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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Generation‐long March in the Desert from Sinai to Moab

THIS MIDDLE UNIT ( 10.11–22.1 ) is composed of narratives woven into a story line interspersed by sacrificial law, injunctions against certain transgressions, and expiation processes. A recurring cycle of murmuring and rebellion against the authority of God and Moses, by individuals or by the community as a whole, characterizes this unit. Even Miriam, Aaron, and Moses have moments of disloyalty to God. In certain cases, where rebellion by a few persons is contagious to the group or where it is enacted by the leadership, punishment is severe.

The unit opens with a description of the camp's departure ( 10.11–36 ) followed by a litany of grievances and their resolutions ( 11.1–35 ). After the first complaint God responds with deadly fire; Moses then successfully intercedes on Israel's behalf. This cycle repeats in one form or another. Eventually Moses appoints seventy elders to relieve his burden, but displays of disloyalty continue, even among the community leaders. Miriam and Aaron criticize Moses on account of his Cushite wife while ultimately protesting against his unique status as prophet (ch 12 ). The mood of rebellion intensifies in the spy episode (chs 13–14 ). Israel sides with the ten spies who declare Canaan unconquerable and ponder returning to Egypt, and God reacts by condemning the entire exodus generation to death in the wilderness. Soon thereafter a Levite named Korah and his followers stage a rebellion against Moses and Aaron (chs 16–17 ). Finally, in frustration, Moses and Aaron defy God ( 20.1–13 ). For their hubris God, in an unexpected decree, bars Moses and Aaron from entering the promised land.

Interspersed between these accounts of human infidelity and divine retribution are prescriptive passages detailing ordinances regarding sacrifices and purification (chs 15, 19 ), and the duties and privileges of priests and Levites (ch 18 ), including the commandment for Israelites to attach tzitzit (fringes) to their garments ( 15.37–41 ). At the end of unit two Israel emerges from the wilderness to face the peoples inhabiting Transjordan. Not surprisingly, the rulers of those small kingdoms deny Israel passage through their territory. Nevertheless, Israel moves ever closer to its final destination, and prevails in encounters with her enemies ( 20.14–21.35 ).

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