-28. Those who for some special reason can't observe the New Testament Passover (with unleavened bread and wine as a memorial of Christ's death.
The need for the sacrifice of the paschal lamb ceased at Christ's death for He was the Lamb of God offered for the sins of the world.
God also instructed that two long trumpets of solid silver should be made for use in contacting the people. The blowing of only one trumpet was to summon the heads of the tribes for a meeting. The blowing of both trumpets was either to call for a solemn assembly of all the people or was the signal to move out of camp. They were also to be blown in such varying manners that the hearers would instantly recognize an alarm to prepare for war, happy occasions, solemn days, beginnings of months and times of offerings. (Numbers 10:1-10.)
One might doubt that two trumpets, even large and long, could be heard by two million scattered over miles. But a horn of the type God wanted made, blown by a strong person of good lung capacity, could easily be heard for miles in the clear desert air in the vicinity of Mt. Sinai.
One morning shortly after the trumpets had been made and put into use, the Israelites came out of their tents to see that the cloud had moved away from the tabernacle during the night and was high in the sky!
It wasn't long afterward that the two silver trumpets, lustily blown by Aaron's two sons, blasted out the signal for the breaking of camp.
Israelites Resume the March
There was great excitement among the people. They had been encamped before Mt. Sinai for almost a year, and the signal had arrived to move on. The cloud had moved upward from the tabernacle. Men hurried to get their livestock and tents ready to move. Woodsmen and hunters rushed back from the mountains. Women worked feverishly to get the family belongings together. Excited at the thought of going somewhere, children ran happily about, but not to become lost or get in the way.
Meanwhile, men took down the tabernacle. They had been so well trained in this task that it was done in a remarkably short time. It was rather astonishing that two million people were ready to move so quickly on such short notice.
In accordance with God's orders, the first tribe to move out of camp was Judah. Others followed in the order given them. The Levites, carrying the tabernacle equipment, were spaced in two different areas among the other tribes. The tribe of Naphtali was the last to leave. (Numbers 10:11-28.)
A few hours later the mammoth caravan had disappeared through the mountain passes to the northeast, leaving the Sinai valley silent and lonely.
Among the strangers who had stayed with the Israelites at Sinai was Hobab, Jethro's son. This brother-in-law of Moses, along with a clan he headed, had joined them when he came with his father to visit Moses and bring Zipporah, Moses' wife. As a native of the desert, he had a keen knowledge of the desert. Moses therefore hoped that Hobab and his people would go along with the Israelites.
Hobab, who loved God and saw that God's people needed him, joined his clan to the tribe of Judah, which always led the way when the Israelite caravan moved through the wilderness. In this way his men could use their knowledge of the desert in choosing the best pathway for the Israelites to use in following the cloud and the pillar of fire. After the Israelites entered Palestine, Hobab and his relatives, the Kenites, settled down with the tribe of Judah, choosing for themselves a wilderness area that was similar to their old homeland. (Judges 1:16.)
In any event, probably Moses wouldn't have pressed him to go with them if Moses could have foreseen that they weren't going to reach Canaan until 39 years later!
For three days the vast line of humanity and animals slowly struggled across the rocky plains and hillsides characteristic of that region. Moses uttered a public prayer for protection each time they started out and each time they camped. (Numbers 10:33-36.)
Complaining IS Rebellion
As usual, there were those who began to complain. By the end of the third day from Sinai, there were many who were loudly voicing their grievances to those about them.
"This is worse than slaving for the Egyptians!" they yelled. "We all should join together and demand less travel and more rest! If we try to keep this up, we shall all die!"
Before Israelite officers could organize to quell the shouting, a peculiar thing happened. The pillar of fire, blazing in the sky above the ark, flared upward. The evening air felt as though it were suddenly charged with some tremendous force about to explode.
That is exactly what happened. Throughout the whole camp, as though they had come out of nowhere, were strange, sizzling bolts of fire. They hissed and streaked in all directions -- many of them ploughing into the people who had just been shouting so loudly. (Numbers 11:1.) It happened so suddenly that most of the people hardly had time to be frightened. But now they froze in alarm as they found themselves staring at the lifeless bodies of those who had complained!
God meant business! Complaining about how God directs His servants IS rebellion against the Government of God!
Bible Story Book Index
Quail for Two Million
A CRY of horror and grief went up from the people of Israel. God's sudden, awful punishment reminded them of the manner in which the Creator had struck during the time of the Passover one year previously. Then the victims had been Egyptians. This time there also were Egyptians, because Egyptians who had come in the mixed multitude with the Israelites were in part to blame. But a large number of the offenders were now Israelites.
Israel Cries for Mercy
Because the shooting, exploding bolts of flame struck offenders in every part of all the camps, Moses was quickly aware of what was going on. Immediately, however, there was a rush of officers from all the camps to tell Moses what was taking place, and to inform him that the people were screaming for mercy and asking for Moses to pray to God to stop the fiery explosions. (Numbers 11:2).
When Moses learned that so many people had already been slain by the fire from God, he immediately went into his tent, fell on his knees before the Creator.
The deadly spurts of flame gradually disappeared after Moses' diligent prayer. Terrified people who had raced wildly about the camps eventually returned to their tents to count their dead.
Next day was a bitter one for the Israelites. Many bodies were buried in the shifting sands of the high desert country. God's wrath had such a deep effect on many of the people that they named the area Taberah, which meant "a burning."
But in spite of this terrible warning to complainers, many of the people continued to murmur about their conditions. Most of them were the strangers who were among the Israelites, but their bitterness spread throughout the camps like some awful, contagious diseases.
The main food of the people was still manna, a wonderful, energizing food direct from God. At Sinai, the gathering of manna wasn't much of a task, inasmuch as the people had plenty of time for doing it. But since leaving the Sinai valley, some felt that it was a burden to have to get up very early to gather the manna, and then start to travel. This, therefore, was one of the things the complainers began to be bitter about. Although those slain by God had been buried only a short time, manna became a subject loudly and sarcastically discussed by increasing thousands. The poisonous thought promoted by these complainers was that manna was a poor substitute for the food they had enjoyed in Egypt.
"Manna doesn't give enough strength for this tiring journey," was the unhappy comment from the grumblers. "What we need is meat!" (Numbers 11:4.)
Mankind then, as now, was very prone to the power of suggestion. More and more Israelites who had the best of intentions fell victims to the influence of the lustful, untruthful remarks circulating about the camps. "Manna can't take the place of the food we had in Egypt," the whiners kept saying.
Such foolish remarks caused an increasing number of Israelites to doubt that manna was anything more than what was required to barely keep people alive. At the same time, the complainers kept reminding others of the wonderful foods they had enjoyed in the past.
"Remember the crisp, succulent cucumbers and the sweet, mellow, mouth-watering melons we liked so well in Egypt?" they asked of all who would listen. "If God can give us so much of this tiresome manna, why can't He also produce foods like those? Why are we denied simple, delicious vegetables like garlic and onions? Or even leeks, those plants with the unusually luscious flavor? We need such things to build our morale, and we need meat to build our strength!" (Numbers 11:5-6.)
When reminded by his officers of the ill feeling that prevailed, Moses was distressed. He knew that some of the people would always complain, regardless of what the conditions were. But so much complaint, right on the heels of the mass slaying by God, pointed to nothing but growing trouble.
The bitter attitude grew by the hour. Officers came to Moses more frequently with reports that there was even wailing and crying by Israelites who felt that God was being unmerciful to them by denying them the foods they craved -- especially meat. A wave of self-pity and semi-hysteria seemed to be passing over all the camps.
Moses was sick with discouragement. He told his aides that he didn't wish to be disturbed for a while, and went into the inner part of his tent to pray.
"What have I done," he asked God, "to cause this trouble to come on me? How can I be a father to all these thousands of unruly people? Must I try to carry them, like babies, to the land You have promised them? How can I stop their growing demand for other kinds of food?"
"Do you feel," God asked Moses, "that this task I have given you is too great?"
"I only know," Moses replied, "that the wild demands of thousands of people are too much for me. I can't see any way of taking care of what they ask for, or of handling them while they are in such an extreme state of mind. If I fail to give them the foods they are demanding, they are likely to get entirely out of control. If You allow that to happen, then please take my life now. I don't want to be here to witness such a rebellion." (Numbers 11:10-15.)
"The people are overcome with false pity for themselves," God told Moses. "You must not be likewise. If you feel that your responsibility is too great, then choose seventy of the strongest leaders and most honorable men among the older men of Israel and have them come to the tabernacle. There I shall meet you, and shall give them the special understanding I have given you. They will then realize how you are being troubled by the people. They will help you by pointing out to the people that you are right in what you require of them, even though those requirements may at times seem harsh." (Verses 16-17.)
"Will this cause the people to cease their complaining?" Moses asked God.
"No," God answered. "But from then on none of them can honestly say that I haven't given them fair warning for anything that may come because of their disobedience. Warn them to stop their complaining and prepare for a feast of flesh. Tell them that this feast won't last just one day, two days, five days nor twenty days. Tell them it will last a whole month, and that they shall have so much flesh to eat that it will become sickening to them. Tell them that as they have complained so much because of not having anything but manna, they won't be able to hold the flesh on their stomachs."
"But how can you provide meat for over two million people for a whole month?" Moses inquired. "Must all our flocks and herds be slaughtered to take care of the appetites of the people for flesh? Or do You have some way of bringing a huge amount of fish from the Red Sea?"
"Why do you seem to doubt that I have power to take care of these matters?" God inquired. "Go do as I have commanded, and you shall soon witness what I have planned." (Numbers 11:18-23.)
Moses at once told his officers to tell the people that God had been greatly moved by their complaints, and would send them so much flesh that they would wish they had never asked for it.
The news brought great excitement to nearly every camp. Many people ran from tent to tent, loudly and joyfully repeating what Moses' officers had told them. This, they imagined, was something to celebrate. Before long, musicians had gathered here and there, and there was singing and dancing in many areas.
Most of the celebrants were interested only in God's promising them meat for a whole month. Very few seemed to be concerned by His remark that they would regret asking for it.
Seventy Elders Chosen
Meanwhile, Moses chose the seventy elders who were the most capable, and called for them to meet before the tabernacle. After the group of carefully picked men had arrived, Moses went into the tabernacle and fell on his knees to await God's presence. It wasn't long before the cloud settled down over the tabernacle.
"From this moment on," God said to Moses, "the seventy men you have picked will have a special gift of understanding. They will have greater respect for Me. They will realize without any doubt that you are My chosen servant, and they will have greater respect for you. They will have a better attitude and more correct outlook on matters having to do with the people's reaching Canaan. They will have the ability to show at least some of the Israelites how wrong they are in complaining against you. Thus you won't feel that you are so alone in your struggle to keep the people obedient. They will receive the same spirit from Me that you have, Moses."
It happened just as God had foretold. The elders began to talk among themselves with great harmony and understanding. When Moses came out of the tabernacle to join them in hours of brotherly conversation, there was a most unusual spirit of harmony and wisdom. Later, when the elders went back to their various camps, their special understanding greatly enabled them to help the people in many matters. (Numbers 11:24-25.)
Two of the seventy elders chosen by Moses, Eldad and Medad, weren't able to get to the tabernacle. But they, as well as the others, were at the same time imbued with the special understanding that was a gift from God. Fired with inspiration, these two men walked out among the people and made moving remarks proving God's and Moses' authority.
"Why do you complain and why do you listen to those who complain?" they asked the people. "God is very displeased by what has been going on. Unless there is a great change of attitude soon among the people, many of you will die within a short time!"
A large crowd gathered around Eldad and Medad. Bystanders regarded the two with anything from mild interest to amazement as the two elders prophesied of things that had to do with God's future plan for the Israelites, and in such a manner that very few listeners failed to show the greatest respect for them. (Verse 26.)
Months previously, when Moses had earnestly prayed for the Israelites to win in a long battle with attacking Amalekites, a young man by the name of Joshua had led the Israelites' army to battle while Aaron and Hur held up Moses' hands as Moses prayed. (Exodus 17:8-13.) This same young man happened to be present when another young man ran and told Moses that Eldad and Medad were speaking to the people. Joshua realized at once that the two couldn't have spoken so well and in such an informed manner without inspiration from some source.
This troubled Joshua. He felt that two men making such an impression on the people might cause the Israelites to seek a new leader.
"You should send men to stop them, sir!" Joshua warned. "Otherwise, they could cause many people to regard them as leaders, and this could cause trouble for you at this time when the people are showing so much disobedience."
Moses wasn't worried, however. He realized that this was a case of God having given Eldad and Medad special understanding along with the sixty-eight other elders who had been chosen to help bear a part of Moses' responsibility.
"Don't be concerned that they'll be any trouble to me," Moses told Joshua. "In fact, I wish every Israelite could be inspired with their God-given understanding of what it means to all of us to obey." (Numbers 11:27-30.)
The Quail Arrive
After the elders had returned to their camps and Moses had gone to his tent, a strong southwest wind came up. It increased to such velocity that the people began to be concerned about their tents being blown down. Most of them forgot about their tents, however, when they noticed a peculiar dark streak gradually growing larger on the southwest horizon. This strange sight caused great concern among the people. Some thought it was merely a low cloud or a bank of fog, though fog in that desert area would have been quite unusual.
Even Moses was puzzled when his attention was brought to it. But when he noticed an increasing number of birds flying swiftly to the northeast, he abruptly realized how God was about to supply the meat the Israelites had been demanding. He remembered how God had sent flocks of quails (Exodus 16:11-13) when the people had first complained about having to steadily eat manna.
"Have it announced to all the camps at once that God is now providing all the flesh for which the people have been begging." Moses instructed an aide. "Tell them that God isn't giving it to them to supply any need, but that He's giving it to them as a lesson of obedience they'll soon understand."
The dark cloud grew more swiftly. It was only a little while later that the sky became blackened with a tremendous flock of quails. Many of them flew only three or four feet above the ground. Many fell to the ground exhausted and ran about the ground, trying to get their tired bodies into the air again.
When the amazed Israelites realized that they were being set upon by such tasty fowl, they seized the nearest useful objects, such as sticks and spears and boards, and started beating low-flying birds to the ground, and striking those exhausted birds which scampered in all directions.
While some excitedly slaughtered birds, others hastily plucked them. In spite of the strong winds, the camps soon became alive with an unusually large number of fires over which quails were hastily roasted.
After months of existing mostly on manna, the Israelites were so excited because of receiving meat that they tore and bit and chewed at the flesh of the birds as through they had been starved. They took turns catching, roasting and eating, but it required many hours for all of them to get their fill of the roasted quail.
All that day the strong wind persisted, and flocks of quails passed over the camps continuously. The excited people flailed away at them, knocking the birds to the ground, snatching them up to swiftly prepare them for roasting or to pluck and salt them for eating later.
As sundown approached, it was expected that the wind would die down and that the birds -- if they continued to pass over -- would manage to fly at higher altitudes. But the strong wind continued all night. And all night, by the light of bright campfires, the Israelites went on batting down all birds within reach.
Next morning the wind still hadn't abated. Flock after flock of quails skimmed over the camps. There were so many fowl that they were seen fifteen to twenty miles on both sides of the camp areas. The wind continued all that day, and hordes of birds with it. There seemed to be no end to them. By this time many people were still downing them, but not with the eagerness of the preceding day.
Near sundown the wind finally started to subside. The flocks of quails became smaller and smaller, until no more, even single stragglers, were seen to pass over.
Thousands of weary quail-catchers slumped upon their beds. Regardless of their obvious desire to get even more fowl than they could use, they were relieved when there were no more to try to get. After two days and one night of bird-bagging, the camps were full of thousands and thousands of tons of fowl. Besides the millions of quails already eaten, there were piles of them between tents, countless numbers strung up to dry and huge amounts being roasted, boiled, fried or barbecued.
Not everyone had tried his hand at bagging the quails because not all of the Israelites had lusted for meat. But there were more than a half-million able-bodied men in the camps, and few of them refrained from the sport of quail-catching. One can get some idea of the amount of fowl brought out of the sky by using the figure 500,000 -- the number of men who probably gathered the birds -- and multiplying it by the SMALLEST amount of birds bagged by anyone during the time the quails passed over the camps.
The taste of roasted, succulent quail flesh was a welcome treat to the Israelites. But perhaps it wasn't quite as wonderful as many had expected. When one builds up a lustful, consuming desire for something, it often turns out to be more desirable in one's imagination than it does as a reality. Thus it was with so many of the lustful ones of Israel and their quails.
As for God's promise to supply the Israelites with meat for a whole month, the Creator more than kept his word. The huge amounts of birds bagged by the Israelites, if properly preserved, would have lasted more than a month -- even if eaten greedily by the more ravenous Israelites.
The Punishment Comes
But something began to happen to cause the Israelites to suddenly lose interest in quails.
People began to get sick. From all points in the camps came the increasing moans and groans of those who had gorged themselves. Their digestive systems, used to the mild manna month after month, were heavily over taxed by the great amounts of half-chewed flesh that had been swallowed hour after hour.
To the horror of friends and relatives who helplessly watched them, the agonized victims rolled convulsively, then lapsed into unconsciousness that was soon followed by death.
More and more died this horrible death as the hours wore on. By the time the self-inflicted plague had come to a halt, an area not far from the camps had become a vast graveyard!
Bible Story Book Index
Twelve Scouts Search Canaan
PERHAPS you will remember the time when the Israelites who complained were suddenly, supernaturally electrocuted by bolts of lightning. At that time the people begged Moses to exhort God to have mercy on them. (Numbers 11:1-3.)
Later, when many died because of eating too much quail flesh, no screaming groups of people came to beg or demand of Moses that he again plead with God for them. Many were too ill to come to Moses, and those who weren't ill realized that the dead and the sick had brought these conditions on themselves.
Nevertheless, there were some here and there who even later persisted in eating quail flesh that was beginning to spoil. The result was more illness and a few more deaths.
Moses Causes Criticism
On the route to the promised land Moses met an Ethiopian woman -- apparently one whom he had known and lived with over forty years before in Egypt. Without consulting God, and even though he was now married to Jethro's daughter, Moses now married the Ethiopian. The historian and priest Josephus gives us what may be special details about her background.
Because of this event there developed a strong feeling of envy by Miriam, the sister of Moses and of Aaron. Instead of privately taking up the matter with Moses as she should have done, Miriam made a public issue of it.
"Moses had no business doing that. He is just upsetting everybody," Miriam complained to Aaron. "Moses should have consulted me."
Although he realized that Miriam was wrong in being envious and critical, and that she was attempting to exert far too much authority, Aaron was inclined to agree that Moses shouldn't have made any great decisions without taking at least some of the matters up with him and his sister. But he was for letting the matter drop right there and discussing it in private with Moses. Miriam had no intention of doing that, however.
"I think we should take this matter to the people," Miriam went on, "Surely God is inspiring you and me as to what should be done. But Moses acts as though he is the only one in touch with God. Unless he's stopped, he'll take all authority to himself and do just as he pleases with the people."
"Perhaps you're right," Aaron mused. "The feeling of too much authority could have a bad effect on any man -- even our brother Moses."
Nothing in this world has ever been done or thought or spoken without God knowing about it. Although Aaron and Miriam were chosen servants of their Creator, they displeased Him by their critical, envious and unkind remarks about another chosen servant who was above them in authority.
Alone in Aaron's tent, the two felt a peculiar sensation, as though someone were very close and watching them.
God Summons Miriam and Aaron
"Miriam! Aaron!" a stern voice startled them. "Go to the tabernacle!"
Fearfully they looked quickly about, but they saw no one, though the voice seemed to be right beside them.
"Could -- could it have been God or an angel of God speaking?" Miriam stuttered nervously.
"It must have been one or the other," Aaron murmured, swallowing with difficulty. "We had better go to the tabernacle right away."
Outside the tabernacle they met Moses, who also had been summoned there. Aaron and Miriam -- especially Miriam -- were uncomfortable in Moses' presence because of talking about him as they had done. The three of them stood in uneasy silence, waiting for something to happen. (Numbers 12:4.)
Slowly the cloud of God descended over the tabernacle. There was a blinding blaze of light from within the curtained inner room. The three Israelites shielded their eyes with their arms and backed away from the unusual brilliance. Then, a voice:
"Now listen to Me! Lest there be any doubt as to the one through whom I choose to speak and direct in these times, be assured that Moses is the servant who is to bear the greatest responsibility. Let it be known that I, the Eternal, speak to him directly as one being to another, and not in some mysterious manner, or in dreams and visions, as I speak to ordinary prophets. You, Miriam, and you, Aaron, it is time you know that these things are so. Why, then, were you so foolish as to speak against Moses, my chosen servant?" (Numbers 12:5-8.)
Aaron's face was the color of ashes as God concluded His rebuke. Miriam cringed in fear. Moses was both embarrassed and angry to learn that he had been the object of wrong remarks by his brother and sister. Nevertheless, he felt a little sorry for them because he knew that God often acted with terrible swiftness when it was His intention to punish anyone.
Miriam and Aaron were relieved when they saw the blinding light in the tabernacle disappear. They were even more relieved when they saw the cloud float up from the tabernacle.
"God is departing," Miriam whispered to Aaron. "Surely He wasn't too displeased with us, or He would have done more than just talk." (Verse 9.)
"Don't speak like that!" Aaron warned, glancing uneasily at the departing cloud. "God doesn't forget. We should get back to our tents and pray for mercy!"
Irked by his sister's senseless statement, Aaron turned to look searchingly at Miriam. That searching look caused him to draw back in horror.
The flesh on his sister's face, neck, arms and hands had suddenly taken on a sickly white hue! Aaron shuddered as he tore his eyes from her ghastly face.
He knew that she had suddenly become a leper! (Verse 10.) "Moses!" Aaron called in a quavering voice. Why God Rebuked Miriam and Aaron
Moses was slowly walking away at the moment. He turned and came back because he sensed the despair in Aaron's tone. When he saw Miriam's condition, he was very upset. Miriam for the first time noticed her hands. She gave a shriek and collapsed on the ground. Aaron quickly knelt down beside her and looked pleadingly up at Moses.
"Don't let God take her by this terrible disease!" he begged. "Ask Him to forgive our foolish sin and heal her." (Numbers 12:11-12.)
Moses knelt down, leaned over with his face to the ground and called out to God.
"Make her well now, God!" he cried out. "Be merciful and forgive her and Aaron of their sins! Remove this awful disease from my sister now!" (Verse 13.)
Then God suddenly answered Moses: "Because of her disrespect for authority, Miriam must be shut out of the camp and My presence for seven days."
To her horror and disgrace, Miriam was led to a distant spot far outside the camp, there to sit and loathe herself in utter misery.
Meanwhile, the Israelites were prepared to start out again. But the cloud didn't move forward, and this obviously meant that God was delaying the march until Miriam would be brought back into camp healed. (Verses 14-15.)
After a week had passed, she was brought back into her tent. God had answered Moses' prayers and had healed her. She and Moses and Aaron were very thankful. At the same time, Miriam was sorry for having spoken out so boldly and wrongly against Moses. If she had failed to repent, God would have refused to take away her terrible leprosy, and it would soon have caused her death.
Miriam learned the lesson that all should learn -- that speaking evil of the servants God has chosen to work for or represent Him is indirectly speaking evil of the One who created the whole universe and every one of us. God tells us that wisdom begins with respect for Him. (Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10.)
Journey to the Promised Land
After Miriam had been brought back into the camp at Hazeroth, the people moved northward for several days. Although it was late summer, they journeyed on through the hot desert country to Paran, eventually coming to a secluded oasis area called Kadesh or Kadesh-barnea. (Numbers 12:16 and 13:26.)
It was on the border of the promised land of Canaan. At Kadesh the cloud came to a halt far more than a night. The people found several wells and springs in that region, and there was enough grass for their animals. It was evident that God meant the Israelites to camp at that place for at least several days. The tabernacle was erected just as it had been at Sinai, and the various tribes set up their camps in the same positions.
"Choose twelve capable men -- one who is ruler from each of the twelve tribes -- for a scouting expedition up into Canaan," God instructed Moses. "They are to bring back a full report on the land. Then the people will learn from their own respected leaders that it is a good land they are approaching." (Numbers 13:1-2.)
Moses picked twelve outstanding men from the twelve tribes. These included Joshua, a young man who had previously been very helpful to Moses, and a man named Caleb of the tribe of Judah. Joshua and Caleb were chosen as leaders of the expedition. (Verses 3-16.)
"You twelve are to go up into Canaan as scouts," Moses told them when they were brought together. "It's up to you to find the best and easiest route there. Carefully observe everything. Notice whether the land is flat or hilly and what kind of crops it bears. Note the people, to find out how numerous they are, whether they are warlike, peaceful, strong or weak. Find out what their villages and cities are like, and what strongholds they have. Be sure to see where the best forests are located, as well as the best grazing and farming areas. Bring back some produce of the land. And don't fear for your lives, because you can rely on God to protect you as long as you obey Him." (Numbers 13:17-20.)
The Scouting Expedition Begins
Going to Canaan wasn't simply a matter of packing a few things and leaving. The scouts needed some idea of the general lay-out of the land.
This knowledge came from the Kenites -- Moses' father-in-law's family -- and from traveled strangers at Kadesh who had joined the Israelites. From them Moses obtained information concerning the boundaries, mountain ranges, lakes, streams, forests and desert areas of Canaan. This was carefully studied by the twelve picked men, and maps were made for them to follow.
When at last the picked scouts had said good-bye to their families and friends, they set out northward from Kadesh across the narrow Zin desert. After plodding wearily in the heat over many miles, they topped a rise to gaze down on a vast expanse of water more than 4,000 feet below them!
Today this body of salty water is known as the Dead Sea. It is almost 1,300 feet below sea level -- the deepest chasm on the land surface. It is forty-seven miles long from north to south, and is nine and a half miles across at the widest spot. It is 1,300 feet deep at its greatest depth. The dimensions were slightly different back when the Israelite scouts suddenly came upon it.
"This must be what is known as the Salt Sea or the Sea of the Plain!" one of the men exclaimed, pointing to the whitish shoreline far below. "You know what that means!"
"It means we have reached Canaan!" Joshua shouted triumphantly. "We know from what we have heard that this large lake is part of the eastern boundary of the promised land!"
There was happy excitement among the twelve men. Having some idea of where they were, they felt successful and more secure. That night they camped on the towering area overlooking the water, and next morning started down from the mountains to skirt the west shore of the long lake.
For the next few days their progress was fairly easy. However, the midday heat was quite intense, and they found that it was wise to travel only in the mornings and evenings.
The Jordan Valley Visited
At the north end of the Dead Sea they turned eastward to come to the Jordan River, the main stream emptying into the Dead Sea. There in the river bottom region they saw that there were many beautiful farms and that the crops were excellent.
The scouts continued northward, sometimes following the Jordan River and sometimes veering off toward the mountain range to the west. They had purposely avoided the country east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea because the promised land was then from the Jordan River westward. (Numbers 33:51-53; 34:1-2, 12 and Deuteronomy 12:10.) The people they met stared suspiciously at them, probably regarding them either as wandering traders, bandits, or vagrants.
A few days later they arrived at another body of water known today as the Sea of Galilee. It was known also as the Sea of Chinnereth. This lake, seven miles wide at the north end and thirteen miles long, was the one near which Jesus Christ would spend much of His life. It is about 200 feet to the bottom at the deepest point. The hills back from its east shores jutted up to 2,000 feet. Its surface was about 700 feet below that of the Mediterranean Sea.
The scouts traveled on northward far past the Sea of Galilee to a town called Rehob, on the northern border of the promised land, in the land of Aram, known today as Syria. Having knowledge of where they were, the Israelites recognized that they were very close to the northern boundaries of the promised land, and so they turned back southward. (Numbers 13:21.)
Moving down through the fertile regions between the Jordan River and the Great Sea (the Mediterranean), the scouts saw even more people than they had seen near the river. Crops looked even better, trees bore more fruit and there were more signs of prosperity.
The scouting Israelites had been coming to more and more great cities teeming with people and bristling with fortifications. The people continued to stare at the twelve strangers as they trudged along the road. The Israelites made no effort to visit with them. It was wiser to keep to themselves than run the risk of getting mixed up with robbers or violent men. The scouts were well-armed for purposes of hunting, and their rugged, bearded appearance undoubtedly warded off more than one group of bandits who might otherwise have attacked them for whatever was in the Israelites' packsacks.
The scouts decided to journey to the east shores of the Mediterranean Sea. They had heard awesome tales of how warlike the people were in that region. These, the Philistines, were the ones through whose land God had kept Israel from traveling when they had first left Egypt, even though it would have meant a much shorter trip.
The Scouts Meet the Philistines
There the scouts were especially cautious. They moved around the towns and villages instead of going through them. Here and there they noticed armed Philistine men who obviously were soldiers or civil officers. Once they spotted a whole platoon of such men at a distance, but the scouts weren't set upon, stopped or even questioned.
Crossing back to the southeast, they came to Hebron, one of the oldest cities in the world. It had been founded seven years before the founding of Zion, the first city founded in post-Flood Egypt. (Numbers 13:22.)
At Hebron the scouts were so curious to get a good look at the people and buildings and bazaars that they considered traveling right through the streets.
"I should like to go through the town as much as any of you," Joshua frowned thoughtfully, "but I think it's too much of a risk. If we all go together, we could be looked on as a band of renegades, and officers might stop us."
"How about splitting up into two pairs?" Caleb suggested. "That should help!" Joshua nodded. "But we can't become too separated. Each couple must be far enough apart that we won't be regarded as a group, but close enough to be within sight of each other at all times."
Accordingly, the twelves divided into six pairs and joined a straggling line of all kinds of people approaching Hebron from the north.
Hebron wasn't a large city teeming with great crowds, but its narrow, stony streets were lined with shops where knots of rather drab humanity bobbed and shuffled in and out. Mixing in with the hodge-podge of people and pack-animals, the scouts saw and heard many interesting things. Shopkeepers called out their wares to them. Small, ragged boys begged them for hand-outs. Grinning, beady-eyed men, spotting them as strangers, slipped up beside them and offered to guide them to various places of amusement.
Intent on getting through Hebron, the Israelites weren't halted by salesmen, beggars or men who had more than guide service to sell. They moved through the bazaar area and into the southern fringe of town. Joshua and Caleb, who were ahead, saw several armed helmeted men pour out of a nearby building and station themselves menacingly in the street.
"We can't go this way!" Caleb whispered. "Those soldiers mean to block our path!"
It was obvious that the scouts had at last run into serious trouble, and just when they had almost completed their trip!
Bible Story Book Index
Scouts Report Seeing Giants!
THE ISRAELITE scouts sent out by Moses had traveled by foot over much of Canaan. They had looped around to arrive at Hebron, a city not too far from Kadesh. Kadesh was the scouts' starting point, where the twelve tribes were encamped and awaiting reports from the twelve-man expedition.
On leaving Hebron, the Israelites suddenly found themselves confronted by several soldiers blocking the narrow street.
"We can't turn back now," Joshua said in a low voice to Caleb. "If we turn back, they'll probably take after us!"
As the scouts neared the soldiers, they were amazed to realize that some of them were almost twice as tall as ordinary men! The towering soldiers saw the expressions of growing unbelief on the faces of the scouts, who now were close enough to notice the hostility on the faces of the soldiers. Suddenly the scouts realized that it was only mock hostility. The giant men broke into loud, hoarse laughter and stepped aside to let the six pairs of Israelites continue down the street. It was evident that a favorite pastime of the soldiers -- the giant descendants of Anak -- was to playfully startle strangers who had never before seen such tall men. (Numbers 13:22.)
The scouts breathed sighs of relief and thankfulness as they left the laughing soldiers behind them. They kept on to the south -- where they saw numerous other giant tribes -- until they arrived at a fertile valley known as Eshcol, through which ran a small stream. This was grape country and time for harvesting grapes. The Israelites were astounded at the great size of the grape clusters.
"We were instructed to bring back samples of the produce of Canaan," Joshua reminded the men. "So far we have gathered only a few things, and our trip is nearly over. This is perhaps our last opportunity to take some of the unusual fruit growing here."
Not wanting to invade a private vineyard, the men cut down a large cluster of grapes apparently growing wild. They hung the cluster on a pole for two men to carry it between them back to Kadesh. The grapes weren't so heavy that two men were required to lift them. It was a matter of letting the massive cluster hang free so that it wouldn't be crushed. However, the bunch of grapes was all of two feet long, and each grape was as large as a plum!
The scouts also plucked healthy fruits and luscious figs from the area. Burdened with their increased loads, they turned south toward Kadesh.
They arrived at Kadesh just forty days from the time they had set out. Although many people went out to meet them and to ply them with questions, the scouts reported at once to Moses. Knowing that the people were anxious to learn what their spies had seen in Canaan, Moses later called for the people to assemble close to the tabernacle. (Numbers 13:23-25.)
As a leader of the expedition, Joshua was asked first to give a public account of what had taken place. He came out on a high platform, so that the crowd could see him, and sketchily related what the men had seen and done.
"It is a good land," he concluded. "Large areas of it are very fertile, as many of you can see by this display of unusual produce. There is plenty of grazing country for our flocks and herds. We should thank God that all these good things are there for the taking when we move northward."
Meanwhile, all the other scouts except Caleb had gathered in a group and were earnestly talking. When Joshua had finished speaking, he asked any one of them to add to what had already been said. One scout, obviously chosen as a spokesman, came up to face Moses, Aaron and the throng of people.
"The land of Canaan is indeed fertile in some regions, just as Joshua has stated," the speaker said in a strong clear voice. "However, when he spoke of our seeing a few very tall men, he failed to mention that all the people are very large and tall. He also left out the facts that all the cities have high, thick walls behind which are large, well-trained, powerful armies. It is foolish to even think of trying to enter Canaan. We would all be slaughtered!"
There was an awkward silence. Moses and Aaron, as well as most others, were greatly startled by what they had heard. Then the silence suddenly gave way to a growing murmur from the crowd. Joshua and Caleb exchanged anxious glances. Caleb leaped on the platform and raised his arms for silence. The murmuring gradually subsided, but not completely.
"I ask you to hear me on this matter!" Caleb spoke out loudly. "This man whom you have just heard doesn't speak for all twelve of us. For some reason he has lied about the cities all having high walls, all the people being giants and all the armies being large and powerful. The truth is that God can surely overcome the inhabitants of Canaan for us!" (Numbers 13:26-33.)
The ten scouts quickly crowded onto the platform, shouting and gesturing.
"No! No!" they chorused. "This fellow is the one who isn't telling the truth!"
There was much confusion, both around the platform and throughout the crowd. After a few minutes Moses and his officers were fairly successful in restoring order. God does not like confusion.
"This has been a disgraceful exhibition, especially by men of your past good reputations," Moses said sternly to the ten scouts. "If you actually believe it would be a mistake to go into Canaan, then you must give more reasons than you have already stated, and with proof!"
There was a quick consultation among the ten men, and again their spokesmen stepped up to address the people.
"I'll admit that I didn't tell you exactly what conditions are in Canaan," the speaker shouted, "but neither did Joshua or Caleb. The real truth is something none of us wanted to bring to you because it seemed cruel to fill you with complete dismay and disappointment. However, probably many of you won't believe what I am about to tell you."
Here the speaker paused, at the risk of being interrupted, so that the audience would be even more eager to hear his words. He was counting on Moses giving him a full chance to say what he had to say.
"Now here are the terrifying facts," he continued. "For some reason these two leaders probably won't back me up on these things. But nine other scouts will. In the first place, the climate of most of the land north of here is very bad. It has produced mostly desert territory. Water is scarce. Disease and pestilence have taken the lives of ordinary people like ourselves. The survivors -- and they must number into many thousands -- are all giants who are actually so tremendous that we were only as grasshoppers in their sight. They didn't pay any attention to us because they looked down on us as only insects. These people have descended from fierce Hamitic tribes. They are so mountainous and powerful that it would take only a few of them to stamp all of us into the ground!" A great sound of discontent welled up from the crowd. At a command from Moses, Joshua stood up to speak, but the growing noise from the people drowned out his words even to the nearest listeners.
"His lies have frightened the people!" Joshua said to Moses after leaving the platform. "They don't even want to listen to me."
"Most of them know that they have listened to lies," Moses said. "They prefer to believe what isn't the truth so that they will have excuses to return to Egypt."
"Ten of my fellow scouts must be working with those who are trying to get the Israelites to turn back," Joshua remarked bitterly.
"It is very plain," Moses agreed. "This growing movement to try to return to Egypt is getting out of hand."
The Crowd Breaks Up
Moses soberly watched the yelling Israelites milling excitedly about, and shook his head in disappointment. In recent weeks, in spite of the trouble these people had given him, his hope had grown that his task of leading them to the promised land was about to end. An end to the Journey now appeared about as possible as single-handedly herding mile lions of wild burros into a corral.
For a few moments he considered trying to address the people, to remind them how futile it would be to start back without God's help. But already the huge throng was breaking up. Officers were faithfully working to keep the crowd in order, but the people were too noisy and excited to listen to any more speeches.
Wailing, weeping and murmuring, the people milled around between camps and tents, loudly complaining that it would mean death to all if they were to set foot in what they referred to as a disease-ridden land of giants to the north. All night this noisy and childish exhibition went on.
Meanwhile, however, many thousands of the Israelites had no part in the demonstration.
By early morning many of the complainers were worked up into such a highly emotional state that they again formed into a crowd that advanced angrily toward the tabernacle. Some of the demonstrators went so far as to carry sticks and stones.
"We wish we had died in Egypt!" thousands of them yelled. "We wish we had died in the desert!" other thousands chorused. "God has dragged us out to this miserable place only for the purpose of having us slain by giants! Our wives and our children will all die if we follow Moses any further!"
"We want to go back to Egypt!" was a common cry. "Let us choose a leader who knows what is best for us -- one who knows the shortest and fastest route back to Egypt!" (Numbers 14:1-4.)
"We have already picked out those who can lead us!" some of the Israelites screamed. "Let us put down Moses and his officers so that our leaders can take over!"
Only the most rebellious and rabble-rousing dared suggest ousting Moses, and not a great part of the Israelites fell in with such a suggestion of violence. However, it was plain to Moses that this unhappy situation could explode into a worse one within minutes. There was only one wise thing to do. Moses motioned to Aaron. The two of them mounted the platform. For a few seconds they silently regarded the clamoring crowd. Then they knelt down and bent over with their foreheads touching the floor of the platform. In this abject position they called on God to step in and take control of the people.
When the demonstrators saw their leaders bowing quieted down to a low murmur.
Angered and shocked at the manner in which their fellow scouts had spoken and acted, Joshua and Caleb decided to take advantage of this quieter period to try once more to bring the truth to the people. Joshua once more went to the platform and walked out in front of Moses and Aaron.
"Fellow Israelites!" Joshua cried out. "I'm here again to assure you of what all twelve of us have witnessed -- that Canaan is a good, productive land. There are no giants such as have been described to you, though there are some men who are several feet taller than our men. There is a good supply of water. We saw no unusual signs of disease or pestilence. Canaan is so much better than any land we have come through so far that it would be very foolish not to claim it. Let us not rebel against our Creator. Otherwise He might decide to withhold this promised land from us!"
People looked on with stony faces as Joshua stepped back and Caleb came forward to stand in front of the two men who were still prostrate. "What Joshua has just told you is true!" Caleb shouted to the people.
"God is offering us a wonderful future if only we obey Him. Surely He is already displeased by your attitude of refusal to go into Canaan and take what our Creator wants us to have for our own happiness. As for fearing the Canaanites, there is no reason for that. As long as God is with us, no people -- even if they were all giants -- can overcome us!"
As soon as Caleb ceased speaking, the murmuring from the crowd grew louder and louder. In spite of a number of alert guards surrounding the platform, the bolder and more excited ones in the crowd moved menacingly close. Out of the hubbub of shrieks and yells two chilling words became more and more distinct.
"Stone them! Stone them! Stone them!" (Numbers 14:5-10.) Very soon the phrase became a monstrous chant from the lungs of the frenzied thousands. Still Caleb and Joshua stood on the platform with the kneeling Moses and Aaron.
Mob Attacks Moses
SUDDENLY the mob closed in, pressing the guards against the underpinning of the platform. A few small stones shot out of the crowd and bounced off the platform, where Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb stood.
Those who attempted to hurl heavier stones were hampered by the surging mass of human beings. A few men managed to squirm past the guards and climb onto the platform. They crouched around the four figures who were already there, eyeing them threateningly. It was evident that these intruders were waiting for more to join them for the purpose of seizing Caleb, Joshua, Moses and Aaron.
At that instant a blinding flash came from inside the tabernacle. Even though the curtains of the structure veiled its full brilliance, the brightness was so intense that people were temporarily blinded. A moment later an ear-splitting roar rumbled out of the tabernacle. The ground quaked as though a whole mountain had been dropped from the sky!
The intruders staggered off the platform and into the struggling mass surrounding it. The words "Stone them!" abruptly ceased from the crowd. The only sounds now were those of alarm in the frantic scramble to draw back from the platform and the tabernacle.
Realizing that God had intervened, Moses and Aaron gave thanks and got to their feet.
"Have the ten traitorous scouts arrested and brought to my tent," Moses instructed Joshua and Caleb. "I must go now to the tabernacle to talk with God."
At the tabernacle God asked Moses after he had knelt inside the tabernacle, "How much longer will these people vex me with their evil ways? How many more signs must I give them to prove that I mean what I say? Now I should have nothing more to do with them except to blot them out of my sight forever. Then, starting with you, I should build up a greater and a mightier nation!"
Here is where the course of history would have been greatly changed if Moses had let his vanity get the best of him. With Israel wiped out, Moses would have claimed Abraham's place as the "father of nations."
"But if you destroy all Israel," Moses replied, "the Egyptians shall hear of it. In fact, every nation on Earth will sooner or later know of it. Word has spread that you are the kind of God who dwells with His people, and Who leads them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When news goes abroad that Your people died in the desert, the nations will believe that You lacked the power to bring them safely into the land You promised to them. I beg you, God, to forgive these people of their sins, but I'm not asking You to let go unpunished those who have stirred the people into wanting to return to Egypt instead of going on into Canaan."
There was a silence. It was painful to Moses, who couldn't be certain how God would respond. He realized that his mentioning the preserving of God's reputation in the eyes of other nations -- especially Egypt -- wasn't necessarily a strong point. God, with His perfect memory and awareness, wasn't in need of being reminded. Finally the Creator replied.
"Because you have prayed as you have for the Israelites, I shall forgive their sins as a nation. I shall not make a complete end of them. My reputation for mercy and power and glory will one day be known in every nation of the world." (Numbers 14:11-21.)
Moses was greatly relieved and heartened to hear these words from the Creator. He remained for a little while with his forehead to the ground. But just as he raised his head and was about to utter his deep thanks, God's voice boomed out at him again.
"I have just told you that I am willing to forgive the sins of the Israelites. At the same time, however, I will refuse them entrance into the promised land because they have broken their covenant with me. This means that those who have rebelled against me shall never come into Canaan! They shall die in the desert! This curse doesn't apply to those who are under twenty years of age -- the very ones whose fathers complained that they would surely die in the desert because I couldn't protect them. Neither does it apply to obedient people such as Joshua and Caleb. But it does mean that most of Israel shall wander forty years in the mountains and deserts before reaching the land they have refused and hated. That is one year for every day required for the scouts to search Canaan!"
"But we have already spent about a year and a half coming to Canaan," Moses said. "Do you mean that we are to spend forty years going to a place that is only a few hours distant?"
"Inasmuch as you have already been nearly two years on the way," God replied, "it will require full thirty-eight more. That is My judgment on Israel because of their rebellion." (Numbers 14:22-35.)
Just a few minutes previously Moses had felt as though a great weight had been lifted from him when he was assured that the people would not be suddenly blotted out. Now the dismal outlook of thirty-eight years of leading the Israelites was something he could scarcely face.
"Where must we go from here?" Moses inquired wearily. "You must leave tomorrow and start southward." Told by God to carry this depressing information to the people, Moses and Aaron returned to the platform. A vast, murmuring throng was still present. Joshua and Caleb hurried to join Moses and Aaron.
The Ten Scouts Slain
"We didn't have to arrest the ten scouts," Joshua reported, pointing to a knot of people crowded around something on the ground. "They're all dead!"
"Dead?" Moses repeated in surprise. "How could it be that all of them would die at the same time?"
"We couldn't find out," Caleb explained. "Just a little while ago they were seen talking together over there. An instant later they were lifeless on the ground."
Moses quickly realized that God had taken their lives because of their false reports, but there wasn't time just then to be concerned about the scouts and their families. Moses had to tell the people at once what was in store for them. (Numbers 14:36-38.)
When he passed on to them what God had spoken, the people received the startling news with mixed emotions. Some were speechless. Others moaned and loudly complained. A small part of them were jubilant because of hoping to return all the way to Egypt. Most of them, sobered by the strange, sudden death of the ten scouts, were quite shaken by the outlook for the future. Many thought God wasn't fair. Only a fraction of them were willing to admit to themselves that by their bad conduct they had spoiled a wonderful future and had brought hardship down on their children.
"Remember," Moses concluded, "that from now on we no longer have the priceless blessing of God's guidance and protection. We are like a flock without a shepherd. Only yesterday God wanted us to go into Canaan. If we had obeyed, God would have scattered any Canaanites who might have tried to prevent us. But now we don't even dare stay here lest the people over the mountains to the north come down and slaughter us! Be ready at dawn, therefore, to move south."
Rebels Plot by Night
That night was a restless one for Israel. The more the people thought about God's ruling to turn back, the more they wondered how they could make up for their sins. In fact, certain ones secretly met to plan what to do and how to organize the people into doing it.
Meanwhile, the Israelites were not the only ones aware of their blazing, all-night campfires. Alert and unfriendly eyes were peering down from mountain heights to the north, watching to see what the horde of people in the desert valley would do next.
Moses, too, was restless. He spent much of the night in thought and prayer. Very early in the morning he dropped asleep from exhaustion, only to be awakened by Joshua.
"People are breaking camp already," Joshua exclaimed. "It isn't even daybreak, but there are rumors that thousands are leaving."
Moses stepped out of his tent. Most of the campfires were burning low at this hour, and it wasn't possible, in the dense pre-dawn darkness, to see what was taking place. But in the still, cool air came the faint jangle of metal and the voices of men shouting commands to their shepherd dogs. Moses knew the sound well, and he sensed that a huge caravan was moving out. But why? And where was it headed?
"Should we call every available officer to try to stop them?" Joshua asked.
"No," Moses answered, shaking his head solemnly. "We're already in enough trouble without shedding blood among ourselves. Just try to find out where these early risers think they are going."
Aaron joined Moses before Joshua could report back. The light of dawn streamed in rapidly from the east, making plain to Moses and Aaron a long column of thousands, with their flocks and herds, slowly moving out of the camps. Moses was hopeful that he would discover the column moving through a defile to the south -- the direction in which God had said they should go.
To Moses' dismay the light of dawn showed that the wide line of people was moving north. This was the road to Canaan! This was the way these people had refused to take only hours before. Having been warned not to go in that direction, thousands of the Israelites were disobeying by sneaking off that way. (Verses 40-43.)
"The Amalekites and Canaanites are just beyond that mountain!" Moses exclaimed, clapping his hands to his head. "Probably they're armed and waiting! This could mean a terrible slaughter for all those people!"
Mosses and those with him watched in discouragement as the thousands of Israelites and their flocks dwindled from sight in the distant pass.
"Even if all the rest of our armed men went after them," Moses said, shaking his head, "it wouldn't make much difference. God will not protect those who have departed nor those who would go to their rescue." (Numbers 14:40-43.)
Moses then instructed his officers to see that the tabernacle was packed and ready to move, and that the people should start breaking camp at once. He knew there was a possibility that their enemies, undoubtedly hidden in the mountains, would stage an attack on the camp.
Before the sun was very high, the remaining greater part of the Israelites was moving through the defiles to the south. Many a person left Kadesh before he wanted to, however. Thousands had hoped to remain long enough to receive some word of what had happened to friends and relatives who had departed toward Canaan.
Meanwhile, the Canaan-bound | Israelites and their plodding flocks and herds were close to the top of the pass that led northward from Kadesh.
Rebels Are Ambushed
Suddenly hundreds of armed men leaped out from behind the trailside boulders! Shouting as though demented, they came running at the startled Israelites with spears and swords. Hundreds of Israelites died even before they could get their weapons ready for action. Shrieking women and children turned and tried to run back down the trail, only to trip helplessly over one another. To add to the confusion, the herds stampeded and the flocks swarmed wildly in all directions.
The main body of Israelites gradually began to move backward. But by now a great number of the enemy -- Canaanites and Amalekites -- had almost sealed off their retreat by thronging behind the agitated column of Israelites. The Israelites had walked squarely into a vast death trap! (Verses 44-45.)
The slaughter that resulted was frightful! Even animals fell by sword and spear, though most of them escaped into the mountains. The people were not so fortunate. Within only minutes the pass was littered with the bodies of men and women. But because their numbers were so much greater than those of their attackers, part of them escaped and fled back toward Kadesh. The Amalekites and Canaanites took after them, pursuing some of them quite a distance to the south. Most of those who escaped hid among the rocks until the enemy was gone. Then they set out to try to catch up with the main body of Israelites that had departed to the south from Kadesh.
About sundown the Israelites made camp a few miles southwest of Kadesh. Hours later, when most campfires were either out or very low, there was great excitement from the north side of the camp. Weary, footsore escapees were beginning to arrive. Many who returned needed their wounds dressed. Some died. Others gave horrifying accounts of the bloody affair.
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