Old Testament Lesson 15 (Numbers 11–14; 21:1–9)
The journey toward the promised land resumed 1 year, 1 month, and 20 days after the Israelites were freed from bondage in Egypt. As they moved out from Mt. Sinai, faithful Midianites were invited to join the migration (Numbers 10:29–36).
“Hobab, brother-in-law of Moses was persuaded, though at first unwilling to accompany Israel and to be to them ‘instead of eyes’ or to serve as a guide. Although Jehovah gave general directions, Hobab knew the area and could help locate specific trails, campsites, etc. That he and his family went and did become heirs to lands in the land of Israel is apparent later (Judges 1:16; 4:11; 1 Sam. 15:6, 2 Kings 10:15; 1 Chron. 2:55). As late as Jeremiah 35 . . . that prophet cites them as exemplary for integrity.”1
COMPLAINTS AND REBELLION
The children of Israel had been a complaining people since the time that they left Egypt. Despite dozens of miracles and mighty manifestations from Mt. Sinai, they continued acting like bratty children who will not be obedient and are not thankful for anything they receive.
Murmuring about Manna
● Rebels complained and were destroyed by fire (Numbers 11:1–3).
● Moses was angry and discouraged, and felt the burden of leadership was too much for him. But he did not reject his people. Rather, he pled with the Lord to help him know what to do (Numbers 11:10–15).
The Calling of the Seventy
● About a year earlier, the Lord had given a special spiritual experience to 70 “elders” chosen from the various tribes. He allowed them to come up into Mount Sinai to see the personage of the Lord from a distance. We do not know if this group of seventy men was identical with that one (Exodus 24:9–11).
● These new seventy heard the voice of the Lord, giving them a special witness of Him, and the gift of prophecy as well (v. 25).
● Moses was happy for their spiritual gifts: “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and . . . the Lord . . . put his spirit upon them!” (v. 29).
● The great council of seventy set up by Moses is believed by scholars to be the origin of the body which became known in later centuries as the Sanhedrin.
The Lord Provides Quail for Meat
● Because of their complaining, Israel was promised quail until it became loathsome to them (Numbers 11:18–23). Their complaints showed that they “despised” God (v. 20).
● An east wind brought in a tremendous flock of quail (Numbers 11:31–35).
—The people turned gluttonous. The smallest catch equaled about 65 bushel baskets—far beyond what could be preserved.
—The Bible says they “were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.” The correct meaning appears in the Vulgate which says, “They flew in the air, two cubits high above the ground.”2 In other words, it was easy to gather large numbers of the quail because they flew low where they could be quickly caught.
—Apparently some of the people who had “lusted” for flesh did not waste time preserving the birds for future use but went ahead stuffing themselves like gluttons. “And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. And he [Moses] called the name of that place Kibroth-hataavah [the graves of lust] because there they buried the people that lusted.” (Numbers 11:33–34).
Miriam and Aaron Challenge Moses’ Leadership
● Aaron and Miriam said that they, too, had received revelation (Numbers 12:1–2). They also accused Moses of unrighteousness because of the Ethiopian woman he had married in Egypt. (Josephus wrote about this incident, but it is not found in the Bible).
● A testimonial about Moses’ humility (Numbers 12:3). He was not an arrogant leader. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Meekness implies a spirit of gratitude as opposed to an attitude of self-sufficiency, an acknowledgment of a greater power beyond oneself, a recognition of God, and an acceptance of his commandments.”3
● The Lord’s definition of a prophet, and His reply to their complaint (Numbers 12:5–9). President James E. Faust said, “The prophets, seers, and revelators have had and still have the responsibility and privilege of receiving and declaring the word of God for the world. Individual members, parents, and leaders have the right to receive revelation for their own responsibility but have no duty nor right to declare the word of God beyond the limits of their own responsibility.”4
● Because of her rebellion, Miriam became leprous. Moses plead for her healing, which was granted after a brief period of suffering (Numbers 12:10–15).
● Joseph Smith faced similar insurrections by those who wanted to share or usurp his mantle (D&C 5:6–10). But the Lord was clear to Joseph Smith, “this generation shall have my word through you”(v. 10).
AT THE BORDER OF CANAAN
The children of Israel soon arrived at the border of the promised land at a place called Korah. They would have been permitted to enter into the land immediately, had they been obedient and willing. But once again, rebellion led to misery; they were forbidden to enter and then wandered in the wilderness for nearly forty years until those who had rebelled had all died.
Fear Leads to Denial of Entry
● Twelve men, one per tribe, were sent to spy on Canaan (Numbers 13:17–20).
● Two returned with a good report: The land flowed with milk and honey. Ten others returned with an evil report: The people were strong and warlike, with giants among them (Numbers 13:23–33).
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“Ten of the spies were victims of their own doubts and fears. They gave a negative report of the numbers and stature of the Canaanites. . They compared themselves as grasshoppers to the giants they had seen in the land. . . .
“We see some around us who are indifferent concerning the future of this work, who are apathetic, who speak of limitations, who express fears, who spend their time digging out and writing about what they regard to be weaknesses which really are of no consequence. With doubt concerning its past, they have no vision concerning its future. . . .
“There is no place in this work for those who believe only in the gospel of doom and gloom. The gospel is good news. It is a message of triumph. It is a cause to be embraced with enthusiasm.
“The Lord never said that there would not be troubles. Our people have known afflictions of every sort as those who have opposed this work have come upon them. But faith has shown through all their sorrows. This work has consistently moved forward and has never taken a backward step since its inception . . .
“This is an age of pessimism. Ours is a mission of faith. To my brethren and sisters everywhere, I call upon you to reaffirm your faith, to move this work forward across the world. You can make it stronger by the manner in which you live.”5
● Israel believed the evil report, rebelled, and sought to return to Egypt (Numbers 14:1–5).
● Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade them otherwise (Numbers 14:6–10).
● The Lord was angry with them and threatened to destroy them (Numbers 14:11–12).
● Moses interceded with the Lord in behalf of Israel (Numbers 14:13–19).
● The Lord then declared that those who did not want to enter the land . . . would never enter the land (Numbers 14:20–35).
Willful Rebellion Ensues
● The ten men who delivered the negative report die of a plague (Numbers 14:36–39).
● Like immature children who missed the whole point, some suddenly repented, saying they would now go up against the Canaanites. Moses said it was too late, and if they went up now it would be without God’s power. Some refused to listed to the Lord again and went forward anyway and were killed or captured (Numbers 14:40–45).
Aaron’s Rod Blossoms
● The deaths of the ten men who delivered a negative report subsequently brought rebellion from the children of Israel, who accused Moses and Aaron of killing them.
● Aaron’s rod was then caused by the Lord to bud as a miraculous sign of whom the Lord had appointed to lead Israel (Aaron and Moses) (Numbers 17:1–13). This rod was placed into the Ark of the Covenant as a perpetual reminder to Israel of whom God had appointed to lead them.
Priesthood Responsibilities and Blessings
● A distinction was made between the Aaronic and Levitical orders of the priesthood (Numbers 18:1–7).
— The Levitical Order: Given to those of “the tribe of Levi” (Numbers 18:2).
— The Priests: Chosen from Aaron’s sons and direct descendants.
— The High Priest: Firstborn son of Aaron and firstborn heirs thereafter.
● Levites and Priests were to be supported by the tithes and offerings of the people (Numbers 18:8–24). They were not given land because their inheritance was the priesthood (v. 20). To scatter them among the tribes and provide homes for the Levites, Moses later commanded that 48 “Levite cities” be established for them (35:1–8). Levites paid a tithing to the Priests on what they received (35:25–32).
● Directions were also given for ceremonial purification for those who had been in the presence of one who died or had been dead (Numbers 19).
The Deaths of Miriam and Aaron
● Miriam, who was older than Moses, died at this time in the Wilderness of Zin (Numbers 20:1).
● Water sprang from a rock at Kadesh in response to more complaining from the children of Israel (Numbers 20:2–13). In frustration, Moses took credit for the miracle and did not perform it in the way the Lord specified. For this sin, he was denied entrance into the promised land.
● Aaron’s authority was given to his firstborn son Eleazar before Aaron’s death. This was done privately by Moses on Mount Hor (Numbers 20:22–29).
The Brazen Serpent on a Pole
● Fiery serpents are sent among the people in punishment for more complaining (Numbers 21:4–7).
● Moses raised a brass serpent on a pole as commanded by the Lord (Numbers 21:8–9). Whoever showed faith in the Lord’s power to save by looking on the brazen serpent was saved.
● Nephi said that some refused to avail themselves of this miracle because of the “simpleness of the way” (1 Nephi 17:41). Alma said the people had no faith that it would heal them (Alma 33:18–22). Nephi, son of Helaman, said that Moses and later prophets taught the children of Israel that the brazen serpent was a type of Christ (Helaman 8:14–15). Jesus also used it as a type of himself (John 3:14–15).
● Boyd K. Packer said, “‘How silly,’ some must have said. ‘How can such a thing cure me? I’ll not show my stupidity by paying any attention,’ and some would not look . . . And today many say, ‘How silly! How could accepting Christ save me?’ They will not turn their heads to look nor incline their ears to hear. They ignore the great witness that comes from these conferences. We ought to, indeed we must, heed the counsel of these men, for the Lord said, ‘What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.'”6
● Carlos E. Asay said, “We, like Israel of old, must rivet our eyes and minds upon . . . Christ if we hope to gain eternal life. . . . Our looks must not be allowed to wander across the way or to become fixed upon the perishable things of the world. The eye . . . must be trained to look upward. We must look to God and live!”7
FROM KADESH TO THE PLAINS OF MOAB
38 Years of Wandering
● For the next 38 years, the child of Israel wandered through the wilderness as vagabonds without a land of their own. For reasons not known to us now, Moses did not describe those years in his record. But they were, at one time recorded in the “Book of the Wars of the Lord” and rehearsed in the proverbs of the people (Numbers 21:14–15, 27–30).
● Thus, between the rebellion of Israel at Korah (Numbers 16–17) and the request for passage through the land of Edom (Numbers 20), thirty-eight years of wandering had transpired for a journey that would normally take 11–14 days.
1. Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 2 vols. , 1:115.
2. Clarke, Bible Commentary, 6 vols. [n.d.], 1:654.
3. “With All Thy Getting Get Understanding,” Ensign, Aug. 1988, 3–4.
4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 9; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 8.
5. In Conference Report, Oct 1995, 93–94; Ensign, Nov 1995, 71–72.
6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 75–76.
7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1978, 81; or Ensign, Nov. 1978, 54.