Our passage today begins with the rules for blowing the trumpets. The trumpets would be a signal for gathering, whether the leaders (10:4) or for the whole congregation (v. 3), for breaking camp (v. 1) or to gather for war (v. 9). The key is verses 9 and 10: the trumpet signals the presence of God.
In verse 11, we see that Israel leaves Sinai 22 months after arriving there, and 25 months after the Exodus from Egypt. Note that Judah takes the lead (v. 14). Israel moves out according to God’s command in chapter 2, and the Levites break down and transport the Tabernacle and its furnishings according to God’s command in chapter 4. In verse 29, Moses invites his Midianite brother-in-law to join them. Note that Moses cites the promise of God to Israel. In verse 32, Moses tells Hobab that if he goes with them, he will receive what God promised, as well (v. 32). We see again that God’s salvation is not reserved just for physical Israel, but for all who follow Him.
Chapter 11 begins with yet another unfaithful rebellion by the people of Israel. God responds in judgment (11:1), and then mercy (v. 2). In verses 4-6, we are told that immediately following this, Israel begrudged the manna and wanted meat to eat. Note that a “rabble” (in the ESV) seem to be the source of the grumbling, yet “the people of Israel also” started to complain. Indeed, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. We see in verses 10-15 the pressure Moses felt as the leader and mediator of the people. God’s response is to appoint elders to share the burden of leading God’s people (vv. 16-17). This is one of the greatest blessings God can give a leader of His people. Moses’ reaction in verse 29 indicates he realized the blessing God was giving him.
We also see that God teaches Israel to be careful what they wish for, so to speak. In wanting more than God’s sufficient supply of food, Israel would learn to hate what they wanted (v. 20). The desire for the food is a rejection of the salvation He supplied them. They wanted to go back to slavery (vv. 5-6). They desired earthly pleasure over the joy of God’s salvation and provision. And we see the rejection of God’s salvation leads to death (v. 34).
Chapter 12 records the opposition of Miriam and Aaron to their brother’s leadership. Because of his marriage (his first wife is believed by many to have died before this) to a Cushite woman, we are told they speak against him (12:1). They then seek credit for their role in leading Israel (v. 2). Verse 3 is meant to be a contrast to this kind of jealous thinking and desire. We see that Moses was the most meek (also translated “humble”) person in the world (v. 3).* We also see that their complaint is truly against God (vv. 6-9), so God punishes Miriam (v. 10), but shows mercy at Moses’ intercession (v. 13). This is a stern warning against sins that stem from jealousy.
Chapter 13 is a major turning point in the story of Israel. We see that the command to spy the land is a direct command of God (13:1). But note the promise! They are spying the land God will give them. Note in verse 16 the explanation of who Hoshea is. It is Moses’ assistance Joshua. Hoshea means “to save,” Joshua means “YHWH saves.” And Joshua will be the instrument of God’s salvation when Israel finally takes the Promised Land. When the spies come back, 10 out of 12 (we will see tomorrow that Caleb is not the only objector) bring a “bad report” (v. 32) and say that they cannot take the land. This is nothing less than faithlessness. God has made a promise, and they are walking by sight, not by faith.
Note also that the spies saw the Nephilim in the land. This is the only other mention of these people who we first meet back in Genesis 6:4. Go back and reread what we said there. The point is this: even when it looks like the odds are impossible by all worldly standards, God’s promise is greater. This is literally the difference between living by faith and living by sight. Will we believe our own eyes and reason and emotions, or will be believe God?
Tomorrow, we will see what Israel chose.
*Some believe this verse must be a later addition by someone other than Moses since a humble man would not point out his own superlative humility. However, the Holy Spirit is also the author here, and He speaks the truth – both good and bad – about God’s people. And besides, if you can’t recognize humility when you have it, how do you know what to strive for as one called to be humble?