Lesson 6: Chapters 11-13
The Discontent of the People and
The Aborted Attempt to Conquer Canaan

Lord-God of our every need,
In Your loving concern for us, Father, You provide for our needs in ways we often fail to acknowledge-giving us not the desires of the flesh but the needs of our spirits. We pray that we will be able to recognize Your merciful provisions for us, even in the midst of trials and sufferings. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study of the lack of gratitude and trust the first generation of the covenant people exhibited as You faithfully guided them on their journey. Nurture grateful hearts in each of us, Lord, and help us to remember that conquering our adversities through prayer and patience can lead us to great levels of mature faith. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ + +

Prosperity has a way of bringing about the downfall and complete dissolution of the unwary. Thus the Jews, who from the beginning enjoyed the favor of God, repeatedly turned to the law of the kingdom of the Gentiles. When they were in the desert, after receiving manna, they kept recalling onions!
Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John 85

After leaving Mt. Sinai, the Glory cloud led the Israelites into the desert of Paran (Num 10:12). This is a region that was mentioned previously in Genesis as the territory where Ishmael and his descendants made their home (Gen 21:21). The territory of the Ishmaelites and their kinsmen the Midianites must have shared a common border (Gen 16:15; 25:1-4; 1 Kng 11:18). We are told in the story of Joseph son of Jacob that Midianites and Ishmaelites operated caravans and did business together in the slave trade (Gen 37:25-27, 28). Scripture locates the wilderness of Paran north of Mt. Sinai and south of Canaan.

The problem is where exactly was Mt. Sinai, "the mountain of Yahweh", located (Num 10:33)? The Biblical references are such that it is impossible to locate the mountain with any certainty. According to the Biblical narrative, the site of Mt. Sinai was close to Midianite territory but outside the territories controlled by the Egyptians. The Midianites were a confederation of tribes living near the body of water that separates the Sinai Peninsula from the Arabian Peninsula that is now called the Gulf of Aqaba; it was also called the Gulf of Elait (1 Kng 11:18). Moses took his father-in-law's flocks to Mt. Sinai when he first encountered Yahweh whose presence was manifested in the burning bush/tree (Ex 3:1-20). Another indication of the proximity of Mt. Sinai to Midian is that the Midianite tribal leader/priest, Jethro, traveled from his camp to meet Moses and the Israelites just prior to their arrival at Mt. Sinai in Exodus Chapter 18. Later, with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, the Midianite leader named Hobab told Moses it was his desire to return to his own country (Num 10:29-33) which must have been adjacent to but not within the territory of Mt. Sinai/Horeb.

As for the location of the wilderness of Paran, the best guess is that it began south of Canaan near the oasis of Kadesh-Barnea. It was also north of the Gulf of Aqaba and formed a border with Edomite territory that was located south of the Dead Sea in the mountainous region of Seir. Mt. Paran appears to be located in the mountains of Seir in Edomite territory (Num 33:2). Deuteronomy 1:2 records that the journey from the border of the territory of Horeb, where Mt. Sinai was located, by way of Mt. Seir to Kadesh-Barnea, the oasis that was south of the Canaan, took eleven days. The geographical landmarks that are mentioned in Scripture suggest that Mt. Sinai was on the eastern side of the Sinai Peninsula across the Gulf of Aqaba in the Arabian Peninsula rather than at the lower portion of the Sinai that is the traditional site selected in the 4th century AD.(1)

Scripture references to the Wilderness of Paran
Gen 21:21 He [Ishmael] made his home in the desert of Paran ...
Num 10:12 The cloud came to rest in the desert of Paran.
Num 12:16 Then the people moved on from Hazeroth and pitched camp in the desert of Paran ...
Num 13:2-3 'Send out men, one from each tribe, to reconnoiter the land of Canaan which I am giving the Israelites. Each of them is to be a leading man of the tribe.' At Yahweh's order, Moses sent them from the desert of Paran. All of them were leading men of Israel.
Num 13:26 Making their way to Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the desert of Paran, at Kadesh, they made their report to them and the whole community, and displayed the country's produce.
Dt 1:1-2 These are the words which Moses addressed to all Israel beyond the Jordan, in the desert, in the Arabah facing Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. It is eleven day's journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.
Dt 33:2 Yahweh came from Sinai, from Seir he dawned on us, from Mount Paran blazed forth, for them he came, after the mustering at Kadesh, from his zenith as far as the foothills.
1 Sam 25:1 Samuel died and all Israel assembled to mourn him. They buried him at his home in Ramath. David then set off and went down to the desert of Maon [Paran].
1 Kng 11:18 They set out from Midian, and on reaching Paran, took a number of men from Paran with them and went on to Egypt, to Pharaoh the king of Egypt ...
Hab 3:3 Eloah comes from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. His majesty covers the heavens, and his glory fills the earth.

Chapter 11: The Discontent of the People

They insulted God by saying, 'Can God make a banquet in the desert?
True, when he struck the rock, waters gushed out and flowed in torrents;
but what of bread? Can he give that, can he provide meat for his people?'
When he heard them Yahweh vented his anger,
Fire blazed against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel,
because they had no faith in God, no trust in his power to save.
Psalms 78:19-22

The events that are recorded in Numbers Chapters 10:33-12:16 took place on the journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh-Barnes in the wilderness of Paran (Num 10:11-12, 33). The two interwoven themes of this section are the crisis over the people's complaints and the crisis concerning the challenge to Moses' leadership. The complaints the people made are similar to the complaints they raised on the journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai (see Ex 14:11-12; 15:22-25; 16:1-3; 17:1-7). As in some of those earlier episodes, the complaints voiced by the people in Numbers Chapters 10-12 are followed by divine action and ends in the commemoration of the event by naming the site (Ex 15:23; 17:7).(2)

The Israelites, led by the Glory Cloud and the Ark (and possibly by Hobab), set out from Mt. Sinai and encamped at three different sites on the journey. The first encampment was at a place the Israelites named Taberah (burning/conflagration), three days north of Mt. Sinai. It was one of the three places on the journey where the people provoked Yahweh's wrath (Num 11:3, 34-35; Dt 9:22).(3)

Numbers 11:1-3 The People Complain
1 Now the people began to complain, which was offensive to Yahweh's ears. When Yahweh heard, his anger was aroused and the fire of Yahweh broke out among them; it devoured one end of the camp. 2 The people appealed to Moses who interceded with Yahweh and the fire died down. 3 So the place was called Taberah [burning/conflagration], because the fire of Yahweh had broken out among them.
[..] = The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, page 1062.

In the Hebrew text, the first phrase in Numbers 11:1 is wayehi ha'am kemit'onenim ra'. 'Ra is the Hebrew word for "evil". A more literal translation of this phrase is: "And the people became like those murmuring of evil ..." meaning their evil/unfortunate situation (Ashley, Numbers, page 201; The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 82). In contrast to the "good" [tov] that God promised for His covenant people, they complained about the "evil" they believed they were experiencing. The Hebrew root for "good" [t-w-b] appeared five times in the Hebrew text of Numbers 10:29-32 in Moses' appeal to Hobab in the end of the last chapter, as opposed to ra', "evil" in Numbers 1:1, 10, 11, 15 and also in 14:27/26, 35 in Moses' description of the Exodus generation (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, pages 79 and 82).

Question: This was not the first nor the last time the people complained bitterly about their hardships. When did the Israelite's complaints on the Exodus journey begin? See Ex 14:11-12 and the incident in 15:22-25 after a three day desert journey.
Answer: Their first complaints began immediately after leaving Goshen when the Egyptian army pursued the Israelites. But just like at Marah, which was the first encampment after traveling thorough the desert for three days, the people's complaints after leaving Mt. Sinai began after three days of desert travel.

Question: God was very patient with the Israelites in the journey to Mt. Sinai; however, at the first encampment on the journey out of Egypt when the people complained that they had no water, Yahweh gave the Israelites what warning in Exodus 15:26?
Answer: If they listened carefully to His commands and obediently follow those commands, God would never inflict on them any of the disasters that were inflicted on the Egyptians.

Question: At the first encampment three days after leaving Mt. Sinai, God struck the edges of the camp with fire-a sign of divine wrath and a means of purification. What Egyptian plague might the fire recall?
Answer: In the seventh plague, fire in the form of lightening struck the earth with the hail.

Rabbinic tradition teaches that it was the Gentile rabble encamped on the edges of the Israelite camp and who had accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt that began the grumbling and spread the discord. In this first rebellious act after leaving Mt. Sinai, the people were accusing God of bringing them to evil and not to the good. Psalms 78:19-22 records: Fire blazed against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel, because they had no faith in God, no trust in his power to save.

Question: In this journey that was to begin the conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan, why wasn't God as patient with the people's complaints as He was before the rendezvous at Sinai?
Answer: At this point in the people's relationship with Yahweh they had vowed their covenant obedience to Him as their sovereign Lord and God. It was a covenant oath that had been sworn at Mt. Sinai.

Question: Yahweh used fire as a sign of His divine presence and as a sign of His divine wrath/judgment. Can you give at least two examples of each fire-sign?
Answer: Fire was a sign of Yahweh's divine presence in His first encounter with Moses at the burning bush and fire was the sign of God's divine Presence in the Theophany at Mt. Sinai (Ex 3:2-6; 19:18). Fire was a sign of His divine wrath in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and in the judgment against Aaron's two sons when they willfully offered incense contrary to the defined liturgy of the Tamid sacrifice (i.e., Gen 19:24; Lev 10:2).

In his role as the people's covenant mediator, Moses interceded with Yahweh and God stayed His wrath/judgment. The fire at the first encampment was both a sign of His wrath and a divine warning-it was a warning the Israelites did not heed. The people named the site in commemoration of God's punishment-they name it Taberah [burning/conflagration], because the fire of Yahweh had broken out among them (Num 11:3).

Numbers 11:4-9 The Complaints Continue at the Encampment at Kibroth-ha-Taavah
4The rabble who had joined the people were feeling the pangs of hunger, and the Israelites began to weep again. Who will give us meat to eat?' they said. 5 'Think of the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic! 6 But now we are withering away; there is nothing wherever we look except this manna!' 7 The manna was like coriander seed and had the appearance of bdellium. 8 The people went round gathering it, and ground it in a mill or crushed it with a pestle; it was then cooked in a pot and made into pancakes. It tasted like cake made with oil. 9 When the dew fell on the camp at night-time, the manna fell with it.

Numbers 11:4 The rabble who had joined the people were feeling the pangs of hunger, and the Israelites began to weep again. Who will give us meat to eat?' they said.

Question: Can you identify "the rabble" that incited the anxiety of the Israelites? See Ex 12:37-38; Dt 29:11; Josh 8:35. What effect did their complaints have on the covenant people?
Answer: They were the non-Israelites who accompanied the Israelites on the exodus out of Egypt. Some of these Gentile people joined the covenant at Sinai but not all. Their complaints and their expression of positive memories of life in Egypt played on the people's anxieties. The Israelites lost faith and expressed dissatisfaction with God's provisions.

Question: What was significant about their cry: "Who will give us meat to eat?"
Answer: It was a challenge to God to provide meat for them and carried with it the accusation that God had not been properly taking care of His people.

Question: Why didn't they eat the animals from the herds and flocks?
Answer: These were the animals they needed to start a new life in the Promised Land, and their goal was to make God conform to their wants and needs.

They began to doubt the "good" of the promises God made to them. The "good" of God's promises that Moses spoke of to Hobab in Numbers 10:29-32. Rabbinic tradition locates the non-Israelites at the edges of the camp where they become the focus of God's wrath in Numbers 11:1. The dissatisfaction of the rabble spread to the rest of the camp.

Question: What was the people's chief complaint?
Answer: They wanted meat-the manna didn't satisfy them.

Question: What kinds of foods are mentioned that were part of their diet in Egypt and what untrue claim did they make about the availability of the food?
Answer: In Egypt they ate fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic but the cost of these foods was their freedom

The contrast is between the abundance of variety in food they ate in slavery and the scarcity of food (except for the manna) that they ate in freedom.(4)

Question: Compare the people's list of "the good life" under slavery in Egypt where water for the crops only came from irrigation using the waters of the Nile River with what God promised was going to be "the good life" living in freedom in Canaan in Deuteronomy 11:10-17.
Answer: In Egypt they lived in slavery in a desert climate but had enough to eat from gardens irrigated by the Nile River-the only source of water.

In the Promised Land

Question: How was the sin of the people's complaints similar to the sin of Adam and Eve? See Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-6 and Num 11:20.
Answer: God had determined what was "good" for Adam and Eve to eat just as He determined what was "good" to nourish the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land. Like the sin of Adam and Eve, the Israelites wanted to determine what was "good" for themselves, and in doing so they were not only ungrateful for God's provision of the manna but they were rejecting God's sovereign authority over them.

Referring to this incident and God's divine judgment in his commentary on the Gospel of John, St. Augustine also wrote: Do we not see that the Israelites got to their own hurt what their guilty lusting craved? For while manna was raining down on them from heaven, they desired to have meat to eat. They disdained what they had, and they shamelessly sought what they had not, as if it were not better for them to have asked not that their unbecoming desired be gratified with food that was wanting, but that their own dislike be removed, and that they be made to receive rightly the food that was provided. For when evil becomes our delight and good the opposite, we ought to entreat God to win us back to the love of the good rather than to grant us the evil (St. Augustine, Tractate on the Gospel of John 73.2).

Question: While it was true that they only had the manna for food, in what various ways could the manna be prepared? See Num 11:8
Answer: It could be ground into flour, boiled or made into baked cakes or griddle cakes.

It was compared to the seed of the coriander plant and to bdellium, probably a gum-like resin. The gift of the manna every morning was consistent, like God's promised protection.

Question: How does the description of the manna in Numbers 11:7-9 and in Exodus 16:14-16 and 31 refute each of the complaints the people had about what was "good" in the variety of "free" fish and vegetables in Egypt as opposed to the manna that they complained was monotonous and not nutritious (Num 11:5-6)?

  1. The manna was like coriander seed that was used to make food flavorful; therefore, the manna was not bland.
  2. It was white; therefore it was pleasing to the eye and easy to see.
  3. It was plentiful; therefore everyone had enough to eat.
  4. It was clean because it fell on a layer of evening dew.
  5. It could be prepared in a variety of ways; therefore it was not monotonous.
  6. It tasted like honey or rich cream; therefore it was sweet and easy to digest.
  7. It was free and was ready to be harvested without fail six days a week, and a double portion was collected on the day before the Sabbath.

Numbers 11:10-15 Yahweh's Anger and Moses' Intercessory Prayer
10 Moses heard the people weeping, each family at the door of its tent. Yahweh's anger was greatly aroused; Moses too found it disgraceful, 11 and he said to Yahweh: 'Why do you treat your servant so badly? In what respect have I failed to win your favor, for you to lay the burden of all these people on me? 12 Was it I who conceived [gave birth to] all these people, was I their father, for you to say to me, "Carry them in your arms, like a foster-father carrying an unweaned child, to the country which I swore to give their fathers"? 13 Where am I to find meat to give all these people pestering me with their tears and saying, "Give us meat to eat"? 14 I cannot carry all these people on my own; the weight is too much for me. 15 If this is how you mean to treat me, please kill me outright! If only I could win your favor and be spared the sight of my misery!'

Question: What was Moses' response to the people's complaint? Was the mission to liberate his people something Moses had enthusiastically embraced? See Ex 4:10-17.
Answer: Moses had no sympathy for the complaining people. He also cried out in his frustration that God had made him responsible for these ungrateful and unruly people, perhaps a subtle reminder to God that he didn't want this job in the first place!

Moses was distressed not only because he was not capable of supplying the Israelites with meat but because he was appalled at their ingratitude for God's miraculous gift of the manna. At this point Moses was exhausted physically and psychologically from the burden of leading "these people"; notice, Moses did not say "my people"!

Question: What is Moses' petition to God?
Answer: He asked God to let him die.

Moses will not be the first prophet who, overcome by the burden of his responsibilities and a sense of a failed mission, will suffer an emotional collapse and ask God to let him die. The prophet Elijah had a similar death wish (1 Kng 19:4), and the prophet Jeremiah, overcome with the burden of his mission, cursed the day he was born (Jer 20:14-18). In each of these moments of personal crisis, God displayed tender compassion for His prophets.

Numbers 11:16-23 Yahweh's Reply
16Yahweh said to Moses, 'Collect me seventy of the elders of Israel, men you know to be the people's elders and scribes. Bring them to the Tent of Meeting, and let them stand beside you there. 17 I shall come down and talk to you there and shall take some of the spirit [ruah] which is on you and put it on them. Then they will bear the burden of the people with you, and you will no longer have to bear it on your own. 18 And say to the people, "Purify yourselves for tomorrow and you will have meat to eat, since you have wept in Yahweh's hearing, saying: Who will give us meat to eat? How happy we were in Egypt? Very well, Yahweh will give you meat to eat. 19 You will eat it not for one day, or two, or five or ten or twenty, 20 but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and sickens you, since you have rejected Yahweh who is among you, and have wept before him saying: Why did we ever leave Egypt?"' 21 Moses said, 'The people round me number six hundred thousand foot soldiers, and you say, "I shall give them meat to eat for a whole month"! 22 If all the flocks and herds were slaughtered, would that be enough for them? If all the fish in the seas were collected, would that be enough for them?' 23 Yahweh said to Moses, 'Is the arm of Yahweh so short? You shall see whether the promise I made to you comes true or not.'

In His mercy God immediately addressed His covenant mediator's distress by lessening the great burden of being solely responsible for the spiritual and physical needs of the Israelites.

Question: What did God tell Moses to do?
Answer: He told Moses to call together seventy tribal elders.

You will recall that in Exodus chapter 18 Moses had taken the advice of his father-in-law and had appointed civil judges to hear the people's tribal complaints, but the burden Moses' spoke of in this passage concerns his responsibility for the people's spiritual well-being as the people's covenant mediator and teacher of the Law. The judges were civil appointments by Moses, but Yahweh will now divinely appoint seventy elders to aid Moses in teaching the people and seeing to their spiritual needs. It is unknown if these men are the same seventy who attended the sacred meal that sealed the covenant ratification ceremony in Exodus 24:1, 9-10.

Numbers 11:18 And say to the people, "Purify yourselves for tomorrow and you will have meat to eat, since you have wept in Yahweh's hearing, saying: Who will give us meat to eat? How happy we were in Egypt? Very well, Yahweh will give you meat to eat. Yahweh answers the people's challenge but He also gives a warning that the people were to ritually "purify" themselves. This preparation for receiving the meat may be an indication that those who will suffer God's divine wrath will be those greedy people who failed in their gratitude and in their obedience to this command as a sign of their submission (also see 11:34). It was a requirement that one must be ritually purified before offering Yahweh a sacrifice, as the Levites were purified in their dedication ceremony before entering the Sanctuary to offer their sacrifices in Numbers Chapter 8.

Question: Verses 19-20 have a very ominous tone. How did God identify the peoples' sin in verse 20b?
Answer: They will eat meat until they are sick of it ... since you have rejected Yahweh who is among you, and have wept before him saying: Why did we ever leave Egypt? The people will be punished because they have rejected God's authority over them and His plan for Israel's future.

Numbers 11:21Moses said, 'The people round me number six hundred thousand foot soldiers ... This is a rounded number of the tribal census of men fit for military duty in Numbers 2:33; it is the same estimate given in Exodus 12:37.

Numbers 11:23Yahweh said to Moses, 'Is the arm of Yahweh so short? You shall see whether the promise I made to you comes true or not.' The phrase "the arm of Yahweh" (also "hand of Yahweh") is the same phrase used repeatedly in the revelation of God's powerful acts in the redemption of Israel (i.e., see Ex 3:20; 6:1, 6; 7:4-5; 9:3; 13:3, 9, 14; 15:16; etc.).

Numbers 11:24-30 The Gift of God's Spirit to the Elders
24 Moses went out and told the people what Yahweh had said. Then he collected seventy of the people's elders and stationed them round the Tent. 25 Yahweh descended in the cloud. He spoke to him and took some of the spirit [ruah] that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit [ruah] came on them they prophesied-but only once. 26 Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit [ruah] came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. 27 A young man ran to tell Moses this. 'Look,' he said, 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.' 28 Joshua son of Nun, who had served Moses since he was a body, spoke up and said, 'My lord Moses, stop them!' 29 Moses replied, 'Are you jealous on my account? If only all Yahweh's people were prophets, and Yahweh had given them his spirit [ruah]!' 30 Moses then went back to the camp with the elders of Israel.

This is the transition phase in this part of the narrative concerning the people's desire to eat meat. The word ruah is repeated five times in 11:17-29, referring to God's Spirit. In Scripture five is the number signifying power and grace.

Question: When God's spirit was put upon the elders, why did the elders prophesy only once? See Joel 3:1-5/2:28-32 and Acts 2:17-21. When will Moses' heart felt desire that all Yahweh's covenant people could be prophets endowed with God's Spirit be fulfilled?
Answer: The elders received a temporary anointing of the Spirit of God to show the people that they were divinely appointed. Moses' desire will be fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday in 30 AD when God's Holy Spirit fills and indwells the New Covenant people praying in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

The liturgy of the Church sees in the priesthood of Aaron, the service of the Levites, and the institution of the seventy elders a prefiguring of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant (CCC 1541). The full indwelling of God's Spirit was not to come until the Jewish Feast of Pentecost in 30 AD, fifty days after Jesus Resurrection and ten days after His Ascension, when God the Holy Spirit filled and indwelled the New Covenant Church. It is a gift each newly re-born Christian receives in the Sacrament of Baptism; it is a gift that is only given once (CCC 691, 1272).

Eldad and Medad did not join the other elders for some unknown reason. Perhaps they were ill or carrying for a child or relative-whatever the reason they were not penalized for their failure to attend the gathering at the Sanctuary. That they were not part of the newly anointed ecclesial community of elders did not prevent God's spirit from manifesting Himself upon them. God's spirit is without limit and therefore the spirit that was in Moses was not lessened when it was distributed to the elders. St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that God's gifts are distributed according to the capacity of the recipient, even to those who are outside the ecclesial assembly (St. Cyril, Catechetical Lecture 16.25). It is for this reason that all men and women who have received the Sacrament of Baptism are qualified by the Spirit of God to serve the Church in many ministries, even those like Eldad and Medad who teach "within the camp"/within the congregation, like the majority of our CCD teachers and Adult Bible Study teachers who serve among the priesthood of believers.

Question: What do we know from Scripture about Joshua/Hosea son of Nun? Ex 17:9-14; 24:13; 32:17; 33:11; Num 11:28; 14:6, 30, 38; 26:65; 27:18, 22; 32:12, 28; 34:17; Dt 1:38; 3:21, 28; 31:3-23; 34:9; the book of Joshua.
Answer: He served Moses as his assistant since he was a child. He was a prince of the tribe of Ephraim (descendant of Joseph and his half Egyptian son Ephraim) who accompanied Moses half way up Mt. Sinai when Moses ascended into God's divine Presence. He was Moses' chief general of the Israelite army and slept in the temporary Tent of Meeting until the Sanctuary was erected and dedicated. Joshua succeeded Moses as the anointed leader of the covenant people and led their army in the successful conquest of Canaan.

The Book of Joshua is the record of Joshua's successful conquest of the Promised Land and his exemplary leadership of God's people. There isn't a single criticism of Joshua in Scripture as a man or as a leader obedient to God's will for his life.

Numbers 11:31-35 The Quails
31 A wind [ruah], sent by Yahweh, started blowing from the sea bringing quails which it deposited on the camp. They lay for a distance of a day's march either side of the camp, two cubits thick on the ground. 32 The people were up all that day and night and all the next day collecting quails: the least gathered by anyone was ten homer, then they spread them out round the camp. 33 The meal was still between their teeth, not even chewed, when Yahweh's anger was aroused by the people. Yahweh struck them with a very great plague. 34 The name given to this place was Kibroth-ha-Taavah, because it was there that they buried the people who had indulged their greed. 35 From Kibroth-ha-Taavah the people set out for Hazeroth, and at Hazeroth they pitched camp.

The narrative of the people's sin at the second encampment is divided by the gift of God's spirit to the seventy elders. There is a play on words in the "wind" (ruah) sent by Yahweh in 11:31 and the spirit (ruah) of Yahweh taken off Moses and given to the seventy elders of Israel in 11:17 and 25-29.

Numbers 11:32 The people were up all that day and night and all the next day collecting quails: the least gathered by anyone was ten homer, then they spread them out round the camp.

Question: What was the daily collection of the manna? Compare the daily manna collection of the collected quail. See Ex 16:16, 22.
Answer: The daily manna collection per person was one homer and two homer on Fridays. The quail collected per person was ten times the daily ratio.

Question: What happened to the greedy people when they devoured the quail meat?
Answer: They were struck down by a plague.

Question: What Egyptian plague is recalled in the plague at Kibroth-ha-Taavah? How is this plague different from any of the Egyptian plagues?
Answer: The Egyptian tenth plague was selective in only killing the first-born of man and beast, but this plague judgment struck down those who had distained the manna as sufficient food to sustain them on the journey.

Numbers 11:34 The name given to this place was Kibroth-ha-Taavah, because it was there that they buried the people who had indulged their greed (emphasis added). Verse 34 suggests that the plague killed those who had rejected God's gift of the manna and greedily demanded to be indulged with other food. They didn't realize that in failing to purify themselves to offer sacrifice that they became the sacrifice for the sin of causing discord within the covenant community. The plague can be compared to the death-plague that killed the Egyptian first-born and any Israelites who refused God's gift of salvation in putting the sign of the blood of the Passover victim on their doorways the night of the tenth plague. Psalms 78 recalls God's action in response to the people's complaints and later their demand for meat:

Even so he gave orders to the skies above,
he opened the sluice-gates of heaven;
he rained down manna to feed them,
he gave them the wheat of heaven;
mere mortals ate the bread of the Mighty,
He sent them as much food as they could want.
He roused an east wind in the heavens,
Dispatched a south wind by its strength;
He rained down meat on them like dust,
birds thick as sand on the seashore,
tumbling into the middle of his camp,
all around his dwelling-place.
They ate as much food as they wanted,
he satisfied all their cravings;
but their cravings were still upon them,
the food was still in their mouths,
when the wrath of God attacked them,
slaughtering their strongest men, laying low the flower of Israel.
Psalms 78:23-31

This is the second record of the feeding of quail in Scripture. The first miraculous quail feeding occurred in Exodus 16:12-13.

Question: How are the two events similar and how are they different?
Answer: Both events are associated with the gift of the manna. In the first event the people gratefully accepted the manna and in this event some of the people were ungrateful in rejecting the gift of the manna.

Is it interesting that the sequence of events in Numbers 10:33-11:32 is a repeat of the sequence of events in Exodus 14:22-16:18:

The journey from Egypt to Sinai Traveled for 3 days

Ex 15:22
The people complained

Ex 15:24
The manna

Ex 16:4-5
The quail

Ex 16:13
The journey from Sinai to Paran Traveled for 3 days

Num 10:33
The people complained

Num 11:1
The manna

Num 11:7-8
The quail

Num 11:31-32

Michal E. Hunt 2010

The manna blessing continued for forty years but the gift of the quail is only mentioned twice in Scripture, in Exodus 16:13 and in Numbers 11:31-32. In The Pentateuch as Narrative, Sailhamer notes an interesting pattern with the manna and quail, the Scriptural reference to forty years, and the Israelites' entrance into the Promised Land forty years later when the gift of the manna ended:

manna &
Ex 16:4-34
40 years mentioned
Ex 16:35
manna & quail
Num 11:4-7; 31-33
40 years mentioned
Num 14:33-34
end of the
40 years
Josh 5:6
manna ends
Josh 5:12

Michal E. Hunt 2010 adapted from a chart in The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 274

This chart was adapted from John Sailhamer's book The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 274. The Scripture references are listed slightly differently, and unlike Sailhamer's chart the last two blocks have been reversed. In Sailhamer's chart the last block listed the end of the forty years but did not list a Scripture reference. This chart reverses the pattern because that is the order in which the end of the manna and the end of the forty years are recorded in the Book of Joshua. The reversed pattern in the last two blocks does not lessen the theory that this was an intended pattern. The reversal in pattern points to a significant conclusion to the series of related events.(5)

Some scholars have attempted to associate the miracles of the quail and the manna with natural phenomena. In the autumn large flocks of quail are known to migrate from Syria, Egypt, and Arabia southward to central Africa and then return in the spring. In this long migration, sometimes large flocks of birds fall to the ground from exhaustion. Since the quail miracle is only recorded twice in Scripture (with both episodes taking place in the early spring), it is possible that it was a natural phenomenon. However, it cannot be denied that God used that "natural" occurrence at a very specific time and at a very specific place to address the needs of the Israelites on two different occasions.

St. Augustine wrote that the Lord often disciplines sinners who refuse to be guided by His law by granting them the sin they stubbornly run after and leaves them to reap the dire consequences in order to call them to repentance; just as in His mercy He refuses a petition of the righteous that might bring them harm (St. Augustine, Letter 130). God's judgment in submitting rebellious and persistent sinners to the consequences of their sins was a topic in St. Paul's letter to the Romans: In other words, since they would not consent to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to their unacceptable thoughts and indecent behavior. And so now they are steeped in all sorts of injustice, rottenness, greed and malice; full of envy, murder, wrangling, treachery and spite, libelers, slanderers, enemies of God, rude, arrogant and boastful, enterprising in evil, rebellious to parents, without brains, honor, love or pity. They are well aware of God's ordinance: that those who behave like this deserve to die-yet they not only do it, but even applaud others who do the same (Rom 1:28-32).

We must not disregard God's abundant goodness, tolerance and patience, nor should we fail to realize that God's temporal judgments are redemptive-He wants to call the sinner to repentance before the sinner faces his eternal judgment.

Question: What does Paul write is the consequence the unrepentant sinner brings on himself in Romans 2:5-11?
Answer: In the Day of Judgment, God "will repay everyone as their deeds deserve": For those who aimed for glory and honor and immortality by persevering in doing good, there will be eternal life; but for those who out of jealousy have taken for their guide not truth but injustice, there will be the fury of retribution. Trouble and distress will come to every human being who does evil ... (Rom 2:7-9).

Question: Of what sins were the complainers guilty? See Gal 5:19-21; CCC 1850; and handout 3.
Answer: Gluttony, dissension, strife, causing factions within the community and ultimately the lack of gratitude for God's good provisions.

Question: Can you name the seven capital sins identified by the Church as a gateway to other sins and to the ultimate eternal separation from God? See CCC 1866-67 and handout 3.
Answer: The seven capital sins are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

God did not hold the Israelite's accountable for their sins of ingratitude and rebellious complaints until after the ratification of the Sinai Covenant when the Israelites swore an oath of obedience to Yahweh and His covenant: Then, taking the Book of the Covenant, he read it to the listening people, who then said, 'We shall do everything that Yahweh has said; we shall obey' (Ex 24:7). It was after the covenant ratification that the Israelites became responsible for bearing the consequences of their lack of trust, obedience and faithfulness to God.

Question: What does St. Paul teach about those who have sinned outside the Law of the covenant as opposed to those who sin under the Law (see Rom 2:12-16 and CCC 846-48).
Answer: Those to whom the Gospel of salvation has not been reveled will be judged by their own consciences and the natural law God has impressed on every human heart. However, those who have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who, through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, have sworn an oath of obedience to the New Covenant and all the teachings of the Church will be bound by those covenant obligations and judged accordingly on the Day of Judgment.

The place name Kibroth-ha-Taavah (Kibroth-Hattaavah) means "the graves of craving" (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, page 36). According to Scripture it is located between the wilderness of Sinai and the third encampment at Hazeroth (Num 11:35).

Chapter 12: The Challenge to Moses' Leadership within His Family

The theme of this chapter is the challenge to Moses' authority as God's representative to the people and the supreme covenant mediator. The chapter is divided into five parts:

  1. The challenge to Moses' authority as God's representative (verses 1-2).
  2. Moses character defined and God's affirmation of Moses unique role as covenant mediator (verses 3-8).
  3. Miriam's punishment (verses 9-10).
  4. Moses' intercession on behalf of his sister (verses 11-13).
  5. God's response to Moses' petition (verses 14-15).

Numbers 12:1-5 Miriam and Aaron are Critical of Moses
1 Miriam, and Aaron too, criticized Moses over the Cushite woman he had married. He had indeed married a Cushite Woman. 2 They said, 'Is Moses the only one through whom Yahweh has spoken? Has he not spoken through us too?' Yahweh heard this. 3 Now Moses was extremely humble, the humblest man on earth. 4 Suddenly Yahweh said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, 'Come out, all three of you to the Tent of Meeting.' They went, all three of them, 5 and Yahweh descended in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam and they both came forward.

Numbers 12:1 Miriam, and Aaron too, criticized Moses over the Cushite woman he had married. He had indeed married a Cushite Woman. Unjust criticism from one's community is bad enough, but unjust criticism from one's own family is especially painful. The JPS Torah Commentary notes that the verb va-tedabber [spoke against] is in the feminine singular, indicating that Miriam was the principal instigator of the criticism (page 93).

Question: What was the focus of Miriam's criticism?
Answer: Moses' marriage to a woman who was not an ethnic Israelite but an outsider.

The criticism of Moses' wife was that she was a Cushite. Some Bible scholars assume that Zipporah died and Moses remarried, but there is no mention in Scripture that Moses took a second wife, as is recorded in the case of Abraham's second marriage to Keturah after Sarah's death (Gen 25:1). In Exodus 2:16, 21, 4:25 and 18:2, Moses' wife is described as a Midianite woman named Zipporah. Miriam and Aaron had only known Zipporah since she joined Moses ten months earlier, before the march to Canaan began (Ex 18:1-2). Habbakuk 3:7 equates Cushan with Midian. Cushan may be an ancient name for the same region. The Cushites could be an alternate name for the Midianites or may have been a tribal group or tribal sub-clan within the tribes of Midian. The name "Cush" wasn't applied to the dark-skinned Ethiopians until centuries later and such a designation for peoples from that part of Africa is not found in Scripture.(6) That Miriam (listed first because she was the eldest of the three siblings or because she was the instigator of the discord) called Moses' wife a Cushite may be a racial slur, drawing attention to her darker skin, as might be deduced from Miriam's terrifying punishment (Num 12:10).

This incident took place at Hazeroth, which in Hebrew means "enclosures", "settlements", or "villages". If Paran stretches from the Gulf of Aqaba northwest into the north center of the peninsula, Hazeroth must be on the east side of the Sinai peninsula (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 3, pages 86-87).

Numbers 12:3 Now Moses was extremely humble, the humblest man on earth. The Hebrew word 'anaw can be translated as "humble" or "meek". This is the only passage in Old Testament Scripture were this Hebrew word is applied to one man, used in the singular (The JPS Commentary: Numbers, page 94). The same Hebrew word is found in Zephaniah 2:32 where we are told that the humble/meek do the will of the Lord by obeying God's laws and in Psalm 22:27 where we read that it is the humble/meek who seek the Lord. Therefore, it can be concluded that Sacred Scripture's definition of the human attributes of humility and meekness are those attributes that demonstrate a willingness to completely submit oneself to the will of God.

Question: In the Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapter 5) what promise did Jesus say was the gift of those who were blessed with humility/meekness in submitting themselves to God and in seeking to do His will? See Mt 5:5.
Answer: In Matthew 5:5 Jesus said: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

In Matthew 5:5, the Greek word praus, [pronounced prah-ooce'], means "mild, humble, or meek" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pages 534-35). The word praus only appears four times in the New Testament: three times in the Gospel of St. Matthew in 5:5 [4], 11:29, 21:5, and once in 1 Peter 3:4 (Thayer's, page 534). In both Matthew 11:29 and 21:5, Jesus is called "humble/meek", just like the prophet Moses.

The Greek word praus, "humble/meek" is another Greek word to which Christians gave a uniquely Christian character, with "meekness" becoming the symbol of a higher Christian virtue as illustrated in the four verses mentioned above. The pre-Christian Greek culture meaning of this word expressed an outward conduct that related to only men, and not necessarily in a positive light (see Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament volume I, page 37). To the pagan Greeks this word often implied condescension, but Christians gave the word a quality expressing an inward virtue that is related primarily to God. The use of the Hebrew word applied to Moses and the Greek word applied to Jesus and to faithful Christians implies submission of the human will to the will of God.

St. John Chrysostom compared Moses' humility in the presence of God to Jesus: What was the characteristic of Moses of old? "Moses was the meekest of all men on earth." One would not be wrong in describing this other Moses [i.e., Christ] in these same terms, for certainly the meekest of spirits is with him, being related to him by consubstantiality. In those days Moses stretched forth his hands to heaven and brought down the bread of angels, manna. This second Moses stretches forth his hands to heaven and brings down the food of eternal life. Moses struck the rock and made streams of water flow. This second Moses touches the table, strikes the spiritual board and makes the fountains of the Spirit gush forth. Consequently the table, like the fountain, lies in the middle, in order that the flocks may surround the fountain on every side and enjoy the benefit of the saving waters (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, vol. III, pages 220-21, Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions 3.26). Also see CCC 2576 concerning Moses' humility.

Question: How did God defend Moses as His authoritative covenant mediator to Miriam and Aaron? How did God define His unique relationship with Moses?
Answer: God called the three siblings out of the camp and to the entrance to the Tabernacle where He appeared in the form of the Glory Cloud and described His personal relationship with Moses as unlike any other relationship between God and man.

Numbers 12:6-10 Yahweh's Defense of Moses

Yahweh's description of His relationship with Moses is expressed in verses of poetry laid out in a reverse chiastic pattern (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 95). The first half of the poem describes how God communicates with other prophets (A, B, C). The second half of the poem describes God's unique communication to Moses (C* B* A*). The pivot point of the pattern expresses the theme of the poem: God confides in Moses as a friend and trusted servant.

Introduction: 6 Yahweh said: 'Listen to my words!

          A. If there is a prophet among you,

                   B. I reveal myself to him in a vision,

                             C. I speak to him in a dream.

                                     D. 7 Not so with my servant Moses;

                                     D* to him my whole household is entrusted;

                             C* 8 to him I speak face to face,

                   B* plainly and not in riddles,

          A* And he sees Yahweh's form.

Conclusion: How, then, could you dare to criticize my servant Moses?'

Numbers 12:7 Not so with my servant Moses; to him my whole household is entrusted ...

Question: What is the "household" of God?
Answer: The "household" of God is the Old Covenant Church.

The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews compared Jesus to Moses, using this verse as his reference: He was trustworthy to the one who appointed him, just like Moses, who remained trustworthy in all his household; but he deserves a greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house is more honored than the house itself. Every house is built by someone, of course; but God built everything that exists. It is true that Moses was trustworthy in the household of God, as a servant is, acting as witness to the things which were yet to be revealed, but Christ is trustworthy as a son is, over his household, And we are his household, as long as we fearlessly maintain the hope in which we glory (Heb 3:2-6).

Numbers 12:9-10 Yahweh, anger was aroused by them. He went away, 10 and as soon as the cloud left the Tent, there was Miriam covered with a virulent skin-disease, white as snow! Aaron turned to look at her and saw that she had contracted a virulent skin-disease. As the instigator of the conflict, God reserved His divine judgment for Miriam. If she thought Moses' wife had dark skin, now she was punished by bearing the sickening white skin of a leper.

Numbers 12: 11-16 Aaron's plea to Moses and Moses' Intercessory Prayer
11 Aaron said to Moses: 'Oh, my Lord, please do not punish us for the sin we have been foolish enough to commit. 12 Do not let her be like some monster with its flesh half eaten away when it leaves its mother's womb!' 13 Moses pleaded with Yahweh. 'O God,' he said, 'I beg you, please heal her!' 14 Yahweh then said to Moses, 'If her father had done no more than spit in her face, would she not be unclean for seven days? Have her shut out of the camp for seven days, and then have her brought in again.' 15 Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days. The people did not set out until she returned. 16 Then the people moved on from Hazeroth and pitched camp in the desert of Paran.

A horrified Aaron, addressing his younger brother as his superior by the title "Lord", pleaded with Moses to intercede with God to heal Miriam.

Question: It is obvious that God accepted Moses' petition and extended His forgiveness to Miriam, but why did God insist that she should be an outcast for seven days?
Answer: It was her penance. Forgiveness is one thing, but forgiveness and mercy does not negate accountability for the sin committed.

For the necessity of an act of penance for the confessed and forgiven sinner see CCC 1450 and 1460.

It is a sign of God's mercy that He allowed Moses to wait for Miriam's deliverance before the Glory Cloud signaled the beginning of the march, just as Miriam waited for her baby brother's deliverance on the banks of the Nile River those many years ago (Ex 2:4). She would have been readmitted to the camp after the purification ritual described in Leviticus 14:1-20.

Chapter 13: The Reconnaissance of Canaan

At Taberah too and at Massah and Kibroth-ha-Taavah, you provoked Yahweh. And when Yahweh, meaning you to leave Kadesh-Barnea, said, "Go up and take possession of the country which I have given you," you rebelled against the command of Yahweh your God and would not believe him or listen to his voice. You have been rebels against Yahweh from the day he first knew you.
Deuteronomy 9:22-23

At the end of their journey, the Israelites arrived at the oasis in the region of Kadesh-Barnea (Num 13:26). The name "Kadesh" may mean "sanctuary" (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 104). The Hebrew root qds means "holiness" or "separateness" (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, "Kadesh", page 1). The meaning of the word barnea is unknown.

At Kadesh there is an oasis that has been an important stopping off point for travelers and caravans making the journey from Egypt to Canaan for centuries beyond centuries. It is the largest oasis in the north Sinai and is fed by two springs flowing from beneath a rock cliff. Kadesh-Barnea was the location of the southern border of Canaan and the western border with Edom. It was the site of the defeat of the Amalekites by Mesopotamian king Chedorlaomer who was later defeated by Abraham (Gen 14:7, 17). The area of Kadesh-Barnea was important to the Israelites for the majority of the wilderness years (Dt 2:14), and it was where Miriam died and was buried (Num 20:1). The ancient spring of Ain Qadeis, which is believed to be the ancient Kadesh-Barnea, is to the north of the Sinai and fifty-six miles (90 km) southwest of Beersheba (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, "Kadesh", page 2).

Numbers 13:1-16 The Selection of the Scouts
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2 'Send out men, one from each tribe, to reconnoiter the land of Canaan which I am giving the Israelites. Each of them is to be a leading man of the tribe.' 3 At Yahweh's order, Moses sent them from the desert of Paran. All of them were leading men of Israel. 4 These were their names:
For the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zaccur:
5 for the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori;
6 for the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh,
7 for the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph;
8 for the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;
9 for the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu;
10 for the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi;
11 for the tribe of Joseph, for the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi son of Susi;
12 for the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli;
13 for the tribe of Ahser, Sethur son of Michael;
14 for the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi;
15 for the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Machi.
16 Such were the names of the men whom Moses sent to reconnoiter the country. Moses then gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.

Each man was to be a chieftain (nasi) within his tribe, but he men were probably younger than the chieftains who took the census. Joshua was forty years old (Josh 14:7). Two names stand out in the list: Caleb representing the tribe of Judah and Hosea/Joshua, representing the tribe of Ephraim. You will recall that Joshua son of Nun had served Moses since he was a child (Num 11:28). Moses changed his name to Yehoshua, which means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation". It was Jesus of Nazareth's Hebrew name.

Caleb, whose Hebrew name means "dog" was the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite (Num 32:12; Josh 14:6, 14; 15:7; Judg 1:13; 3:9). Caleb was a Gentile convert who had been adopted into the tribe of Judah (probably by marriage) and had risen to a leadership role within the tribe. The Kenizzites were originally an Edomite clan (Gen 36:11, 15, 42). Joshua and Caleb will become the heroes of the conquest of Canaan.

Numbers 13:17-20 The Scouts are Sent Out
17 Moses sent them to reconnoiter the land of Canaan, 'Go up into the Negeb,' he said, 'then go up into the highlands. 18 See what sort of country it is, and what sort of people the inhabitants are, whether they are strong or weak, few or many, 19 what sort of land they live on, whether it is good or poor; what sort of towns they live in, whether they are open or fortified; 20 what sort of land it is, fertile or barren, wooded or open. Be bold, and bring back some of the country's produce.

The Negeb is the southern part of Canaan below the central mountain range between Beersheba and the Sinai Peninsula. Unlike the Sinai which is low and flat, this part of the Negeb is four hundred feet above sea level. The Israelites would have seen green desert plants, birds and animals since the Negeb gets over two hundred days of dew a year. From the Negeb they were to ascend 3,000 feet to the highlands around Hebron (Walking the Bible, page 313).

Question: Why would God want to send the Israelites on this expedition? Is there a reason for the journey other than as a military expedition? See Genesis 12:6-9.
Answer: The purpose of the expedition wasn't just to reconnoiter the land. The expedition was to claim possession of the land symbolically just as Abraham had symbolically claimed possession of the land in his journey in Genesis 12:6-9. However, the tribal scouts' symbolic claim began in the Negeb whereas Abraham's symbolic journey ended in the Negeb.

Numbers 13:21-24 The Scouts fulfill their Mission
21 It was the season for early grapes. They went up and reconnoitered the country from the desert of Zin to Rehob, the Pass of Hamath. 22 They went up by way of the Nebeb as far as Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the Anakim, lived. (Hebron was founded seven years before Tanis in Egypt.) 23 Reaching the Vale of Eshcol, there they lopped off a vine branch with a cluster of grapes, which tow of them carried away on a pole, as well as pomegranates and figs. 24 This place was called the Vale of Eschol after the cluster which the Israelites cut there.

July/August was the season of ripe grapes according to the artifact known as the Gezer Calendar. If this was the season of "early" grapes, the scouts must have gone into Canaan in early July. The wilderness of Zin was above the wilderness of Paran. The oasis of Kadesh-Barnea was probably on the border between Paran and Zin. Rehob is unknown but a city known as Lebo-hamath stood at the Pass of Hamath that led to the Mediterranean Sea. Lebo coincides with the northern border of Israel during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon (1 Kng 8:65) and Jeroboam II (2 Kng 14:25; Amos 6:14), and is mentioned as forming the northern boundary of the Promised Land (Num 34:7-9; Ez 48:1).

The Valley of Eshcol is located near Hebron (Gen 14:13 records that Eshkol was the brother of Mamre at Hebron). The Hebrew word eschol means "cluster". Hebron is a town where the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob settled.

Question: What events in the lives of the Patriarchs took place at or near Hebron? See Gen 13:18; 23:2, 19; 35:27; 37:14.

The tomb of the Patriarchs is located in Hebron, and God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham while he was living in Hebron (Gen 17).

Numbers 13:22 They went up by way of the Nebeb as far as Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the Anakim, lived. (Hebron was founded seven years before Tanis in Egypt.) Zoan is the Egyptian city that is also known as Tanis; it is located in the Delta region of Egypt. It has also identified with Avaris, the capital city of the Hyksos pharaohs (1720-1570 BC), the Semitic foreigners who probably the ruled Egypt at the time Joseph became the Pharaoh's Vizier. The Anakim were very large people who inhabited Canaan along the coast (Num 13:28-28, 33; Dt 2:11; Josh 11:21-22).(7)

Numbers 13:25-33 The Report
25 After forty days they returned from reconnoitering the country. 26 Making their way to Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the desert of Paran, at Kadesh, they made their report to them and the whole community, and displayed the country's produce. 27 This was the report they gave: 'We made our way into the country where you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; here is what it produces. 28 At the same time, its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the Anakim there. 29 The Amalekites occupy the Negev area, the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites the highlands, and the Canaanites the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan.' 30 Caleb called the people round Moses to silence and then said, 31 'We must march in immediately and take it; we are certainly able to conquer it.' But the men who had been with him said, 'We cannot attack these people; they are stronger than we are.' 32 And they began disparaging the country they had reconnoitered to the Israelites, saying, 'The country we have been to reconnoiter is a country that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw there were of enormous size. 33 We saw giants there too (the Anakim, descended from the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.'

Numbers 13:25 After forty days they returned from reconnoitering the country. Forty is a significant number in Scripture, signifying consecration or testing.

Question: When has the number forty been significant in events in Scripture?
Answer: Some examples:

Numbers 13:32-33 And they began disparaging the country they had reconnoitered to the Israelites, saying, 'The country we have been to reconnoiter is a country that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw there were of enormous size. 33 We saw giants there too (the Anakim, descended from the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.'

Question: What did the negative report of the ten scouts reveal?
Answer: They told the people that the land "devours its inhabitants", which either means the land did not produce enough food, which contradicts their earlier report, or that there is constant warfare between the inhabitants. They reported that the people were more powerful then the Israelites. The end result was that they did not trust God to keep His promised that they would possess the Promised Land.

Question: Who attempted to silence the negative scouts and declared that if they trusted God they would be victorious.
Answer: Caleb, the Gentile convert who was a leader in the tribe of Judah.

Questions for group discussion:

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of the years of the wilderness journey that resulted after the failure of the people at Kadesh as a kind of idyllic honeymoon between Yahweh the Bridegroom and Israel His faithful Bride: Yahweh says this: 'I remember your faithful love (hesed)* the affection of your bridal days, when you followed me through the desert, through a land unsown. Israel was sacred to Yahweh; the first-fruits of his harvest ... (Jer 2:1-3a).

Question: Why was the newly created nation of Israel called the "first-fruits" of God's harvest? What other generation of covenant believers will symbolically be called the "first-fruits" of God's harvest? Why? Be aware that in the offering of the sacrifice of the first-fruits to God at His altar in the Sanctuary, the first-fruits of the harvest represented the whole harvest. See Rom 8:22-25; 1 Cor 16:5; James 1:18; Rev 14:4.

God provided for His covenant people by giving them manna, the bread from heaven, and yet they were ready to reject the supernatural gift in favor of something that delighted their carnal senses.

Question: Compare the Israelites' failure to recognize the blessing of the supernatural gift of the manna in Numbers Chapter 11 to Catholics who leave the supernatural gift of Christ in the Eucharist to seek being "fed" in other faiths. Can leaving the Church for what they express as the desire for better sermons and better music by walking away from the Sacraments and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist be compared to the Israelites who disparaged the heavenly manna in favor of their desire for Egyptian fish and onions? What does the Catechism say about those who separate from the Church after their baptismal/confirmation vows? What is the difference between the words heresy, schism, and apostasy? See a Catholic dictionary and also CCC 817-819 and 2088.

Question: Moses is described as "the meekest/humblest" of men. In our modern culture we equate "meekness" and "humility" as weakness. How is the Christian view of "meekness/humility" in one's relationship with God different?

Answer: Christian "meekness" is based on humility that is expressed in the New Testament as the supernatural quality that is the outgrowth of a renewed nature. This renewal can only come when we surrender our lives to God and seek His divine will in our lives. However, this submission is not an indication of weakness. For the Christian, submission to God's control results in strength-strength that is not our own but the strength that comes from God's will working through our lives.


1. Dt 1:1-2 identifies the location of the Israelites' last encampment where Moses expounded the Law to the Israelites in his last homily before they began the conquest of Canaan. The text indicates that Moses' speech was given in the "desert, east of the Jordan; that is, in the Arabah (at a location in the Great Rift Valley that runs from the Galilee in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south) opposite Suph (a place on the east side of the Jordan River), between Paran and Topel, Laban, Hazeroth and Disahab." Verse 5 further defines the place as "in the territory of Moab." These place names have not been positively located but some have suggested that Tophel is identified with es-Tafileh, a village located on the road between Kerak and Petra. The mountains of Seir are south of the Dead Sea and extend as far south as the Gulf of Aqaba. Mt. Paran is evidently part of that mountain chain.

2. Beginning in Exodus there is a pattern of the people's complaints, God's action and a memorializing of the incident in the naming of the site (Ex 15:22-25; 17:1-7). This pattern is also displayed in Numbers, but God's action becomes divine judgment:

The same pattern is also found in the stories in the book of Judges (i.e., Judg 3:7-11).

3. Taberah is not listed in the itinerary of Israel's encampments in Numbers 33, where the list skips instead from Mt. Sinai to the encampment at Kibroth-ha-Taavah: They left the desert of Sinai and encamped at Kibroth-ha-Taavah. They left Kibroth-ha-Taavah and encamped at Hazeroth (Num 33:16-17). For this reason, some scholars doubt whether Taberah should be connoted as a separate camp site. It is agreed, however, that Taberah was a location on the first leg of the journey and Dt 9:22 lists Taberah as one of three sites where the people provoked God's wrath. The site has never been positively identified.

4. The Bible correctly identifies the diet of the poor in Egypt. A survey was taken in c. 1900 of the foods that the poor subsisted on in rural Egyptian villages. The list included bread, milk, new cheese, eggs, small salted fish, cucumbers, melons, onions and leeks, beans, chick peas, lentils and egg-plant, etc. (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 83).

5. Scripture references to the forty years between Exodus and the Book of Joshua when the forty-year Exodus journey was completed is found in seven Scripture passages: Ex 16:35; Num 14:33-34; 32:13; Dt 2:7; 8:2-4; 29:5; and Josh 5:6.

6. Cush was the son of Ham and the father of Nimrod (Gen 10:6-8; 1 Chr 1:8-10). Isaiah 11:11 lists the lands of the descendants of Cush as living from Assyria, to Egypt, to Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath and the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. In 2 Sam 18:21-32 King David's messenger is called a Cushite eight times. Cush is also the personal name of an enemy of King David's from the tribe of Benjamin in Ps 7.

7. Anakim or bene anak (sons of Anak) is a name derived from the Hebrew term meaning "long necks" (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, page778). They lived in the vicinity of Hebron until the conquest by Israel when they were pushed to the coastal region of the Levant. Both Joshua and Caleb are credited with conquering them (Josh 11:21-22; 15:13-14). Israelite heroes in the Philistine wars fought the descendants of the Anakim-all reported as men of gigantic size, including the young warrior David who slew the Philistine champion Goliath (1 Sam 17; 2 Sam 21:16-22).

Michal Hunt, Copyright 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references in this Lesson:

Num 11:24-25

CCC 691, 1272, 1571

Num 12:3

CCC 2576

Num 11:34

CCC 1850, 1866-67

Num 12:11-16

CCC 1450, 1460.