I'm late with my blog post - yikes! Thanksgiving did me in. I hope you're just continuing on anyway...
This is a long reading – half of Leviticus, all of Numbers, a good bit of Deuteronomy – and so our mantra: just keep going! Don't be discouraged by length or repetitiveness or bizarre details – just keep going! Here's where a good study Bible (if you don't have one already, I highly recommend you get one - see the "Suggested Bibles" section on the Home page) can really help: section headings and synopses are useful if you need to just keep yourself moving through much of this section. Just keep going!
And do take the time to work through our focus passages: the story of the spies in the Promised Land (Numbers 13 and 14), and the self-contradicting tale of Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22). One way of looking at these stories, and at much of this section, is through the issue of authority.
Some questions to consider while reading, then: Who has the authority to speak for God? Who granted him/her that authority? How does a person of faith tell if a spiritual leader's authority is authentic or not? Ten of the twelve spies say the people occupying the Promised Land are too dangerous, while Caleb says they're not; how are the Israelites to know whom to believe? Balaam is a foreign "prophet" who is believed to be for sale; how is Balak the king supposed to know that he's actually speaking for the Israelites' God? And what about that strange story of the earth swallowing up the people who challenged Moses' authority (Numbers 16) – is there no right to ask whether Moses is perhaps not understanding God as well as he thinks? This relationship with God is still new to these people, and the question of who speaks for God is a vexing one.