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Moses and Forty Years

In the second year and second month of the calendar of the children of Israel they were camped at Mount Sinai. God told them to count all the men, twenty years and up who could fight. They counted all the tribes except Levi. That was because Levi was not supposed to fight. They were to carry and take care of the tabernacle and do the work of the tabernacle. Of all twelve tribes they counted 603,550 men. The smallest tribe was Manasseh which had 32,200 men. So we can guess that the Levites had at least that many men. The woman and children were not counted, or the men too old to fight. So maybe there were as many as two million people or more that God was leading to the promised land. (Numbers 1)

When the pillar of cloud and fire lifted off of the tabernacle it was time for the children of Israel to travel. When the pillar stopped it was time to pitch their tents. The tabernacle would be pitched also and the pillar would rest on the tabernacle. (Numbers 9)

There were two men among the children of Israel. Their names were Eldad and Medad. They were not priests in the tabernacle, but they were prophesying in the camp among the people. A young man was concerned, he didn't think that what they were doing was right, so he ran to Moses and told Moses what they were doing. Joshua heard this also, and he said to Moses, "My lord Moses, tell them to stop."

But Moses' reply surprised them, "Do you resent them because you think I should be the only one to prophesy? I would be happy if all God's people were prophets and that God would put His spirit on all of them."

Sometimes we are jealous of each other for the things that each person can do. Each person has gifts that God gives them. Some people can prophesy, or speak for God. Some people can make music, or write, or organize people. If a people are truly God's people they would not be jealous of each other's abilities. All those abilities need to be used together to make everything go smoothly.

On their way to Canaan the people complained a lot. At one time God sent fire to the edges of the camp and killed some of the people. When the people cried to Moses, he prayed to God to stop the fire and the fire was stopped. But that did not stop the complaining. The food that God gave the people was called manna. It was like a tiny seed. Every morning when the dew gathered, manna came with the dew. It would have been terrible if the children of Israel, all two million of them, had had to hunt for food in the Sinai. There would not have been enough for even a day.

But the people began to get tired of manna. They began to pine away for the foods that they had had in Egypt. They said, "We want meat. We want fish, and cucumbers, and melons, and leeks and onions and garlic. We are tired of eating manna."

God became angry. These people were being ungrateful and uncooperative. God had freed them from Egypt with ten plagues and destroyed the Egyptian army. He had provided food for them.

Moses was angry and exasperated also. He began to feel that he was leading a bunch of little children. He said to God, "Why have you laid the burden of this people on me? Are they all my children? If I have found favor with You, kill me now and put me out of my misery."

God knew that this was a big job, too big for one man. Then they chose seventy good men to help Moses deal with the people.

But God would still deal with the people himself. He told Moses to get the people ready, they would have meat for a whole month until they were so sick of it they would vomit it out of their noses. Moses didn't know how this could happen. Would they have to kill all their cattle and flocks? Or would God bring them all the fish in the sea?

God said, "Do you think I can't do this? Watch and see."

Then a wind came from the direction of the sea. With it came quail. All around the camp, for the distance of one day's journey, quail fell to the earth. They were two cubits deep on the ground. What is a cubit? Bend your elbow and hold your hand straight. Now measure from the tip of your elbow to the tip of your middle finger. That is a cubit. A cubit on a man would be longer than the cubit on a child, so we will say a foot and one half. The quail were about three feet deep on the ground. This was lots of meat for the children of Israel. God was so angry with them that many became sick as they chewed the meat, and many of them died. (Numbers 11)

Miriam, Moses' sister, and Aaron, Moses' brother became angry because Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman. They must have been talking about Zipporah, who Moses married in Midian. Now if they were angry about Zipporah, that would be bad. Maybe they were angry because Zipporah was not one of the children of Israel. That would be snobbish. Zipporah was a good wife and mother. And her father, Jethro, was the priest of Midian and had helped Moses very much. Miriam and Aaron may have just been jealous of their brother and used her as an excuse.

This made God angry. He called Moses, Miriam and Aaron to the tabernacle to have a little talk with them. God spoke from within the pillar to Miriam and Aaron. He said, "If there is a prophet among you, I make myself known to them in a vision or in a dream. But this is not how I have made myself known to Moses. With Moses I speak plainly mouth to mouth. He has seen my similitude. Knowing this, why weren't you afraid to speak against him?"

What does it mean that God spoke with Moses mouth to mouth and had shown him the similitude of the Lord? When we talk to God, we say our prayers. We don't get to see Him face to face and talk to Him that way. But Moses knew what God looked like and had spoken with Him just as we can speak to each other. We believe that the similitude of the Lord is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to us as the Son of God and lived here with a human body. The brother of Jared had seen Jesus Christ also.

God was very angry with Miriam. God had chosen Moses to do a very difficult task, leading all these people to the promised land. But Miriam and Aaron were making his life harder by complaining about something they shouldn't. The pillar of cloud left the tabernacle and Miriam's body became covered with leprosy. When Aaron saw this he was horrified and sorry. He begged Moses to forgive them and cure Miriam. So Moses prayed to God to heal his sister. But God said, "If her father had spit in her face shouldn't she be ashamed for seven days? Let her stay outside the camp for seven days as her punishment." The children of Israel stayed there until she could come back into the camp. (Numbers 12)

The Twelve Spies

The children of Israel were right outside of Canaan. God told Moses that it was time for the children of Israel to go and check it out. God told Moses to send one good man from each tribe of Israel into the land of Canaan to go and see it and come back and report to the people.

These are the men who went: Shaummua of the tribe of Reuben; Shaphat of the tribe of Simeon; Caleb of the tribe of Judah; Igal of the tribe of Issachar; Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim; Palti of the tribe of Benjamin; Gaddiel of the tribe of Zebulun; Gaddi of the tribe of Manasseh; Ammiel of the tribe of Dan; Sethur of the tribe of Asher; Nahbi of the tribe of Naphtali; and Geuel of the tribe of Gad.

These twelve men went all over the land of Canaan. I don't know exactly how they did it. Maybe they hid and watched from a distance in some places. Maybe they could just walk around in other places and blend in with the people there. But however they did it they got a good look at the land. They were gone for forty days.

They had two reports to make. First, the land was wonderful! It was a land of milk and honey. That means it had water and good grass for the cattle and flowers for the bees. And they brought home a big bunch of grapes so big that they hung it from a pole carried by two men!

But-the second report was very bad. There were giant people living there! These giant people lived in great cities surrounded by strong walls! "We are like grasshoppers compared to them! We cannot beat them!"

Two of the spies did not feel the same way. Caleb of the tribe of Judah, and Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim, were so excited to get there that they did not feel so small. Caleb said, "Let us go up at once, and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it."

The children of Israel started up with their complaining again. They started weeping and wailing. "Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Would God that we had died in this wilderness!" they wailed. They were so upset that they began to choose a leader to take them back to Egypt and slavery.

Moses and Aaron were upset at having to lead such a people. They threw themselves face down onto the ground. Caleb and Joshua tore their own clothing in exasperation. They spoke to the people and tried to convince them that God wanted them to go into Canaan. Caleb and Joshua knew that God would be with them if they only had faith to go to this wonderful land. But the children of Israel were so afraid and angry that they threatened to stone these four people.

The glory of God came down on the tabernacle then and all the children of Israel saw it.

God was very angry. He told Moses that He would destroy all these people. He would then let Moses'children and grandchildren become a new nation that would go into Canaan. But Moses pleaded with God. He said, "If you destroy these people all the nations around us will say that You could not lead this people and so You destroyed them. Please forgive their sins and do not destroy them."

Could God have destroyed all the children of Israel? I think He could have. He had told Moses that He could lead Moses and Moses' children into Canaan. That would have kept the promises that God had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But He loved Moses and did as Moses pleaded.

But, there was a condition, this was the turning point for the children of Israel. They could have gone into Canaan right away. They had not been gone from Egypt for very long. When they were camped at Sinai they had counted all the fighting men. That means all the men twenty years and up were counted. Only two of these men would live to go into Canaan. Caleb and Joshua were the two spies who were eager to go into the new land. They would go. But all the rest of the people would die in the wilderness. Their children would go into Canaan.

The people had wailed, "Would God that we had died in this wilderness!" God promised the people that they would die in the wilderness because they did not have the faith to go into Canaan. God said that for each day that the spies had spent in Canaan, the people would wander for a year in the wilderness. That meant that they would spend forty years in the wilderness.

Now, I will tell you something interesting. God was very angry. Our Bible is written in English. The Old Testament is translated from Hebrew into English so that we can understand it. When people die, we like to use a nice word for their dead body. We say "earthly remains" or "body" or "corpse" or a word like that. But in this story God uses the word "carcass". God says, "But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness." "Carcass" in our dictionary means the body of a dead animal; or a scornful word for the live or dead body of a human; or the worthless remains of something. So you see, God was very angry, even though He loved these people He was referring to their dead bodies in a very angry way.

Ten of the spies who had gone into Canaan died from a plague right away.

Some of the other people were very sorry for what had just happened. They changed their mind about the whole thing. They said, "We will go up to the place which God has promised. We know we have sinned."

But it was too late. God had already decreed how things would be. For these people had seen the things that God had done for them in freeing them from Egypt. They did not have what it would take in courage and faith to go into Canaan now.

Moses said, "Do not go, for God is not with you. Are you going to disobey God? If you go you will be defeated."

But they decided to go anyway. Moses and the Ark of the Covenant stayed in the camp. The people who had decided to go into Canaan were beaten by the people who already lived there. (Numbers 13-14)

The Rebellion of Korah

When the twelve spies had returned after forty days of scouting out Canaan the children of Israel had rebelled against Moses. They had even gone so far as to begin choosing another man to lead them back to Egypt. God had become so angry that he killed ten of the spies who had told stories to make the people afraid to enter Canaan. God had also vowed that none of the adults counted at Sinai would enter Canaan. Their children and Joshua and Caleb would enter Canaan.

Korah was a great grandson of Levi. Korah teamed up with two great grandsons of Reuben. Their names were Dathan and Abiram. These three men got 250 of the important men on their side and then confronted Moses and Aaron.

They were angry and jealous of Moses. Moses was their leader. Our Doctrine and Covenants tells us what Moses' job was. Moses was a high priest. It was his job to lead all these people, who were also what we call a church. He was to be their revelator, translator and seer. These words basically mean that Moses talked with God and could see and understand God's plan for the people. These were gifts that God had given Moses in order to help him lead the people. (Section 104:42 a-b)

They said to Moses and Aaron, "You take too much upon yourselves. Everyone in this congregation is holy, and the Lord is among them. Why do you lift yourselves up above all the rest of the congregation?"

Moses fell upon his face, and then he spoke to Korah. "Tomorrow the Lord will show who are His and who are holy. Those who He chooses will be allowed to come near to Him. Tomorrow put fire and incense in your censers. Come before the Lord and He will choose who is holy. You, sons of Levi, take too much upon yourselves. Isn't it good enough for you that God has chosen you to serve him in the tabernacle and to minister to the children of Israel? Isn't this enough for you, but now you insist on having the high priesthood also? Isn't this why you have gathered against the Lord and complained about Aaron?"

Remember, God had taken away the high priesthood from the people when Moses had caught them sinning so badly when he brought down the first set of stone tables from the mountain.

Moses called for Dathan and Abiram to come to him. They refused to come and talk with Moses. They complained that Moses had taken them out of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness and be a prince over them. They were saying that they didn't have to do as Moses said.

Moses was very angry. He said again that Korah and all those who had sided with him must come to the tabernacle tomorrow with fire and incense in their censers. God would choose who would be leader.

Korah and his followers showed up the next day and brought the whole congregation with them to rebel against Moses. But Dathan and Abiram did not come. The people stood at the door of the tabernacle. God's presence came upon the tabernacle. The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said, "Separate yourselves from this congregation that I may kill them."

Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces and begged God to not be angry with the whole congregation because of one man, Korah.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, "Speak to the congregation and tell them to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram."

The elders of Israel followed Moses to Dathan's and Abiram's tents. Then Moses warned all the people to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram came out of their tents with their entire families and stood at the door of their tents.

Moses then said, "Now you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things. I did not decide to do all these things, God chose me to do them. If these men die a natural death, then you will know that God did not make me the leader. But if the Lord opens up the earth to swallow up these men, then you will know that they have made the Lord angry."

Then the ground opened up right underneath the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and they and their families and everything they owned fell into the earth. Then the ground closed up again. When the people saw this they ran as far away as they could so that they would not be swallowed up too.

Then the Lord sent fire from Himself and burned up the 250 men who had followed Korah. Then Eleazar, Levi's son, was told to collect the dead men's censers. They were made of brass. The brass would be used to cover the altar so that everyone would remember that only the sons of Aaron would be allowed to offer incense at the altar.

The next day the children of Israel were angry at the events which had happened. They were angry at Moses and Aaron and said that they had killed good people. The glory of the Lord appeared on the tabernacle. God was angry again and said that he would kill these people. Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces again, begging God to not destroy the children of Israel.

Then Moses told Aaron to take a censer with fire from the altar and incense. "Go quickly through the congregation and make an atonement for them. For the Lord is angry and has sent a plague to kill the people."

Aaron did as he was told. Where he stood with the censer, the plague stopped and no more people died. But before the plague was stopped 14,700 people died. The people who God had freed from Egypt were dying in the wilderness because they would not trust God and kept threatening Moses. (Numbers 16)

The Rod of Aaron

There had been much contention among the children of Israel. God had chosen Moses and Aaron to lead the people to Canaan. Moses was the prophet and leader. Aaron was his brother and helper. Aaron was also the leader of the Levites who served God in the tabernacle. But there is always fighting for who will get to be leader. Someone always has to lead or everything will fall apart. In our country we have elections to choose who will lead us. Some countries have a king or a queen, someone who leads because their father or mother was the leader. Other countries have people killing each other to decide who will lead. In the case of the children of Israel God had chosen the leader.

God had a right to do this. No one but God could have freed the children of Israel from Egypt. The Pharaoh was so cruel that God had to send horrible plagues to convince him to let them go. And then God had had to destroy Pharaoh's army. Moses had not done this, Moses had simply done as God told him to do.

So now, after Korah and Dathan and Abiram had tried to take power from Moses and Aaron, God decided that he must show the children of Israel what he wanted and stop the fighting. If they kept up the way they were going there would not be enough adults left to even raise their children who could then enter Canaan.

God told Moses to tell the children of Israel to have the prince, or leader of each tribe, to bring a rod. This is the same kind of rod that Moses had, a long stick for walking. A rod was also a symbol of authority. Moses' rod had been used to start the plagues in Egypt. The Pharaoh's magicians also had rods which they had turned into snakes.

Twelve rods, one from each tribe of Israel, was brought to Moses. On each rod was the name of the leader of that tribe. Aaron's was one of them, for the tribe of Levi. Moses laid all twelve rods before the tabernacle and left them over night.

The next day Moses went to get the rods. Levi's rod had sprouted buds, and blossoms and almonds. This was definitely a miracle. Perhaps Aaron's rod was made of almond wood, but not even almond trees can bud, blossom and produce almond nuts all in one day.

Moses gave back the other eleven rods to their owners. God had showed that Aaron was in charge of the tabernacle. Aaron was Moses' older brother. Did that mean that Aaron was a leader over Moses? Perhaps. But Aaron knew that Moses was the one whom God had chosen to lead all the people. Aaron's rod was kept before the tabernacle to remind everyone whom God had chosen. (Numbers 17)

to be continued . . . .


Adapted by Lois M. Anderson from the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants

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Copyright 2002 Lois M. Anderson: All Rights Reserved
Last revised: August 18, 2002