If you’ve been following along up until Numbers 32:13, you can attest that God can’t seem to agree on who is responsible for the Israelites being forced to wander in the desert. Earlier in Numbers it was because the spy-generation of Israelites were afraid to enter a hopelessly outnumbered war, now it’s because the offspring of those people are afraid to enter a hopelessly outnumbered war.
At least the bible can agree on a length of 40 years. But, if enough time has passed that Moses was now addressing the children of those spies—he compares them to their fathers, after all—then either several years have passed, or Moses was yelling at infants! So, is it 40 years from the times of the spies, or 40 years from the time of their children?
There is a third alternative which I find so ridiculous that I wouldn’t have even commented on it if is it wasn’t for the fact that it’s considered the correct interpretation by every scholar I’ve read. According to this view, the 40 years began the same year as the Exodus! Of course, for that to fit, it would mean that everything we’ve been reading since 2011 has occurred in a single 365-day span!
Now, it’s pretty obvious that wandering around the Sinai Peninsula chasing after cyclones while waging war with every culture you meet and taking a census after each battle couldn’t have happen in a single year. If Moses’ insults aren’t quantitative enough evidence for you, recall that Numbers begins by mentioning that two years and two months have passed since the Exodus, and then takes us through several more time-consuming activities.
But if at least two years passed before God cursed the Israelites for 40 years, why do so many scholars assure us that there were only 40 years between the Exodus and the entrance to the Promised Land? It’s because of age of Moses. He was 80 at the time of the Exodus, and will be 120 just before the invasion of Canaan. That’s a neat and tidy equation, much easier than having to read through the entire complex (and contradictory) time line of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy! You’d think these contradictions would pose a problem for believers, but remember the mantra of biblical apologists, “When you find two contradictory stories where only one can be right, remember, they’re both right!” In this case, you can simply say that God, being the great guy that he is, simply retroactively applied his punishment to the time of the Exodus to limit their punishment! Either that, or he sucks at math!
Even if you accept the 40-years-from-the-Exodus lie, there’s still another problem. God said that anyone 20 and older at the time of the Exodus won’t be around to witness the Israelites entering the Promised Land, but he only gives 40 years for those people to die off. While the average life expectancy of people around 1400 BCE was only around 26 years, that doesn’t mean there still weren’t plenty of people living well into their 60s (not to mention supercentenarians like Moses). This means we have a problem! Was there was an extraordinary coincidence where millions of Israelites all died of natural deaths just shy of their 60th birthdays, or did the god famous for killing sprees enforce mandatory euthanasia among the elderly of his chosen people?