Tuesday 10 May 2016

Bible Book:

“We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” (v. 27)

Numbers 13:1-27 Tuesday 10 May 2016

Psalm: Psalm 89:1-18


This next adventure follows on immediately from Miriam'spunishment and recovery (Numbers 12:10-16). It is another story from thewilderness wanderings of the people of Israel as they seek tofollow God's guiding light. Indeed, it is the storywhich, in its conclusion (Numbers 13:28 - 14:25), explains why thesewanderings had to go on so long. But that is not the concern oftoday's passage which focuses on the exploration of the PromisedLand that God (through Moses) organises as they reach itsborders.

Names - of people and places - can be a stumbling block to thosereading such passages aloud in church, and to any of us whoseknowledge of Middle Eastern geography is scanty. Noting justa few of the many names mentioned in today's story will help us tonavigate ourselves around the wider biblical narrative.

As the company approach the land of Canaan, Moses is instructedto choose 12 men, one from each tribe, and send them into thePromised Land to bring back reports on several aspects: themilitary strength and readiness of any inhabitants and the qualityof the land and its produce. Of the twelve men chosen, two willemerge as important characters: Caleb from thetribe of Judah and Hoshea son of Nun from thetribe of Ephraim, who is later (verse 16) renamedJoshua. The change of name serves to draw ourattention to this man whose name is indeed significant; both Hosheaand Joshua mean "God saves" and are the Hebrew forms of the nameJesus. As the eventual successor to Moses Joshua is of paramountimportance, so the narrator wants to be sure we have paid attentionto the first time he is mentioned. Ephraim is oneof the two tribes named for Joseph's sons (the other beingManasseh), and their inclusion brings the totalback to 12 after the priestly tribe of Levi has been exempted fromthe need to produce men of war or (apparently) spies.

It is interesting that the two men who later emerge as God'sagents in this story are descendents of the brothers Judah andJoseph. The interplay between these two sons of Jacob weaves afascinating strand throughout much of Genesis (cf Genesis 37:26; 43:3; chapter 44). It is Judah who saves Joseph fromdeath and later protects Benjamin. Soon Joseph's descendant Joshuawill be Judah's new 'saviour' whereas, millennia later, Jesus willbe born of the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14).

The setting for this story is Kadesh-Barnea(verse 26) about 50 miles south of Beersheba, the principal town ofthe Negeb. The Negeb (or Negev coming from a wordmeaning 'dry') is a large tract of desert and semi-desert land insouthern Judah; because of its location sometimes the term is usedmore generally to refer to "the South". The Wadi(which means 'valley' but thereby sometimes coming to mean'stream') Eschol ('cluster') is apparently sonamed because of the enormous bunch of grapes discovered there - sohuge that it took two men to carry it back into camp, strung on apole (verse 23)!

To Ponder

  • How do you react to names and places when you are reading theBible? Are they unimportant information or vital clues tounderstanding the story more fully? Why?
  • The writer wants us to understand from verses 23 and 27 thatthe Promised Land was full of good things. How do you view theabundance of God in today's world with its combination of greed anddeprivation?
  • Reflect on the suggestion in the hymn "God of all power, andtruth, and grace" (http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/g/a/p/gaptgrac.htm)(StF 498) that it is through God's forgiveness that we are able to"enter into the promised rest, the Canaan of your perfectlove". 
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