We finally return to narrative with these chapters and I’m giddy with anticipation. No more long lists of laws, rules, animals, Tabernacle furnishings – only the Israelites’ story from here on out, I hope! Fingers crossed.
Actually, I jumped the gun. Fingers uncrossed. Chapter 10 starts with just a couple more of God’s requirements. God tells Moses the Israelites are to make two silver trumpets that will be used to call the community together. If one trumpet is sounded, the heads of the tribes are to assemble at the Tabernacle. If both trumpets are sounded, then everyone drops what they’re doing and assembles. God says the trumpets are to be a call to action throughout the generations of Israelites, and even in battle if the trumpets are sounded the soldiers are to remember how God saved them from their enemies and take heart. I can imagine this very well, as even today, everyone responds well to martial trumpets.
FINALLY, God the Cloud lifts up from the Tabernacle and the Israelites see it, pack up and start following it, as they’re supposed to. They travel from place to place until God rests in the Desert of Paran.
Additional Facts! According to bibleatlas.org, here’s where they think the Desert of Paran was in relation to Mount Sinai, to show how far they had gone at this point:
From the inset map, we’re looking at an area that would be considered part of Egypt today. Even more interesting, if God wanted them to go in a straight line to Canaan (in what is today Israel), they’re going in the opposite direction. Why would God have them travel away from the straight line path? Why, indeed. We must keep reading.
In their travels, they have gone tribe by tribe with the Levites in front, in just the order that God had instructed them. At some point, the son of Moses’ father-in-law (so, his brother-in-law) Hobab tells him he’s heading home to Midian, going back to his land and people. Moses talks him into staying because he’s a good guide.
So far, the Israelites have followed their rules and you’d think things would be going well. They’re not. Chapter 11 starts with the Israelites complaining about their travels. God hears all this, because He’s God. He’s still providing them with manna to eat but they’re tired of manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, manna for afternoon snack and manna for dinner, and they’re wailing for something different. God gets mad at their whining and Moses asks God in Verses 14 and 15, basically ‘what do you want me to do?’: “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
Which is SO not a good answer. God thinks, fine. In Verses 18-20: “Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ”
Moses does what God tells him and gets 70 elders together. The spirit of God comes upon Moses, and Moses takes some of that spirit and puts it on the elders, and they start prophesying for a bit and then stop, and there’s a bit where two other elders who didn’t join the others start prophesying as well. Then God sends a big wind that blows flocks of quail all through the camp. The Israelites start gathering armfuls of quail but God’s still mad; in Verse 33: “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague.” Dang.
In Chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother, start rabble-rousing against Moses because they’re still miffed about his wife, a Cushite and not an Israelite. While one might think that after you’ve actually witnessed your brother talking one-on-one with God and performing His miracles, you might keep your sass-mouthing to yourself, but we’re talking about the Israelites here so no such luck. In Verses 2 and 3: “’Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’ And the LORD heard this.” As the Lord totally would do, again because He’s the Lord.
God calls the three siblings to the Tabernacle for a Talking-To this very minute. God calls out Miriam and Aaron for their daring to speak ill of Moses and He gives Miriam leprosy. Dang again. Miriam and Aaron start crying for Moses to defend her and Moses does, asking God to heal her. God says Ok, but she’ll have to endure her unclean confinement for seven days. After a week when she’s back to normal, God the Cloud lifts up and everyone moves on to the Desert of Paran.
Things They Don’t Talk About in Sunday School: both Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses’ Cushite wife, so why does only Miriam get the leprosy punishment? According to 19th century Biblical scholars Keil and Delitzch, in their Commentary, it’s complicated. Miriam is seen to be the instigator of the argument against Moses. While God says He will reveal Himself to prophets in His own time and place – and in Exodus, Miriam is called a prophetess – but God says that Moses is open to His communications at all times and is to be considered ‘set apart’ from all other Israelite leaders. In addition, back in Exodus when Aaron was named the high priest, God called him in this role to bear all the iniquities of the Jews. So, to sum up: God’s rebuke is directed to Miriam which is also be applied to Aaron, and since Aaron is high priest he is expected to acknowledge and absolve this sin as well as all the others of the Israelites. When he pleads with Moses, he is following the terms of his job – and so when Moses asks for God to relent, He does but in His own fashion. In addition, minister and Biblical scholar Christopher Smith says if God had afflicted Aaron as well, he would have been unclean and then there would have been no one to intercede on either of their behalf.