Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Numbers: Screw Interfaith Marriage; We Prefer Murder!

Welcome back. Hope you’ve enjoyed yourself so far, and will continue to do so. Let’s dive in, shall we?

When we’d left off, the Israelites were in the land of Moab, after completely wiping out four other kingdoms. We’d had a humorous interlude with a donkey, and a story about princes trying to bribe a diviner to curse the Israelites, only to have God use that diviner to sing their praises instead. Today, we get into a few entertaining details about Israelite life in Moab.

Seems they kinda settled down a bit near Peor, and some of them even started getting friendly with the locals. Some of them even met some local girls they liked and started to intermarry (or, as the Bible likes to describe it, they “began to whore after the daughters of Moab”). And some of them even started going to the locals’ religious observances to their god, Baal. Bet you know what’s coming… well, in the general sense – the specifics may be surprising.

God gets angry at the people over this, and orders Moses to have the chiefs hang any of their people who attended Baal’s services. And of course, that’s what they do. And then we proceed to this charming story:

“Num 25:6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. 9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.”

God is vastly impressed with Phinehas’ demonstration of devotion, and takes Moses aside to tell him that Phinehas has earned a perpetual priesthood for himself and all of his descendants. So if you have any questions as to what the Biblical view is on marrying outside the faith, let’s recap the story here. A man marries a woman of a different faith. Phinehas breaks into this man’s home and murders both the man and his wife while they’re in the act of making love, and God says Phinehas is the hero of this story.

Can anyone think of any other circumstance where a man who murders people in their beds is considered a hero?

Oh, and from a storytelling perspective, that plague that Phinehas’ murder stopped in its tracks? It was never mentioned until we’re told that his murder stopped it. So there’s that.

Afterwards, God also orders Moses to harass and kill the Midianites for trying to beguile the Israelites.

Now, content aside, things are really rolling here. We’ve had wars, mass human sacrifices, comedic asides with talking donkeys, dire prophecies, sex, and murder. Now God has just issued a war order. We have some serious momentum, and I’m on pins and needles to see what’s going to happen next…

Aw, fuck, it’s another census.

The Bible then takes forty-six mind-numbing verses to deliver the following census results:

Reubenites: 43,730

Simeonites: 22,200

Gadites: 40,500

Judahites: 76,500

Issacharites: 64,300

Zebulunites: 60,500

Josephites: 52,700

Ephraimites: 32,500

Benjaminites: 45,600

Danites: 64,400

Asherites: 53,400

Naphtalites: 45,400

Total: 601,730

God then tells Moses that when they get to the promised land, the land will be divided among the tribes according to their sizes, which they will then divide up among their people by lot.

Then the Levites get listed separately, at 23,000, and we’re told again that they will not get a land division for inheritance.

At this point it is stated that, except for Joshua and Caleb, none of the people counted in this census were left from the census conducted at Sinai, because that entire generation has died out. This is the first hint we get that a substantial amount of time has passed. In fact, by implication, it’s now been forty years since God forced the Israelites to start wandering in the wilderness because they rebelled after the spies returned from Canaan.

Moses then gets approached by the daughters of some guy named Zelophehad. It seems that Zipperhead died without any sons, only daughters, and they wanted to know if their family would be getting a land allotment. So Moses checked with God, who told him that yes, they would receive one, and furthermore went on to say that it would now be a statute that if a man died without any sons to inherit, his daughters would be next in line to inherit, followed by other male relatives (brothers, fathers, etc.).

Next, God tells Moses to up on the mountain of Abarim, where he could view the land he had promised Israel, and then die (recall that Moses was told that he would not be allowed to enter the land – God is just giving him a glimpse before he dies). Moses asks God to appoint a successor for him to lead the people, and God picks Moses’ longtime assistant Joshua (what a coincidence!). This is the same Joshua who was among the people sent to spy out Canaan forty years earlier, and who spoke up in favor of relying on God and invading at that time.

He’s instructed to take Joshua and stand him up in front of the people and the priests to invest his authority in him. Oddly enough, he’s instructed to have the priests consult the judgment of the Urim (I had to look it up – they’re divination tools) about Joshua before God. Why the heck would they need to do that, if they have God standing right there to tell them anything they might need to know? It seems like a ridiculous instruction.

But anyway, Moses then goes through this little ceremony to designate his successor. But he isn’t actually going off to die yet; there’s more stuff to get to first. But this post has gone on long enough for today, so we’ll get to it next time. Hope you all remain well until then!

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