Saturday, August 1, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2
Summary:God gives further instructions to Moses and Aaron about how to organize the tribes of Israel. Every tribe will have their own tent area with the flag of their tribal ensign to denote them, and all encircling the tabernacle.

The locations of the tribes campsites were as follows:
EastJudahNahshon (son of Amminadab)74,600
IssacharNethanel (son of Zuar)54,400
ZebulunEliab (son of Helon)57,400
SouthReubenElizur (son of Shedeur)46,500
SimeonShelumi-el (son of Zuri-shaddai)59,300
GadEliasaph (son of Deuel)45,650
WestEphraimElishama (son of Ammihud)40,500
ManassehGamaliel (son of Pedahzur)32,200
BenjaminAbidan (son of Gideoni)35,400
NorthDanAhiezer (son of Ammishaddai)62,700
AsherPagiel (son of Ochran)41,500
NaphtaliAhira (son of Enan)53,400
  • The total amount of troops on the East (Judah's side) of the camp was 186,400; and these tribes led the way whenever the Israelis traveled.
  • The total amount of troops on the South (Reuben's side) of the camp was 151,450; and these tribes were next in line whenever the Israelis traveled.
  • The Levites and the tabernacle were next in line whenever the Israelis traveled.
  • The total amount of troops on the West (Ephraim's side) of the camp was 108,100; and these tribes followed the tabernacle whenever the Israelis traveled.
  • The total amount of troops on the North (Dan's side) of the camp was 157,600; and these tribes brought up the rear whenever the Israelis traveled.
In total, the armies totaled 603,550 - not counting the Levites, who were exempted by God's commandment to Moses. When traveling, each tribe stayed under their own flag, as each was separate from the others in camp.
Thoughts:A rather tedious chapter to read, this chapter basically arranges the tribes of Israel in their positions in camp, as well as their marching order when traveling. Obviously by the arrangement of the troops we can discern that the Israelis were most likely traveling primarily towards the east as the heaviest amount of troops are flanked there, and they are first in the marching order. As God had apparently decimated the Egyptian army, little threat appears to be coming from the west so the thinnest of the herd is stationed there.
Chapter 3
Summary:At the time of God speaking to Moses, the ancestry of Aaron and Moses were as follows:

The names of Aaron's sons were Nadab (the eldest), Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. All were anointed as priests and consecrated to minister at the tabernacle. Nadab and Abihu however "died before God"* when they offered "strange fire" before God in the wilderness of Sinai, neither had any children. Eleazar and Ithamar were left to minister under their father Aaron.

God then tells Moses to bring the tribe of Levi out to Aaron so that they may minister under him. The Levites are to follow Aaron's instructions and to perform the services of the tabernacle on behalf of the people of Israel. They are to be in charge of all the furnishings and maintainance in the tabernacle. Only Aaron and his sons however may carry out the duties of the priesthood, anyone else will shall be put to death.

God explains that he has taken claim over the Levites in substitution of taking the lives of all of the firstborn sons among the people of Israel, and therefore the Levites will "belong to" God. God continues to explain that since the day he killed all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt, all of the firstborn males - both man and animal - belong to God.

God continues speaking to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, telling him now to take a census of all of the male Levites aged a month old or older, noting their clans and their leaders. As Moses did this, God assigned each clan a specific responsibility to care for the tabernacle:
Levi's son:Clans:Leader:Census:Located:
(son of Lael)
7,500West side
Responsibilities: Care of the tabernacle's coverings, entry drapes, drapes covering the fence surrounding the courtyard, entrance screen in the courtyard, the altar, and all the ropes used to tie the tabernacle together.
(son of Uzziel)
8,600South side
Responsibilities:Care of the ark of the covenant, table, lampstand, altars, utensils, the veil, and any repairs or maintenance of those items.
(son of Abihail)
6,200North side
Responsibilities:Care of the tabernacle's frames; posts, the bases for the posts, and all of the equipment needed for their use; the posts around the courtyard and their bases, pegs, and ropes.
The East side of the tabernacle was reserved for the tents of Moses, Aaron, and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, who had the final responsibility for the tabernacle itself on behalf of the people of Israel.

Anyone who was not a Levite but came into the tabernacle shall be put to death.

The number of Levites one month and older counted in the census was 22,000*.

God then tells Moses to take a census of all the firstborn males, one month and older, amongst the entire population of the people of Israel, and to register each name. God says that he will claim the Levites instead of the firstborn, and will take the Levites'cattle instead of the firstborn among the cattle belonging to the children of Israel.

Moses did as God commanded, and in his census counted 22,273 firstborn males one month or older amongst the people of Israel. God tells Moses that he is now claiming the Levites instead of the firstborn counted in Moses' census, as well as the cattle belonging to the Levites instead of the people of Israel's cattle.

However, God says further that the people of Israel will have to make up the difference of the "273 extra men" by having the people Israel pay five shekels (a shekel being worth twenty gerahs) for each of the 273 "extra men". The resulting money is to be given to Aaron and his sons.

Moses took the "redemption money" for the 273 men that were "over" the population of the Levites - 1,365 shekels - and gave it to Aaron and his sons as God commanded.
Notes:1.) God intentionally killed both Nadab and Abihu by immolation for using the wrong fire to light incense in Leviticus Chapter 10.
2.) Using the figures given, the total number would actually be 22,300 (or 22,304 - if Moses, Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar were to be counted) not simply 22,000.
3.) Again, the math here appears faulty as the number of Levites given as 22,000 does not correspond with the actual count of 22,300 by adding up the numbers given for the individual tribes of Levi - which would be 22,304 if we counted Moses, Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The count of the Levites would actually be 27 (or 31) more than the amount of firstborn males - not 273 less.
Thoughts:The chapter begins by listing the names of Aarons sons and once again glossing over with misleading phrasing, the violent deaths of Nadab and Abihu - whom God barbequed for not using the right fire to light incense. Again, the problem here is in the wording which seems to appear as if Nadab and Abihu died under mysterious circumstances, when in Leviticus Chapter 10 we see that it is clearly God's wrath at his instructions not being followed precisely which lead him to immolate both Nadab and Abihu - and threatened the surviving members of Aarons family not to grieve over their deaths. I commented upon this questionable wording at greater lengths in my thoughts about Leviticus: Chapter 16. It is also mentioned that neither Nadab or Abihu had any children, which left only their father and two brothers (Eleazar and Ithamar) to carry on the priesthood.

God now shows favoritism towards the tribe of Levi within his broader favoritism towards the people of Israel. He tells Moses that the Levites are to be given special tasks to care for the tabernacle and has Moses take a census of all of the tribes of Levi. He then divides them up by their tribes and places their campsites to the west, north, and south of the tabernacle giving each group a special task to care for a particular section of the tabernacle. God makes it clear that only a Levite is to attend to the tabernacle and that anyone else will be put to death.

Again, God doles out death threats for the "wrong group of people" touching his church in a tent. Regardless of whether one's intent is noble, if you're not of the right bloodline God commands that you be put to death for going near his tent. If one were to assume that the events depicted in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers truly occured, it would be a reasonable suspicion to think that perhaps the reason for this extreme punishment for the "crime" of the wrong people coming near the tabernacle, would more likely be apt that the Levites might simply have something to hide. Much like I alluded to in my thoughts about Exodus: Chapter 19 it's not unreasonable to suspect that perhaps Moses and Aaron were hoaxing the Israelis with "the man behind the curtain" routine - especially when we factor in how greatly the Levites - and moreover the families of Moses and Aaron - benefit from "mandatory sacrifices" of livestock, food, wine, and money from the rest of the people of Israel.

Back to the chapter, God explains that the Levites "belong to him" and that he is taking them in exchange for the lives of the firstborn sons of Israel - whom he claims to own by default ever since he decided to slay all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt in Exodus: Chapter 12.

God now has Moses take a census of all the males one month and older, among the Levites and to note the names of the their clans and the leaders of those clans. Each clan would be camped on a different side of the tabernacle and given a specific responsibility in caring for the tabernacle.

God places the 7,500 Gershonites on the west side of the tabernacle, entrusting them with taking care of the drapes, screens, and ropes; places the 8,600 Kohathites on the south side of the tabernacle, entrusting them with the care of the ark, the table, lamps, altars, utensils, and the veil; and places the 6,200 Merarites on the North side of the tabernacle, entrusting them with the care of the tabernacle's frames and posts. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar take to camping at the east side of the tabernacle. Furthering our suspicion of the "man behind the curtain" theory, among the Levites, only Aaron's family is allowed to perform any priestly duties - the punishment of course, is death.

If we do the math here, we have 7,500 + 8,600 + 6,200 which equals 22,300. However, God and/or Moses rounds this down to the nearest thousand and comes up with a figure of 22,000. Why this is important will soon be apparent.

God now has Moses take a census of all of the firstborn males one month and older, amongst all of the people of Israel and comes up with a result of 22,273. Because God is exchanging his claim upon the 22,273 firstborn Israelis with the entire tribe of Levi, he want this exchange to be "fair and balanced" - however, instead of using the actual calculation of the amount of the Levites - 22,300 (7,500 + 8,600 + 6,200) - he uses the amount rounded down to the nearest thousand, 22,000, and makes the people of Israel pay a tax of five shekels for the "273 men" over the 22,000 estimate - which of course, goes into the pockets of Aaron and his sons(!) Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar pocket a cool 1,365 shekels due to God's and/or Moses' bad math! The all powerful supreme being of the universe can supposedly create the earth and all the life upon it in seven days, commit mass genocide by means of a world wide flood, but he just can't handle simple fourth grade arithmatic - either that or our "benevolent" deity Yahweh likes to cheat people out of their money on faulty premises.

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