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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL MURMUR AGAINST MOSES

THE life which the Israelites led in the wilderness was so disagreeable and troublesome to them, and they were so uneasy at it, that although God had forbidden them to meddle with the Canaanites, they could not be persuaded to be obedient to the words of Moses, and to be quiet. Believing they would be able to beat their enemies, even without his approbation, they accused him of wishing to keep them in a distressed condition, in order that they might always stand in need of his assistance. They therefore resolved to fight with the Caananites,[should be Canaanites] saying that God watched over them not out of regard to the prayers of Moses, but on account of their fore fathers, whose affairs He took under His own conduct. And they also said that it was because of their own virtue that He had formerly procured them their liberty, and that He would continue His assistance now they were willing to take pains for it. They declared that they were of themselves strong and brave enough for the conquest of their enemies. But even if Moses could alienate God from them, it was best for them to be their own masters, and bear no longer with the tyranny of Moses over them.

When, therefore, they had come to this resolution, as being best for them, they went against their enemies. But those enemies were not dismayed either at the attack itself, or at the great multitude that made it, and received them with [76] great courage. Many of the Hebrews were slain; and the remainder of the army, being thrown into confusion, fled in a shameful manner and were pursued to their camp. This unexpected misfortune filled them with despair; as they now understood that this affliction came from the wrath of God, because they rashly went out to war without His approbation.

Moses saw how deeply they were affected by this defeat, and being afraid lest the enemy should grow insolent upon this victory and should attack them with the desire of gaining still greater glory, he resolved to withdraw the army into the wilderness to a farther distance from the Canaanites. So the multitude gave themselves up again to his guidance, for they saw that without his care for them their affairs could not be in a good condition. And he caused the host to remove, and went farther into the wilderness.

It is usually the case with great armies, especially after ill success, that they are hard to be pleased and are governed with difficulty. And so it now befell the Jews, for they being in number six hundred thousand, and by reason of their great multitude not readily subject to their governors, even in prosperity, were more than usually angry, both against one another and against their leader, because of the distress they were in, and the calamities they endured. And a sedition broke out, by which they were in danger of being all destroyed, but were notwithstanding saved by Moses, who would not remember that he had been almost stoned to death by them. The manner in which the sedition broke out was as follows:

There was a man among them named Korah, who held a high position because of his wealth and of his family. He was of the same tribe as Moses, and akin to him, which made him all the more jealous, because he thought that being his equal in birth and of far greater riches, it was not fair that Moses should be so far above him in dignity. But especially was he angry because Aaron, the brother of Moses, had been appointed high-priest, as he coveted that position for himself. [77] So, gathering around him two hundred and fifty of his friends, he raised a great clamor against Moses, saying it was not right in Moses to confer the priesthood upon his own brother, when there were so many other men better fitted for the office. Now, Korah was one who was able to speak well and who could easily persuade men by his speeches. And others also conspired with him, who coveted the priesthood for themselves, and their words provoked the people to be seditious, so that they gathered together in great confusion and disorder. And they clamored against Moses, saying that God did not choose Aaron for the priesthood, because He never would have passed over so many superior persons for one who was inferior, or, even if He did choose Aaron, He meant the honor to be bestowed upon him by the people, and not by his own brother.

Moses was not affrighted by this sedition, for he knew that he had always acted right. So he came to where the people were gathered, and, raising his voice so that they might all hear him, he told Korah that on the morrow he and all the others who wished to be appointed to the office of high-priest should come to the tabernacle, holding in their hands a censer full of burning incense. And Aaron should do the like, and the Lord would give them a sign to show which was the man He chose to be high-priest.

The multitude were pleased with what Moses said, and left off their turbulent behavior. The next day they gathered together at the tabernacle in order to be present at the sacrifice, and that the decision that was to be made between the candidates for the priesthood. Korah and a number of the others came also, as they had agreed, with censers in their hands. But Abiram and Dathan, two of the men who had desired the priesthood, refused to be present at the decision, though Moses sent for them to come. Then Moses himself went out to where their tents were, and bade the heads of the people to follow him. And he cried out with [78] a loud voice to the Lord, asking Him to give a sign of His displeasure. Whereupon the ground was moved of a sudden, and the agitation that set it in motion was like that which the wind produces in the waves of the sea. The people were all greatly affrighted at the sight. Then suddenly the ground that was under the tents of these wicked men gave way with a great noise, and they, and all that belonged to them, sunk down and were swallowed up, and perished so entirely that there was not the least appearance that any men had ever been seen there. For the earth that had opened under them closed again and became entire as it was before.

And now Moses called for those that contended about the priesthood, that trial might be made who should be priest, and that he whose sacrifice God was best pleased with might be ordained to that function. There attended two hundred and fifty men, all of whom were honored by the people. Aaron also, and Korah, came forth, and they all offered incense in the censers which they brought with them, before the tabernacle. Hereupon so great a fire shone out as no one ever saw before; it was very bright and had a terrible flame, such as is kindled at the command of God alone, by whose eruption on them all the company, and Korah himself, were destroyed, and this so entirely that their very bodies left no remains behind them. Aaron alone was preserved, because it was God that sent the fire to burn those only who ought to be burned.

But Moses found that the people were not yet satisfied, and still complained about the priesthood. Therefore he called the multitude together and patiently heard what they had to say for themselves, without opposing them. He only desired that the heads of the tribes should bring each a rod to him having inscribed upon it the name of the tribe to which each belonged, and that he in whose rod God should give a sign should receive the priesthood. This was agreed to. So the rest brought their rods, as did Aaron also, and Aaron had [79] written upon his rod "Levi," the name of the tribe to which he belonged. These rods Moses laid up in the tabernacle of God. On the next day he brought out the rods before the multitude, and while those of the other eleven men were the same exactly as when they were laid away, the rod of Aaron had blossomed, and had branches and buds and ripe almonds,—the rod having been cut from an almond-tree. The people were so amazed at this strange sight that they laid aside their hatred to Moses and Aaron and began to admire the judgment of God concerning them, so that thereafter they applauded what God had decreed, and permitted Aaron to enjoy the priesthood peaceably, and his children after him.

Shortly after this Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, died. And in the same year, when the Israelites had come upon a place called Petra, in Arabia, Aaron, having been warned by Moses that the time had come for him to die, went up a high mountain, in the sight of them all, and, having reached the top, he put off his pontifical garments and delivered them to Eleazar, one of his sons, to whom the high-priesthood belonged because he was the eldest. Then, while the multitude looked upon him, he died.


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