Why the Israelites Wandered in the Desert

God told Moses, "The men of the tribe of Levi are to be set apart to help the priest. They are to camp around the tabernacle and when the people move they are to carry the tabernacle." Now when the tabernacle was set up, the cloud that had led the Israelite people moved to over the tabernacle and stayed there. At the beginning of the second year out of Egypt the cloud began to move toward the land of Canaan. The people broke camp and followed the cloud. Whenever it would stop, they would stop and set up camp. Whenever it would start again, they would break camp and follow it.

Along the way the people began to find fault with Moses. "We want some meat to eat," they said. "When we were in Egypt we had fish to eat, and also cucumbers, melons, onions, and garlic! But all we have here is this manna." So God told Moses to tell the people, "Tomorrow I will send you meat to eat. I will send so much you will get sick of it." The next morning a wind blew in quails. They covered the ground and the Israelites killed them for food. But the people were greedy and gathered more then they could eat. So God sent a disease among them and many of them died.

When they came to the desert south of the land of Israel, God told Moses, "Pick one man from each tribe to go and spy out the land." So Moses picked twelve men and sent them into Canaan to see what the land was like. They were gone for Forty Days. When they came back, they brought some of the fruit with them that they had found growing in the land. One cluster of grapes was so big that they had to put it on a pole and carry it between two of them. They told the people, "It really is a land full of milk and Honey. Here is some of its fruit. But the people there are very big and their towns have strong walls." One of the twelve spies, a man named Caleb, said, "Let us go in and take the land." But ten of the spies said, "We can't! There are giants in the land. We seemed like grasshoppers next to them."

Then the people started to find fault, they said, "Why did we come out into this desert country?" we will be killed and our children captured. We should have stayed in Egypt." Let's go back to Egypt." Then two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua (Moses' servant) said, "The land is a good land. God will lead us in and give it to us. Don't be afraid of the people there." But the Israelites started talking about throwing rocks at these two spies and killing them.

So God told Moses, 'Tell the people to turn around and go back into the desert. All the fighting men over 20 years old except Joshua and Caleb will die there. And then I will lead their children into the land to take it. The spies were gone for forty days. So you will wander in the desert for forty years, a year for each day." When Moses told these words to the Israelites, they changed their minds and said, "We will go take the land." But it was too late. Moses said, "Don't go to try to take the land, because God will not be with you." But the people would not listen to Moses. They went to fight the people of the land of Canaan. Then the Canaanite people came out to fight them and beat them and chased them south into the desert again, because God was not with them. So the Israelite people wandered in the desert country for another 39 years, making 40 years in all.

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Last updated on November 18, 2010
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