We’re looking at a story about God’s chosen ones facing a test with fruit trees in a beautiful garden—sounds like Genesis 3, right? Surprisingly, this is a story from Numbers 13-15, with another tree and another test. In this episode, Tim and Jon dive into the second movement of Numbers and the choice Israel faces when they reach the border of the promised land. Will they choose to trust their wisdom or Yahweh’s?
The narrator is clearly using vocabulary from the choice that lay before Adam and Eve about the fruit and the trees of the garden and whether they’re good or bad. How the Israelites respond to the inhabitants of the garden land and whether they will trust God’s word is the test. God’s chosen ones have a choice about what they will do with the fruit of the land.
In part one (00:00-17:24), Tim and Jon review Numbers’ position within the Torah, especially its relationship to the Exodus scroll. Exodus and Numbers are mirrored bookends to Leviticus, both telling stories of journeys through the wilderness. In Exodus, the Israelites leave Egypt and journey through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, where they spend about a year listening to Yahweh’s instructions for how to live amidst his good and dangerous presence. In Numbers, Israel leaves Mount Sinai and moves out into the wilderness again—this time headed for the promised land.
In this series, we’re tracking themes through the Numbers scroll, which has three movements: Numbers 1-12, 13-25, and 26-36. Technically, the structure of biblical texts can be divided more than one way depending on what element of the text you’re focusing on. We’re focusing on three movements because, thematically, these are the sections where the literary patterns from Genesis 1-9 begin, conclude, and begin again. However, if we were tracing something else—like Israel’s geographic progression, for instance—we could divide up the Numbers scroll differently (e.g., into two parts for two geographic locations).
In part two (17:24-33:01), Tim and John explain that the second movement of Numbers spans Numbers 13-25, which is organized into three units.
Each of the three units features seven stories of testing for the Israelites, and, unfortunately, their response—even from the Levites—is repeated rebellion. In fact, the culminating test story is one where Moses himself rebels against Yahweh. However, the main theme from these stories isn’t as much Israel’s failure as it is Yahweh’s mercy. Again and again, Yahweh allows Israel to experience the consequences of their own actions, but not to the point of destroying themselves. While holding them accountable for their sins, Yahweh maintains his plan for this people group to be the means by which he redeems all the nations, and he won’t give up on them. Yahweh’s mercy triumphs over Israel’s failures.
In part three (33:01-51:10), the guys explore the first story of testing and rebellion in Numbers 13-15.
The story kicks off with a list of the leaders of Israel’s tribes, who are sent to survey the land of Canaan before the rest of Israel enters. Two names stand out among the list of twelve: Caleb and Joshua. An anomaly, Caleb is both a member of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of Esau. Joshua is a descendant of Joseph.
Numbers 13:17-19 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad?”
We should hear echoes of Genesis 3 when we read Moses’ instructions to the twelve spies. Once again, humans are being given the opportunity to see and decide for themselves if something is good or bad. So far, humans have ruined this opportunity by determining what is good and bad by their own wisdom instead of Yahweh’s.
In this case, all of the spies except Joshua and Caleb vote to not enter the promised land because they saw giant descendants of the Nephilim. They make this decision all while holding in their hands incredible fruit they harvested from the land, replaying the sin of Adam and Eve. They’ve taken the fruit and chosen not to listen to Yahweh’s words.
In part four (51:10-1:04:11), Tim and Jon conclude by discussing the Israelites’ choice to trust the spies’ fear instead of what God had commanded them to do in entering the land (Num. 14). Moses and Yahweh’s exchange is almost identical to their conversation after Israel’s sin with the golden calf (Exod. 32; Num. 14:11-19). Yahweh threatens to wipe out Israel for their lack of belief in his words, and Moses reminds him of his character described in Exodus 32. Yahweh then relents.
Although Yahweh spares the lives of the Israelites, he forbids the entire generation from entering the promised land (Num. 14:20-24). Instead, they will wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation dies.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman.
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