O the Israelites, after coming to the border of the promised land, went back into the wilderness to wait there until all the men who had sinned against the Lord in not trusting his word, should die. Moses knew that the men who had been slaves in Egypt, were in their spirit slaves still, and could not fight as brave men to win their land. There was need of men who had been trained up to a free life in the wilderness; men who would teach their children after them to be free and bold.
They stayed for nearly all the forty years of waiting in the wilderness of Paran, south of Canaan. Very few things happened during those years. The young men as they grew up were trained to be soldiers and one by one the old men died, until very few of them were left.
When the forty years were almost ended, the people came again to Kadesh-barnea. For some reason they found no water there. Perhaps the wells from which they had drawn water before were now dried up. The people complained against Moses, as they always complained when trouble came to them, and blamed him for bringing them into such a desert land, where there was neither fruit to eat nor water to drink, only great rocks all around.
Then the Lord said to Moses:
"Take the rod, and bring the people together, and stand before the rock, and speak to the rock before them; and then the water will come out of the rock, and the people and their flocks shall drink."
Then Moses and Aaron brought all the people together before a great rock that stood beside the camp. And Moses stood in front of the rock, with the rod in his hand; but he did not do exactly what God had told him to do, to speak to the rock. He spoke to the people instead, in an angry manner.
"Hear now, ye rebels," said Moses. "Shall we bring you water out of this rock?"
And Moses lifted up the rod, and struck the rock. Then he struck it again, and at the second blow the water came pouring out of the rock, just as it had come many years before from the rock at Rephidim, near Mount Sinai (see Story 25); and again there was a plenty of water for the people and their flocks.
But God was not pleased with Moses, because Moses had shown anger, and had not obeyed God's command just as God had given it. And God said to Moses and to Aaron:
"Because you did not show honor to me, by doing as I commanded you, neither of you shall enter into the land that I have promised to the children of Israel."
One act of disobedience cost Moses and Aaron the privilege of leading the people into their own land of promise! About this time, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, died at Kadesh-barnea. You remember that when she was a little girl she helped to save the baby Moses, her brother, from the river (see Story 20). She also led the women in singing the song of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea as told in Story 24. And soon after her death Moses and Aaron, and Eleazar, Aaron's son, walked together up a mountain called Mount Hor; and on the top of the mountain Moses took off the priest's robes from Aaron, and placed them on his son Eleazar; and there on the top of Mount Hor Aaron died, and Moses and Eleazar buried him. Then they came down to the camp and Eleazar took his father's place as the priest.
Miriam singing the song Moses wrote
While they were at Kadesh-barnea, on the south of Canaan, they tried again to enter the land. But they found that the Canaanites and Amorites who lived there were too strong for them; so again they turned back to the wilderness, and sought another road to Canaan. On the south the Dead Sea, and southeast of Canaan, were living the Edomites, who had sprung from Esau, Jacob's brother, as the Israelites had sprung from Jacob (see Story 12). Thus you see the Edomites were closely related to the Israelites.
And Moses sent to the king of Edom, to say to him:
"We men of Israel are your brothers. We have come out of the land of Egypt, where the people of Egypt dealt harshly with us, and now we are going to our own land, which our God has promised to us, the land of Canaan. We pray you let us pass through your land, on our way. We will do no harm to your land nor your people. We will walk on the road to Canaan, not turning to the right hand nor the left. And we will not rob your vineyards, nor even drink from your wells, unless we pay for the water that we use."
But the king of Edom was afraid to have such a great host of people, with all their flocks and cattle, go through his land. He drew out his army, and came against the Israelites. Moses was not willing to make war on a people who were so close in their race to the Israelites, so instead of leading the Israelites through Edom, he went around it, making a long journey to the south, and then to the east, and then to the north again.
It was a long, hard journey, through a deep valley which was very hot; and for most of the journey they were going away from Canaan, and not toward it; but it was the only way, since Moses would not let them fight the men of Edom.
While they were on this long journey the people again found fault with Moses. They said, "Why have you brought us into this hot and sandy country? There is no water; and there is no bread except this vile manna, of which we are very tired! We wish that we were all back in Egypt again!"
Then God was angry with the people; and he let the fierce snakes that grew in the desert crawl among them and bite them. These snakes were called "fiery serpents," perhaps because of their bright color, or perhaps because of their eyes and tongues, which seemed to flash out fire. Their bite was poisonous, so that many of the people died.
Then the people saw that they had acted wickedly in speaking against Moses; for when they spoke against Moses they were speaking against God, who was leading them. They said:
"We have sinned against the Lord, and we are sorry. Now pray to the Lord for us, that he may take away the serpents from us."
So Moses prayed for the people, as he had prayed so many times before. And God heard Moses' prayer, and God said to him:
"Make a serpent of brass, like the fiery serpents; and set it up on a pole, where the people can see it. Then every one who is bitten may look on the serpent on the pole, and he shall live."
And Moses did as God commanded him. He made a serpent of brass, which looked like the fiery snakes; and he lifted it up on a pole where all could see it. And then, whoever had been bitten by a snake looked up at the brazen snake, and the bite did him no harm.
This brazen snake was a teaching about Christ, though it was given so long before Christ came. You remember the text which says, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him may have eternal life."
Northeast of the Dead Sea, above a brook called the brook Arnon, lived a people who were called the Amorites. Moses sent to their king, whose name was Sihon, the same message as he had sent to the king of Edom, asking for leave to go through his land. But he would not allow the Israelites to pass through. He led his army against Israel, and crossed the brook Arnon, and fought against Israel at a place called Jahaz. The Israelites here won their first great victory. In the battle they killed many of the Amorites, and with them their king, Sihon, and they took for their own all their land, as far north as the brook Jabbok. Do you remember how Jacob one night prayed by the brook Jabbok? (See Story 14.)
And after this they marched on toward the land of Canaan, coming from the east. And at last they encamped on the east bank of the river Jordan, at the foot of the mountains of Moab. Their long journey of forty years was now ended, the desert was left behind them, before them rolled the Jordan River, and beyond the Jordan they could see the hills of the land which God had promised to them for their own.