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Training in the Desert

Summary:
My cousin and I covered this from Numbers 9: 15On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. 16So it was always: the cloud covered it by daya and the appearance of fire by night.17And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. 18At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of

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My cousin and I covered this from Numbers 9:

15On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. 16So it was always: the cloud covered it by daya and the appearance of fire by night.17And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. 18At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the LORD and did not set out. 20Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the LORD they remained in camp; then according to the command of the LORD they set out. 21And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. 22Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. 23At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out. They kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the LORD by Moses.

If we take the Bible accounts at face value, it means that hundreds of thousands of adult males (and some 2 million total people) marched around following the Lord. The entire “city” was oriented around God, with everyone’s purpose and plans kept entirely subordinate to His unpredictable lead.

This is amazing, and of course it has all sorts of significance for the believer in terms of how to live, even in our time.

Yet this raised a puzzle for me: How could Moses maintain order like this? With such a group of grumblers, would it really work for them all to keep marching and camping in unison, for four decades, wandering around in the desert? Why didn’t some hotheads talk up new ideas?

One possible explanation is that they were afraid of being executed. After all, there was plenty of corporal punishment on the books. (Incidentally, do Jewish scholars have ideas about the frequency with which these harsh penalties were enforced? For example, what parent would want to kill his kid for being insolent?)

Another possible explanation is that the Jews at this time were dependent on manna from heaven (literally). So perhaps cynics and rebels were afraid to secede, because they worried that the manna wouldn’t appear for them if they left camp?

If that’s right, it makes more sense of the whole situation (at least to me). All of the conditions came together to serve the function of training the children of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years, to raise a new generation who had not lived under slavery, and who were utterly dependent on God. Given their rebellious nature, the other elements of the situation “had to be that way” to make it work.

Robert Murphy
Christian, Austrian economist, and libertarian theorist. Research Prof at Texas Tech and author of *Choice*. Paul Krugman's worst nightmare.

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