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.

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