Friday, August 27, 2010

Blood Justice

The Israelites are on the borders of the Promised Land. Since the God-directed genocide of the Midianites in Numbers 31, the Israelites clans of Reuben, Gad, and Makir (from the Manasseh clan) decided that they would take land on the east of the Jordan River instead of entering the Promised Land (Numbers 32). Remarkably, God did not have an opinion on the alternative settlement.

Numbers 33 had God tell Moses to be sure to drive out all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land, despite God claiming earlier in Exodus 23:28-29 that God Himself would drive them out.

In Numbers 34, God established the borders of the Promised Land. That must have reminded God that there were still some important rules to convey, which we find in the chapter of this study.

Blood Justice
Murder and manslaughter. Outside of conditions of a war, what is the appropriate justice for the intentional and the unintentional killing of another person? The Bible presents an interesting approach to this question, and in the process provides even more interesting revelations; revelations which both support and refute of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus.

Numbers 35:1-15 opens the chapter describing how the Levites (the official helpers of the priests) will be granted 48 towns throughout the Israelite settlements, and how six of those towns will become Cities of Refuge. A person who accidentally kills someone or who is accused of murder can flee to any of these Cities of Refuge. (Cross-reference Exodus 21:12-14)

Numbers 35:16-21
elaborates on what counts as murder, such as any attack with a weapon in hand regardless of intent, or any attack made with malice or hostility, when a person dies as a result. The “avenger of blood” (typically the closest surviving family member of the dead person) gets to kill the murderer.

Numbers 35:22-28 covers the case of manslaughter in greater detail, when death comes without malicious intent. The person guilty of manslaughter should flee to a City of Refuge. His or her case will be judged by an assembly. Provided that the judgement is that there was no malicious intent, the person guilty manslaughter can live in a City of Refuge without any fear retribution. Once the High Priest dies, the guilty person can then return to his or her home without any fear retribution. However, if the avenger of blood sees the guilty person outside the City of Refuge anytime before the High Priest dies, the avenger can kill the guilty person without becoming guilty of murder himself.

So a man guilty of manslaughter could only be held accountable for a certain term; a term which could be anywhere from a few days up to the remainder of his life, if the High Priest lived longer than he did. Having a flexible and somewhat arbitrary term does not really seem like true justice. However, it does do a great job of foreshadowing redemption through Jesus, a different kind of High Priest (Hebrews 5:7-10). As the story goes, when Jesus died, all of our sins were forgiven. Well, at least the sins of believers were forgiven.

After that, we see that a murderer should be killed only if there is more than one witness (Numbers 35:30).

Numbers 35:31-32 expands on the guilty sentence, saying that no ransom should be accepted for the life of a murderer, or to allow a man guilty of manslaughter to return to his land before his full term in the City of Refuge.

Here is where things begin to look bad for foreshadowing Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus gave his life as a ransom to save everyone from death (Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Hebrews 9:15). You could argue that the death of Jesus was an act of substitution, not ransom, for guilty parties. Well then, examine the next verse of Numbers 35:33:
"Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it." NIV
God has a strict no-substitution policy here. So this is a definite failing of foreshadowing Jesus. Unless...

Well, there are some people who believe everything happens for a reason, and that God is in control of everything. From that perspective, we are just meat puppets without even realizing it. Now, if that is the case, then you could say that God is ultimately the one who shed the blood. So maybe this does foreshadow Jesus after all! ;-)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Genocidal God

Back in Numbers 25, the Israelites were camped out on the edge of Moab. While there, some of the Israelites had sexual relations with Moabite and Midianite women, and started worshiping their god Baal. Phinehas slayed an interracial couple, and God was so impressed that He stopped the plague He sent (after 24000 Israelites had died) and rewarded the vigilante Phinehas with a lasting Priesthood.

The five chapters which followed covered a census of the 601730 Israelite men, Moses beginning the transfer of power to Joshua, and God giving some more rules and regulations which mainly dealt with the offerings for various feasts, plus a chapter primarily on the vows of women to complete the set.

Genocidal God
If you have never been deeply disturbed by reading the Bible, you have not been really reading it. Read it. Read it for all that it is worth. Read it like your life depends on it, at least if you are a believer. I recommend starting at the beginning, but let this be a teaser to get you hooked into reading.

Numbers 31:1-2 opens the chapter with malicious intent:
The LORD said to Moses,"Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people." NIV
God tells Moses to start a holy war; a war of God's vengeance. Vengeance for certain Midianite women who had sex with some Israelites and convinced some Israelite subset to worship Baal (Numbers 25:1-3, Numbers 25:16-18).

Some commands for this war are elaborated on in Numbers 31:3-6. One thousand Israelites from each tribe (twelve thousand total) would attack the Midianites, accompanied by Phinehas the priest with the Ark of the Covenant and trumpets. This was not just a simple attack. We will see that the actual purpose was genocide.

The war goes on in Numbers 31:7-12, and it was a big success. They killed every Midianite man, and claimed their women, children, livestock, and other valuables as plunder, bringing them back to the Israelite encampment. But that was wrong, very wrong.

Moses is furious when they get back (Numbers 31:13-14). He angrily commands in Numbers 31:15-18:
"Have you allowed all the women to live?" [Moses] asked them. "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord's people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man." NIV
Note that Moses is so angry because the Israelites had let the women live who were the very cause of the war. Pause, and think on this. Instead of God simply holding the specific guilty people responsible and subjecting only them to His wrath, God initiates a war which yields destruction of all male lineage, otherwise known as genocide.

Next, note that these women had followed Balaam's advice. Balaam. The gentile prophet with the talking donkey who said that he would only say what God had told him to say (Numbers 22:38). The one who danced with God's drawn-out prophesy of blessing the Israelites while cursing many others and infuriating Balak. Talk about being non sequitur.

Finally, note that they could keep the virgin women and little girls as part of the war plunder. It is arguable that such may be a better fate than being slain like the rest of the Midianites, but keep in mind that they would become slaves and wives to the same people who had slaughtered their brothers and fathers.

Perhaps you are not moved by Holy genocide. How about Holy virgin sacrifices?

After a purification process (Numbers 31:19-24), the Israelites divided up the plunder per God's instructions. Half went to the soldiers, and the other half went to the rest of the Israelites, but the Levites got a percentage of the Israelites' portion, and God got a percentage of the soldier's portion (Numbers 31:25-47). (It is interesting that God's portion came from the soldiers.)

As we discover in Numbers 31:40, God got 32 of the 16000 virgins. What does it mean when God gets people? Numbers 31:41 explains that God's share was given to the High Priest, Eleazar, but it does not elaborate any further.

In a previous study, we saw that the priests could not marry a non-Jewish women (Leviticus 21:13-15), so marrying these virgins was not possible. The best that these virgins could become was slaves or concubines for the priests. That is, if they belonged to the priests.

The text only says that they were “for the Lord” and “the Lord's part.” There is a Hebrew term for “irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord,” meaning completely destroying them, usually by fire, which is often simply translated as destroyed. In a previous study, we observed that indeed humans could be killed this way for God (Leviticus 27:28-29). It is likely that such was the ultimate fate of these 32 virgins.

So God expands the guilt of a culpable few to an entire people, resulting in their genocide, and (likely) has some of their surviving virgins sacrificed for Him. God demands mercy, not sacrifice? Ha.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bend Over and Take It Like Jesus

We are working our way through the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew. It has been an interesting journey. We have seen that Jesus wants people to obey God's laws, but then Jesus goes on to say that the laws should be expanded in a way which completely disowns His own involvement (as God) in establishing the original laws. Moving on, Jesus overturns God's position on God-sanctioned vows. What other commands from God will Jesus corrupt? Well, there is one more in this study.

Bend Over and Take It Like Jesus
Imagine living in a world which was essentially unimportant, where all of the wise people were living for the next world to come; a new world where everyone who makes it there will live together in peace and harmony forever. OK, so maybe you do not have to imagine very hard if you are already familiar with Christianity.

Christians look forward to a happy, eternal afterlife, but doing so should have profound consequences. Jesus unflinchingly lays out some of these consequences in the Sermon on the Mount.

Let us start with Matthew 5:38-41. The first verse is particularly interesting. In Matthew 5:38, Jesus says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'" NIV
Just like in a previous study on murder, adultery, and divorce, Jesus mentions the “eye for eye” as if He had no responsibility for it. However, those words came from God (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, Deuteronomy 19:21), and because Jesus is part of the Trinity, from Jesus Himself.

As Jesus continues in Matthew 5:39-41, He says that you should not resist any evil person, but instead you should willingly let that person beat you, take your stuff, and make you do whatever such a person asks. When put in context with Matthew 5:38, this means that you should not seek retribution at all when someone wrongs you.

What? That is just utter nonsense! Unless, of course, this life has no value. Unless the only thing that matters is making it into a blessed afterlife. Forget about justice, even for murderers (as “life for life” is part of the eye for eye verses). You must show perfect mercy, and let God handle the ultimate justice in the afterlife. That seems to be the message that Jesus is communicating, as we will continue to see.

Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 5:42 that you should give to anyone who asks, and let anyone borrow whatever they want. The Luke 6:30 version adds that you should not ask for the return of whatever you give someone.

Such an approach could lead you to be destitute and unable to provide for your family. However, if this life does not really matter compared to the eternal afterlife, then it does not matter if you die penniless. It only matters that you die saved.

Finally, Jesus ups the ante even further in Matthew 5:43-48, saying that you should love your enemies and persecutors.

Do not stand up for yourself. Do not offer resistance. Do not retaliate. Just bend over and take it. These passages further imply that you should not seek any justice. Therefore, in a way this contradicts what Jesus had just said about following the Law, because there are prescribed punishments for transgressors in the Law, such as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

This only makes sense if the context is that this life does not matter, and that all of your earthly efforts should be directed at the afterlife; that your house, your car, your money, your family, and even your life is not anywhere near as important achieving the blessed afterlife. As we have discussed in other studies, it appears that Jesus was preaching that God's judgement and His associated eternal Kingdom was coming soon. The odds were that you would not have to suffer, or worry about material goods, much longer anyway. Or at least that was the plan.

So, for those of you who believe in and follow Jesus, I have a challenge for you. Calculate how much money you need to live. I mean the bare minimum; Ramen noodles for three meals a day, money for the most humble place you can live, no vacations or presents, etc. Once you have that figure, subtract that from your take-home pay. Then, send me that remainder amount. That is right. I am requesting it from you, and Jesus says you should give it to me (Matthew 5:42). You can email me at for my address to send the checks.

Go ahead. You know this life does not really matter.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Woman's Word

After Phinehas skewered an interracial couple simultaneously with his spear, God was so impressed that He stopped the plague He sent (after 24000 Israelites had died) and rewarded the vigilante Phinehas with a lasting Priesthood.

In Numbers 26, God requests a census be taken, which found that there were 601730 Israelite men, and that only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were still alive from the time that God had pronounced that no Israelite men living at that time would enter the Promised Land, except for Joshua and Caleb.

Then, Moses began the transfer of power to Joshua (Numbers 27), and God managed to remember some more rules and regulations over the next three chapters to tack onto the ones given previously. These commandments mainly deal with the offerings for various feasts, but Numbers 30 deals with vows, specifically the vows of women.

A Woman's Word
A man of character has many attributes, with one of the most important being that he stands by his word; that you can trust him to do what he says he will do. It is a quality you would expect from God, a quality that God expects from men, but not necessarily what God expects from women.

Numbers 30 is a revealing chapter on how God perceives vows and women. You can easily summarize it like so:

When a man makes a vow, God expects him to carry out that vow exactly as he promised (Numbers 30:1-2).

When a woman makes a vow, God only expects her to carry out that vow if the superior man in her life approves of that vow; be it her father (Numbers 30:3-5), her new husband (Numbers 30:6-8), or her existing husband (Numbers 30:10-15). Only if there is no man, like for a widow or divorcee, will her word be binding on her without approval (Numbers 30:9).

Now, the defense of such passages is not that the woman is necessarily inferior, but rather that this was her role. Gender roles are not necessarily a bad thing. Particularly in that time, the men were almost exclusively the breadwinners. If a wife, who was not well in formed on the family wealth, made a careless vow, it could bring financial ruin on the family. So the husband's evaluation of a vow his wife made provided a safety net.

That is not inherently bad, but the devil is in the details. Numbers 30:13 reads:
"Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself." NIV
To “deny herself” means to fast or abstain from something (chocolate or sex), and is performed as a pious commitment to God; done to honor God or as part of a prayer request (Luke 2:37, Acts 14:23). So the husband has a level of control as to his wife's commitment and communion with God!

This indeed does place women at a diminutive status; a place where her own desires for closeness to Heavenly God can be trumped by her husband's earthly desires.

Why would God permit this? God values the physical pleasures of a man higher than the spiritual sacrifices of a woman? God wants a woman's authority to be her husband's first and God's second? God values women less than men? These are unpleasant prospects, to say the least.

One alternative is to consider that this is a man-made religion. Men in that time wanted absolute authority over their wives, and would not tolerate wives who vowed to withhold sex in honor of God. No, in the religion they created, men would get the final word.