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Monday, November 29, 2010

Old Testament Tales - Road to Canaan

Road to Canaan
1. What happened to Miriam?
2. What happened to Aaron?
3. What happened to Aaron’s sons?
4. How did Moses die?
5. Where did Moses die?
6. Who was Korah?
7. Why did the Israelites have to wander in the desert?
8. How many years did the Israelites spend in the desert?
9. Where were the Israelites when they were in the desert?
10. Who died in the desert?

Moses’ sister Miriam saved his life when he was a baby, and became a prophetess among the Israelites. Her victory song after the Red Sea crossing is one of the earliest recorded psalms (Ex 15:20). She objected to Moses’ leadership, in particular to his being married to Gentile (Cushite) and his claiming a special relationship with God (Num 12:1-2). After being exposed to the cloud of God’s presense, her skin was white and she was banished for seven days as a leper. According to some traditions, she married Hur, one of the friends who held Moses’ hands during the battle with the Amalekites near Mount Sinai (Ex 17:10) and who guarded them when Moses went up the mountain (24:14), which might make her the grandmother of Bezaleel (31:2) who works on building the tabernacle. Miriam died shortly before Aaron (Num 20:1) and is remembered as one of God’s chosen servants (Mic 6:4).

Moses’ brother Aaron was a gifted speaker called to help Moses communicate God’s will (Ex 4:14). When Moses was on the mountain, Aaron made the golden calf, though it’s not clear it was entirely his idea (32:22). While many Jews died as a result, Aaron survived to be consecrated as a priest, together with his sons. When the Israelites finally set off from Mount Sinai, two of Aaron’s sons die as a result of disobeying God’s command not to touch the altar. The fire is described as coming from God, but God frequently uses natural forces and it could be that their death was equally a side-effect of not listening to warnings when standing on a volcano (Lev 10:2). Again Aaron survives, and when he and Miriam challenge Moses’ leadership, it’s Miriam who suffers the consequences.

Aaron’s cousin Korah later leads a public rebellion against Moses’ leadership and is swallowed up in the earth (Num 16:25-35), God again making use of fire. Aaron and his son Eleazer are instrumental in halting the ensuing plague. When Aaron’s rod miraculously blossoms (Num 17:8) Aaron’s line is confirmed as being distinct from that of the other Levites. While others are devoted to sacred service, maintenance of the sanctuary and altar belongs to the Aaronites (Num 18:1-7). Aaron is believed to have died before entering the promised land, just as Moses did, as punishment for impatience at Meribah (Num 20:1-13). His priesthood was handed to his son Eleazer (Num 20:24-29).

The Israelites are condemned to wander the desert for 40 years, or until one generation passes away (which could be more like 25 years) as a result of not trusting God to overpower the “giants” and Nephilim (first mentioned in Genesis) living there (Num14:1-45). Of the spies who visited the land, only Joshua (who accompanied Moses on Mount Sinai, Ex 24:12-18) and Caleb are faithful to God’s plan. The wandering starts with the Israelites standing by the River Jordan. They appear to return to the region of Mount Sinai, where Moses strikes a rock instead of speaking to it (Num 20). If Mount Sinai is on the Sinai Peninsula, it’s hard to see why they returned, but if it’s in Arabia their wanderings corresponding to the normal wanderings of nomadic tribes. They continue north again to Edomite territory along the established inland road, skip Edom (Num 20:18) and head west to the Red Sea and continue up the coast road through the land of the Amorites. Then Moses gives his final address and blessing and dies on Mount Nebo (Deut 34) passing the leadership on to Joshua.

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