What does it say?
The previous chapter (Num 10) marked the spiritual high point of Numbers. Moses gets the Law on Sinai, the people build the tabernacle and begin to move forward on the mission. The first thing that happens now is sin (Num 11). This chapter is a description of the common human cycle of complaining, rebellious sin, covering for sin and death. It’s all here!
Moses marries an Ethiopian and his inner circle of Aaron and Miriam, his brother and sister, begins to attack him (Num 12). It would appear that Miriam is the instigator of the attacks, since God comes to Moses’ defense and smites her with leprosy. Moses prays for her healing, but she must spend a week outside the camp for purification.
Drawing close to the Promised Land, Moses sends out a representative from each tribe to do reconnaissance in the land (Num 13). They are to investigate the topography, demographics, agriculture, urban centers and any defensive fortifications. The men return and report that the land is indeed everything that God promised. However, they conclude that the people are too strong for them and that there are giants among them. Only Caleb (and we learn later that Joshua stand with him) speaks up and calls for the nation to move forward in faith.
What does it mean?
An important biblical principle lies in the human weakness displayed immediately after the glory of Sinai and the dedication of the tabernacle. The Law reveals and provokes sin. No one can keep the Law. When we try to live by law and not grace, sin rises up within us from our very nature.
Even those in highest leadership are not exempt from basic human flaws such as pride, jealousy and gossip. Aaron appears to have a weak character, and Miriam probably wants power, control and a louder voice more than she is upset by Moses’ recent marriage. Over two million people are held up in the wilderness for a week because of one woman’s jealousy and a man too weak to confront her.
God never promised the journey would be easy, but he promised to go before them, guide them, provide for them and protect them. We know how this story ends. Despite God’s promises, the people choose fear and comfort over forward movement in the mission. An entire generation will die in the desert.
How will I respond?
What is my biggest fear right now? Will I make decisions based on fear or the promises of God’s truth? The answer to this question determines whether you move forward in God’s mission or spend most of your life going around in circles.