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William Shepard

Moses Removes from Mount Sinai and Conducts the People to the Borders of Canaan

And now the time was come for the Israelites to leave Mount Sinai. After travelling for a long time, they came to a place called Hazeroth. Here, because they were suffering again from thirst, they became rebellious and complained against Moses, blaming him because he had brought them out of the land of Egypt and made false promises to them. They also cried that they wanted flesh meat and were not satisfied with the manna which came from heaven. Moses spoke kindly to them, and promised he would procure for them a great quantity of flesh meat, and that not for a few days only, but for many days. This they were not willing to believe, and when one of them asked whence he could obtain such a plenty of food, he replied,—

"Neither God nor I, O ye Israelites, although we hear so many murmurs and complaints from you, will leave off our labors for you, and you shall soon see that I speak the truth."

And, indeed, he had barely left off speaking, when the whole camp was filled with great numbers of quails. There were so many of them that they covered all the ground. And the people went out and gathered them, and satisfied their hunger. But it was not long before God punished the Israelites for the words they had spoken in anger, and a great many of them sickened and died.

From Hazeroth Moses led the Israelites to a place called Paran, which was near the borders of Canaan. Here he gathered the people together, and, standing in the midst of them, he said,—

"Two things has God promised to bestow upon us, liberty and the possession of a happy land. The first you now enjoy, and the other you will quickly obtain. For we now have our abode near the borders of Canaan, which is the land that God promised us, and which no human strength can prevent our taking. Let us, therefore, prepare ourselves for the work, for the Canaanites will not give up their land without fighting, and it must be wrested from them by great struggles in war. We must first send spies, who may take a view of the goodness of the land, and of the strength of its defenders. But, above all things, let us be of one mind, and let us honor God, who is our helper and assister."

When Moses had spoken, the multitude shouted in approval. Twelve men were chosen, one out of each tribe, who were to be sent out as spies. And they went over into the land of Canaan, and travelled through it for forty days, and then came back again. They brought with them some of the fruits that grew in the land, and gave an account of the great quantities of good things the land afforded. Then the multitude were pleased, and wished to go to war at once to obtain these good things. But the spies went on to tell them of the great difficulty there would be in obtaining the land; that the rivers were so large and deep that they could not be crossed, the mountains were so high that they could not be passed over, and the cities were strong, with walls and firm fortifications around them.

So the Israelites imagined, from what they had heard, that it was impossible to get possession of the country. And they and their wives and children set up a great lamentation, as if God would not indeed assist them, but had only made false promises. They also again blamed Moses, and made a clamor against him, and against his brother Aaron, the high-priest. And they passed that night in murmuring, and in the morning they got together, intending to stone Moses and Aaron and return into Egypt.

But there were two of the spies who were good and faithful men: their names were Joshua and Caleb. They went into the midst of the multitude, and stilled them, and desired them to be of good courage, and neither to condemn God, as having told them lies, nor to hearken to those who had affrighted them. And they encouraged them to hope for good success, and told them they should gain possession of the happiness promised them, because neither the height of mountains nor the depth of rivers could deter men of true courage, especially when God would take care of them and assist them.

"Let us then go," said they, "against our enemies, and have no suspicion of ill success, trusting in God to conduct us, and following those that are to be our leaders."

Thus did these two exhort them, and endeavor to pacify the rage they were in. But Moses and Aaron fell on the ground, and besought God, not for their own deliverance, but that He would put a stop to what the people were unwarily doing, and would bring their minds, which were now disordered by passion, into a quiet temper. The cloud also did now appear, and stood over the tabernacle, and declared to them the presence of God to be there.

Moses came now boldly to the multitude, and informed them that God was moved at their abuse of Him, and would inflict punishment upon them, not indeed such as they deserved for their sins, but such as parents inflict on their children, in order to their correction. "For," he said, "when I was in the tabernacle, and was bewailing with tears that destruction which was coming upon you, God put me in mind what things He had done for you, and yet how ungrateful you had been to Him, so that you could be induced by the timorousness of the spies to think that their words were truer than His own promise to you. Therefore, though He would not indeed destroy you all, nor utterly exterminate your nation, which He had honored more than any other part of mankind, yet He would not permit you to take possession of the land of Canaan, or to enjoy its happiness, but would make you wander in the wilderness, and live without a fixed habitation, and without a city, for forty years together, as a punishment for this your transgression; but He hath promised to give that land to our children, and He will make them the possessors of those good things which, by your ungoverned passions, you have deprived yourselves of."

The multitude were calmed down by this discourse of Moses, and they grieved and were in affliction. And they besought Moses to procure their reconciliation to God, so that He would no longer allow them to wander in the wilderness, but would bestow cities on them. Moses told them that he could not do this, that God had not determined lightly or rashly, and that this punishment could not be remitted.