Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Chapter 18

CHAPTER 18

Murmuring Of Miriam And Aaron - The Spies Sent To Canaan - Their "Evil Report" - Rebellion Of The People, And Judgment Pronounced Upon Them - The Defeat Of Israel - "Unto Hormah"
Numbers 12-14

HITHERTO the spirit of rebellion on the part of the people had been directed against Jehovah Himself. If Moses had lately complained of continual trials in connection with those to whom he stood in no way closely related, (Numbers 11:12) he was now to experience the full bitterness of this,

"A man's foes shall be they of his own household." (Matthew 10:36)

From Kibroth-hattaavah Israel had journeyed to Hazeroth, a station the more difficult to identify from the commonness of such "fenced enclosures" in that neighborhood. * Here Miriam and - apparently at her instigation, ** - Aaron also "spake against Moses," as it is added, "because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married," referring most likely to a second marriage which Moses had contracted after the death of Zipporah.

* For the reason mentioned in a previous chapter we are unable to accept Professor Palmer's identification of Hazeroth with 'Ain Hadherah, however interesting the notices. See Desert of the Exodus, vol i., pp. 256,259, 261, and vol. ii., pp. 289, 313, etc.

** We gather this from the name of Miriam being first mentioned, and from the fact that Numbers 12:1 reads in the original: "And she spake, Miriam and Aaron, against Moses."

For the first time we here encounter that pride of Israel after the flesh and contempt for all other nations, which has appeared through-out their after history, and in proportion as they have misunderstood the spiritual meaning of their calling. Thus, as Calvin remarks, Miriam and Aaron now actually boasted in that prophetic gift, which should have only wrought in them a sense of deep humility. (Numbers 12:2) But Moses was not like any ordinary prophet, although in his extreme meekness he would not vindicate his own position (12:3). He "was faithful," or approved, "to Him that appointed him," (Hebrews 3:2, 5) not merely in any one special matter, but "in all the house" of Jehovah, that is, in all pertaining to the kingdom of God. And the Lord now vindicated His servant both by public declaration, and by punishing Miriam with leprosy. At the entreaty of Aaron, who owned his sister's and his own guilt, and at the intercession of Moses, this punishment was indeed removed. But the isolation of Miriam from the camp of Israel would teach all, how one who had boasted in privileges greater than those of others might be deprived even of the ordinary fellowship of Israel's camp.

The seven days of Miriam's separation were past, and Israel again resumed the march towards the Land of Promise. They had almost reached its boundary, when the event happened which not only formed the turning-point in the history of that generation, but which, more than any other, was typical of the future of Israel. For as that generation in their unbelief refused to enter the Land of Promise when its possession lay open before them, and as they rebelled against God and cast off the authority of Moses, so did their children reject the fulfillment of the promises in Christ Jesus, disown Him whom God had exalted a Prince and a Savior, and cry out: "Away with Him! away with Him!" And as the carcasses of those who had rebelled fell in the wilderness, so has similar spiritual judgment followed upon the terrible cry: "His blood be upon us and upon our children!" But, blessed be God, as mercy was ultimately in store for the descendants of that rebellious generation, so also, in God's own time, will Israel turn again unto the Lord and enjoy the promises made unto the fathers.

The scene of this ever-memorable event was "the wilderness of Paran," or, to define the locality more exactly, Kadesh-barnea. (Numbers 13:26; Deuteronomy 1:19) The spot has first been identified by Dr. Rowlands and Canon Williams, * and since so fully described by Professor Palmer, that we can follow the progress of events, step by step. Kadesh is the modern 'Ain Gadis, or spring of Kadesh, and lies in that north-eastern plateau of the wilderness of Paran, which formed the stronghold of the Amorites. ** A little north of it begins the Negeb or "south country" of Palestine,***   which, as already explained, reaches to about Beersheba, and where the Promised Land really begins.

* The merit of the discovery unquestionably belongs to Dr. Rowlands and Canon Williams. See Williams, Holy City, vol. 1., p. 464.

** Kadesh was formerly called En Mishpat, "Well of Judgment," Genesis 14:7. The recurrence of the En in the earlier name identifies it more closely with the 'Ain Gadis of Canon Williams, Mr. Wilton, and Professor Palmer.

*** The rendering "south," in our Authorized Version, is apt to confuse the general reader.

The district is suited for pasturage, and contains abundant traces of former habitation, and, in the north, also evidence of the former cultivation of vines. Here, and not, as is usually supposed, in the neighborhood of Hebron, we must look for that valley of Eshcol,* whence the spies afterwards on their return brought the clusters of grapes, as specimens of the productiveness of the country, Kadesh itself is the plain at the foot of the cliff whence the 'Ain Gadis springs.

* Eshcol means in Hebrew a bunch of grapes.

To the east is a ridge of mountains, to the west stretches a wide plain, where the Canaanites had gathered to await the advance of Israel. Hence, if the spies were to "get up this Negeb" ("south country "), they had "to go up by the mountain," (Numbers 13:17, 22) in order to avoid the host of Canaan. In so doing they made a detour, passing south of 'Ain Gadis, through what is called in Scripture the wilderness of Zin (13:21), from which they ascended into the mountains. Thus much seems necessary to understand the localization of the narrative.

But to return. From Deuteronomy 1:22, we gather that the proposal of sending spies "to search out the land" had originally come from the people. By permission of the Lord, Moses had agreed to it, (Numbers 13:1) adding, however, a warning to "be of good courage" (Numbers 13:20), lest this should be associated with fear of the people of the land. Twelve persons, seemingly the most suitable for the work, - spiritually and otherwise - were chosen from "the rulers "of the tribes.*

* Not from the "princes," as appears by a comparison of names. Comp Numbers 13:4-15 with 1:5, etc.; 7:12, etc.

Of these we only know Caleb and Joshua, the "minister of Moses," whose name Moses had formerly changed from Hoshea, which means "help," to Joshua, or "Jehovah is help." Detailed and accurate directions having been given them, the spies left the camp of Israel "at the time of the first-ripe grapes," that is, about the end of July. Thus far they were successful. Eluding the Canaanites, they entered Palestine, and searched the land to its northernmost boundary., "unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath," that is, as far as the plain of Coele-Syria. On their way back, coming from the north, they would of course not be suspected. Accordingly they now descended by Hebron, and explored the route which led into the Negeb by the western edge of the mountains. "In one of these extensive valleys -perhaps in Wady Hanein, where miles of grape-mounds even now meet the eye - they cut the gigantic cluster of grapes, and gathered the pomegranates and figs, to show how goodly was the land which the Lord had promised for their inheritance."*

* Palmer's Desert of the Exodus, vol. 2., p. 512

After forty days absence the spies returned to camp. The report and the evidence of the fruitfulness of the land which they brought, fully confirmed the original promise of God to Israel. (Exodus 3:8) But they added: (Numbers 13:28) "Only that the people is strong which occupieth the land, and the cities fortified, very great, and also descendants of the Anak have we seen there,"* whom, in their fear, they seem to have identified (ver. 33) with the Nephilim of the antediluvian world.**

* So literally. "The Anak" were probably a race or tribe, perhaps remnants of the original-inhabitants of Palestine before the Canaanites took possession of it. The meaning of Anak is probably "long-necked."

** Genesis 6:4. Rendered in the Authorized Version "giants," in Numbers 13:33.

This account produced immediate terror, which Caleb sought in vain to allay. His opposition only elicited stronger language on the part of the other "spies," culminating in their assertion, that, even if Israel were to possess the land, it was one "that eateth up its inhabitants," that is, a country surrounded and peopled by fierce races in a state of constant warfare for its possession. Thus the most trustworthy and the bravest from among their tribes, with only the exception of Caleb and of Joshua (whose testimony might be set aside on the ground of his intimate relationship to Moses), now declared their inability either to conquer or to hold the land, for the sake of which they had left the comforts of Egypt and endured the hardships and dangers of "the great and terrible wilderness. A night of complete demoralization followed - the result being open revolt against Moses and Aaron, direct rebellion against Jehovah, and a proposal to elect a fresh leader and return to Egypt! In vain Moses and Aaron "fell on their faces" before God in sight of all the congregation; in vain Joshua and Caleb "rent their clothes" in token of mourning, and besought the people to remember that the Presence of Jehovah with them implied certain success. The excited people only "spake" of stoning them, when of a sudden "the glory of Jehovah visibly appeared in the tent of meeting to all the children of Israel." (Numbers 14:10) Almost had the Lord destroyed the whole people on the spot, when Moses again interposed - a type of the great Leader and Mediator of His people. With pleadings more urgent than ever before, he wrestled with God - his language in its intensity consisting of short, abrupt sentences, piled, as it were, petition on petition, but all founded on the glory of God, on His past dealings, and especially on the greatness of His mercy, repeating in reference to this the very words in which the Lord had formerly condescended to reveal His inmost Being, when proclaiming His "Name" before Moses. (Exodus 33:17, 19) Such plea could not remain unheeded; it was typical of the great plea and the great Pleader. But as, when long afterwards Israel called down upon themselves and their children the blood of Jesus, long and sore judgments were to befall the stiffnecked and rebellious, even although ultimately all Israel should be saved, so was it at Kadesh. According to the number of days that the spies had searched the land, were to be the years of their wanderings in the wilderness, and of all that generation which had come out from Egypt, at the age of twenty and upwards, not one was to enter the Land of Promise,* but their carcasses were to fall in that wilderness, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua.** But as for the other ten searchers of the land, quick destruction overtook them, and they "died by the plague before Jehovah."

* It may be instructive to know that Numbers 14:21 should be rendered: "but as truly as I live, and all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah."

** As the tribe o� Levi was not numbered with the rest (Numbers 1), they did not apparently fall within the designation of those who were to die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:29). Comp. Joshua 14:1, etc. The Rabbis enumerate literally ten temptations on the part of Israel (Numbers 14:22); it need scarcely be said, very fancifully.

This commencement of Divine judgment, coupled as it was with abundant evidence of its reality - especially in the immediate destruction of the ten spies, while Caleb and Joshua were preserved alive - produced an effect so strange and unlooked for, that we could scarcely understand it, but for kindred experience in all ages of the Church. It was now quite plain to Israel what they might, and certainly would have obtained, had they only gone forward. Yesterday that Land of Promise - in all its beauty and with all its riches - so close at hand as to be almost within sight of those mountain ranges, was literally theirs. Today it was lost to them. Not one of their number was even to see it. More than that, their carcasses were to fall in that wilderness! All this simply because they would not go forward yesterday! Let them do so today. If they had then done wrong, let them do the opposite today, and they would do right. Moreover, it was to Israel that God had pledged His word, and as Israel, He would have brought them into the land. They were Israel still let them now go forward and claim Israel's portion. But it was not so; and never is so in kindred circumstances. The wrong of our rebellion and unbelief is not turned into right by attempting the exact opposite. His still the same spirit, which prompted the one, that influences the other. The obedience which is not of simple faith is of self-confidence, and only another kind of unbelief and self-righteousness. It is not the doing of this or that, nor the circumstance of outwardly belonging to Israel, which secures victory over the enemy, safety, or possession of the land. It is that "Jehovah is among us." (Numbers 14:42) And the victory is ever that of faith. Not a dead promise to the descendants of Jacob after the flesh, but the presence of the living God among His believing Israel secured to them the benefits of the covenant. And Israel's determination to go up on the morrow, and so to retrieve the past, argued as great spiritual ignorance and unfitness, and involved as much rebellion and sin, as their former faint-heartedness and rebellion at the report of the spies.

In vain Moses urged these considerations on the people. The people "presumed * to go up to the head of the mountain," although Moses and the Ark of the Covenant of Jehovah remained behind in the camp.

* "Raised themselves up to go." This rendering seems the best. Others have translated, "they despised, so as," etc., or, "they persistently contended."

From Kadesh it is only about twenty miles to Hormah, to which place their enemies afterwards "smote and discomfited them." As we know from the descriptions of travelers, increasing fertility, cultivation, and civilization must have met the host as it advanced into the Negeb. The Israelites were in fact nearing what they must have felt home-ground - sacred to them by association with Abraham and Isaac. For a little to the north of Hormah are the wells of Rehoboth, Sitnah, and Beersheba, which Abraham and Isaac had dug, the memory of which is to this day preserved in the modern names of Ruheibeh, Shutneh, and Bir Seba. Abraham himself had "journeyed toward the Negeb, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur," (Genesis 20:1) and Isaac had followed closely in his footsteps. (Genesis 26:17-end) And of the next occupants of the land, the Amorites, we find almost constantly recurring mementoes, and nowhere more distinctly than in the immediate neighborhood of Hormah. From Judges 1:17, we know that that city, or probably rather the fort commanding it, had originally borne the name of Zephath, which simply means "watch-tower." The name Hormah, or "banning," was probably given it on a later occasion, when, after the attack of the king of Arad, Israel had "vowed the vow" utterly to destroy the cities of the Canaanites (Numbers 21:1-3). But, as Dr. Rowlands and Canon Williams have shown, the name Zephath has been preserved in the ruins of Sebaita, while Professor Palmer has discovered, close by, the ancient "watch-tower," which was a strong fort on the top of a hill commanding Sebaita. It is intensely interesting, amid the ruins of later fortifications, to come upon these primeval remains, which mark not only the ancient site of Zephath, but may represent the very fort behind which the Amorites and Canaanites defended themselves against Israel, and whence they issued to this war. As if to make it impossible to mistake this "mountain of the Amorites," the valley north of Sebaita bears to this day the name Dheigat el 'Amerin, or Ravine of the Amorites, and the chain of mountains to the south-west of the fort that of Ras Amir, "head" or top "of the Amorites." *

* Desert of the Exodus, vol. 2. p. 380.

Israel had presumed to go up into this mountain-top without the presence of Jehovah, without the Ark of the Covenant, and without Moses. Yesterday they had been taught the lesson that their seeming weakness would be real strength, if Jehovah were among them. To-day they had in bitter experience to find out this other and equally painful truth - that their seeming strength was real weakness. Smitten and discomfited by their enemies, they fled "even unto Hormah."