Friday, May 14, 2010

Selective Wrath and Revelation

Back while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God told Moses that He was going to liberate them and take them to a Promised Land which was full of milk and honey (Exodus 3:7-10). God delivered on the first part of His promise to liberate them through a series of plagues. However, after over a year of wondering around in the desert, the Israelites have yet to even see the Promised Land. Furthermore, all that they have been eating for over a year is a coriander-like grain/bread called manna, which was provided by God.

In the study of the previous chapter, we saw that some of the Israelites began complaining about their meager diet. So God provided. He sent them quail. And He sent them a plague; killing several of them while their first bite of quail was still in their mouths for making such a complaint.

Despite the plague, there were still dissenting voices, as we will see in this study.

Selective Wrath and Revelation
One hallmark of justice is that if you were to catch two people committing the same transgression at the same time, they would both get punished. It is only fair. God, having perfect justice, would be expected to exemplify this, unless He instead chooses to exhibit His perfect mercy. Mercy contradicts justice, but typically in a good way. Let us take a look at God executing some justice in Numbers 12.

Numbers 12:1-2 opens the chapter with Aaron, Moses's brother (Exodus 4:14) and the Israelite's High Priest (Exodus 28:1, Exodus 28:41, Leviticus 21:10), and Miriam, Aaron's prophetess sister (Exodus 15:20), complaining about Moses. They both pick apart his interracial marriage and they voice jealousy over his perceived position of superiority.

Maybe that would have been OK, except for the fact that “the Lord heard this,” according to the end of Numbers 12:2. Just like in the previous study, this kind of expression suggests that there are things which can be said outside the hearing of God, things which God would not know about, as if God was a man with physical limitations.

In an aside, Numbers 12:3 states that Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth. This is obviously in defense of Aaron's and Miriam's complaint. However, this statement stands off as rather amusing, given that traditionally Moses is considered to be the author the first five books of the Bible, including Numbers. Because if so, Moses is bragging about how humble he is!

What follows next in Numbers 12:4-8 is a scene fitting of a Greek mythological play. God calls Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the Tent of Meeting. Once they are there, God, in person, descends down to the Tent of Meeting on a cloud.

God tells Aaron and Miriam that He only talks to other prophets through visions and dreams (Numbers 12:6). However, with Moses, God talks to him face-to-face (like He is doing right now with Aaron and Miriam!), and without riddles (Numbers 12:7). So why do they dare speak against Moses?

This is a pregnant revelation. It reveals that God has a human form. It reveals that people, even sinful people, can be in God's presence and see His form without dying. Finally, and most significantly, it reveals that God purposefully provides unclear instructions which are subject to interpretation except for in very rare cases.

According to Numbers 12:9-10, God was angry with both of them. However, God only punishes Miriam, endowing her with a horrible skin disease.

This Miriam's first (and only) transgression recorded in the Bible. In fact, this is only the second mention of Miriam in the Bible. Previously she was shaking a tambourine and singing praises to God in Exodus 15:20-21.

On the other hand, Aaron had committed a recorded sin, and it was a major one. In fact, his sin was a transgression according to both the popular and the Biblical versions of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 32, Aaron had made a golden cow idol for the Israelites to worship. Yet, just like in that incident where over 3000 Israelites died by sword and plague for their sin, Aaron again slips by unscathed and unpunished by God. Also just like before, there is no explanation of why Aaron escapes God's wrath. God's justice seems incomplete, and therefore imperfect.

In the conclusion of the story, Numbers 12:11-16 tells us that Moses prayed to God to heal Miriam. God asks Moses that “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days?” (Numbers 12:13) It never explicitly mentions that Miriam gets healed. However, she waits for seven days before returning to the camp, and by law she could not return to the camp with a skin disease (Leviticus 13:46), so she probably was healed.

While it is somewhat dismaying to think that God, the Heavenly Father, would symbolically spit in anyone's face, the justice and judgement He applies to Miriam is actually good. After all, if you are a parent wanting to discipline your child to correct their future behavior, it seems best to do so as soon as the transgression is discovered, and to provide punishment which strong yet not permanent.

It is a shame that God skips the judgement on Aaron, but it is a mistake that God actually seems to prefer simply killing sinners after it is too late as opposed to providing preventative corrective punishments like what happened to Miriam. The Flood. The Plagues. The Israelites entry into the Promised Land based on the sins of the Amorites. These and many, many more Biblical examples show how the Heavenly Father drops the “rod of correction” (Proverbs 29:15), only to blast condemning wrath when He finds that His children are too far gone in their sins.

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