THE BIBLE STORY
Table of Contents
Chapter 31 THE TABERNACLE BUILT
Chapter 32 THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD
Chapter 33 LAWS OF HEALTH
Chapter 34 THE PLAN OF SALVATION
Chapter 35 "CHOOSE YOU THIS DAY ..."
Chapter 36 ISRAEL BREAKS CAMP
Chapter 37 QUAIL FOR TWO MILLION
Chapter 38 TWELVE SCOUTS SEARCH CANAAN
Chapter 39 SCOUTS REPORT SEEING GIANTS!
Chapter 40 MOB ATTACKS MOSES
Chapter 41 REBELS CHALLENGE GOD'S GOVERNMENT
Chapter 42 "THE EARTH OPENED ITS MOUTH"
Chapter 43 ON TO CANAAN AGAIN!
Chapter 44 THE TROUBLESOME ROAD TO CANAAN
Chapter 45 WAR WITH THE AMORITES
Chapter 46 KING'S RANSOM TEMPTS A PROPHET
Chapter 47 BALAAM'S FOUR PROPHECIES
Chapter 48 VICTORY EAST OF THE JORDAN
Chapter 49 THE CONSTITUTION OF ISRAEL
Chapter 50 JOSHUA NOW LEADS ISRAEL
Chapter 51 THE PROMISED LAND
Chapter 52 WALLS OF JERICHO FALL
Chapter 53 ONE MAN'S SIN
Chapter 54 CONQUEST OF BETHEL AND AI
Chapter 55 "AND THE SUN STOOD STILL"
by Herbert W. Armstrong
In response to overwhelming demand this second and revised
volume of "The Bible Story" is published. We are thrilled, and
overjoyed, because of the enthusiastic acceptance of Volume I.
Those who have read the first volume know that there has
never been a Bible story book like this. There have, of course,
been many Bible story books -- too many, of a kind. But candidly
they seemed, to me, to have no mission, except to entertain
children. They seemed to try to compete with the exciting fiction
of violence of which youngsters see entirely too much on
television -- or read in cheap novels or comic books.
These children's Bible story books were a series of
disconnected blood-and-thunder stories drawn from certain
Biblical incidents. There was no connection between one and
another, or with the Gospel. They were shorn of their real
meaning. They seemed to me to degrade the Bible in children's
minds. The real connection of these Biblically recorded incidents
with the MEANING and PURPOSE of life -- of God's message to
mankind -- was ignored. Yet all these incidents are recorded in
the Bible BECAUSE they have real and deep MEANING. They teach
vital lessons that ought to be made plain to children -- and to
adults as well!
For years, in my ministry, I felt an overpowering sense of
responsibility, mingled with a feeling of inadequacy, for getting
the proper teaching to children. It was a frustrating
consciousness, for my time was so completely filled in the
ministry to adults. I early had come to realize that the newborn
infant knows nothing at birth. Humans must learn and be taught.
Born in a predominately paganized world, the infant is taught
from birth in the customs and ways of society. It would never
occur to him to question them. They are simply absorbed -- taken
for granted -- accepted. In school the child is not graded on
ability to prove whether the teaching is true or false. He is
graded on willingness to accept without question, memorize and
absorb whatever is taught. Educators have, as Paul wrote, been
reluctant to retain God in the knowledge they disseminate (Romans
Today's children are born into a confused, mixed-up, divided
religious babylon. The hundreds of organized religious
denominations and sects cannot agree on WHAT the Gospel is; on
who or what God is; on whether Christ was human, divine, or both;
whether there is a devil; what salvation is; what or where the
reward of the "saved" shall be; or how one may obtain it. Each
one seems to take for granted whatever brand of religious belief
has been taught him from childhood.
It is ten times more difficult to UNLEARN error than to
learn TRUTH. This, then, is the dilemma that challenged me:
children, still today, are being reared in the same old secular
pagan philosophies and customs, with the addition of the
so-called scientific approach that has arrived with the
acceptance of the theory of evolution. This atheists' attempt to
explain the presence of a creation without the existence of a
Creator has become the basic concept by which all causes, origins
and purposes are explained. By the time these innocent children
have been inoculated with this anti-God poison and reached
maturity, most of them have too much to unlearn before their
minds can accept original truth. An inborn prejudice has been set
up. And prejudice is an absolute barrier to the entrance of TRUTH
into the mind.
But what could I do about it?
Children need, as they need life itself, an awareness of the
basic TRUTHS of the Bible WHILE THEY ARE GROWING UP! If only we
could get to them the knowledge of God -- of the Creator and His
vast creation -- of His authority and rulership over the creation
He brought into being and now sustains -- of the invisible yet
inexorable spiritual laws He set in motion to regulate
relationships and produce happiness, peace and everything good --
of the knowledge that the Bible definition of sin is simply the
transgression of these laws operating for our good -- of the
basic knowledge of God's purpose being worked out here below, and
of His plan for working it out -- of the biblical revelation of
Christ and what He means to us today -- of the vital connection
of case histories, incidents, experiences -- so often seized upon
as material for the blood-and-thunder type Bible stories -- with
God's overall purpose, and with the Gospel -- if only growing
children could be possessed of this knowledge, they would not be
deceived and misled by the teaching of the secular school
Years ago this realization plagued me. God had called me to
an important ministry which He was blessing with rapid and
constant growth. But the children were being neglected in this
ministry. How could I supply this lack? For years it was a
HOW could I get to growing children a real knowledge of God
-- of the Creator and His vast creation -- of His power,
authority, and rulership over all He created -- of the very
PURPOSE in having put humans on this earth -- of the vital
CONNECTION between these Biblical incidents and the meaning of
In due time God supplied the man for this important
undertaking. Basil Wolverton was a nationally known artist in the
United States. His work appeared in more than fifty nationally
circulated magazines. He was both an artist and a trained writer.
He was converted through The WORLD TOMORROW broadcast many years
ago. He was a student and teacher of the Bible.
In November, 1958, "The Bible Story" started, serially, in
"The PLAIN TRUTH."
But it is NOT written ONLY for children! We like to say it
is written for children from 5 to 105! Mr. Wolverton wrote in
simple, understandable language, easily read by children at the
nine- to twelve-year-old level, yet INTERESTING to adults as
With professional expertness, Mr. Wolverton makes this
story-flow gripping and thrilling in plain and simple words.
Parents can read this book to four- and five-year-olds, and, with
a little explaining, make it understandable and also absorbing
"The Bible Story" is definitely NOT a series of disconnected
stories of excitement and violence with no special meaning. Our
purpose is to tell simply, in language children can read and
understand, plainly, yet interestingly the story of the Bible
itself, beginning at the beginning. A continuous story thread
runs through the entire Bible. Not many have ever grasped this
amazing yet important fact. Most people read a verse here or a
chapter there, failing to properly connect them, or understand
the true continuity of the Bible story.
Mr. Wolverton stuck to the literal Biblical account. He has
taken author's license to portray certain incidents in
conversational style, or to fill in, for purposes of clarity and
realism, a few "tomatoes on the window sill." Yet he was
zealously careful to avoid adding to, or detracting from, the
real and intended meaning of the sacred Scriptures.
The first volume contained thirty chapters.
The present volume picks up the story from there. It is a
continuing memorial of Basil Wolverton, who died in December
1978, and is presented to you as a ministry of love, without
money and without price. It is our fervent hope that it will
bring to you and your children enlightenment, interesting
reading, understanding, and abundant blessings from its original
and TRUE AUTHOR, Jesus Christ.
THE TABERNACLE BUILT
MOSES had now returned from atop Sinai. God had given him plans
for a tabernacle. "Every detail of how the tabernacle should be
built, I have with me," Moses explained.
Why the Tabernacle?
"God has ordered us to build this tabernacle as a temporary
dwelling for Him to be present with us. God has not yet promised
to dwell in you by His Spirit. He has promised to be among you
and with you in every crisis so long as you obey Him," Moses said
to the crowd. "For now He will be pleased with us if we give
generously and willingly of our materials, wealth, skills and
labor. Every one can have a part in doing something for our
Shouts of "What can we do?" and "Just how can we help?" came
from all parts of the vast congregation.
Moses answered by telling them that all who were willing and
able should bring in gold, silver, brass, cloth dyes, fine linen,
goats' hair, red rams' skins, seals' skins, acacia wood, oil,
spices, incense and precious stones.
"There is also a need for willing workers who are skilled in
carpentry, metal work, weaving, carving and all the crafts and
arts necessary to build and decorate the tabernacle and
everything connected with it." (Exodus 35:4-19.)
Moses didn't beg the people for anything. He simply told
them what was required. The huge crowd broke up, and the
Israelites returned to their tents.
Before many hours, much of the necessary material was
Laborers, craftsmen, artisans and maidservants volunteered
their services so readily that a crowd grew close to Moses' tent.
Israelites Bring Many Valuable Offerings
"These people say they have come to give gifts for the
tabernacle," an officer explained to Moses and Aaron. "What shall
we do?" (Verses 20-29.)
"Assign men of good character to receive the gifts at once,"
Moses answered. "Summon skilled men to immediately set up tents
and enclosures in which to store these things."
For the next several days thousands of people came to give
the things for which Moses had asked. Because the camps were
spread out for a few miles, it was far into the night when some
of the gift-bearers arrived. They also wove diligently on their
looms to produce the beautiful fabrics that were needed, and they
brought daily that which had been finished. So generous were the
people that more than enough was brought for the building of the
Moses was pleased at this great display of zeal,
unselfishness and ambition by so many of the people. It was plain
to him that thousands of them were anxious to make up for their
past sins. Still too fresh in their minds were the unpleasant
memories of their wanton prancing before the golden calf. But
most of the people who came to give simply had a sincere desire
to help because they realized that this was a wonderful
opportunity to be of service to God.
God had already told Moses on Mt. Sinai whom to choose to
head this task of making the tabernacle, so Moses proclaimed to
the people that Bezaleel, a grandson of Hur from the tribe of
Judah, would be in charge. Bezaleel's assistant was to be Aholiab
of the tribe of Dan.
Israelites Work Industriously
These two men were of good character, highly skilled in all
the crafts of building and decoration, in teaching their helpers,
and possessing good Judgment and wisdom in the arts of material
design and production. Moses had passed on to them the detailed
instructions for building the tabernacle. (Exodus 35:30-35.)
Knowing how much material was necessary, through figures
Moses had given him, Bezaleel realized that more than enough had
been brought in. Even so, the people kept on coming with more.
Bezaleel spoke to Moses, who quickly made it known that nothing
more should be given. But there were some who had put off giving
their share, and who rushed their offerings in too late to be
Bezaleel and Aholiab lost no time in teaching those who
needed instructions and assigning craftsmen and laborers to their
various tasks. Soon everyone was busily and happily working.
Carpenters started hewing boards out of the acacia logs and
planks that had been brought in. Metal workers melted down or
pounded out the metals. Weavers and seamstresses worked on cloth.
Gem-cutters planned how to use the precious stones.
Work on the tabernacle was something that couldn't be
rushed. It required great care and skill, for everything that
went into this project was to be made as close to perfection as
human hands could make it. The men and women were very careful to
perform superior workmanship in making God's tabernacle and its
Bezaleel and Aholiab did much of the work themselves --
especially on such objects as the chest that was to contain the
two tables of stone on which the Ten Commandments are written,
the altar on which sacrifices were to be made and the priests'
garments. (Exodus 37, 38, 39.)
Even though the workers applied themselves ambitiously, it
required about six months to build the tabernacle. That was
because there was a need for so much intricate and detailed
Tabernacle Richly Decorated
Nearly fifteen tons of gold, silver and brass were used.
This represented only a small part of the wealth of the
Israelites, much of which had come from their former Egyptian
neighbors or from being washed up on the east shore of the Red
Sea after Pharaoh's army had been engulfed in water.
Among the things made last was the special clothing for the
priests As the items were finished, they were brought to Moses
for inspection Nothing was approved until he was satisfied that
it was made strictly according to God's instructions. Finally
Moses called all the workers together to commend them for tasks
done well, and to ask God's blessing on them. (Exodus 39:43.)
He reminded them that God, who is perfect, is pleased when
men strive toward perfection in anything worthwhile, whether it
is material physical or spiritual. That's worth remembering when
something needs doing. Too many people try to get more and give
less, which is the opposite of God's way. Quality pleases Him,
and quality requires one's best efforts.
The Israelites had been gone a year from Egypt by the time
the tabernacle was finished. It was set up and ready for use on
the first day of the second year of the journey to Canaan.
(Exodus 40:1-4, 17) Just to the west of Moses' tent was an open
area centering the twelve camps. There workmen erected God's
tabernacle that was to be taken down and moved whenever the
people moved. (Numbers 1:50-54; 3:38.)
An Enclosure for the Tabernacle
To give privacy to the priests who would preside there, a
long curtain of fine linen was strung on braced posts of brass
about ten feet high. This fence enclosed an area about two
hundred feet long and half as wide. The space between the
tabernacle and the fence was called the court of the tabernacle.
(Exodus 27:9-19 and 38:9-20.)
The only entrance into the court was an opening left in the
east fence. The altar, about six feet high and ten feet square,
was just beyond the opening. Its boards, hewn from acacia trees
grown in the Mt. Sinai area, were covered with brass. It was
hollow inside (Exodus 27:8), but filled with earth to prevent the
wood from burning. (Exodus 20:24.) Wood and offerings were to be
placed on the dirt part, from which ashes could be removed daily
(Leviticus 6:8-13) with shovels and pans made for that purpose.
Like everything of the tabernacle, the altar was made to be
carried. There were heavy brass rings on the corners of the brass
grate encircling the lower half of the altar. The boards of the
altar rested on a narrow rim of the grate. (Exodus 27:4-5.)
Through the rings long poles were to be inserted for lifting the
altar from the dirt filling for conveyance whenever the
Israelites were directed to move their camps. (Exodus 38:1-7.)
Between the tabernacle and the altar was a large brass bowl
called the laver, always to be full of water. In it the priests
were to wash their hands and feet before going about their
duties. (Exodus 30:18-21.)
The tabernacle was put up in the west section of the court.
It was about sixty feet long. Its width and its walls were a
third of the length. The walls were built of gold-covered acacia
boards set on bases of silver. The front end was open except for
a curtain. Another heavier, larger curtain of sealskin was
stretched over lighter ones of rams' skins, goat hair and linen.
Only the colorful, figured linen curtain could be seen inside the
tabernacle, which needed no floor because it was always to be set
on level ground. (Exodus 26:1-25; 36:8-34.)
There were two rooms. The first one, covered with gold, was
about forty feet long and half as wide. This was known as the
holy place. It contained a gold-covered table that was to hold
twelve loaves of bread to represent the food offerings of the
twelve tribes of Israel, a gold lamp stand with places for seven
oil lamps and a gold altar for burning incense.
The second room was half the size of the first. This very
sacred area was to be entered only by the high priest and only on
the Day of Atonement, once a year. Here was a gold-covered wooden
chest called the ark of the covenant, about the size of a large
trunk. It had a solid gold lid called the mercy seat, on which
were mounted two gold figures facing each other. Inside the chest
were the two stone tablets on which God had engraved the Ten
Commandments. Aaron's shepherd's rod was there. There was also a
special container for manna, holy anointing oil and other objects
of unusual meaning. (Exodus 37:1-9; Hebrews 9:3-8.) This holy of
holies, as the inner room was called, was the place God designed
for His glorious Presence while leading the Israelites on the
journey to Canaan.
A huge crowd formed to see how the tabernacle would appear
when its many parts were put together. It was colorful and
majestic, but only the upper part of the outside could be seen.
The curtained fence prevented the people from witnessing even the
sacred rites of ordaining the equipment in the court.
Moses was the first to enter the court. After he anointed
the articles and utensils there and in the tabernacle, they were
to be regarded as holy. He then brought Aaron and Aaron's sons
into the court. They washed at the laver and dressed in their
priestly attire. Moses anointed them with oil, and they were
ordained by God's power to be priests. This meant that their
following generations were also to be priests.
Everything was put in order. Bread was placed on the table
in the holy place. The seven lamps were lighted. Sweet incense
was burned on the golden altar. A burnt offering and a meat
offering were made at the large altar. (Exodus 40:17-33.)
The Israelites were accustomed to seeing the cloud move down
from above Mt. Sinai and hover over the tent where Moses went to
talk to God. This time it moved down toward the middle of their
camps, appearing so close and large that some of the people fled
to their tents. Those who stayed to watch noticed that the cloud
had a beautiful, sparkling quality that exuded the feeling of
vibrant life. While awed millions watched, it floated down over
Moses, Aaron and his sons were still inside when the
luminous vapor settled down to impart a sensation of peace and
energy Moses had experienced before. Rays of multicolored light
moved through the vapor, becoming so intense the humans had to
back out of the tabernacle to leave it to God to occupy.
THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD
GOD Will allow you to enter completely into His tabernacle
service only after you have spent seven days and nights in your
duties at the door," Moses told Aaron and his sons. "Do exactly
as you have been told, or you may have to pay with your lives."
(Leviticus 8:1-4, 31-36.)
A week later the elders were told to bring offerings for the
first services in use of the altar. All the people were also told
to be present. After the first carcasses were placed on the
altar, Moses, Aaron and his sons went out to stand before the
people while Moses informed the crowd that God was pleased with
A Fire from Israel's God
Suddenly a hissing bolt of fire shot out of the tabernacle,
arched upward enough to be seen from outside the curtained fence,
and struck the altar! The offering there was quickly consumed by
an energy more like lightning than ordinary flames. This close
display of God's power so startled the people that they fell
forward in awe. (Leviticus 9:22-24.)
"This is God's holy fire," Moses told Aaron. "Your sons
should never allow it to die." (Leviticus 6:13.) "Twice a day
live coals should be taken from the altar and carried in a censer
to the holy place to be sprinkled with incense at the golden
altar." (Exodus 30:1-9.)
From then on the tabernacle was in constant use. Early each
morning Aaron's sons came to carry out their preparation duties.
Then animals were slaughtered, dressed and offered for all
Israel. This was done again in the afternoon, so that an offering
was always on the altar. (Leviticus 6:9, 12-13.) The unblemished
animals used for burnt offerings typified the Messiah who would
later come to die for the sins of the people instead of the
people having to die.
Why Animal Sacrifices?
Aaron and his sons had to carry out their duties properly.
There were several kinds of offerings planned by God to
distinctly remind the Israelites of their sins, and to give them
an opportunity to worship Him with a feeling of close contact.
THESE OFFERINGS WERE TO TEACH ISRAEL THE HABIT OF OBEYING THEIR
GOD. (Galatians 3:24.) THEY ALSO TAUGHT THE NEED FOR THEIR GOD TO
COME AS A SAVIOUR TO PAY FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD. The offerings
were not to pay for sin. Salvation never came through animal
sacrifices. They were given to Israel until the coming of the
Saviour (Galatians 3:19), and were to remind the people that One
would come to shed His blood for their sins. (Hebrews 10:3, 4,
There were burnt offerings, food offerings, peace offerings,
offerings for sins of ignorance, trespass offerings and others.
For each there was a special ceremony outlined by God. (Leviticus
1-5.) For example, if a man wished to make a personal burnt
offering as a gift to God or in recognition of the coming
Messiah, he was to bring one of three things. It had to be a
healthy, unblemished male from his cattle, sheep or goats, or
turtledoves or pigeons. There was a ceremony for each kind of
creature, some of which were more involved than others, but each
ending with the animal's flesh being burned.
Most of the people didn't realize their sacrifices pointed
to a time when the Being in the cloud would come in human form
and would be sacrificed for the sins of all the world's
Sacrificial ceremonies included more than animals. Olive
oil, flour from grains and incense were used. Some, if to be
burned, were used in combinations, such as unleavened breads not
sweetened by honey. Whatever the ritual or its necessities, all
had to be done exactly according to how God had instructed Moses.
Nothing was to be changed, added or omitted.
Two Priests Rebel
Two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, arrived for work one
morning to find the altar fire barely alive. In their eagerness
to get the flames going, they piled on wood that was moist from
the morning dew, burying the last of the live coals.
"Our father, Aaron, will be here any minute to get live
coals for the altar in the holy place, and now they're under this
wet wood," Nadab observed worriedly. "We'll have to pile some of
"Why go to that trouble?" Abihu asked, snatching up a
censer. "There's a campfire outside the gate where we can get
live coals right away!"
Knowing that only fire from the large altar was to be used
in the holy place, Nadab was about to protest, but said nothing
when he thought how much easier it would be to obtain coals at
the campfire. Silently he picked up another censer and hurriedly
joined his brother. Then the two rushed back with the glowing
coals, relieved to find that Aaron still hadn't showed up.
After a few minutes they realized the campfire coals were
becoming ash-covered. If they weren't used right away, coals
would have to be dug out from under the new fuel on the altar
after all. Unwisely, they decided to make the delivery of live
coals to the holy place, something only Aaron was to do. After
leaving the fire in the holy place, a strong uneasiness seized
them. They made a frantic rush for the door, but too late.
Fingers of fire hissed out of the inner room and struck them
lifeless under the curtains of the tabernacle entrance.
A little later, when Aaron arrived, he was concerned to find
nobody in sight, although fire was now beginning to burn
vigorously on the altar. Across the court, in the doorway of the
tabernacle, he then saw his sons lying motionless. He hurried to
reach down to them.
"Don't touch them!"
Lesson in Obedience
Aaron glanced up to see Moses approaching and motioning him
away from the dead men.
"They died because they disobeyed God by bringing strange
fire before Him and trying to take over duties that were yours,"
Moses explained. "God warned them, and He means His warnings."
Aaron stood in silent misery, gazing at the flame-blackened
bodies. Finally he turned away, realizing that disobedience had
to bring punishment. In spite of the shock of his nephews'
deaths, Moses lost no time in arranging for burials, and for
replacements by Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's two other sons.
"Don't mourn because of Nadab and Abihu," Moses warned Aaron
and the two other sons. "If you do, it would show that you feel
God has dealt unjustly with them." (Leviticus 10:6-7.)
People were sobered when they heard Nadab and Abihu had died
by the direct hand of God. Even a funeral wasn't to interfere
with tabernacle ceremonies. Aaron had to carry on with his
duties, and Eleazar and Ithamar had to start with theirs. Their
period of service began with a new ruling that priests on duty
would have to abstain from wine and strong drink, the excessive
use of which could dull one's best judgment. It was possible that
such had happened with Nadab and Abihu.
Serious events didn't necessarily steer matters smoothly. In
one case of a goat being used as a sin offering for the people,
Moses happened to go to the holy place to find nobody there.
Neither was the goat that was to be eaten (at least in part).
Moses then discovered that the goat had been completely burned on
the altar. He quickly found Eleazar and Ithamar.
"Why was the offering left to burn?" he angrily asked. "Why
wasn't it eaten in the holy place, as holy meat to bear the sins
of the people?" (Verses 16-18.)
Embarrassed and feeling guilty, the brothers were trying to
think of reasonable answers when Aaron walked up to explain that
he had told his sons not to bring him any meat to eat because his
recent losses had left him with little appetite.
"Would forcing down food under such circumstances be
acceptable to God?" Aaron asked.
Moses felt sudden compassion. He realized Aaron had done
well to continue his duties under his emotional strain. He knew
that God pardons human errors not willfully committed. He put a
comforting hand on Aaron's shoulder and said nothing more about
the matter. Inasmuch as God gave no indication of displeasure,
Aaron obviously was forgiven for breaking a ceremonial rule.
LAWS OF HEALTH
EVERYBODY should be healthy. God intended that His own people
should not only know the truth about food but live radiant,
What "Clean Food" Means
Food that is clean doesn't always mean that it is free of
every kind of dirt. It can be pure in that respect, but at the
same time it can be unfit to eat. God made animals, birds and
fish in a class good for human food and in another class unfit
for humans to eat. The Bible calls one kind "clean" and the other
This was known before the Flood. Noah knew what to do when
he was told to take seven pairs of each kind of clean animals and
birds into the ark along with one pair of each unclean kind.
(Genesis 7:2-3.) The detailed knowledge of such things had been
lost over the centuries that the Israelites had mingled with the
heathen Egyptians, who had no interest in obeying God.
The same was true of the Ten Commandments. Adam knew what
they were. So did Noah, Abraham and many others. At Mt. Sinai
they were brought to the Israelites so they could know again what
was God's will. To Israel went the responsibility of preserving
the laws in writing and keeping pagan beliefs and rules from
becoming mixed with them.
God gave a simple rule by which clean animals could be known
from the unclean. If an animal chewed a cud and had parted hoofs,
it was made to be eaten. (Leviticus 11:3-4 and Deuteronomy
14:6-8.) Cattle, as well as several other kinds of animals, take
in their food without spending time to chew it enough. They later
bring mouthfuls back up from their stomachs for more careful
chewing. These rechewed bits are called cuds.
The Bible also gives examples of animals not fit for food.
The camel chews the cud, but doesn't have divided hoofs. They are
slightly indented on the front, and with grooves on top, but not
divided. The rabbit has paws with toes instead of hoofs. Cats,
dogs and horses don't chew cuds. Raccoons, squirrels and opossums
are also unclean to eat. Pigs have divided hoofs, but don't chew
"You shall not eat swine or any other animals that do not
part the hoof and chew the cud," God warned. (Leviticus 11:7-8;
God Always Has Good Reasons
The Creator never does anything without a good reason. His
mind is far superior to human minds, which are rarely able to
understand divine decisions and actions. Nevertheless, man tries
to figure out why God tells him to do certain things. And when he
can't discover God's reasons, he generally decides obedience is
Man should obey for his own good, regardless of how little
he understands. Only then is he blessed. Unhappily, millions have
decided that such animals as pigs and rabbits are proper to eat,
especially if God is thanked for them.
Now that more is known about animal anatomy, it is evident
that certain animals have digestive systems that don't carry off
as many poisons as do others. A hog digests its food in about
three and a half hours. A cow requires twenty-four hours to do
the same thing through two digestive processes screening out
impurities that would otherwise pass into its flesh and milk.
The main reason any animal is unclean is that it wasn't made
to be eaten by man. God made some animals for human food. Others
were for work, for pets, for consuming waste products and for
controlling the numbers of creatures. If man could have discerned
which animals were unclean, there would have been no need for the
Bible to inform him.
Water Creatures Fit for Food
God also gave a similar way of knowing what water creatures
were to be used as food. To be clean, they must have two features
-- fins and overlapping scales (which sometimes drop off with
age). (Leviticus 11:9-12; Deuteronomy 14:9-10.)
Wide varieties of creatures are ordinarily considered great
delicacies. Crabs and lobsters are acclaimed around the world as
succulent delights, though they are nothing more than flavorful
but unclean, spider-like crustaceans that feed mainly on decaying
Other unclean denizens of the water include the frog,
turtle, abalone, scallop, shrimp, shark, whale, eel, squid,
various catfish, European turbot, sturgeon, lobster, octopus,
clam and oyster. Most of these are thought of as wholesome and
nutritious food by millions of people, including most of those
who descend from the ten tribes of the House of Israel. Whale oil
is also used in foods by many who do not know it is unfit for
food. Almost all other common fish on the market are clean. The
human body has degenerated since Adam. Should man be surprised if
he found that much of that degeneration has been due to centuries
of consuming unclean creatures?
The Bible doesn't directly give a rule by which clean birds
can be recognized. It simply lists all different kinds of those
that are unclean. Outside of mentioning the quail, the dove, the
pigeon and the sparrow, God doesn't specifically name the clean
ones. (Leviticus 11:13-20; Deuteronomy 14:11-18.)
It is easy to learn which fowl are clean simply by noticing
the characteristics of birds which are named as clean or unclean.
Studies of fowl have revealed some striking differences
between the two kinds. Clean fowl have six unusual
characteristics. One or more of these characteristics is lacking
in unclean birds. A clean bird has a craw or crop AND, second, a
gizzard with a double lining which can easily be separated. Two
such digestive organs are doubly helpful in changing its food
into meat that is good for humans and insuring against poisonous
waste matter going into its flesh.
Third, a clean bird does not prey upon other birds. Fourth,
it does not devour food while flying. Fifth, its hind toe and
middle front toe are both long. Sixth, when it stands on a perch,
it spreads its toes so that three front ones are on one side of
the perch and the hind toe on the opposite side. All unclean
birds lack at least one of these characteristics. Clean birds
have all these characteristics.
Clean fowl include the chicken, pheasant, peafowl,
ptarmigan, guinea fowl, prairie chicken, pigeon, dove, partridge,
grouse, quail, turkey, duck, goose, all song birds and the teal
and swan. (The swan is named in the King James or Authorized
Version as being unclean, but this is a mistranslation. The water
hen should be mentioned instead.)
Unclean birds include the eagle, vulture, kite, buzzard,
osprey, raven, crow, magpie, ostrich, owl, hawk, cormorant, sea
gull, water hen, sandpiper, plover, pelican, stork, coot, heron,
bittern, crane, grebe, rail, roadrunner, woodpecker, penguin,
parrot, albatross and bat.
God also named other creatures that are to be regarded as
unclean and detestable. (Leviticus 11:20-23.) They are the
weasel, mouse, lizard, snail, mole, snake and worm. Such were to
be considered so detestable that anything their dead bodies
touched, such as food or dishes was to be regarded as unfit for
use until thoroughly washed. (Verses 24-43.)
"Do not defile yourself with these unclean creatures," God
warned. "Keep yourselves clean and sacred, so that you will be
more acceptable to your holy God." (Verses 44-47.)
Regardless of what God said, millions who claim to be
faithful, obedient Christians feel anything with a high vitamin
content must be good for them. They argue mistakenly that the
laws of clean and unclean food, inspired by God for all people
for all time, were merely "old Jewish laws" "nailed to the cross"
at Christ's death.
Some People Lust for Forbidden Food
To justify their eating unclean foods, many of these people
turn to the fourth chapter of I Timothy, and point with triumph
to the fourth and fifth verses, wherein Paul said:
"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be
rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is
consecrated by the word of God and prayer" (RSV).
Taken out of its context, this statement would probably
cause the reader to conclude that either Paul didn't agree with
God or that God has changed His mind and favors the eating of the
filthiest of fare as long as God's blessing is asked on it. But
Paul didn't disagree with God, who never changes. (Malachi 3:6;
Hebrews 13:8.) Neither do His laws. (Matthew 5:17-18.)
To understand I Timothy 4:4-5, one must read from the
beginning of the chapter. Paul was referring to religious
extremists who fall away from the truth or never quite get to it.
They are the kind such as are against marriage and certain clean
foods. The word EVERYTHING in the fourth verse refers to every
creature "consecrated by the word of God." Only clean creatures
were consecrated or approved as fit for human food.
Picking certain words and phrases out of the Bible and
adding them together to try to prove untruths is an ancient
trick. Such deceit can generally be uncovered by comparing
scriptures and by carefully reading whole chapters to find exact
meanings of certain words, phrases and sentences.
God Did Not Cleanse the Unclean Creatures
Another example of misunderstanding is based on Acts
10:9-16. If one reads only those verses the impression is
conveyed that Peter was told that God had cleansed unclean
creatures, and that Peter should not hesitate to eat them. But
verse 17 shows that Peter knew God did not mean for him to eat
unclean meat. Peter noticed that no animal's nature had been
changed; they were still unclean! So he began to wonder what the
vision did mean! He did not jump to a hasty conclusion.
Verses 28 and 29 show that the vision was for pointing out
that Peter should not regard any MAN, regardless of nationality,
as common or unclean if he seeks to live rightly.
No matter what is believed about clean and unclean
creatures, the two kinds still exist. The nature of unclean
animals has not changed. They are the same today as they were
before the Flood, in Moses' day and in Peter's time. Those who
obey the Creator in these matters receive definite blessings.
THE PLAN OF SALVATION
GOD'S great plan for man's future has to do with salvation --
being spared from sin and death and being given the gift of
eternal life. Moses wanted to know about this. God explained it
to him so that he could pass on the vital information to the
Why Man Needs Salvation
If there were no sin, man wouldn't have to be saved from it.
People who say they don't need salvation don't know what sin is
or what eternal life means. Man should know he is mortal, subject
to death, and needs the Spirit of God as a gift to make it
possible to live forever. God made this plain to Moses about the
time the tabernacle was erected. Most of the book of Leviticus,
written by Moses, has to do with the rules meant to keep Israel
the wisest and cleanest nation on Earth. God also made known the
rituals required to teach the Israelites the need of a Saviour
and the habit of obedience. These temporary ceremonies are called
"the works of the law" in the New Testament. They ceased to be
needed at Jesus' death.
The book of Leviticus makes it obvious that God's laws,
which explain right from wrong, are helpful in making all people
much happier. But down through time many religions have sprung up
who ignore those rules by labeling them "Jewish laws," and
referring to Leviticus as an account of the ancient "laws of
Many people regard the words LAW, JEW, MOSES and ISRAELITE
with contempt. Their religious leaders unknowingly have either
failed to teach them the truth or have deliberately withheld the
truth from them. Those who have brought the truth, including
Jesus Christ -- the Creator of men and all things -- have been
slain or ridiculed because the truth they announced conflicted
with the beliefs of many religious sects. Men have always hated
those with God's truth. (Mat. 23:29-35.) Those who sneer at the
Commandments given to Israel are inviting on themselves the
miserable results of sin.
What's Wrong with God's Laws?
There is nothing wrong with the laws given to the Israelites
through Moses. Here are some of them. Because they were broken,
Jesus had to die.
Having anything to do with idols or foreign gods is
forbidden. (Leviticus 19:4.)
No marking, such as tattooing, is to be done on the body.
There are to be no evil sexual practices. (Leviticus 18.)
No one is to marry anyone to whom he or she is closely
related. (Leviticus 18:6.)
Pagan holidays are not be observed. (Leviticus 20:1-5.)
No interest is to be charged in giving financial help to an
Israelite or anyone journeying with the Israelites. (Leviticus
No one is to go to a fortune teller or medium for advice. No
one is to have anything to do with a wizard or sorcerer or anyone
in contact with demons. (Leviticus 20:6.)
God reminded Moses that the Israelites, who had been
influenced for centuries by the Egyptians, should refrain from
consuming blood in their meat. (Leviticus 17:12-13.) He made it
plain that the life of all flesh is in the blood. "Anyone who
kills or catches any beast or fowl for food must thoroughly bleed
the creature and bury the blood. No one is to eat any creature
that dies of itself or is killed by other beasts." (Verse 15,
The only use of blood was as an atonement, by sacrifice, to
remind Israel of their human sins and of the death of Jesus
Christ as Saviour.
Plan of Salvation Revealed
Israel's God told Moses the Plan of Salvation for mankind
was so important He would require the people to observe certain
annual holy days as reminders. He had already given in Egypt a
time to keep Passover, which foreshadowed the death of the
Messiah to pay for sin. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which
followed, symbolized putting away sin out of one's life. Another
special time, celebrated when Israel's God spoke the Law at
Sinai, was the Feast of Firstfruits or Pentecost. This feast
signified that only a few are being called to salvation now. They
are the firstfruits of God's spiritual harvest. Then came the
Feast of Trumpets, foretelling God's intervention in world
affairs. The Day of Atonement, or harmony, followed. It was
ordained by the Creator to fall on the tenth day of the seventh
month, Tishri. That is in September or October of the man-made
Roman calendar, which will soon be replaced by God's correct
calendar. God reckons days from sundown to sundown, so this whole
day was to start at sundown on the ninth of Tishri and end at
sundown of the tenth. During those twenty-four hours the people
weren't to work or consume food in solid or liquid form, although
very young children could nurse. (Leviticus 23:26-32.)
It was the only day of the year on which the high priest was
to enter the inner room of the tabernacle on ceremonial business.
God told Moses to warn Aaron that if Aaron otherwise came into
the room without God's permission, he would lose his life in the
way his sons had lost theirs.
In performing his duties as high priest, Aaron ordinarily
dressed in the elegant garments designed by the Creator. But on
the Day of Atonement he was to be especially clean bodily and
dressed in spotless linen clothing designating simplicity and
humility rather than high office. Only then could he approach God
in the inner room where the ark and mercy seat were placed.
The special ceremonies that day were to make it clear to the
people that sinners must come to God through His high priest. The
human high priests of the family of Aaron typified the coming
Saviour who would die to forgive sins. Today, our high priest and
Saviour is Christ.
Aaron was first to sacrifice a bullock or young ox for
himself and his family as a sin offering. He was to sprinkle some
live coals from the altar with incense. Then they were to be
taken to the Holy of Holies so that the sweetened smoke would
waft over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. If he failed
to carry this out properly, he would be subject to death.
He also was to take some of the bullock's blood into the
inner room to sprinkle it on and before the mercy seat as an act
of atonement for himself, his family and the other priests.
Having his sins forgiven, he would qualify to ask God to forgive
the sins of all Israel. The priests and all the Israelites were
to be in a repentant state of mind, not only this day but all
year, even if they were not promised the Holy Spirit and eternal
The high priest was then to be presented with two goats. One
was to be placed on his right and the other on his left. He was
to take a bowl in which there were two identical coin-like
emblems called lots. One was marked "FOR GOD" and the other "for
AZAZEL," one of Satan's names. In many Bibles the word Azazel is
mistranslated SCAPEGOAT. Being guilty of sin, Satan is no
After the bowl was shaken, Aaron was to put each of the lots
on a goat. The goat on which the "FOR GOD" lot happened (by God's
choosing) to be placed was the one to be used for a sin offering
for the people. It represented Christ's sacrifice to reconcile
the world to God. The goat's blood was to be sprinkled before and
upon the mercy seat as atonement for all the sins Israel had
committed. (Leviticus 16:15-19.)
On returning to the court, Aaron was to confess the sins of
Israel over the goat marked "FOR AZAZEL." Thus the wrongdoings of
the Israelites that were motivated by Satan were to be heaped on
the animal representing Satan, the author of sin. The goat
representing Satan was to be led into the desert to portray the
banishment of Satan, who will be removed from mankind when Christ
returns to make the world at one with God. (Revelation 20:1-3.)
The person who took the goat was to wash his clothing and bathe
before returning to camp. (Leviticus 16:20-22, 26.)
After these ceremonies Aaron was to exchange his special
linen clothing for his ornate priestly garments, and give a
personal burnt offering of a ram and another for the people.
(Verses 23 and 24.)
All went well in carrying out these things. In spite of
their weaknesses, the Israelites became aware that they were the
only people to whom God was revealing His plan pictured by the
holy days. In choosing them to preserve His truth, He was
mercifully willing to forgive their sins even though He did not
promise them eternal life at that time.
The Day of Atonement became an annual Sabbath to be observed
forever by all people (Leviticus 23:31), but the sacrificial acts
of the priests were required only until Christ came to die for
the sins of the world.
No More Need of Sacrifices
The sacrificing of animals on that day was no longer
necessary after Jesus Christ was sacrificed, many centuries
later, as the Lamb of God to die for the sins of this world.
(Hebrews 10:4, 10-12, 18.) When Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself
there ceased to be any need to sacrifice animals as a reminder of
sin. (Hebrews 10:3.)
The Day of Atonement remains, however, a holy period of
resting and fasting, but most church authorities ignore it. They
claim that it is an ancient Jewish day. If one asks who the Jews
were, one would ordinarily be told that they were a people known
as Israelites who came out of Egypt under Moses' leadership.
That answer wouldn't be very factual. Most people have never
thought about who the "lost" ten tribes of Israel might be or
where they went after their nation was taken captive into the
ancient land of Assyria, or where they are now. God purposely hid
their identity until these latter days. Yet it was to these
people, as well as to the Jews, that God commanded the keeping of
the seven annual festivals!
These ten tribes can at last be identified!
The matter is crystal-clear to millions who have found the
truth in their Bibles. However, religious groups in general
refuse to recognize this discovery because it doesn't fit with
what they have taught for so long.
For centuries there has been an erroneous belief that the
Earth has two kinds of people -- Jews and Gentiles. They are
actually ISRAELITES and Gentiles. The Jews are of Judah, only one
of Israel's twelve tribes. Israelites of today, which include
peoples of Northwestern Europe and their descendants in the
United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa,
should be doing the things God commanded them to do, and
converted Gentiles should be obedient in the same way.
For the genuine Christian, the Day of Atonement pictures a
better era not far away, when sin will be placed on the one who
originated it. That is Satan. Not until then will man come into
true accord with his Creator. That time is only a few years away.
Meanwhile, many things must occur. Even now false prophets are
proclaiming Christ has already arrived or is about to arrive at
any moment. They don't know God's timetable and His Plan of
Salvation because these don't keep the holy days.
Seven Steps to Plan of Salvation
In summary, the seven steps in God's Plan are pictured by
seven special holy periods of time. These special days are
Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Festival of
Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Festival of Tabernacles, and
the Last Great Day. People who have forgotten these days have
forgotten the TRUE PLAN of Salvation which these days picture.
They have come to believe in a COUNTERFEIT plan!
We have already learned the meaning of Passover when we read
about the Exodus.
The Days of Unleavened Bread picture putting sin out of our
lives. (I Corinthians 5:7-8.) Leaven is a type of sin. A wave
sheaf offering was made during the Days of Unleavened Bread after
the Israelites reached the land God had promised them. (Leviticus
23:10-11.) This sheaf of grain pictured the ascended Christ being
accepted by God the Father as the perfect sacrifice and as the
very first of the firstfruits from the dead. (Compare John 20:17
with Matthew 28:9.) Very few people know that Christ ascended to
Heaven and returned that same day.
On the fiftieth day after the resurrection, always on a
Sunday in May or June on the calendar in use by today's world,
Pentecost is to be observed. Even the Apostles were keeping it
after the law of Moses ceased to be needful. (Acts 2:1.) This day
points to the time when the Holy Spirit was first made available
to mankind since Eden. It could not come until after Christ's
death, except for those few prophets, judges, priests and kings
whom God specially called. This festival also points to the time
of the FIRST HARVEST of souls -- to be reaped at the return of
Christ. Those who have forgotten this day have forgotten that
this is only the time of the first harvest.
The Festival of Trumpets, another day of rest, is to be
observed on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri, in the
fall. (Leviticus 23:2325.) It pictures the time mentioned in the
book of Revelation when the last of seven trumpets will sound,
and when Christ will come to meet in the air those who will be
resurrected to rule with Him on Earth. (Revelation 11:15-17; I
Corinthians 15:52.) Not every nation will give in at the very
hour Christ arrives, but every nation and government will soon be
made aware that there is no choice but to accept Christ's
perfect, loving rule. (Zechariah 14:16-19.)
Next is the Day of Atonement. It pictures Satan imprisoned,
no longer deceiving the world, for 1,000 years. Then comes the
final time of harvest of souls pictured by the Festival of
The Festival of Tabernacles, beginning on the fifteenth day
of the seventh month (sometime in September or October), is
ordained to last for seven days. It is a time God's people come
together to worship Him after the summer crops are harvested. The
first day was (and still is) a holy day of rest. This festival
foreshadows the thousand-year period when Christ and the
resurrected Christians will rule the Earth. (Revelation 5:10;
20:4, 6.) People such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, dead and
with no knowledge of anything over many centuries, will be among
those resurrected in the first resurrection to eternal life. They
will rule with Christ in the Millennium. (Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews
11.) Millions not yet born will be saved in the great spiritual
harvest during the Millennium when Satan isn't around to deceive
After the seven days, there follows another special holy day
Today most people never think of observing the eighth, or
Last Great Day, as a time of rest, not realizing that it is to
commemorate the period after the Millennium when millions who
have died in the past who have not had any opportunity to
understand the truth, will be brought to physical life in the
second resurrection and be given their first opportunity to come
to the knowledge of salvation. Just think of the joy to be
experienced by those who never before heard or knew the truth.
Those who do overcome will eventually join the joyous ranks of
the immortal saints who will have met Christ at His Second Coming
more than a thousand years before! (Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew
12:42; Isaiah 65:19-25.)
Every human being who has ever lived or ever will live must
have the opportunity of learning of God's great Plan. (II Peter
3:9; I Timothy 2:4.) God will deal justly with everyone. Each
person (Romans 2:11) will have a full understanding of the right
way and must make his own decision as to whether he will obey
God. (Hebrews 8:11.) Some have already had their one and only
opportunity today. There is no second chance.
Finally, the Earth will be enveloped in a fire that will
consume everything on its surface. Even the seas will be
completely evaporated by the intense heat. (II Peter 3:10-12;
Then God will come down from heaven in His gigantic holy
city, which will descend to Earth. Many doubt Bible statements
about this jewel-like city. From then on this mammoth city will
be the headquarters and dwelling place of God and His children --
now spirit beings -- who will help Him rule the universe forever.
"CHOOSE YOU THIS DAY"
MAN was put on earth with the power to choose between good and
evil. No mere animal has such power -- or such a great
responsibility to make the right choice.
But Man has to be told what is good and what is evil. God
has to reveal it. That is why, again and again, God told Israel,
generally through Moses, that the people must observe all the
laws He had given them if they are to do good. He promised them
many wonderful things if they would faithfully keep the rules
given to them for their own happiness and security.
What God Has Promised
"If you will do as I have directed," God said, "many
worthwhile rewards shall come to you. You shall receive plenty of
rain. The land you are coming to shall yield such large crops
that your grain harvest shall last till the grape harvest, and
the grape harvest shall last till it's time again to plant grain.
"You shall have plenty to eat. I will drive all evil beasts
out of your land. You shall be safe from your enemies. If a
hundred of them try to attack you, it will require only five of
you to chase them away. If ten thousand soldiers come at you, it
will take only a hundred of you to cause them to turn and flee
for their lives!
"I will respect you. I will cause you to have many healthy
children and grow into a great nation. I will be pleased to
continue dwelling among you." (Leviticus 26:3-9.)
What else could any people ask for? Good health, plenty of
good food, safety from enemies, safety from any evil creatures,
good weather and peace of mind for obeying God -- all these could
be theirs on and on into the future. What would any nation give
right now in these troubled times to have all these good things?
Then God went on to relate the terrible things that would
come on the Israelites if they disobeyed.
Why Wrong Living Brings Hardship
"If you ignore my rules," God told them, "and if you refuse
to live by them and break the agreement we have made, then your
future shall be one of misery, hardship and despair.
"You shall become full of fears and constant worries. Your
enemies shall kill you in great numbers. They shall win many
battles and take over your homes and the crops you have sown.
Your feeling of dread and danger shall be so great that you shall
flee in fright even when no one is after you.
"If you still refuse to listen to me after all this
punishment, then I will bring many other awful things upon you. I
will send severe famines and horrible plagues. At the same time,
your enemies will trouble you more and more.
"I will send ferocious wild beasts to destroy your livestock
and eat up your children. So great shall be your fear of evil
things to come on you that you shall even be afraid to venture
out on the nearest roads or trails." (Leviticus 26:14-22.) Then
"If these things fail to convince you that I mean what I
say, and if you continue to refuse to live by the laws that are
best for you, then I will punish you even more severely!
"Your enemies shall completely conquer you. I will send
terrible diseases on you. They shall spread among you when you
gather together in your cities. Your supply of food shall dwindle
down and down until you become aware that you are facing
"If you still feel that your ways are better than mine, your
food shall become so scarce that some of you shall roast and eat
your own children!" (Verses 23-29.)
Such a prediction probably seemed absurd to the Israelites,
but it came true in Samaria and in Jerusalem many years later
when their enemies cut them off from their food supplies.
What Idolatry Is
God also foretold what would happen if the people insisted
on secretly worshipping ridiculous objects regarded as having
The foolish respect and adoration of certain lifeless
objects isn't something done only by people considered primitive
and ignorant. Even in civilized nations today there are many who
prize such articles as coins, rabbits' feet, crosses, statues,
images, insignia and such which are believed to bring "good luck"
or harbor some unusual influence. This is a form of silly
idolatry in which the first two Commandments are being broken.
Having undue regard and desire for wealth, prestige, influence
and pleasure -- that is, they mean more than respect for the
Creator -- is also idolatry in God's sight.
God had this to say to the Israelites concerning idols: "I
will destroy them and the places in which you worship them. I
will wipe out your cities and make your fields barren. Your
families, tribes and nations shall be scattered as slaves to
heathen nations." (Leviticus 26:30-33.) "But to those who realize
they have sinned, and become humble and wise enough to admit it,
I will be merciful."
One would think that these wonderful promises and stern
warnings would have caused the Israelites to make the right
decisions for the future. Some were inspired to better living,
but what most of them did afterward is an unhappy story that will
come later, proving that God means what He says He will do.
Resentment Leads to Anger
There was a man living among the Israelites whose father was
an Egyptian, and whose mother was an Israelite of the tribe of
Dan. Because he was half Egyptian, he was regarded by some as an
One day this man started to pitch his tent in a desirable
spot amid the tents of the tribe of Dan. An Israelite saw what he
was doing, and angrily strode up to him.
"Who told you to take the best tent site?" the Israelite
The Egyptian-Israelite was greatly upset by those remarks.
He stopped what he was doing and in loud tones told the critical
Israelite what he thought of him.
In his mounting rage he went on to yell out some terrible
things about God. He cursed his Creator and called Him vile and
awful names. Some of the Israelites who witnessed the scene were
hardened men to whom profane language was commonplace. But such
foul profanity aroused them to seize the offender and bring him
Witnesses went with the officers to tell what had happened,
and to ask what punishment should be given to one who had so
loudly mocked and reviled the Creator.
"Hold the man for now," Moses instructed them, "I must find
out from God what should be done with him." (Leviticus 24:10-12.)
Why God Required Capital Punishment
"This man who has cursed his Creator and others so
spitefully is unfit to live," God told Moses. "If he continues to
live he will cause others to sin and make themselves and their
neighbors miserable. Take him to a place far outside the camps
where witnesses to his profanity and hatred must cast heavy
stones on the curser until he is dead!"
Moses passed on these instructions to the people, who did as
God commanded. The Egyptian-Israelite died soon afterward.
The penalty of death imposed swiftly after a crime probably
seems harsh and unjust treatment to some readers. Some might even
think of God as a stern monster, eager to see people suffer for
even the slightest reason.
A careful reading of the whole Bible will bring out the fact
that, rather than being cruel, God is far more merciful, just,
patient and forgiving than any human being. If He were like you
or me, He would have become so disgusted with mankind that He
would have blasted every one out of existence many centuries ago.
One of the judgments given to Israel was that anyone who
cursed his parents should be subject to death. If breaking the
Fifth Commandment is thus punishable, the punishment could be no
less for one who curses God, the Creator of all parents.
God's judgments are just, but humans try to substitute
lesser ones. A person guilty in God's sight isn't overlooked. The
only hope of escaping punishment is through Jesus Christ, who
came to Earth for several reasons, including dying for man's
sins. Sinners who feel very sorry for their wrong deeds, call on
God for forgiveness and strive to live according to God's laws,
can look forward to a bright future.
Those who see others doing wrong and seemingly avoiding
punishment should never feel envious. Why feel envious of those
who will eventually be punished? Punishment is certain unless
there is repentance. (Ps. 37.)
Moses Has Visitors
Perhaps you will recall that Moses was raised and educated
in the palaces of Egypt, but that he later fled from there and
went eastward to the land of Midian, where he became a herder of
sheep. While he lived there he started writing the first book of
the Bible. There, too, he was married to Zipporah, daughter of a
priest named Jethro, the man for whom he worked. Two sons,
Gershom and Eliezer, were born to Moses and Zipporah. (Exodus
2:21-22; 3:1;18:1-4.) When Moses, at God's command, set out to
return to Egypt, he took his family with him. (Exodus 4:20.)
However, Moses later decided there were good reasons not to take
his family, and he sent the three back to stay with Jethro.
Months had passed since Moses had seen his family. One day a
stranger rode into camp -- this was shortly before all the events
at Mt. Sinai we have been reading about. He told alert guards who
quickly surrounded him that he had a message for Moses. He was
escorted to Moses' tent after the guards made certain he wasn't
Moses was so pleased to hear of the approaching caravan of
his father-in-law that he decided to go back with the messenger.
Some of his officers went along. They found Jethro's tents
pitched only a few miles from the camps of the Israelites.
Moses was happy to again be with his wife and two young
sons. He greatly enjoyed a visit with them inside Jethro's tents.
(Exodus 18:1-7.) Afterward, he had a long talk with Jethro, who
was aware of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt but who was
surprised to learn that his son-in-law had taken such a prominent
part in the matter. Jethro was highly interested to hear from
Moses all about the plagues, the miracles, the parting of the Red
Sea, and the manner in which God had provided for the people.
Jethro was of a priesthood family that served God among the
Midianites who descended from Abraham. Assured by Moses that he
would be welcome, Jethro gave orders for the tents to be taken
down and packed. Accompanied by Moses and the Israelite aides,
the caravan moved on and into the camps of Israel.
Later, Jethro made a burnt offering and sacrifices to God.
As a priest, he had an important part in the ceremonies.
Afterward, Aaron and Moses and the elders joined him in a feast.
Jethro Sees Moses in Trouble
Early next morning, when Jethro came out of his tent, he was
puzzled to see a crowd in the middle of which Moses sat,
listening to some of the people talking intently to him.
"Moses often sits there till sundown judging those who are
having trouble with their neighbors," an officer explained to
Jethro slowly shook his head, but said nothing about the
matter until that evening when he could again visit the weary
"I am surprised," Jethro told Moses, "that you try just by
yourself to hear all the cases of the people. See how tired you
are now! If you continue in this manner, you will wear yourself
down till you will be far from the healthy person you should be
in God's service. Besides, the long lines of people become weary
waiting for you to get around to them.
"Let me suggest something," Jethro continued, moving his
tent cushion closer to Moses. "Surely there are many hundreds of
capable men among the tribes -- men who have the eagerness and
time to help you in this thing. Why not try to seek out a number
of honest, unselfish, fair-minded men of good judgment? Place the
best of these men as judges over groups of a thousand. Place men
of lesser ability over groups of a hundred, and still others over
groups of fifty and groups of ten.
"If a judge over ten people doesn't have the wisdom to
decide a case, let him go to the judge of fifty who is over him.
If the judge over fifty fails, let him go to the judge over a
hundred. If even the judge over a thousand can't decide a case,
let it be brought to you. Thus a great part of your task of
judging could be on the shoulders of others, because surely most
of the lesser problems could be judged or solved by other men
whom you have instructed in God's ways of justice and fair
Coming from a wise and devoted priest of God, this advice
seemed to have much weight. It occurred then and there to Moses
that God was suggesting this through his father-in-law, using
human agencies as God has always done to such a great extent.
"I believe God would have me do as you say," Moses declared.
"Tomorrow morning I shall send out officers to summon the best
leaders, from whom I can choose the kind of men who can help me!"
To them God imparted His Spirit even though it was not the time
for the Israelites in general to receive the Holy Spirit and be
In the days that followed, Jethro's suggestion worked out
well. It was a great relief to Moses, who couldn't have carried
on and on with such a heavy load unless God had imbued him with
tremendous, superhuman vitality. (Verses 24-26.)
Although Moses wanted Jethro to go on with the Israelites,
Jethro felt that he could be of greater service by returning to
his people. Moses was sad when Jethro's caravan departed, but he
was thankful for the advice and the joy that had come to him.
ISRAEL BREAKS CAMP
A month had passed from the time Moses had the tabernacle built
and put into operation. It was a year since the Exodus. God
informed Moses that that it was time to find out how many males
of twenty years and older were among the Israelites. (Exodus
40:17; Numbers 1:1-3.)
The First Census
It was necessary to have accurate record of the people so
that order could be maintained, especially when the people broke
Accordingly, all males of twenty years and older were
required to register at certain points, and to give information
about themselves and their families. (Numbers 1:17-19.) This
census wasn't to include strangers, men of the tribe of Levi, or
any who were too old to go into battle in case the Israelites had
to wage war against attacking armies. (Numbers 1:45, 47.)
When all were registered and their numbers added, the
able-bodied male Israelites amounted to 603,550. (Numbers
1:45-46.) This was quite an increase over the seventy males who
had gone down into Egypt when Joseph was ruler. Together with
women, children, strangers and the tribe of Levi, there were at
least two million people compactly camped near Mt. Sinai!
Besides, there were many tens of thousands of animals to feed. So
much food and water were required that there had to be special
order and control by God's leadership through Moses.
Of the twelve tribes, Judah was the largest with 74,600 men.
(Numbers 1:26-27.) It is today one of the smaller. The smallest
tribe numbered at that time was Manasseh, with 32,200 men, but
the tribe multiplied rapidly in later years and is today one of
the largest! In these last days, Manasseh -- whose descendants
are the stock that founded the United States of America -- has
become the most powerful nation on Earth. Yet it is just one of
the ten tribes of the "lost" House of Israel, which can no longer
be considered as "lost." Nevertheless, there are many self-styled
authorities who are struggling to keep the knowledge about the
ten tribes hidden forever because true knowledge of them doesn't
fit in with their narrow, erroneous doctrines. God said that the
identity of the ten tribes would be made clear near the time of
the end. It has long since been made clear to those who study the
evidence with a desire to understand. Without that knowledge, one
can't understand very much of the Bible or of God's great plan of
salvation for the nations.
God Requires Order
The census having been completed, Moses and Aaron were
instructed by God concerning the lay-out of the camps of the
various tribes. Up to that time there was fair order, but God
wanted precise order and arrangement so that from that time on
there would be proper system and control whenever the people
camped. (Numbers 2.)
Although the tribe of Levi wasn't included in the census
that had just been taken, it was numbered later by God's order.
Males were counted from a month old and upward, and were found to
number exactly 22,000. (Numbers 3:39.)
Specific and definite duties were assigned to the various
families of the Levites. Everyone learned what he was to do. God
had planned all of it so that there wouldn't be any confusion.
(Numbers 3:5-38; 4:4-33.)
God dislikes confusion. (I Corinthians 14:33.) That means
that everything our Creator does is carefully thought out,
systematic, orderly, true and perfect. He doesn't like
half-truths, disorder, conflict, theories, guesswork, false
doctrines, lies or propaganda. God has nothing to do with today's
religious confusion except to draw out from this confused world
the individuals who are zealously seeking the truth.
Before Israel left Sinai, God also gave them the order in
which the various tribes were to break camp and spread out in
their vast caravan on the move toward Canaan. (Numbers 10:11-28.)
Meanwhile, there were other necessary instructions for that
day from God. All unclean people -- those with leprosy and other
contagious diseases and those exposed to dead bodies -- were to
be separated within the camp or put far outside the camp to stay
for various periods. (Numbers 5:1-4; Leviticus 13:1-8; 15:1-13;
21:1-3.) This was not only a health measure for the good of the
people. God didn't want unclean persons existing so close to the
holy area in which He was to dwell with the Israelites. These
measures were necessary before the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Cleanliness outside was to teach the people the need of God's
power to clean the human being from within through the Holy
At this same time God also made plain certain rules for
those who were not Levites, but who wished to be set apart for a
time of special service to God. Israelites who wanted to do this
were called nazarites. They are not to be confused with the
Levites. God honored the intentions of those individuals who
wished to take nazarite vows and blessed them for their zeal.
During the time people were nazarites they (men or women)
weren't to shave nor cut their hair. They weren't to touch any
dead body. They weren't to consume any wine. Neither were they to
drink grape juice. Grapes, either fresh or dried, weren't to be
eaten. (Numbers 6:1-8.) This was a SIGN of their special service.
Christ Was No Nazarite
Many people have believed that Jesus Christ was a nazarite
because he was raised in Nazareth, a town in the district of
Galilee about seventy miles north of Jerusalem. This is not true.
People who come from or who are in Nazareth are called Nazarenes.
They aren't nazarites unless they have taken the nazarite vow.
Christ was not a nazarite. He drank wine. (Matthew 11:19.) If He
had been a nazarite He could not have drunk wine without sinning
and losing His place as our Saviour.
Some who believe Jesus was a nazarite mistakenly claim that
the wine Jesus drank was grape juice -- but even grape juice was
forbidden to nazarites!
Because of assuming that Christ was a nazarite, many people
have believed that He had long hair flowing down to his
shoulders. Christ didn't have long hair! By-gone half-pagan
artists, trying to make Jesus look pious, gave him a sick, sad,
effeminate appearance, and even went so far as to add long hair
in their vain imagination. No man knows how Jesus looked.
Inasmuch as Christ was a hard-working carpenter who ate only
clean foods and observed the laws of good health, we know he was
a very masculine fellow with physical strength and endurance.
Because he loved all people, he was a sociable, friendly,
cheerful person who was thoughtful of others and courteous at all
times. What matters most, however, is what Christ is like now.
Hebrews 1:2-4 and Revelation 1:12-16 tell us of Christ's present
power and appearance.
Transporting the Tabernacle
One morning Moses was called out of his tent to see an
unusually large crowd slowly approaching the tabernacle from a
distance. But it wasn't the crowd that commanded his attention.
Six covered wagons, each drawn by two oxen, stood between
the crowd and the tabernacle! "These are gifts from the heads of
the twelve tribes," an officer explained. "They're being offered
to help carry the equipment of the tabernacle." (Numbers 7:1-3.)
Moses was a little puzzled as to whether or not he should
accept the wagons for that purpose. He knew that the ark, for one
thing, was to be carried on the shoulders of men, but God hadn't
yet made it known how most of the heavy equipment would be moved.
Later, back inside his tent, Moses quickly knelt in prayer
to ask God what should be done.
"Accept the gifts they have offered," God answered. "Give
the wagons to the Levites to use. This is as I have planned it to
be." (Numbers 7:4-5.)
Moses was relieved to hear this from God, and he was happy
to realize that the gifts from the Israelite princes were of
their own idea and free will. -
After donning his best attire, Moses went out to the waiting
princes of the twelve tribes. He happily accepted the wagons and
the oxen, and turned them over to Aaron so that they could be put
into special use by the Levites. (Verses 6-8.)
The wagons and the oxen weren't the only gifts from the
heads of the Israelite tribes. So many other things were brought
in that the prince of each tribe was assigned a particular day in
which to present his gifts and make his offerings. (Verses
The total from all the tribes amounted to twelve large
silver dishes in which to knead dough for the shewbread, twelve
deep silver bowls (all of them filled with fine flour mixed with
oil) for receiving blood for sacrifices, twelve golden spoons
filled with incense, twelve kids, thirty-six bullocks,
seventy-two rams, sixty male goats and seventy-two lambs.
(Numbers 7:12-23, 84-88.)
After the tribes had finished giving these things, Moses
went into the tabernacle to thank God for what so many people had
contributed. Thereupon a voice spoke out of the mercy seat. It
was God's voice directing Moses to tell Aaron concerning matters
having to do with the tabernacle and the Levites. (Numbers 7:89;
The instructions included those touching on the Passover.
The Passover is always to be observed on the fourteenth day of
the first month, Nisan. But for those away on a journey, those
who for any reason are unable to keep it on that date, the
Passover is to be observed on the fourteenth day of the SECOND
month, Iyar. (Numbers 9:9-12.)
This also applies to the New Testament Passover memorial to
be observed by Christians today, as recorded in Matthew 26:26-28.
Those who for some special reason can't observe the New Testament
Passover (with unleavened bread and wine as a memorial of
Christ's d<eath) on the original date, should make every effort
to observe it exactly a month later according to God's sacred
The need for the sacrifice of the paschal lamb ceased at
Christ's death for He was the Lamb of God offered for the sins of
God also instructed that two long trumpets of solid silver
should be made for use in contacting the people. The blowing of
only one trumpet was to summon the heads of the tribes for a
meeting. The blowing of both trumpets was either to call for a
solemn assembly of all the people or was the signal to move out
of camp. They were also to be blown in such varying manners that
the hearers would instantly recognize an alarm to prepare for
war, happy occasions, solemn days, beginnings of months and times
of offerings. (Numbers 10:1-10.)
One might doubt that two trumpets, even large and long,
could be heard by two million scattered over miles. But a horn of
the type God wanted made, blown by a strong person of good lung
capacity, could easily be heard for miles in the clear desert air
in the vicinity of Mt. Sinai.
One morning shortly after the trumpets had been made and put
into use, the Israelites came out of their tents to see that the
cloud had moved away from the tabernacle during the night and was
high in the sky!
It wasn't long afterward that the two silver trumpets,
lustily blown by Aaron's two sons, blasted out the signal for the
breaking of camp.
Israelites Resume the March
There was great excitement among the people. They had been
encamped before Mt. Sinai for almost a year, and the signal had
arrived to move on. The cloud had moved upward from the
tabernacle. Men hurried to get their livestock and tents ready to
move. Woodsmen and hunters rushed back from the mountains. Women
worked feverishly to get the family belongings together. Excited
at the thought of going somewhere, children ran happily about,
but not to become lost or get in the way.
Meanwhile, men took down the tabernacle. They had been so
well trained in this task that it was done in a remarkably short
time. It was rather astonishing that two million people were
ready to move so quickly on such short notice.
In accordance with God's orders, the first tribe to move out
of camp was Judah. Others followed in the order given them. The
Levites, carrying the tabernacle equipment, were spaced in two
different areas among the other tribes. The tribe of Naphtali was
the last to leave. (Numbers 10:11-28.)
A few hours later the mammoth caravan had disappeared
through the mountain passes to the northeast, leaving the Sinai
valley silent and lonely.
Among the strangers who had stayed with the Israelites at
Sinai was Hobab, Jethro's son. This brother-in-law of Moses,
along with a clan he headed, had joined them when he came with
his father to visit Moses and bring Zipporah, Moses' wife. As a
native of the desert, he had a keen knowledge of the desert.
Moses therefore hoped that Hobab and his people would go along
with the Israelites.
Hobab, who loved God and saw that God's people needed him,
joined his clan to the tribe of Judah, which always led the way
when the Israelite caravan moved through the wilderness. In this
way his men could use their knowledge of the desert in choosing
the best pathway for the Israelites to use in following the cloud
and the pillar of fire. After the Israelites entered Palestine,
Hobab and his relatives, the Kenites, settled down with the tribe
of Judah, choosing for themselves a wilderness area that was
similar to their old homeland. (Judges 1:16.)
In any event, probably Moses wouldn't have pressed him to go
with them if Moses could have foreseen that they weren't going to
reach Canaan until 39 years later!
For three days the vast line of humanity and animals slowly
struggled across the rocky plains and hillsides characteristic of
that region. Moses uttered a public prayer for protection each
time they started out and each time they camped. (Numbers
Complaining IS Rebellion
As usual, there were those who began to complain. By the end
of the third day from Sinai, there were many who were loudly
voicing their grievances to those about them.
"This is worse than slaving for the Egyptians!" they yelled.
"We all should join together and demand less travel and more
rest! If we try to keep this up, we shall all die!"
Before Israelite officers could organize to quell the
shouting, a peculiar thing happened. The pillar of fire, blazing
in the sky above the ark, flared upward. The evening air felt as
though it were suddenly charged with some tremendous force about
That is exactly what happened. Throughout the whole camp, as
though they had come out of nowhere, were strange, sizzling bolts
of fire. They hissed and streaked in all directions -- many of
them ploughing into the people who had just been shouting so
loudly. (Numbers 11:1.) It happened so suddenly that most of the
people hardly had time to be frightened. But now they froze in
alarm as they found themselves staring at the lifeless bodies of
those who had complained!
God meant business!
Complaining about how God directs His servants IS rebellion
against the Government of God!
QUAIL FOR TWO MILLION
A CRY of horror and grief went up from the people of Israel.
God's sudden, awful punishment reminded them of the manner in
which the Creator had struck during the time of the Passover one
year previously. Then the victims had been Egyptians. This time
there also were Egyptians, because Egyptians who had come in the
mixed multitude with the Israelites were in part to blame. But a
large number of the offenders were now Israelites.
Israel Cries for Mercy
Because the shooting, exploding bolts of flame struck
offenders in every part of all the camps, Moses was quickly aware
of what was going on. Immediately, however, there was a rush of
officers from all the camps to tell Moses what was taking place,
and to inform him that the people were screaming for mercy and
asking for Moses to pray to God to stop the fiery explosions.
When Moses learned that so many people had already been
slain by the fire from God, he immediately went into his tent,
fell on his knees before the Creator.
The deadly spurts of flame gradually disappeared after
Moses' diligent prayer. Terrified people who had raced wildly
about the camps eventually returned to their tents to count their
Next day was a bitter one for the Israelites. Many bodies
were buried in the shifting sands of the high desert country.
God's wrath had such a deep effect on many of the people that
they named the area Taberah, which meant "a burning."
But in spite of this terrible warning to complainers, many
of the people continued to murmur about their conditions. Most of
them were the strangers who were among the Israelites, but their
bitterness spread throughout the camps like some awful,
The main food of the people was still manna, a wonderful,
energizing food direct from God. At Sinai, the gathering of manna
wasn't much of a task, inasmuch as the people had plenty of time
for doing it. But since leaving the Sinai valley, some felt that
it was a burden to have to get up very early to gather the manna,
and then start to travel. This, therefore, was one of the things
the complainers began to be bitter about. Although those slain by
God had been buried only a short time, manna became a subject
loudly and sarcastically discussed by increasing thousands. The
poisonous thought promoted by these complainers was that manna
was a poor substitute for the food they had enjoyed in Egypt.
"Manna doesn't give enough strength for this tiring
journey," was the unhappy comment from the grumblers. "What we
need is meat!" (Numbers 11:4.)
Mankind then, as now, was very prone to the power of
suggestion. More and more Israelites who had the best of
intentions fell victims to the influence of the lustful,
untruthful remarks circulating about the camps. "Manna can't take
the place of the food we had in Egypt," the whiners kept saying.
Such foolish remarks caused an increasing number of
Israelites to doubt that manna was anything more than what was
required to barely keep people alive. At the same time, the
complainers kept reminding others of the wonderful foods they had
enjoyed in the past.
"Remember the crisp, succulent cucumbers and the sweet,
mellow, mouth-watering melons we liked so well in Egypt?" they
asked of all who would listen. "If God can give us so much of
this tiresome manna, why can't He also produce foods like those?
Why are we denied simple, delicious vegetables like garlic and
onions? Or even leeks, those plants with the unusually luscious
flavor? We need such things to build our morale, and we need meat
to build our strength!" (Numbers 11:5-6.)
When reminded by his officers of the ill feeling that
prevailed, Moses was distressed. He knew that some of the people
would always complain, regardless of what the conditions were.
But so much complaint, right on the heels of the mass slaying by
God, pointed to nothing but growing trouble.
The bitter attitude grew by the hour. Officers came to Moses
more frequently with reports that there was even wailing and
crying by Israelites who felt that God was being unmerciful to
them by denying them the foods they craved -- especially meat. A
wave of self-pity and semi-hysteria seemed to be passing over all
Moses was sick with discouragement. He told his aides that
he didn't wish to be disturbed for a while, and went into the
inner part of his tent to pray.
"What have I done," he asked God, "to cause this trouble to
come on me? How can I be a father to all these thousands of
unruly people? Must I try to carry them, like babies, to the land
You have promised them? How can I stop their growing demand for
other kinds of food?"
"Do you feel," God asked Moses, "that this task I have given
you is too great?"
"I only know," Moses replied, "that the wild demands of
thousands of people are too much for me. I can't see any way of
taking care of what they ask for, or of handling them while they
are in such an extreme state of mind. If I fail to give them the
foods they are demanding, they are likely to get entirely out of
control. If You allow that to happen, then please take my life
now. I don't want to be here to witness such a rebellion."
"The people are overcome with false pity for themselves,"
God told Moses. "You must not be likewise. If you feel that your
responsibility is too great, then choose seventy of the strongest
leaders and most honorable men among the older men of Israel and
have them come to the tabernacle. There I shall meet you, and
shall give them the special understanding I have given you. They
will then realize how you are being troubled by the people. They
will help you by pointing out to the people that you are right in
what you require of them, even though those requirements may at
times seem harsh." (Verses 16-17.)
"Will this cause the people to cease their complaining?"
Moses asked God.
"No," God answered. "But from then on none of them can
honestly say that I haven't given them fair warning for anything
that may come because of their disobedience. Warn them to stop
their complaining and prepare for a feast of flesh. Tell them
that this feast won't last just one day, two days, five days nor
twenty days. Tell them it will last a whole month, and that they
shall have so much flesh to eat that it will become sickening to
them. Tell them that as they have complained so much because of
not having anything but manna, they won't be able to hold the
flesh on their stomachs."
"But how can you provide meat for over two million people
for a whole month?" Moses inquired. "Must all our flocks and
herds be slaughtered to take care of the appetites of the people
for flesh? Or do You have some way of bringing a huge amount of
fish from the Red Sea?"
"Why do you seem to doubt that I have power to take care of
these matters?" God inquired. "Go do as I have commanded, and you
shall soon witness what I have planned." (Numbers 11:18-23.)
Moses at once told his officers to tell the people that God
had been greatly moved by their complaints, and would send them
so much flesh that they would wish they had never asked for it.
The news brought great excitement to nearly every camp. Many
people ran from tent to tent, loudly and joyfully repeating what
Moses' officers had told them. This, they imagined, was something
to celebrate. Before long, musicians had gathered here and there,
and there was singing and dancing in many areas.
Most of the celebrants were interested only in God's
promising them meat for a whole month. Very few seemed to be
concerned by His remark that they would regret asking for it.
Seventy Elders Chosen
Meanwhile, Moses chose the seventy elders who were the most
capable, and called for them to meet before the tabernacle. After
the group of carefully picked men had arrived, Moses went into
the tabernacle and fell on his knees to await God's presence. It
wasn't long before the cloud settled down over the tabernacle.
"From this moment on," God said to Moses, "the seventy men
you have picked will have a special gift of understanding. They
will have greater respect for Me. They will realize without any
doubt that you are My chosen servant, and they will have greater
respect for you. They will have a better attitude and more
correct outlook on matters having to do with the people's
reaching Canaan. They will have the ability to show at least some
of the Israelites how wrong they are in complaining against you.
Thus you won't feel that you are so alone in your struggle to
keep the people obedient. They will receive the same spirit from
Me that you have, Moses."
It happened just as God had foretold. The elders began to
talk among themselves with great harmony and understanding. When
Moses came out of the tabernacle to join them in hours of
brotherly conversation, there was a most unusual spirit of
harmony and wisdom. Later, when the elders went back to their
various camps, their special understanding greatly enabled them
to help the people in many matters. (Numbers 11:24-25.)
Two of the seventy elders chosen by Moses, Eldad and Medad,
weren't able to get to the tabernacle. But they, as well as the
others, were at the same time imbued with the special
understanding that was a gift from God. Fired with inspiration,
these two men walked out among the people and made moving remarks
proving God's and Moses' authority.
"Why do you complain and why do you listen to those who
complain?" they asked the people. "God is very displeased by what
has been going on. Unless there is a great change of attitude
soon among the people, many of you will die within a short time!"
A large crowd gathered around Eldad and Medad. Bystanders
regarded the two with anything from mild interest to amazement as
the two elders prophesied of things that had to do with God's
future plan for the Israelites, and in such a manner that very
few listeners failed to show the greatest respect for them.
Months previously, when Moses had earnestly prayed for the
Israelites to win in a long battle with attacking Amalekites, a
young man by the name of Joshua had led the Israelites' army to
battle while Aaron and Hur held up Moses' hands as Moses prayed.
(Exodus 17:8-13.) This same young man happened to be present when
another young man ran and told Moses that Eldad and Medad were
speaking to the people. Joshua realized at once that the two
couldn't have spoken so well and in such an informed manner
without inspiration from some source.
This troubled Joshua. He felt that two men making such an
impression on the people might cause the Israelites to seek a new
"You should send men to stop them, sir!" Joshua warned.
"Otherwise, they could cause many people to regard them as
leaders, and this could cause trouble for you at this time when
the people are showing so much disobedience."
Moses wasn't worried, however. He realized that this was a
case of God having given Eldad and Medad special understanding
along with the sixty-eight other elders who had been chosen to
help bear a part of Moses' responsibility.
"Don't be concerned that they'll be any trouble to me,"
Moses told Joshua. "In fact, I wish every Israelite could be
inspired with their God-given understanding of what it means to
all of us to obey." (Numbers 11:27-30.)
The Quail Arrive
After the elders had returned to their camps and Moses had
gone to his tent, a strong southwest wind came up. It increased
to such velocity that the people began to be concerned about
their tents being blown down. Most of them forgot about their
tents, however, when they noticed a peculiar dark streak
gradually growing larger on the southwest horizon. This strange
sight caused great concern among the people. Some thought it was
merely a low cloud or a bank of fog, though fog in that desert
area would have been quite unusual.
Even Moses was puzzled when his attention was brought to it.
But when he noticed an increasing number of birds flying swiftly
to the northeast, he abruptly realized how God was about to
supply the meat the Israelites had been demanding. He remembered
how God had sent flocks of quails (Exodus 16:11-13) when the
people had first complained about having to steadily eat manna.
"Have it announced to all the camps at once that God is now
providing all the flesh for which the people have been begging."
Moses instructed an aide. "Tell them that God isn't giving it to
them to supply any need, but that He's giving it to them as a
lesson of obedience they'll soon understand."
The dark cloud grew more swiftly. It was only a little while
later that the sky became blackened with a tremendous flock of
quails. Many of them flew only three or four feet above the
ground. Many fell to the ground exhausted and ran about the
ground, trying to get their tired bodies into the air again.
When the amazed Israelites realized that they were being set
upon by such tasty fowl, they seized the nearest useful objects,
such as sticks and spears and boards, and started beating
low-flying birds to the ground, and striking those exhausted
birds which scampered in all directions.
While some excitedly slaughtered birds, others hastily
plucked them. In spite of the strong winds, the camps soon became
alive with an unusually large number of fires over which quails
were hastily roasted.
After months of existing mostly on manna, the Israelites
were so excited because of receiving meat that they tore and bit
and chewed at the flesh of the birds as through they had been
starved. They took turns catching, roasting and eating, but it
required many hours for all of them to get their fill of the
All that day the strong wind persisted, and flocks of quails
passed over the camps continuously. The excited people flailed
away at them, knocking the birds to the ground, snatching them up
to swiftly prepare them for roasting or to pluck and salt them
for eating later.
As sundown approached, it was expected that the wind would
die down and that the birds -- if they continued to pass over --
would manage to fly at higher altitudes. But the strong wind
continued all night. And all night, by the light of bright
campfires, the Israelites went on batting down all birds within
Next morning the wind still hadn't abated. Flock after flock
of quails skimmed over the camps. There were so many fowl that
they were seen fifteen to twenty miles on both sides of the camp
areas. The wind continued all that day, and hordes of birds with
it. There seemed to be no end to them. By this time many people
were still downing them, but not with the eagerness of the
Near sundown the wind finally started to subside. The flocks
of quails became smaller and smaller, until no more, even single
stragglers, were seen to pass over.
Thousands of weary quail-catchers slumped upon their beds.
Regardless of their obvious desire to get even more fowl than
they could use, they were relieved when there were no more to try
to get. After two days and one night of bird-bagging, the camps
were full of thousands and thousands of tons of fowl. Besides the
millions of quails already eaten, there were piles of them
between tents, countless numbers strung up to dry and huge
amounts being roasted, boiled, fried or barbecued.
Not everyone had tried his hand at bagging the quails
because not all of the Israelites had lusted for meat. But there
were more than a half-million able-bodied men in the camps, and
few of them refrained from the sport of quail-catching. One can
get some idea of the amount of fowl brought out of the sky by
using the figure 500,000 -- the number of men who probably
gathered the birds -- and multiplying it by the SMALLEST amount
of birds bagged by anyone during the time the quails passed over
The taste of roasted, succulent quail flesh was a welcome
treat to the Israelites. But perhaps it wasn't quite as wonderful
as many had expected. When one builds up a lustful, consuming
desire for something, it often turns out to be more desirable in
one's imagination than it does as a reality. Thus it was with so
many of the lustful ones of Israel and their quails.
As for God's promise to supply the Israelites with meat for
a whole month, the Creator more than kept his word. The huge
amounts of birds bagged by the Israelites, if properly preserved,
would have lasted more than a month -- even if eaten greedily by
the more ravenous Israelites.
The Punishment Comes
But something began to happen to cause the Israelites to
suddenly lose interest in quails.
People began to get sick.
From all points in the camps came the increasing moans and
groans of those who had gorged themselves. Their digestive
systems, used to the mild manna month after month, were heavily
over taxed by the great amounts of half-chewed flesh that had
been swallowed hour after hour.
To the horror of friends and relatives who helplessly
watched them, the agonized victims rolled convulsively, then
lapsed into unconsciousness that was soon followed by death.
More and more died this horrible death as the hours wore on.
By the time the self-inflicted plague had come to a halt, an area
not far from the camps had become a vast graveyard!
TWELVE SCOUTS SEARCH CANAAN
PERHAPS you will remember the time when the Israelites who
complained were suddenly, supernaturally electrocuted by bolts of
lightning. At that time the people begged Moses to exhort God to
have mercy on them. (Numbers 11:1-3.)
Later, when many died because of eating too much quail
flesh, no screaming groups of people came to beg or demand of
Moses that he again plead with God for them. Many were too ill to
come to Moses, and those who weren't ill realized that the dead
and the sick had brought these conditions on themselves.
Nevertheless, there were some here and there who even later
persisted in eating quail flesh that was beginning to spoil. The
result was more illness and a few more deaths.
Moses Causes Criticism
On the route to the promised land Moses met an Ethiopian
woman -- apparently one whom he had known and lived with over
forty years before in Egypt. Without consulting God, and even
though he was now married to Jethro's daughter, Moses now married
the Ethiopian. The historian and priest Josephus gives us what
may be special details about her background.
Because of this event there developed a strong feeling of
envy by Miriam, the sister of Moses and of Aaron. Instead of
privately taking up the matter with Moses as she should have
done, Miriam made a public issue of it.
"Moses had no business doing that. He is just upsetting
everybody," Miriam complained to Aaron. "Moses should have
Although he realized that Miriam was wrong in being envious
and critical, and that she was attempting to exert far too much
authority, Aaron was inclined to agree that Moses shouldn't have
made any great decisions without taking at least some of the
matters up with him and his sister. But he was for letting the
matter drop right there and discussing it in private with Moses.
Miriam had no intention of doing that, however.
"I think we should take this matter to the people," Miriam
went on, "Surely God is inspiring you and me as to what should be
done. But Moses acts as though he is the only one in touch with
God. Unless he's stopped, he'll take all authority to himself and
do just as he pleases with the people."
"Perhaps you're right," Aaron mused. "The feeling of too
much authority could have a bad effect on any man -- even our
Nothing in this world has ever been done or thought or
spoken without God knowing about it. Although Aaron and Miriam
were chosen servants of their Creator, they displeased Him by
their critical, envious and unkind remarks about another chosen
servant who was above them in authority.
Alone in Aaron's tent, the two felt a peculiar sensation, as
though someone were very close and watching them.
God Summons Miriam and Aaron
"Miriam! Aaron!" a stern voice startled them. "Go to the
Fearfully they looked quickly about, but they saw no one,
though the voice seemed to be right beside them.
"Could -- could it have been God or an angel of God
speaking?" Miriam stuttered nervously.
"It must have been one or the other," Aaron murmured,
swallowing with difficulty. "We had better go to the tabernacle
Outside the tabernacle they met Moses, who also had been
summoned there. Aaron and Miriam -- especially Miriam -- were
uncomfortable in Moses' presence because of talking about him as
they had done. The three of them stood in uneasy silence, waiting
for something to happen. (Numbers 12:4.)
Slowly the cloud of God descended over the tabernacle. There
was a blinding blaze of light from within the curtained inner
room. The three Israelites shielded their eyes with their arms
and backed away from the unusual brilliance. Then, a voice:
"Now listen to Me! Lest there be any doubt as to the one
through whom I choose to speak and direct in these times, be
assured that Moses is the servant who is to bear the greatest
responsibility. Let it be known that I, the Eternal, speak to him
directly as one being to another, and not in some mysterious
manner, or in dreams and visions, as I speak to ordinary
prophets. You, Miriam, and you, Aaron, it is time you know that
these things are so. Why, then, were you so foolish as to speak
against Moses, my chosen servant?" (Numbers 12:5-8.)
Aaron's face was the color of ashes as God concluded His
rebuke. Miriam cringed in fear. Moses was both embarrassed and
angry to learn that he had been the object of wrong remarks by
his brother and sister. Nevertheless, he felt a little sorry for
them because he knew that God often acted with terrible swiftness
when it was His intention to punish anyone.
Miriam and Aaron were relieved when they saw the blinding
light in the tabernacle disappear. They were even more relieved
when they saw the cloud float up from the tabernacle.
"God is departing," Miriam whispered to Aaron. "Surely He
wasn't too displeased with us, or He would have done more than
just talk." (Verse 9.)
"Don't speak like that!" Aaron warned, glancing uneasily at
the departing cloud. "God doesn't forget. We should get back to
our tents and pray for mercy!"
Irked by his sister's senseless statement, Aaron turned to
look searchingly at Miriam. That searching look caused him to
draw back in horror.
The flesh on his sister's face, neck, arms and hands had
suddenly taken on a sickly white hue! Aaron shuddered as he tore
his eyes from her ghastly face.
He knew that she had suddenly become a leper! (Verse 10.)
"Moses!" Aaron called in a quavering voice.
Why God Rebuked Miriam and Aaron
Moses was slowly walking away at the moment. He turned and
came back because he sensed the despair in Aaron's tone. When he
saw Miriam's condition, he was very upset. Miriam for the first
time noticed her hands. She gave a shriek and collapsed on the
ground. Aaron quickly knelt down beside her and looked pleadingly
up at Moses.
"Don't let God take her by this terrible disease!" he
begged. "Ask Him to forgive our foolish sin and heal her."
Moses knelt down, leaned over with his face to the ground
and called out to God.
"Make her well now, God!" he cried out. "Be merciful and
forgive her and Aaron of their sins! Remove this awful disease
from my sister now!" (Verse 13.)
Then God suddenly answered Moses: "Because of her disrespect
for authority, Miriam must be shut out of the camp and My
presence for seven days."
To her horror and disgrace, Miriam was led to a distant spot
far outside the camp, there to sit and loathe herself in utter
Meanwhile, the Israelites were prepared to start out again.
But the cloud didn't move forward, and this obviously meant that
God was delaying the march until Miriam would be brought back
into camp healed. (Verses 14-15.)
After a week had passed, she was brought back into her tent.
God had answered Moses' prayers and had healed her. She and Moses
and Aaron were very thankful. At the same time, Miriam was sorry
for having spoken out so boldly and wrongly against Moses. If she
had failed to repent, God would have refused to take away her
terrible leprosy, and it would soon have caused her death.
Miriam learned the lesson that all should learn -- that
speaking evil of the servants God has chosen to work for or
represent Him is indirectly speaking evil of the One who created
the whole universe and every one of us. God tells us that wisdom
begins with respect for Him. (Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10.)
Journey to the Promised Land
After Miriam had been brought back into the camp at
Hazeroth, the people moved northward for several days. Although
it was late summer, they journeyed on through the hot desert
country to Paran, eventually coming to a secluded oasis area
called Kadesh or Kadesh-barnea. (Numbers 12:16 and 13:26.)
It was on the border of the promised land of Canaan. At
Kadesh the cloud came to a halt far more than a night. The people
found several wells and springs in that region, and there was
enough grass for their animals. It was evident that God meant the
Israelites to camp at that place for at least several days. The
tabernacle was erected just as it had been at Sinai, and the
various tribes set up their camps in the same positions.
"Choose twelve capable men -- one who is ruler from each of
the twelve tribes -- for a scouting expedition up into Canaan,"
God instructed Moses. "They are to bring back a full report on
the land. Then the people will learn from their own respected
leaders that it is a good land they are approaching." (Numbers
Moses picked twelve outstanding men from the twelve tribes.
These included Joshua, a young man who had previously been very
helpful to Moses, and a man named Caleb of the tribe of Judah.
Joshua and Caleb were chosen as leaders of the expedition.
"You twelve are to go up into Canaan as scouts," Moses told
them when they were brought together. "It's up to you to find the
best and easiest route there. Carefully observe everything.
Notice whether the land is flat or hilly and what kind of crops
it bears. Note the people, to find out how numerous they are,
whether they are warlike, peaceful, strong or weak. Find out what
their villages and cities are like, and what strongholds they
have. Be sure to see where the best forests are located, as well
as the best grazing and farming areas. Bring back some produce of
the land. And don't fear for your lives, because you can rely on
God to protect you as long as you obey Him." (Numbers 13:17-20.)
The Scouting Expedition Begins
Going to Canaan wasn't simply a matter of packing a few
things and leaving. The scouts needed some idea of the general
lay-out of the land.
This knowledge came from the Kenites -- Moses'
father-in-law's family -- and from traveled strangers at Kadesh
who had joined the Israelites. From them Moses obtained
information concerning the boundaries, mountain ranges, lakes,
streams, forests and desert areas of Canaan. This was carefully
studied by the twelve picked men, and maps were made for them to
When at last the picked scouts had said good-bye to their
families and friends, they set out northward from Kadesh across
the narrow Zin desert. After plodding wearily in the heat over
many miles, they topped a rise to gaze down on a vast expanse of
water more than 4,000 feet below them!
Today this body of salty water is known as the Dead Sea. It
is almost 1,300 feet below sea level -- the deepest chasm on the
land surface. It is forty-seven miles long from north to south,
and is nine and a half miles across at the widest spot. It is
1,300 feet deep at its greatest depth. The dimensions were
slightly different back when the Israelite scouts suddenly came
"This must be what is known as the Salt Sea or the Sea of
the Plain!" one of the men exclaimed, pointing to the whitish
shoreline far below. "You know what that means!"
"It means we have reached Canaan!" Joshua shouted
triumphantly. "We know from what we have heard that this large
lake is part of the eastern boundary of the promised land!"
There was happy excitement among the twelve men. Having some
idea of where they were, they felt successful and more secure.
That night they camped on the towering area overlooking the
water, and next morning started down from the mountains to skirt
the west shore of the long lake.
For the next few days their progress was fairly easy.
However, the midday heat was quite intense, and they found that
it was wise to travel only in the mornings and evenings.
The Jordan Valley Visited
At the north end of the Dead Sea they turned eastward to
come to the Jordan River, the main stream emptying into the Dead
Sea. There in the river bottom region they saw that there were
many beautiful farms and that the crops were excellent.
The scouts continued northward, sometimes following the
Jordan River and sometimes veering off toward the mountain range
to the west. They had purposely avoided the country east of the
Jordan River and the Dead Sea because the promised land was then
from the Jordan River westward. (Numbers 33:51-53; 34:1-2, 12 and
Deuteronomy 12:10.) The people they met stared suspiciously at
them, probably regarding them either as wandering traders,
bandits, or vagrants.
A few days later they arrived at another body of water known
today as the Sea of Galilee. It was known also as the Sea of
Chinnereth. This lake, seven miles wide at the north end and
thirteen miles long, was the one near which Jesus Christ would
spend much of His life. It is about 200 feet to the bottom at the
deepest point. The hills back from its east shores jutted up to
2,000 feet. Its surface was about 700 feet below that of the
The scouts traveled on northward far past the Sea of Galilee
to a town called Rehob, on the northern border of the promised
land, in the land of Aram, known today as Syria. Having knowledge
of where they were, the Israelites recognized that they were very
close to the northern boundaries of the promised land, and so
they turned back southward. (Numbers 13:21.)
Moving down through the fertile regions between the Jordan
River and the Great Sea (the Mediterranean), the scouts saw even
more people than they had seen near the river. Crops looked even
better, trees bore more fruit and there were more signs of
The scouting Israelites had been coming to more and more
great cities teeming with people and bristling with
fortifications. The people continued to stare at the twelve
strangers as they trudged along the road. The Israelites made no
effort to visit with them. It was wiser to keep to themselves
than run the risk of getting mixed up with robbers or violent
men. The scouts were well-armed for purposes of hunting, and
their rugged, bearded appearance undoubtedly warded off more than
one group of bandits who might otherwise have attacked them for
whatever was in the Israelites' packsacks.
The scouts decided to journey to the east shores of the
Mediterranean Sea. They had heard awesome tales of how warlike
the people were in that region. These, the Philistines, were the
ones through whose land God had kept Israel from traveling when
they had first left Egypt, even though it would have meant a much
The Scouts Meet the Philistines
There the scouts were especially cautious. They moved around
the towns and villages instead of going through them. Here and
there they noticed armed Philistine men who obviously were
soldiers or civil officers. Once they spotted a whole platoon of
such men at a distance, but the scouts weren't set upon, stopped
or even questioned.
Crossing back to the southeast, they came to Hebron, one of
the oldest cities in the world. It had been founded seven years
before the founding of Zion, the first city founded in post-Flood
Egypt. (Numbers 13:22.)
At Hebron the scouts were so curious to get a good look at
the people and buildings and bazaars that they considered
traveling right through the streets.
"I should like to go through the town as much as any of
you," Joshua frowned thoughtfully, "but I think it's too much of
a risk. If we all go together, we could be looked on as a band of
renegades, and officers might stop us."
"How about splitting up into two pairs?" Caleb suggested.
"That should help!" Joshua nodded. "But we can't become too
separated. Each couple must be far enough apart that we won't be
regarded as a group, but close enough to be within sight of each
other at all times."
Accordingly, the twelves divided into six pairs and joined a
straggling line of all kinds of people approaching Hebron from
Hebron wasn't a large city teeming with great crowds, but
its narrow, stony streets were lined with shops where knots of
rather drab humanity bobbed and shuffled in and out. Mixing in
with the hodge-podge of people and pack-animals, the scouts saw
and heard many interesting things. Shopkeepers called out their
wares to them. Small, ragged boys begged them for hand-outs.
Grinning, beady-eyed men, spotting them as strangers, slipped up
beside them and offered to guide them to various places of
Intent on getting through Hebron, the Israelites weren't
halted by salesmen, beggars or men who had more than guide
service to sell. They moved through the bazaar area and into the
southern fringe of town. Joshua and Caleb, who were ahead, saw
several armed helmeted men pour out of a nearby building and
station themselves menacingly in the street.
"We can't go this way!" Caleb whispered. "Those soldiers
mean to block our path!"
It was obvious that the scouts had at last run into serious
trouble, and just when they had almost completed their trip!
SCOUTS REPORT SEEING GIANTS!
THE ISRAELITE scouts sent out by Moses had traveled by foot over
much of Canaan. They had looped around to arrive at Hebron, a
city not too far from Kadesh. Kadesh was the scouts' starting
point, where the twelve tribes were encamped and awaiting reports
from the twelve-man expedition.
On leaving Hebron, the Israelites suddenly found themselves
confronted by several soldiers blocking the narrow street.
"We can't turn back now," Joshua said in a low voice to
Caleb. "If we turn back, they'll probably take after us!"
As the scouts neared the soldiers, they were amazed to
realize that some of them were almost twice as tall as ordinary
men! The towering soldiers saw the expressions of growing
unbelief on the faces of the scouts, who now were close enough to
notice the hostility on the faces of the soldiers. Suddenly the
scouts realized that it was only mock hostility. The giant men
broke into loud, hoarse laughter and stepped aside to let the six
pairs of Israelites continue down the street. It was evident that
a favorite pastime of the soldiers -- the giant descendants of
Anak -- was to playfully startle strangers who had never before
seen such tall men. (Numbers 13:22.)
The scouts breathed sighs of relief and thankfulness as they
left the laughing soldiers behind them. They kept on to the south
-- where they saw numerous other giant tribes -- until they
arrived at a fertile valley known as Eshcol, through which ran a
small stream. This was grape country and time for harvesting
grapes. The Israelites were astounded at the great size of the
"We were instructed to bring back samples of the produce of
Canaan," Joshua reminded the men. "So far we have gathered only a
few things, and our trip is nearly over. This is perhaps our last
opportunity to take some of the unusual fruit growing here."
Not wanting to invade a private vineyard, the men cut down a
large cluster of grapes apparently growing wild. They hung the
cluster on a pole for two men to carry it between them back to
Kadesh. The grapes weren't so heavy that two men were required to
lift them. It was a matter of letting the massive cluster hang
free so that it wouldn't be crushed. However, the bunch of grapes
was all of two feet long, and each grape was as large as a plum!
The scouts also plucked healthy fruits and luscious figs
from the area. Burdened with their increased loads, they turned
south toward Kadesh.
They arrived at Kadesh just forty days from the time they
had set out. Although many people went out to meet them and to
ply them with questions, the scouts reported at once to Moses.
Knowing that the people were anxious to learn what their spies
had seen in Canaan, Moses later called for the people to assemble
close to the tabernacle. (Numbers 13:23-25.)
As a leader of the expedition, Joshua was asked first to
give a public account of what had taken place. He came out on a
high platform, so that the crowd could see him, and sketchily
related what the men had seen and done.
"It is a good land," he concluded. "Large areas of it are
very fertile, as many of you can see by this display of unusual
produce. There is plenty of grazing country for our flocks and
herds. We should thank God that all these good things are there
for the taking when we move northward."
Meanwhile, all the other scouts except Caleb had gathered in
a group and were earnestly talking. When Joshua had finished
speaking, he asked any one of them to add to what had already
been said. One scout, obviously chosen as a spokesman, came up to
face Moses, Aaron and the throng of people.
"The land of Canaan is indeed fertile in some regions, just
as Joshua has stated," the speaker said in a strong clear voice.
"However, when he spoke of our seeing a few very tall men, he
failed to mention that all the people are very large and tall. He
also left out the facts that all the cities have high, thick
walls behind which are large, well-trained, powerful armies. It
is foolish to even think of trying to enter Canaan. We would all
There was an awkward silence. Moses and Aaron, as well as
most others, were greatly startled by what they had heard. Then
the silence suddenly gave way to a growing murmur from the crowd.
Joshua and Caleb exchanged anxious glances. Caleb leaped on the
platform and raised his arms for silence. The murmuring gradually
subsided, but not completely.
"I ask you to hear me on this matter!" Caleb spoke out
loudly. "This man whom you have just heard doesn't speak for all
twelve of us. For some reason he has lied about the cities all
having high walls, all the people being giants and all the armies
being large and powerful. The truth is that God can surely
overcome the inhabitants of Canaan for us!" (Numbers 13:26-33.)
The ten scouts quickly crowded onto the platform, shouting
"No! No!" they chorused. "This fellow is the one who isn't
telling the truth!"
There was much confusion, both around the platform and
throughout the crowd. After a few minutes Moses and his officers
were fairly successful in restoring order. God does not like
"This has been a disgraceful exhibition, especially by men
of your past good reputations," Moses said sternly to the ten
scouts. "If you actually believe it would be a mistake to go into
Canaan, then you must give more reasons than you have already
stated, and with proof!"
There was a quick consultation among the ten men, and again
their spokesmen stepped up to address the people.
"I'll admit that I didn't tell you exactly what conditions
are in Canaan," the speaker shouted, "but neither did Joshua or
Caleb. The real truth is something none of us wanted to bring to
you because it seemed cruel to fill you with complete dismay and
disappointment. However, probably many of you won't believe what
I am about to tell you."
Here the speaker paused, at the risk of being interrupted,
so that the audience would be even more eager to hear his words.
He was counting on Moses giving him a full chance to say what he
had to say.
"Now here are the terrifying facts," he continued. "For some
reason these two leaders probably won't back me up on these
things. But nine other scouts will. In the first place, the
climate of most of the land north of here is very bad. It has
produced mostly desert territory. Water is scarce. Disease and
pestilence have taken the lives of ordinary people like
ourselves. The survivors -- and they must number into many
thousands -- are all giants who are actually so tremendous that
we were only as grasshoppers in their sight. They didn't pay any
attention to us because they looked down on us as only insects.
These people have descended from fierce Hamitic tribes. They are
so mountainous and powerful that it would take only a few of them
to stamp all of us into the ground!" A great sound of discontent
welled up from the crowd. At a command from Moses, Joshua stood
up to speak, but the growing noise from the people drowned out
his words even to the nearest listeners.
"His lies have frightened the people!" Joshua said to Moses
after leaving the platform. "They don't even want to listen to
"Most of them know that they have listened to lies," Moses
said. "They prefer to believe what isn't the truth so that they
will have excuses to return to Egypt."
"Ten of my fellow scouts must be working with those who are
trying to get the Israelites to turn back," Joshua remarked
"It is very plain," Moses agreed. "This growing movement to
try to return to Egypt is getting out of hand."
The Crowd Breaks Up
Moses soberly watched the yelling Israelites milling
excitedly about, and shook his head in disappointment. In recent
weeks, in spite of the trouble these people had given him, his
hope had grown that his task of leading them to the promised land
was about to end. An end to the Journey now appeared about as
possible as single-handedly herding mile lions of wild burros
into a corral.
For a few moments he considered trying to address the
people, to remind them how futile it would be to start back
without God's help. But already the huge throng was breaking up.
Officers were faithfully working to keep the crowd in order, but
the people were too noisy and excited to listen to any more
Wailing, weeping and murmuring, the people milled around
between camps and tents, loudly complaining that it would mean
death to all if they were to set foot in what they referred to as
a disease-ridden land of giants to the north. All night this
noisy and childish exhibition went on.
Meanwhile, however, many thousands of the Israelites had no
part in the demonstration.
By early morning many of the complainers were worked up into
such a highly emotional state that they again formed into a crowd
that advanced angrily toward the tabernacle. Some of the
demonstrators went so far as to carry sticks and stones.
"We wish we had died in Egypt!" thousands of them yelled.
"We wish we had died in the desert!" other thousands
chorused. "God has dragged us out to this miserable place only
for the purpose of having us slain by giants! Our wives and our
children will all die if we follow Moses any further!"
"We want to go back to Egypt!" was a common cry. "Let us
choose a leader who knows what is best for us -- one who knows
the shortest and fastest route back to Egypt!" (Numbers 14:1-4.)
"We have already picked out those who can lead us!" some of
the Israelites screamed. "Let us put down Moses and his officers
so that our leaders can take over!"
Only the most rebellious and rabble-rousing dared suggest
ousting Moses, and not a great part of the Israelites fell in
with such a suggestion of violence. However, it was plain to
Moses that this unhappy situation could explode into a worse one
within minutes. There was only one wise thing to do. Moses
motioned to Aaron. The two of them mounted the platform. For a
few seconds they silently regarded the clamoring crowd. Then they
knelt down and bent over with their foreheads touching the floor
of the platform. In this abject position they called on God to
step in and take control of the people.
When the demonstrators saw their leaders bowing quieted down
to a low murmur.
Angered and shocked at the manner in which their fellow
scouts had spoken and acted, Joshua and Caleb decided to take
advantage of this quieter period to try once more to bring the
truth to the people. Joshua once more went to the platform and
walked out in front of Moses and Aaron.
"Fellow Israelites!" Joshua cried out. "I'm here again to
assure you of what all twelve of us have witnessed -- that Canaan
is a good, productive land. There are no giants such as have been
described to you, though there are some men who are several feet
taller than our men. There is a good supply of water. We saw no
unusual signs of disease or pestilence. Canaan is so much better
than any land we have come through so far that it would be very
foolish not to claim it. Let us not rebel against our Creator.
Otherwise He might decide to withhold this promised land from
People looked on with stony faces as Joshua stepped back and
Caleb came forward to stand in front of the two men who were
still prostrate. "What Joshua has just told you is true!" Caleb
shouted to the people.
"God is offering us a wonderful future if only we obey Him.
Surely He is already displeased by your attitude of refusal to go
into Canaan and take what our Creator wants us to have for our
own happiness. As for fearing the Canaanites, there is no reason
for that. As long as God is with us, no people -- even if they
were all giants -- can overcome us!"
As soon as Caleb ceased speaking, the murmuring from the
crowd grew louder and louder. In spite of a number of alert
guards surrounding the platform, the bolder and more excited ones
in the crowd moved menacingly close. Out of the hubbub of shrieks
and yells two chilling words became more and more distinct.
"Stone them! Stone them! Stone them!" (Numbers 14:5-10.)
Very soon the phrase became a monstrous chant from the lungs
of the frenzied thousands. Still Caleb and Joshua stood on the
platform with the kneeling Moses and Aaron.
MOB ATTACKS MOSES
SUDDENLY the mob closed in, pressing the guards against the
underpinning of the platform. A few small stones shot out of the
crowd and bounced off the platform, where Moses, Aaron, Joshua,
and Caleb stood.
Those who attempted to hurl heavier stones were hampered by
the surging mass of human beings. A few men managed to squirm
past the guards and climb onto the platform. They crouched around
the four figures who were already there, eyeing them
threateningly. It was evident that these intruders were waiting
for more to join them for the purpose of seizing Caleb, Joshua,
Moses and Aaron.
At that instant a blinding flash came from inside the
tabernacle. Even though the curtains of the structure veiled its
full brilliance, the brightness was so intense that people were
temporarily blinded. A moment later an ear-splitting roar rumbled
out of the tabernacle. The ground quaked as though a whole
mountain had been dropped from the sky!
The intruders staggered off the platform and into the
struggling mass surrounding it. The words "Stone them!" abruptly
ceased from the crowd. The only sounds now were those of alarm in
the frantic scramble to draw back from the platform and the
Realizing that God had intervened, Moses and Aaron gave
thanks and got to their feet.
"Have the ten traitorous scouts arrested and brought to my
tent," Moses instructed Joshua and Caleb. "I must go now to the
tabernacle to talk with God."
At the tabernacle God asked Moses after he had knelt inside
the tabernacle, "How much longer will these people vex me with
their evil ways? How many more signs must I give them to prove
that I mean what I say? Now I should have nothing more to do with
them except to blot them out of my sight forever. Then, starting
with you, I should build up a greater and a mightier nation!"
Here is where the course of history would have been greatly
changed if Moses had let his vanity get the best of him. With
Israel wiped out, Moses would have claimed Abraham's place as the
"father of nations."
"But if you destroy all Israel," Moses replied, "the
Egyptians shall hear of it. In fact, every nation on Earth will
sooner or later know of it. Word has spread that you are the kind
of God who dwells with His people, and Who leads them with a
cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When news goes abroad
that Your people died in the desert, the nations will believe
that You lacked the power to bring them safely into the land You
promised to them. I beg you, God, to forgive these people of
their sins, but I'm not asking You to let go unpunished those who
have stirred the people into wanting to return to Egypt instead
of going on into Canaan."
There was a silence. It was painful to Moses, who couldn't
be certain how God would respond. He realized that his mentioning
the preserving of God's reputation in the eyes of other nations
-- especially Egypt -- wasn't necessarily a strong point. God,
with His perfect memory and awareness, wasn't in need of being
reminded. Finally the Creator replied.
"Because you have prayed as you have for the Israelites, I
shall forgive their sins as a nation. I shall not make a complete
end of them. My reputation for mercy and power and glory will one
day be known in every nation of the world." (Numbers 14:11-21.)
Moses was greatly relieved and heartened to hear these words
from the Creator. He remained for a little while with his
forehead to the ground. But just as he raised his head and was
about to utter his deep thanks, God's voice boomed out at him
"I have just told you that I am willing to forgive the sins
of the Israelites. At the same time, however, I will refuse them
entrance into the promised land because they have broken their
covenant with me. This means that those who have rebelled against
me shall never come into Canaan! They shall die in the desert!
This curse doesn't apply to those who are under twenty years of
age -- the very ones whose fathers complained that they would
surely die in the desert because I couldn't protect them. Neither
does it apply to obedient people such as Joshua and Caleb. But it
does mean that most of Israel shall wander forty years in the
mountains and deserts before reaching the land they have refused
and hated. That is one year for every day required for the scouts
to search Canaan!"
"But we have already spent about a year and a half coming to
Canaan," Moses said. "Do you mean that we are to spend forty
years going to a place that is only a few hours distant?"
"Inasmuch as you have already been nearly two years on the
way," God replied, "it will require full thirty-eight more. That
is My judgment on Israel because of their rebellion." (Numbers
Just a few minutes previously Moses had felt as though a
great weight had been lifted from him when he was assured that
the people would not be suddenly blotted out. Now the dismal
outlook of thirty-eight years of leading the Israelites was
something he could scarcely face.
"Where must we go from here?" Moses inquired wearily.
"You must leave tomorrow and start southward."
Told by God to carry this depressing information to the
people, Moses and Aaron returned to the platform. A vast,
murmuring throng was still present. Joshua and Caleb hurried to
join Moses and Aaron.
The Ten Scouts Slain
"We didn't have to arrest the ten scouts," Joshua reported,
pointing to a knot of people crowded around something on the
ground. "They're all dead!"
"Dead?" Moses repeated in surprise. "How could it be that
all of them would die at the same time?"
"We couldn't find out," Caleb explained. "Just a little
while ago they were seen talking together over there. An instant
later they were lifeless on the ground."
Moses quickly realized that God had taken their lives
because of their false reports, but there wasn't time just then
to be concerned about the scouts and their families. Moses had to
tell the people at once what was in store for them. (Numbers
When he passed on to them what God had spoken, the people
received the startling news with mixed emotions. Some were
speechless. Others moaned and loudly complained. A small part of
them were jubilant because of hoping to return all the way to
Egypt. Most of them, sobered by the strange, sudden death of the
ten scouts, were quite shaken by the outlook for the future. Many
thought God wasn't fair. Only a fraction of them were willing to
admit to themselves that by their bad conduct they had spoiled a
wonderful future and had brought hardship down on their children.
"Remember," Moses concluded, "that from now on we no longer
have the priceless blessing of God's guidance and protection. We
are like a flock without a shepherd. Only yesterday God wanted us
to go into Canaan. If we had obeyed, God would have scattered any
Canaanites who might have tried to prevent us. But now we don't
even dare stay here lest the people over the mountains to the
north come down and slaughter us! Be ready at dawn, therefore, to
Rebels Plot by Night
That night was a restless one for Israel. The more the
people thought about God's ruling to turn back, the more they
wondered how they could make up for their sins. In fact, certain
ones secretly met to plan what to do and how to organize the
people into doing it.
Meanwhile, the Israelites were not the only ones aware of
their blazing, all-night campfires. Alert and unfriendly eyes
were peering down from mountain heights to the north, watching to
see what the horde of people in the desert valley would do next.
Moses, too, was restless. He spent much of the night in
thought and prayer. Very early in the morning he dropped asleep
from exhaustion, only to be awakened by Joshua.
"People are breaking camp already," Joshua exclaimed. "It
isn't even daybreak, but there are rumors that thousands are
Moses stepped out of his tent. Most of the campfires were
burning low at this hour, and it wasn't possible, in the dense
pre-dawn darkness, to see what was taking place. But in the
still, cool air came the faint jangle of metal and the voices of
men shouting commands to their shepherd dogs. Moses knew the
sound well, and he sensed that a huge caravan was moving out. But
why? And where was it headed?
"Should we call every available officer to try to stop
them?" Joshua asked.
"No," Moses answered, shaking his head solemnly. "We're
already in enough trouble without shedding blood among ourselves.
Just try to find out where these early risers think they are
Aaron joined Moses before Joshua could report back. The
light of dawn streamed in rapidly from the east, making plain to
Moses and Aaron a long column of thousands, with their flocks and
herds, slowly moving out of the camps. Moses was hopeful that he
would discover the column moving through a defile to the south --
the direction in which God had said they should go.
To Moses' dismay the light of dawn showed that the wide line
of people was moving north. This was the road to Canaan! This was
the way these people had refused to take only hours before.
Having been warned not to go in that direction, thousands of the
Israelites were disobeying by sneaking off that way. (Verses
"The Amalekites and Canaanites are just beyond that
mountain!" Moses exclaimed, clapping his hands to his head.
"Probably they're armed and waiting! This could mean a terrible
slaughter for all those people!"
Mosses and those with him watched in discouragement as the
thousands of Israelites and their flocks dwindled from sight in
the distant pass.
"Even if all the rest of our armed men went after them,"
Moses said, shaking his head, "it wouldn't make much difference.
God will not protect those who have departed nor those who would
go to their rescue." (Numbers 14:40-43.)
Moses then instructed his officers to see that the
tabernacle was packed and ready to move, and that the people
should start breaking camp at once. He knew there was a
possibility that their enemies, undoubtedly hidden in the
mountains, would stage an attack on the camp.
Before the sun was very high, the remaining greater part of
the Israelites was moving through the defiles to the south. Many
a person left Kadesh before he wanted to, however. Thousands had
hoped to remain long enough to receive some word of what had
happened to friends and relatives who had departed toward Canaan.
Meanwhile, the Canaan-bound | Israelites and their plodding
flocks and herds were close to the top of the pass that led
northward from Kadesh.
Rebels Are Ambushed
Suddenly hundreds of armed men leaped out from behind the
trailside boulders! Shouting as though demented, they came
running at the startled Israelites with spears and swords.
Hundreds of Israelites died even before they could get their
weapons ready for action. Shrieking women and children turned and
tried to run back down the trail, only to trip helplessly over
one another. To add to the confusion, the herds stampeded and the
flocks swarmed wildly in all directions.
The main body of Israelites gradually began to move
backward. But by now a great number of the enemy -- Canaanites
and Amalekites -- had almost sealed off their retreat by
thronging behind the agitated column of Israelites. The
Israelites had walked squarely into a vast death trap! (Verses
The slaughter that resulted was frightful! Even animals fell
by sword and spear, though most of them escaped into the
mountains. The people were not so fortunate. Within only minutes
the pass was littered with the bodies of men and women. But
because their numbers were so much greater than those of their
attackers, part of them escaped and fled back toward Kadesh. The
Amalekites and Canaanites took after them, pursuing some of them
quite a distance to the south. Most of those who escaped hid
among the rocks until the enemy was gone. Then they set out to
try to catch up with the main body of Israelites that had
departed to the south from Kadesh.
About sundown the Israelites made camp a few miles southwest
of Kadesh. Hours later, when most campfires were either out or
very low, there was great excitement from the north side of the
camp. Weary, footsore escapees were beginning to arrive. Many who
returned needed their wounds dressed. Some died. Others gave
horrifying accounts of the bloody affair.
REBELS CHALLENGE GOD'S GOVERNMENT
THE REBELS who had escaped the Amalekite ambush were a pitiful
"You who have been spared," Moses told them, "should thank
God that He chose some to be able to return here so that the rest
of us can be reminded what can happen to people who don't have
God's protection. Otherwise, you would now be captives or dead."
As was common with the Egyptians and not uncommon with the
Israelites, there was much weeping and wailing and loud
expressions of sorrow and regret the rest of the night. A part of
the people seemed to be getting a picture of how bleak and
uncertain their lives would be without
God's guidance and protection.
The cloud and the pillar of fire were not removed, because
it wasn't God's intention to entirely forsake Israel.
(Deuteronomy 1:3133; Nehemiah 9:19-21.)
It was a case of the Israelites breaking their agreement
with God, which meant that God was no longer bound to give them
the help, guidance and protection that He had promised to give if
they would obey Him.
From then on for nearly forty years God decided the
movements of Israel by such things as the lack of abundance of
water, the presence or absence of grass for their animals, the
state of health of the people and many other factors.
They camped only long enough to lick their wounds and then
continued southward through several more stopping places. From
there they moved into the desert area west of the northern tip of
the Gulf of Aqaba and northeast of Mt. Sinai. This was the area
where, on their way northeast from Mt. Sinai, so many of them had
complained so harshly against God. (Numbers 11:1-3.) They had
said that they would rather die there than go on. This was the
place where a great part of them would eventually die.
Sabbath Broken Again
Fall had arrived, and the nights in the desert were becoming
colder. Campfire material was rather scarce. For some, the
collecting of fuel was fast becoming a full-time job. The people
had to go farther and farther out from the camps to obtain it if
they stayed in one spot very many days.
One Sabbath a man was seen spending the day busily gathering
dried sticks and branches far outside the camps. Most Israelites
respected the Fourth Commandment and feared to labor on the
Sabbath. Thinking that perhaps the man wasn't aware that it was
the seventh day of the week, a few people went out to warn him.
"I don't care what day it is!" the man growled, hardly
looking at them. "I worked all week getting food for my family
and animals. There wasn't time to gather fuel, and so I have to
do it now. If God wants me to get all my work done before the end
of the week, He'll have to add more days to it. Meanwhile, I'm
not going to just sit in my tent and twiddle my thumbs just
because some fancifully robed priest says it's wrong to support
my family on the Sabbath!"
This matter was reported back to camp. Before long two
officers went out to talk to the man. "You are an evil example to
others," the officers told him. "People who see you laboring all
Sabbath without instant punishment might try to do likewise. Then
they would receive the punishment you will eventually receive."
The fuel-gatherer glowered at the officers and swung his
load of sticks from one shoulder to the other.
"Why should I be punished for trying to keep my family
warm?" he snapped. "I can decide what is best for me and mine
without any meddling from you or God!"
This arrogant display of rebellion brought on a hasty arrest
by the officers, but it was no small task to take the man back to
camp. He struggled and fought and cursed all the way.
When Moses was told of the matter, he wasn't certain just
what should be done. Many Israelites had secretly wished the
Sabbath were just another workday. But none of them so far had
outwardly shown such strong feeling against God and authority as
this man had shown.
Moses knew that this matter would quickly become known by
all the people. He also realized that if they found that one
could succeed in being so defiant about breaking the Sabbath
without quick and heavy punishment, numberless Israelites might
attempt the same thing.
This was a problem Moses had to take to God. As usual, God
quickly made clear to Moses what was to be done.
Next morning, acting on orders from Moses, officers led the
offender back into the desert. A huge crowd silently followed,
constantly enlarged by a flow of grim-faced people who had heard
what was going on. Acting on instructions from Moses, they
stripped the offender of his outer clothes, then stoned him to
death. (Numbers 15:32-36.)
The apostle Paul explains in Romans 13:1-7 that God ordained
that criminals be punished. God takes no pleasure in seeing
wicked men die (Ezekiel 33:11), but He knows that law-breakers
are better dead -- to await the second resurrection -- than left
around to harm others or lead others to do evil. God in His mercy
sees that evil men are better off punished than left alive making
themselves and others miserable and unhappy.
Discontentment Grows Again
Not long after the Israelites left Kadesh, another wretched
event took place that resulted in another great disaster. The
situation developed because a state of envy existed in the minds
of some of the people who wanted to be priests or who wanted
certain of their friends to be priests and leaders instead of
Foremost among such men was a man named Korah, one of Levi's
great grandsons and a first cousin to Moses and Aaron. He
strongly felt that he should have been chosen for a high office.
In fact, he had the idea that he should be in Moses' position as
head of Israel. He was joined in this ill attitude by three
Reubenites, Dathan, Abiram and On. They were of the opinion that
Moses was favoring his family too much, and was not properly
distributing the offices of authority. These men thought all the
congregation should have a voice in government. (Numbers 16:1-3.)
For a long time these men had been seething with discontent
and planning how they could move in to take over the priesthood
for themselves. This scheme against Moses was the same as
scheming against God (Numbers 26:9), but these men were desperate
for power. Gradually they managed to persuade high-ranking
Israelites that their cause was right. Eventually two hundred and
fifty Israelite leaders agreed to join these influential,
smooth-talking schemers in the hope that all would move into
higher rank with greater power and more income.
One morning when Israel was camping at a stopping place on
the way southward, all these ambitious men gathered before Moses'
tent. With Korah, their best speaker and worst schemer leading
them, they came to demand of Moses that some changes be made in
the priesthood. When Moses was told that a crowd of high ranking
men had come to demand some changes in government, he wasn't
surprised. He had sensed for weeks that this kind of trouble was
brewing. Now, as he came out of his tent, he expected to see only
a handful of men. He was rather startled to see more than two
hundred and fifty, and he was considerably upset to recognize so
many trusted men of high rank among those who now stood before
him with unfriendly expressions. (Numbers 16:2.)
"Why are you here?" Moses asked.
Korah Wants More Authority
"We are here because we believe you are taking on too much
power for one man," Korah answered. "You and your priests act as
though you are holier than any of the rest of us. If we are God's
chosen people, then ALL of us are holy. That means that all of us
have equal rights in matters of government. However, you use your
authority to put men who are your friends in the best positions
in government. (Verse 3.) We demand that you yield some of those
offices to the congregation so we can choose our own officials."
Korah, being a good speaker, knew he could be elected to a high
office if the people were allowed to choose their own leaders.
What Korah really was after was complete control of all Israel.
Leaders of nations have always been the objects of envy by greedy
men. Seizing leadership has always been a selfish, bloody game,
with the greatest losers generally turning out to be the
citizens. Even Israel, God's chosen nation, wasn't free of this
kind of ambitious trouble makers.
Moses was shocked by this blunt demand from Korah. He could
see that the men weren't just bluffing. It was plain that they
were willing to go to extremes to gain what they had set out to
do. Setting armed soldiers on them would only mean bloodshed.
Besides, most of the Israelites would sympathize with the victims
of the soldiers, since they were popular, well-known leaders, and
the situation would become worse.
Without even going back into the privacy of his tent, Moses
knelt forward with his head to the ground and asked God for help.
A few of those assembled became uncomfortable as they stood in
the presence of a humble man calling on his Creator for aid. They
included On, one of the Reubenites. He wanted no more of the
matter, and slipped out of the scene. Other onlookers merely
smiled at what they considered an attempt by Moses to gain their
sympathy by appearing pitifully pious.
"This is no time for a show, Moses!" Korah called out.
"Stand up and explain why at least some of us shouldn't be
priests in place of some of those who are now in service merely
because it was your whim to put them there." Korah, a Levite,
already had a high office, but he wanted an even higher office --
the priesthood that was given to Aaron. (Verses 8-11.)
Moses slowly came to his feet. Those who watched him
couldn't know that God had just inspired him to know what to say.
Ignoring Korah, Moses addressed Dathan and Abiram.
Moses Tries to Save Rebels
"Before you carry this matter further, let us discuss it in
my tent," Moses said, thus giving them an opportunity to separate
"There is no reason to talk with you," Dathan and Abiram
replied. "We refuse to listen to your excuses for leading us from
the good land of Egypt and into a desert where we are to die.
Your only aim has plainly been to control the people, no matter
what becomes of them." (Verses 12-14.)
These untruthful charges upset Moses. He was tempted to
summon soldiers to slay every rebel before him. But he knew this
was not according to God's plan of dealing with them, and he
"You have started something you will have trouble
finishing," Moses declared to Korah in a voice that reached the
whole crowd. "Your belief that just anyone can be in the
priesthood without being ordained by God is not a true one.
However, if all of you insist on trying to force your way into
such offices, every one of you should be here tomorrow morning
with incense and with a censer filled with hot coals. Aaron and
his sons will also be here with their censers. God will make it
known which ones he will choose as priests and their helpers."
Korah smiled when he heard this. He lacked respect for God,
and he felt that he had bluffed Moses into giving in to the
extent that he and his followers could gain a foothold in
wresting power from Moses.
Rebels Challenge Moses
Next morning the crowd of two hundred and fifty, plus Korah,
Dathan and Abiram, appeared before the tabernacle. Every man
carried a censer filled with hot coals to show his readiness to
go at once into priestly service. Korah had spread the word
throughout the camps that he was going to challenge Moses, and
that there would be a showdown to free the people from what was
wrongfully referred to as Moses' unfair leadership. As a result,
a growing crowd of curious people built up behind Korah's men.
Moses came out to face Korah. With him were Aaron and
Aaron's sons, all of whom held censers with hot coals. The elders
of Israel were also present.
There were minutes of strained silence. God hadn't told
Moses what to do beyond asking the men to show up with censers.
Moses didn't know what would happen next, but he was certain that
God would somehow make it very clear which group would be in
power from then on.
Suddenly there was a brilliant flash from the tabernacle,
followed by a second and a third. It was plain to most that God
was in the tabernacle. (Verse 19.) Some of them drew back,
fearful of what might happen. Even a part of Korah's followers
appeared to be ready to leave, but Korah told them to stand firm.
Korah had become so rebellious that he actually doubted that God
could hinder him and his men from gaining leadership of Israel,
and the blinding display of light from within the tabernacle
didn't move him from his ambition.
Realizing that God wanted to give them some message, Moses
and Aaron stepped away from the others and approached the
"Remove yourselves and the priests and elders from these
people who face you," God commanded in a voice that only the two
men could hear. "I want you at a safe distance because I intend
to wipe all the others out of existence!" (Verses 20-21.)
Moses shuddered at this alarming remark from God. The
Creator had threatened to do the same thing before, but Moses had
begged him not to, and God answered Moses' prayer. There was
nothing to do now but again ask God to spare the people. Moses
and Aaron bowed down in fervent prayer.
"Look at him!" Korah exclaimed to those about him. "He's
trying again to gain the sympathy of the people by appearing
On the contrary, Moses wasn't concerned at that moment what
the people thought. He was concerned for their lives, and he
pleaded with God not to be angry with many people because of the
evil deeds of a few. (Verse 22.)
God Spares the People
"I shall do this much," God said. "I shall spare the
congregation if you can succeed in getting the people back to
their homes and away from the tents where Korah, Dathan and
Abiram live. Any who go near the homes of those three men will
risk losing their lives."
Encouraged by this merciful statement from God, Moses sent
his officers out to warn the crowd to break up and return to
their tents, and not to go near the tents of Korah, Abiram and
Dathan. Slowly and a bit unwillingly the people sauntered away.
"You said that God would choose His priests if we would
assemble with censers," Korah called out to Moses. "You have only
proved to the people that you are not a man of your word, because
nothing has happened. Tomorrow we shall return. The people will
think the matter over, and tomorrow they will be ready to back us
up in what should be done about your authority."
"You should remember this in the meantime," Moses replied.
"If you live till tomorrow, then you can know that I will not
continue to be the leader of the Israelites."
This strange remark was ignored by Korah, Dathan and Abiram,
who returned to their respective homes, which were close together
on the south side of the Tabernacle. (Numbers 2:10 and 3:29.)
Korah felt that he had made another successful step, and that it
would be only a matter of a day or two before the mass of
Israelites would swing over to his side. As for his two hundred
and fifty followers, they also left and went back to their
Later, Moses and Aaron and the elders went to make certain
that the people were not congregated around the homes of the
three main offenders. They found their residence free of
visitors, which was as God wanted it to be. Moses then warned
them that because they persisted in a scheme to take over the
government, God would cause the ground to open up and swallow
them. (Verses 23-30.)
Dathan and Abiram came out of their tents, along with their
wives and children, to hear what more Moses had to say.
"Now he's trying to threaten us with an earthquake," Dathan
scornfully shouted to Abiram. "Can you think of anything more
"I'll believe it only when it happens -- and maybe not even
then," Abiram shouted back with a grin.
Too Late to Repent!
"We have given these men fair warning," Moses said to those
with him. "Perhaps God would spare them if they would repent, but
since they refuse to repent, it's obviously too late now. Let us
leave here before something dreadful happens."
Almost as soon as their backs were turned there was a
growing rumble from within the Earth. The ground trembled, then
heaved upward directly between the tents of Abiram and Dathan and
the tent of Korah, which was close by in another camp!
"THE EARTH OPENED ITS MOUTH!"
SCREAMING terrorized people of all three families -- Korah,
Dathan and Abiram -- rushed wildly and aimlessly in all
directions. Then the quivering mound of ground suddenly collapsed
and fell back into a deep, yawning chasm! Tons of soil and rock
slipped off the vertical sides of this horrifying hole and
thundered down into dark oblivion, taking people, tents, animals
and most everything that belonged to Korah, Dathan and Abiram.
(Numbers 16:31-33 and 26:10.) It was as though a gigantic mouth
had opened in the Earth's crust for the one purpose of swallowing
the rebellious men and their possessions!
Children Miraculously Escape
The only ones spared in this unusual catastrophe were the
children. (Numbers 26:11.) God miraculously saved their lives by
causing them to run in the directions in which they could escape.
That way God could keep His promise to take all the children
safely into the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:31 and Deuteronomy
For a few seconds the ground thrashed and rolled, churning
the victims into the black depths. Then the sides of the pit
crashed together with a mighty roar, dirt and sand spewing high
into the sky in a dusty cloud. The pit closed so firmly and so
evenly that there was little evidence left to show that three
homes, their families and all their flocks had peacefully existed
there only a few seconds previously. God had struck with such
quick punishment that the victims were both slain and buried in
one devastating event!
This calamity was witnessed by a horde of inquisitive
Israelites who madly scattered in horror from the scene of
destruction, fearful that the ground would open up again and
swallow all of them. (Numbers 16:34.) People and tents were
trampled in the chaotic mass stampede to flee from where the
Earth had opened and closed so suddenly.
Among those who fled were the two hundred and fifty men who
had followed Korah and who had brought their censers to see if
God would choose them as priests. There were many among them who
had begun to regret going along with Korah. But when they
witnessed the dreadful end of their champion, they were filled
with terror. Most of them fell in with the shocked people
streaming away from the scene of destruction.
Even though they were soon scattered among thousands of
others, all two hundred and fifty men suddenly met death by bolts
of fire, shooting down from the sky. (Verse 35.)
Later, God told Moses that one of Aaron's sons, Eleazar,
should gather up all the censers carried by those destroyed men
because the censers had been consecrated for priestly service.
"The metals in those censers have been hallowed for service
to Me," God explained. "Save them so that they will be used in
forming special plates with which to cover the altar of burnt
offerings. Then let those plates be a reminder to the people that
no one except the descendants of Aaron is to offer incense before
Me. Anyone who does otherwise will be subject to the fate of
Korah and those who followed him with their foolish ambitions."
(Verses 36-40; II Chronicles 26:14-21; and Hebrews 5:4.)
Many of the Israelites who had fled from the scene of terror
didn't stop until they had reached the bases of the mountains
that were not far distant. Most of them gradually returned to
their tents that same night, however, after it seemed evident
that there probably wouldn't be another horrible opening of the
ground. Nevertheless, there was little sleep that night for many
who vividly remembered the terrible events of that day.
Next Morning ...
Next morning, however, the general attitude of the people
began to swing back to that of their usual rebellion. There were
still many who wanted to see Moses and Aaron lose leadership.
They spread tales that the earthquake and the sky fire of the day
before were brought about by some kind of terrible magic. They
blamed Moses and Aaron for using the magic to kill all those who
This foolish gossip caught on like fire in a windy field of
dry grass. By afternoon a sullen and growing crowd was milling
around close to Moses' tent. Moses was dismayed when he came out
of his tent and the crowd began to shout.
"You have murdered the people who should have been put in
God's service!" they chanted. (Numbers 16:41.)
The attitude of the people in the crowd showed that at least
part of them actually doubted that the events of the day before
were entirely God's doing. Otherwise, they should have feared to
make such a strong, untrue accusation. At first Moses thought
that- only those gathered before his tent were blaming him for
what had happened. He was more distressed when his officers began
bringing in reports of people talking accusingly from all parts
of the camps.
Moses went back into his tent to confer with Aaron, leaving
the shouting crowd to be handled, if it were possible, by loyal
Israelite officers. As soon as Moses entered his tent the crowd
quickly became silent.
"The cloud is covering the tabernacle!" someone outside
shouted excitedly. "A bright light is glowing from inside the
tabernacle!" (Verse 42.)
Moses and Aaron knew that this meant that God wanted to talk
to them. They hurried out of the tent, strode swiftly to the
tabernacle and prostrated themselves before the piercing light.
"Get out of this vicinity at once!" God spoke to them. "I
intend to snuff out the lives of all these people because of
their sinful attitudes, their ugly disrespect!"
Moses and Aaron were very fearful for all Israel when they
heard these words from God. On their knees, with their foreheads
bowed all the way to the ground, they begged Him to be merciful
and spare the people.
But even while they prayed, an officer rode in from an
outlying part of one of the camps to announce that people were
falling dead by the hundreds where he had just been. The news
spread throughout the crowd, which then began to break up. Those
who didn't hurriedly leave started to moan and groan so loudly
that Moses and Aaron were roused from their praying.
When Moses heard what was happening, he was more fearful
than ever. "God has already started to wipe out Israel with some
kind of terrible plague!" he exclaimed to Aaron. "Perhaps God's
wrath will subside if we humble ourselves by making a special
atonement for the people. Take a censer, get hot coals from the
altar and some incense and hurry out among the stricken people
Aaron quickly did as Moses commanded. He ran all the way to
the camp where the deaths were taking place, and elbowed his way
through knots of excited, shouting, moaning people who were
hurrying in all directions.
"Don't go near them!" Aaron heard someone shout, and saw a
man pointing a trembling hand at some figures gasping on the
ground. "They have some awful disease that is causing them to
suddenly choke to death! It's spreading to other people!" (Verses
Aaron quickly scanned the scene of horror before him. People
were strewn everywhere. Some were motionless. Others were tossing
and struggling, clawing feverishly at their own throats. Most of
those attempting to flee from the dying masses were stumbling to
the ground, only minutes later to fall victims to the mysterious
force that was causing people's throats to tighten shut.
Aaron's Prayer of Faith
Realizing that God was dealing with these people, Aaron
stepped into the area between the dead and those who fled. He
held his censer up and sprinkled incense on the glowing coals. As
the perfumed smoke drifted upward, he uttered in deep sincerity a
prayer for God to forgive the Israelites and stop the plague.
All around him people were stumbling down, overcome by the
throat-clutching plague. But when Aaron finished praying and
looked about, he saw that none of those fleeing were falling to
the ground. They were leaving the dead far behind. It was plain
to Aaron that God was allowing the people to escape, and that
meant that the plague was stopped! (Verses 47-48.)
As a result of the faith of Moses and Aaron, God had decided
at the last moment to spare the people. If Moses and Aaron hadn't
earnestly prayed to Him, the whole history of Israel and the
world would have been altered!
This is one of the outstanding examples of all time of how
answered prayer can change the course of history. There have been
many other times -- more than most people realize. God is always
ready to listen to the appeals of those who faithfully obey Him.
However, God is not what some might term a soft-hearted
push-over. There is more love and mercy in His character than
human beings can understand, but that mercy is tempered by
judgment and justice. God's mercy extends in much greater measure
than we can imagine to those who are willing to let God rule
them. But He does punish the wicked for their own ultimate good.
Once again a great number of Israelites were sobered by
their close brush with death, though far from all of them
realized just how near they had come to being completely wiped
It was no small task to remove the victims of the
short-lived plague. 14,700 bodies were taken from the camp and
buried at a distance in the wilderness sand. This figure did not
include any who were taken because of the rebellion of Korah and
his supporters. (Verses 49-50.)
All this loss of life had come about mostly because of the
greedy desire of ambitious men to take over the high offices of
the nation. Although God had performed astounding miracles to
show that the wrong people wouldn't be allowed in the priesthood,
there were still men who coveted those high positions, and many
more who were yet to be convinced that the Levites weren't to be
replaced by others outside their tribe.
One More Miracle
God wanted to settle this issue once and for all, by
performing one more miracle in which a few leaders would have a
part. He was now going to convince the last of the doubters.
Carrying out instructions from God, Moses commanded each of
the twelve tribal princes to bring him the official staff or rod
of his respective tribe. These rods had been in the various
families a long time. They had been fashioned from straight tree
limbs that had become hard, seasoned and polished. The rod for
the tribe of Levi was the one used by Moses in Egypt to perform
miracles. It was later presented to Aaron.
On each of the rods was inscribed the name of the prince of
the tribe to which it belonged. Aaron's name was inscribed on his
staff for the tribe of Levi. In the presence of the princes Moses
took all the rods and placed them in the tabernacle close to the
ark. (Numbers 17:1-7.)
"Tomorrow I shall go back after the rods," Moses told the
leaders and the crowd behind them. "One of those rods, even
though they are actually nothing but hard, dry sticks, will
tomorrow be budded out as though it were a green branch. The rod
that is budded will indicate in which tribe the priesthood will
exist from now on!"
There were smiles and expressions of doubt on all the faces
except Aaron's. The tabernacle was guarded all that night. Next
morning when Moses brought the rods out of the tabernacle for
inspection, those expressions of doubt turned to that of
All the rods were the same as when they had been put in the
tabernacle the day before; that is, except the staff with Aaron's
name on it representing the tribe of Levi. It was studded with
live limbs ending in tender buds, green leaves, reddish blossoms
and even a few almonds ready to pick! (Verses 8-9.)
"Now deny the evidence that God wants the priesthood to
remain only in the tribe of Levi!" Moses told the astonished
leaders. Heads nodded in silent agreement as the crowd broke up.
At God's command, Moses put Aaron's rod back in the ark of the
covenant as a stern reminder to would-be rebels. From that time
on there were no more great efforts to take over the priesthood.
(Verses 10-11 and Hebrews 9:4.)
The people were so impressed by this latest miracle that
they told Moses they finally realized that they didn't dare go
anywhere near the tabernacle in an effort to get the priesthood
because God would slay them all if they did. (Numbers 17:12-13.)
ON TO CANAAN AGAIN!
GOD SPOKE to Aaron once again during those trying thirty-eight
years of wandering. This time it was to remind him of several
very important matters. One was the subject of tithing.
God Explains Tithing
A tithe is a tenth part of anything, especially the tenth of
one's increase, whether it be in wage income, livestock or crops.
A tenth part of anyone's increase belongs to God.
God uses it for His work. In Old Testament times the Levites
did His physical work. So God paid them for their work by His
tithes. This tithe, which is actually God's, became the only
inheritance of the Levites, inasmuch as they were not to own
farming land on which to earn an income. They were to live and
carry on God's work with this tenth, and in turn were to tithe
what they received from God by paying a tenth to Aaron's family,
which held the high priesthood. (Numbers 18:8-32.)
This was the simple but effective system God gave to the
Israelites for financing God's physical work and all things that
had to do with the tabernacle. Today the tithe still belongs to
God and He uses it for His work today -- the preaching of the
gospel. This doesn't mean that present-day organizations falsely
calling themselves Christian are to receive God's tithes. They
are not connected with God or the true Church. God's spiritual
work of preaching the gospel has replaced the physical duties of
the Levites and tithes are to go only to those who represent it.
Ordinarily it would be a simple matter to figure what a
tenth of money wages would be. But some might wonder how one
whose increase was only a sheep would give a tenth of a sheep, or
how one who had only a small garden would give a tenth of his
crop. The answer is that today the value of the sheep is
determined and a tithe or tenth of the value of the sheep is paid
Tithing Is for Our Good
So often, when the subject of tithing is brought up in these
times, the same remark is heard: "If I gave a tenth of my income,
my family would starve!"
People who carelessly make this remark do not realize that
just the opposite is true. Perhaps most people don't realize or
appreciate that everything they think they possess is not really
theirs. It is God's. God merely allows them to use or enjoy it
for a while. When we stop to consider this fact, isn't it plain
that the Creator is quite generous in requiring that we turn back
only a tenth for financing His work?
The tithing law was not instituted for God's benefit. He
owns the world and everything in it. (Psalms 24:1 and 50:10.) God
gave the tithing law for our good. Our responsibility for
handling some of God's money as His stewards helps us to learn to
love others and enjoy GIVING. This develops in us God's type of
character and trains us for eternal life's true riches. (Luke
To add to His generosity, God has made a sacred promise that
He will increase our material wealth if only we are faithful in
paying Him what we owe. (Malachi 3:10-11.) Can you imagine one
person telling another that if he will pay what he owes that the
creditor will see to it that the debtor will receive a large
financial reward? That's what God has told us, in so many words.
Where can one find a better deal than that?
What it all amounts to is that NO ONE CAN AFFORD NOT TO
TITHE! God has told us that if we don't tithe we are robbing Him.
If we are robbing God -- and millions of people are doing just
that today -- we can have no part in the financial blessing that
God has decreed for those who are faithful in tithes.
This doesn't mean that others may not temporarily prosper
who want to have no part of God and His laws. God is allowing
many of them to have the good things only in this life -- the
only life some of them will ever have. Surely no wise person
would want to be in the position of such people. It is far better
to prosper in this life by God's special blessing -- PLUS living
forever by the gift of eternal life in surroundings and
circumstances that would show worldly millionaires' lives to be
dull and miserable!
Have you ever noticed that some religious organizations that
don't believe in obeying God are often in such desperate need
that they are forced to promote the principle of tithing? They
use all sorts of arguments and ideas as to why people should
tithe' but why they don't have to keep the Ten Commandments. In
most cases these arguments carefully avoid any mention of tithe
as referred to in the Old Testament. There is seldom any
reference to the reason why God established the tithe and when.
That is because there is an increasing disbelief in the Old
Testament. Yet they need money -- and that is why they claim to
God is the Author of tithing. It began long before the time
of Moses. Abraham and Jacob paid tithes long before Moses' time.
(Genesis 14:1820; Hebrews 7:4-10; Genesis 28:20-22.)
Many people who believe in giving a tenth of their increase
make a practice of giving it to their favorite charities or needy
families. Giving to those in need is good, but that first tenth
is to go to no one except God. (Malachi 3:10.) The only way that
is possible is to give it to the true representatives of God --
those who are in God's service in His work.
On to Canaan
The next thirty-eight years after the Exodus were spent by
the Israelites in wandering aimlessly and often miserably from
place to place in the desert regions of the Sinai peninsula west
of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba is a finger of the Red
Sea bordering the east side of the peninsula.
There is little record in the Bible pertaining to where they
camped and what they did throughout most of this time until more
than a generation later -- when they started back to the
northeast on the same route they had taken right after they left
During those thirty-eight years people died by thousands and
thousands. A whole new nation had grown up. During these
thirty-eight years God was causing the deaths of all those men
who complained when the scouts returned from searching Canaan.
Only their children would be permitted to cross over Jordan into
the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 1:35-39.) Several generations of
livestock had long since died. Not all the older people had died
since the Israelites had set out in their aimless wanderings,
however. Some still living were Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Caleb and
Once more, after a lapse of nearly four decades, the
tremendous caravan of millions moved up to the city of Kadesh
from which the twelve scouts had been sent north to get a good
look at Canaan. It must have been a sobering thought to the
people that they were still no nearer Canaan after plodding about
for over thirty-eight years and looping around and around over
the same country for thousands of miles. But they couldn't
rightly blame God for their misfortune. If they and those who had
gone before had obeyed Him, they would have arrived in safety and
prosperity in Canaan almost four decades sooner.
Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, died right after
Israel encamped at Kadesh the second time. (Numbers 20:1.) She
was about one hundred and thirty years of age at her death.
When Israel had stayed at Kadesh the first time, there was
plenty of water. Conditions changed in thirty-eight years,
however. Some of the springs had dried up. Others couldn't
produce enough water to continue to provide for the vast needs of
the Israelites and their livestock.
Israelites Complain Again!
Shortly after Miriam's death the water shortage became so
serious that a loud, complaining crowd gathered around the tents
of Moses and Aaron.
"We want water! We want water! We want water!" they chanted
over and over for hours. (Numbers 20:2.)
Moses and Aaron were accustomed to this sort of childish mob
treatment. They hoped that the noisy crowd would tire and break
up, but the situation grew worse. Fearing that violence might
result, Moses asked Aaron to appear with him before the crowd.
When the people saw the two leaders standing before Moses'
tent, they broke into such a loud roar of discontent that Moses
couldn't make himself heard when he tried to address them. The
roar finally died down, only to give way to loud accusations from
leaders of the mob.
"Why have you dragged us here to die along with our
livestock?" one man screamed. "We would have been spared great
misery if we had died with our brethren who died in God's plagues
"What is your reason," someone else yelled, "for stopping in
this rocky, sandy waste where no grass nor vines nor trees grow,
and where there is only enough water to make death more painful
and lingering?" (Verses 3-5.)
The crowd was angrier than Moses had realized. Officers
hovered around to quell any outbreak of violence, but it was
plain that the officers wouldn't have been capable of managing
the crowd if it were to break out in a rampage. There was only
one thing to do. Moses seized Aaron's arm and accompanied by loud
jeers and hoots from the crowd, the two of them hurried to the
As soon as they entered the sacred tent, a light came from
the inner room. It became brighter and brighter as -Moses and
Aaron bowed with their faces to the ground and made their problem
known to God. (Verse 6.)
"Take the rod from here in the tabernacle and go with Aaron
out to that high rock that is close to the camps," God told
Moses. "Call for the people to gather there to witness what will
happen. Then SPEAK to the rock, commanding it in My Name to give
forth water. After you have done this, plenty of water will come
out of the rock. There will be more than enough to take care of
the needs of all the people and their animals." (Verses 7-8.)
Moses took the rod -- the one that had budded out to show
that Aaron's family should retain the priesthood -- and set out
with Aaron. It wasn't difficult to attract a crowd. The murmuring
mob was still milling about. It noisily followed Moses and Aaron,
who were surrounded by a number of officers as they strode off to
a certain tall rock that jutted up out of the sand close to the
"I have become weary of this mob foolishness over the
years," Moses remarked to Aaron. "Again the people have gone too
far with their threats and demonstrations. It is time we show
them again what great power can come through us!"
"I agree," Aaron answered, glancing uneasily at the mob that
was closing clamorously in on them. "It would be wise to use the
power through the rod more often to cause these troublemakers to
have more respect for us."
This was a wrong attitude on the part of Moses and Aaron.
They should have been more concerned with showing GOD'S power and
causing the crowd to respect HIM. Both men had been under more
strain than usual because of the death of their sister and more
complaints than usual from the people. As leaders, however, they
were expected by God to exercise great control and wisdom under
This wrong attitude continued when Moses, standing with
Aaron atop the rock God had indicated, looked down with disgust
on the shouting crowd. He hoisted the famous rod as high as he
could hold it until the people's shouting and shrieking died
Moses Loses His Temper
"Listen to me, you rebels!" Moses shouted. "You have been
whining and complaining about a shortage of water. Why do you
complain when you know we have the power to give you water? Don't
you know that we can cause this rock to open up and spew out all
the water you need?" (Verse 10.)
The crowd became completely silent. Thousands upon thousands
of eyes were focused on Moses as he stood there on the rock,
plainly etched against the bright sky. The Israelite leader was
in an increasingly bad mood as he thought of all the insolence
and disobedience he had struggled with through the years. Now he
harbored a strong desire to once and for all stop their
complaining by proving to them that he could, with the rod,
perform any kind of miracle.
God had told Moses this time to speak to the rock,
commanding it, through the power of the Creator, to give forth
water. But instead of speaking to the rock, Moses spoke
unadvisedly and in anger to the people. (Psalm 106:32-33.)
"You are only a howling mob undeserving of water!" Moses
cried out. "Nevertheless, you shall receive it, if only to remind
you that your demonstrations are childish!"
God had not instructed Moses to use the rod to strike the
rock. It was to be carried by Moses and Aaron as a symbol of
their Levitical authority in using God's tremendous power. But
Moses drew the rod back over his head and brought it down sharply
on the rock. The crowd gazed in expectant silence as long moments
No water came out of the rock.
THE TROUBLESOME ROAD TO CANAAN
WHEN Moses struck the rock at Kadesh and no water came out,
painful moments passed.
Some of the people began to hoot and jeer. Moses and Aaron
glanced nervously at each other. Vexed and impatient, Moses did
the very next thing that came to his mind. He lifted the rod and
again whacked it down on the rock with even greater force.
The crowd went silent, waiting for something to happen.
Moses was almost crushed by a heavy feeling of embarrassment
because no water was forthcoming from the rock.
In-his strong feeling against the mob, he had either
forgotten or ignored the instructions God had given him. He had
chosen his own way, and now he seemed to be unable to make good
his boast that he had power to supply water to all those
God Brings Water
"If water doesn't come out of this rock after what you've
promised," Aaron shakily remarked to Moses, "the people will be
so angry that they'll probably go completely out of control. If a
miracle doesn't occur within the next minute or two, there'll be
plenty of trouble!"
Moses knew Aaron was right. In his unhappy situation all he
could think to do was strike the rock a third time. Before, he
could do so, however, the boulder shook as though an explosion
had taken place within it. Moses, Aaron and the few officers
standing farther back on the rock were all but thrown off their
feet. When they recovered their balance, they realized that a
strong stream of clear water was noisily gushing from the base of
the boulder below them! (Numbers 20:7-11.)
A tremendous shout came from the crowd. People rushed toward
the rock to dip into the cool water, but were forced back as it
surged speedily forth to spread into a swift stream that coursed
toward the camps of the Israelites. Even before the stream had
flowed into a definite course and had- lost its muddiness, people
and livestock thronged to it to get their fill. Then started the
task of filling millions of pots, jars and goatskin bags with the
Moses and Aaron were greatly relieved to see the life-giving
water flowing from the rock. Another crisis had passed. One more
rough spot had been smoothed out.
Nevertheless, Moses knew that all was far from right. Now
that water had come to the people, he had a gnawing feeling of
"We should return to the tabernacle to thank God," Moses
muttered uneasily to Aaron.
At the tabernacle God's voice spoke out in such an angry
tone that Moses and Aaron trembled as they bowed their heads to
God's Just Punishment
"You have failed to act with wisdom," God told them. "You,
Moses, let your temper get the better of you in front of the
people. Then, instead of SPEAKING to the rock as you were
instructed, you struck it. In fact, you struck it TWICE, as
though it were necessary to keep on flogging it in order for
something to happen. You also gave the people the impression that
it was through your power and not Mine, that a miracle would
produce water. And you, Aaron, spoke and acted in agreement with
your brother's wrong attitude.
"Because you have acted with such independence, and have
tried to take credit for a miracle that only your Creator could
perform, you have failed to honor Me before the people. Therefore
neither of you shall be permitted to reach Canaan with your
people!" (Numbers 20:12-13, 23-24 and Numbers 27:12-14.)
Moses and Aaron remained kneeling in stunned, painful
silence. This pronouncement from God felt like a sudden death
sentence! It meant that they would not be allowed to enter the
promised land for which they had been striving for so many years.
Moses and Aaron repented of what they had done. God forgave them.
But that did not mean God would remove the penalty in this life.
Some sins we still must suffer from even though God has forgiven
A few minutes later, when they were certain that God had
nothing more to say on the matter, they got up and trudged off to
their tents. It was plain to them that God had no favorites, and
that He would punish the disobedient in high offices no less than
He would punish the disobedient of the lowest rank.
A fact worth remembering is that the more one is educated
and trained in God's service, the more God requires of that
Moses and Aaron Repent
Even though Moses and Aaron were denied the privilege of
entering Canaan with their people, they repented and will
undoubtedly reach a much richer promised land -- that of the
future. When Christ comes to rule the world only a few years from
the time this is written, those resurrected for service under
Christ will surely include Moses and Aaron.
Whatever Moses and Aaron thought about their future, their
duties still existed. Aaron faithfully continued as high priest.
Moses had to make daily decisions as usual.
The greatest decision while the people were in Kadesh was
how the Israelites should proceed toward Canaan from that point.
There was more than one route to Canaan from Kadesh. One way
had been attempted almost four decades earlier by many of the
Israelites when they had been set upon by Amalekites and
Canaanites, and when so many Israelites had lost their lives.
Another way was to cross eastward over the Mt. Seir range of
mountains and then proceed north. Or the traveler could proceed
north or south around Edom to the king's highway.
This great highway was a major road leading up east of the
Dead Sea. It had been constructed across swamps and deserts and
mountains hundred of years previously by local governments, and
had since been used and kept in fair condition as a route for
armies and merchant caravans.
Moses already knew God would not lead Israel by the way
where so many had been slaughtered years before, even though it
was the most direct route. Even though it was a longer route,
Moses recognized it would be to the advantage of the Israelites
to travel on the king's highway through the land of Edom. Once
they were through Edom and Moab, they could enter Canaan by
Opposition from Edom
Realizing that it was necessary to receive permission to
pass through the nation, Moses sent messengers to the ruler of
Edom. The letter carried by the messengers pointed out that the
Israelites, as cousins of the people of the Arabian desert, had
struggled through many years of hardships in their efforts to
come out of Egypt, and that they would like to be regarded as
friendly relatives passing through the territory of the Edomites.
"Please let us pass through your country," Moses continued
in the letter. "We promise not to tramp through your fields nor
through your vineyards. We won't use even your water. Our desire
is simply to reach the king's highway and proceed northward."
The Israelite messengers returned only a few hours later
with word from the ruler of Edom.
"The Edomite king told us to tell you," the messengers
reported to Moses, "that if we go through his land his army will
attack!" (Verse 18.)
Moses was disappointed. He certainly hadn't expected such a
"Perhaps the Edomites don't believe that we won't use their
water," Aaron suggested. "They might agree to our moving through
their land if we would offer to pay for any water we should use."
"The idea is worth trying," Moses remarked after pondering a
Later, another set of Israelite messengers returned from
Edom with an answer to Moses' second request.
"The king wants you to know," the men reported to Moses,
"that our people can't come through his land under any
circumstances. He said that while he is king two million strange
people and their animals won't go stamping across Edom."
Moses was again disappointed. He had hoped that his second
appeal to the ruler of Edom would result in success. Before he
could express his thoughts, however, an officer arrived to
excitedly announce that Edomite troops were approaching from the
north. (Verses 19-20.)
Right after the messengers returned, one of Moses' officers
shouted to look back to the northeast. Moses and those about him
turned to see a vast line of figures silhouetted against the sky
atop the ridge in the area where the pass trail led into Edom and
toward the king's highway. Sunlight reflected in strong glints
from those distant figures indicated that they had swords, spears
The Edomite army had arrived!
A Narrow Escape
"Sound the signal to break camp!" Moses ordered. "Tell the
people to be ready to leave in order within the hour. Warn the
men to prepare themselves for a possible attack!"
There was sudden action among the Israelites. The same
scene, strangely, had been enacted by them or their ancestors
almost two generations before when a part of them had tried to
get into Canaan against God's will. Now, however, they were not
divided, and they worked faster than before to get ready to
Once again the more than two millions of people and their
flocks and herds moved on the trail that led into the desert
valley called the Arabah.
Whether the Edomites planned to attack or whether they
intended only to protect their borders is something we probably
won't learn until God makes it known in the future when He will
undoubtedly reveal all the facts of the past history of man. In
any event, the tribes of Israel managed to leave the border in
time to avoid any trouble with the army of the king of Edom.
The first stopping point was at Mt. Hor, a high peak of the
Seir range. There God gave a special message to Moses and Aaron.
He instructed them to come up to the top of the mountain. Aaron
was to dress in his priestly robes and was to bring one of his
sons, Eleazar. (Numbers 20:22-25.)
The people quickly sensed that some special event was to
take place on the mountain, and many of them watched the three
men ascend the sandstone mountain to its height of six thousand
Aaron Dies on Mount Hor
After the three arrived atop Mt. Hor, Aaron gazed silently
down on the Israelite camp he knew he would never join again.
Looking upward, he could see to the west a part of the mountains
and deserts through which the people had struggled. He turned his
gaze to the northwest, but could not quite see the promised land
just over a range of mountains. Regretfully he remembered God's
pronouncement that he and Moses would not go into that promised
land because of their wrong attitude when they sought to bring
water to the people out of a rock. He realized that he had come
to the end of his life.
According to God's instructions, Moses removed the priestly
attire from Aaron and put it on Aaron's son Eleazar. As soon as
this was done and Eleazar was anointed into Aaron's office, Aaron
sat down, leaned back on a ledge and closed his eyes. It was at
that moment that he drew his last breath. There was nothing to be
done to prevent him from the peaceful and painless death that
came to one of God's servants at the age of one hundred and
twenty-three years. (Verses 2728; Numbers 33:37-39.)
There was great mourning among the Israelites when they
learned of Aaron's death and burial. The mourning continued for
thirty days -- the length of time spent in expressing grief in
those days -- because of the passing of a person of high rank.
Under Attack Again
Meanwhile, a Canaanite king whose small domain included an
area of south Canaan heard that the Israelites were about to
invade his territory to the northwest of the Mt. Hor region. This
king felt that it was wiser to attack than to be attacked. Not to
be outdone, he sent mounted troops to the south to rush in on the
camps of the Israelites.
So swift was the attack that some of the Israelites were
whisked away as prisoners before anything could be done. The
Israelites were so upset by what had taken place that they made
vows to God that they would wipe out the towns from which the
attackers had come if only God would help them. God quickly
answered their pleas and Israel proceeded safely northward in the
Arabah. (Numbers 21:1-3.)
After leaving the Mt. Hor area and defeating the Canaanites,
the Israelites continued through the valley of the Arabah. This
route was called the way of the Red Sea because it led to the
gulf of Aqaba.
Traveling through this huge desert cradle was difficult
because of the heat and the arid conditions. A number of people
began to complain, especially because of the manna, which they
disliked because of their bad attitude. Their state of mind was
like a contagious disease. It spread so swiftly that it was only
a matter of hours before a pounding wave of discontent disrupted
the camps. (Verses 4-5.)
As usual, the head complainers organized throngs to gather
before Moses' tent with their loud and childish demonstrations.
Their remarks were so profane against Moses and against God that
God was angrily moved at once to punish the offenders.
Even as noisy crowds shouted against their Creator, screams
of pain and terror began to rise from all parts of the camp.
Thousands of snakes were suddenly wriggling into the tents,
angrily biting the people on the feet and legs, injecting a
death-dealing poison that would quickly mean the end of life for
their victims! (Verse 6.)
WAR WITH THE AMORITES
IT WAS at Punon in the Arabah, south of the Dead Sea, that the
invasion of snakes into the camps of the Israelites occurred. At
first they caused more terror than pain. It wasn't long, however,
before those who were bitten became very feverish and ill. Their
bodies became inflamed and swollen. Agonizing death soon
The number of victims grew swiftly as the hours passed, and
Israel began to understand that it was possible that all the
people could be wiped out by a horde of poisonous snakes!
Frantic, worried Israelites gathered in a sombre crowd
before Moses' tent. This time they didn't yell and chant and
scream insults at their leader. This time they came to humbly
plead with Moses for his help.
"We are sorry about the wrong things we said about you and
the complaints we made against manna," a spokesman from the crowd
anxiously told Moses. "Would you please ask God to forgive us and
take away these terrible snakes?"
Even as Moses was being addressed there was a loud and
violent commotion in the crowd. Snakes had slithered in among the
assembled people, and many of them were bitten.
Moses was convinced that most of those who had complained
and had made spiteful remarks against God and against him were
truly regretful of what they had done. He went at once to the
tabernacle to entreat God to have mercy on the people and spare
them from the poisonous bites of the serpents. (Verse 7.)
"Instruct your best craftsmen to mold a brass serpent that
looks like the type of serpent that is plaguing the people," God
told Moses. "Have them mount it on a long pole, and erect the
pole in the center of the camps as a sign of My healing power.
Then tell the people that any who have been bitten will be healed
and spared from death simply by gazing on the brazen serpent."
Moses hastily obeyed, and very soon the metal snake was
raised on a pole close to the tabernacle and the people told what
it was for. Throngs of suffering victims gathered to peer at the
Before God's orders could be carried out, however, thousands
more had been bitten by snakes in the surrounding dry, rocky
areas. This resulted in an increasing crowd of frantic, sick and
groaning people to gather within sight of the brass snake.
Thousands had died before it was made, but all those who lived
long enough to view the snake on the pole were healed.
God caused the poisonous serpents to depart from the area in
which the Israelites were camped. The plague was ended because
the offenders regretted what they had done and because of Moses'
prayer to God. The removal of the serpent plague was entirely a
matter of repentance, prayer, obedience, and faith. The serpent
on the pole represented the penalty of sin being taken away. It
reminded the Israelites of a coming Savior who would be beaten
and then crucified on a pole to pay for the sins of the world.
(John 3:14-15.) However, in later times the people of Judah began
to worship that serpent until righteous King Hezekiah destroyed
it, reminding the people it was only a piece of brass with no
power. (II Kings 18:4-5.)
After the serpent plague, the Israelites continued to move
by the route called the Way of the Red Sea, finally passing
around Mt. Seir to the northeast of Edom. They then proceeded
along a small river called Zared or Zered. Here was plenty of
fresh, clear water supplied by spring rains in the mountains to
the east in Edom. The stream flowed westward into the south end
of the Dead Sea. Here Israel was at the northern border of Edom
and the southern border of Moab, a nation extending about halfway
up the east side of the Dead Sea.
After crossing the Zared River, the Israelites had no more
to fear from the Edomites. Their next important campsite was just
beyond another mountain stream about thirty miles to the north.
Arnon River, like Zared River, was a small stream in the dry
season. In fact, it was possible in extremely dry seasons for it
to dry up almost entirely where it flowed into the Dead Sea, but
in the area where Israel passed over, there was sufficient water,
fresh from the mountain springs that fed it, to take care of the
Israelites' needs. The Arnon River was the north border of the
land of the Moabites and the south border of people to the north
called Amorites. (Numbers 21:10-13.)
From there the Israelites continued northward. At one area,
where they were short of water, God told Moses where the people
could find water. They dug down a few feet and found plenty of
water for the millions of people and their vast herds and flocks.
The people were so thankful for this needed supply of clear,
cool water that they expressed their thanks to God through a
great concert of voices and musical instruments. (Verses 14-18.)
Moses felt that Israel shouldn't progress very far into
Amorite country without permission. Already the caravan was
headed along the edge of the high plain country just east of the
Abarim mountains, and was running the risk of encountering
Moses knew who the Amorite ruler was, and which city was the
capital. He sent messengers to the king, whose name was Sihon, to
ask for passage through his country. Moses assured him that no
wells nor fields nor orchards would be touched by the Israelites,
but that if the Amorites wished to sell them food or water,
Israel would be pleased to pay whatever price was asked. (Verses
21-22; Deuteronomy 2:26-29.)
An Enemy Appears
When king Sihon learned that millions of people and animals
were intending to pass through his little nation, he became quite
excited. He sent the Israelite messengers back at once with the
blunt reply that Israel would not be allowed to pass through the
land under any circumstances. (Numbers 21:23; Deuteronomy 2:30.)
Moses was discouraged when he received the message. If the
Amorite king could successfully block Israel from going farther
north, it would mean that the giant caravan would almost
certainly have to turn westward and somehow cross the Jordan
Moses realized that the Amorite king probably wouldn't be
satisfied by merely refusing passage to Israel. It was more
likely that he would take advantage of this opportunity to attack
the Israelites for the purpose of taking their possessions.
"I shall help you win the battles to come in this land," God
told Moses. "Furthermore, I shall wipe out the wicked nations
occupying this territory, and Israel shall be the sword by which
it will be done!" (Deuteronomy 2:24-25, 31-32.)
Within only a few hours after the Israelite messengers had
returned from king Sihon, a heavy force of armed men appeared on
the north. The hidden Israelite soldiers waited until the
oncoming enemy was well up on the ridges behind which the
Israelites waited. Then they leaped out and fell on the Amorites
in wave after wave of men with such sudden and surprising force
that all the attackers, including king Sihon, were either
slaughtered or put to flight.
After this encounter, Moses was certain that the best of
Sihon's army had been wiped out. Nevertheless, he directed the
Israelites to quickly break camp and move swiftly toward the
cities of the Amorites before their occupants could group
themselves for defense. The Israelite soldiers reached the main
Amorite city of Heshbon, only a few miles distant, to find that
it was almost defenseless. They moved quickly in to slaughter all
the people, including the family of king Sihon.
God Renders Justice
From then on the Israelites moved swiftly over the land to
take over every city and town, slay the people and seize the
animals and any other valuable things that could be taken with
them. Within only a few days they became the conquerors and
destroyers of this small nation. (Numbers 21:24-26; Deuteronomy
Many wonder why God had Israel to wipe out certain nations.
The reason is that they were so miserably sinful that they would
be better off dead. In Abraham's time, their iniquity had not
reached such a peak. (Genesis 15:16.) By the time the Israelites
arrived, however, God said the Amorites should no longer live.
This does not mean they are eternally lost. They, like the people
of Nineveh, Sodom, Gomorrha, and all the world, will come up in a
judgment period, at the second resurrection, after the 1,000
years, and will have an opportunity for salvation. (Matthew
12:41-42; Mark 6:11; Revelation 20:11-13.)
For a while, after conquering the Ainorites, the Israelites
rested in the conquered land, then continued to move northward.
In spite of the fact that they had gained a quick reputation
for tremendous strength in battle, a king of the region northeast
of the Dead Sea came out with his army to attack them. His name
was Og, and he was a man of gigantic stature -- probably nearly
twelve feet in height. The Bible mentions that the bed in his
palace was about eighteen feet long and eight feet wide.
Og was one of the last of the strain of giants of eastern
Canaan. Some of his soldiers were also very large, and they
presented a frightening sight as they charged against Israel.
"Tell your soldiers not to be afraid of these fierce-looking
men," God had told Moses. "Remind them that the soldiers of
Israel cannot fail because I am with them to help destroy their
enemies." (Numbers 21:3334; Deuteronomy 3:1-2.)
Victory Given by God
Og's forces were vicious, brutal, bloodthirsty men lusting
for the opportunity to kill. The Israelite soldiers were almost
the opposite, but when they closed with the enemy, a strange
thing happened. The attacking giants suddenly seemed to lose
their desire for battle. They cringed, ducked, dodged and
attempted to turn and run. They suddenly seemed to sense that
they were in for certain defeat.
This abrupt cowardice by the enemy made it possible for the
Israelite soldiers to swarm over Og's soldiers in a crushing tide
of death. Only minutes later Og and his blustering military men
were things of the past.
Again Moses directed his soldiers to move swiftly about the
nation to try to take Og's cities in the manner of taking the
cities of the Amorites. It turned out that most of Og's forces
had gone into the attack. Every city was lightly guarded by small
numbers of soldiers, but many of these cities were surrounded by
high walls in which there were strong, heavily barred gates.
Using knotted ropes thrown up and looped over the wall
spikes, the Israelite soldiers swarmed over the walls and
overcame the few fighting men who resisted. Then they unbarred
the gates and flooded into the cities to slay all the people that
were there. Only flocks and herds were spared, and these were
taken, along with food, gold, silver, jewelry and whatever wealth
the Israelites found and wanted.
Sixty cities were taken. These centers of habitation weren't
mere villages surrounded by thin, short walls. They were fairly
large centers of population whose well-built stone buildings and
streets were large and wide. Solid stone walls were as much as
eighteen inches thick, and were constructed of rock of that
region almost as hard as iron. (Numbers 21:35; Deuteronomy
So many well-equipped, strongly constructed places of living
wouldn't ordinarily be found in a small country -- much of it
semi-arid, though fertile -- so far from rivers or oceans or
major highways. Some scholars used to think the Bible account of
these cities was a work of some writer's imagination.
Nevertheless, those cities did exist. Many of their ruins still
clutter the plains of Moab and Ammon (ancient Moab and Ammon
extended far to the north of what was Moab at that time) and the
land east of the Jordan River up to the Mt. Hermon range.
Besides these sixty solidly fortified cities,-Israel also
took over many centers of habitation that weren't protected by
walls. That region was far more populated than the Israelites had
expected. Unless God had willed that Israel should have His aid
in the task of taking over these lands and their spoils, the
Israelites would have been utterly wiped out by the
With God as their champion, it required only a few days for
the Israelites to sweep over the land east of the Jordan. The
soldiers of Israel were even more surprised at what they had done
than were those who were their victims. Armed forces of the past
had never dealt such swift and deadly destruction against such
strong armies and so many well-fortified cities. It was a miracle
that impressed at least a part of Israel more than certain
miracles God had brought about at other times.
At this point a question will probably come up in the minds
of some readers when they read of the Israelite soldiers slaying
the women and children of enemy nations. It would be natural to
conclude that all this slaughtering of human beings was nothing
less than a mass disregard for the Sixth Commandment, which
plainly states that we should not kill.
God is neither fiendish nor unjust. He has referred to
Himself as the potter and human beings as the clay. The potter
decides how to use the clay and what part of it is to be
God chose to get rid of the wicked, idol-worshipping nations
east of the Jordan because they were so awfully sinful that they
could not possibly live normal, happy lives. Besides, the land
was not theirs anyway. He could have wiped them out with plagues
or earthquakes. But since Israelites, too, had sinned, God chose
to let Israel experience the consequence of sin. So He chose to
do it through Israel as His instruments. Who should question why
the One with infinite wisdom chooses to do something?
God has told us that we shouldn't murder. Many centuries
after Israel entered Canaan, Christ explained that law in more
detail by explaining that even the desire to murder meant
breaking the intent of the Sixth Commandment.
In the case of the destruction of Israel's enemies, God told
Israel to slay them. It was a matter of obedience, just as it was
when the Levites slew worshippers of the golden calf. As Author
of all spiritual and physical laws, God is the only One who has
wisdom to decide when a person or nation is sinful enough that
death is a blessing.
After conquering the Amorites, Israel's tribes gathered
together and encamped for several weeks of peace in an area a few
miles northwest of Heshbon, the former Amorite capital.
Moab Plots Against Israelites
Meanwhile, news of what had happened swiftly spread to the
surrounding nations, whose rulers were somewhat shaken to learn
that such a powerful army had suddenly emerged from the south.
Probably the most worried ruler was Balak, king of Moab. He
hadn't realized, when Israel had quietly passed along his
nation's east border, that these people possessed such a great
Balak feared that Israel would turn back southward and
swallow up Moab as it had done to the land of the Amorites. After
much meditation and scheming, he decided that there was only one
way of certain security. That was to hire some professional
wizard to pronounce a curse on Israel!
KING'S RANSOM TEMPTS A PROPHET
TOWARD the ancient land of Mesopotamia, by the upper Euphrates
valley, lived a prophet named Balaam. This man was known in many
areas as one who had such a special gift of prophecy that he
could pronounce wonderful blessings and great curses on people --
pronouncements that seemed to be amazingly inspired. He knew
about God, but was a tool of the devil. He was a high priest of
the pagan religion of that land. Balaam always wanted to see how
far God would let him have his own way.
A King's Evil Design
Balak, the heathen king of Moab, had heard that Balaam had
the power, through God, to bless people, and to curse them. Such
a power, he thought, might be much greater than that of any
wizard or enchanter who worked through spells and magic and
"If this man Balaam could be hired to pronounce a curse on
all of this upstart nation of Israel," Balak told his officers,
"those trespassing people might be so crippled that we could
drive them out or even destroy them. We must try every possible
means to keep those Israelites away, and therefore I want Balaam
to be brought here." (Numbers 22:1-6.)
The king immediately sent several of his princes eastward
into Midian, where they were joined by Midianite princes. The
caravan then moved on northward to the city of Pethor where
When Balaam was told by these men of high rank why they had
come to him, he felt very honored but quite uneasy.
"I am a prophet of the most high God," Balaam slyly said.
"If it pleases God to inspire me to pronounce curses and
blessings, so be it. But I cannot curse whom He would bless."
"Perhaps you should make certain what you are allowed to do
before you give us a final answer," one of the Moabite officers
said. "We haven't come here to ask you to do something without a
The officer clapped his hands, and in came two servants
almost staggering under the weight of a metal-strapped box. The
lid was lifted, disclosing a huge amount of pieces of silver and
gold. Balaam's eyes widened at sight of this unexpected display
of wealth. Nothing more was said, but Balaam knew that this
fortune would be his if he would accompany the princes back to
Moab and pronounce a curse on Israel. He began to hope that God
would allow him to reap those riches. In his heart this wicked
man began to covet the reward passionately. "I certainly must
consult God about this matter, " Balaam finally spoke up after an
awkward silence. "I should like to talk to you more about it
tomorrow if you would be pleased to lodge here overnight in the
spacious inn just down the street."
The Moabite and Midianite officers took this to mean that
the sight of such a rich reward had speedily caused Balaam to
give in to their wishes, and they departed with satisfaction for
the inn which was one of Pethor's best. (Verses 7-8.)
That night God spoke to Balaam, asking him the identity of
the men who had come to visit him. God already knew, but He
wanted to test Balaam's wicked heart. Balaam was afraid not to
tell the truth.
"You must not go with these men to curse the Israelites, for
they are blessed," God told him.
Next morning Balaam met with the princes, whose faces fell
when they heard what he had to say.
Balaam Speaks Deceitfully
"God has refused to let me go with you to do what you ask,"
Balaam announced. "There is nothing more to be said or done about
the matter except for you to return to your countries."
As Balaam later watched the caravan depart from Pethor, he
couldn't help but regret that a fortune in precious metals was
slipping through his fingers. He wasn't exactly certain that he
had been wise in turning down this opportunity to become wealthy
overnight, and he hoped Balak would send more messengers and
persuade him so forcefully that he would have to go with them.
After the caravan departed, Balaam's mind often dwelled on
that chest of gleaming gold and silver. Balaam felt that if only
his fear of God wasn't so great, he could have become possessor
of the chest. Instead of desiring a king's ransom, Balaam should
A few weeks passed. Then another caravan suddenly showed up
at Pethor. It was made up of Moabite and Midianite princes of
even higher rank than those who had come before. (Numbers 22:15.)
There were more servants and more animals. The people of Pethor
were excited and honored to welcome another assemblage of men of
high rank, and were proud that a resident of their city was
famous enough to attract such a group of officers from other
nations. Balaam's sudden increase in popularity made him even
more desirous of the offered wealth.
He was quite impressed with the visitors, especially when
some in the caravan turned out to be musicians and dancing girls
who performed in the street in front of the prophet's home. He
began to realize that if Balak made him rich, he could afford to
have his own private musicians and dancing girls. Balaam's love
of money was leading him into all sorts of evil desires. (I
Following the street performance, the head princes met with
Balaam to inform him that the king of Moab had been greatly
disappointed because his offer had been turned down, but that he
was so needful of Balaam's services that he would give him great
rank besides anything he asked if only he would come to Moab and
call down a curse on Israel.
Playing With Temptation
This was a severe temptation to Balaam. All that he had to
do to be wealthy the rest of his life was to go to Moab and utter
a few words against Israel in the name of God. What bothered him
was the question of just how long his life would last if he
continued to disobey God's will. He hoped circumstances would
work out so that he could please Balak without directly
"I can't do anything God tells me not to do," Balaam told
the princes. "Even if your king were to give me a whole house
full of gold and silver, I cannot do any more or less than God
allows. However, I will contact God tonight to see just how far
He will allow me to go in having my own way. If it pleases you to
stay overnight in our city, there is good lodging in the
adjoining place down the street. I shall be in touch with you
tomorrow to report what I am allowed to do." (Numbers 2:16-19.)
It was plain to see by the expression of the princes, as
they filed out, that they were gravely disappointed in the answer
Balaam wondered later if they would ever return. Then God
again spoke to Balaam. "If these men from Moab and Midian come to
you in the morning, I won't stop you from leaving with them," God
said. "If it turns out that you do go with them, remember that I
am warning you not to say anything to them except what I tell you
to say." (Verse 20.)
Balaam got up very early next morning to prepare for the
possible return of the princes. When a little time dragged on,
and no one showed up, it seemed like hours. Balaam was worried.
He desperately wanted to go to Moab because of the rich reward
that could be his, but he feared to displease God. Finally he
reasoned around God's command by saying to himself, "God said if
they came for me I should go with them; and they came for me
yesterday." So he decided to go with the princes without waiting
longer for them to come for him. After all, the princes may have
given up the idea of hearing from him, and started preparing to
return to their native lands. Balaam's decision was direct
disobedience, because he was commanded originally not to go
unless the princes came for him that next morning.
"Go quickly to the lodging place of the princes," Balaam
instructed a servant. "If they are yet there, tell them that they
need wait no longer for word from me. If they have already gone,
overtake them and tell them that I shall join them."
A little while later the servant returned to report that the
caravan was about to leave Pethor, and that the princes were
surprised, but looking forward eagerly to Balaam joining them on
Balaam instructed his servants to prepare a burro for him
and provisions for a long journey for three people -- himself and
two servants. (Verse 21.) A short time later Balaam's group
joined the caravan on its way to Moab and Midian.
Suddenly Balaam's burro lunged off the trail and into a
field, almost throwing its rider. Angered by the animal's unusual
action, Balaam lifted the rod he was carrying, and violently
struck the burro on one of its flanks to force it back onto the
trail. The animal, however, kept on heading out into the field.
Balaam was furious.
His fury would have swiftly melted away if he could have
been aware of what had startled the burro. An angel bearing a
sharp sword was standing in the road! He had made himself visible
only to the burro, which finally, because of Balaam's angry
shouts and gouging heels, started back toward the road. The angel
swiftly moved and stationed himself before the donkey between two
vineyard walls bordering a pathway leading back to the road.
To bypass the angel, the burro lunged to the side, this time
painfully jamming her master's foot and crushing it against the
wall. Balaam vengefully struck the burro on the neck with his
staff, as the animal staggered fearfully forward. The angel again
stationed himself further down the narrowing path. When the burro
saw it could not get by the angel, it collapsed with fright and
nervousness at being so close to the ominous figure of an angel
of God. What little patience Balaam had left came to an abrupt
end. He leaped up and brought the staff down on the animal's back
with all his strength.
The Burro Speaks!
With God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27.) The burro
opened her mouth and spoke her thoughts as though with a human
"What harm have I done to you to cause you to strike me so
violently these three times?" the animal asked Balaam.
Balaam stepped back, his mouth falling open in astonishment.
It was too much for him to I believe that this animal had
actually spoken, yet he somehow felt obliged to reply.
"I -- I struck you because -- because you have made me look
ridiculous by tossing me around and shoving me against that wall.
Besides, you are delaying me in an important trip," Balaam
nervously but angrily answered. "If this staff of mine were a
sword, I would jab it through you!" (Numbers 22:25-29.)
Balaam stared at the burro, wondering if he had been wrong
in thinking that she had spoken in the first place. Then the
animal's mouth quivered again. and Balaam was unhappily certain
that it was actually the burro that was talking.
"Years ago you chose me as your favorite animal for riding,"
the burro said. "I have served you faithfully all this time. Have
I ever treated you so badly as you have treated me just now?"
Balaam was still a little stunned because of the human voice
that came from the mouth of his burro.
" -- uh -- no!" he finally managed to mutter. (Verse 30.)
God gave Balaam the ability to suddenly see the angel. The
prophet staggered back, his eyes popping in amazement. In dreams
and visions he had heard and seen angels, but this was the first
time he had ever seen one while awake. Because of his feeling of
guilt, he fell forward to prostrate himself before the powerful
being from God.
"What good did it do to beat your donkey?" the angel asked
Balaam. "I was standing in your path, and when the animal saw me
there, she tried three times to dodge around me. Were it not so,
I would have used this sword to kill you -- though not your
donkey -- because of your disobeying God by joining the caravan
returning to Moab!" (Verses 31-33.)
Groveling with his face in the soil, Balaam realized how
wrong he had been in coveting the fortune offered him to curse
Israel. How unwise he had been in not fearing God enough to
refuse to disobey. He realized he should have stayed at home,
since the princes did not come for him in the morning after God
"I have sinned!" he cried out. "I didn't know that God would
go so far as to send one of His angels to slay me. Please spare
me! If you don't want me to continue, allow me to return to my
"I shall spare you," the angel told Balaam, "but not to
return to your home. Now that you have begun this journey, God
permits you to rejoin Balak's caravan. However, when you arrive
in Moab, you are to declare only the things I tell you to speak."
God was giving Balaam another opportunity to refuse wealth
and choose to obey Him. If God had sent him back home, Balaam
would not have had another such test of character. Balaam was
greatly relieved not to be punished. He gladly agreed to God's
terms, remembering the wealth of Balak. Accompanied by his two
servants, who had excitedly watched and heard his strange
experience from only a short distance, he hastily rejoined the
caravan of princes headed back toward Moab. (Verses 34-35.)
After the caravan was well under way, a messenger using the
swiftest beast in the caravan was sent ahead to inform king Balak
that Balaam was already on the way with the caravan.
Balaam Continues Lusting
"Why didn't you come to Moab the first time I sent for you?"
king Balak asked a little impatiently, on meeting Balaam. "Didn't
you realize that I am able to give you a high and honorable
position in my government, as well as the treasure my men offered
you?" Balaam was happy to hear the treasure mentioned again. He
had again begun to think more about it and less about the warning
God gave through His angel.
"It was difficult for me to leave Pethor when your first
caravan arrived," Balaam replied. "Here I am at last, but I want
you to know what I have no power to curse or to bless any nation
unless God gives me that power. I can speak only what I am told
to speak." (Verses 37-38.) Balaam was careful to speak in such a
way that king Balak would not give up, but would keep trying
harder to buy his services. He had become greedy for the reward
Balak promised. (II Peter 2:15-16; Jude 11.)
As Balaam hoped, his statement didn't discourage Balak. The
king was convinced that the prophet somehow could manage to bring
down God's wrath on Israel. He correctly believed that Balaam's
statement perhaps meant that the price would be higher than
anything Balak had already offered. Whatever the price, the king
was willing to pay and was pleased to take Balaam with him
farther into Moab, to the town of "Kirjath-huzoth", which means
"a city of streets."
Because the king and princes of Moab and Midian were
present, there was a great celebration that night.
Pleasure-seeking sheepherders and cattledrivers whooped and
yelled as they moved in and out of the various establishments of
The festive feeling was further promoted when the king
ordered his musicians, entertainers and dancing girls to perform
their best and loudest in the streets and market place. Although
Balaam realized that this festivity was at least partly in his
honor, he was uncomfortable. He reasoned he was better than those
boisterous Moabites. He was even less at ease when he noticed a
huge fire being built at a street intersection, and was told that
the Moabites were about to sacrifice oxen and sheep to their
gods, and that generous portions were being brought to him and
the Midianite princes with him. (Verse 40.)
"We seek protection from our enemies by pleasing our gods
with sacrifices," Balak explained to Balaam. "If you wish to
offer sacrifices to yours at the same time on this altar, I shall
see that you are supplied with any kinds of carcasses you need.
Of course I hope that you will at the same time implore God to
"I am sorry to disappoint you," Balaam answered, "but God
has forbidden me to do what I would like to. So I can't join you
in this ceremony."
So Balak was again disappointed.
BALAAM'S FOUR PROPHECIES
NEXT morning after the feast king Balak of Moab sent his
entertainers back to their homes. But he continued onward to the
west with Balaam, Balaam's two servants and the Moabite officers
and servants. The caravan journeyed on to a mountain overlooking
the site where the hosts of Israel were camped. (Numbers
Balak Is Jealous
"There you see all those powerful people who have swept up
from the south to swallow up our nations," Balak said to Balaam.
"Camped there as they are, they appear peaceful. When they move,
however, they seem to sweep up and devour everything in their
path like locusts. They must be stopped. Otherwise every nation
including mine, could fall before them."
Balak knew that what he said was not true. God had forbade
Israel to attack Moab. (Deuteronomy 2:5, 9, 19.) Balak was
jealous of Israel.
Balaam knew of this strange nation that had come out of
Egypt, and he knew that the God of the Israelites was the only
true God -- the One he was afraid of. He realized that he had run
into a very serious situation. If he were to ask God to curse
Israel, he would be asking God to crush the nation the Creator
had chosen for a very definite reason. Balaam didn't completely
understand why God was with Israel, but before he went any
further for Balak, he decided to try to get in touch with God.
"Have your men build seven altars on this mountain," Balaam
told Balak. "Have them bring seven oxen and seven rams to
sacrifice as burnt offerings."
King Balak was willing to do whatever Balaam asked. The
altars were quickly set up and the sacrifices were made. While
ceremonies were in progress, Balaam slipped away to a higher part
of the mountain, hoping that he could get in touch with God.
Because God was using Balaam for a purpose -- and not
because of the sacrifices Balaam had asked Balak to make -- God
spoke to Balaam from the rocks of the highest part of the
mountain, instructing him just what to say to Balak when he
returned. When Balaam finally arrived back at the site of the
seven altars, Balak and the high officers of Moab stood by the
sacrifices and anxiously awaited what he would have to say. They
hoped that he would at last utter a curse on Israel.
Balaam hesitated a little before saying anything, because he
suddenly realized that what he was about to speak would startle
the Moabites. (Numbers 23:1-6.)
"As all of you before me are aware," Balaam began, "I was
summoned all the way from my home in Aram in the mountains of the
East by king Balak. The king's wish has been that I call down the
wrath of God on Israel, the nation that has recently come up out
of Egypt to destroy the Amorites. If God's wrath would suddenly
come on Israel for sin, then how much more would it fall on the
nation of Moab? God is the God of Israel. It would be impossible
for me to bring a curse by God on a nation that He has already
blessed. It would be most foolish, in fact, for any one or any
nation to try to go against any nation that God is not against
and is protecting.
"Even now we are able to look out and see these people God
has chosen for some great purpose. Israel shall always stand out
above other nations, and it shall be one whose numbers can be
compared to the numbers of specks of dust in the ground. I trust
that when I die, my death shall be as honorable as that of those
people we see below who have been chosen for some high purpose!"
Balak was surprised and irritated by the unexpected speech
from Balaam. He had hoped for a curse, but Balaam's words, which
God required him to speak, amounted to a magnificent blessing
rather than a curse.
Balak strode up to Balaam, planted his fists on his hips,
and frowningly regarded the prophet.
"Why have you spoken these good things about Israel instead
of what I expected?" the king angrily asked. "I didn't bring you
here for this sort of thing. How could you do the opposite of
what I have counted on your doing -- especially when you consider
the rich rewards that could be yours?" (Verse 11.)
Balaam Speaks Dishonestly
"Don't I have to say what God told me to say?" Balaam asked.
"What else could I do?" (Verse 12.) Balaam intended these words
to soften the blow of God's prophecy and encourage Balak to keep
trying to bribe Balaam with bigger sums of money.
Balak was discouraged by this answer, but, as Balaam hoped,
he didn't intend to give up. He reasoned that Balaam had been so
awed by the vast spread of Israelites that he feared to utter a
curse on them.
The Moabite king quickly decided to take Balaam to another
mountain from where only a part of Israel could be viewed. Balak
was well aware of how the camping Israelites appeared from all
directions, what with his spies having carefully watched them
ever since they had come out of the south.
Regardless of God's instructions that Balaam should speak
only good things concerning Israel, the prophet went with Balak
to a flat section of a high ridge known as Mt. Pisgah. (Verses
"There you again see those intruders," Balak said to Balaam.
"Why not implore your powerful God to punish them?"
"I still must obey what God tells me to do," Balaam
answered. "To approach Him again, we must once more build seven
altars and offer a ram and a bullock on each altar. Then I'll
seek another meeting with God to inquire if He will allow me to
At a command from Balak, seven altars were set up on Mt.
Pisgah, and a bullock and a ram were sacrificed on each of the
altars. Meanwhile, Balaam again went into a remote section of the
mountain to try to contact God. Once more he was successful, but
only because God purposed to contact him. Even though Balaam was
still greedy for Balak's reward, God was very patiently waiting
to see if Balaam would finally repent and quit serving himself
and the devil. Though he was afraid of God he did not repent.
"Tell Balak what I am about to tell you," God said to
Balaam, and Balaam, out of dread of punishment, memorized what
God had to say.
For the second time Balaam returned from a mountain visit
with God to report to king Balak.
"I have been in touch with God," Balaam called to Balak,
"and He has told me more things to tell you."
"What has God spoken?" Balak calmly asked, though anxiously
hoping that either God or Balaam had undergone a change of mind.
More Inspired Prophecy
"He has said that you, Balak, should listen to Him," Balaam
replied. "He has said that you should learn that He does not lie,
as does a mortal man, and that He will surely carry out any
purpose or promise He had made. God has blessed Israel, and I
have been instructed to carry on according to that blessing. It
would be impossible for me to change God's blessing into a curse.
"You should know that God has not regarded the shortcomings
of Jacob, the forefather of Israel, as something so evil that all
of Jacob's descendants should be cursed into oblivion. God
brought Israel out of Egypt, and gave that nation the strength of
the giant wild bull. No prayer, no art, no craft nor enchantment
from outsiders can affect Israel. In time to come people will
marvel at how this nation was kept alive under God's protection.
In fact, Israel shall become known as a strong young lion that
doesn't rest until he has eaten well of his prey, and that prey
will be nations that can be compared to gazelles, deer and other
animals much weaker than the lion." (Verses 18-24.)
Balak stared in shock at the prophet. Balaam was wearing the
king's patience to an end. If he hadn't been so desperate for
help against Israel, he would have ordered the prophet out of his
"If you won't curse the Israelites now," Balak muttered
wearily, "then at least you can refrain from pronouncing a
blessing on them!" "Didn't I tell you," Balaam replied, "that I
would have to speak whatever God would tell me to say?" Balaam
should have flatly refused to help Balak, but he didn't. He still
hoped he could please Balak, without being punished by God.
If Balaam hadn't been afraid of God's great power, he never
would have spoken or acted in such a manner. But he still had a
desire for the reward that Balak was willing to give him, if he
could only influence God to change His mind.
Balak refused to give up what he had set out to do through
the prophet. Immediately he suggested that they go to Mt. Peor,
which was a high point of the Abarim range. From there all of the
camp of Israel could be seen. Balak hoped that there was a chance
that Balaam might break down and pronounce a curse on Israel if
he could be convinced that such a large and powerful nation might
well move eastward and destroy Balaam's home town.
Later, when the Moabite caravan and those with it viewed the
Israelites from Mt. Peor, Balak was dismayed to hear Balaam ask
for the third time that seven altars should be built for
sacrificing animals. Balaam was fearfully aware that invisible
angels were listening to all his words and watching everything he
did. But he again thought he could influence God to let him curse
Israel so he could obtain Balak's reward. Balak gave orders to
carry out Balaam's wish. The Moabite king didn't want to do it,
but he was still interested in getting Balaam to curse Israel.
In spite of his hopes to earn favor and fortune from the
Moabite king, Balaam realized it would be useless to continue
hoping God might curse Israel for Balak. His recent contacts with
God made it quite clear that it was impossible to tempt God to
change His mind.
For this reason, Balaam did not even go to seek another
vision as he had previously done.
As the prophet looked down from Mt. Peor on the Israelites
camped in their orderly manner on the plains of Moab, he was
suddenly required by God to speak another clear and vivid
prophecy to Balak and those about him.
Moabites, Midianites and even Balaam's two servants gathered
around in curiosity as the prophet's voice rang out from the
mountain top to tell them marvelous things they hadn't expected
"I, Balaam, the son of Beor, have been given understanding
by God in matters I am about to relate," Balaam declared.
He then went on, to the growing discomfort of most of his
audience, to speak of Israel and what would happen to that
Israel's Future Unfolded
"How fine is the array of colorful tents and tabernacles of
Israel on the plain below!" Balaam exclaimed. "They are spread
out as watercourses from the mountains, as gardens by a river, as
sandal trees and cedars of Lebanon growing naturally in rows
beside the streams.
"Israel shall have plenty of prosperity. His descendants
shall be uncountable. His king shall have more power than any
other king, and the kingdom of Israel shall become the strongest
one in the world. God brought this nation out of Egypt and gave
it the strength of the giant wild bull. This people will swallow
up its enemies after breaking their bones and piercing them with
"Israel is like a great lion that people fear to bother.
Those who bless Israel shall be blessed. Those who curse Israel
shall be cursed!" (Numbers 24:1 -9.)
This was exactly the opposite of what the king of Moab hoped
to hear. He felt that Balaam had betrayed him, and he violently
struck his hands together, an action in those times that
indicated great anger.
"I offered you handsome rewards to come here to curse my
enemies!" Balak shouted as he strode up to Balaam. "Instead, you
Now take your servants and get out of here without the
reward God has prevented you from receiving!" (Verses 10-11.)
"Perhaps you have forgotten," Balaam calmly reminded the
king, "that when your messengers first came to me I told them
that a whole house full of gold from you would not cause me to do
anything in this matter but what God allows me to do. Didn't I
say then that I had to say exactly what God requires me to say?"
Then God ordered Balaam to utter another astonishing
prophecy: "Now, before I leave, I should tell you what God says
Israel will do to your people in the future. An Israelite king
will come into power who will strike your nation with such force
that it will be smashed at once. Those Moabites who remain alive
will be taken as servants of Israel!"
The king of Moab sensed that Balaam spoke the truth, and his
haughty expression quickly turned to one of uneasiness.
"When -- when is this supposed to happen?" Balak asked,
forcing a tone of command into his voice.
"You will not live to see that day," Balaam answered. "But
it will happen as surely as the sun is in the sky. As for Edom
and Seir, those countries shall also fall to Israel. Even the
powerful Amalekites shall go down before Israel, and shall
disappear forever as a nation. The Kenites shall also be taken
captive, though they live in the rocky strongholds of the
"The climax will bring frightening changes in many parts of
the world. Nations from across the seas will attack and be
attacked. There will be great trouble in time to come. Israel,
the nation God has chosen for carrying on His purpose in the
world, will end the most glorious nation!"
There were only low murmurs from the Moabites and Midianites
as Balaam and his two servants mounted their animals and rode
away on the trail that led down Mt. Peor. (Verses 14-25.)
Balak was sobered by what Balaam had said, but, lest those
about him should notice his fear, he shrugged his shoulders and
man aged a smirk of derision that would have faded quickly if he
could have foreseen his nation being overcome by a future
Israelite king by the name of David. (II Samuel 8:1-2.)
Most of the prophecies made by Balaam were for Old Testament
times. Some are yet to come true in these latter days because God
always does what He promises to do!
Balak returned to the city from which he ruled Moab, but
Balaam never got back to his home town. He continued to lust
after the reward he tad missed. He began to devise a plan he
thought might get him a part of it. So he stopped in the land of
Knowing that the Midianites as well as the Moabites wished
to see Israel destroyed, Balaam sold to their leaders an evil
scheme. His plan was to promote sin between Israelite men and the
pagan women of Midian and Moab. He reasoned that this sin would
bring down God's curse on all Israel.
The Israelites continued to stay on the verdant plain that
was partly shaded by many acacia trees. It was a pleasant,
fruitful area in which to camp and the Israelites were in the
midst of plenty. But an exceedingly unpleasant matter soon began
Some of the men of Israel were attracted to some of the
Moabite, Ammonite, and Midianite women. This situation swiftly
grew into a mountainous problem. More and more Israelite men
married these pagan women, something forbidden by God. Israel was
not to intermarry with outsiders -- especially those who were
heathen. Besides, due to Balaam's teaching, many Moabite women
and Israelite men were taking the physical privileges of married
persons, although unmarried. This meant they were breaking the
seventh and tenth commandments. (Revelation 2:14.)
What was more, the Moabite women were leading their
Israelite husbands and lovers into Sabbath-breaking and
worshiping pagan gods. (Numbers 25:1-6.) These gods included
Astarte or Ishtar, a deity giving her name to "Easter" eggs. This
idolatry was later brought into so-called Christian churches, by
the modern successors of Balaam, and came to be known as Easter.
One sin led to another then just as it does today.
God's fierce anger was aroused when He noticed these things
continuing and growing. He was angry because so many Israelite
men were mixing with Moabite and Midianite women. The men were
allowing themselves to be drawn by these foreign women into
taking part in worshiping pagan gods and into mixed marriages.
Today, the same sins are being repeated.
"Seek out and punish by death the individuals who have
committed these sins before it spreads further," God told Moses.
"If you don't, I will curse the whole nation of Israel!" (Numbers
Balaam's wicked project was beginning to pay off for Midian
"This is the kind of sin that can destroy a whole nation if
allowed to continue. Tell the heads of the twelve tribes to seize
the lesser tribal leaders and the better-known men who have so
heedlessly gone against My warnings not to mingle with strange
nations," God told Moses.
"The leading tribal chiefs must themselves stone the
law-breakers and have them hung on poles for a whole day to show
what can happen to those who follow evil leaders and ignore My
rules! This matter, however, isn't going to end with merely a
warning. I am going to bring a plague on all the other
offenders," said the Eternal to Moses, "and unless this taking of
foreign women stops at once, the plague will spread to all of
Israel!" (Verses 4-5.)
Instantly Moses acted.
The order was carried out, and within only a few hours the
corpses were hanging on poles erected close to the center of the
Israelite camps. These gruesome reminders and Moses' stern rebuke
shocked the people. There was much loud wailing and moaning, a
habit acquired from the Egyptians. Most of the Israelites truly
regretted what had happened, and from them there were genuine
groans and weeping of shame and repentance. (Verse 6.)
Last Wilderness Plague
At the same time an amazingly dreadful thing began to happen
to thousands of Israelite men who were guilty of being involved
with Moabite and Midianite women and their pagan sacrifices. In
all the camps offenders were abruptly overcome by terrible pains
in their chests. They thudded to the ground as though they had
been stoned with invisible stones. It was as though angels had
stoned the offenders that the tribal chiefs of Israel had failed
to stone. The victims were able to gasp only a few tormented
breaths before dying.
When news of this reached the mourners near the tabernacle,
the groaning and shrieking reached higher peaks, and there was
growing sorrow and shame in the homes of the men who were
stricken, because everyone knew they died for their shameful
conduct. Some of these men were sons of respectable parents and
tribal leaders. Others were fathers whose wives and children had
no idea -- until their sudden deaths -- that foreign women had
drawn these men into trouble.
All this heartache and grief came because Balak was jealous
of Israel and because Balaam lusted so much after the wages
promised by Balak that he taught the pagans how to lead
rebellious Israelite men into sin. (II Peter 2:16; Jude 11;
Even in the face of these abrupt and terrible developments
there were those who were so scornful of God that they refused to
put aside the women of these pagan nations.
A Rebel Prince
Such a one was Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simeon. Even
at the height of the time of mourning and repentance, Zimri came
into the tabernacle area with a Midianite princess named Cozbi.
The couple brazenly passed through the mourning Israelites and on
to a private tent in the camp of Simeon.
Zimri was plainly recognized by many, including Moses, who
assumed that officers would quickly go to Zimri and find out from
him the identity of the strange woman. Because of Zimri's high
rank, however, officers who should have detained him allowed him
and his Midianite princess to go their way without bothering
them. (Numbers 25:6.)
Phinehas, one of Aaron's grandsons, took particular notice
of where Zimri and Cozbi went and noticed the officers' hesitancy
in punishing them. Acting according to God's special order that
offenders in this matter should be slain, Phinehas seized a spear
that had been put down by an Israelite soldier, and followed the
couple to the tent they had entered. Phinehas jerked the tent
flap open, then hurled the spear with such force that it pierced
the bodies of both Zimri and Cozbi.
From that moment on no one else died of the mysterious
lungcrushing plague that had come on Israel. Till that time,
however, twenty-four thousand Israelite men lost their lives --
twenty-three thousand in one day -- including about a thousand
who were stoned as examples to warn Israel of the heavy penalty
of mixing with foreign nations. (Verses 7-9, 14-15.) God had this
shameful and tragic episode recorded to teach us that we should
not lust after dishonest money and should not marry or follow the
practices of evil women, and that we should worship only God. (I
"Phinehas, by his loyal action, has proved that there are
those who stand for justice," God told Moses. "Because of his
zeal to punish offenders and atone for the sins of his people,
others will now fear to disobey. Therefore, My wrath against
Israel has been stopped. Furthermore, I extend to this man an
agreement of peace. I assure him that I shall spare him from any
Midianites who would try to avenge the Midianite princess, and
that those after him shall remain in the priesthood forever!"
The next few days were ones of misery, shame and sorrow in
Israel. At the same time, though most people weren't aware of it
to the full extent, they had reason to rejoice and be thankful
because of God's anger having been turned from them.
This didn't mean that God was satisfied with the way matters
turned out. He was well aware that the Midianites and Moabites --
especially the Midianites -- had plotted to use their women to
wrongly influence men of Israel. He planned to punish Midian, but
not until He had accomplished some other things. (Verses 16-18.)
One of those things was the taking of a census. It had been
over thirty-eight years since the people had been numbered.
During that time there had been changes in the tribes. Now that
Israel was obviously about to take over Canaan, it was necessary
to know the number of people in every tribe so that the leaders
would know the size of the army and so the land could be divided
in a manner that would be fair to all. (Numbers 26:52-54.)
Only the males from twenty years of age and up were
numbered. The men of the tribe of Levi were counted separately
and in a different way because they were not in the army and they
had no inheritance as did the men of the other tribes. (Numbers
1:47-49; Numbers 2:33.)
At the time of this second census, not one man remained to
enter the Promised Land who was numbered in the first numbering,
except Caleb and Joshua, who were faithful to God. (Numbers
14:29-30; Deuteronomy 1:34-35.) However, Moses, Eleazar and
Ithamar (Aaron's sons) and some other Levites who were alive at
the time of the-first census remained alive because the Levites
were not condemned to die in the wilderness with the over 600,000
soldiers who complained when God told them to go in and occupy
the Promised Land. The Levites had remained faithful to God even
when all the rest of Israel worshipped the golden calf. (Exodus
32:25-29.) Because of their faithfulness, the Levites were given
special blessings. (Deuteronomy 33:8-11.)
This miracle of destroying the older generation of murmurers
was one of the many great wonders and miracles by which God
proved His power to Israel while they wandered forty years in the
wilderness. (Acts 7:35-36.) But God had been faithful to the
other half of His promise and had saved alive those who had been
under twenty years of age when Israel murmured against Him.
(Numbers 14:31; Numbers 26:11.) The Promised Land was now in
sight as God finished wiping out the older generation of
condemned rebels, leaving a new generation of men who were under
sixty years old.
When the figures of the second census had been totalled,
they showed that some of the tribes had increased and some had
decreased. Not including the Levites, who had increased by only a
thousand, there were 1,820 less men (over twenty years of age)
than the first census showed. If Israel had been obedient in the
past, the census would have shown an increase of thousands and
thousands in all the tribes. Besides, they would have been
dwelling safely and in good health in Canaan.
Inheritance Law Explained
Right after the census was taken, five sisters brought a
problem to Moses and Eleazar. They explained that because their
father was dead and because they had no brothers, their father's
inheritance and name would be lost if they were not permitted to
inherit in the place of sons. (Numbers 27:1-5.) This was due to
the fact that property that was passed on to following
generations could be claimed only by those registered in the
census. Those didn't include women.
Moses and Eleazar realized that there could be many such
cases among the millions of Israelites. They felt that the matter
was important enough to bring to God, especially at this time
when Canaan was obviously about to be divided up as an
inheritance among the tribes of Israel.
When Moses brought the cause before God, the Creator told
him that the five daughters had done well in speaking out, and
that His law concerning this situation should be made known to
"Let it be recorded," God informed Moses, "that if a man
dies who has no sons, his property shall pass on to his
daughters. If he has no daughters, what he owns shall go to his
brothers. If he has no brothers, his estate shall go to his
father's brothers. If his father has no brothers, his property
shall go to those who are of the closest relationship." (Verses
Shortly after this new law was established, God told Moses
that he should climb to the top of one of the nearby Abarim
mountains so that he could view the land the Israelites were to
"After you have seen Canaan from afar, your life shall end
on that mountain," God said. "You are not to enter into the
Promised Land because of your disobedient attitude in getting
water out of the rock at Kadesh." (Verses 12-14.) This decree was
no surprise to Moses, since God had refused his request to enter
Canaan just after conquering Gilead and Bashan. (Deuteronomy 3:4,
Although Moses had expected this, it shocked him to learn
that he would die so soon. He realized that God meant what He
said, and that it would be futile to beg to have his life spared.
What mattered most was how Moses would be replaced. When Moses
finally spoke, that was foremost in his mind.
Joshua to Take Moses' Place
"Your will be done," Moses said. "But before I come to the
end of my days, I should like to know that you have set a man in
my place so that your people will not be as sheep without a
shepherd." (Numbers 27:16-17.)
By this request Moses didn't mean that he felt that God
couldn't get along without him or someone to take his place. But
Moses understood that God had always worked to a great extent
through human beings. It was only natural that he would want to
know through whom God would next lead Israel, and to have that
man established in office.
"Joshua shall succeed you," God told Moses. "Call the
congregation together to witness the transferring of some of your
honor on Joshua before Eleazar the priest. From the time that
Joshua takes your place, he must consult Eleazar, who will come
to me in the tabernacle. I have spoken to you directly, but this
is the way in which Joshua shall receive instruction on how to
lead Israel." (Verses 18-21.)
Later, before Eleazar and a huge crowd of Israelites, Moses
put his hands on Joshua's head and lifted his voice to God.
"As a chosen servant of You, the God of Israel," Moses
prayed, "I am willing to give up the power and honor of my office
whenever I am taken from this life. I pray that even greater
power and honor will go to Joshua, the man You have chosen to
follow me. Thank You for giving me this wonderful opportunity to
be of service. Now I ask your very special blessing on this man,
that he would be inspired with the strength and character and
wisdom to rightly lead your people. By your authority I now
charge him with the responsibility of the office that has been
mine." (Numbers 27:22-23; Deuteronomy 3:21-22, 28; Deuteronomy
Although Moses' office had in a sense been transferred to
Joshua, full authority was not to go to Joshua as long as Moses
lived. Moses was busy for some time afterward receiving
instruction from God having to do with offerings, holy days and
civil laws. All these things were recorded and passed on to the
people to preserve for us today. (Numbers 28, 29, 30.) It was
during these trying times that the first four books of the Bible
were completed by Moses.
VICTORY EAST OF THE JORDAN
THIRTY-NINE years had passed since two million Israelites had
fled from Egypt to escape their oppressors. (Numbers 1:1; Numbers
13:1-3, 26; Deuteronomy 2:14.) Because they usually chose the way
of sin, thousands upon thousands had died of war and sickness.
Only a few of the many adult men who had started from Egypt were
still alive after wandering for so many years through the deserts
and mountains. (Numbers 26:63-65.)
But death and misery hadn't prevailed all the time. Whenever
the people chose to repent of their wrong ways and had the good
sense to live as God had instructed them to live, they enjoyed
good health, a happy state of mind and God's protection.
(Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Deuteronomy 30:15-20.) And through all the
years God gave them nourishing manna and miraculously prevented
their clothes and shoes from wearing out. (Deuteronomy 8:4.)
Knowing only the rigors of desert living, they greatly
enjoyed a few months of camping on a verdant, spring-fed,
tree-studded plain a few miles east of the Jordan River. (Numbers
About this time Moses was called to the tabernacle to
receive special instruction.
"Do The Impossible!"
"The time has come for my people to strike against the
Midianites," the Creator said to Moses. "They must be punished
because of their evil plan to influence Israelite men to go over
to pagan ways through the wiles of the Midianite women. The
Midianite leaders hoped that if enough Israelites fell in with
worshipping their gods, I would be displeased and withdraw my
protection from Israel. Then they intended to attack. I was
indeed displeased, but I did not abandon Israel.
"Now follow my orders and avenge your God as well as
yourselves because of the harm idolatrous Midian has brought to
the people. Although the Midianites hoped to destroy all Israel,
I will use one-fiftieth of the Israelite army to destroy the army
of Midian. I will prove that mortal men cannot hinder my plans or
destroy the nation I protect." (Numbers 25:16-18; Numbers
Moses spoke at once to his officers, instructing them to
choose a thousand fighting men from each tribe. (Verses 3-5.)
This total of twelve thousand trained and armed men was only a
small part of the total Israelite army. Moses felt certain that
the Midianites had many more soldiers than twelve thousand, but
he knew better than to add to the number God had chosen.
The Israelites would have feared to go against the Midianite
army with such a small force if God had not promised this new
generation that they would live to cross over Jordan into the
Promised Land. They had at last learned to trust God and they
knew that through His power this task would be possible.
Led by Joshua, the twelve thousand set out bravely across
the plains to the southeast to do what they knew was humanly
impossible. The high priest's son, Phinehas, was in charge of the
few Levites who accompanied the army. These men were to preside
at sacred services and to carry the two silver trumpets that were
to be blown by the priest, at God's command, as battle alarms.
(Numbers 10:1-3, 8-9; Numbers 31:6.)
The movement of Israelite troops didn't go unnoticed. When
Midianite spies noted what direction was taken by the twelve
thousand troops, swift-riding Midianite messengers carried the
news to all five rulers of Midian. The five kings preferred to
meet their attackers in the desert, what with the Midianites
having specialized in desert fighting for centuries. They agreed
that their full forces should go against the Israelite army,
which, from the reports, was only a fraction as large as it was
imagined to be.
The Midianites realized that more Israelite troops could
follow, but their spies reported seeing no further preparation in
the camps of the Israelites. This convinced the Midianites that
their women had succeeded in demoralizing the Israelite men to
such an extent that they were no longer a strongly united
fighting force. They believed they could easily defeat Israel.
Almost two days after he had started out with the soldiers,
Joshua received a discouraging report from a scout who had
hurriedly returned from observation duty far ahead.
Numbers Meant Nothing to Joshua!
"The desert is dark with approaching thousands of soldiers!"
the scout panted. "If we hold our present course, we will meet
that army head-on! From what I could see, it's much larger than
our army, and could surround us!"
Joshua had no intention of trying to evade the enemy, which
then might march right on to the camps of the Israelites. He knew
that since God had sent the Israelites on this mission as His
executioners, He would supply them with enough skill and power to
wipe out these idolaters. The troops continued their rather slow
tramping across the sands and rocks, and it wasn't long before
they were able to make out the Midianites in the distance.
When the miles between the two armies had shrunk to only a
few hundred yards, it was plain to the Midianites that their
numbers were indeed much superior to those of the Israelites.
Suddenly the Midianites split into three sections! The
middle portion came directly at the Israelites!
The other two parts swung out to right and left to surround
the Israelite troops in a gigantic vise-like movement!
The battle was set in array.
When the twelve thousand soldiers of Israel realized that
they were marching into the vast jaws of superior numbers of
oncoming Midianites, many of them momentarily may have felt like
wheeling about and fleeing in the opposite direction. In those
first frightful moments they felt what it would mean never to
return to their camps and families.
The Signal to Attack
Then came the shrill, piercing sounds of the silver trumpets
of the Israelites. It was an instant and powerful reminder to the
soldiers that their God was with them, and that He would protect
and strengthen them -- and take them all safely into Canaan as He
had promised. (Numbers 14:29-31.)
Spurred to action and confidence, it was the Israelites'
turn to make a surprise move. At a signal passed backward from
Joshua, the rear flanks of the Israelites suddenly divided and
curved out in opposite directions to swiftly get outside the
flanking troops of the Midianites, even though many of them were
Thus the enemy soldiers, attempting to surround the
Israelites, found themselves bottled up except for their rear
troops. But even those, within minutes, were hemmed in by the
Then the fighting broke out in fierce, bloody fury.
Considering the many thousands of soldiers involved, the battle
could have been expected to last for hours. However, it went on
only for a very short time, and then the awful sounds of
slaughter suddenly died down.
Weary men grouped together to stare in silence at the
thousands of corpses strewn over the rocky ground. It was hard to
believe at first, but the Israelites soon realized that they had
slain every soldier who had come out to war against them, and
that included all five kings of the Midianites! They also found
Balaam the prophet, who had taught the Midianites how to lead
Israel astray, and killed him because of his evil deeds. (Numbers
31:1-8.) Because Balaam had set his affections on the gold Balak
offered instead of eternal life which God offered, everything
went wrong for him. He got neither gold nor eternal life, but was
executed by God's servants.
What was even more amazing was that not even one dead or
critically wounded Israelite could be found.
True to His word, God had protected all of them.
Through Moses, God had instructed Joshua to proceed to the
Midianite cities and capture everything of value. After stripping
the dead Midianites of their possessions, the Israelites marched
on to the nearby Midianite centers of civilization.
Having wiped out the Midianite army, the Israelite forces
split into small groups and took over the Midianite towns and
unprotected strongholds as soon as the soldiers could reach them.
All Midianite men were slain, and the towns and strongholds
burned. Women and children were captured. Flocks, herds and
valuables were seized. (Numbers 31:9-12.)
Mounted messengers raced back to the Israelite camp to
excitedly inform Moses of the overwhelming victory. Moses was not
surprised, but he was pleased and thankful. He called the tribal
heads together, and with them and Eleazar, rode out east of the
camp to meet and welcome the returning victors. (Verse 13.)
Don't Give Idolatry a Foothold
After congratulating Joshua and other officers, Moses
noticed that the prisoners consisted of many thousands of boys,
girls and women.
"Why have you brought back these boys?" Moses asked Joshua.
"And why have you spared these many thousands of women? Have you
forgotten that these Midianite women recently drew our men into
idolatry? God put a plague on us because of them, and also
decreed that they should not live! Besides, they would have slain
all our women and children had they won the battle."
"Our soldiers didn't have the heart to kill the youngsters,"
Joshua replied. "As for the women, we couldn't know which were
the offenders. Therefore we brought back all except those who
fell before us by accident."
"God sent us to destroy the Midianites," Moses told Joshua.
"Tell your officers to instruct their men to slay all the male
youngsters you have brought with you. Then determine as far as
possible, which females have never had personal relations with
men. Set them aside to spare, and slay all the other women!"
Within a few hours thousands of Midianite women and male
children lost their lives. The only Midianites who were spared
were girl babies, young girls and any females who could prove to
the Israelite officers that they had not taken part in the evil
practices by which other Midianite women had led many Israelite
men astray. These young Midianite women and girls could live
among the Israelites as servants without any danger of their
leading the Israelites into idolatry.
Some who read this account will wag their heads in doubt,
believing that God would never allow such slaughter, regardless
of what the inspired scriptures tell us. However, the slaying of
the Midianite women and children was an act of mercy. The
Israelites who carried out the task of executing these idolaters
had no appetite for such grisly business. They acted under orders
from God, who had good reasons for using the Israelites to wipe
out an idolatrous nation. These people were so evil, warlike, and
lewd that they and their children were better off dead. When they
are resurrected in the judgment, along with other evil nations of
past ages, they will live under God's government, not their own.
And they will be taught how to live in righteousness and
happiness. (Matthew 12:41-42; 11:20-24; Isaiah 65:19-25.)
Is it sensible that people should consider God harsh for
what He ordered done to the Midianites, while at the same time
they want to believe the pagan lie (still voiced from so-called
Christian pulpits all around the world) that God has allowed
billions of souls to be dumped into everlasting, blistering
torment in some fiery place -- some suppose in the center of the
Earth -- just because they never heard of God?
Contrary to this unscriptural teaching, God justly gives
every human being, at one time or another, the opportunity to
learn right from wrong and choose to serve God. For most people,
that opportunity doesn't come in this life. If it doesn't it will
come when all those Midianites and others who have died without
an opportunity for salvation will be resurrected after the
Millennium. At that time people will live together in peace and
prosperity while they are privileged to learn the way that leads
to salvation. (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Isaiah 65:19-25.)
Because of being well outside the camps of the Israelites,
it was an appropriate place for Moses to advise the soldiers who
had any part in killing the Midianites or touching their bodies.
"All of you who have touched a dead body must stay outside
of camp for seven days. On the third and the seventh days you and
your captives must bathe yourselves, and wash your clothes and
anything you have that has touched a corpse if those things are
made of skins, goats' hair or wood." (Numbers 31:19-20.)
Eleazar, the priest, added to these directions by telling
the soldiers that while they were waiting out those seven days,
they should purify all battle equipment and booty made of gold,
silver, brass, iron, tin or lead. This meant that objects made of
these metals were to pass through flames of a hot fire to kill
vermin and germs, and in some cases even to be melted down. Also
they were to be washed in a specially prepared purifying water.
Nothing could be taken back to the camps of the Israelites unless
it was purified. (Verses 21:24.) If all people today would obey
such strict rules of sanitation and quarantine, contagious
diseases would not spread as they do.
There was great celebration in the Israelite camps when at
last the victorious soldiers were prepared to return to their
homes and families. But now there was the problem of how to
fairly distribute the captured property. Happily, it didn't
remain a problem, because God spoke to Moses of this matter. The
people did not use their own human reason.
Dividing the Spoils
"Divide what has been taken into two equal parts," God told
Moses. "One part shall go to the soldiers who brought it back.
The other half shall be distributed among the people. From the
first part, for the soldiers, one part in five hundred shall go
to Eleazar the high priest for offerings and to supply household
needs. From the second half, for the people, one part in fifty
shall go to the Levites."
Joshua and his officers made an immediate count of the
captives and livestock that had come from the campaign against
Midian. It turned out that the soldiers had brought in 32,000
female Midianites, 675,000 sheep and goats, 72,000 cattle and
Of the female Midianites, 32 (one out of every 500 of the
soldiers' half) went to Eleazar and his assistants. They were to
be used as household servants and helpers to the wives of Eleazar
and of the priests. At the same time, 320 Midianites (one out of
every 50 in the congregation's half) went to the Levites to be
household servants for their families.
As for the sheep and goats, 675 of them went to the priests,
and 6,750 went to the Levites. In the matter of cattle, 72 went
to the priests, and 720 went to the Levites. Of the donkeys, 61
of them went to the priests, and 610 went to the Levites for
service as beasts of burden. (Numbers 31:25-47.)
As soon as these matters were worked out, officers in charge
of soldiers in the campaign against Midian came to Moses to
remind him that a careful check of their men had proved what
seemed evident right after the battle -- that not a one of them
had been lost! God had proved that He was able to protect every
individual of those whom He had promised to take over the Jordan
River into the Promised Land. (Verses 48-49.)
"We took much spoil that wasn't included in the count of
prisoners and livestock," a spokesman explained. "Among the
things was jewelry of all kinds fashioned from precious stones,
gold and silver. To show our thanks to God for sparing us, we now
bring you a part of these valuables."
Moses and Eleazar gratefully accepted the offering -- the
gold alone of which was worth hundreds of thousands of our
dollars or pounds -- and they had it taken to the tabernacle as a
memorial before God. (Verses 50-54.)
Having conquered the nations bordering Canaan on the east
side of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, the Israelites were
well aware of the condition of all parts of that territory. Much
of the land to the east was arid, but there were regions like
Jazer and Gilead where the grass grew thick and green, and where
there were many shade trees, especially oaks.
A Shocking Request!
The tribes of Reuben and Gad, having long specialized in
raising sheep and cattle, were greatly impressed by these fine
grazing lands. They felt that there couldn't be greener and
broader pastures on the west side of the Jordan. Therefore their
chieftains came to Moses and Eleazar to ask if they could remain
east of the Jordan to raise their flocks and herds. (Numbers
Moses was upset at this request. He believed that these two
tribes could be using this as an excuse to get out of going with
the other tribes to drive their enemies out of the land west of
the Jordan. And he wondered if they weren't showing a lack of
gratitude to God for the land He promised them on the west side
of the Jordan River.
"Your wanting to stay here reminds me of what your fathers
said forty years ago," Moses answered, "when they refused to go
into Canaan because they feared that the inhabitants might slay
them. Then God sent them into the desert to wander and die! This
request of yours is a bad example to the other tribes and might
make them fear to cross the Jordan. If they, too, should choose
not to cross the river, God might again be so angered that He
might destroy all of us!" (Verses 6-15.)
The leaders of Reuben and Gad recognized the wisdom of
Moses' statements, but since this was such fine pasture land,
they had more to say before giving up. After a hasty meeting
among themselves, they again approached Moses and Eleazar.
"We aren't being rebellious," they explained, "and we would
not want to discourage our brethren or bring disunity to Israel.
We can quickly take over the vacant cities from which we recently
drove the Amorites, then build them into fortresses for our women
and children, and build folds for our livestock. Knowing that our
people and livestock would be safe, our soldiers could then
return here and cross Jordan at the front of the other tribes to
spearhead the attack and help overcome our enemies. We will not
return to our homes until the other tribes are safely settled on
the other side of Jordan. We will not ask for land on the other
side, but will be satisfied with the grazing land here." (Verses
This explanation put a different light on the matter in
Moses' thinking. After all, if these tribes preferred this land
God had given to Israel, Moses could think of no good reason not
to give it to them as long as the whole Israelite army went
westward to take Canaan.
"If you will do as you say," Moses told them, "then these
regions you desire shall become your inheritances. But be warned
that if you fail to go with the rest of the people and fight
until the inhabitants of Canaan are entirely driven out, then you
will have to pay for such a great sin!" (Numbers 32:20-24;
"We will not fail to go," the chieftains promised Moses. "Do
we have your permission to leave for Jazer and Gilead?"
"Whenever you wish," Moses replied.
Because he realized that he wouldn't live to cross the
Jordan, Moses instructed Eleazar, Joshua and the chiefs of the
other tribes to make certain that when the time came, they should
see to it that these tribes who had taken eastern territory
should live up to their promises. Otherwise, they were to give up
the land they desired, and would have to get their inheritance
west of the Jordan. (Numbers 32:25-30.)
Thus Reuben and Gad were the first families of Israel to be
allotted their possession from God, though half the tribe of
Manasseh also promptly received permission to settle north of the
area taken by Gad.
The two and a half tribes were so anxious to get to their
lands that they set out as soon as possible. The people of Reuben
turned to the east and south. The people of Gad and Manasseh went
northward. (Numbers 32:31-33; Deuteronomy 3:1-17.)
They worked hard to rebuild swiftly the broken buildings of
the ravaged towns and turn them back into walled strongholds. And
as they had promised, they set up shelters and corrals for their
vast numbers of stock. (Numbers 32:34-42.)
With their families and livestock in secure strongholds, the
two and one-half tribes would not need to leave many men behind
to care for them.
Meanwhile, back on the plains of Moab, God was in the
process of giving more instructions to Israel through Moses,
whose life was soon to be taken. (Numbers 33:50-56.)
THE CONSTITUTION OF ISRAEL
THE Israelites continued to camp on the plains east of the Jordan
River for many days. Water was plentiful. There was an abundance
of grass for the animals. Living was also a little more pleasant
for the people because of the shade trees in that area.
Meanwhile, the people didn't sit around doing nothing.
Besides their regular duties, it was somewhat of a task to adjust
to the thousands of Midianite captives, take care of the added
livestock, purify the booty of war and re-fashion much of it,
sharpen and repair the worn or broken tools of war.
Time was required to do all this, but God's main purpose in
allowing the people to stay so long in that place was to give
them many instructions, through Moses, for their guidance and
benefit. It was made known to them that when they crossed over
the Jordan into Canaan on the west, it was their duty to execute
the inhabitants there and to destroy all their idols, pagan
altars, towers and groves where they burned some of their
children in the fire and otherwise worshipped their heathen gods.
(Numbers 33:50-53. Leviticus 18:21, 24-29; Deuteronomy 7:1-5;
9:4; 12:29-32; 18:9-14.)
Then the land was to be divided fairly among the nine and a
half tribes, according to their numbers. However, if the
Israelites failed to overcome the inhabitants of Canaan, God
warned that Israel would suffer.
"If you spare any Canaanites," God said, "they will give you
much trouble as long as they remain. Furthermore, I shall deal
with you as I plan to deal with them. That means that you could
lose your lives as well as the land!" (Numbers 33:54-56.)
God then defined the boundaries of the Promised Land and
appointed a committee to supervise the distribution of the land.
(Numbers 34.) God also instructed Moses to tell the people that
they should give 48 towns to the Levites, who were not to receive
any land by inheritance. These were not necessarily to be large
towns, but each one was to be surrounded by an area over a mile
across, reaching out 1000 cubits (about 2000 feet) from the wall
in all directions. In these suburbs the Levites could plant
gardens, orchards and vineyards and have room to keep their
flocks and herds. (Numbers 35:15.)
Six of these towns -- three on each side of the Jordan --
were soon to be appointed as "cities of refuge." As well as being
centers of Levite habitation, these six towns were to be for the
protection of anyone who accidentally killed a person. This was
necessary because angered relatives or close friends of the dead
man might try to kill the man who caused his death. For example,
if two men were building a shed, and one man unexpectedly moved a
heavy beam so that it fell and killed the other man, the man who
moved the beam was to flee at once to the closest of the six
towns, where he would be protected from anyone who might seek his
life as a matter of vengeance.
On the other hand, if the man maliciously moved the beam
with the purpose of killing his working partner, he was still
entitled to the temporary protection of any of the six towns so
that he could be assured a fair trial.
Whatever the case, the man would be tried by authorities. If
he were found guilty, he was either slain or allowed to fall into
the hands of those who had set out to avenge the dead person. If
he were found innocent, he still was to stay in the town for his
own protection, until the death of the high priest. Meanwhile, if
he ventured out of his protective town, and was found by any
avenger, that was the end of his protection. There were to be no
jails in Israel.
Moses now assigned three towns for refuge purposes east of
the Jordan River. They included Bezer in the plain country of the
Reubenites. Then there was the town of Ramoth for the Gadites and
Golan for the Manassites. The other three cities of refuge were
to be set aside later by Joshua. (Numbers 35:6-34; Deuteronomy
4:41-43; Deuteronomy 19:113; Joshua 20.)
At this time Moses received many instructions and rules and
reminders from God. He faithfully passed them on to the people as
they came to him. So that they would better understand matters,
Moses gave them a detailed account of what had happened since
they had left Mt. Sinai four decades previously. The book of
Deuteronomy is a record of those proceedings.
During the lengthy account, Moses revealed to the people
that God wouldn't allow him to go over into Canaan with them
because of Moses' wrong conduct when he had struck the rock to
"Later," Moses told them, "I asked God to forgive me and let
me go into Canaan. He refused to allow me to go, but told me I
could view much of the land from a high mountain, and that there
I would die!" (Deuteronomy 3:23-28.)
The people were saddened to hear this. At the same time,
they felt a greater fear of God. Many of them reasoned that if
God would take the life of their leader, then their lives could
be taken at any time because of their disobedience.
Sabbaths Must Be Observed
Moses added to their serious thinking by warning them that
God would never tolerate law-breaking without punishment. He
reminded them also that God was more merciful than they could
imagine, and that He would never forsake them or destroy them as
long as they kept their agreement to observe His laws.
Among the matters mentioned through Moses for Israel's
benefit was the strict reminder to observe the yearly Sabbaths.
These holy days began in Egypt with the Passover. They were later
more fully explained to the people at Mt. Sinai. The keeping of
these holy days was to be a perpetual sign between God and
Israel, just as the observance of the weekly Sabbath was to be an
everlasting agreement. (Deuteronomy 12:114; 16:1-17; Exodus
Today more than 700 church denominations claim to be
Christian, but almost all of them refuse to have anything to do
with God's Sabbaths. Many weak excuses are given for not
observing them, including the old, standard, groundless line that
the days instituted by God were only Jewish days, and that they
were done away with at Christ's death. The fact that most
churches fail to observe them simply proves that most churches
are not God's churches. This can be a shocking and perhaps
unbelievable statement to many people, but it is a true one,
completely backed up by the Bible. Scoffing at this Bible truth
is the same as scoffing at God, the author of it. The Apostle
Paul taught Christians to keep the weekly and yearly Sabbaths
many years after Christ ascended to heaven. (Acts 16:13; 17:2;
18:21; 20:16; 24:14.)
God also made it clear that besides the first tithe (that
tenth of one's increase that is to pay the expense of the work of
God) the Israelites should save a second tithe to be used in
observing the holy days. This was mostly for the Festival of
Tabernacles, which was to be held apart from the usual
habitations of the people at a place chosen by God. (Deuteronomy
Today, as then, the people of God's church use this second
tenth of their income for observing the holy days -- especially
the fall festival -- at the place or places God indicates.
Jerusalem was the main place in ancient Israel, and will be again
when Christ returns not very many years from now. (Zechariah
God ordained the Festival of Tabernacles as a time when His
people should worship Him with special joy, reverence, mirth and
thankfulness. It was not to be a noisy "camp meeting" or what is
so often referred to as a "revival" at some date set by man.
Instead, it was and still is a time of joyfully worshipping God
while taking in spiritual food (preaching) that is corrective,
inspiring and character-building. It was and still is a time of
dining, visiting, dancing, and enjoying sports that stimulate the
body and knit the people of God together in spiritual harmony.
Faithful saving of the second tithe makes it possible for
God's people to enjoy this autumn vacation and return to-their
homes and to their work better prepared to live happier and
closer to their Creator.
At this same time God also commanded that the people should
rest their crop land every seventh year so the physical laws in
nature can improve the soil's healthgiving natural balance.
(Leviticus 25:1-7, 20-22; Leviticus 26:14-16, 32-35.)
Then God commanded that a third tenth should be saved for a
very special use. This was to be taken out only every third and
sixth year in a seven-year cycle. It was to go to the poor among
the Levites, widows, fatherless children and poor strangers.
(Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12.)
In these days the obedient Christian puts aside his tithes
plus what is required in taxes and such. God makes it possible.
Many are the families that have enjoyed better incomes and other
financial benefits since beginning to tithe.
Good Civil Government
Many other matters were brought to the people at that time,
among which were these:
When the seventh-year land rest came to a conclusion, any
debt should be canceled unless the debtor happened to be a
foreigner. (Deuteronomy 15:1-11.)
A servant should be freed after seven years of service.
Israel was to make no agreements of any kind with the
nations that were to be driven out. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5;
No more than forty lashes of a whip were to be applied in
punishment. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3.)
No fruit trees were to be cut down in times of war in the
land Israel invaded. (Deuteronomy 20:19-20.) The food they
produced was worth more than timber.
The Israelites should consider themselves a holy nation, not
because of their righteousness, but because God chose them as His
people. (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:1-2.)
Any prophet or priest who falsely led the people into any
wrong kind of worship was to be put to death. (Deuteronomy
Toward the end of the period of instruction, Moses repeated
these solemn words from God:
"You, Israel, must choose between blessings and cursings
from your Creator. Obedience to my laws shall bring wonderful
blessings of prosperity, freedom from diseases, success in all
you undertake, an abundance of healthy children and livestock,
plenty of rain and water, good crops without blemish or
pestilence, comfortable homes and protection from accident and
from your enemies. I shall make you the head of all nations, and
they shall fear and respect you. You shall lead long, happy
lives, and so shall your offspring also be happy, healthy and
prosperous into the far future!
"On the other hand, if you refuse to live according to the
laws I have made plain to you, I shall heap grievous curses on
you. You shall cease to prosper. All kinds of diseases shall come
on you, and you shall fail in all you set out to do. Your
children shall be sickly, but famine shall drive you to eat them.
Your livestock shall sicken and die of disease or for lack of
water and grass. The soil shall turn hard, and your crops shall
be consumed by blight and pestilence. You shall be sick,
frightened and miserable wherever you go. You shall become as
depraved as animals and lunatics, and fatal accidents shall
overtake you wherever you are. Your homes shall become filthy,
miserable hovels. You shall become the least and weakest of all
nations, and cruel enemies shall slay you. Those of you who
aren't slain shall be taken captive and scattered among the
nations as wretched slaves!" (Deuteronomy 28 and 30:15-20.)
God's Laws Must Be Preserved
All the laws God had recently given to Moses to pass on to
the people were written down at another time by Moses and
presented to the priests to place beside the Ark of the Covenant.
Copies also were given to the elders. Moses commanded them to
read the whole book of the law to the people every seven years
when Israel assembled at the Festival of Tabernacles during the
year of release. (Deuteronomy 31:9-13, 24-29.) The priests and
Levites were also commanded to teach the people portions of the
law yearly at the festivals and throughout the year in all their
cities. (Deuteronomy 33:8-10; II Chronicles 17:7-9; 35:1-3;
Nehemiah 8:1-8; Acts 15:21.)
God then called Moses and Joshua to the tabernacle. As soon
as they entered, the Creator descended to the tabernacle inside a
glorious, radiant cloud. (Deuteronomy 31:14-15.)
"Before your life ends," God told Moses, "there are more
things for you to do. One is to write a song to teach to the
people. I know they shall go after other gods and shall forget my
laws. They shall break my covenant. Then evil days shall fall on
them, and though they shall seek my help, I shall let them
suffer. The verses I give you must become a national song to be
taught from generation to generation. The people shall remember
it, and it shall become a witness against them because of their
sins." (Verses 16-21.)
JOSHUA NOW LEADS ISRAEL
As SOON as Moses and Joshua left the tabernacle, where God
had instructed them concerning things to come, Moses hurried to
his tent. He was to write down the matters that were to be made
into a song to teach to Israel. (Deuteronomy 31:22.)
The Way to Happiness
Later, Moses went before the people to give them the verses
that were to become a sort of national anthem to remind the
Israelites of their faults, their obligations and the matters
that would come up in the future. The verses mentioned God's
perfect justice, mercy and great works, and showed how sinful
Israel had become in spite of God's wonderful ways. The people
were reminded of how patiently God had dealt with them during
their travels in the desert, and of the terrible warnings that
had repeatedly been given them. The verses pointed out that if
Israel were wise enough to obey, all enemies would be overcome,
but that lack of wisdom would result in great calamity for
Israel. It was shown that Israel would have great reason to
rejoice in the far future, but only after the people would have
undergone a time of terrible tribulation and finally would have
repented. (Deuteronomy 32:1-43.)
"Don't do what is right in your own eyes," Moses told the
people. "Your conscience will deceive you. Let it be your
ambition, above all things, to observe God's laws and teach your
children to do the same. If you fail in this, your lives will
become miserable and come to an untimely end. On the other hand,
obedience will mean long, happy lives with prosperity, and
wonderful futures for your children!" (Deuteronomy 12:8; 6:1-12;
4:30-31; 11:8-9; 31:6.)
Moses then pronounced a lengthy blessing on the various
tribes of Israel, at the same time telling some of the things
they would accomplish in the far future. (Deuteronomy 33.)
Moses ruefully ended talking to the people. He realized that
the time had come for him to go to Mt. Pisgah to look across the
Jordan and view the land of Canaan, which he would never enter.
Accompanied probably by Eleazar, Joshua, the elders of Israel and
some aides, Moses started out for the mountain, which was not far
distant. When the congregation became aware that he was leaving
forever, the people gradually broke into tearful moans and
wailing. Moses was greatly moved by the loud demonstration, but
there was nothing for him to do but go on.
A little later he noted that the great mass of people, still
wailing, was following him toward the mountain. Moses knew that
if the people weren't stopped, many of them would follow him
right up the mountain. He hastily took advantage of a small rise,
from which he could more easily be seen and heard, to firmly tell
as many as could hear him that they should not follow any
The wailing people obeyed. Moses and those who accompanied
him continued on toward Mt. Pisgah, a point from which Balak,
king of Moab, had asked the since-destroyed prophet Balaam to
pronounce a curse on Israel.
Silently the group progressed up the mountain, while the sad
wailing of the people drifted up strongly from the plains below.
It was a strange fact that while the people were feeling sorry
for Moses, Moses was feeling sorry for the people. The people
were sorry to see Moses depart from them, and at the same time
Moses felt concern for Israel because his close contact with God
had resulted in his knowing Israel's fate even into the far
future. He knew the people still had many bitter lessons to
When at last Moses and the elders and officers arrived close
to the peak of Mt. Pisgah, Moses turned to the people who had
come with him and said a few last words of farewell. There were
no dry eyes, even among those who were hardened soldiers and
officers who had long served Moses. Moses said good-bye to them,
and then walked alone up to the highest point of the mountain.
From there, through the clear atmosphere of that high mountain
country, Moses looked across the Jordan and into nearby territory
to clearly view the land where most of the tribes of Israel would
Moses Views the Promised Land
From that elevation of several thousand feet, one of the
highest points in the land, Moses carefully drank in the
magnificent sight. He looked southwest and west across the area
where the tribes of Simeon, Judah, Dan and Benjamin were to
settle from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean. To the northwest
he could see the region that was to be occupied by Ephraim,
Issachar and half of Manasseh. To the north he viewed the lands
to be taken over by Zebulon, Asher and Naphtali. Swinging his
gaze to the east side of the Jordan, Moses saw the land already
allotted to the other half of Manasseh, to Gad and Reuben.
Below him, stretching from the Dead Sea far to the north,
was the beautiful Jordan valley with its lush bottom lands filled
with fields, vineyards, groves of palm trees and other fruit.
"This is the land," the voice of God came to Moses, "that I
promised to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Here it is for you to see, but it is not for you to enter.
However, you will enter a better land in the resurrection to
come. Now walk down the side of the mountain opposite the way you
came up!" (Deuteronomy 34:1-4; Hebrews 11:1-15, 24-29, 39-40.)
A Final Farewell
Having feasted his eyes on the scene around him, Moses
switched his gaze back on the mourning elders and officers who
sadly gazed up at him. He waved, then turned and strode slowly
out of their sight.
This was the last that was seen of Moses by human beings. He
started down the other side of the mountain, but just how far he
went, no one knows. Possibly God caused him to fall into a deep
sleep, and then took his life. God then buried him in a nearby
mountain valley in Moab. (Deuteronomy 34:5-6.) Satan attempted to
obtain possession of Moses' body (Jude 9), probably with the
purpose of bringing it to the attention of the Israelites so that
they would make it an object of worship. However, God carefully
hid the burial place from man, so that no one would ever be
tempted to regard the body as something sacred that should be
Some readers might think that it would be a very extreme
thing to worship a dead body. But even today, when we are
supposed to be enlightened and intelligent, millions of people in
the professing Christian world regard the relics -- dried bones
and shriveled flesh -- of certain long-dead individuals as
something to be revered and considered holy.
Thus Moses' death ended, at one hundred and twenty years,
the life of one of God's most outstanding servants of all time.
Just before he died, Moses was as healthy and strong as when he
was eighty years of age. Even his eyes were as keen as they had
been in his youth. (Deuteronomy 34:7.)
No other leader of Israel accomplished such great deeds as
did Moses. (Verses 10-12.) Because he was so close to God, he
enjoyed the great privilege of leading millions of his people out
of slavery, bringing God's wonderful laws to them, and leading
them to the entrance of a bountiful garden spot that was to be
Although there were too many times when they ignored God by
ignoring Moses, all Israel was very sad to lose such a wonderful
leader. For the next thirty days matters came almost to a
standstill in the camps while the people mourned Moses' death.
In these days many people, including a host of outstanding
religious leaders, consider the vitally important times and
events of ancient Israel only as an old tale having to do with
the Jews. They think of Moses simply as one who, not too
successfully, may have led a few Jews out of Egypt and into
Canaan, and who started the present Jewish religion.
Such shallow beliefs are spawned by the refusal to
completely believe Jesus and the Old Testament, and the inability
to understand who Israel is today. Moses didn't start the Jewish
religion. The word "Jews" is not even mentioned in the Bible
until long after Moses' time. Then the Jews were referred to (II
Kings 16:6) as being at war with Israel! Those who assume that
the words "Jew" and "Israelite" always mean the same thing find
it impossible to understand some of the most important parts of
the Bible -- especially prophecy.
It is tragic that innumerable people who sincerely want to
learn how best to live are taught by such blinded or stubborn
leaders that the sacred, living laws of God, brought to Israel
through Moses, were only "Jewish" rules blotted out by Christ's
death. They are misled to believe we are now "freed" to do as our
Happily, according to prophecy for these last days, God is
gradually opening the understanding of more and more people to
the startling fact that those who defiantly teach that God's laws
are no longer in force are as guilty in God's sight as the most
villainous men mentioned throughout the scriptures. Unless they
repent, the fate of such people, referred to as false shepherds,
will be most horrible -- because of their deceitful posing as
true ministers of God. (Ezekiel 34:2, 7-10; II Peter 2:12.)
God Speaks to Joshua
After Moses' death, God contacted Joshua to remind him that
now that he was Israel's leader he should direct himself and the
nation to live by all the book of the law of God. He was reminded
that trust in the Eternal and obedience and courage, would mean
success in battle over Israel's enemies and in taking over the
land from the Great Sea (Mediterranean) east to the Euphrates
River, and from the desert south of the Dead Sea to Mt. Lebanon
on the north. (Deuteronomy 34:9; Joshua 1:1-4.
"I will not fail you nor forsake you as long as you carry on
in accord with the laws that came to you through my servant
Moses," God instructed Joshua. (Deuteronomy 4:30-31; Joshua
1:5-7.) "Meditate on those laws so that they will become so
familiar to you that you can't forget them. Be strong in this
office that has been given to you. Be of great courage. Don't be
afraid. Don't be dismayed. Remember that your God is with you
wherever you go." (Verses 8-9; Deuteronomy 31:6.)
This was one of the greatest "pep" talks ever given to one
of the most responsible leaders in all history. If Joshua hadn't
previously realized how much he should rely on God, he surely was
completely reminded at that time.
"Prepare to Break Camp!"
As soon as the mourning period of thirty days for Moses was
over, Joshua gave orders to his officers to make an announcement
to the people. "Be prepared on notice to break camp within three
days," the officers told the surprised people. "Prepare extra
food and supplies for a sudden trip over the Jordan and into the
land promised to us by God." (Verses 10-11.)
Although manna was still the main food of the Israelites, it
wasn't something that could be gathered during a sudden movement
of the people or a food that could be kept overnight except over
the Sabbath. At this time when Israel was going to be on the move
for a few days, it was necessary to prepare meat, fruit and
grains, taken in their conquests, that could be carried and
consumed at any time.
Joshua then spoke to the heads of the tribes of Reuben, Gad
and half of Manasseh -- who had by this time returned from
settling their families east of the Jordan -- to remind them of
their obligation to their brethren in the other tribes.
"I want to remind you of your promise to send the best
soldiers of your tribes to help take over all of Canaan," Joshua
told them. "We'll be moving across the Jordan very soon, and your
picked soldiers should lead the way, since they will not have
their families with them. After we've taken the land, your
warriors shall be free to return to their towns and families on
this side of the river." (Joshua 1:12-15.)
"We are sending the best of our soldiers to fight in God's
battles," the leaders replied. "We shall carry out our promise.
Our soldiers will go wherever you send them and obey every
command. Every soldier that we send will know that if he fails to
obey you, he will be put to death!" (Verses 16-18.)
Just west of Israel's camp was the Jordan River. It was
exceedingly deep, as the flood season had begun. Only about six
miles farther to the west was a walled and fortified city called
Jericho. Joshua knew that it would be necessary to attack that
city before progressing further into Canaan, because it was
situated by the pass that led through the mountains. It was also
one of the Canaanite cities God had commanded Israel to destroy
because of its extremely evil practices.
Scouts Sent to Jericho!
Joshua realized that God wasn't necessarily going to protect
Israel if any foolish moves were made. He knew that he was to use
sound judgment and strategy. Because of this, he had already sent
two men to Jericho to try to find out how well the city was
armed, the condition of the walls and the gates, what forces were
close to Jericho and the morale of the people within the city.
These two men quickly found how difficult it was to cross
the Jordan at that time of year. It was spring, and showers had
swollen the stream into a muddy torrent. Very few swimmers could
cross a raging, turbulent river in flood stage. But these men had
been chosen for their many outstanding abilities, including great
skill in swimming, and they managed to struggle across the
violent current to the west bank.
After drying their clothes, which were chosen to appear as
those of roving Canaanites, they trudged the several miles from
the river to the city. Jericho was surrounded by groves of palm
trees, and well-traveled roads led to its several gates. The
Israelites met several people on the first road they came to. No
one seemed particularly friendly; some were even a little
suspicious of their identity.
There was no problem in getting into Jericho. Its huge gates
were open to traffic till sunset. The Israelites mixed in with a
caravan that was entering the nearest gate, and boldly walked
about to view the life and activity of this habitation of their
Jericho wasn't a tremendous city; it covered only about
seven acres. But it was compact and had room for thousands of
people. Within its four strong walls were many busy streets
crammed with stables, shops, public buildings, homes and inns.
Many shops, homes and inns were built on top of the double walls.
People milled about everywhere. From their expressions and
actions, it wasn't difficult to see that most of them were in a
state of excited anxiety.
A few soldiers huddled in groups in the streets, but most of
them were on the walls. The Israelite scouts noted that they were
gazing mostly to the east toward the camp of Israel.
Hoping to get on the wall, the Israelites walked up a long
flight of steps to one of the inns built there. The proprietress
greeted them cordially and saw to it that they were well fed.
While eating, they were startled by a loud clanging. The
proprietress -- her name was Rahab -- explained that it was
sundown, and that the huge gates of the city were being closed
for the night to keep anyone from going out or coming in. The two
Israelites suddenly realized that they were trapped -- at least
A little later officers sent by the king arrived at the inn
and demanded of the servant to speak with the proprietress. The
Israelites were just finishing their meal in another room, and
didn't see the officers. However, they could hear all that was
said. So could Rahab, the proprietress. (Joshua 2:1-3.)
"We have been sent here by the ruler of Jericho," the
officers announced to a servant at the door. "He has received
information that two Israelite spies were seen entering this inn.
We are here to arrest them!"
THE PROMISED LAND
THE TWO Israelite scouts sent to the city of Jericho were eating
at Rahab's inn when officers banged loudly on the door.
"Two officers have come from the king of Jericho to arrest
you!" Rahab whispered to them. "They're impatient and I must go
to the door at once. I know who you are, and I have my reasons to
help you. Hurry up this back stairway and hide yourselves under
the flax you'll find drying on the roof!" (Joshua 2:1-4.)
The Israelites didn't waste time asking questions or waiting
for more explanation. They dashed for the stairway, and Rahab
turned to go to the officers.
Rahab Outwits the Soldiers
"If you're stalling us, woman, we'll have to take you along,
too!" one of them snapped.
"I hurried back there to the dining booth to find out if any
of my lodgers noticed which way the two men went," Rahab
explained. "They were here, but they left just before the wall
gates of the city were closed for the night. If they are
Israelites, probably they're on their way back to their camp, and
the soldiers could overtake them before they reach the river."
Rahab lied about these things, but God makes use of all
kinds of people to bring about His purposes. In this matter He
was using a Canaanite woman, who had never been taught God's
The king's officers didn't spend any more time talking. They
strode out of the inn and barked orders to nearby soldiers.
Within a very few minutes, the gates swung open, and a searching
party of soldiers scurried off into the darkness in the direction
of the river. (Verses 5-7.)
As soon as the soldiers had left, Rahab went up to the flat
roof of the inn to talk to the Israelites. She expected to find
them well hidden under the flax on the roof. Instead, she found
they were not yet fully covered.
"You're safe for now," Rahab whispered. "They won't be back
for awhile. We Canaanites are well aware of your intention of
taking over our country. I know that your powerful God will give
you this land. Our whole city is frightened because you have so
swiftly overcome nations to the east and southeast. We have been
dreading the day when your soldiers come over the Jordan. Our
terror is so great that no one has any courage left."
"If you believe that Israel is going to take over your land,
why are you trying to protect us?" one of the Israelites asked.
Rahab Trusts in God
"Because I believe your God is the true God. Long ago we
heard of the great miracles He performed, especially in causing
the Red Sea to part so that your people could pass through it.
"I want to be spared by your soldiers," Rahab continued. "I
have showed you kindness. Now promise me that your people will
spare me and my close relatives -- the households of my father
and all my brothers and sisters -- when this city is attacked."
"We promise to do as you ask," the Israelites told her, "if
you will agree not to mention to anyone what has taken place here
Rahab solemnly assured them that she would keep the matter
to herself. The Israelites then instructed her that she should
tie a red cord, which one of the men gave her, in the window of
her establishment, and that all her relatives should take refuge
there when the soldiers of Israel would reach Jericho.
"Our soldiers will be told to spare the place where the red
cord is," Rahab was told, "but if any of your family is outside
your doors when we attack, we won't be responsible for them. On
the other hand, if any of your family within your inn is harmed,
we shall be responsible before God for that harm."
"So be it," the other Israelite muttered, "but these
promises can't mean much if we don't get out of here tonight. We
don't dare wait until daylight, and the gates will be barred all
For answer, Rahab motioned for them to follow her. They went
downstairs to an open window facing outward from the wall. Rahab
gave the men a bag of food and a long rope, and the scouts knew
what to do. They tied one end of the rope to a ceiling beam and
let the rest of it drop out the window.
"Don't try to return to your camp now," Rahab warned. "The
area between here and the river will be swarming with our
soldiers for many hours. Hurry to the hills west of here and hide
there for three days. By that time it should be much safer for
you to go back."
One at a time the Israelites slid down the rope, which more
than reached all the way down the high wall. Rahab pulled the
rope back up and waved to the men as they melted into the
darkness. (Verses 12-21.)
It wasn't easy to travel over strange terrain at night, but
the darkness wasn't intense enough to prevent the scouts from
keeping on the move. The two fleeing men shortly reached the
white limestone hills, where they found a number of caves. They
chose one next to a small water spring, and for the next three
days it was their hideout home.
The Scouts Report to Joshua
At the end of three days the two men set out eastward during
darkness to successfully reach the Jordan. There they waited for
daylight, and again managed to swim the river. From there it was
only a short distance to the Israelite camp and safety.
Joshua was pleased at the report of the scouts, especially
because it showed the shattered morale of the Canaanites. As for
Rahab and her family, Joshua readily agreed to the promise that
this one Canaanite family would be spared. (Verses 2224.) Joshua
knew that God's death sentence upon Canaanites did not apply to
those who willingly forsook their heathen gods and put their
faith in God. After all, the reason God had condemned the
Canaanites was because they were the worst sort of idolaters.
(Deuteronomy 9:4; 12:29-32.) Those few who repented, as Rahab
did, were to be shown mercy. (Genesis 12:3.)
As soon as Joshua had finished hearing the report, he told
his officers to take word to the people that they should prepare
to break camp next day.
Great activity followed. Flocks and herds grazing outside
the camp had to be rounded up. Families packed their possessions
except what was needed for meals and a night's rest.
Early next morning the Israelites finished breaking camp.
The tabernacle tent, fence and all that went with the tabernacle
were packed for moving, and the Israelites set out on a march
toward the river. The trip took almost all day, and took them
away from the acacia groves near Mt. Nebo, but into more groves
of palm trees. They stopped just before arriving at the river,
and set up camp again on the east slopes leading down to the
Although the Jordan wasn't a large river such as the Nile,
those Israelites who were curious enough to go on down to it were
greatly impressed by it because it was the largest river the new
generation had ever seen. At that time of year, due to spring
rains and the melting of the snow in the high mountains to the
north, the Jordan was swift and swollen to overflowing by the
Those who saw the river returned to tell their neighbors
what it was like. Only the very strong swimmers could hone to
make it across the Jordan, and building rafts or a bridge would
require so much time that all the armies of Canaan could
concentrate at the spot and easily ruin such a project! However,
this was to be no problem for Israel, because God had already
given private instructions to Joshua so the people would realize
God was with Joshua as He had been with Moses.
A Miracle Needed!
Next morning Joshua told the priests they should personally
take up the ark of the covenant and bear it to the river ahead of
the Israelites. (Joshua 3:1-7.) Ordinarily the ark was carried in
the center of the mass of people, and was borne by Levites who
were the sons of Kohath. (Numbers 2:1-31; Numbers 4:15.)
As God commanded, Joshua then told the priests that they
should wade into the edge of the overflow water only a foot or so
with the ark, and then stand still while God intervened in the
flow of the river.
Meanwhile, the evening before, Joshua asked the people to
gather together to listen to what he had to say.
"All of you should make yourselves and your garments clean
for what will happen tomorrow," he told them. "Before us there is
a swift and swollen river to cross. I have already heard that
some of you may not think that it's possible to cross it. Have
some of you lost faith in your God, who brought you out of many
situations far worse than this one? Now be assured that God will
again prove to us His power by taking us safely over the river.
The ark of the covenant will be carried to the river before you
by almost a mile. When those who carry the ark walk into the
Jordan, the stream shall cease to flow past the ark! That part of
the water to the south shall drain away, leaving a waterless
river bed over which we shall cross to the west bank! This should
show you that God possesses all the strength and means to get us
safely over the river, to drive out our enemies before us and
deliver Canaan into our hands!" God made sure that no one entered
the promised land with doubts and misgivings.
Joshua then instructed the twelve tribal leaders that each
should select a husky man from his tribe and send him to Joshua
for a special task. Every man selected, when he passed over the
river bed, was to pick up a good-sized stone from the rocky river
bottom and carry it to the west bank for building a monument.
The Jordan Flows Backward!
Early that morning the priests started out with the ark.
None of the Israelites followed until the priests were almost a
mile away, which put them at the edge of the river. They probably
hesitated for a minute or so on the east bank, then walked boldly
into the swift, muddy water. Every man realized that unless God
acted within seconds, men and ark would be swept away downstream.
Before they could wade in up to their knees, the water
flowed away to their left. At the same time the water to their
right abruptly ceased flowing. In fact, its direction of movement
was actually reversed! As the priests continued to march into the
midst of the Jordan, it gradually grew higher and spread farther
out on its flooded banks to the north.
Thus, with water receding in both directions, a growing
expanse of empty river bed was exposed to the view of the
marveling priests and those of the waiting Israelites who could
see the miracle from a distance.
The bearers of the ark went in to the middle of the river
bed and then obediently stood where they were. They felt deep
gratitude for being allowed to have a part in such a great
miracle. When Joshua had made certain that all was ready, he
signaled the Israelites to move on to the river.
It required a long time for close to two million people and
their tremendous flocks to pass any given point, the specific
number of hours depending on how wide their ranks were. In this
event, even though the river bed was emptied for such a great
distance, and gave the people plenty of room to spread out,
probably the people were pouring over the Jordan for several
hours. (Verses 14-17.)
Whatever the time needed, the priests, who were rugged
outdoor men, patiently remained standing where they had walked
into the water. They didn't move out of the river bed until the
last of the Israelites had passed over, including the lead group
of 40,000 soldiers sent by the two and a half tribes already
settled east of the Jordan to help take Canaan.
One probably would wonder how men could remain standing so
long, especially while holding the ark. Perhaps God gave them
special strength to stand for such a long period while bearing a
Except for the priests, the last to pass over the river bed
were Joshua, his aides and the twelve men who had been picked to
obtain stones from the middle of the river bed for a monument on
the west side of the river. Before they picked the stones for
that purpose, Joshua had them erect a twelve-stone memorial in
the Jordan where the priests had stood so long with the ark. To
make this possible, the priests naturally had to move forward a
short distance while the men worked.
After the monument in the river was finished (it was still
visible in the river many years later when the Bible account was
written), each of the twelve men took up from the river bed a
stone as large as he could carry and walked out to the west bank.
Promise Miraculously Fulfilled
Behind them came the priests, and as soon as they had
carried the ark well up on the west bank, a peculiar murmuring
sound came from the north. Within seconds the murmur grew into an
alarming roar. The waters that had been held back for so long had
abruptly been freed, and came rushing and boiling down the river
channel with a thunderous swishing noise! (Joshua 4:1-18.)
This mighty miracle of God, plainly foretold by Joshua, had
a deep effect on the Israelites. They realized now that Joshua,
like Moses, had been chosen by the Creator as an outstanding
leader. Their respect for him was very great from that day on.
(Verse 14.) The Israelites also realized that God had now
completely fulfilled His promise to take all of this new
generation over the Jordan into the promised land.
Again the congregation fell into moving order, this time
with the ark carried by Levites in the center of the column. The
people traveled straight west a few miles and stopped to make
camp. It was there that the twelve stones carried from the Jordan
were stacked up into a monument. Joshua then came before the
crowd to speak to as many as could hear him.
"This heap of stones is to be a reminder of God's great
miracle in bringing us across the river," he announced. "Tell
your children in time to come what it means. Remind them that God
also brought Israel across a much greater body of water -- the
Red Sea. This monument is also to remind all peoples who see it
or learn of it that our God is to be greatly feared and
Regardless of Joshua's reference to God's strength, there
were some people who stared fearfully toward the west as night
came on. They felt uneasy because the west edge of Israel's camp
was only a little over a mile away from the forbidding walls of
the strongly fortified city of Jericho!
WALLS OF JERICHO FALL
IT was on the tenth day of the first month (Nisan in the spring
-- not January in the winter) that Israel crossed the Jordan
River and made camp in Canaan at a spot called Gilgal. The west
border of the camp wasn't much more than a mile from Jericho, a
thick-walled city swarming with enemy soldiers. (Joshua 4:19-24.)
Israel's First Passover in Canaan
It had been just forty years before -- minus five days --
that Israel had fled from Egypt. (Exodus 12:18, 29-34, 51;
Numbers 14:26-35; Deuteronomy 1:3; Joshua 5:6.) The Exodus had
started after the first observance of Passover. Now again it was
almost time to prepare for another Passover. But before it should
be observed, God told Joshua that most of the males of Israel
should undergo a physical rite that had been required as a sign
and seal of the covenant between the Creator and Israel.
After the Passover, which fell on the seventh day of the
week that year, the people observed the Days of Unleavened Bread
by eating no bread with leavening in it. One of their main dishes
was roasted grain that had been taken from the fields of their
enemies. This was only one item of food that had been acquired
since entering the region of the Jordan. In fact, so many edible
things had been taken in recent days that Israel's food supply
was sufficient to keep them without gathering manna. As a result,
manna, which had been the main food for forty years, ceased to
appear on the day after the Passover. (Joshua 5:2-12.)
Meanwhile, there was no sign of Canaanite soldiers except
those who could be seen in the distance on the walls of Jericho.
Nevertheless, enemy spies kept a close watch on Israel. Their
reports on the parting of the river spread quickly to every ruler
in that section of the world. These leaders were greatly
concerned by this amazing event. They had felt temporarily secure
from Israel because they had considered the Jordan practically
impossible to cross during its swollen condition.
The king of Jericho was especially worried. Even though his
fighting force was composed of many fierce men skilled in battle,
the very numbers of Israelites camped so close to his city were
enough to make his nights sleepless. (Joshua 5:1.)
To make certain that no more Israelite spies could get into
Jericho, he gave orders that the gates of the city should close
and remain closed twenty-four hours a day. No one was to be
allowed in or out -- except, if necessary, a few special spies of
his, and they were let down the walls on rope ladders and brought
up the same way.
This was a costly precaution, because it meant turning away
caravans arriving from other lands with valuables and food. The
king reasoned that it was wiser to remain bottled up with what
food was on hand rather than take the slightest risk of allowing
any Israelites to enter Jericho in disguise. (Joshua 6:1.)
Joshua Meets the Lord
A few days after Israel had arrived in Gilgal, Joshua went
alone, despite the protests of some of his officers, toward
Jericho. He wished to see for himself what the place was like at
closer range. He suddenly found himself face to face with a
sturdy man holding a gleaming sword and gazing intently at him.
Joshua strode boldly up to him.
"Are you a friend of Israel or an enemy?" Joshua bluntly
inquired of the stranger. (Joshua 5:13.)
"I am not an enemy," the man replied in a firm voice. "I am
here as the commander of the army of God!"
It required several seconds for Joshua to realize that he
was actually gazing at the Lord, the very One who later also came
to this world in human form to be known as Jesus Christ, and who
also appeared to Abraham as Melchizedek, king of Salem!
This was Joshua's closest contact with God. He fearfully
fell forward and placed his forehead on the ground.
"What would you ask of me, my Lord?" Joshua humbly inquired.
We know this man was the Lord -- a member of the Godhead --
because he allowed Joshua to worship Him. Angels never allow
God's servants to worship them. (Revelation 22:8-9.)
"Your feet are on holy ground," was the answer. "Remove your
shoes and I shall tell you how to take Jericho."
Joshua lost no time in obeying. Then he carefully listened
to the instructions from God. (Joshua 5:14-15.)
"Return to your camp and carry out the orders I have given
you," he was told. "If you do just as I have told you to do, it
won't be necessary for you to storm the walls or gates of Jericho
in order to conquer it, even though many fierce fighting men are
garrisoned within that fortress."
Inspired and encouraged in what he should do, Joshua
returned to camp. Once he turned to gaze back to where he had
been encountered, but there was no one there!
As soon as he arrived back in camp, to the relief of his
officers, Joshua told them and the priests of his unusual
experience and of God's plan to take Jericho. (Joshua 6:2-7.)
Siege of Jericho Begins
Next day the king of that city was startled by the dreadful
news he had been expecting.
"Sentries have just reported seeing many persons on foot
approaching from the Israelite camp!" an officer announced.
Surrounded by anxious aides and officers, the king hurried
to the east wall. When he saw the growing columns of people
marching toward his city, he nervously barked out orders for all
soldiers to take their battle stations, and for all civilians to
get off the walls and streets and out of the shops and into their
homes or shelters.
As the Canaanites continued watching, they became
discouraged, confused and relieved in turns. The foremost of
their approaching enemies marched just close enough for
discerning that they were soldiers. Then they veered to the left
and moved along to the south of the city.
"Why should they give us such a wide berth if they intend to
attack?" one officer asked.
"Perhaps they don't intend to attack," another observed.
"Possibly they're just moving on to the west."
"That hardly seems possible," the king muttered. "They've
taken every city from the Arnon River to Mt. Hermon!"
Rising hope that Israel was moving out and by-passing
Jericho was abruptly downed when the foremost Israelite soldiers
turned north to parallel the west wall of the city. A little
later they turned back eastward to distantly flank Jericho's
The city was being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of
Why they remained at such a distance baffled the Canaanites.
Another mystery was the presence of seven long-robed horn blowers
marching behind the first large segment of the moving column. As
they marched, they held up carved trumpets called "shopharim" which
were made of rams' horns, and emitted shrill blasts that echoed from
the hills to the west. Behind the horn blowers marched four more robed
men carrying what appeared to be a large box. The Canaanites had no
way of knowing that this object was the ark of the covenant, and that
the other seven robed men were priests who had been instructed to blow
special horns. This was the only sound that came from the Israelites.
It was frightfully puzzling to their watchers, because it was the usual
habit of soldiers on the march to shout or sing. In this case, the
Israelites had been told not to utter a word during the marching around Jericho.
For well over an hour the Canaanites uneasily watched the
enemy parade. It required somewhat more than that for any part of
the marchers to pass around Jericho and return to the Israelite
camp. Jericho's ruler remained on the wall, gravely puzzled as to
the meaning of such a weird demonstration. (Joshua 6:8-11.)
"Didn't anyone here think to try counting them?" he
Canaanites' Fear Mounts
"We have estimated that about one hundred thousand passed
around the city, sir," an officer spoke out. "As you know, our
spies have reported that Israel has at least five or six times
that many soldiers."
"Spies are not always right," the king murmured. "This
performance today seems to me to be only an effort to display
manpower that isn't necessarily there. How do we know that all of
them were men? Most of them could have been women and children
dressed as soldiers. Why did they parade at such a distance
unless they fear our spears, arrows and catapults? If they don't
come closer, they can't harm us. Even as besiegers, they would
have to hold out many days before our supplies are exhausted, and
that isn't the pattern of their operation."
These weakly optimistic remarks from the king did little to
generate hope or enthusiasm in those about him. The next day,
however, brought a little relief to the Canaanites from their
fears when dawn showed no evidence of further siege preparations.
Before long, however, it was observed that Israelites were
again approaching Jericho. Renewed excitement and fear reigned in
the city for awhile. Then, as they had done the day before, the
Israelites swerved southward, later continuing westward to march
at a distance from the south wall, swinging north around the west
wall, going eastward past the north wall and back to their camp.
Meanwhile, there was no chant, shout or song from the Israelites.
The only sound was that from the seven horns, whose continuous
piercing tones carried loudly to the Canaanites in an irritating,
suspenseful and nerve-wracking manner.
"This is obviously some kind of enchantment by which Israel
is trying to overcome us without attacking us," the king of
Jericho proclaimed to his people after the Israelites had
finished their second day of marching around the city. "Why
should we allow enchantments from these foreigners to bother us?
I have heard that they have only one God. We have many gods to
Next day the Israelites appeared for the third time to march
around Jericho in the same manner and at the same distance. As
usual there was the strange box-like object and the seven men
going before it while blowing their horns.
On the fourth day the same thing happened. By now many of
the Canaanites were becoming increasingly fearful because they
didn't know just what to expect. Some believed that a great,
consuming fire might fall from the sky. Others were afraid of all
kinds of calamities. Some, in an effort to hide their growing
fears, began to joke about the Israelites.
Next day the Israelites came around again. This time,
although the ruler of Jericho wasn't completely in favor of it,
the soldiers lining the tops of the walls lifted their voices in
loud taunts to the Israelites to come closer. The ruler didn't
wish to do anything to rouse the ire of the enemy, but at the
same time he felt that his soldiers' morale could be sparked up
if they were allowed to deride Israel. The marchers could plainly
hear the challenges, but they remained silent except for the
blaring of their seven horns.
For six days the Israelites marched once around the city in
the early morning of each day. (Joshua 6:12-14.) On the sixth day
the Canaanites shouted even louder at the Israelites as they
passed around the city, though they actually believed that if the
whole Israelite fighting force should accept their dares and
attack, losses by the Canaanites would be much greater than any
harm they could inflict upon Israel.
"This is a silly, time-consuming, childish game these people
are playing," Jericho's ruler announced to the people and
soldiers in an effort to boost morale. "Their intended
enchantment failed to work the first time, and now they are
merely repeating it again and again in the hope that it will
finally take effect. It should be plain by now that these people
cannot harm us by such means." The city's king just couldn't
understand God's plan of battle.
Israelite Tactics Change
Inasmuch as the Israelites had been encircling Jericho a
little after sunrise each day, Canaanite sentries were surprised
when they saw the marching column approaching at early dawn on
the seventh day. High officers feared that this might indicate
some drastic change in Israel's plans, and the king was
immediately notified of what was happening outside the wall.
The Israelites went around the city in the same manner as
usual, but the more interesting fact was that instead of
returning to camp, they began to encircle the city again. In
fact, they spent almost the whole day marching around Jericho. By
mid-afternoon they had made six rounds and were starting on the
seventh. (Joshua 6:15.)
At this point another unusual thing happened. Hundreds of
thousands more soldiers had strode out from Israel's camp and now
joined the marchers. The bright, palm-studded plains around
Jericho gradually grew dark with the growing immensity of armed
The challenging hoots and shouts that had been coming from
the Canaanites gradually died away when Israel's military
strength was displayed. Many people within the city fell into a
state of panic when they realized how many fighting men were
confronting them. This fear and panic spread like a contagious
disease, only much more rapidly. Even the ruler and his officers
were grim-faced and nervously silent. No jeering taunts or
attempts to belittle Israel's might could boost the Canaanites'
morale now that they were faced by the stark cold fact of
Israel's true strength. The people in Jericho felt doomed.
It was late afternoon when the Israelites finally finished
marching around the city for the seventh time. At this juncture
the ark and the trumpet blowers were just east of Jericho. There
they stopped, and all the other marchers came to a halt.
Greater tension gripped the Canaanites. Jericho's ruler, who
had been squirming in anxiety in a chair inside one of the wall
towers, came slowly to his feet. He stared unblinkingly out at
Israel's silently threatening throng.
At that moment the seven horn blowers, who had not sounded
for several minutes, blew an unusually long, high blast. This was
followed by a chilling surge of shouts from the people
surrounding Jericho, those in Israel's camp and the many who were
spread out between, as Joshua had commanded them to do. (Joshua
The noise that resulted from the millions of throats was
like the thunder and hiss of a tidal wave crashing against a
Within seconds, however, the vast din of voices was drowned
in another noise -- an ominous, deep rumble approaching like the
growing reverberation of the hoofs of millions of swiftly
Those on the walls felt a sickening sway. Those inside the
city were aghast to see widening cracks appear in the cobbled and
bricked streets. Screaming people began to pour out of the
buildings. Those on the walls began to race down steps and
ladders to a firmer footing.
But it was too late to find safety. The walls, as well as
the streets, were already cleaving.
In the midst of the ear-splitting clatter, the king and his
officers were among the first to realize, in their last moments
of life, that the mighty God of Israel didn't even recognize the
puny, powerless gods and idols of this world. (Deuteronomy 4:39;
Isaiah 45:5; I Corinthians 8:5-6; Isaiah 2:20-21.)
Then the walls of Jericho reeled violently outward and
crashed down with a deafening roar. (Joshua 6:20.)
Skeptics used to ridicule this miracle. But the skeptics
were wrong. Jericho's wall did fall down flat.
Archaeologists have found the ruins of Jericho just where
God said the city was. And after carefully excavating the site
for several years, world-famous archaeologists found that the
earth had preserved an amazing record of God's miraculous
destruction of Jericho.
The walls of the city that fell in Joshua's day could
clearly be seen to have fallen OUTWARD and FLAT, as the Bible
stated in Joshua 6:20. This record has been described in many
books dealing with Jericho though the date assigned for the
collapse of the wall is not usually correct. In only one place
was the wall left partially standing. That must have been where
Rahab's house was built, because God had promised to protect her
and her family because of her faith. (Hebrews 11:30-31.)
ONE MAN'S SIN
THE THUNDERING collapse of the walls of Jericho was no great
surprise to the Israelites. They had been told by God, through
Joshua, what to do and what would happen. Even so, it was a
chilling experience to witness the death of thousands as they
tumbled with the walls. (Joshua 6:16-20.)
The Israelite soldiers knew what to do at that point. They
broke from their ranks and rushed into the spreading clouds of
dust, scrambling over the rubble in a tightening circle to hem in
all the Canaanites who hadn't died in the collapse of the walls.
The Israelites swiftly obeyed the strict order to slay every
human being and animal in the city.
Only One Family Spared
The only people spared were Rahab, the inn proprietress, and
her close relatives. Because Rahab had determined to quit serving
pagan gods and learn to obey the true God, and had acted on her
new faith, God listed her in the faith chapter of the New
Testament among those who trusted in God and are promised a
better resurrection. (Hebrews 11:31, 35.)
Rahab and her relatives were in the inn at the time of
Jericho's fall, and though the inn was built on the wall, that
particular portion of the wall was miraculously spared. A group
of soldiers, led by the two scouts who had promised protection to
Rahab, went up the inside of the piece of wall and brought Rahab,
those related to her and their possessions to a safe place
outside Israel's camp. (Verses 20-23.)
The account of the perishing of the idolatrous inhabitants
of Jericho by God's command is an episode, among many others,
that various religious leaders in high offices declare should be
removed from the Bible. They feel that God used poor judgment in
allowing such accounts to be written into the Scriptures. But in
reality, when God had these wretched idolaters destroyed, He was
actually showing them mercy. In the judgment they and other
ignorant idolaters will be resurrected and given an opportunity
to learn God's way to peace and happiness. (Matthew 12:41, 42;
Revelation 20:11-12; Isaiah 65:19-25.)
The Israelites had already been warned not to take any booty
of any kind from Jericho except articles of gold, silver, brass
and iron, which were to go into God's treasury. Everything else
and everyone in Jericho was accursed, but items made of these
metals could later be purified by fire. These things were
carefully sought out and set aside to later go into the treasury
of God's sanctuary. No one was to keep any of these things for
himself, nor was anyone to take for himself things such as
clothes, food, precious stones, animals and so forth. Any person
who took any personal booty was to become accursed by God, and
would bring such a curse on Israel that all would suffer. (Joshua
After the metals had been removed, the Israelites set fire
to Jericho. Although most of the walls and many of the buildings
had been built of stone and bricks, a great part of the city was
made up of heavy beams, poles, planks and boards. There were
other flammable materials, but the wood alone was enough to
produce a tremendous fire in which dead Canaanites were at least
partly cremated. (Verses 24-25.)
As for that standing portion of the wall on which Rahab's
inn was located, it came crashing down when the wooden beams
supporting her house were burned.
By now darkness had come on. Carrying their booty, the
Israelites turned from the blazing ruins and returned to camp.
Next morning Joshua called a meeting of the elders and
Jericho's Desolation a Memorial
"Pass on the word to all the people," Joshua informed them,
"that no man should ever rebuild Jericho. It could present a
strong temptation, what with the great wall stones and wells
remaining there. Anyone who reconstructs the city will fall under
a curse from the Creator, and he shall become childless. His
oldest child shall die when he lays the foundation and his
youngest shall die when he sets up the city gates. Let the ashes
and stones of Jericho be a monument to the destruction that will
come to all idol-worshippers." This prophecy was fulfilled about
500 years later when a very foolish Israelite rebuilt Jericho. (I
News of the fall of Jericho spread swiftly over the land,
and Joshua became famous in that part of the world because of his
leading Israel to take the city. Consequently, fear of Israel
mounted in the surrounding nations. (Joshua 6:27.)
The next city Joshua intended to conquer was called Ai. It
was about twelve miles from Jericho in a westerly direction, and
though it was considerably smaller than the destroyed city,
Joshua had no intention to by-pass any fortress that might later
prove a source of trouble.
Again scouts were used to obtain information. When they
returned from Ai, they reported that this Amorite fortress wasn't
very large or strong, and that it would be no great problem for
Israel to attack and destroy it.
"It won't be necessary for all or even a great part of our
army to attack this place," the scouts told Joshua. "The walls
aren't very high, and it is too small to contain very many
fighting men. Two or three thousand of our soldiers should be
able to conquer it." (Joshua 7:2-3.)
At first it seemed to Joshua that it would be risky to send
such a small number of soldiers, but then he began to wonder if
he would be showing a lack of faith in what God could do for
Israel by sending ten or twenty times as many men as the scouts
suggested. After all, the scouts he sent were chosen from among
his best officers and were men of good judgment. Joshua concluded
that it wouldn't be necessary to send more than three thousand
A few hours later the Israelite soldiers emerged from the
caravan road leading up from the Jordan valley, and saw the city
of Ai atop a ridge. It was evident that they could be plainly
seen by the Amorites, and that a surprise attack would be
impossible. Nevertheless, the Israelite soldiers were confident
because of what God had done for them at Jericho, and they
marched boldly up to Ai. Their leader was certain that the
Amorites would surrender when they were told to give up without a
fight or be set upon by the whole Israelite army.
Tragedy at Ai
Suddenly the gate of Ai swung open, and thousands of
screaming Amorite soldiers rushed out at their would-be
The Israelites had supposed that the inhabitants of Ai would
be quaking with fear, and this abrupt turn of events so surprised
them that they momentarily froze in their tracks. By the time
they got into action, spears and arrows from the onrushing
Amorites were raining into the ranks of the Israelites, and some
of these weapons were finding fatal marks. On top of that, rock
catapults atop the wall had gone into operation, and huge stones
were thudding among the Israelites.
"Where is the help and defense God promised us?" was the
question that crossed the minds of most of the Israelite
soldiers. It was being made shamefully obvious to the Israelites
that God's protection, since the crossing of the Jordan, hinged
upon their obedience.
Faith in their Creator swiftly fled, and so did the
Israelites. Instead of fighting back, they turned and raced away
through a hail of stones, arrows and spears. This cowardly move
spurred the screaming Amorites to greater boldness, and they
pursued their enemies all the way back through the defile which
contained the road by which the Israelites had come.
When at last the routed and panic-stricken Israelites were
clear of their pursuers and could group safely together, they
found that the Amorites had slain thirty-six of their number and
had wounded many more.
It was a dejected and disgraced piece of army that returned
to camp. When the people heard what had happened, their
confidence in God tumbled to a new low. They couldn't understand
why God would promise them swift victory over all their enemies,
and then allow about three thousand of their soldiers to be
disorganized, chased and crippled by the idol-worshipping
Amorites. (Joshua 7:4-5.)
In those days it was the custom to show regret,
self-reproach or humiliation by tearing one's clothes and tossing
dust upon his head. That was what Joshua did when he heard what
had happened. He was so upset and discouraged that he called the
elders together before the tabernacle to join him until sundown
in prostration and an attitude of repentance.
"Why have you brought us over Jordan to let us fall into the
hands of the Amorites?" Joshua inquired of God as he lay with his
face to the ground inside the tabernacle. "It would have been
better for us to stay on the east side of the river than try to
attack our enemies here and end up fleeing in terror from them.
When all the Canaanites and other nations hear of this, they
shall decide we are really weak, and shall come with their
combined forces to surround us. We shall be destroyed, and the
great name of our God shall be disgraced!" (Verses 6-9.)
"These things haven't happened because of any unfaithfulness
on my part," God replied. "My orders were that no booty should be
taken from Jericho for personal gain. I warned Israel that anyone
who did so would become as accursed as Jericho's people, and that
a curse would fall on all Israel as a result. Someone has gone
against my will in this matter, and a curse has fallen on this
nation. That is why the attempt to conquer Ai was a failure. My
help and strength was not with the soldiers, nor will my help be
with Israel again in any attempt to overcome your enemies until
you remove and destroy the guilty one."
Joshua was surprised and shocked when he heard this. It
hadn't occurred to him that the defeat of his soldiers could be
due to someone obtaining booty from Jericho and hiding it.
"Get up and tell the people what has happened," God
continued. "Tell them that they cannot successfully face their
enemies until the guilty one is removed, and that they should
wash themselves and be ready to appear before you tomorrow while
the guilty one is found." (Verses 10-15.)
Joshua obeyed, and next morning the heads of the tribes
gathered before the tabernacle and drew lots to learn what tribe
had the guilty person. The tribe of Judah drew the telling lot.
Then it was up to the heads of the families of Judah to draw
lots. The head of the family of the Zarhites drew the unwanted
lot, and next it was the turn of the household heads of the
Zarhites to draw lots. According to the manner in which God
caused the lots to be drawn, the household turned out to be that
The men of the household of Zabdi solemnly gathered together
to do their part. The vast crowd of silent onlookers knew that
one of these men was responsible for the death of thirty-six men,
the injury of many others and the swift and humiliating retreat
of the Israelites from Ai. (Verses 16-18.)
The Guilty Man Found
The lot indicating guilt was drawn by a man by the name of
Achan, referred to in other scriptures as Achar. (I Chronicles
2:7.) Long before the lot was drawn, it was evident to many
bystanders that this man was the one being sought. His face grew
more drawn and his expression more frightened as matters
The pale and shaking Achan was brought before Joshua.
"Don't try to hide your evil deed," Joshua advised him.
"Honor your God by confessing what you have done."
"I -- I didn't realize at the time how much I was sinning
against the God of Israel!" Achan tearfully burst out as he fell
to his knees and bowed his head. "I was tramping through the
rubble of Jericho with other soldiers when I stumbled by myself
into the remains of what surely had been the dwelling quarters of
a wealthy Canaanite family. When I looked around and saw many
valuable things that could increase my family's living standard,
I didn't think it would greatly matter to take some of them,
especially because most of them would be burned and wasted. One
of the things that caught my eye was a beautiful Babylonian robe
that shone as though it were woven of golden threads from a
rainbow. I stuffed the robe under my jacket, scooped up a handful
of silver coins from a chest, grabbed some small object that
looked as though it were solid gold, jammed these things into my
pouch and then climbed out of the place to join the other
soldiers." (Joshua 7:19-21.)
"Where are these things now?" Joshua queried.
"I buried them in the ground inside my tent," was the
Joshua immediately rushed officers to Achan's tent. They
returned within a few minutes to show Joshua a costly Babylonish
type garment, a number of silver coins and a small, wedge shaped
bar of gold.
Joshua was aware of the unpleasant event that had to follow.
According to God's orders, Achan and his family, his livestock
and his possessions -- including the things he had stolen -- were
taken to a spot well outside the camp of Israel. There Joshua
again confronted Achan to ask him why he had been so thoughtless
and disobedient as to bring so much trouble on his people.
"I didn't mean to bring on what happened," Achan murmured.
"I just didn't take God's warning seriously concerning how much
one person's sin can affect others!"
Those were Achan's last words. He was led away to be stoned
to death in the sight of his family and thousands of others.
Then he and all his possessions were burned and a great heap
of stones was piled over his body. Since he had tried to enrich
his family by rebellion, his family had to stand by and watch all
their livestock and other property destroyed as a warning to all.
Joshua returned to the tabernacle to humbly ask God to be
merciful to the Israelites and strengthen them against their
"Don't be discouraged," God told him. "Now that the accursed
man has been removed, I have removed my curse and my anger. Now
take the army and go to the city of Ai. Use some of your men to
bait the Amorites into coming out. Hide the greater part of the
army so that they can surprise the enemy. Then you will see how I
shall deliver Ai and all its people to you!" (Joshua 8:1-2.)
CONQUEST OF BETHEL AND AI
GOD'S promise to Joshua to help in a second attempt to conquer
the Canaanite city of Ai swiftly brought Israel's leader out of
his state of discouragement. Joshua immediately chose thirty
thousand soldiers for the strategy he had in mind.
"I'm not sending you to directly attack Ai," Joshua informed
the officers who were to be in command. "Late tonight you are to
take your soldiers toward Ai. Guides will show you the way. Do
not go far from the city. Go around it to the west side and
conceal yourselves in the rugged country behind Ai toward Bethel,
which is a few miles west of Ai. I shall send others before dawn.
Be very careful that no one can be seen from Ai or from the city
of Bethel to the west. I shall go with a few thousand to be in
the valley just north of Ai when the sun comes up. When the
people of Ai discover us, they will rush out to attack and we
will flee from them. When you who are hiding west of Ai see me
waving a bright banner from the end of my spear, you will know
that it is time to rush into Ai and set the city on fire. The
huge fire will attract the attention of our pursuers. The 5,000
soldiers on the west and the troops on the north side of the
valley are then to move swiftly in on the confused enemy." (Josh.
It was well after dark when the thirty thousand fully
equipped foot soldiers set out to the northwest. Guides led them
to a safe hiding place just west of Ai. Every effort was made to
muffle the stomp, clank and jingle of marching men as they moved
into the heights between Ai and the adjoining city of Bethel.
When at last the soldiers reached an area where they could
hide, they rested for the remainder of the night. The only fires
allowed were small ones hidden under overhanging rocks that would
eclipse any show of light.
Joshua remained at the Israelite camp at Gilgal until after
midnight. Then he set out with the elders of Israel and officers
and the remainder of the soldiers. In the early morning hours
they arrived on the north side of Ai. By the time he arrived, it
was not far from dawn. There wasn't any time to be lost in
preparing for what had to be done.
"Take five thousand soldiers and move in between Ai and
Bethel before sun-up," Joshua instructed some of his officers.
"Make sure no one from Bethel hinders our conquest of Ai."
Joshua and his "bait" forces moved down into the valley
north of Ai just before dawn.
Ai Caught Off Guard
When light came over the area, guards on the wall of Ai were
startled to see that military forces were approaching the city
from the north side of the valley. Word was sent to the king of
Ai who was still feeling victorious because his soldiers had
previously routed what was considered an invincible army.
When the king witnessed the Israelites approaching on the
plain, he became very excited. Here, he thought, was a golden
opportunity to twice vanquish the dreaded enemy that had invaded
Canaan. Any city or nation that could put Israel on the run two
times would be regarded as gloriously heroic and powerful.
Flushed with the thought of a second victory, the king lost no
time in ordering most of his men out to clash with the Israelites
before they could reach Ai.
The north gate of the city swung open, and out rushed the
howling troops of Ai to head swiftly down into the valley and
directly toward the Israelites. Intending to make a great name
for himself as the leader of the forces that would overcome the
feared Israelites, the king of the city rode out with his men.
When the two forces were only a few hundred feet apart, the king
noticed that the Israelites suddenly came to a halt. It seemed
that they were getting ready to make a stand, but when they
turned and ran off eastward in the direction of the Jordan River,
the ruler of Ai could scarcely believe his eyes.
"We've got them on the run already!" one of the king's
"Send a man back to the city!" the king shouted back
excitedly. "Tell him that I order every man there, and also the
soldiers from Bethel, to join us at once and wipe out the
Israelites even if we have to drive them all the way to the
Still at a safe distance away in the valley, Joshua and the
soldiers with him continued to move away in feigned flight. When
Joshua saw a second regiment pouring out of Ai, he was certain
that there couldn't be many more men, if any, remaining in the
city. (Joshua 8:14-17.)
The time had come for Joshua to wave a bright banner
attached to his spear. The signal was seen by sharp-eyed lookouts
west of Ai. They motioned to the 30,000 men hiding about and
below them. Within minutes the thirty thousand Israelite soldiers
were racing into the unmanned city.
Already the men of Ai and Bethel were too far away to hear
the loud screams of the women and children whom they had left
undefended. They were shortening the distance between themselves
and the Israelites, and contact and victory appeared to be only
minutes away when one of the officers moved close to the excited
king and gestured frantically toward the rear.
Idolatrous Canaanites Trapped
The king looked around, and his expression of almost gleeful
anticipation faded from his face. He gave a signal to halt. The
bewildered soldiers came to a stop and looked about to see why
they had been ordered to stop. Then all of them saw the smoke and
flames belching up from inside the walls of Ai!
"We've been tricked!" the king roared. "Get back to the
When Joshua saw the Canaanite soldiers stop and set off in
the opposite direction, and saw smoke billowing up from Ai, he
again waved the banner he had been holding. The men with him
suddenly turned on the Canaanites. The thousands of Israelite
soldiers hiding at the north rim of the valley opposite Ai leaped
out of hiding and stormed down the slopes at a right angle to the
path of the enemy troops racing back toward the cities of Ai and
Bethel. The 5,000 in hiding on the west plunged toward Bethel.
Then out of Ai rushed the thirty thousand Israelites who had
set the fires in the streets of the city to lure the enemy
soldiers back. Joining the other troops they set off directly
toward the oncoming troops of Ai and Bethel. At the same time
Joshua and the men with him began pursuing the Canaanites
Boxed in on three sides by rapidly approaching troops, the
Canaanites had to stand and fight or race madly about trying to
find a way of escape to the south. Those who tried to fight were
quickly wiped out. Those who tried to flee up the south slope of
the valley were overtaken and slaughtered. The only man to be
captured alive was the king. (Joshua 8:18-23.)
Leaving thousands of dead bodies littering the valley, the
Israelites converged on Ai and destroyed the rest of the pagans
who remained there. Not until then did Joshua lower the banner
that waved from his spear.
Things of value were removed from the city, and then it was
burned. As for the king of Ai, he was hanged on a tree as a
punishment for his gross idolatry. At sunset his body was cut
down, tossed on the ground before one of the gates of Ai and
covered with a large heap of stones. News of the king's
disgraceful end was certain to swiftly reach other rulers of
nearby cities, communities and nations, and thus add to the fear
and terror growing in that region of paganism.
What was more likely to impress the other nations, however,
was that twelve thousand Canaanite men and women perished that
day. (Verses 24-29.)
A Blessing and a Curse
After the victors had returned to Gilgal with their booty
and had rested a few days, Joshua declared that a special
ceremony would be held in an area several miles north of Ai. All
Israel made the journey over rough country, the ark being carried
along as usual. The only ones who didn't go along were a few
soldiers to watch over the camp and take care of the animals.
The people congregated on the slopes of two neighboring high
points, Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, as Moses had commanded them
(Deuteronomy 11:29-30.) They watched and listened as the sacred
ceremonies took place. An altar was erected on Mt. Ebal, of
unhewn stones as God had commanded. (Exodus 20:25.) Burnt
offerings and peace offerings were made there. Joshua read to the
people the many blessings that would come to them through
obedience, and the cursings that would come to them through
disobedience. These things were written on the stones of the
The laws from God, given through Moses, were also read to
the people in this solemn assembly. The voices of the readers on
the mountains rang out with miraculous, far-reaching volume to
the more than two million scattered over the area, to remind them
of how God wanted them to live, and of the tremendous importance
of being obedient. (Joshua 8:30-35.)
At the end of the reading of the laws, six tribes on Mt.
Gerizim summarized God's blessings for obedience. Then the other
six tribes on Mt. Ebal echoed the curses that would surely befall
Israel if they broke the law. (Deuteronomy 27:1-19.)
After the ceremonies the people camped and then started the
return trip to Gilgal.
Israel made this journey into enemy territory and back
without encountering so much as one enemy soldier. However, the
movements of the people weren't unnoticed, and the rulers of the
land became more distressed when they heard of this greater
penetration into Canaan.
For centuries the small nations of the region of Canaan had
warred among themselves and slain one another. Now that a foreign
enemy had entered the land, the rulers put aside their
differences and decided to pool their fighting forces and put up
a united front against Israel. Israel
had no knowledge of these particular plans, though Joshua and his
officers were aware that such a thing could happen. (Joshua
While this threat to Israel was being organized, several
dusty travelers one day approached Gilgal with their burros.
Alert Israelite guards went out to stop them, but brought them
into the camp to meet Joshua after they requested to visit with
the leader of the Israelites.
"We are ambassadors from a distant nation," a spokesman for
the strangers declared. "We have heard how your people have come
up from the south to conquer the nations in this part of the
world. We have come a long way to meet you and to ask you to
promise our nation, because we are peaceful people, that you will
not carry on war with us if ever you reach our borders." (Verses
"You men could be from any of the enemy nations close around
us," Joshua told them. "We need proof that you are from this
distant nation you have mentioned. Otherwise, it would be foolish
to make a promise to you that we would refrain from attacking
"We assure you, sir," the spokesman replied, "that we are
not from any enemy nation. We will be your servants. We have been
sent here by the leaders and people of our country -- a distant
one -- to tell you that they have heard of the fame of your great
God. They are aware of how He dealt with the ruler of Egypt, and
how He helped you become victorious over the Amorites and the
kings of Heshbon and Bashan. When our people realized how your
God helped you in these battles, they knew that it would be
foolish to try to stand against you, so they sent us to ask you
to promise not to attack a country so respectful of your power
and your God."
"It could be as you say," Joshua said, "but as genuine
ambassadors you should have some credentials or proof of whom you
Logical Sounding Lies
"We were purposely not given any," was the reply. "Our
superiors knew that if we were stopped by soldiers of any of our
neighboring nations, and if it were found that we were
ambassadors on a secret peaceful mission to Israel, the
neighboring nations would then consider our nation as an enemy.
In fact, for the sake of our country's safety, we were told not
to even mention the name of our people. Our superiors hope that
this matter can be worked out with our remaining completely
nameless for the sake of safety, extreme as it seems. Then, if
ever Israel arrives at our borders, we shall make ourselves
"I've never heard of anything like this," Joshua murmured to
his officers as he shook his head. "I think it's time to end this
conversation and send these men away."
"Something occurs to me, sir," the spokesman for the
strangers suddenly remarked. "Perhaps we can at least prove that
we are from a distant nation if you will examine our clothes and
the few things we have with us!"
"Here is something worth considering," an officer whispered
to Joshua. "A careful examination of these men's possessions
might give us some valuable clues as to how far they have come."
After a minute of thought Joshua nodded his approval. The
strangers were taken out to where their burros were tied, and all
that these men had was carefully examined by competent officers.
A few minutes later the officers reported to Joshua.
"Obviously they actually have come a long way," Joshua was
told. "Their clothes are dusty and stained with days of travel.
Their shoes are well worn as from many miles of walking. Even the
sacks on their burros are old-looking as from many hours of
exposure to wind, sun and dew. Their empty leather wine bottles
are dried out and cracked. They brought out what food they had
left. It was hard, moldy bread they claimed was freshly baked the
day they started out for here." (Joshua 9:7-13.)
To Joshua and his officers this seemed fair evidence that
these men had come a great distance from a foreign land.
"AND THE SUN STOOD STILL"
JOSHUA and the elders had just received men who claimed to be
ambassadors from a far away land. They came to seek peace. If so,
reasoned the elders, then there would be no particular harm in
promising not to attack a nation that wasn't included among the
enemy nations of Canaan. Although these men looked like swarthy
Canaanites, Joshua knew that some similar tribes had gone to
other lands, especially north Africa, to live.
The elders of Israel were told of these things, and it was
decided that it would be well to do what the strangers asked, and
promise no harm to their nation. This was carried out in a solemn
ceremony with Joshua, the strangers, priests and elders present.
However, though there was an element of doubt present in this
matter, God wasn't consulted. (Joshua 9:3-15.) God's warning
against making peace with Canaanites was temporarily neglected,
and Israel's leaders paid more attention to these strangers than
New clothes and provisions were supplied the strange
ambassadors. After they were given food and overnight lodging
with the Israelites, they thankfully and smilingly set off to the
north to their mysterious nation.
"Send several armed scouts to follow them without being
seen," Joshua ordered. "I am curious to know just where they came
It wasn't expected that the scouts would return for many
days, and it was a surprise when they returned early on the third
"It wasn't necessary to be gone any longer," they reported.
"The men we followed went north for a few miles, then turned west
and went directly to the Hivite city of Gibeon about twenty miles
to the west. If that is their home, then Israel has promised to
spare a city or nation well within the promised land!" (Verse
"We have been tricked!" Joshua muttered. "Get fifty thousand
troops ready to move, and we'll go straighten this matter out!"
Having been informed that the strange men claiming to have
come from a distant nation had gone to a city only about twenty
miles from Gilgal, Joshua was quite perturbed. These men had
exacted a promise from Joshua that Israel would not attack their
country. Now it was quite evident that their "country" was an
area well within the bounds of Canaan, and God had instructed
Israel to destroy all nations, cities and people within those
bounds. Obviously these men had tricked Israel into a sacred
promise to spare their people, which was against God's will.
The many thousands of Israel's soldiers quickly assembled at
Joshua's command. Led by scouts who had followed the men
responsible for tricking Israel into a peace pact, Joshua and his
soldiers spent three days in arriving at their destination. It
was the walled city of Gibeon, the capital of a district of
swarthy people called Hivites. Four Hivite cities, including
Gibeon, had joined in this strategy in seeking peace with Israel.
The Israelite soldiers moved boldly within the shadows of
the walls of Gibeon, but there was no sign of soldiers on the
walls to protect the city.
"Send men to the gate with this message," Joshua told his
officers. "Have our men tell them that those men who came to see
us in Gilgal must be sent out to speak with us right away."
A group of soldiers went to the nearest gate and loudly
repeated Joshua's request. There was a response only a few
minutes later. The gate swung open, and out walked the men who
had come to Gilgal posing as strangers from a distant nation. A
few Hivites of high rank accompanied them. Behind them was a
crowd of Hivites silently watching to see what would happen. The
"ambassadors" sheepishly walked up to Joshua and his officers.
"Why did you go to all the trouble of trying to fool us into
believing that your native land was quite distant instead of
within our land only a few miles from our camp?" Joshua asked
them. (Verse 22.)
The Hivites' Excuse
"We have heard about how you have wiped out your enemies," a
Gibeonite officer explained. "We didn't want to be counted among
them. The city of Gibeon here, and three other Hivite cities to
the south -- Chephirah, Beeroth and Kirjathjearim -- formed a
secret alliance to seek a promise from Israel's leaders that you
would not attack us. We heard that you are a fair and honest
people, and would keep any vow you might make.
"We became aware that your God commanded you to destroy all
the people of this region, and we were so alarmed that we tried
to carry out the only plan we thought might save us. But we
aren't begging for freedom now. You have us in your power to deal
with as you wish." (Verses 24-25.)
Joshua was in no hurry to make any decision. Yet he knew if
he wiped out their cities, he would be breaking the pledge that
the leaders of Israel had made before God as a witness. There was
no other choice. Israel had made a binding agreement and would
have to pay the price of letting these Hivites remain in their
Joshua dismissed the Gibeonites, set up camp near Gibeon and
held a conference with the princes of Israel.
When the main body of Israel heard the decision of the
elders and Joshua, many of them were disappointed. Some were even
angered, and sent spokesmen to the elders to voice their
feelings. (Joshua 9:18.)
"It is not right to allow these pagan Hivites any mercy!"
shouted one of the spokesmen. "God has commanded us to destroy
"God will punish us if we fail to attack those four Hivite
cities at once!" another yelled heatedly. "Why are our leaders
defying the Creator in this matter?"
There was much murmuring among the assembled thousands after
these remarks, which were not necessarily made because the
speakers desired obedience. So much wealth had already been taken
from their enemies that a part of Israel had become greedy, and
those were the ones whose ire was roused because of being
deprived of the booty of the Hivite cities.
Hivites Made Perpetual Laborers
Ignoring the loud protests, the elders told the people that
Israel should stick to the agreement not to attack the Hivites,
but that Israel should make the inhabitants of the four cities
bond-servants of Israel to serve in the physical needs of the
Levites. This would keep them in close contact with God so that
they would never return to idolatry. (Verses 19-21.)
When the troops who had accompanied him heard what Joshua
was about to do, even some of them muttered in disappointment at
being deprived of the excitingly profitable opportunity of
plundering the Hivite cities.
Joshua called the rulers and chief officers of the Hivites
before him and made this proclamation:
"Though you have sought peace and have recognized our God as
great, you tricked us. Therefore you are cursed. No longer shall
your mighty men of war bear arms. Instead, they shall become wood
choppers and water bearers for us. When our people take over this
area, your people shall join us and work as bond servants. Your
tasks will be especially for those in service for our God
wherever He shall have us build His altar. You have no choice but
to accept these conditions." (Verses 22-27.)
"These are bitter terms for our warriors and the people of
all four cities," the leader of Gibeon spoke out. "However, we
feel it is better than being destroyed because of our sins. We
know your greater forces and your great God are too powerful for
us to face, and we must humbly bow to your will." (Verse 25.)
The Hivites should have considered themselves quite
fortunate to remain alive under the circumstances, but it is
generally human nature to hope for more than is received, and
there was a tone of bitterness in the voice of the Gibeonite
Having ended these matters with the Hivites for the time
being, Joshua and his many soldiers headed back toward Gilgal.
They little guessed that they would very soon be racing back
toward Gibeon. We shall now see why.
For many centuries there had been a city in the land of
Canaan known as Salem. During the days of Abraham a King was
there whose name was Melchizedek, Who visited Abraham and blessed
him after he rescued Lot and other captives from a group of
marauding kings. (Genesis 14:17-20.) Melchizedek -- Who was later
to become Jesus Christ in human form -- ruled from Salem as long
as the patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- dwelt in Canaan.
Later He ceased to rule from there when the children of Israel
were in Egypt. In the days of David, Melchizedek again chose
Jerusalem (another name for Salem) as the city from which to rule
The name Melchizedek means King of Righteousness. (Hebrews
7:1-3.) At the time the Israelites entered Canaan, the ruler of
Salem -- then called Jerusalem -- was a Canaanite, Adoni-zedek,
a sinful king who pretended to be "Lord of Righteousness" -- a
king who put himself in place of the true King of Righteousness
-- Jesus Christ or Melchizedek.
A Plot Against the Hivites
News of the fall of Jericho and Ai brought fear to the ruler
of Jerusalem, especially when he learned of the pact between
Israel and the four Hivite cities just a few miles from
Jerusalem, because Gibeon was one of the stronger cities of the
area -- even stronger than Ai. (Joshua 10:1-2.) Adoni-zedek
realized that other cities of Canaan must immediately band
together to stand against the Israelites, or be defeated.
The proud king of Jerusalem sent messengers to the rulers of
four neighboring Amorite cities. These were Hebron (where the
Israelite scouts went on their return trip through Canaan about
forty years before), Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon, and were located
in an area only a few miles southwest of Jerusalem. Adoni-zedek
suggested they all join forces and invade the Hivite cities to
punish them for making peace with the Israelites. (Verses 3-4.)
When the kings of these cities received Adoni-zedek's plea
for their armies to join his in an attack on Gibeon, they agreed
at once to send all their soldiers northward. Their forces were
united on the way to Jerusalem, where Adoni-zedek's troops were
added. Together these thousands of well-trained warriors marched
onward to a spot just south of Gibeon, where they camped and
readied their equipment for an attack on Gibeon, because the
Hivites were now their enemies along with Israel.
When the Gibeonites saw these combined armies streaming up
from the south, they sent swift messengers to race to Gilgal to
ask for help from Israel.
While the messengers sped toward the Israelite camp, the
armies from the south set up powerful catapults and ramming
devices with which to assault Gibeon, and prepared long ladders
and ropes for scaling the walls. Night was not far away, however,
and the Gibeonites felt certain that no attack would be made
The messengers from Gibeon arrived at Gilgal before
nightfall, and were given an immediate audience with Joshua.
"Thousands upon thousands of Canaanite troops of the Amorite
tribe were approaching Gibeon when we left!" they excitedly told
Joshua. "Perhaps by now they have already attacked our city. As
your servants, we beg you to send up at least a part of your
great army to save us!" (Joshua 10:5-6.)
Joshua Had Learned His Lesson
Joshua wasn't inclined to give the messengers a quick
answer. He wondered if the presence of so many fighting men could
mean that Israel might run into deep trouble as punishment for
not consulting God in the matter of making an agreement with the
Gibeonites, or if God had forgiven him and the elders when they
Not wishing another unpleasant situation, Joshua this time
went into the tabernacle and prayed to God to give him a clear
picture of what should be done.
"Don't be concerned about that army preparing to attack
Gibeon," came God's answer. "Not one man of those many thousands
will come out alive after I punish them!" (Verse 8.) Now Joshua
knew God had forgiven him and the elders.
Thus encouraged, he was convinced that he should go at once
to the aid of the Gibeonites. He gave orders to his officers to
assemble the army of Israel for immediate action. By nightfall
the troops were assembled and ready to march.
Gibeon was about twenty miles west of Gilgal, and though
they had a rough, uphill road between the two places, the
Israelite army picked its way to the hill country through the
night, and arrived within sight of Gibeon at dawn. (Verses 7, 9.)
Coming over a rise at the head of Israel's troops, Joshua
and his officers saw that the Canaanite troops from the south
were just starting to move closer to Gibeon for their assault on
the walls. Catapults were being pushed forward, scores of men
were carrying metal-nosed logs with which to batter the gates,
and thousands of archers, swordsmen and spear-bearers were
marching within striking range of the walls.
"Draw up our troops to attack the invaders of Gibeon at
once!" Joshua told his officers. "Keep the troops out of sight
behind this rise, move north of Gibeon so that we can't be seen,
and then divide up and swing around the east and west walls to
Minutes later hordes of Israelite soldiers raced around the
walls of Gibeon to rush in among the troops moving against the
Hivite city. The attackers were so surprised by this sudden
onslaught by the Israelites that they halted in their tracks,
then turned and fled in the opposite direction. The Israelites
pressed in against them. So great was the slaughter that bodies
were strewn for miles along paths that led northwestward,
southward and southwestward from Gibeon.
All this didn't happen in just a short while. Many of the
enemy soldiers tried to hide in ravines and among the rocks, and
time was required in searching them out. The Israelites had
orders to let no enemy fighters escape, regardless of how far
they had to be pursued.
In fact, the main part of the enemy troops to escape the
first attack had to be pursued as much as thirty miles to the
southwest. (Joshua 10:10-11.) Part of the way was through a long,
deep ravine. Then there was a steep ridge to go over, and next a
rocky, rugged road so precipitous in places that steps had
already been cut in the rocks.
By the time the enemy had been pursued even part of that
distance, however, the morning was half spent. Joshua became
concerned about being successful in destroying all the enemy
troops before dark, after which any who were left would surely
succeed in escaping. Already exceptionally heavy clouds were
moving over the sky, which meant that darkness would come on even
sooner than usual.
A Mighty Miracle
"Cause the sun and moon to stand still so that the day here
will be made long enough for us to overcome our enemies," Joshua
prayed to God. (Verse 12.)
The battle continued. It was no small matter to flush out
enemy troops from their hiding places as the area of fighting
moved steadily southward. Meanwhile, the sky became darker, and
it appeared that an unusually strong storm was likely to break in
the region just south of Gibeon. Between thick. Scudding clouds
the pale sun showed through at times. There was nothing unusual
about that, but two or three hours after Joshua's unusual request
of God the Israelites began to be aware that the sun was still in
a morning position!
As the afternoon wore on while Israel kept up the bloody
pursuit, it was noted with increasing awe that the sun still had
not moved. In fact, it stayed in the midst of the sky for so long
that daylight was extended by about twelve hours! (Verse 13.)
Did God actually stop the Earth from rotating for twelve
hours? We are not told. With God all things are possible. If this
planet in a few minutes ceased turning, God must have performed a
miracle much like the braking of a modern jet airplane upon
landing. Remember, the Earth's surface is turning at a speed of
one thousand miles an hour at the equator and more slowly as one
approaches the poles. There was never another day like this one.
Many religious leaders have argued that time was lost back at the
battle near Gibeon, and that as a result the Sabbath was moved
from Saturday to Sunday. Not so. THAT day did not become another
day. It was merely an extra-long day of 36 hours.
The lengthened day was a reason for wonderment and fear
among both Israelites and Canaanites. Even Joshua was awed by
what happened. God honored an outstanding prayer in an
outstanding way because He was fighting Israel's battles. (Verse
Even so, Joshua was concerned about conquering all the enemy
troops, many thousands of whom were well ahead of the Israelites.
It appeared that they would escape while Israel was being delayed
in sending out small groups in every direction to overtake enemy
soldiers who had fled to the sides of the retreat paths to the
Then came another miracle from God. The sky grew
increasingly darker. Lightning flashed above the Canaanite
retreaters. Ear-splitting thunder reverberated between the
mountains and through the deep ravines. From the black clouds
came a strange, hissing sound. The fleeing Canaanites looked up
in inquisitive terror, and it was then that the power of God
descended from the sky on them with deadly force!
The hissing sound from the sky was short warning to the
Canaanites as to what was about to happen. Suddenly there was
stinging pain from sharp blows on their heads and shoulders. Many
were killed outright by falling objects. Others were beaten to
the ground to quickly die as their prone bodies were exposed to
Some were able to reach the shelter of protruding rock
ledges, and from there witness that they had been caught in a
terrible shower of giant hailstones!
Within a few minutes almost all the Canaanite soldiers and
their animals were battered to death. Then the tremendous shower
of heavy hailstones miraculously stopped as suddenly as it had
begun. Some of those who had been spared managed to escape and
take refuge in nearby cities, but most of them either died of
their wounds or were later caught and slain by Israelite
soldiers. (Joshua 10:8-11.)
Shortly before this event produced by God, the five kings of
the five Canaanite cities, fleeing southward near Makkedah with
their troops, held a hasty conference.
"There is no hope of holding out against the Israelites,"
the king of Jerusalem remarked fearfully. "Our men have no more
desire to fight. They're frightened because it is still daylight,
whereas the sun should have gone down hours ago. Israel's God has
something to do with this awesome thing. I propose that the five
of us hide in one of the caves in this area, and let Israel
pursue our troops. Then perhaps we can return later to safety."
The other four leaders quickly agreed. They gave orders to
their officers to proceed without them. Taking scant provisions,
they hurried away from their men and sought out an insignificant
cave some distance up the side of the ravine through which they
had been moving. (Verses 16-17.)
They had been in hiding only a short while when the storm of
giant hailstones struck. They realized that their remaining
troops would hardly survive such an onslaught from the sky, but
they were more concerned about themselves than about their men.
What they didn't realize was that God had no intention of
allowing them to escape. When the pursuing Israelites arrived to
find dead Canaanites scattered throughout the ravine, a search
was made for possible survivors in the rocks, defiles and caves.
One soldier was as startled as were the five kings when he walked
into the cave where they were hiding. He ran to notify Joshua at
once, who gave orders to deal with them immediately. (Verse 18.)
A short while later, as the occupants of the cave peered out
at the main body of Israelite soldiers moving on to the south,
they were surprised by large stones rumbling down from above and
thudding in a growing heap on the ledge at the mouth of the cave.
Almost before they realized that many men must be rolling the
rocks from overhead, they found themselves trapped by a solid
bank of stones much too great to be removed from the inside!
Meanwhile, at Joshua's command, the Israelites moved
southward to seek out and slay most of the few enemy troops not
killed by the storm of gigantic hailstones. They pursued them as
far south as the city of Makkedah, where they temporarily camped.
Then Joshua sent men to the cave where the five kings were
trapped. The men removed the stones piled there, seized the
prisoners and took them to a spot part way between the cave and
the city of Makkedah. There were a number of trees there, and
five of them were chosen for a grisly purpose. The five kings
were killed and their bodies hanged on the trees till sundown.
Then they were cut down and taken back into the cave where they
had tried to conceal themselves. For the second time great stones
were piled against the mouth of the cave, this time to form an
infamous burial crypt for the five men who had tried to lead
their armies against Israel. (Verses 19-27.)
While the five kings were still hanging on the five trees,
Joshua and his troops rushed into Makkedah and slew all the
people and disposed of the king of that city in the same manner
accorded to the ruler of Jericho. (Verse 28; 6:21.)
In the days that followed, Joshua and his troops stormed
over the southern region of Canaan to attack and overthrow a
number of cities. The idol-worshipping inhabitants were slain and
the leaders killed and hanged -- all according to God's
instructions. God wanted idolatry and child-sacrifice completely
eliminated throughout Israel's land. Included in these cities was
Hebron, the place Israelite scouts had passed through four
The campaign that had started out as a move to defend the
Gibeonites turned into a tremendous victory for Israel.
Successful because of God's help, the soldiers returned to Gilgal
with a great wealth of the spoils of war -- household goods,
tools, implements, livestock and farm produce. (Joshua 10:29-43;
The defeat of the armies of these cities didn't mean that
all of the southern part of Canaan was conquered. There were
still more cities and tribes to take over in that region. Even
after many more military operations by Israel's army during the
next year or two there were still a few fortresses and armed
areas to subdue.