Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 24

Chapter 24
Summary:Balaam realized that God was only going to bless the Israelites, so unlike the previous two times that he ascended the mountains to seek "enchantments" with God, he instead turned to face the wilderness. Balaam lifted his gaze and saw the people of Israel dwelling in their tents, organized by their tribes, and at that moment the spirit of God came to him with another message for King Balak.

Balaam delivered this message to the king:
24:3 "...the man whose eyes are open hath said:
24:4 He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
24:5 How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!
24:6 As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters.
24:7 He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.
24:8 God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.
24:9 He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee."
King Balak became angry with Balaam, "smote his hands together", and exclaimed that he had summoned Balaam to curse the king's enemies, yet Balaam had instead just blessed them three times in a row. He tells Balaam to leave and return back to his land, adding that he had intended to bestow a great honor upon Balaam, but that God had apparently kept him back from that honor.

Balaam replied, just as he had said to the king's messengers, that even if he was given a palace filled with silver and gold, he still would be unable to go against God's commandments. He tells the king that he will return home, but not before telling him what the Israelites will do to his people.

Balaam tells the king:
24:15 "...Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:
24:16 He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
24:17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
24:18 And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly.
24:19 Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city."
Balaam shifted his gaze over toward the land of Amalek and continued:
24:20 "...Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever."
Balaam then shifted his gaze toward the land of the Kenites and said:
24:21 "...Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock.
24:22 Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive."
Balaam concluded his prophecy saying:
24:23 "...Alas, who shall live when God doeth this!
24:24 And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever."
Balaam then rose up and returned home, and King Balak did the same.
Thoughts:Balaam realizing that God simply isn't going to allow him to curse the Israelites, and will instead bless them, decides not to ascend to a "high place" in order to speak with God. Instead he gazed out towards the wilderness, seeing the Israelites and their well organized campsite. Although Balaam it seems was trying to avoid another message from God, God gave him one anyways and Balaam returned to deliver the message to King Balak.

Balaam gives a prophetic message to the king which in summary basically details how blessed the Israelites are, and that they are destined to conquer the lands of the "promised land". In Balaam's speech however, he curiously mentions that "their (the Israelites) king will be greater than Agag".

Who is Agag? The answer is complicated considering a king named Agag shows up much later in the book of 1 Samuel, which is five books away from where we currently are here in the book of Numbers. I've decided to tackle this question in a separate post so as to not deviate away from the rest of Numbers Chapter 24.

The King James bible also humorously compares the strength of the Israelites to "the strength of an(sic) unicorn", however the NIV bible replaces this translation with "the strength of a wild ox".

King Balak, however, is not pleased to once again hear God's message of his blessing the Israelites coming from Balaam - the man he summoned to curse the Israelites. He tells Balaam to take a hike and go back to his own land, while telling him that he blew his chance at receiving a great honor from the king, because God apparently held him back from it.

Balaam replied that he's been upfront all along with the king, stating that he even told the messengers that even if he was offered a palace filled with silver and gold that he wouldn't be able to go against God's wishes.

Before Balaam departs for home, he gives King Balak another prophecy about what the Israelites are going to do to his kingdom.

Balaam tells the king that there shall come a star out from the people of Israel, and that the ruler of the Israelites will "smite the corners of Moab" and destroy the descendants of Sheth. He continues on stating that the Israelites will possess the city of Edom, while their enemies will possess the city of Seir - until the Israelites conquer and destroy those remaining in the city.

Balaam also predicts doom for the Amalekites, and states that while the Kenites are situated in a strong threshold, they too will be destroyed, until King Asshur (of Assyria) carries the survivors away as captives.

Balaam concludes his prophecy by stating that ships will arrive from the coast of Chittim, and will oppress both Asshur and Eber, and they too shall perish.

Balaam and King Balak both departed and went home.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 23

Chapter 23
Summary:Balaam now asks King Balaak to build him seven* altars, and to prepare him seven* oxen and seven* rams for animal sacrifices.

The king did as Balaam requested, and King Balak and Balaam sacrificed animals on all seven altars they had built.

Balaam tells the king to stand by the "burnt offering" while he goes to speak with God. He tells King Balak that he will return and tell the king whatever God decides to show him. Balaam then goes to a "high place", and God met Balaam there.

Balaam tells God that he has prepared seven* altars, and that he has slaughtered a bull and a ram on each one. God then "put a word in Balaam's mouth" and tells him to return to King Balak and deliver the message.

When Balaam returned, he found King Balak standing by the burnt sacrifices with all the princes of Moab. Balaam then relayed the message he was given by God:
23:7 ..."Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.
23:8 How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied?
23:9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
23:10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!"
King Balak admonished Balaam, exclaiming that he had brought him to Moab to curse the Israelites, and not to have Balaam bless them. Balaam replied that he must heed to what God has instructed him to say.

King Balak decides to bring Balaam to another location where he would see more clearly the people of Israel. Again, they set up seven* altars, sacrificing a bull and a ram on each, this time upon the top of Mount Pisgah located in the field of Zophim. Like before, Balaam tells King Balak to wait by the "burnt offerings" while he goes off to convene with God. God meets with Balaam and again "puts a word in his mouth" to say to King Balak.

When Balaam returned, the king - standing by his "burnt offering" with the princes of Moab - asked Balaam what God had said. Balaam replied with the following message:
23:18 ..."Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor:
23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
23:20 Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
23:21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.
23:22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.
23:23 Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!
23:24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain."
King Balak tried to compromise with Balaam, telling him that if he's not going to curse the Israelites, at least don't bless them. But Balaam argued that whatever God had spoken, he was obliged to follow.

King Balak decides to give it one more shot to try to convince Balaam (and God) to curse the Israelites, bringing him to the top of Mount Peor overlooking the desert of Jeshimon. Again, Balaam requested King Balak to build seven* altars to sacrifice animals upon, and King Balak once again did so and sacrificed a bull and a ram on each altar.
Notes:1.) Yet more mystical significance of the number seven in the bible.
Thoughts:Our adventures with King Balak and his prophet friend Balaam (who also happens to have a talking donkey) continue with the king's desire to have Balaam (and by proxy, God) curse the Israelites, whom he fears are poised to invade his land.

In order to consult with God over the matter, Balaam asks the king to build him seven (again, with that mystical number) altars, and to prepare seven bulls and rams for animal sacrificing - one of each animal is to be sacrificed on each of the seven altars. (I can't help but imagine in a humorous way that this must somehow be the bronze age equivalent of using a payphone to dial up "God's hotline".)

After King Balak and the princes of Moab slaughter up some animals to place the call, Balaam tells them to wait where they are while Balaam goes to speak with God in private in a "high place" (which seems to indicate that our story is taking place in mountainous terrain).

Although it isn't specified whether God speaks to Balaam face to face as he does with Moses (my guess would be that he doesn't), it appears rather strange and suspicious that Balaam follows a similar methodology of climbing a mountain (or a similar "high place") in order to speak with God.

I find this methodology suspicious due to the following factors: if Balaam, like Moses and Aaron, were to deceive people into believing that they were speaking to God when in fact they weren't, the "need for privacy" by climbing a mountain would seem to serve to reduce the risk of being observed, more so than perhaps simply taking a walk in the desert. It would therefore appear that "climbing a mountain" or "going to a high place" would serve to benefit Balaam (as well as Moses and Aaron) in keeping such a deception without being observed, considering that God does not require a person to be on top of a mountain in order to speak with him. God also does not require a person to be secluded away from others when speaking to people directly (God speaks to Moses and Aaron numerous times while they are in the midst of the congregation of Israelites).

Anyways, on top of the "high place" God "put[s] a word into Balaam's mouth" which he repeats to King Balak upon his return.

Balaam's message explains that he cannot justify cursing a people that God has not cursed himself (which - considering all of the plagues, leprosy, and immolation God has bestowed upon the Israelites - is quite arguable to the contrary), and that he cannot defy whom God has not defied (again, quite arguable, considering that God has to be talked out of utterly annihilating them time and time again, not to mention that he won't let any of the current generation of Israelites - save Joshua and Caleb - inherit the "promised land", instead having them march around in the desert for forty years until they all die off).

Balaam continues, telling the king that he has seen the Israelites from high upon this mountain, and that they dwell alone and shall be distinct among the nations of the world. He tells the king that the people of Jacob (Israel) are as numerous as particles of dust, and that he would like to die a righteous death like Jacob.

I find this rather odd the mention of Israel's former name of Jacob, and the loose interchangeable usage of both names between Balaam and King Balak. Perhaps we are supposed to assume that the details of Israel's life were so legendary that they were known widely to other civilizations 400 years after his death, but I find this very difficult to accept. Our modern leaders probably have very little knowledge about the history of other countries from 400 years ago, especially a trivial bit of information like the former name of a historical figure.

Almost as of it were a Monty Python sketch, upon hearing this message, the king exclaimed that he had summoned Balaam to Moab to curse the Israelites, not to have Balaam bless them. Balaam offers up a response asking if he's supposed to not take heed to the message God has sent him.

King Balak then seems to think that if Balaam gets a better view of the Israelites from a new and different location, then perhaps he might change his mind and agree to curse them. King Balak also might not be the bible's best example of brilliance either, but that's to be expected from "bad guy" characters in the bible.

The king now drags Balaam through the field of Zophim and atop Mount Pisgah, and again sets up seven altars to sacrifice seven bulls and rams upon - again, one bull and one ram per each altar. Balaam tells King Balak to wait by the smoldering animal carcasses while he ascends the mountain to get his instructions from God.

Once again, God "puts a word in [Balaam's] mouth", and Balaam returns to deliver his message to the king.

Balaam's new message says the following, which is riddled with questionable claims:
"God is not a man..."True
"...that he should lie..."
(meaning: God doesn't lie)
(While we haven't encountered a direct bold face lie so far, we have read various passages with God clearly being deceptive or not completely up front and forthright.)
"...neither the son of man..."Debatable / True
(This is true in the context of our story, but debatable in the real world, where some can assert that God, and the concept of God, is in fact "man made".)
"(neither the son of man) that he should repent;"
(meaning: God doesn't repent)
Exodus 32:14 clearly states: "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people"; and while we can't be completely certain about God's true motivations, it is also stated in Genesis 6:6 that God has regrets about having created man; in both Genesis chapters 8 & 9 God promises never to commit mass genocide again, sealing said promise symbolically with a rainbow.
"hath he said, and shall he not do it?"
(meaning: has he said something and not done it? In other words, God doesn't change his mind)
God clearly has changed his mind twice, once in Exodus Chapter 32 where his intent was to kill off all of the Israelites for worshiping Aaron's golden calf, until Moses talks him out of it; and secondly in Numbers Chapter 14 when he once again wished to kill all of the Israelites, until Moses again talked him out of it, where God instead decided to simply allow them to die out in the desert over the next 40 years.
"hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"
(meaning: has he claimed to do something and not follow through. In other words, God doesn't lie)
Debatable / True
While it could be argued that God promised land to Abraham, Jacob, and the Israelites and did not follow through in their lifetimes, the Israelites eventually do take over the lands God "promised" them. It may have been centuries later than from when God first issued his promise, but we can't technically call this a lie.
"He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob"
(meaning: God has not seen "sin" in Jacob)
Largely dependent on whether "Jacob" is referring to solely Jacob himself, or to his descendants the Israelites. The Israelites themselves have sinned numerous times.

While Jacob was not specifically accused of "sinning" by God, there are many acts Jacob committed that are seen as "sinful", or at the very least, unethical behavior:
"...neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel..."False
Regardless of whether "Israel" is referring to Jacob or his descendants, both have committed acts that God has deemed perverse. The Israelites with the "golden calf" incident, and Jacob with his marriage to two sisters, which God forbids in Leviticus Chapter 18
Balaam finishes off his message by stating that God is with the Israelites, and has brought them out of Egypt with the strength of a "unicorn". No curse nor "magic spells" are to be performed against the Israelites, and that they will simply observe the Israelites conquer other lands violently - as a lion would eat its prey and "drink the blood of the slain".

Upon hearing the message, King Balak pleads that if Balaam will not curse the Israelites, at least don't bless them! Balaam however, insists that he is bound to do whatever God commands him to do.

The king again shows his stupidity by not being convinced that this is an unwinnable situation, and gets Balaam to try again - this time on top of Mount Peor. Balaam again has the king construct seven altars and to sacrifice a bull and a ram on each of them.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 22

Chapter 22
Summary:The people of Israel traveled on, camping in the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River by Jericho.

King Balak, the son of Zippor and king of Moab, had seen what the people of Israel had done to the Amorites, and his kingdom became scared and distressed by the large amount of people in the Israeli army. Balak spoke with the elders of Midian, voicing his fears that the Israelites would "lick up all that are around" them, "as an ox licketh up the grass of the field".

The king then sent messengers to Balaam, the son of Beor, living in the land of Pethor near the Euphrates River. He summoned Balaam explaining that these people who have come out from Egypt (the Israelites) are beginning to cover the face of the earth, and that they are against him. King Balak begged Balaam to come to Moab and curse the Israelites and drive them out of the land, as they were too mighty for his armies to repel. King Balak was aware of the blessings that fall upon all that Balaam has blessed, and the doom that falls all that Balaam has cursed.

The messengers that delivered the message were amongst the elders of Moab and Midian, and came bearing a reward of money as they delivered King Balak's message to Balaam.

Balaam told the messengers to stay for the night and that he would speak with them again after speaking with God.

God came to Balaam and asked who these men were that were staying with him, to which Balaam replied that they were sent by King Balak of Moab. Balaam repeated to God what the king had said to him, about a horde of people who had come out of Egypt and that he had been asked to curse them in the hopes that it would drive them out of the land. God tells Balaam that he is not to go with these messengers, nor is he to curse the people, for they are blessed.

Balaam awoke in the morning and told the messengers to return to their land, as God had refused to allow him to leave with them.

The messengers returned to King Balak and told him that Balaam refused to come with them. King Balak sent another group of messengers consisting of even more noble leaders than the last, and they went to Balaam begging him to return to Moab with them. The messengers told Balaam that the king has promised to bestow a great honor upon him and whatever reward he chooses.

Balaam answered the men stating that even if the king had offered his palace filled with silver and gold, that he would still be unable to to go against God's word. Balaam tells the men to stay the night and that he will again speak with God to see if he had anything further to say.

God again came to Balaam that night and told him that if these men came to summon him, then he shall go with them, but tells Balaam that he is to only do what God tells him to do.

Balaam awoke the next morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. God became angry because Balaam went with the messengers (despite having commanded him to go with them the previous evening) and placed an angel in his way to stand as an adversary against him. Balaam was riding his donkey, along with his two servants, when the donkey saw the angel standing in the way with a sword drawn in its hand. The donkey turned aside out of the way and went into the field, so Balaam beat her to get her back on the path.

The angel stood in a path in the vineyards between two walls, and the donkey seeing the angel thrust herself against the wall crushing Balaam's foot against the wall, so Balaam beat her again.

The angel then moved ahead further to a more narrow space where there would be no room for the donkey to turn right or left. When the donkey saw the angel, she fell down under Balaam. Balaam became angry and beat the donkey again with his staff.

God then "opened the mouth" of the donkey, and the donkey said to Balaam, "What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?"

Balaam replied to his donkey that he beat her because the donkey had mocked him. He added that if he was armed with a sword that he would have killed her.

The donkey then asked Balaam if she had not served him well until this day, and had she ever done anything like this before, to which Balaam conceded that she had not.

God "opened the eyes" of Balaam, and he then saw the angel standing in the way with its sword drawn. Balaam bowed down his head and "fell on his face".

The angel asked Balaam why had he beaten the donkey three times and stated that it stood in Balaam's way because his actions were "perverse". The angel explained that the donkey had seen and turned from the angel three times, and that if she hadn't the angel surely would have slain Balaam while sparing the life of his donkey.

Balaam then told the angel that he had "sinned" because he was unaware that the angel was standing in the way against him. He then tells the angel that he will turn around and head back if he has displeased the angel. The angel tells Balaam to go with Balak's messengers, but to only say what he is told to say by God.

Balaam went with the messengers, and when King Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to greet him at a city in Moab, on the border of the Arnon River.

King Balak then asked Balaam why he had delayed his coming, and why his offers of reward had not motivated him to come sooner. Balaam responds by saying that although he has came, he is no power to say anything except what God tells him to speak.

Balaam then went with King Balak to Kirjathhuzoth, where the king sacrificed oxen and sheep, giving the animals to Balaam and the messengers that were with him.

The following morning, King Balak brought Balaam to the top of Mount Baal, where he could see the people of Israel spread out before him.
Thoughts:This chapter introduces us to the king of Moab, King Balak, who is fearing the growing army of the people of Israel after seeing what they had done to the Amorites.

King Balaak sends some dignitaries down to a prophet named Balaam, who lived in the land of Pethor near the Euphrates River. The king tries to summoned Balaam, explaining his fear of his kingdom being conquered by the Israelites, and asks Balaam - who he knows has favor with God - to curse them, in order to drive them away from the land of Moab.

Balaam tells the messengers to stay for the night and that he would speak with God that evening and give them an answer in the morning.

That night God visits with Balaam and says something curious, he asks Balaam who these men are that are visiting. Most believers attribute omniscience and omnipresence as characteristics to Yahweh, but clearly here he is shown to be ignorant towards the identities of Balaam's visitors. If God is an omniscient being he would know who these men were, and if he was omnipresent, he would have seen King Balak send these men. Obviously, this chapter is yet another example that God is not quite as omniscient and omnipresent as he is commonly described as.

Balaam then has to explain to God (in spite of God's alleged omniscience and omnipresence) who these men are, and repeats the message they delivered from King Balak. God tells Balaam that he is not to go with these messengers, nor is he to curse the Israelites, as he explains to Balaam that they are blessed people.

In the morning Balaam tells the messengers that he cannot accompany them as God has refused it, and sends the messengers back home.

Upon the messengers returning without Balaam, King Balak now sends a second group of messengers comprised of higher nobility to beg Balaam to come back and curse the Israelites promising Balaam whatever reward he wishes.

When the second group of messengers arrive, Balaam tells them that even if the king gave him a palace filled with silver and gold, he would still be unable to go against God's orders. He has the men to spend the night and tells them that he will speak with God again and will see if God has anything further to say about the matter.

Again, God speaks to Balaam that night and tells him that he's allowed to travel back with the men, but that he is only to say and do what God tells him to do.

The next morning Balaam saddles his donkey and went with the messengers, and God gets angry with Balaam for leaving with them. This seems puzzling, considering that God gave Balaam permission the previous evening, but it is thought that Balaam's eagerness is what angers God, despite that the bible does not imply this at all. The way this chapter reads, it appears that God changes his mind about Balaam leaving with the men and gets angry with Balaam for leaving, which is not any fault on Balaam's part.

So God places an angel armed with a sword along the path that Balaam is traveling. Balaam's donkey sees the angel armed with a sword and turns off of the path heading off into a field. Balaam angry at the donkey leaving the path beats the donkey until it returns back to the path.

The angel then moves farther up the path between two walls in a vineyard. The donkey again sees the angel armed with a sword and tries to squeeze tightly against the wall to avoid the angel, in the process crushing Balaam's foot against the wall. Balaam once again beats the donkey to correct it's path.

Once again the angel moved farther up the path to an area leaving no room for the donkey to maneuver around it. When the donkey saw the angel blocking the path, the donkey lay down. Balaam became furious and beat the donkey a third time with his staff.

God then makes the donkey talk which for some reason doesn't seem to alarm Balaam at all. Now we've read a lot of crazy stuff so far, and while this isn't the first time we've encountered talking animals, I have to admit that this is probably one of the silliest and most far fetched things we've encountered thus far.

I understand that the bible can be taken many different ways. More sensible people tend to interpret a lot of the sillier verses in the bible to be taken more along the lines of parables, and that the focus is to teach a story with exaggerated flourishes. However, there are also quite a few people who believe that the bible is "inerrable fact", (some even going so far as to suggest that the bible is somehow a "history book") including our tale here about Balaam's talking donkey. The mental gymnastics one would have to perform to justify the belief that Balaam's talking donkey was an actual historical event is just mind boggling to me.

Why isn't Balaam showing any hint of shock or surprise that an animal he's presumably owned for quite some time is now suddenly talking to him? Do we presume that due to his lack of surprise that perhaps he's spoken with his donkey before?

Anyways, the donkey asks an unshaken Balaam what she did to deserve getting beaten three times. Balaam gives a puzzling answer stating that he felt that he was being mocked by the donkey's disobedience, while adding that if he had a sword on him, he would have slain the donkey for this apparent "mockery". The donkey points out that she has never behaved like this or deliberately disobeyed her master in the past, to which Balaam concedes is true.

At this point, God "opens the eyes" of Balaam allowing him to see the angel armed with a sword - as apparently we're left to surmise that only the donkey was able to see the angel previously. The angel turns the tables on Balaam and asks Balaam why he had beaten his donkey three times.

Another bothersome contradiction within this story arises when we are faced with the angel condemning Balaam for beating his donkey. God has previously condoned beating slaves both in the story of Sarah beating a pregnant Hagar, as well as Exodus 21:20-21 allowing for slaves to be beaten - as long as they don't die within one or two days - as they are considered property. By all accounts, Balaam's donkey should be considered his property as well, so God's angel should have no problem with Balaam beating his donkey for disobedience either. Personally, I actually agree with the angel here, that Balaam's actions of beating a defenseless animal were actually "perverse" and deplorable, but again, this isn't consistent with God's accepting view of beating human slaves, who are deemed property to their masters, the same as an animal.

Anyways, again the angel states that he would have slain Balaam with his sword because he found Balaam's actions "perverse", which basically gives Balaam a taste of his own medicine - threatening Balaam's life, the same as he had threatened the donkey's.

Balaam sees the error of his ways, and admits to having "sinned", rationalizing that he had done so because he was unaware of the angel's presence. He then tells the angel that he will turn around and go back home if he has displeased the angel that much. The angel instead tells him to continue on his journey, but to only say what he is told to say by God.

Meanwhile, upon hearing of Balaam's impending arrival, King Balak goes out to meet Balaam on the outskirts of Moab. When Balaam arrives, King Balak admonishes Balaam's hesitation and delay. Balaam responds by stating that although he has agreed to come, that he has no power to say anything except what God has told him to speak.

The king then sacrifices some oxen and sheep, giving the animal remains to Balaam and the messengers who accompanied him.

The next morning, the king takes Balaam up to the top of Mount Baal, where the people of Israel could be seen spread out before them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 21

Chapter 21
Summary:When King Arad the Canaanite, who lived in the south, heard that the people of Israel had traveled by the same route as the spies, he attacked the Israelites and took some of them prisoner.

The people of Israel vowed to God, that if God would deliver the captive people back to Israel, then the people of Israel will utterly destroy King Arad's cities. God heard the voices of Israel and helped the people of Israel utterly destroy the Canaanites and their cities. The region was then named Hormah (meaning "utterly destroyed").

They then journeyed from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, in order to pass around the land of Edom. However, the people began to become very discouraged along the way.

The people spoke against God and Moses, again questioning as to why they had been brought out of Egypt to die out in the wilderness. They also complained about their lack of food and water, and how they loathed having to subside on "manna".

God in retaliation sent "fiery serpents" among the people, and many were bitten and died.

The survivors came to Moses and admitted that they had "sinned" by speaking against God and Moses, and asked Moses to pray that God take away the serpents. Moses prayed to God, and God tells Moses to make a "fiery serpent" (out of brass) and to set it upon a pole. Whenever anyone is bitten by a snake, all they will have to do is look at this brass snake on a pole and they will live. Moses made a serpent from brass and put it upon a pole. Whenever a person was bitten by a serpent and looked at the brass serpent Moses made, they lived.

The people set forward and camped in the land of Oboth. Leaving Oboth, they next camped in Ijeabarim, in the wilderness a short distance east from the land of Moab. From there they journeyed forward and camped in the valley of Zared. From there they moved and camped on the other side of Amon river, which is in the wilderness that separates the coasts of the Amorites. (Amon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. This is written in "The Book of the Wars of Yahweh", what he did in the Red Sea, and in the brooks of Amon - where it is mentioned that the stream goes down to the dwelling of Ar, and lies on the border of Moab.)

The people of Israel then traveled to Beer, which was a well where God spoke to Moses, telling him to gather the people around so that he could give them water.

This apparently caused the people of Israel to break into a song and dance number:
"Spring up, O well;
sing ye unto it:
The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves."
From the wilderness the people traveled on to Mattanah, and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth. From Bamoth, which lay in the valley in the country of Moab, they journeyed to the top of Pisgah, which looked over Jeshimon.

The people of Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites requesting to pass through the land, promising to stay on the King's highway, and not touch any of the fields, vineyards, or wells until they pass through the land's borders. King Sihon refused and mobilized his army into the wilderness, attacking the people of Israel in Jahaz.

The people of Israel however defeated King Sihon's army and occupied his land from the Amon River to the Jabbok River, and up to the borders of the Ammonites, but the borders of the Ammonites were too strong to penetrate.

The people of Israel took all of these cities and lived in them, including the city of Heshbon, and in all of the surrounding villages. Heshbon was the capital city of King Sihon, kind of the Amorites, who had defeated the former King Moab, and taken all his land to the borders of the Amon River.

Ancient proverbs referred to King Sihon, saying:
"Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared:
For there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon: it hath consumed Ar of Moab, and the lords of the high places of Arnon.
Woe to thee, Moab! thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters, into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites.
We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.
While the people of Israel occupied the land of the Amorites, Moses sent out spies to scout out the land of Jaazer, which the Israelites later attacked, and captured their villages, driving out the Amorites that were there.

The people of Israel then turned and went up by way of Bashan, and King Og of Bashan met them with his army to battle them at Edrei. God told Moses not to fear King Og, for God has delivered him and his army to Moses' hand. He tells Moses to do to King Og what had been done to King Sihon.

So the people of Israel killed King Og, his sons, and all of his people, until there were none left alive, and they possessed his land.
Notes:1.) The "Book of the Wars of the Lord" is an alleged "lost book" of the bible, which is generally considered to have been a collection of victory songs or poems.
Thoughts:This chapter in the book of Numbers takes on a far more militaristic feel than what we've been accustomed to so far. The chapter begins with a Canaanite king, King Arad, who attacks the people of Israel as they traveled along the same route that the spies had taken in Numbers: Chapter 10, and winds up capturing and imprisoning some of the Israelites.

In turn, the people of Israel looked to God to help free their fellow Israelites and swore that they would utterly destroy King Arad's cities. God lends a hand and helps the people of Israel destroy the Canaanites and their cities leading to the region being named Hormah (Hebrew for "utterly destroyed").

Right off the bat, we see that God's plan is utter destruction of people and not redemption. We can only assume the amount of harmless infants, women, and children who were also "utterly destroyed" by the Israeli armies.

After annihilating King Arad's cities and people, the Israelites traveled around the land of Edom, (which their king refused their passage through in the previous chapter) by the way of the Red Sea, before becoming discouraged along the way.

Again, the people began complaining against God and Moses, about the lack of food and water and hating their diet of "manna". God not tolerating their complaining, sends forth "fiery serpents" (presumably poisonous) to bite and kill many of the Israelites.

The survivors of God's snake infestation admitted their "sin" (of complaining) and begged Moses to pray to God to get rid of the serpents. Instead of getting rid of the snakes, God tells Moses to craft an image of a "fiery serpent" out of brass and attach it to the top of a pole. God explains that when the people get a snakebite, all they will have to do is gaze upon this brass snake and they will no longer die from their wound. Moses did just this, and people stopped dying from their snakebites when they gazed upon the brass serpent at the top of the pole.

These verses (Numbers 21:8-9) seem to contradict later verses found in the book of Deuteronomy (a link to a comparison of several verses by the Skeptic's Annotated Bible) that specifically prohibit creating "a graven image, the simultude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth" (Deuteronomy 4:16). The apologist standpoint is that the "fiery serpent" made of brass was not originally used or intended for worship (even though according to 2 Kings 18, the people eventually began worshiping the brass snake), and while I tend to actually side somewhat with the apologists standpoint, the problem is separating people's intentions. We can probably safely assume that many people were accused of "idol worship" simply on the grounds that they possessed a sculpture that was thought to be worshiped - much like there is currently criticism applied to the catholic religion by other christian sects for their use of religious statues.

The problem is all about intent and warding off the potential for misuse. Baseball bats are not made with the intention of being used as weapons, yet some people have used them as such; cold medicines are not made to be recreational intoxicants, but yet are used as such; and God, who has already issued a commandment against creating or worshiping idols, obviously should have foreseen the potential for abuse and the appearance of hypocrisy for creating a brass snake, when if his omnipotence is to be believed, he should be able to achieve his goals in a less dangerous manner.

Why not simply get rid of the snakes he brought in the first place? My guess would be so that people who were still angry over the situation could still die from snakebites, while the truly repentant could gaze upon the brass snake and live. Vengeance trumps compassion.

Anyways, after suffering a population dip from snakebites the people of Israel traveled along and through the lands of Oboth and Ijeabarim, before camping in Zared. While there, the bible curiously mentions a "lost book" of the bible called "The Book of the Wars of the Lord", about which little is known. Why this is interesting, is that the bible itself acknowledges that it is a composition of various books and not a continuous story like some attest it to be.

The Israelites wind up at a well in Beer, and God tells Moses to gather the people around so that they could receive water. This apparently prompted the people to break into song.

As they traveled on, the people marched through Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth, and to the top of Pisgah. Here they sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites requesting passage, like they had done with the king of Edom in the previous chapter. However, when King Sihon refused their request and mobilized his army to attack the Israelites, the Israelites defeated King Sihon's army and occupied the land instead.

The people of Israel took all of the cities, including the capital city of Heshon, and Moses sent out spies to scout out the land of Jaazer - which the Israelites later attacked and drove out the Amorites there as well.

They next turned and headed towards Bashan, where they were met by King Og and his army at Edrei. God tells Moses not to fear King Og, as God claims that he brought King Og into the hands of the Israelites. He tells Moses to do to King Og what they had done to King Sihon.

The people of Israel killed King Og, his sons, and killed all of his people - leaving no survivors. The slaughter of women, children, and infants simply cannot be justified as anything other than pure brutality.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 20

Chapter 20
Summary:The people of Israel traveled into the desert of Zin in the first month* and camped in Kadesh. Moses' sister Miriam died there and was buried in Kadesh.

There was no water for the people in the desert and they began to complain to Moses and Aaron. The people spoke up against Moses and begged the question if they too should have been killed in Korah's rebellion. The people accused Moses of having brought them and their cattle out in the wilderness to die here. The people asked why they were made to leave Egypt, to be brought out to such an "evil place" where there is no crops, figs, vineyards, pomegranites, or most importantly, any water.

Moses and Aaron left the congregation and went to the door of the tabernacle where they "fell upon their faces" and the glory of God appeared to them.

God spoke to Moses, telling him to take the "magic rod" from the tabernacle and gather the people of Israel together. He explains that Moses and Aaron are to speak to the rock before the people of Israel, and water shall flow from the rock for the people and their cattle to drink.

Moses took the rod from the tabernacle as God had commanded, and then Moses and Aaron gathered the people around the rock.

Moses then cried out, "Hear now, ye rebels! Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" Moses lifted his hand and with the rod he struck the rock twice, and water came out in abundance for the people and cattle to drink.

God then speaks to Moses and Aaron and tells them because they didn't believe him, to sanctify himself in the eyes of the people of Israel, they will therefore not bring this congregation into the "promised land". The problem being is that Moses didn't speak to the rock like God had commanded him, but instead struck the rock with the rod, as he had done before in Exodus 17:6.

The area was named Meribah (meaning "rebel waters"), because the people of Israel rebelled against God, and he was "sanctified" in them.

Moses then sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom explaining to the king their relation and their plight. (The people of Edom were descended from Esau, who was the elder brother of Jacob - later renamed Israel in Genesis: Chapter 32.)

The messengers recounted the plight of the Israelites to the king, that they had lived many years in the land of Egypt and became enslaved there. The messengers explained further that when they cried out to God, God had heard them and sent an angel, bringing them out of Egypt and eventually to where they stood in Kadesh, camped on the border of the city of Edom. The messengers asked the king for permission to pass through the city of Edom, stating that the Israelites will not pass through their fields or vineyards, nor will they drink any water from their wells; the people will remain on the highway and not veer from the path until they've crossed through the border on the other side of the city.

The king of Edom however refused to let the people of Israeli into the city, warning them that if they attempt to enter the city they will be attacked by the king's army. The people of Israel again pleaded with the king, restating that they will stay on the highway, and that if their cattle happens to drink any of their water, that the kingdom of Edom will be paid for it. They restated that their intention were only to pass through the city and nothing else.

The king of Edom again refused their request and mobilized his army, causing the people of Israel to turn away. The people of Israel journeyed from Kadesh to Mount Hor instead.

God spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, and stated that Aaron be gathered unto the people, for he is not to enter the "promised land" due to his "rebellion" against God due to the incident at the rock. God tells Moses to bring Aaron and his son Eleazar up into Mount Hor and strip Aaron of his priest garments, and put them upon Eleazar. Aaron is to be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.

Moses did as God commanded and they went up into Mount Hor in view of all of the people of Israel. Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them upon Eleazar, and Aaron died there on top of the mountain.
Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, and when the people saw that Aaron was dead, the entire population of Israel mourned for Aaron for thirty days.
Notes:1.) Approximately in April by our modern calendar.
Thoughts:The people of Israel travel through the desert of Zin in the first month of the Hebrew calendar (mid April) and camp in the land of Kadesh. (While it's not entirely clear how many years have passed since leaving Egypt, it has been at least three years at this point.) At Kadesh, Miriam dies and is buried there - the book of Numbers offers no further details about her death.

In the desert of Kadesh the people of Israel again found themselves without water and complain to Moses and Aaron. They begin accusing Moses (again) of having brought them all out here in the desert to die, and question as to why they have been brought out to such an "evil" place where there are no crops, and more importantly, any water.

Moses and Aaron leave the people and head to the tabernacle to speak with God. God tells Moses to go fetch Aaron's "magic rod" from inside the sanctuary and to gather the people around a large rock in the area. He tells Moses the he and Aaron are to speak to the rock to make water flow from it for the people. However, when Moses gathers the people around he strikes the rock with the "magic rod" (like he did in Exodus: Chapter 17).

God sees this action as a direct defiance of his orders, and tells Moses and Aaron that they now are not allowed to enter the "promised land" because they didn't perform God's magic trick in the exact method God laid out.

There's numerous problems with God's judgment here, the first and foremost being Moses' intentions. However, I'm guessing that the apologist standpoint would be that God's omniscience basically makes him a mind reader, but we could argue against this in light of God resorting to other methods in other stories throughout the bible, where this "mind reading" ability could have been a simpler method of getting his answers.

Secondly, it also seems that God may have been proposing a trick test here, by having Moses do something that he has already done before (bringing forth water from a rock - which again he did in Exodus: Chapter 17) but having him use a different method. Having Moses retrieve the "magic rod" from the tabernacle would appear to be a "red herring", considering that the rod doesn't seem to have any necessary use if Moses were to simply "speak to the rock" to get it to produce water. Adding to this, it's reasonable to assume that Moses was probably enduring a great deal of stress at the prospect of another rebellion, since he was stressed out over the previous rebellions. Under these circumstances, it's easy to see how Moses could have "disobeyed" God's command purely by accident

Third off, Aaron has arguably made far worse mistakes (creating an idol of a golden calf violating one of the ten commandments, and conspiring with sister Miriam against Moses over his Ethiopian wife) and hasn't been punished. In light of this, it seems rash and extreme of God to make such a rash punishment for an act that certainly has some reason to believe it could have been an honest mistake.

Anyways, the land was named Meribah (meaning "rebel waters") due to this conflict.

Moses then sends some messengers along to the neighboring kingdom of Edom, who's inhabitants are related to the people of Israel by means of being descendants of Jacob/Israel's elder brother Esau. The messengers ask permission to pass through the kingdom and vow not to touch any of the land's fields, vineyards, or wells, and promising to stay solely on the main highway until they pass.

The king however denies them, and after the people of Israel beg him again, he sends down his army to chase them away from the border. This leaves the people of Israel to retreat to Mount Hor instead.

God speaks to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, and decides that Aaron will have to die for his earlier "sin" at the rock, and that his son Eleazar is to replace him as the head priest.

Again, I have numerous problems with God's judgment upon Aaron. First being, what is it exactly that Aaron is being killed for? Perhaps because Aaron simply did nothing when his brother Moses struck the rock? Also, again, Aaron has done far worse (the "golden calf" incident, and conspiring with Miriam against Moses) and walked away unpunished. In the case of his conspiracy with Miriam, God even specifically states that Aaron "got a pass" primarily because of his service in the priesthood, while his sister was stricken with leprosy for doing the same thing. Perhaps God sees this as a "three strike law" and felt that Aaron's passive inactivity towards Moses' action was the final straw combined with his past "sins"?

God commands Moses to take both Aaron and Eleazar up to Mount Hor, strip Aaron of his priest costume and place it upon Eleazar, after which Aaron is to die. (This also seems to contradict the ceremonies for consecration as laid out in Leviticus: Chapter 8.)

Moses does as he's told, Aaron dies, and when Moses and Eleazar return down the mountain without Aaron, the people go into mourning for the next thirty days.

NUMBERS: Chapter 19

Chapter 19
Summary:God speaks to Moses and Aaron, telling them to have the people of Israel bring them a red heifer without a spot, blemish, and that has never been yoked. The cow is to be slaughtered outside the camp by someone else as Eleazar watches.

Eleazar is then to take some of the cow's blood, and with his finger, sprinkle the blood directly before the tabernacle seven* times. Someone is then to burn the heifer's carcass while Eleazar watches, making sure that the skin, flesh, blood, and dung are consumed by the fire. Eleazar is then to cast some cedar wood, hyssop branches, and a scarlet thread upon the burning carcass.

Eleazar is to then wash his clothes, bathe his flesh with water, and then come into the camp - but he will be considered "unclean" until the evening. The man who burned the red heifer must wash his clothes, bathe, and will also be considered "unclean" until the evening.

A man who is not considered "unclean" must be selected to gather up the ashes of the heifer, lay them outside of the camp in a "clean" place. These ashes are to be kept for the congregation for a "water of separation" to purify one from "sin". The man that gathered the ashes must now wash his clothes, bathe and be considered "unclean" until the evening. This is a permanent law for the people of Israel and foreigners living amongst them.

God repeats his laws concerning anyone that touches a dead body, beginning with restating that they shall be considered "unclean" for seven days. He is to purify himself with the water running through the ashes of the red heifer on the third day. the person shall be considered "clean" on the seventh day only if they have "purified" themselves by this manner on the third day. Whomever touches a dead body and doesn't "purify" themselves in this manner is to be excommunicated from the people of Israel, for the person's "uncleanliness" is upon them.

When a person dies in a tent, all that enter the tent and everything contained in the tent will be considered "unclean" for seven days. Any open containers that aren't covered with some sort of lid to cover it is considered "unclean".

Anyone who touches someone who was slain with a sword in the open fields, a dead body, human bones, or a grave shall be "unclean" for seven days.

Anyone who is deemed "unclean" must take the ashes of the burnt heifer and add it to running water in a vessel (a bowl, kettle, pot, or similar container). A "clean" person is then to dip a hyssop branch into the water and sprinkle it upon the tent, upon all containers, upon the people who were in the tent, and upon anyone who has touched a bone, corpse, or a grave. The "clean" person is to do this on the third day, and upon the seventh day, the "unclean" shall purify themselves by washing their clothes and bathing in water, and they will be considered "clean" when the evening arrives.

The person who becomes "unclean" yet doesn't abide by this purification ritual will be excommunicated from their people, as they have "defiled" God's sanctuary.

It is a permanent statute that the person who sprinkles the water shall wash their clothes, and that one that touches the "water of separation" be considered "unclean" until the evening. Anything that an "unclean" person touches shall be "unclean" as well, and any person who touches an "unclean" person will be considered "unclean" themselves until the evening.
Notes:1.) Another appearance of the mystical number seven.
Thoughts:God speaks to Moses and Aaron and tells them to have the people of Israel find a red cow without blemishes, and one that has never been yoked. Such an animal is an anomaly considering the stringent requirements it must meet. The cow has to be entirely one color (red) and its hair has to be completely straight to ensure that the animal has never been yoked. Even according to Jewish tradition, it is said that only nine red heifers were actually slaughtered between the time of Moses (who's death is claimed to have been in 1271 BC) to the destruction of the "Second Temple" in 70 AD - meaning that only nine such cows were found in an 800 year span, averaging that finding such a cow every 88 years or so.

Anyways, after finding such a rare animal, God demands that it is to be killed and enlists Aaron's son Eleazar to supervise this task. Eleazar has to appoint somebody to kill the cow, as he can't do this himself for some reason, and then has to have someone else (it isn't clear if this can or cannot be the same person who killed the cow or not) set the cow's carcass on fire.

After the other guy kills the cow on the outskirts of town, Eleazar has to scoop up some of the blood and sprinkle the tabernacle with it "seven times" - yet another example of the bible's mystical significance projected onto the number seven. Once Eleazar is done with that, he has to supervise someone setting the cow's carcass on fire. While the carcass is burning, Eleazar will have to toss some cedar wood, hyssop branches, and a scarlet thread into the fire as well. Once the carcass has burned completely, Eleazar and whomever he selected to burn the cow must wash their clothes, bathe themselves in water, and both will be considered "unclean" until the evening.

A third (or possibly fourth, depending on whether the butcher of the cow can be the same guy to set it on fire) person who is ceremonially "clean" then must be selected to retrieve the ashes and lay them outside the camp in a "clean" designated area. (These ashes are to be used in a cleansing ritual that will be explained in further detail later on.) Now the man who gathered the ashes has now "defiled" himself by doing this job, so he too must wash his clothes and take a bath, as he is now considered "unclean" until the evening.

This whole "red heifer" business is a permanent law pertaining to the people of Israel as well as foreigners living in the land.

God repeats his law that anyone touching a dead body is considered "unclean" for a period of seven days, and now adds that the "red heifer ashes" must be used in their purification process. A person who has "defiled" themselves by touching a corpse must participate in a purification ritual on the third day of their "defilement". Failure to do so leads to the "unclean" person being excommunicated.

God adds that when a person dies in a tent, anyone else who enters that tent is "unclean", as are every item contained in the dead person's tent. Any open containers that aren't covered with some sort of lid are "unclean" as well.

"Uncleanliness" also applies to those who touch the corpse of a slain person, any dead body, human bones, or even a grave, and the person doing so will be considered "unclean" for seven days.

The purification ritual consists of the "unclean" taking the ashes of the burnt heifer and add it to some running water collected in a kettle (or similar container). A "clean" person must dip a hyssop branch into the water and sprinkle the water upon anything deemed "unclean" - a dead man's tent, all open containers, anyone who was in the dead man's tent, and upon anyone who has touched a corpse, bone, or a grave.

This ritual has to be done on the third day, and on the seventh day the "unclean" must bathe and wash their clothes, and they will be deemed "clean" upon the evening of the seventh day.

Again, God states that anyone who becomes "unclean" and doesn't follow this purification ritual will be excommunicated, on the grounds that they have "defiled" God's sanctuary. Again, this is a permanent law.

The "clean" person who participated in the ritual must also wash their clothes, as well as anyone else who touches the "water of separation", as they will be considered "unclean" until the evening. Anything or anyone that an "unclean" person touches will be considered "unclean" as well until the evening.

Quite frankly, this is all really ridiculous. I can understand ordering that people should wash themselves under these circumstances for hygienic reasons, but the significance of the red cow ashes is simply superstitious nonsense - worsened by the "necessary" inclusion of hyssop branches, cedar wood, and scarlet thread in the burning of the ashes.

I suppose we should be thankful that the punishment for disobeying this silly law is only excommunication, rather than a stoning or immolation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 18

Chapter 18
Summary:God speaks to Aaron, telling him that he and his sons will bear full responsibility for any desecration of either the tabernacle or the priesthood. God reminds Aaron that while the Levites are his relatives and are to work for the priesthood, only Aaron and his sons may perform any of the duties in the tabernacle itself. The Levites are work under Aaron's charge, and to work in the service of the tabernacle, but God tells Aaron that they are not to go near any of the items within the sanctuary of the tabernacle, nor the altar, or God will kill both Aaron and the offending Levite.

God tells Aaron that the Levites are there to assist him, and that a non-Levite is never to perform these tasks. God further explains to Aaron that it is his duty to care for the sanctuary in the tabernacle and the altar, so that this will somehow prevent God from having to bestow wrath upon the people of Israel.

God tells Aaron that he has separated the Levites from amongst the people of Israel, and given them to Aaron as a "gift" to assist him, and that the duties of the priesthood are a "gift" to Aaron and his sons, so therefore anyone else that attempts to perform these duties is to be put to death.

God now tells Aaron that because he and his sons in the priesthood have been given the responsibility to give "holy" sacrifices to God on behalf of the people of Israel, only Aaron and his sons are to receive the food items offered - by permanent law. The only exception being sacrifices burnt upon the altar, that the males of Aaron's family are to eat these sacrifices in a "holy" place. All other sacrifices can be enjoyed by Aaron's family - sons and daughters alike, as long as they are ceremonially "clean".

God states that the best of the olive oil, wine, wheat, and the first fruits offered by the people to God, are given to Aaron and his sons, and all of the first crops brought before God shall be eaten by all ceremonially "clean" persons in Aaron's household.

Everything that is dedicated to God shall also belong to Aaron and his sons, including the firstborn amongst men and animals. The firstborn men, along with all "unclean" animals must be redeemed with a monetary value of five shekels (which is noted to be worth twenty gerahs). They are to be "redeemed" when the child is one month old.

The firstborn of cows, sheep, and goats however must never be redeemed with money, as they are deemed "holy" and therefore must be sacrificed upon the altar - sprinkling their blood upon it, and burning their fat upon it, for a "sweet savor" to God. The animals meat shall belong to Aaron, including the breast and right shoulder used in the "wave offering".

All of the "heave offerings" which the people of Israel offer to God, are to be given to Aaron and his family by permanent law, as a "covenant of salt" between God and the descendants of Aaron.

God tells Aaron that priests are not to own land or benefit any other way from the people of Israel, as God will provide them with all that they need. The Levites will be paid for their work in the tabernacle by instituting a tithe upon the people of Israel.

However, no-one aside from the people of the tribe of Levi may enter the tabernacle, lest they bear "sin", and are to be killed. The Levites must do their service, or they too will bear their "sin" (and presumably be killed) - this is a permanent law to be upheld throughout the generations. The tithes of the people of Israel, which they offer as "heave offerings", are to be given to the Levites and therefore they shall not have any other income or inheritance.

God then speaks to Moses telling him to speak to the Levites, to tell them that when they receive their tithes from the people of Israel, they in turn will have to pay 10% of that tithe to God as their "heave offering". This 10% of their tithes shall be considered just as valid as if they were offering up the first of their crops like the rest of the people of Israel do. This "tithe of the tithes" must be the choicest part of tithes, which is to given to Aaron the priest. By giving the best portion of the tithes to Aaron and his sons, God reasons that this will absolve their guilt for accepting God's tithes in the first place.

The spoils of the tithes may be eaten anywhere the Levites wish as it is their payment for serving in the tabernacle, however, the tithes are not to be forgotten or taken for granted that God considers the tithes "holy", or else he'll kill you.
Thoughts:God for a change, speaks to Aaron directly instead of through Moses, at the beginning of this chapter and reminds him that he needs to be careful of his treatment of both the tabernacle and the priesthood in general - which basically boils down to God saying "if you follow all of my rules down to a tee, I won't have to kill you". He further expands upon this point saying that he's responsible for any of his Levite helpers breaking a rule too, in which God will kill them both.

It boils down like this:
  • We have the common folks (603,550 of them, give or take depending on how many God winds up killing through plagues, stonings, and immolation - after Numbers: Chapter 16 this would drop our number down to around 588,600) who aren't allowed in the tabernacle at all, and will be killed for simply entering or touching it.
  • Next we have the tribe of Levi (about 22,300 of them give or take from plagues, immolations, and stonings) who are allowed to work in the tabernacle (mostly to transport and move the tent around to and from each campsite) but aren't allowed in the "sanctuary" containing the ark of the covenant, nor can they touch any of the "holy" items in the tent.
  • Finally we have the last subdivision of Aaron's lineage (that consists currently in our story with four people: Aaron, his son Eleazar, his son Ithamar, and his brother Moses) that can touch anything and enter the tabernacle, but they have to use everything properly and have to babysit anyone else to prevent them from doing anything improper that God doesn't like, or they'll be put to death.
Basically, under 4% of the population have a much higher social status in God's view. Of those 4% only 4 people are allowed the highest security clearance - but they're also to babysit everyone else at the risk of their own lives.

God's forcing these people to perform these tasks he's assigned them as he claims that somehow this will prevent his wrath from destroying everyone. He tells Aaron that by forcing the Levites into doing these chores, he has given the Levites to Aaron as a "gift", and that he should also look at his priestly duties as a "gift" as well. It's rather difficult for me to view either as being "gifts" when they come with the risk of fatal punishment for acts of disobedience that could be committed by any one of over 22,000 people with only four people being able to supervise them. God also reminds Aaron that if a non-Levite attempts to perform any tasks in the tabernacle, they're to be put to death.

God now reminds Aaron that him and his sons are free to share the spoils of all of the "animal sacrifices", as well as grain and drink sacrifices, with the rest of their households (providing that they're all ceremonially "clean") - except for anything sacrificed by fire. In the case of fire sacrifices, only the men in Aaron's family are allowed to eat these, and must do so in a "holy" place. The fine olive oil, wine, wheat, grains, and first fruits however, are okay to be eaten by all the ceremonially "clean" members of Aaron's household.

Everything that is dedicated to God shall belong to Aaron and his sons, which includes the firstborn among man and animals. However, the first born men (along with all "unclean" animals) must be redeemed with a monetary value of five shekels, which has to be paid when the child is one month old.

It isn't stated however what happens if this five shekel "firstborn tax" isn't paid to the priests. While I'd like to believe that the priests wouldn't put a one month old child to death for not being "redeemed", I could also say that I'd like to believe that people wouldn't be put to death for gathering up sticks on a Saturday.

The firstborn of cows, sheep, and goats however, are never to be redeemed with money as God considers them "holy". Apparently the best thing to do with "holy" animals is to slaughter them and set their carcasses on fire upon the "holy" altar, so that God can enjoy their "sweet savor". The animal meat of course, can be enjoyed by Aaron and his priestly sons.

All of these "heave offerings" will belong to Aaron and his family, and is a permanent law to be observed from generation to generation.

God continues on and states that the priests are not to own or inherit land, nor are they to earn any other income outside of the priesthood, as God takes care of all of their need. The Levites are to be paid for their work by instituting a tax (a tithe) upon the people of Israel.

God again reminds Aaron that no-one aside from the Levites may enter the tabernacle, lest they be killed for this "sin". All Levites appointed for work in the tabernacle must do their job, or they too will bear their "sin" (and presumably be killed as well).

Back to the tithes, God states that because of these tithes, the Levites also are not to have any other form of income or own land either.

God now addresses Moses, telling him about the tithes. He tells Moses that the Levites will have to pay a 10% tax on the tithes that they receive from everyone else, to pay to the priests.

Now let's do some math here, even though the tithes in question weren't necessarily all monetary taxes. For the sake of this example, let's put a monetary value of $5 to symbolize a value on the tithes. Every Israeli aside from the tribe of Levi must pay this $5 tax, and there's at least 588,600 (due to recent plagues and immolation in our story). That is almost $3 million collected - $2,943,000 - of which 90% - $2,648,700 - of that goes into the pockets of the Levites. There are approximately (it's not clear how many of those killed in the rebellion belonged to the Levite tribe) 22,000 Levites. Each Levite would receive roughly $120.40 from the tithes. The remaining 10% from the tithes would amount to $294,300 to be split amongst the priests, which at this point in our story at most is four people (Aaron, Eleazar, Ithamar, and perhaps Moses) who would each collect a cool $73,575(!)

Think about this - Aaron and his sons already have a wealth of food from everyone's animal sacrifices, which are all mandatory for everything from minor "sins", to being taxed for your first crops and firstborn children and livestock. Now on top of this, they collect a $73,575 salary while their employees (the Levites) get paid $120 each, and aren't allowed to pursue another form of income, nor do they get the spoils of eating any of the animal meat from all of these mandatory animal sacrifices. This is a really imbalanced system where the elite (the priests) benefit by ridiculous margins above the worker class (the Levites).

Anyways, God likens the 10% that the Levites must give up from the tithes that they're paid, as being as valid as if they were paying a tithe themselves. God adds in the stipulation that the 10% tithe that the Levites have to pay to the priests, has to be the choicest part of the tithes. For example, when the Israelites pay their first crop tax by donating the best of their first harvest to the church, the Levites then have to give the priests the best 10% of whatever has been collected. God reasons that by the Levites giving the best 10% to the priests, this will absolve them from the guilt of benefiting from the tithes in the first place.

While God will allow the spoils of the tithes to be eaten anywhere the Levites wish, he also notes that the tithes are not to be taken for granted or viewed lightly, as God considers them "holy", and he'll kill you for not revering them properly.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 17

Chapter 17
Summary:God tells Moses to speak to the people of Israel, and tells Moses to have each of the twelve tribes present a wooden rod with the names of their tribe and the names of their tribe's leader written upon the rod - and with the tribe of Levi, Aaron's name is to be written upon the rod.

The rods are then to be placed in the tabernacle before the ark of the covenant, and God explains that whomever God has chosen, his rod will blossom, which God reasons will stop the people of Israel from complaining.

Moses relayed this to the people of Israel and collected the twelve rods - each inscribed with the names of each of the twelve tribes of Israel and their appointed leaders. He put the twelve rods in the tabernacle in the room containing the ark of the covenant, and in the morning Aaron's rod was budding, blooming, and bearing almonds.

Moses brought out all of the rods for the people of Israel to see and returned them to their prospective leaders, with the exception of Aaron's rod, which God tells Moses to place beside the ark of the covenant as a reminder against the rebellion. God states that this "reminder" will convince the people not to question God's choice, lest they be killed for doing so. Moses did as God had commanded him.

The people of Israel however said to Moses, "Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish". complaining that whoever comes anywhere near the tabernacle is to be killed, and ask if they should be consumed with death.
Thoughts:In this short and brief chapter, God comes up with a laughable way to provide "evidence" to the people of Israel that would cause amateur magicians, used car salesmen, and con-men alike to roll their eyes at.

God's hilarious idea is to have each leader from each of the twelve tribes inscribe both their names and their clan names upon a wooden rod (with Aaron's name going on the rod for the tribe of Levi). The rods are then to be gathered up by Moses, and then he is to place them inside the tabernacle (that only himself, Aaron, and Aaron's sons are allowed to enter - anyone else is to be killed for entering the tabernacle), and in the morning one of the rods will be bloom and be covered with buds and almonds.

Of course, Aaron's rod magically has sprouted almonds the following morning to which God has Moses permanently place inside the tabernacle next to the ark of the covenant as a trophy which he thinks will stop the people from rebelling once and for all, lest he's forced to kill them for not believing this flimsy magic trick.

Take a moment to reflect upon this method of providing "evidence". If you were trying to prove to someone that you had magical powers and that your friend was a beneficiary of these powers, who do you think you're going to convince if your evidence consists of a stick with your friends name on it, being locked in a room that only you and your friends have access to, and that the proof is that somehow in this locked room (to which you and your friends can enter and exit freely at any time) the stick has managed to produce flowers upon it?

A sensible person would question that Moses, Aaron, or his sons could have:
  • Entered the tabernacle in the middle of the night and switched Aaron's rod for a duplicate that had almonds budding on it.
  • That the "almond rod" might have been crafted ahead of time to look like the "normal rod", and constructed inside the tabernacle out of view from the common folk.
  • That there is no way of determining of when this rod scheme was thought up versus when it was told to the people. Thereby, perhaps Moses and Aaron may have picked out two similar rods ahead of time, crafted them to look as identical as possible over the next few days before announcing this "test" to the people.
Which ever it may be, the most damning hole in the plot is that the "winner" of the rod contest had full unrestricted access to the rods at all time and they were stored in a tent which only him and his family were allowed to enter. Somehow this seems about as legitimate as Saddam Hussein's 2002 election victory winning 100% of the vote.

Even if we for the sake of argument accept that God is real, that he has in fact chosen Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel to the "promised land", and that he is both omnipotent and omniscient, this can't explain why such a powerful supernatural being would chose such a weak and severely flawed method of providing "evidence".

Even if we keep with this same "contest" for divine proof, why couldn't God have had Moses put the twelve rods on the ground in front of all of the people and had Aaron's rod sprout before everyone's eyes? God certainly had no problem having Moses and Aaron turn rods into a snakes in front of witnesses before.

The fact is that the conditions and circumstances around this sort of "evidence" simply isn't reliable, one would think that God would be smart enough to see how a skeptic could refute this, and come up with something a bit more convincing. If I were to pull out a magic wand and make flowers sprout from the tip, you would understandably be skeptical if I told you that this wasn't a magic trick but instead a "miracle".

Understandably, the people of Israel didn't really buy into this silly trick either pointing out that anybody who comes near the tabernacle is killed, and point out that they shouldn't be subjected to these sort of death threats.

NUMBERS: Chapter 16

Chapter 16
Summary:One day a man named Korah (son of Izhar, grandson of Kohath, and descendant of Levi) took up a rebellion with Dathan and Abiram (both sons of Eliab), and On (the son of Peleth) - all three from the tribe of Reuben. The four men rose up against Moses with two hundred and fifty leaders - who were famous and well known throughout the congregation - on their side.

They made a stand against Moses and Aaron and proclaimed that both of them were assuming too much power over the people of Israel, questioning what made them superior over the rest of the people of Israel. The four men stated that God is amongst everyone in the congregation, making everyone equally holy, and again questioning as to why Moses and Aaron have elevated themselves above the rest of God's people.

When Moses heard this he "fell on his face", and then spoke to Korah and the rest of the men. Moses tells them that the following morning God will show them who in fact are his people, who are "holy", and whom he has chosen to "come near unto him" (meaning the priests).

Moses then tells Korah and his rebellion to take some incense censers and light incense in them in the morning and that they will see who God chooses and considers holy, and concludes that it is in fact them, the sons of Levi (Korah and his rebellion), assuming too much power.

Moses then questions Korah whether he thinks it's such a trivial thing that the Levites, such as Korah himself, had been chosen from amongst all of the people of Israel, to be nearer to God and to work in his tabernacle, to minister to the congregation on behalf of all of the people of Israel. Moses furthers questions that shouldn't it be enough for the Levites to have this "honor" and "privilege", and shouldn't be demanding control over the priesthood as well. Moses continues to assert that this is what Korah is truly after (control of the priesthood) and asks Korah for what reason has he chosen to speak up against Aaron.

Moses then attempts to summon Dathan and Abiram, but they refused to hear him. They instead asked Moses if it was such a "trivial thing" that Moses had brought them out of a land "flowing with milk and honey" (referring to Egypt) simply to kill them all out in the wilderness, while making himself a prince that rules over them. Moreover, they continued, they stated that Moses had not brought them into the "promised land", or given the people their inheritance of fields and vineyards. They then tell Moses that he's not fooling anybody and restate that they're done listening to him.

Moses was then filled with wrath and told God not to respect any sacrifices from those in the rebellion, adding that he himself had done nothing wrong to them - pointing out that he hadn't taken even a donkey from them, nor had he hurt any of them either.

Moses then turned to Korah and told him to bring all of his companions back here before God the following morning and the he and Aaron would meet them there as well, He tells Korah to make sure that all 250 men bring incense censers, and that Aaron would be there with his own censer as well.

The following morning Korah and his companions arrived at the door of the tabernacle and lit their censers, placing incense upon them and stood beside Moses and Aaron. The "glory of God" then appeared to the entire congregation and God spoke to Moses and Aaron telling them to get out of the way so that he can kill all of the people in the congregation.

Moses and Aaron "fell upon their faces" and asked God not to kill the entire congregation based upon the "sin" of one man. God relents and tells Moses to instead warn the congregation to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

Moses roses up and went towards the tents of Dathan and Abiram, and the 250 elders followed him. Moses spoke to the congregation and told them to get away from the tents of these "wicked men" and to touch none of their belongings, lest they be consumed by their "sins". The people moved away from Dathan and Abiram's tents, while Dathan and Abiram themselves appeared at the doorways of their tents alongside their wives, sons, and little children.

Moses then declared that hereby it will be known that God has in fact sent him to do all of these works, and that they were not done on his own will. He continues, saying that if these men (meaning Korah, Dathan, and Abiram - and apparently their families) die natural deaths, or die by disease or accident, then that will show that God has not sent him. However, Moses adds, that if the earth opens up and swallows them up with all that follow them, then it shall be understood that these men have provoked God.

As soon as Moses had finished speaking the ground began to split beneath them and swallowed them up, along with their houses and all their belongings. They, and everyone near them, went down alive into the pit and the earth closed up on them, killing them all. The people of Israel fled in terror, fearing that the earth would swallow them as well.

God sent forth a fire and immolated all of the 250 men who had offered incense.

God now tells Moses to have Aaron's son Eleazar retrieve the censers out of the fire and the smoldering pile of bodies, for God states that the censers are "holy". God further explains, that despite these censers having been wielded by these "sinners" (and now piles of smoldering corpses), since they were offered to God, the censers are considered "holy". God wants these "holy" censers to be made into broad plates to cover the altar as a "sign" for the people of Israel.

Eleazar took the 250 censers and beat them into a sheet of metal to cover the altar with. God states that this new metal covering is to be a reminder to the people of Israel that no one outside of Aaron's lineage, is to ever offer incense to God, lest they suffer the same fate as Korah and his companions.

The following morning however, the people of Israel began murmuring against Moses and Aaron, stating that they had killed God's people. As the congregation of angry people gathered around Moses and Aaron they looked over towards the tabernacle and saw the cloud covering it, and the "glory of God" appeared.

When Moses and Aaron approached the tabernacle, God told Moses to get out of the way so that he could kill all of the people. Moses and Aaron "fell on their faces", and Moses told Aaron to quickly grab an incense censer, light it with fire from the altar in the tabernacle, and burn some incense before the congregation to make "atonement" for them - as God's anger had already unleashed a plague amongst the people.

Aaron did as Moses instructed, and ran into the midst of the people witnessing that the plague had already begun. He quickly burned some incense and made an "atonement" for the people.

As Aaron stood amongst the living and the dead, his "atonement" for the people stopped the plague from doing any more harm - however, 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those God killed the previous day connected to Korah's rebellion.

Aaron returned and joined Moses at the door of the tabernacle after the plague had been stopped.
Thoughts:Chapter 16 in the book of Numbers offers many powerful statements against free thought, free will, and democracy, while providing revealing insight into the character and morality of both God and Moses. The main point that this chapter portrays is that authority (especially God's, or whatever Moses and Aaron present to be his authority) is not to be questioned, even with regards to reason and believing in equality.

Here, four men (led by a Levite named Korah) question Moses' leadership over the people of Israel. In light of their situation, it isn't unreasonable to sympathize with Korah and his companions' plight when we look at the full picture:
  • They'd been removed from their lives in Egypt, which while they suffered under their imposed slavery, the people of Israel have stated many times (even prior to the Exodus) that they at least had stability and plentiful diets and amenities that they were now lacking out in the wilderness.
  • After being taken out of Egypt, God had promised them a "land flowing with milk and honey", being the land of Canaan. Geologists point out that a journey from Egypt to Canaan, even under the conditions of people belonging to 14th century BC, would have taken only a few weeks in travel to get there. So far in our story, the people of Israel have been wandering around in the desert for over two years.
  • In this two year span, God has killed - or has imposed capital punishment upon - many thousands of people (and has to be talked out of killing all of the people of Israel several times by Moses) by many violent and disturbing methods: by the hand of the sword, stonings, immolation, and various plagues.
  • Upon spies being sent out to scope out the "promised land" and their (mostly) negative reports of "giants" inhabiting the land, the people panic and become pessimistic about their chances of invading and driving out the current inhabitants in their "promised land". In response to the spies' reports instilling the people with pessimism, God kills the spies (save two, Caleb and Joshua, who weren't pessimistic) and then tells the rest of the people of Israel, that due to their pessimism (based upon the reports of the spies God and Moses sent out in the first place) that they are no longer going to inherit the "promised land". God basically decides that he's going to make them all live out in the desert for the next forty years until they die out, so that the next generation of Israelites can inherit the land instead.
  • Save for a few rare occasions, God does not communicate directly to the people of Israel, instead almost always making Moses (and to lesser degrees, Aaron and his sons being priests) be the "middle man". When Moses and God communicate it is usually in private and in restricted areas that impose capital punishment upon any person or animal that intrudes upon them.
Basically, Korah and his three companions manage to convince 250 of some of the prominent leaders amongst the people of Israel, that things aren't exactly right or fair the way they're being run.

Korah and his companions confront Moses and Aaron and question their authority, and Korah states that everyone is one of God's children, making them all equal in contrast to God's dictatorship and favoritism towards certain factions of people, questioning why Moses and Aaron are elevated above the rest of God's people.

Moses replies with a challenge, which in light of his knowledge of what the outcome will be, reveals something disturbing about his character. Moses basically challenges Korah, his three companions, and the 250 leaders on his side to meet him and Aaron out by the tabernacle in the morning to hold a contest to see really who God has picked to lead the people of Israel. He dares all of the men to come out and offer incense to God (while Moses and Aaron will do the same thing and offer incense themselves) and that they'll see who in fact God considers "holy".

The ethical problem with Moses' dare is that he knows what the outcome will be - God has stated that only Aaron and his sons may make any direct offerings to God, and that anyone else attempting to do so will be killed. Moses knows that he is leading these men to their deaths and is daring them to wager their own lives with this challenge, which simply is not ethical.

Moses then turns the tables on Korah's argument, stating that instead it is Korah and his rebellion who are trying to assume too much power. Moses points out that Korah, being a Levite himself, should realize that it isn't a trivial thing that God has shown favoritism amongst the Levites. Moses states that the Levites are awarded with the "honor" and "privilege" of serving God in the tabernacle, and that they shouldn't be demanding to have control over the priesthood as well. He accuses Korah of simply wanting to take over the priesthood as his reason for speaking up against Aaron.

Moses then tries to speak to two of Korah's co-conspirators, Dathan and Abiram, but they both refused to hear him out. They instead ask Moses if it is such a "trivial thing" that he had led the people of Israel out of Egypt - claiming it a "land of milk and honey" itself - simply to die out in the wilderness, while he rules over them as a self appointed "prince". They also point out that Moses had not brought them into the "promised land", given them inheritance of fields and vineyards, or anything else the people had been promised. They finally cap it off by telling Moses that he's not fooling anyone and that they're done listening to him.

Moses, now filled with rage, tells God not to accept any of their sacrifices (which seems odd, considering that God has stated to Moses specifically that only Aaron and his sons are allowed to sacrifice anything to God anyways) and proclaims that he hasn't done anything wrong to these people in the rebellion - not so much as stolen a donkey from them, nor has he hurt any of them. This last statement is a bit troublesome considering that Moses has just dared them to do something (offering incense to God when they're not descended from Aaron) that he is fully aware will get them killed.

While the biblical apologist will state that Moses didn't force these men to do anything against their will, Moses is still negligent in leading them to their deaths. If you were arguing with a friend over whether a police offer has the right to shoot someone who points a gun at them, and you then dare your friend to point a gun at a police officer to test his theory, you would in fact be negligent for your friend being either arrested, shot, or killed from your coaxing him on - especially if you're fully aware that a cop has the right to fire upon a citizen who's aiming a weapon at him.

Moses then repeats his dare to Korah, telling him to make sure that all 250 men sign their death warrants by bringing incense censers. The following morning, Korah and the 250 leaders gathered outside the tabernacle with Moses and Aaron, and all lit their incense before the congregation of people, when the "glory of God" appeared before them.

God tells Moses to move out of the way so that he can get to the business of killing not just Korah and the 250 - but the entire congregation of people! Moses once again has to talk some sense and morality into God, questioning why the entire congregation has to be slaughtered for the "sins" of a few. Once again, Moses has to come to the rescue to prevent God from killing any and everybody in his sight, putting into question just how "perfect" is God's judgment when Moses has to keep talking him out of going on mass killing sprees all the time?

Ultimately God relents (and again changes his mind) and instead has Moses warn people to move away from the tents belonging to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Moses makes his way toward the tents and the 250 elders followed him. Moses tells the people of Israel to stay clear of these tents and not to even touch any of their belongings, lest they be "infected" by the "sins" of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

As the people backed away, Dathan and Abiram appeared at the doorways of their tents alongside of their wives, sons, and little children.

Moses then declares to the people that God has sent him to do all of these works, and claims that he is not doing this from his own will. He then states that if Korah, Dathan, and Abiram somehow manage to die "natural" deaths then the people will have just reason to disbelieve that Moses has been sent by God; however, Moses adds that if the ground were to open up and swallow the three men (Korah, Dathan, and Abiram) and all that follow them, then the people will have to accept that these people have met their fate by "provoking" God.

The problem with Moses' argument is numerous, it is a weak argument for and against Moses' claims, and seems to assert that Moses has some sort of command or control over God. For example, if God were to change his mind about how to punish the men, that would not necessarily proof that Moses wasn't sent by God - nor would Moses' "prophesy" of the earth swallowing up the men coming true be solid evidence for God sending Moses either.

The other problem I have with this verse is the accusation of provoking God. As we read earlier, Moses is also partially negligible for encouraging the "sin" of incense being offered to God by the 250 men. In that sense, Moses has also provoked God into reacting. The other problem with the argument, is regardless of whether Korah and his compatriots are right or wrong, their suspicions are reasonable. What this chapter's message is saying is that skepticism angers God, and that God's anger towards skepticism justifies killing people.

Skepticism is a reasonable position, and should not be construed as a bad thing in and of itself. If I tell you that I have a magic lamp that will grant you three wishes and I will gladly sell it to you for $200, you have every reason to apply skepticism towards my claim - even if I show you some magic tricks that I claim are being done by the "genie" who resides in the lamp. However, the position of God is that if you don't accept my magic tricks as being evidence of a genie living inside the lamp, that this somehow grants me the right to retaliate against you simply due to your skepticism. This is not by any means an ethical position, yet this is exactly the message coming across in Numbers 16 - believe without question or be destroyed, and might means right.

Back to our story, as soon as Moses finishes speaking, his "prophecy" appears to begin, and the ground begins to split and swallow up Dathan, Abiram, their families, houses, and all their belongings. They and everyone near them went down alive in to the resulting pit, and perished as the earth closed up on them - causing the people of Israel to flee in panic, fearing that they would be swallowed up by the earth as well. (Although this chapter seems to indicate that all the members of Korah's households perish, in Numbers Chapter 26, it is revealed that Korah's children were not killed by any of the events portrayed here.)

God follows up this act by setting all 250 men that offered incense on fire. God apparently is pretty fussy about his incense - you have to offer it properly with the right flame, as Nadab and Abihu found out in the last few seconds of their lives after God brutally immolated them in Leviticus Chapter 10; and you have to be from the right blood line, as 250 men here discovered in the fleeting moments of their lives - also brutally immolated for their "sin".

After barbecuing 250 people, God now wants Aaron's son Eleazar to retrieve the incense censers from out of the smoldering pile of bodies - because of course, the censers are "holy" because they were used to offer to God, regardless that they were wielded by "sinners". God tells Moses that after the censers are pulled out of the charred remains, he wants them to be hammered out into broad plates, which are to cover the altar in the tabernacle. This covering is to serve as a "reminder" that nobody aside from Aaron's priestly family is to ever offer incense to God. (A very morbid and threatening reminder indeed.)

However, the following morning the people of Israel began to complain again that perhaps Moses and Aaron daring 250 of their fellow Israelis wasn't such a great thing, and they accused them both of "killing God's people". While they could certainly be justified for implicating Moses (perhaps, not so much Aaron) as he was in fact negligent for their deaths - again, Moses basically "triple dog dared" the 250 men to offer incense to God - having justified reasons to be upset is not something that God takes into consideration.

In an unjustified retaliation God sends a plague down to kill off the people of Israel for complaining about Moses' "dare" that resulted in the deaths of 250 people. Moses at least has the sense to realize that these people don't deserve to die and he has Aaron scramble to grab some incense and offer it in atonement of the people of Israel before they all die from God's "divine death plague".

Aaron rushed and did as Moses told him, stopping the plague, but not before the plague caused the death of 14,700 people - that died simply for complaining about Moses and Aaron's negligence in the deaths of 250 of their fellow Israelites.

Upon stopping the plague that killed close to 15,000 people, Aaron returned to the door of the tabernacle where Moses stood.