Numbers Chapters 10. 11 to 14. 45


In this paper we arrive at the second main section of the book: From Sinai to the Plains of Moab, and Progress through the Desert, chs. 10. 11 to 22. 1.

The wanderings in the wilderness covered a period from the second to the fortieth year after the exodus, Num. 33. 38; Deut. 1. 3. Two events only are recorded during the long period of thirty-eight years, that of the rebellion of Korah and his company, Num. 16-17, and the death of Miriam and the murmuring of the people at Kadesh, 20, 1-5,—the events of 10. 11 to 14. 45 taking place during the first few months after leaving Sinai. It was not until near the end of the period that a concerted and continuous march was made from Kadesh to the plains of Moab, ch. 21.

From Sinai to Paran, 10. 11 to 12. 16

Departure, 10. 11-36. With all prepared and ordered, the camp began to march “according to the commandment of the Lord”, v. 13; each tribe was in its divinely allotted place, Judah leading the way and Dan bringing up the rear. At this juncture Moses invited his brother-law, Hobab son of Jethro the Midianite, to join them on the journey to Canaan, saying, “come thou with us, and we will do thee good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel”, v. 29. Met with a blunt refusal, Moses suggested that Hobab could be a helpful guide, “thou mayest be to us instead of eyes”, v. 31. Had Moses more confidence in Hobab’s knowledge and guidance than in Jehovah’s cloud and trumpets?

Whether Hobab responded or not we are not told, but we do know that the “Lord went before them”. Is there, perhaps, a parallel in our service for the Lord? A positive response from Hobab would have been of personal benefit to him, but also a valuable service to the nation. Christ calls us not only for our own blessing but for benefit to others. So the ark set forward, the battle cry was raised, and Moses cried, “Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered … and when it rested, he said, Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel”, vv. 35, 36.

Discontent, 11. 1-3. The journey to Kadesh was marked by discontent, dissatisfaction, depression and dissension. Taberah (= burning) was the place where the anger of the Lord was revealed against a complaining people, the fire of the Lord spreading even to the outlying parts of the camp.

Dissatisfaction, 11. 4-9. The “mixt multitude”, an apparently wealthy company of camp-followers, Exod. 12. 38, incited the people to crave after the food of Egypt, Num. 11. 5, and to loathe the manna provided for them by the Lord. These people had no vital interest in the things of the Lord for, while their presence was apparently harmless, their insidious influence soon became obvious. Better a minority of loyal and devoted believers than a multitude whose heart is in the world.

Depression, 11. 10-35. Saddened and depressed by this experience, Moses cried to the Lord, feeling that the burden was too great to bear, v. 14, even requesting that God would take his life away, v. 15. But God had better things in store for His servant beyond death, for he was to share with Elijah (also on occasions sadly depressed), the honour of the Lord’s companionship on the mount of transfiguration many years hence, Matt. 17. 3. Moses was graciously permitted to share the responsibility with seventy elders of Israel, Num. 11. 16, 17, that he might not bear the burden alone. These “prophesied, and did not cease”, v. 25, but two of the number, Eldad and Medad, prophesied in the camp, and with this Joshua was displeased and implored Moses to forbid them. Compare Mark 9. 38, 39; Luke 9. 49, 50. In the strength of his meekness Moses replied, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them”, Num. 11. 29. When a man is truly great, he rejoices when others are exalted and used by the Spirit to magnify Christ. Mingling His mercy with His wrath, God gave them a provision of quails in abundance, a request for which they had craved, but “sent leanness into their soul”, Psa. 106. 15. Thus they brought upon themselves God’s displeasure, and many died and were buried in Kibroth-hattaavah, the “graves of lust”. When a believer finds it necessary to satisfy his desires in fleshly pursuits instead of feeding upon the heavenly manna, the situation is indeed a sad and tragic one.

Dissension, 12. 1-16. The seeds of jealousy in the hearts of Miriam and Aaron ultimately blossom in open dissension against Moses’s authority, the marriage of the Ethiopian woman being a mere excuse to bring the plot to fruition. Miriam would appear to have been the prominent figure in this, as the verb “spake”, v. 1, is of feminine gender, and the judgment ultimately fell upon her rather than upon Aaron, v. 10. It was not necessary for Moses to defend his authority, for God spoke suddenly, v. 4, and vindicated His servant, “My servant Moses … is faithful in all mine house”, v. 7; Heb. 3. 5. It is a grievous sin to reject the authority of those whom God has chosen to guide His people. They are “worthy of double honour”, 1 Tim. 5. 17. Not until Miriam had been excluded from the camp for seven days and then restored, could the people proceed on their journey to Paran. While sin is unconfessed and unjudged, there can be no spiritual advance.

The Sojourn at Kadesh, 13. 1 to 20. 13

The Search, 13. 1-33. After forty days of searching the land, the spies returned bringing a most favourable report, ch. 13. Here was “a land flowing with milk and honey” and the pomegranates, figs and grapes were evidence enough. However, they had also seen the giants, the fortified cities and the warlike tribes. To the “ten” this seemed a daunting and despairing task, for they saw only the giants alongside which they seemed but grasshoppers, but Caleb and Joshua rested their confidence in the ability of their God for victory, saying, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it”, v. 30. A fearless faith will not rest on relative comparisons, but on the omnipotent God to work for us. Dr. F. B. Meyer writes, “when compared with Primrose Hill, Snowdon is high; but where is it when compared with the Himalayas?”.

The Sin, 14. 1-10. The inevitable consequence of unbelief was that the congregation now fell to mourning and murmuring as they expressed regret that they had not died in Egypt or in the wilderness. They longed to return to Egypt. At Horeb they had produced a “calf” in their impatience and discontent; now they desired “a captain” to lead them back, vv. 3, 4. Caleb and Joshua rent their clothes saying, “If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us”, v. 8, but the congregation “bade stone them with stones”. They were not the last of God’s servants to be rejected for defence of the truth.

The Sentence, 14. 11-38. The Lord spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting, expressing His displeasure and saying that He would smite the people with the pestilence and disinherit them, while promising Moses that He would make of him “a greater nation and mightier than they”, v. 12. Once more, Moses, in the strength of his meekness, utterly refused to accept this, and appealed to the Lord who is great in power and mercy to forego His wrath, vv. 17-19. In the plan and purpose of God there is government as well as grace, for He said, “all those men, which have seen my glory, and my miracles… shall not see the land”, vv. 22, 23. So, for as many years as there were days in spying out the land, they would wander in the wilderness and die there. It was not their enemies that kept them out of Canaan but their unbelief, Heb. 3. 19; but God honoured His faithful servants, Caleb and Joshua, by bringing them safely into the land.

The Sequel, 14. 39-45. Cowardly unbelief at Kadesh was followed by presumptive self-confidence at Hormah. Ignoring the command of the Lord to turn back to the wilderness, they dared to advance against the Amalekites and the Canaanities, without the recognized presence of the Lord among them, v. 44, with consequent defeat. Only as His people meet their spiritual foes in the path of obedience to His will and in the strength of His presence with them, can they expect to be victorious.


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