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Wilderness of Paran

In the second year after their exodus from Egypt the Lord lifted the pillar of cloud from Sinai where the Hebrews (Israelites) had long been encamped and led them north toward the wilderness of Paran. Paran was the area where Ishmael the son of Abraham by the servant woman had settled about four hundred years earlier. Their journey was in a very orderly fashion, tribe by tribe in their procession, with those whose duty it was carrying the ark of the covenant with staves thrust through rings attached to the ark. Photo credit http://BiblePlaces.com

The people began to complain as they had done before and God sent a fire among them and consumed some of them until Moses interceded for them. But before long the complaining began again, instigated to some extent it appears by the strangers (non-Jewish people) who were traveling with them. Some of the Egyptians, having witnessed the miracles that God worked through Moses left town when the Hebrews did and were accepted by the Hebrews. These people were called the “mixed multitude.” The Bible says the mixed multitude fell a lusting and the Hebrews joined them complaining that they missed the fare of Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, onions, garlic, and that they had nothing to eat but manna. God sent a passel of quails, so many that they were in great piles, enough to eat for a whole month. But at the same time His wrath was kindled against them and he smote them with a great plague so that a number died. The Bible says they buried the people that lusted.  (Numbers 11:34)

Kadesh “I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.” Numbers 32:8. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

As they drew near the promised land of Canaan the Lord spoke to Moses to send out a secret scouting expedition to spy out the land, to determine what sort of country it was and what people lived there. Twelve spies were sent and were gone for 40 days, and when they returned they brought back a cluster of grapes so large it had to be carried by two people on a pole between them. The land was indeed a good land they said, but there was no way they could take it for the inhabitants of it were men of great stature, and not only that, there were fierce giants among them before whom the Hebrews were as grasshoppers. Only two of the twelve spies (Joshua and Caleb) offered any hope for overcoming the inhabitants and taking the land. Caleb wanted to go up at once and possess the land, for we are well able to overcome it. (Numbers 13:30)

But the people believed the word of the majority and wept and blamed God for bringing them into the wilderness only to send them out to be defeated in battle with the Canaanites. They didn’t believe God would help them take the land so they decided to appoint themselves a captain and return to Egypt and slavery, a plan which came to naught. Joshua did his best to assure them that God would fight their battles for them, but the people did not believe him and were about to stone him to death. Meanwhile God got mad and told Moses he was going to disinherit the Hebrews and start over with Moses. Moses told God that wouldn’t be a good idea, for the Egyptians would hear of it and say that God was not able to fulfill his promise of bringing the Hebrews into their promised land. So God backed off from that plan and settled on another:

Instead of enjoying all the benefits of Canaan that God intended to give them, the Hebrews would be destined to wander in the wilderness (deserts) one year for every day the spies were inspecting Canaan. As for the ten spies who had returned with the evil report concerning the inhabitants of Canaan, and who could not be convinced that God would give them victory in battle, they died immediately of a plague from the Lord. During the ensuing 40 years of wandering those who murmured in unbelief would die, for they had said, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us into this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? (Numbers 14:2-3)

God spoke to Moses and Aaron and told them I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel…say unto them…your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, from 20 years old and upward which have murmured against me. Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh  and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. (Numbers 14:27, 29-31)

Oh, oh, oh, what a pronouncement. What a price to pay! They would get what they said, they would die in the wilderness, never to see the promised land.  Watch what comes out of your mouth. The spoken word has power.

The morning after these disastrous events the pillar of cloud lifted and God led the Hebrews back into the wilderness by the way of the Red. Sea. It would be 40 years before they would be back to the promised land.

People read these stories in the Old Testament and they see this strict and judgmental side of God and think he is unfair, or cruel. You have heard about folks who have a method in their madness. They do something that looks stupid or wrong, but when it is all said and done you can see those actions that did not make sense accomplished a purpose in the end. God is like that. First of all, God is just. It is his justice that holds the universe in place. We don’t understand what he does because we do not see what he sees, or know what he knows.

You might think it is unfair of God to give the land of Canaan to the Hebrews, when it was already owned by another people. But, who were the inhabitants of Canaan? How did they happen to be there? Why did God intend to destroy them?  He had a reason. As a matter of fact he had more than one reason. I am not going to tell you the reasons, for that is another subject altogether. But, you can find out if you want to. And then you will begin to appreciate the God of the Old Testament.

An illustration of the garments of the high priest, from Leviticus chapter 8/Wikimedia Commons

Not all the adventures of Moses and the Hebrew children can be covered in this short space. Already it has drawn into three sections and will go to four, but now there is one more important incident to know about. Some of the people  began to resent Moses’ leadership, and led by Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On they began to declare presumptuously that they were just as important as Moses and Aaron. Moses fell on his face before God when he heard this, and when he got up he put the dissenters, 250 people, to a test. Korah, the leader of this faction was of the lineage of Levi, as was Moses and Aaron, and already was in a high position of ministry. Moses asked Korah if he was not satisfied being chosen as a minister of God, and accused him of seeking the priesthood also.

Then Dathan and Abiram accused Moses of trying to be a prince over them and blamed him because they did not get to enter the promised land, when in fact it was their own fault because they would not join Joshua and Caleb and fight the inhabitants of Canaan for the land. Moses told Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their whole company to each bring a censer and incense and fire tomorrow. The next day the whole congregation of the Hebrews was there to watch as all 250 dissenters lit their censers at the door of the tabernacle. The glory of God appeared, but God was very angry and told Moses and Aaron to step aside, he was going to kill the whole bunch including the spectators. Again Moses interceded for the people and God relented somewhat.

In the end the entire households of Korah, Dathan and Abiram were called out and the ground opened up beneath them and swallowed them alive. In another location we are told Korah’s children did not die; presumably the other children involved did not. And then a fire from the Lord consumed the 250 dissenters.

All you people out there who think God is a wimp because you are getting by, don’t be fooled. He is not a wimp, but he is not willing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9) The Hebrews exhausted his patience. Don’t let that be you.

 

 

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