Select Page

In Num 10:11 the people of Israel begin to “set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai” where they have been since Exodus 19:1.  Following the cloud by day first to the wilderness of Paran (Num 10:11, 34).  Next, following the quail incident, “the people journeyed to Hazeroth” (Num 11:35).  “After that [the seven days Miriam was unclean with a skin disease] the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran” (Num 12:16).  So we are still in the same general region where we started.  From this wilderness went the spies into the land of Canaan.  It looks like the people successfully move again when they “came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh” (Num 20:1).  Next they would journey from Kadesh to Mount Hor (Num 20:22), and then on eventually to the plains of Moab (Num 22:1).  A more specific account of the places where they stopped is given in Num 33:16-49.

The people left in a particular order — “the people of Judah set out first” (Num 10:14).  Issachar and Zebulun followed (Num 10:15-16).  The tabernacle was dismantled and the Gershonites and Merarites set out (Num 10:17).  Reuben, Simeon, and Gad followed (Num 10:18-20).  Then the Kohathites set out (Num 10:21), followed by Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin (Num 10:22-24).  And finally the people of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali set out (Num 10:25-28).  The order follows from east, south, west, north through the tribes by prominence as discussed in the previous post.  But the order of the Levites does not follow in the same way but seems to be for practical reasons.  Then Moses encouraged his father-in-law to come too (Num 10:29-32).  

But the next chapter begins ominously, “And the people complained in the hearing of YHWH about their misfortunes [evil], and when YHWH heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of YHWH burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Num 11:1).  Moses interceded for the people who had tested God and the fire died down (Num 11:2).  Afterwards, they named the place “burning” (Num 11:3).  This is the first test of chapter 11.

The second test, as Duguid explains it, begins with verse 4 where the people complained about the manna, which was excellent food (cf. Num 11:7-8).  The story begins, “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving” (Num 11:4) and ends, “Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah [footnote says this means “graves of craving”], because there they buried the people who had the craving” (Num 11:34).  In the middle should have been the intercession of Moses to follow the pattern of verses 1-3.  But this time Moses complained instead of interceding for the people.

Therefore the second episode is much longer as it tells us about the judgment against Moses.  In this judgment, some of the Spirit that was upon him was put on seventy of the elders of Israel (Num 11:16ff).  These briefly prophesied (Num 11:25) as a sign that they had received the Spirit including two that remained in the camp (Num 11:25ff).  But even though this was a judgment against the leadership of Moses and the people now would ramp up their complaints about the leadership of Moses, he said, “Would that all YHWH’s people were prophets, that YHWH would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:29).  I have referenced this in the past as a text helpful in understanding the Day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ.  The people would then also prophesy briefly (speaking in tongues) as a sign showing they had received the Spirit, but this time the Spirit would be poured out indiscriminately.  The basic point here being that Moses learned his lesson and sees that God can turn this curse (like those in Genesis) into a blessing.  Thus we have one of the elements of the gospel — the promise of the giving of the Spirit.

Not surprisingly then, Aaron and Miriam, especially since Aaron had a portion of the Spirit that should have been on Moses, confront Moses “because of the Cushite woman whom he had married” (Num 12:1).  We have the interesting aside, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3).  Interesting since the meek will inherit the land (Psa 37:11, Matt 5:5), but Moses does not get to enter it.  In any case, Aaron and Miriam also have prophesied and so they resist the leadership of Moses (cf. Num 12:2).  And YHWH came down in a pillar of cloud (like the previous judgment against Moses, Num 11:25) to declare His verdict regarding Aaron and Miriam saying, “If there is a prophet among you, I YHWH make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.  Not so with my servant Moses.  He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of YHWH.  Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num 12:6-8).  And the anger of God was kindled against them and made Miriam unclean for seven days (Num 12:10ff).

In the next wilderness, Moses sent the spies into the land.  The order of the spies’ tribes (Num 13:4ff) is: Reuben, Simeon, Judah (Caleb), Issachar, Ephraim (Hoshea the son of Nun, otherwise known as Joshua), Benjamin, Zebulun, Manasseh, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and Gad.  There are a total of twelve tribes, Levi is again not included.  Joshua’s tribe of Ephraim is promoted.  The usual order of prominence would continue with the other son of Leah, Zebulun.  Instead, Issachar is followed by Ephraim and Zebulun by Manasseh.  Thus the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh are split apart.  Benjamin, Joseph’s little brother, follows Ephraim.  A Jewish article observes that they are in chiastic order — four sons of Leah, two sons of Rachel, son of Leah and son of Rachel (Joseph, that is Manasseh), four sons of maidservants.  The sons of Joseph open and close the center of the chiasm.  Since it is the tribes of Israel there is still order.

Not insignificantly the spies spied for forty days (Num 13:25) and at the end of this time of testing they, with the exception of Caleb (Num 13:30, 14:6) and Joshua (Num 14:6-9), returned demonstrating a lack of faith (Num 13:28-29, 32-33).  That the point is about faith is clear in YHWH’s question: “How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? (Num 14:11).  Thus God says that He will make a nation of Moses but Moses interceded for Israel.  The judgment: “none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.  And none of those who despised me shall see it (Num 14:22-23).  The people failed the forty day test of the spies and the number of times the people tested God was full (ten), many followed by plagues (i.e., Exo 32:35, Num 11:33, 14:37).  The ten unbelieving spies died in a plague and those twenty years and up in the census besides Caleb and Joshua later died in the wilderness (this would not include the Levites).  Some a few verses later as the people presumptuously attacked the Amalekites and Canaanites (Num 14:39ff).

The theme of the gospel going to the nations also is prominent in this text.  After all, Aaron and Miriam are complaining because Moses’ wife is a Gentile and Moses pleads with his father-in-law to stay with them in the journey of faith.  And yet all of the grumbling demonstrated a lack of faith in this generation of Israelites.  As of this point in Scripture we still await the one who is the son of the Father spoken of by the servant in His house (Heb 3:5-6).

%d bloggers like this: