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Bible: What Does Numbers 12-14 Teach Us About Faithful Leadership and National Unbelief?

Updated on September 8, 2016

Moses, the Covenant Mediator


Miriam, Sister of Moses and Aaron


Moses, Miriam and Aaron

Moses’ marriage to an Ethiopian so upsets Miriam and Aaron that they criticize him openly, claiming that they too have authority (i.e., they believe that Moses has disqualified himself for leadership through adultery) [vv. 1-2].

[Verse 3 is Moses’ parenthetical aside in which he asserts his own humility—a statement better left unsaid, unless written while under God’s inspired authority].

Desiring to nip this dissension in the bud, Yahweh calls a confab with all three (v. 4), but speaks from the pillar of cloud to the two critics alone (v. 5).

“Prophets,” the LORD says quietly, “hear my word in a vision or dream.

Moses I talk to face to face, and He sees My form.”

[Moses is a prophet, but he is also a mediatorial ruler in the nation of Israel.]

Then He rebukes Miriam and Aaron for their actions, and departs from their midst (vv. 6-9).

Without explicit warning, Miriam—probably the initiator of the criticism and thus the one under judgment—becomes leprous (v. 10).

[Aaron again allows public opinion to sway his better judgment; nevertheless, he experiences no divine judgment].

Aaron pleads with Moses to pray that the LORD would have mercy, forgive their sin, and restore their sister; Moses acquiesces to his brother’s plea and intercedes for her (vv. 11-13).

Although her sin was far more heinous than one that would earn her spit in the face, the LORD shows mercy, setting her period of chastening at only one week (v. 14).

After her week of humiliation outside the camp, Israel resumes their journey, traveling from Hazeroth to the Wilderness of Paran (vv. 15-16). [Was Moses’ marriage legitimate? Why did God not chasten Aaron also?]

The Twelve Spies


"There Are Giants in the Land!"

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Numbers 13

Yahweh directs Moses to send twelve spies, one leader from each tribe, to search Canaan (vv. 1-2), and the patriarch obeys His command (v. 3).

Twelve men leave their camp, including Caleb and Joshua (vv. 4-16; see vv. 6, 8).

Moses gives them directions to the Land (v. 17), and instructions on what information to gather from their expedition (vv. 18-20).

Their survey should include data about the strength and number of the Land’s inhabitants (v. 18), the agricultural prospects (vv. 19a, 20a), and the community development (v. 19b).

He also encourages them to retrieve some evidence of the fruitfulness of the Land (v. 20).

The spies travel far in the Land, arriving at Hebron where they encounter the descendants of Anak who, as the Israelites report later, are giants (vv. 21-22; cf. 33).

After forty days they return to camp at Kadesh, carrying a cluster of grapes, pomegranates, and figs with them (vv. 23-26), and bringing a report of the great obstacles that stood between them and possessing the Land (vv. 27-29).

Seeking to quiet the congregation after they hear this pessimistic news, Caleb attempts to rally the troops (v. 30).

The other men, however, continue their negativity, stressing the greatness of the land, the gigantic size of its inhabitants, and their own relative puniness by any measure (vv. 31-33).

[If you hold a low opinion of your own God-given abilities (“grasshoppers in our own sight”), others will recognize this attitude in your manner, elevate themselves in their own sight, and treat you with disrespect.

The keys to a having proper assessment of yourself are

(1) knowing Whose you are, and

(2) acknowledging that He will enable you to fulfill your calling].

Moses Displeased


Numbers 14

The “bad report” devastates the people’s morale, and sets them against the primary leadership, Moses and Aaron (vv. 1-3).

Their complaints result in general rebellion, even to the point of deciding to choose a different leader to take them back to Egypt (v. 4).

Hearing their treason, Moses and Aaron prostrate themselves before God (in fear of the LORD’s response) [v. 5].

Joshua and Caleb, however, tear their clothes in grief and try to reason with the unruly assembly, asserting that the LORD will defeat their enemies and give them that good Land if He is pleased with them and if they stop rebelling (vv. 6-9).

Their effort goes unrewarded, however, for the people angrily choose to stone their leaders. Suddenly, the LORD appears in the tabernacle of meeting (v. 10).

Apparently testing Moses, Yahweh threatens to destroy the people because of their unbelief (vv. 11-12).

Moses again intercedes for Israel, reasoning that the nations would perceive the demise of the people at His hand as Yahweh’s inability to fulfill His promise to give them their own land (vv. 13-16).

He reiterates to the LORD His own words regarding His merciful character (v. 18; cf. Ex. 20:5), and pleads that He pardon Israel once again (v. 19).

The LORD responds favorably to Moses’ intercession, but determines to prevent the people from entering the Land.

Two Faith-Filled Spies

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Joshua and Caleb

All of them—all but Caleb (and Joshua, though He does not mention him here) because he “has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully”—will wander in the wilderness (vv. 20-24).

Consequently, Yahweh directs Moses to turn Israel away from Canaan and into the desert (v. 25).

Moses delivers the bad news to the complainers: they will die in the wilderness and not enter the Land (vv. 26-29).

Except for Caleb and Joshua (v. 30)), the entire number of warriors counted earlier (over six hundred thousand!) will fall (v. 30; cf. Num. 1:46).

Their children will inherit the Land, but they will not (vv. 31-32).

As they die during their forty-year stint in the desert, their children will suffer and work as shepherds (v. 33).

[Verse 34 points out that for each day that the spies searched out the Land (i.e., forty), they will spend one year wandering].

This latter word of gradual death and wandering is a promise from the LORD (v. 35).

A plague immediately claims the lives of those leaders who brought back a bad report; Yahweh spares only Caleb and Joshua (vv. 36-38).

Distraught by the LORD’s program of judgment, an unspecified number of Israelites overstep/transgress His command and plan to invade Canaan (vv. 39-40).

Despite Moses’ warning that they would fall by the sword because Yahweh would not fight for them, these folk still presume to go up to the “mountaintop” (vv. 41-44).

As predicted, the hill-dwelling Canaanites defeat those Israelites who presumed that God would go with them (v. 45).

© 2014 glynch1


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