Sentenced to 40 years in the badlands
Israelites turn on Moses, again1 The people lost it—they broke down and cried after hearing such bad news from their scouts. They sobbed all night long. 2 Then the people started criticizing Moses and Aaron. “This stinks. We’d be better off dead in Egypt than we are here. Better off dead in the Sinai, too. 3 Why in the world would the LORD drag us all the way here for nothing more than to let us die at the wrong end of a sword? Then, the people who kill us will take our wives and kids for themselves. We have no choice. We have to go back to Egypt.”
4 The crowd started plotting: “Let’s pick a new leader and go back to Egypt.”
Joshua, Caleb plead with the crowd5 Right in front of all these people, Moses and Aaron dropped face-down on the ground. 6 Two scouts ripped their clothes: Joshua, who was Nun’s son, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh.
7 Then Joshua and Caleb addressed the Israelites: “The land we just scouted is incredibly wonderful. 8 If the LORD looks at us and likes what he sees, he’ll take us into the land and give it to us. It’s a land where milk and honey flow like rivers. 9 Don’t turn your back on the LORD. And don’t run from these people we scouted. They’ll be running from us. Whatever protection they think they have, it’s imaginary. They’ve got nothing. We’ve got the LORD. So, you’ve got no reason to fear them.”
10 The crowd decided to stone them. That’s when the Meeting Tent lit up in the glory of the LORD’s appearance.
Moses begs God not to kill everyone11 The LORD said to Moses, “These people! After all the wonders I did to get them here safely, they still don’t trust me. How long can they keep this up? 12 Enough! I’ll hit them with a plague and erase them from the world. Then I’ll start over and make you and your descendants into a nation greater and stronger than they ever could have been.”
13 Moses answered, “But if you did that, the Egyptians would find out. They know you’re the power behind these people and the reason they escaped Egypt. 14 They’ll tell the locals up here what you did. The people up in this land know about you, LORD. They know that you travel with us. They know you lead the Israelites with a column of bright cloud by day and a column of fire at night.
15 So, if you slaughter the Israelites in one mass killing, people in nations all around here will say, 16 ‘The LORD couldn’t deliver on the promise he made to his people. He couldn’t get them into the land he promised them. So, he killed them all in the desert.’ 17 Please, instead show everyone your strength. You’ve said it yourself, 18 ‘The LORD is slow to get angry. You can count on him for kindness and mercy. He forgives people for their rebelliousness and their sins. But he doesn’t give guilty people a free pass to sin. They and their families will suffer the consequences for three or four generations.’ 19 Please show your mercy once again. Forgive these people for what they’ve done wrong, just as you’ve done many times since we’ve left Egypt.”
God tells Moses to make a U-turn20 The LORD said, “I’ll do what you’ve asked. I’ll forgive them. 21 But I want you to know this. As surely as I’m alive and the whole world itself sings my praises, I’m making you this promise. 22 These people saw the wonders I did for them in the desert badlands. Yet they tested my patience time after time and times ten. I would tell them what to do, and they wouldn’t do it. 23 These disrespectful people will never see the land I promised their ancestors. 24 Caleb is the exception. He has a servant’s spirit, and he always follows my lead. So, I’ll lead him into the land and give it to his descendants. 25 Amalekites and Canaanites live in the valleys ahead. So, turn around tomorrow. Go back toward the badlands, in the direction of the Sea of Reeds.” 
Sentence: 40 years26 The LORD told Moses and Aaron: 27 How much longer do I have to listen to these miserable human beings tell me what they think I’m doing wrong. Yes, I’ve heard what these Israelites are saying about me. 28 So, I want you to tell them this for me:
When you were complaining about me, I heard what you said I would do to you. Well, I want you to know that as surely as I’m alive today, I’ll do what you said I would do. 29 You’re going to die in the badlands. All the men in your armies—everyone age 20 and older who complained about me—dead. 30 There’s no way I’m going to let you go into the land I promised you. The only exceptions are Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, the son of Nun. 31 I’ll bring your children there—the ones you said I’d let your enemies take for themselves. Your children will see the land you turned down. 32 But you? You’re going to die in the desert badlands. 33 While you wait to die, your children will spend the next 40 years as herders in the badlands—suffering the consequences of your sins. 34 I’m sentencing you to one year for every day the scouts explored the land. That’s 40 years. You’re going to see what happens when you pick a fight with me. 35 This is the LORD talking, and I’m going to do what I said. Bodies of all the miserable people who mobbed me with their criticisms are going to wear out and die in the badlands.
Plague kills 10 scouts36 Ten of the dozen scouts Moses sent into the promised land did more than bring back a terrible report about what they saw there. They criticized Moses and turned the Israelites against him. 37 Those 10 scouts died in a plague while the LORD watched. 38 Joshua, Nun’s son, and Caleb, Jephunneh’s son, would be the only two adults from their generation still alive 40 years later.
Israelites charge into doomed battle39 When Moses told the Israelites what the LORD had said, bitter grief consumed them. 40 But the next morning, they left camp and headed toward the ridge of hills They said, “Well, we’re ready to go now. We admit we sinned. Now we’re off to the land the LORD promised us.”
41 Moses said, “Wow. You’re disobeying God again? What makes you think you can succeed when the LORD just said you’ve already failed? 42 Don’t go through with this. If you go, the LORD isn’t going with you. He won’t be there to keep you from losing to your enemies. 43 Amalekites and Canaanites will be waiting for you. You’re going to lose. You’ve turned your backs on the LORD again. So, he’s not going up there with you.” 44 Still, they had enough arrogance left in them to go anyhow. They left their camp and walked toward the hill country. The sacred Box of the Law stayed behind, with the LORD. 45 Amalekites and Canaanites charged down out of the hills and overran the Israelites, attacking them and then chasing them back to Hormah.
It seems unlikely that Moses and Aaron dropped to the ground to plead for their lives. Moses hasn’t shown any fear of the Israelites on this trip out of Egypt. Scholars say it’s more likely the two were dropping before the Lord and interceding for the people, perhaps pleading for their lives.
Ripping clothes was a common way to express grief, horror, anger, or almost any other extremely negative emotion.
God’s presence is often described as a physical manifestation of some kind, often shining, such as the pillar of cloud or smoke by day and fire by night.
Exodus 20:5-6; 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 5:9-10.
That’s not a typo. Many Bibles say “Red Sea.” But the Hebrew words are yam suph, “sea reeds.” Scholars usually track Moses and the Hebrews escaping Egypt by walking southeast, out of the Nile Delta fields and toward the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. They would have passed through lake regions along what is now the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. These lakes and ponds reportedly had reeds growing along the banks, like the ones the Bible says grew along the Nile River and helped anchor Baby Moses in a basket (Exodus 2:3). Here, some scholars say, the phrase may refer to the Gulf of Aqaba, which is the eastern “rabbit ear” at the northern side of the Red Sea.
Possibly the Judean hills, which form a backbone running up and down Canaan, north to south. The ridge lies between the Jordan River Valley to the east and the Mediterranean coastland to the west.
Better known as the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred chest that held the Ten Commandments. It was Israel’s most revered object, and it was kept in the most sacred room inside the worship center, a room sometimes known as the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. When the Israelites traveled, priests carrying the box led the way.
Location of Hormah remains uncertain. But it sounds as though the attackers pushed them away from the Judean highlands and back southward. Some have suggested locations in or around the Negev badlands, including three ruin mounds within a dozen miles (16 km) of Beersheba: Tell el-Meshash, Tell esh-Sheri‘ah and Tell el-Milh. A “tell” is usually a mound of earth covering the ruins of a city. They sometimes look like an odd bump on the ground, a village-size speedbump.
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