Friday, September 3, 2010

God According to Numbers

The book of Numbers has been an interesting adventure; a tale involving counting, commandments, and catastrophes, culminating with the condemnation of Moses and a new generation of Israelites being poised to enter the Promised Land. God's fingerprints are all over Numbers, so let us review what we have learned about Him.

God According to Numbers
God began the book of Numbers by wanting a census of the Israelites. However, it seems that this census was really just a means of taxing the Israelites, because the census conspicuously added up the same count as the one taken in Exodus 38, and of course God would have already known how many there were. Yet in the Numbers' census, the Levites were excluded from the count. This is because Levites acted to protect the Israelites from God. Why? Because if a common Israelite tried to get too close to God, God would kill the trespasser.

We later found out that God essentially gave the Levites to the priests as possessions. The Levites were a substitute for the Israelites giving their firstborn children to God, thus contradicting the law made by God only a short time ago. But the number of firstborns outnumbered the Levites, so God decided that cash will work to make up for the shortcomings of this substitution.

God then went on to divide up the labor of the Levites based on their family lineages. He disproportionately assigned 8580 of them to move the Tabernacle and its accompaniments. (The Tabernacle was just a tent situated in the midst of a large portable-walled courtyard which was a little larger than a soccer field [football pitch].)

With the Levites squared away, it was time for more laws, and why not begin with suspected adultery? God described what a jealous husband should do if he suspects his wife of adultery, but has no witnesses. The suspect wife must drink a magic, cursed potion made by the priest. If she is guilty of adultery, God will cause her to miscarry (also known as aborting) pregnancies or become barren altogether. These holy abortions make you wonder about the fate of the soul of such a child, and in turn if life on Earth is really necessary.

Later, God described how someone can make a temporary pledge of devotion to God, thereby becoming a Nazirite. The pledge centered around growing your hair, abstaining from any products of grape vines, and staying away from dead people. If a Nazirite came near a dead person, they had to shave off their hair and start their pledge all over; after they made atonement for this sin. At the end of the vow, a Nazirite got to make several offerings, including burning his or her hair in front of God.

One common sub-theme in Exodus and Leviticus is that God loves a party! In Numbers, we found that God particularly liked the Passover festival. He even extended the invitation to the festival to aliens living in the Promised Land. However, if an Israelite did not participate without having good excuse, God expected that person to be “cut off,” which is usually a Biblical euphemism for being killed. Celebrate or die.

Another recurring sub-theme is that God sometimes needs to be reminded about His promises, and in Numbers that theme continues. God instructed the Israelites to blow a trumpet when they are attacked in order to remind Him of His promise to protect them from their enemies.

God demonstrated His loving providence to the Israelites by providing manna for them to eat. After eating manna every day for every meal for over a year, the Israelites complained for want of a little variety in their diets. God was quite offended by this, and so He buried them in quail and spitefully bestowed a horrible plague on them at the same time.

When Aaron and his sister, Miriam, started complaining about Moses out of their own jealousy, God reminded them that Moses is the only one with whom He speaks face-to-face, while He speaks to everyone else in dreams and with riddles. God then punished only Miriam, afflicting her with a skin disease. Meanwhile, Aaron got off free despite having enacted same sin and having led the earlier major transgression of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32).

As the Israelites approached the Promised Land, they sent out spies to survey the land. The Israelites were frightened by the news which the spies bring back; the occupants were numerous and powerful. They spoke about returning to Egypt and of stoning Joshua and Caleb for trying to rally them to instead continue on with God's help. God was so outraged by the Israelites that He wanted to kill them all and start a new nation from Moses, thereby repenting that He had brought the Israelites out of Egypt in the first place. Moses managed to calm God's hasty rage. God forgave them, which meant that He prevented them from entering the Promised Land for forty years, meanwhile slowly killing off everyone who was at least 20 years old at the time of this rebellion.

With the rebellion squashed, more laws were issued by God, which included the command that anyone who intentionally disobeyed God's laws should be “cut off.” This was followed by an illustrative incident where a man was caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath. God ordered his execution by stoning. Then God instructed the Israelites to sew blue tassels onto their clothes to remind them to follow God's Law as opposed to their own hearts.

Next, yet another rebellion sprang up. Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 other nameless men challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron. God was so furious that He wants to kill the rebels along with the assembly of onlookers. Moses and Aaron persuaded God not to kill the onlookers, but God did kill the 250, and destroyed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram along with their entire families. The Israelites grumbled against these deaths, so God inflicted a plague on the Israelites with the intent to kill them all. Moses and Aaron managed to make an atonement offering to stop the plague after 14700 people had died.

God established more laws for the Sanctuary. Instead of being welcoming to all because of His love for everyone, God instead put up a series of barriers, ultimately allowing only the High Priest to gain private audience with God, and even then only on one day of the year.

Surprise! Another rebellion occurred; the Israelites complained about lacking food variety and water. Echoing the earlier Exodus account, Moses whacked a rock to make water come out. Yet God does not something about like the way in which Moses did this, and so God condemned Moses and Aaron to die without entering the Promised Land.

As the Israelites made their way around to the Promised Land, with God's help they pillaged and committed genocide to all nations in their path. King Balak solicited a prophet named Balaam to help protect his people from the Israelites. Balaam asked God if he should go to Balak. God said no. Later, Balaam asked again. God then told Balaam to go to Balak, but to say only what God tells him to say. So Balaam set out on his donkey. The donkey seemed to act crazy. Balaam beat the donkey for this odd behavior. God made the donkey be able to speak, and then God told Balaam that had it not been for his donkey's actions, God would have killed Balaam.

When Balaam finally reached Balak, Balaam performed a series of three sets of sacrifices, inquiring of God after each set of sacrifices. Balaam had to go through this series because, instead of being straightforward from the beginning, God chose to only give piecemeal information.

While the Israelites were camped outside the Promised Land, some of them started up interracial relationships and worshiping the god of the natives, Baal. God was so angry that He sent a plague to kill the Israelites and demanded that their leaders be publicly executed. While Moses was gathering the leaders to develop a plan, an Israelite man walked by with a Midianite woman. Phinehas followed them back to their tent and skewers them both together with his spear. God was so impressed with Phinehas' extremist zeal that God rewarded him with the promise of a lasting priesthood and stopped the plague. Unfortunately and indiscriminately, 24000 had fallen already by God's plague.

Later on, we learned how God views vows. A man's vow is binding, while a woman's vow is subject to her male-authority-figure's approval. This approval process even extends to a promise a woman might make to honor God.

God directed a war of vengeance against the Midianites to repay them for corrupting the Israelites. This war was a genocide of the Midianites, with the extermination of all males of any age and any non-virgin females. The Israelites got to keep the virgins for themselves, which included some virgin sacrifices for God.

To wrap up the book, God dictated some more laws regarding murder and manslaughter. It was an interesting approach to these issues, for sure, and overall rang of justice. However, the term served for manslaughter was rather arbitrary; dependent upon the High Priest's death. Also, one clause stated that atonement for the land could not be made except by the blood of the guilty party. While the High Priest's death seems to foreshadow Jesus well, the non-substitution atonement conflicts with Jesus.

What We Have Learned
God likes to collect money. (Or rather, God likes to give money to the Priests. Convenient, no?) Plus, God will accept money as a substitute for some other offerings.

God has a problem allocating manpower proportionately.

God will conduct abortions (through miscarriages) to dishonor an adulterous wife.

God seems to hold high regard for hair, and thinks that it gets contaminated by dead people.

God does like to party, but He wants you dead if you do not go to the party without a good excuse.

God needs to be reminded to carry out His own promises.

God will punish you if you ask for more than what He gives you, no matter how meager His giving is.

God is sometimes arbitrarily selective in His wrath, and almost always speaks to people in riddles (even though revelation riddles have not yet been demonstrated in the Bible).

God will be exceedingly angry for a lack of faith. More significantly: God will still punish you even if you are forgiven.

God does not want you to follow your heart, but rather to follow His Law exactly.

God needs persuasion not to kill the innocent along with the guilty.

God only wants a direct relationship with a very, very select few.

God will condemn you due to one instance of using poor choice of words.

God will tell you that it is OK to do something, and then nearly kill you when you do that very same thing.

God will string you along instead of being up front with all pertinent information from the beginning.

God rewards extremists.

God puts a woman's vows under a man's control.

God will command genocide and virgin sacrifice.

God seems confused in His foreshadowing of Christianity.

In short: God is hungry for money, hair, and blood, but not for relationships. His arbitrary wrath takes out the innocent with the guilty. He is desperately in need of anger control management and memory aids. Yet he rewards those who exhibit His same fiery temper and expects you to follow the Law as opposed to your heart. Worst of all, He will punish you even if He forgives you, which does not bode well for His bumbled, foreshadowed Christianity.

<-] Site Map [->


  1. "A man's vow is binding, while a woman's vow is subject to her male-authority-figure's approval."

    I'm surprised fundamentalist women haven't used this passage as an excuse to back out of credit card bills or loan payments. :)

  2. @Ahab
    No kidding! You know, I have heard of a Christian-only financial institution (whose name escapes me). I wonder if they even work with women.