Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Numbers: Something to Complain About

Welcome back, dear reader. We continue our Bible discussion today in the midst of the book of Numbers, with the Israelites having reached the end of their stay at Mount Sinai and setting off into the wilderness on their way to Canaan. No sooner do they set out than we get:

“Num 11:1 And the people complained in the hearing of Yahweh about their misfortunes, and when Yahweh heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of Yahweh burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.”

Complain, will you? I’ll give you something to complain about! Fwoosh!

Fortunately, Moses prayed to God and he stopped burning their shit (a method I’m certain everyone would agree should replace water and fire suppressant chemicals in modern firefighting). But the Israelites apparently didn’t connect the fires with their complaining, because they didn’t stop. You see, they’ve been going more than a year since leaving Egypt and in all that time apparently they’ve been eating nothing but manna (except Moses’ family, who have a constant supply of fresh meat from all the offerings at the altar). They seem to have found this state of affairs annoying.

Now, Moses notices the complaining, and is getting kind of stressed. So he goes and whines to God about how he can’t possibly lead all of these people by himself, and now they’re demanding meat that he can’t possibly provide for them. It’s some pretty intense bitching, to the point of telling God that if he doesn’t help him out somehow then he might as well just kill him right now.

So God tells Moses to gather together seventy elders, and he’ll put part of the spirit he’d put into Moses (whatever that means – maybe whatever it is that let him turn staves into snakes?) into each of the elders so they can help him out. He also tell him to tell the people that he’s going to give them meat… so much meat that they could eat it for a month until it’s coming out of their noses and they’re sick to death of meat. Moses is, oddly for someone whose seen what he’s supposedly seen, skeptical about God’s ability to do that. But God basically tells him to just go tell the people what he said and he’ll see what happens.

So Moses picks out his seventy elders and calls them to his tent. God shows up in his cloud and puts some of the Spirit into them and they start prophesying (but only for a little bit before they stop). Of course, nothing is said about what prophesies they made or whether they were useful, as opposed to just babbling. Also, supposedly two of the elders (Eldad and Medad) didn’t actually go to Moses’s tent, so when the Spirit was put in them they started prophesying in the camp. So Moses’ assistant Joshua comes to him to complain about it and ask him to stop them. But Moses rebuffs him, telling him he’d be thrilled if everyone were a prophet.

So after the elders depart back to the camp, God sends a strong wind to blow in a metric buttload of quail. They fall in a layer two cubits (about three feet) deep for a distance of a day’s journey on either side of the camp. So the people who’ve been craving meat go out and gather some up for a feast.

“Num 11:33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of Yahweh was kindled against the people, and Yahweh struck down the people with a very great plague.”


In case there’s any doubt as to whether that was a fatal plague, the next verse goes on to talk about burying the victims. No word on how many people died, though.

So just to be clear. We have a group of people here who’ve been wandering for a year in the wilderness eating nothing but cakes (which are described as tasting like cakes baked with oil, which would probably be pretty tasty if it wasn’t what you ate for every damned meal for a full year). These same people are watching the priests getting to eat free meat all the damn time. So their asking for meat is a perfectly reasonable complaint. And God’s response is to fatally poison them! And since he did it with an overabundance of the meat they were asking for, I suppose the authors thought it was cleverly poetic, but it’s just a dick move.

But just as an aside… even if you were to assume any of this happened historically, at least one uncontrolled fire in an encampment of over a million people, and an episode of food poisoning in such an encampment, are pretty freaking inevitable. You don’t actually need a god to explain it.

Do I have time and space for the next story? Hmmm… I guess so. It’s kind of short.

So the Israelites set out to Hazeroth, where they stop for a time. Then Aaron and his wife Miriam start complaining about Moses’ judgment on account of him marrying a Cushite woman. Since the only wife of Moses mentioned so far was a Midianite, I assume this is now talking about a second wife, although that isn’t stated explicitly. So they start arguing that God has also spoken through Aaron, and since Moses is clearly clueless on account of being ok with interracial marriage, people ought to listen to Aaron instead. Apparently Moses doesn’t immediately smite his brother down, and the reason given is fucking hilarious.

“Num 12:3 Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth.”

Moses is the meekest person on the face of the earth? The same Moses who first fled Egypt because he fucking murdered somebody? The same Moses who ordered the Levites to murder three thousand of their fellow Israelites? That meek motherfucker? Could the author possibly be more full of shit?

But fortunately for the meek fellow, God has his back and calls the three of them out to the tent of meeting. There, he reams Aaron and Miriam out, pointing out that when he speaks through other prophets he does it in dreams and riddles (aka useless bullshit), but only to Moses does he speak plainly and face-to-face, so they should be afraid to speak out against him. Then he turns Miriam into a leper to reinforce his point and departs.

Aaron, I suppose by virtue of having a penis, is not directly punished. Just Miriam. But Aaron admits they’d behaved foolishly and pleads for his wife. Then Moses prays on her behalf, and God answers (despite having left, and at no point are we informed that he returned) that she’ll be ok after being shut outside the camp for seven days. So they remain encamped for seven days until she’s better before setting out again for Paran.

That’s it for this post. Hope you had some fun with it. Next time we’ll move on to finding out why it is that it took the Hebrews forty years to cross the very small stretch of land between Egypt and Canaan. Until then, take care!

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