The Wanderings of the Israelites
The people of Israel stayed at the foot of Mount Sinai for more than a year but now the time had come when they must leave Mount Sinai and take up their journey to the land of Canaan. They were divided into companies called tribes. There were twelve of these tribes each one taking its name from the descendants of Jacob or Joseph. The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to number the people of Israel, and to count them all by tribes. When Moses and Aaron had done this they found there were six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty people. This was a great crowd to wander forty years in the wilderness but the Lord had promised them that they should suffer no harm and be brought safely into the land of Canaan.
The men that belonged to the tribe of Levi were not numbered with those who were to fight the enemies of Israel but were appointed to take care of the tabernacle. Whenever the children of Israel moved in their journey, the men of the tribe of Levi were to take down the tabernacle and carry it along on the journey following the cloud that was to lead them. When the cloud stopped it was the duty of these men to set up the tabernacle again. The tabernacle was holy and none but the priests and the Levites were allowed to go near or touch any part of it.
When the time came for the people to leave Mount Sinai, the cloud arose from over the tabernacle and the people took up their march. Each tribe had its own place and over each one was a captain. They marched like an army carrying standards and banners with them. The Levites went along carrying the different parts of the tabernacle. They marched for three days until they came to the wilderness of Paran when the cloud stopped, and here the people made their camp and rested.
Now the people had no meat to eat in the wilderness. The quails that the Lord had sent them in the beginning of their journey had been for a very short time and they had eaten nothing but manna. They began to complain and cry out: "Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions and the garlic. Our soul is dried away, for there is nothing besides this manna before our eyes."
Moses heard the people cry out in the door of his tent and Moses was displeased with them and so was the Lord. The Lord then told Moses to tell the people that they should have flesh to eat not only one day or two days but for a whole month and that they need not eat their flocks nor their herds in order to satisfy their hunger for meat. Then there came a strong wind and great quantities of quails were blown up from the sea. They fell over the camp until the ground was covered with them. The people gathered the quails and began to eat. Hardly had they put the meat in their mouths when the wrath of the Lord was kindled against them and the people were smitten with a great plague so that many of them died. In this way the Lord punished them for not depending on Him and for desiring things He did not furnish.
Soon the cloud was lifted again and the people followed it until they came to a place called Hazeroth. At this place the cloud stopped and again the people made their camp.
Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, found fault with him because he had taken a wife who was not one of the children of Israel. So Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, and said: "Has the Lord only spoken by Moses? Has He not spoken by us also?" And the Lord heard what Miriam and Aaron said and His anger was kindled against them.
He called Aaron and Miriam and told them to go to Moses to the tabernacle. Here He told them that Moses was His servant and that He would speak to the people only through Moses. Then the cloud left the tabernacle and Miriam was covered with leprosy and was as white as snow.
When Aaron saw that his sister had become a leper, he said to Moses: "Lay not our sins upon us and let her not be as one dead." And Aaron was overwhelmed with the sin he had committed and sorry for his sister's leprosy.
Moses cried unto the Lord and said: "Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee!" The Lord heard the prayer of Moses and had her shut out from the camp for seven days and after the seven days her leprosy was healed. Then the people journeyed from Hazeroth into the wilderness of Paran.