Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wilderness Death Decree – Who were covered under it?

What is this Decree?  It is referring to the {punishment} decree God gave when the Israelites disobeyed God and refused to enter into the Promised Land, the first round they came to the edge of the Promised Land.

We should all know that the Israelites entered into the Promised Land at the second time round they came to the edge of the Promised Land, after undergoing the punishment under the Wilderness Death Decree which was “deaths over 40 years of wandering in the wilderness”.

Also, it was Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt, and led the Israelites in the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, but Moses did NOT enter the Promised Land; he did NOT lead the Israelites into the Promised Land!  It was Joshua who led them in.  If you are surprised at this fact, that Moses did NOT enter the Promised Land, I suggest you read a separate article of mine, “Do you know why Moses did NOT enter the Promised Land?

From that article I have expanded my study on the subject, and a few other articles have resulted from it, and it included this one, which you are about to read.

There are views and debates over who were covered under this Decree that would see the death of the then adult Israelites who left Egypt for the Promised Land.

Generally, we have heard it preached that all the adults at the time the Israelites left Egypt, they were appointed deaths in the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, meaning they would all die before their descendants would enter into the Promised Land. It would be the children or new-borns in the 40 years’ wandering who would enter the Promised Land.

Because of the looking at why Moses did NOT enter the Promised Land, it become necessary to be a little precise as to who were covered and who were NOT covered under the Decree.  For example, was Moses included in the Decree?  What about Aaron and Miriam?  The siblings, Moses, Aaron and Miriam were believed to be part of the leadership team leading the people out of Egypt to go to the Promised Land. 

For a moment, let’s say Moses and Aaron were excluded, what was the ground; because they were Levites?  Were Levites excluded?  Some argued so!  Some say they could see, women were excluded, and so, they may NOT agree with my position on Miriam’s death, and may even NOT accept my assumptions on the impact of Miriam’s death on her brothers, Moses and Aaron.  Were women excluded?  I will try to cover most of these, here.

Did the Wilderness Death Decree include Moses and Aaron?
First, I want to address the view that the Decree, it included Moses and Aaron; meaning they too, being adult then, would together, with the rest of the adults then, were appointed death in the wilderness.  Why is this important?  Because if it were so, the reason for Moses’ (and Aaron’s) NOT entering the Promised Land, was found, NOT at the Waters of Meribah, some 38-40 years later, but at the occasion of Israelites’ refusal to enter into the Promised Land, the 1st time round. 

Concerning the event of Waters of Meribah, Kadesh, this happened at the close of the 40 years of wandering, when the Israelites would once again come to the edge of the Promised Land to enter it.  They came to the place, Kadesh, in the desert of Zin, after about 38 years of wandering.  Read the article, “Do you know why Moses did NOT enter the Promised Land?” and you will know what happened there, and we got this as part of what was written of it - Num 20:7-13 –

7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."  9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him.  10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?"  11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.  12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."  13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the LORD and where he showed himself holy among them.

Numbers 14 gives us quite a comprehensive account of the 40 Years Wilderness Death Decree (you may want to go read it). We find there, in Num 14, Joshua and Caleb were named to be exception (Num 14:30).  Now, were Moses and Aaron also part of the exception?  My view is that, that would be a yes.  Here is how I came to my conclusion:

  1. Num 14:11-12 tells us what God wanted to do then, was to immediately put all the Israelites to death, and God would raise up from Moses another nation, greater and stronger.  Here, we can see that Moses was NOT included as a guilty one (The Israelites were guilty of disobedience, contempt, and rebellion).

  1. Num 14:26.  In this verse, we find that God was addressing or speaking to both Moses and Aaron, about the contempt of the Israelites, and it was at this point (v29) that we can see God still insisted the death He had wanted to appoint unto the Israelite adults, to remain; God still insisted that the adult generation then, must die in the wilderness in the 40 years of wandering to come (why 40 years?  1 year for each day they explored/spied the Promised Land).  The point to note also, is the Decree was NOT 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and then all, including the then (guilty) adults, could enter into The Promised Land; it was that the adult generation were to die out in the wandering. From here (addressing of Moses and Aaron together), we can see possibly, Aaron was also excluded.

  1. Num 20:12.  After Moses (and Aaron) had acted inappropriately at the Waters of Meribah, Kadesh, God spoke to both Moses and Aaron this: But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."  Had Moses and Aaron were already included in the Wilderness Death Decree (38-40 years previous), there was no need and superfluous to tell Moses and Aaron that they would NOT be bringing the children of the previous adult generation into the Promised Land. 
My belief is that, it is at the Waters of Meribah, Kadesh, that Moses and Aaron lost the privilege to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (and so, too, would NOT be entering it).  And it is to be noted that the punishment here, at the Waters of Meribah, was different from that of the Wilderness Death Decree, in that, it was NOT a death penalty; just that they would NOT lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  That they died subsequently, outside of the Promised Land, was NOT the penalty.

What about Deu 1:37-38?  From this text, some people concluded that Moses was under the Decree, and so, he was already to die, before the community's entry into Promised Land, and so, he was NOT to lead the Israelites in. 

I beg to differ on how I look at this text.  I consider the events and details of Deu 1 as rehash and recap, after secondary processing, mixed with “idea mappings”, and a NOT straight forward chronicling account of events; and specifically, for vv37-38, I accept the exegesis of the leading medieval Jewish scholar Nahmanides.

Deu 1:37-38 - 37 Because of you the LORD became angry with me {Moses} also and said, "You shall not enter it, either.  38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it.
The author, Moses (in secondary processing of events), combined two separate sins of similar consequences: the Israelites’ sin in refusing to enter the Promised Land (the 1st time round) and the sins at the Waters of Meribah {the people’s and his own} resulted in him, Moses, not entering the land. Nahmanides puts it this way:

“The sin which you [Israel] committed at that time with regard to the spies led to your being denied entry into the good land; yet you continued to sin again, until you prevented me [Moses], too, from entering the land. For he wanted to mention together the punishment of all those who were prevented from entering the land, since it was all by reason of their sins.”

In other words, I have accepted the unambiguous texts of Numbers 14 & 20 (the scripture texts in the 3 points above, for believing Moses [and Aaron] was excluded from the Wilderness Death Decree) over the text of Deu 1:37-38.  I have adopted this: in biblical interpretation, where there is conflict, weightage is given more for the basic narrative or chronicling texts over texts from processing of events.

Also my own research showed this up:
Num 27:14-19  - 14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes." (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)  15 Moses said to the LORD {here still asking the question},  16 "May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community  17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd."  18 So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him.  19 Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence.

This text tells us that it was unlikely that God had told Moses at the occasion of the Israelites disobedience and refusal to enter into the Promised Land the first time round, that Joshua was to succeed him (Moses), like what was said in Deu 1:37-38.  It was more likely that those words of God were given Moses, much, much later, like after the Waters of Meribah event, perhaps, in one of the repeated attempts Moses pleaded with God to forgive him and to let him into the Promised Land (Moses did ask repeatedly, until God said He wanted NOT to hear any more of it!). 
It could be previous to this occasion as given us, here, in Num 27:14-19. Perhaps, at some point after the Waters of Meribah event, God already said so, Joshua was the one who would enter, NOT him (Moses); it was just the Moses did NOT catch the fullness of what the LORD had wanted (because he was still hoping God would relent).  It was like, for the words in Deu 1:37-38, God hinted Joshua to replace him (Moses), and in Num 27:14-19, God got it going, formally appointed Joshua.

What about Miriam?  Was she included in the Decree?
What does she got to do with Moses’ NOT entering into the Promised Land?  The account of the Waters of Meribah, at Kadesh, started, for us, this way, Num 20:1-3 –

1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. 2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!

Now, do you think the fact that Miriam died and was buried at Kadesh was put in, for us, for no apparent reason?  The story or account would have been just fine, without the mentioning of Miriam’s death there; why then the mention? 

It was quite possible there was reason(s) for stating that fact. There was nothing else said concerning Miriam in the account, so why the need to say Miriam died there and was buried there.  Many other people died in this 40 years of wilderness wandering, but why mentioned specifically, only Miriam’s death?

I have chosen NOT to ignore this fact.  The way I perceive this, is like this:

Since there were no mention of death of anyone else, subsequent to this, apart from the death of Moses and Aaron (both died subsequent to this, Aaron on Mount Hor, Moses, Mount Nebo), and the Israelites entered the Promised Land some 2 years later (from that Waters of Meribah event), Miriam’s death can be believed to be put in, to tell us that, up to that time, on reaching Kadesh, there were only a handful of the adult generation left, that left Egypt some 38 years earlier; 5 were Moses, Aaron, Miriam (who died there, at Kadesh), Joshua and Caleb.  Eleazar, son of Aaron, was alive, and he was an exception, but we will look at him, as an exception, a little more, later.

Miriam’s death served as a marker
So, to me, Miriam’s death perhaps, served as a marker, marking the last of the adult generation of the Israelites from Egypt who had to die, under the Wilderness Death Decree.  But why do I think that she was the last one, and NOT she was part of the rest who were NOT under the Decree? 

From Number 14, we could only arrive at 4 persons as exception – Joshua and Caleb (specifically named by the LORD), and Moses and Aaron (inferred with verses supporting). Number 14 was silent on Miriam, and as far as I know, other scriptures were also silent on this point.  On hindsight (she did die!), it is reasonable for me, and us, to conclude Miriam was NOT part of the exception; but if we put ourselves in Moses and Aaron’s shoes, don’t you think it was possible that Moses and Aaron might have harboured the thought that perhaps, Miriam was also excluded from the Decree? 

Why could Miriam possibly be excluded?  On what strength?   Perhaps, on the strength that she was part of the leadership team leading the Israelites in that time.  Moses was excluded; Aaron too.  Both were in the leadership team. Was Miriam in the leadership team?  I believe so.  Miriam was the prophetess, and the writings in Numbers 12 seemed to suggest she was in the leadership team.  Numbers 12:1-5 –

1 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this. 3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) 4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward,

The above does suggest the trio were in a leadership team; they entered the tent of meeting together, and God would address them together.

Here is another text that can be read as suggesting Miriam was in leadership with Moses and Aaron – Micah 6:4 – “For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”

This could be what was in Moses’ (and Aaron’s) mind before Miriam’s death, at Kadesh, “Almost every one of the adult generation has died, and we are reaching the edge of the Promised Land once again, and we are nearing the end of the 40 years of wandering; perhaps, our sister Miriam was and is also excluded from the Decree.  She must be; she did NOT die when almost all have died!  Miriam (and Eleazar) is(are) still alive.”

I believe Moses (and Aaron) wanted to believe their sister, Miriam, was like them, excluded, but she was NOT.  Perhaps, in God’s mercy, she was the last to die, under the Decree.  Can I be sure?  No, I cannot quote a verse that said that, but perhaps, this little observation can helps, that she was included in the decree:

Rabbis and scholars noted that for the death of Miriam, there was no corporate mourning, but for both Aaron and Moses’, there were (Aaron -Num 20:29; Moses - Deu 34:8)!  And Rabbis tried to explain why the different treatments, but I have NOT seen one that is convincing enough.  Rather, when we accept the understanding that Miriam was the last one to die from the Wilderness Death Decree, we see it all made sense:

According the Jewish rabbis, mourning is a show of respect to the departed and to his or her place in their lives, as well as a crucial stage in the healing of those who experienced the loss.  With this understanding one common position or explanation given was that for Miriam’s case, her death was before the people (assumed) and she was buried right there before the people (again assumed), for Num 20:1 said that the people reached Kadesh, and Miriam died there and was buried there; purportedly, there was closure, and so there was no need of corporate mourning.  Since Aaron died on Mount Hor, and Moses, Mount Nebo (Mt Pisgah), Moab, there were no closure (assumed), and so, there was corporate mourning for each.  Aaron was commanded by God to go up to Mount Hor (Num 33:38), and he died there, and so, perhaps, “no closure” could be argued, although Moses was with him, and his son, Eleazar, too; and his priesthood was passed on to Eleazar on that Mount; but for Moses, before he went up to Mount Nebo (Deu 34:1-6), he prepared the people, appointed Joshua to take over from him, reminded the people of the commandments and prescriptions of God, and he blessed Israel before he went (the whole chapter of Deu 33 was on this); to argue “no closure” for Moses’ case seemed short; although, the remains or grave of Moses could not be found. 

But I found that in a way, there were mournings for all 3 cases! One pre-death mourning, and two post-death mournings!  Aaron’s and Moses’ were post-death mournings – the people mourned after each’s death, and this was and is the usual way things happened or happen.  The pre-death mourning was for all the adults who had to die in the wilderness under the Decree.  Was there one?  Yes, there was one; and it was said in Num 14:39 – “When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly.” What was it that Moses reported to all the Israelites? He reported that God insisted that all adults then, would have to die in the wilderness in the 40 years of wandering.  I believe subsequently, upon each death from the Decree, including that of Miriam, corporate mourning was NOT appropriate, for all the deaths were God appointed deaths in punishment.  To mourn corporately on such deaths would amount to contempt of God.  The deaths of Aaron and Moses were outside of the Decree, and the deaths were NOT death penalty.  The punishment for Moses and Aaron was that they shall NOT lead the community into the Promised Land, although they did die (but NOT death punishment, and so, mourning for them, was NOT in contempt of God).

Is there support for my suggesting that to mourn such deaths, God appointed deaths in punishment, could amount to contempt and displease God?  Yes, we find it, in Moses’ warning after the death of the 1st 2 sons of Aaron from offering strange fire to God; fire from God came forth and burn them to death (Lev 10:1-2).  This is Moses’ warning (Lev 10:6, KJV):

And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail {express great regret} the burning which the LORD hath kindled

There has been mis-translation of this text, going by the review of the various translations.  In essence, the last bit should be translated as the people was to view much regrettably (but in agreement) that the wrath of God had to be meted out, NOT as mourning for the deaths of the 2 sons (that would be contempt).  Moses warned NOT to mourn (because that would be contempt), lest wrath came upon priest family, as well as upon the people.

Coming back, the way to understand Moses’ and Aaron’s deaths is like this:  The punishment was that both would NOT be allowed to lead the community into the Promised Land.  But because it was time for the community to enter in, God let Aaron and Moses to die; NOT that death was their penalty (those under the Decree were different; they had to die, it was only in God’s relent or mercy, that God gave them time – over 40 years).  To me it would have been cruel to have left them behind in the wilderness, to live alone and be attacked even, by the natives, with the rest of the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land.  God let them die so that they might join Him in Heaven; and we can infer that Moses (and Aaron, too, I believe) did get to Heaven, for at the Transfiguration, Moses came together with Elijah, whom we know from elsewhere in Scripture was taken up to Heaven.

So, I have deduced that Miriam’s death was NOT mentioned in the account of Waters of Meribah for no reason, and her death was probably a marker – marked the last one to die from the Wilderness Death Decree, to the surprise and grief of Moses (and Aaron).

Now, in my research I found there was a Jewish tradition that claimed that there was a mysterious well of Miriam (of fresh water) that followed the Israelites in their wandering; and when Miriam died, the well disappeared.  If you accept this, it does explain the mention of Miriam’s death at the very start of the Waters of Meribah incident.  Even it being so, the other things I expounded and the assumptions I made, on her, Miriam, including her siblings’ expectation that she would live to enter into the Promised Land still hold.  But to me, unless there is a tenable link to some unambiguous facts written in Scripture, we have to be very careful about swallowing-in of extra-biblical materials. 
The Decree did NOT include Levites?
Could this be the case, and so explains also why Aaron and Moses were NOT included.  Also, Eleazar, since he was the son of Aaron.  If it applied, then, Miriam too, would be excluded, since she was the sister of Aaron and Moses.  All of these, Aaron, Moses, Miriam, and Eleazar were Levites.

My view is that the Decree did NOT generally exclude the Levites.  I will NOT go into the scriptures brought up by those with the opposing view, as I consider them as NOT directing pointing to Levites being excluded. And the key text supporting my belief is this text in Numbers 26 (concerning the 2nd census, as the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land):

Num 26:62-65 -- 62 All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000. They were not counted along with the other Israelites because they received no inheritance among them.  63 These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho {this is the 2nd census}.  64 Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai {1st census, after leaving Egypt}. 65 For the LORD had told those Israelites they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

Verses 64 & 65 are the key – none of the adult Levites was in 1st count, meaning all the adults in the 1st count had died.  The “For” at the beginning of v65 affirmed for us that there was an intent to actually say the Levites, they were included in the Decree.

Ok, how about Eleazar?
To me, Eleazar looked an exception; he was probably above 20 years old when the Exodus begun.  He was specially picked by God to take over the High Priest position from his father, Aaron, on Mount Hor, before Aaron died.  And he did enter the Promised Land, and served as the second High Priest of Israel. He was with Joshua when the latter divided conquered plots in the Promised Land, as was commanded by God.  He would NOT be an exception if someone can come up with support that he was below 20 years old at the time of Exodus.  He was already married and had Phineas, his son, before the Exodus.  If he were an exception, for whatever ground that God had made that exception, perhaps, there had to be someone, to take over the High Priest position from Aaron, it was His prerogative.  As to the 4th son (Eleazar was the 3rd; the 1st two died from the offering of strange fire I talked about above), Ithamar, we only know his descendants featured prominently, later in history, for High Priest, Eli, was from his line.  Perhaps, his children entered the Promised Land, he (Ithamar) didn’t, I cannot find scriptures, one way or the other.

What about the assertion, women were excluded?
If women were excluded, then Miriam’s death, could only be death outside of the Decree.  Then, if the view is that she was part of the leadership team, the puzzle remains as to why she was NOT corporately mourned on death, when the other two, Aaron and Moses were.

Even if Miriam were outside of the Decree for the ground that she was a woman, the argument that possibly her death still upset Moses (and Aaron) greatly, and that led on to Moses (and Aaron) being upset with God, to me, can still hold.  The grounds being (1) there, probably, were only a few adults left from the adult generation who left Egypt, and Miriam was still one, and Moses expected God to preserve her; and (2) she was in the leadership team (that is if you agree with that), and the other two, Moses and Aaron were still alive.  Moses (and Aaron) could think that the leadership team would remain intact, until they collectively finish their mission with entry into the Promised Land.

Unless someone can come up with conclusive scripture texts to support, I will continue to believe that, despite adult women were NOT included in census counts, it did NOT mean they were NOT appointed death like the adult men.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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