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.

No comments:

Post a Comment