Numbers 13-16: Scouting, sacrifices, rebellion

The LORD commands the Israelites to send out scouts to Canaan.  Each tribe sends out one scout, and after forty days, they return to report that Canaan is full of milk and honey, and that the enemies are frightful.  Most of the Israelites are afraid to continue; the scouts, except Joshua and Caleb, spread false rumors about how giant the natives are.  For this lack of faith, the LORD threatens to destroy his people and start anew with Moses’ descendants.  Moses appeals to his vanity and convinces him otherwise, but the LORD punishes the Israelites by vowing that no adults who left Egypt would see the promised land; they would be doomed to wander the desert for 40 years.  After this, the LORD instructs the Israelites about how to offer meal offerings and animal sacrifices.  The first bread of the land must be offered.  If the community unwittingly fails to observe a commandment, they shall sacrifice a bull and a he-goat; if a person unwittingly fails to do so, he shall offer a she-goat.

Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, and 250 respected chieftains rebel against Moses and Aaron.  They gather together to be subjected to God’s test.  A hole opened in the ground and swallowed Korah, Abiram, their wives, their children, and their little ones, taking them straight to Sheol.  The 250 chieftains were consumed by fire.

Commentary:

  • 15:32-36 is a short anecdote about the consequences of failing to follow the LORD’s commandments.  Here, a man carries wood on the Sabbath.  The LORD himself speaks to Moses and orders the entire community to stone him to death.
  • The scouting account is a combination of at least 2 inconsistent sources.  In one version, the scouts only visit Negeb, the southern part of Canaan (13:17) and only Caleb recommends that the Israelites proceed with the conquest (13:21).  In another version, the scouts visit all of Canaan (13:21) and both Caleb and Joshua recommend the Israelites proceed with conquest (14:6-9).
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