Cloud Law up in the clouds

23Oct/120

Passover Saga – Myth Or History? (17) 1300 BC – 40 Years Wandering – Deaths of Aaron and Moses

The atmosphere about the camp was full of gloom for many weeks after the Golden Calf episode and the killings of the idolaters - many of the Israelites had known some of those slain; the families who had lost members felt shamed, and moved to isolate themselves at the outskirts of the camp.

Binay had watched Moses go up to the mountain-top again, but now, everyone knew he would return, the general feeling being that he would be away for another lengthy period. Binay noted an attitude of withdrawal by Aaron, essentially removing himself as second to Moses - spending much time in prayer, meeting only with his Levites. This benefited Binay - Joshua had assumed responsibility with the withdrawal of Aaron and the absence of Moses, and now devoted himself exclusively to tribal leader problems - Chonoch had become the operating military commander; in turn, promoting Binay as his lieutenant.

Meanwhile, Binay and Lansel, and Chadaric and Rachisa, had begun planning their marriages - lifting their spirits along with all who knew them - with joy and the excitement of their optimism about their futures.

After the mourning period had passed for those Hebrews who had been killed, Binay could feel an increasing confidence in the spirits of the people. Many able-bodied men had joined the Hebrew armed forces, and the days were busy with patrols and constant military exercises. It became clear to Binay that Joshua was preparing for what lay ahead, anticipating many hostile peoples to be encountered and overcome.

Moses finally returned - after exactly forty days and nights - and carrying two new tablets of stone on which symbols of the Ten Commandments were carved. Binay, part of the welcoming group of Joshua, Chonoch and tribal leaders, saw that his face shone even more than before. Aaron had remained quietly in the background, restricting himself to purely religious matters.

Finally came the day of joy and happiness - the marriages of Binay and Lansel, Chadaric and Rachisa, plus scores of other couples, Moses himself and Aaron officiating. There were seven days of celebration for the entire people of Israel after so many months of fear, uncertainty and struggle. Now the attitude became one of hope and a joyous future.

As the camp settled into a commonplace routine, in addition to the constant military practice, Binay found pleasure in a new activity instituted by Moses - which reminded him of his tutelage under Manthro in Egypt. Moses began giving detailed instructions he had received from the Lord: about building a Sanctuary, a Tabernacle and an Ark of the Covenant; and sermons about the laws of the Sabbath; of circumcision; of ritual cleanliness; of the monthly periods of impurity for women; of death and dead bodies and purification and mourning periods; of religious standards and purity for food, what could be eaten and what not. There were laws about proper respect for parents, requisite behavior with family and associates, even strangers; that during harvest, the corners of fields were to be left for the gleanings of the poor and strangers, also the droppings from fruit trees. These rules of behavior and morality were taught, first to Aaron and the tribal leaders, the elders, and military officers including Binay, then in turn, to all the people,

To build the tabernacle, the most expert artisans and skilled workmen among the people were recruited, along with all the materials needed: specially stained wood, precious stones, gold for plating the holy Ark and woven goods for curtains, To carry the holy articles with them wherever the Israelites would travel, designs of rings and staves were included. Gradually, the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant were crafted and assembled, and the place for the Sanctuary was erected - the Levites, under Aaron, taking control of this symbolic prayer site of the Lord God of the Israelites.

With hours spent each day in combat training of the citizen-soldiers, Binay gradually became aware of an attitude of concern growing into fear among the populace, "We hear there are giants in the land that Moses is taking us to - they will kill us." and "Better we should be slaves in Egypt!" Binay passed on the information to Chonoch, from him to Joshua, then to Moses himself - that the people wanted scouts to be sent, to see what the land and its occupants were like, and to bring back specimens of the fruit and

products. Binay and the honor guard heard Moses explode, "The Lord has already scouted this land for us - how dare this stubborn people ask this?"

However as time passed, and the fear and grumblings grew, Moses finally consented to a scouting mission, one scout from each of the twelve tribes. The leaders of the mission were Joshua and Caleb from the tribes of Ephriam and Judah.

The scouts were gone for forty days exploring the land of Canaan, returning with a large cluster of grapes - and with stories of mighty forces against them, of the Canaanites, and Amelikites, and Hittites, and Jebusites, and Emorites - and well-fortified cities - that the Hebrews would not be able to defeat them. So reported ten of the scouts to Moses and the elders - that the Israelites could not succeed militarily in conquering Canaan - that they should return to Egypt, even to be slaves again!

The heart of Binay sank at hearing such words from the ten scouts, one after another. But then came Joshua and Caleb - angry with the ten and their negative report - instead they roared confidence in themselves and the Lord God to defeat all the peoples of the land. Binay, his heart pounding now, shouted his support of Joshua and Caleb. All eyes became focused on Moses, whose face was as dark with anger as Binay remembered when Moses had confronted Pharaoh.

Moses stood up, looking at no-one - he closed his eyes, his face growing calm - he became immobile, as if in a trance. Everyone grew silent, with bated breath, watching. Time passed. Moses stood rock-like.

Finally Moses opened his eyes - but he looked straight ahead, staring at the horizon. His voice was calm, "This report is evil, there is no faith in our Lord God." He paused.

"Thus says the Lord - for each day of the forty days, the Hebrew people will wander in the wilderness for one year - until this entire faithless generation is gone." His solemn gaze now focused on the twelve scouts. "Only Caleb and Joshua will live to enter the promised land."

Moses then walked away, not looking to the right or left.

A hush was on the multitude. Then Binay saw one of the ten scouts cry out in pain, turn ashen and slump to the ground, then another, and another. Soon all ten were writhing on the ground. In shock, no-one moved to help them. Gradually the ten quieted, lay immobile. Then family members, weeping, took away their dead - for burial outside the camp.

For the mourning period of thirty days, the mood of the Israelites was somber, knowing their destinies, their lifetimes to be wandering in the wilderness.

Time passed, and Binay and Lansel had a son whom they named Moses; and Chadaric and Rachisa had a daughter they named Daphira. Their happiness in each other and their children made their lives full and rich despite the nagging knowledge of their own futures - their personal feelings dominated by hope, even confidence, in the futures of their children.

In the first month of the second year of the Exodus from Egypt, the tabernacle was set up - immediately the column of cloud of the Lord rose above it - becoming a pillar of fire by night. Binay experienced a flush of exultation. He felt inspired by the thought that the Hebrew people were now ready to be led again by the columns of fire and cloud, the beacons of God, leading them onwards - even for forty years through the desert and wilderness.

Binay, closer to the people through the citizen-warrior training exercises, was the first to become aware of resentment festering among some Hebrews - instigated by jealousy of Aaron and Moses. He reported his observations to Chonoch, who passed them on to Joshua and finally to Aaron and Moses - the feelings of the people gradually rising to expressed challenges and open rebellion. Two of the tribe of Reuben, Dathan and Abiram, whose tents were located in the south of the camp, were openly objecting to Moses having appointed himself as leader of the Israelites. Binay had heard Korach even confront Moses directly, "I am from the stock of first-born Reuben, so I should be Chieftain. Moses, you take too much upon yourself - our entire congregation is holy. The Lord is in the midst of us all. So, why do you raise yourself above the assembly?"

With Moses attempting to ignore such challenges, they only worsened. Soon after, Korach and some of the tribe of Levi, also began challenging the position of Aaron as High Priest.

Moses had sent to Datham and Abiram to come up to the Meeting Tent and be with the rebellious Levis, but they ignored his request, "We will not go up."

Binay and his soldiers then watched with alarm as Korach assembled 250 men who supported him. While mostly from the tribe of Reuben, some were learned elders of the Sanhedrin. Binay reported the gatherings to his superiors - the situation was now serious, an openly rebellious force against Moses and Aaron,

Moses, told of the rebellion, fell on his face in sorrow. Joshua, with Chonoch and Binay alongside, asked quietly, "Shall we draw our swords against them?"

Moses shook his head, "No. This is a challenge, not to me, but to the Lord."

Moses then went to the assembly of Korach and announced: "In the morning, the Lord will make known his choice, who is holy."

He then turned to the Levites who were in defiance of Aaron - each should take his censer vessel and coals, to sprinkle them with incense, and thus to ready them for the Lord's fire - if they would be chosen.

Joshua and his army, including Binay and Chadaric, formed a guard around Moses and Aaron, closely watching the playing-out of events, Moses, they saw, was in clear distress and had sunk to his knees; he emitted a cry of pain to the Lord, "Accept not their offering. I have not harmed even one of them."

Moses then rose and sent word to Korach, "You and your congregation on the morrow, all will be before the Lord - each man, and Aaron also, with his censer plus coals and incense - to see who will be chosen by God."

At dawn, the next morning, everyone stood ready, each praying to the Lord to be selected. Binay and Joshua's army surrounding Aaron and the rebellious Levis of the tribe of priests with their censers. Korach. Datham and Abiram, all stood, defiant, at the entrance of the Tent of Meetings. The Hebrew people all crowded around, watching with bated breath.

Moses then cried out to the congregation, "The Lord says that all of you who are not with Korach, Datham and Abiram are to withdraw from them."

Many drew back in fear. Then Korach, Datham and Abiram, with their families, withdrew to the entrances of their own family tents.

In a strong voice, Moses called out, "By this you shall know that the Lord sent me to do this thing - It was not I who devised it."

Binay watched in horror, then all fell to the ground as the Earth shook violently - a split in the ground appeared suddenly - beneath Korach, Datham and Abiram. Instantly they were swallowed up, along with their families, their tents and all their possessions. And all of Israel who were near, fled so as not to be swallowed up also.

And as Binay still watched - awe-struck - there came a mighty roll of thunder - and a swath of fire streamed down from the heavens - and, in a flash, all the 250 men who had challenged Aaron with their censers were consumed. Then, a thin, single streak of forked lightning, with a single clap of thunder, lit the censer of Aaron.

And so, gradually it became accepted that this generation of Hebrews would be forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years - until a new generation of Israelites had matured; all the males would have their foreskins circumcised - the Israelite people would then be led to their promised land.

And forty years passed - the tribes of Israel had lived as nomads of the desert for all that time. They had contested with the occupants of the lands who would not let them pass through in peace, or who had with-held water and vegetation - protected by the might and skill of Joshua's army, and the people's belief in Moses and their Lord God - and with the columns of cloud and fire upon the Ark of the Covenant which led them. Almost the entire Exodus generation had now been buried along the way.

Moses and Aaron were now very old, walking with difficulty. The Israelites had reached Mount Hor, by the boundary of Edom, east of the river Jordan. Binay and Joshua watched as Moses and Aaron climbed up the mountain with their staffs, moving slowly. Aaron was wearing the over-garment of his position as High Priest. Aaron's son Eleazar walked behind them. Tiny figures high up in the mountain, Binay and the

Hebrew people could still see them: Moses and Aaron turned to face each other, then embracing. Then Moses lifted the over-garment of the office of the High Priest from the shoulders of Aaron and placed it over the head and onto the shoulders of Eleazer. Aaron and Eleazer then embraced. A moment later, Aaron and Moses turned and began climbing higher up the mountain.

After a time Moses returned to sight, followed by Eleazer, now wearing the High Priest over-garment - Aaron had worn that symbol of his position for forty years.

It was proclaimed to the elders and tribal leaders, then to the people, that Aaron had been gathered unto his ancestors, at the age of 123 years - and the Israelites mourned for thirty days.

Joshua still enjoyed the strength of middle age, seeming with endless energy. Chonoch had been killed in battle a decade ago - Binay was now Joshua's second-in-command. As such he had been told by Joshua that Moses would not enter the promised land of milk and honey, but was going to die on a mountain east of the river Jordan; it would be he, Joshua, who would complete Moses' Exodus mission and lead the new generation of Israelites into Canaan. Many battles would be needed to conquer the land - no knowing if Binay would survive. Binay, however, had a soldiers philosophy, and was content to fight to the death for the life he had been given with Lansel, a life of freedom and children, of miracles witnessed, of leaders to be proud of, and of a Lord to be both feared and worshipped.

The Israelites had now reached the land of Moab - there remained only the crossing of the Jordan River to finally enter into the land so long promised. Knowing that Moses would not be permitted to do so, Binay and Joshua watched in abject sadness as Moses slowly climbed Mount Nebo - from which he could see the entire land - to which he had brought the Israelite people - but which he was not permitted to enter.

It was reported to the people that he had led for forty years, that Moses died there in the land of Moab, on Mount Nebo, at the age of 120 years, with no man knowing where he was buried.

Many decades earlier, Binay had made peace with the knowledge that only a few of his generation, possibly not he or Lansel, would see the land promised by Moses' Exodus adventure - because of the scout reports which had fearfully but falsely described the occupants as mighty and undefeatable. Binay and Lansel were both content. They had had good lives - they could recall the frightening times of their early years, when Bnai Israel were slaves in Egypt. Since their togetherness, they had looked upon life as a shared adventure, thus the decades had passed swiftly. Filled with contentment, they still loved each other, and their families, and had enjoyed happiness to the fullest. Together with Chadaric and Rachisa, now gone, they had raised families of four and five respectively, enjoyed the delights of weddings, of births, even of flint-stone circumcisions of their male babies, They had experienced the deep satisfaction in acquiring wisdom from the teachings of Moses as he had laid out the instructions received so long ago on Mount Sinai. They had mourned the passing of their parents, their siblings and friends, all leaving cherished memories. Their lives had been full and good.

Now they clasped hands and smiled at their youngest gurgling grandchild - held firmly on the knees of Binay as the father, a sharp flint-stone in hand, was preparing for the circumcision - the mother, apprehensive, was looking away, Lansel was holding a clean cloth dipped in wine to the baby's lips - drawing its attention from the momentary pain. Then it was over, the baby concentrating on the taste of the wine - everyone happy with relaxed anxiety.

In pure joy, Binay laughed heartily. Looking at his Lansel, his eyes beheld a white-haired old woman, her face wrinkled from too much sun, though still comely. But, in his minds eye, who he saw was the slender, frightened girl of forty years before, at their first embrace - she shivering with apprehension as his arms enclosed and comforted her - as they stood together, with fear and uncertainty - at the threshold of their life's adventure with Moses and the Exodus of their people - freed by miracles from slavery in Egypt - for a better life, a life of freedom, in a land of promise.
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