Numbers 13-17: People starting trouble

In part four of Numbers, the people just keep on grumbling about everything. They come back around to how they would have been better if they had died in Egypt. At this point, God is clearly tired of hearing about it though. Of course, he was already a bit peeved over that sentiment with the eating meat thing in chapter eleven.

Chapter thirteen

Here the trouble starts when the spies are sent to check out the land of Canaan. They go out there and everything is great and it all looks great but it’s also well fortified, there are lots of people, they are big (some say they were actual giants), and the whole place just looks hard to take. Rather than face own their fear or apprehension, they choose to go with lying to the people and telling them the place was bad so they won’t be able to take it and it wouldn’t be worth it if they did.

Chapter fourteen

Even without this going against God and His intentions and His commandments to them (the whole not bearing false witness thing), this is just bad leadership. The people get upset that they were led out of Egypt to take a place that they now have report of being bad is too much and they grumble yet again. They repeat the old sentiment that they were better off in Egypt.

They clearly forgot the great power that God displayed and the lengths He went to get them out of Egypt in the first place, not to mention His daily presence. Of course, it’s easy to say in hindsight that people should have seen things that they apparently didn’t, but God had not yet failed them, NOT ONCE. Why would He suddenly tell them to check out a city that He wasn’t interested in making it easy for them to take?

Sure, there was no way for them to understand the how of the situation, but they didn’t understand how He turned the water to blood and brought the locusts through back then either. Anyway, they are lied to by their own people and are upset about the state of things as they know it. This time, they not only grumble, they are going to choose a new leader from among them and go back to Egypt.

Two of the guys who went to spy earlier attempted to make everyone realize the others were exaggerating just after the people got all mad. They tried to get them to see that God will be with them and those enemies won’t stand a chance, but it was too late.

God does not take this lightly. He appears to be sick and tired of all this and understandably upset about those other guys lying or exaggerating in the first place.  He gets mad and says to Moses:

How long will they despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation great and mightier than they.

Of course, Moses talks God down from this idea and gets Him to agree to a smaller sentence. This is where God tells him that none of the people who were adults when they left Egypt and who have put Him “to the test” will make it to the promised land. Then he goes on:

But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.

Three guesses which tribe Caleb comes from.

We also learn here where the 40 years that many have likely heard about in church comes from. Part of this speech is that they will be in the wilderness one year for every day that they had been spying in Canaan and came back with the false report of it. But that punishment was for the people who grumbled, immediate death came to those who had lied about it. Except Caleb and Joshua, who had been honest to the people and tried to get them to not grumble against God.

I did notice, though, that Joshua was not included as following God fully. The reason is that it was only Caleb who went out that wasn’t worried about the town being stronger than them. He was the only one who realized that God had their back. Joshua didn’t want to lie about it to the people and didn’t want them to be mad at God, but he hadn’t believed that God could or would help them take the town back before the report was given.

Of course, hearing God rebuke them for all this somehow made them want to go try to take the town, but they didn’t take the ark, and therefore God’s presence, with them. They also didn’t wait for God to tell them that the place was ready or how to He wanted them to do it. So they lost.

Chapter fifteen

Here, God throws in some laws about sacrifices for when they “come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you”.

What was interesting here was this line:

One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you.

I’ve seen this a few times where God wants the people who are among the Israelites to follow the same rules as them. To me it feels very inclusive. The sentiment seems to be that if you’re going to be with them, then you can be as one of them, even though you aren’t. I know that there are surely lots of exclusive things too, I just like this one.

There was also a passage that if the whole congregation sins (unintentionally) they can give one sacrifice that represents them all together. I thought it was interesting because of the way that mob mentality changes what individuals are normally capable of or would consider doing. It owns that people can do things as a congregation that they wouldn’t do on their own. They will have to make atonement as a congregation instead of individually too.

There’s also that “high handed” sin is to be punished by being cut off. The presumption is that this sin is not only intentional, but defiantly so.

Then this chapter has a brief story about an unnamed man being executed for breaking the Sabbath. He is caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. What if he liked just gathering sticks? Idk.

Then it ends with the instruction to put tassels and a blue cord on everything to remember “all the commandments of the Lord, to do them” and not to just do what they want.

Chapter sixteen

But the people can’t be happy for too long. Some of the Levites rebel against Aaron and Moses. They presume that Aaron and Moses take liberties and privileged themselves over everyone else. After a little back and forth between the two parties, God comes down and says this to Moses and Aaron:

Seperate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.

Yet again, Moses and Aaron have it in their hearts to attempt to dissuade God and He agrees not to consume this whole gathering. He has everyone separate themselves from the rebels, then Moses goes out and addresses the congregation.

I’m not going to include his whole speech, but it comes down to being with the rebellion or with God. He didn’t choose his role and he’s doing what God tells him. Then he has the ultimate “drop the mic” moment as he tells them that if God disposes of these individuals in some new way, they can rest assured that “these men have despised the Lord.” Then the ground splits and swallows them. Drop the mic.

God tells him to have a covering made for the altar out of the censers (where the incense was burnt that marked them as part of the rebellion) as a reminder of the consequences of such actions.

But we’re not done yet. After the masterful scene of these rebels getting swallowed by the ground, everyone comes around accusing Moses and Aaron of killing the “people of the Lord” and set to grumbling again. God gets upset again and just lets loose a plague among them until Moses and Aaron bail them out with an atonement offering.

Chapter seventeen

This chapter has a strange story where God again has to give a sign as to who He chose to be in charge of them. He has Moses take all their staffs and put their names on it and leave them in the tent of meeting over night. The one that sprouts belongs to the man that God chose, and Aaron’s spouts buds, blossoms and ripe almonds.

Now they have a physical sign that Aaron was chosen by God and no one else. He asserts that it should end the people’s grumblings against Aaron and Moses. Of course, they still think they’re all going to die. But that’s for another time.

So there are my feelings and impressions on chapters 13-17 of Numbers. Have you read it? What do you think?

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.



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