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.


  1. Four overlooked items:
    1) the Tabernacle's Most Holy Place signifies the special presence of God and commands respect
    2) from the rod of Aaron grew not only leaf shoots and flowers but fully ripe almonds (not explicit in the text, but not the time of year for this; also probably not growing much in the Sinai desert) and that overnight - not normal!
    3) since we do not know from what kind of wood the staves were made of (could be papple, almond or other kinds of wood), part of the miracle might be that the fruit was not in kind with the wooden staff
    4) deception is not consonant with the ministry and life of Moses; who was also chastened for his weak moment of disobedience by not being allowed to enter the land of promise and hence not above the standard of obedience
    Fred Foster, Sinsheim, Germany

  2. Fred,

    1) How does the tabernacle signify the presence of God, and why should it command respect? If I make up my own god, does that automatically command respect?
    2) How do you know this really occurred overnight as opposed to simply the claim that it did?
    3) If this was a relevant point - almonds and fruit budding on a foreign wood - why wouldn't it be mentioned in the bible? Otherwise, you're simply making broad assumptions. Using your same logic we could also guess that perhaps the rod was purple with green polka dots since that wasn't mentioned in the bible either.
    4) Moses killed an Egyptian guard for striking a Hebrew slave and buried his body in the sand to avoid criminal punishment. You don't call that being deceptive?

    Beside that point, how do you know Moses isn't deceptive, when he allegedly wrote the Torah - the first five books of the bible?