Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Twelve Spies

While the Israelites were stopping at the foot of Mount Sinai, several miracles took place. For instance, two of Aaronís sons dared to put common fire into their censers, in spite of Godís command; and they were burned alive by a "fire from the Lord" which fell upon them.

As they had died in punishment for their sin, Moses forbade the people to mourn for them; and because their disobedience had been caused by a moment of drunkenness, he forbade the priests ever to touch any strong drink. Soon after this, a man who took the Lordís name in vain was stoned to death as the new law commanded.

By Godís order Moses now counted the grown men, who numbered six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty. This host was divided into four camps, and each tribe had its own captain and place.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Chosen People by Helene Guerber


The tabernacle was placed in the center of the camp, under the care of the Levites, who were the only priests. Then, when all these arrangements had been finished, Moses again gave the signal for departure, and the Israelites moved on through the wilderness, under the protection and shadow of a cloud sent by God.

Before they had gone very far, the Israelites began to murmur; and in punishment for this they were burned by a raging fire which swept all through the camp, and never ceased its ravages until Moses won Godís pardon for his disobedient people.

Sometime later the followers of Moses became weary of manna, and again longed for flesh. So God sent them quails; but instead of eating moderately, they feasted upon them so greedily that they became very sick, and many even died.

During this halt Moses chose seventy elders to help him govern the people; and this council is considered the beginning of the Jewish tribunal called the Sanhedrim, of which you will hear further mention in the New Testament.

In their next stopping place, Miriam and Aaron tried to oppose their brother Moses; for, as they were older, they claimed that their authority was greater than his. Moses was so meek that he did not resist; indeed, his gentleness was so great that it has passed into a proverb, and you will often hear the expression, "as meek as Moses."

Instead of insisting on his right to rule the people, he remained quite still, and God himself took up his defense. Aaron and Miriam were called into the tabernacle, where God rebuked them for their bad behavior, and, to punish Miriam, made her a leper.

This horrible disease was contagious, and Miriam was forced to leave the camp. She was not allowed to return until she was cured by the prayers which Moses made for her recovery.

The long procession of Israelites now wended its way northward, until they came to Kadesh, not very far south of the Dead Sea. There twelve men, one from each tribe, were chosen to go ahead and spy out the land which they were approaching, and which God had promised to give them.

These twelve men set out eagerly. They went far up the Jordan River, then came south again, and passed through a rich valley, where grew luxuriant vines. They brought back samples of the produce of the country, and, among other fruits, a bunch of grapes so large that it had to be carried upon a stick between two men.

The spies came back to Kadesh at the end of forty days, and were much pleased by the beauty and fertility of the land, which, as God had said, was "flowing with milk and honey." But although they praised the soil so highly, they alarmed the people by their description of the great walls which were built all around the cities, and by their stories about the size and strength of some of the inhabitants, beside whom they felt like grasshoppers.

The Israelites were frightened by what the spies said, for only one of them, Caleb, refrained from talking about the strength of the inhabitants. Indeed, the people were so discouraged that they began to express their discontent at having traveled so far in vain. Then they broke out into open rebellion against Moses and God, and even proposed to return to Egypt.

Moses and Aaron, in despair, tried to persuade the people that they would triumph if they only believed in Godís strength; but it was all in vain. The Israelites murmured until "the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle," and his voice was heard saying that he would disinherit his ungrateful and disobedient children.

At this threat the terrified people were sorry for what they had done, and Moses interceded for them till God relented. He again promised that the Israelites should have the land, but he said that instead of entering it immediately, they would be forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years. He added that none of the rebels should ever be allowed to enter into the land, but that it would be given only to their children.