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After leaving Egypt, the Israelites spent a while in the Desert of Sinai. Then they moved around until they came to the Desert of Paran. While there, Moses sent men to Canaan to scout out the land. After returning from their trip, the men told the whole community what they found – both good and bad. Though there was milk, honey and fruit, there were also giants and fortified cities.
And the Israelites were terrified to death by the thought of giants and walls.
Two of the men who had gone on the trip, named Caleb and Joshua, try to convince the Israelites that they should go on to take the land. They assure the Israelites that they can do it.
But the other men who had gone with Caleb and Joshua insist that they can’t do it. They describe themselves as grasshoppers in comparison to the man-beasts in Canaan. The Israelites are distraught and start to complain:
2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
3 And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
4 And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
God was not happy. He let out all his frustration on Moses:
11 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
13 And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)
14 And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.
15 Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
16 Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.
17 And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
19 Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
20 And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word:
So Moses persuaded God to not lynch the Israelites entirely. However, God was still mad.
So he decided he’d kill the men who said they could not conquer Canaan and the whole Israelite community who were 20 years old and older (since they grumbled).
But he did spare their children. And Caleb and Joshua too.
Pretty merciful, right?
Let’s go back a little and think about the conversation God had with Moses. God wanted to destroy the Israelites, but Moses persuaded him not to.
Isn’t it strange that God needed persuading?
Doesn’t this imply that God did not have the insight to realize for himself what Moses was telling him? He needed to be convinced to not annihilate his own people.
And this isn’t even the first time. Moses had to keep him from exacting his wrath on the Israelites before (Exodus 37:7-14).
Of course, it could just be that God knew what he would do all along. But then, what was the point of this whole conversation? It doesn’t in any way bring out God’s good side. Why didn’t God just do what he wanted to in the first place: kill those who “murmured against” him?
Not that that would have been the best solution, but at least it would have been consistent with the idea of a god who has a divine plan.
NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES: A Golden Cow, A Jealous God And A Murderous Priest