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Audio Bible, The: Numbers: The Old Testament

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At the beginning of Numbers, Israel prepares to continue the journey from Mount Sinai to the promised land. God devotes one of the twelve tribes, the Levites, to assist Aaron in the work of the priesthood, maintaining and watching over Israel’s religious articles. After dedicating the Tabernacle, which houses the Ark of the Covenant, the Israelites leave Sinai, guided by the movements of a cloud that rests over the Tabernacle. Entering the desert, the people begin to complain about everything from the lack of interesting food to Moses’s leadership.

Moses sends spies into Canaan to explore the promised land. Upon returning, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, report that Israel can successfully conquer the Canaanite people with God’s help. However, some of the spies incite an uprising, arguing that it will be impossible to take the land from the Canaanites and that Israel should return to Egypt instead. God plans to destroy the people for their lack of faith, but Moses intervenes and convinces God to forgive them. God relents but delivers a heavy curse. He announces that the current generation of Israelites, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, will not be allowed to enter the promised land. Moses leads the people back toward the Red Sea to wander in the wilderness for a period of forty years.

Another revolt occurs when three men grow jealous of Moses’s leadership. God plans to destroy the entire nation because of the men’s jealousy, but Moses persuades God to destroy only the guilty parties. Moses warns the people that the men will die as a result of their own disobedience. God causes the ground to open and swallow the men, but the Israelites blame Moses and Aaron for the incident. Very angry, God sends a rapidly spreading plague through the crowd, killing thousands. Aaron runs out into the crowd and holds up the priest’s censer to atone for Israel’s wrongdoing, stopping the plague in its destructive path.

Following this event, Moses and Aaron themselves disobey God. The people continue to complain about the lack of water and express their longing to be back in Egypt. God instructs Moses to speak to a rock and command it to produce water. Moses, instead, hits the rock angrily with his staff. The rock proceeds to pour forth water, but God tells Moses and Aaron that they, too, will never enter the promised land because of this brash act. Aaron dies soon after, and the priesthood passes on to Aaron’s son Eleazar.

Israel wanders in the lands southwest of Canaan, requesting safe passage from the surrounding nations but receiving little hospitality in return. With God’s help, Israel conquers the Amorites and settles in their lands. Learning of the overthrow, the king of Moab summons a renowned sorcerer, Balaam, to come and pronounce a curse on the Israelites. The angel of God intercepts Balaam on the road to Moab, frightening Balaam’s donkey. When Balaam strikes the panicked animal, the donkey miraculously speaks, rebuking Balaam. The Lord points out the angel’s presence. The angel of God forbids Balaam to curse the Israelites before the king of Moab. Balaam arrives in Moab and delivers four cryptic oracles to the king, blessing Israel and predicting Moab’s destruction.

The Israelite men succumb to the surrounding native peoples by fraternizing with the local women and worshipping the pagan god Baal. God sends a plague on Israel that ends only when Eleazar’s son, the priest, kills an Israelite man and his Midianite mistress, stabbing them before all of Israel with a single thrust of his spear. Eleazar’s son’s impassioned act earns God’s approval, and God leads Israel in destroying the Midianites, plundering their wealth in the process. As the forty-year waiting period draws to a close, God appoints Joshua to eventually succeed Moses as the people’s leader.

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