Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The book of Numbers can easily be summed up as to what God does to you when you complain a lot. I started this book in late July and have only now finished it in early November. Some of that is attributed to events in my personal life, but a good portion of the delay was also brought upon by how insane the book of Numbers can be to read as well.

The book begins true to it's name with Moses conducting several censuses of the various tribes of Israel and where they are to camp as the Israelites wander through the desert. God also comes up with a convoluted scheme to "own" the tribe of Levi by arguing that the tribe will actually be a substitution for all the "firstborn males" that God feels he's entitled to, but also manages to scam out some money for the church by using bad math against the rest of the tribes of Israel.

God appoints the Levites to transport the tabernacle around the desert, but under the threat that if they mishandle the tabernacle in anyway that they will be killed, and that anyone else aside from the Levites performing their jobs is to be killed as well.

After having Moses and Aaron purge the camp of lepers, God establishes his "law of jealousies" enabling jealous husbands to put their wife through a humiliating test to "prove" their fidelity, and punishable by horrible disfigurement if they're deemed to have been unfaithful, and "blessed" with becoming pregnant if they pass the test. Regardless of how the test turns out, the husband is never guilty of "sin", as it's apparently his wife's fault for causing his jealousy in the first place - even if she's been faithful to him.

Next up in God's law books is his requirements for a person who wishes to become a Nazarite, which is a temporary vow to God where the person is to avoid cutting their hair, drinking alcohol, or going near a dead body (even if a person happens to die in your presence). At the end of the vow the person is to shave their head, set the hair on fire at the tabernacle, and sacrifice some animals and grains.

Chapter 7 deals with all of the leaders of each tribe of Israel donating collectively to the tabernacle: 36 pounds of silver, 3 pounds of gold, and sacrifice 256 animals over a twelve day period.

After instructing Moses in how to conduct a ceremony to consecrate the Levites - after shaving off all of their body hair and sacrificing a couple of bulls, he spells out some laws concerning what to do is someone defiles themselves or is on vacation during "Passover", and has the people of Israel build some silver trumpets for sounding alarms.

After a chapter where we either get yet another name for Moses' father-in-law, or we are introduced to Moses' brother-in-law, the Israelites finally leave their camp site at the base of Mount Sinai. Unfortunately, the Israelites started to whine shortly afterward so God got angry and set them on fire until Moses prayed for God to stop immolating people.

The people started complaining again (right after having been set on fire) about their diet of "manna", desiring to eat meat again, and God sends them an over-abundance of quails (enough quails, as God says, that the Israelites will vomit meat "out of their nostrils" (Numbers 11:20) and grew tired of eating quails. Once the people began eating the quails though, God gets mad at them for doing so and smites them with a plague.

Meanwhile Moses' siblings Aaron and Miriam complain about Moses' Ethiopian wife, so God infects Miriam with leprosy (while Aaron gets out of punishment freely since he is the head priest) and argues that Moses is the "meekest man on earth". When Moses and Aaron beg God to reverse Miriam's leprosy, he agrees but under the stipulation that he'll only cure her after she remains exiled for seven days.

God has Moses sends out some spies to check out the "promised land", but becomes enraged when the spies discourage the people from invading the land because the land is inhabited by giants (the spies also bring home giant clusters of grapes). Except for the two dissenting spies, Caleb and Joshua, God kills off the rest of the spies with a plague for "slandering" the "promised land". When the people began complaining again, God wants to kill them all until Moses talks him out of it. God decides instead that none of them except for Caleb and Joshua will live to enter the "promised land" and decides to make the people of Israel wander around in the desert for forty years until the current generation dies off. The next day the Israelites decide to attempt to invade Canaan instead of God's insistence that they simply wander around in the desert, but because God doesn't help them in battle, they are chased off by the Canaanites and Amalekites.

After laying out some more laws on sacrificing animals, the Israelites see a man gathering sticks on the sabbath and God commands that they stone him to death. Afterward God also tells the Israelites to make fringes upon their garments attached with blue ribbons.

A group of over 250 men led by a man named Korah, wage a rebellion against Aaron and Moses' leadership. Moses dares the 250 men to light some "holy incense", and when they do just that, God sets them all on fire and then causes an earthquake to swallow up the rest of the men in the rebellion - along with their families. The Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron leading these men to their deaths, so God tells Moses and Aaron to move out of the way so that he can kill them all. God sends a plague, Aaron rushes to light some incense to appease God and stop the plague, but not before God has killed 14,700 people with his plague.

Moses and Aaron devise a "test" to prove their divine right to leadership - Moses has eleven of the twelve tribes sign their names on a stick while Aaron signs the twelfth, Moses puts the sticks in the tabernacle overnight - which only he, Aaron, and Aaron's sons are allowed to enter, and tells the Israelites that whomever's stick blooms with buds, flowers, and almonds the following day is the rightful leader of the Israelites. Of course Aaron wins the contest, and Moses puts Aaron's blossomed stick in the tabernacle as a reminder to the people to not question God's choice in leadership again.

After laying out some more rules and regulations regarding the Levites, God sends Moses and Aaron out to procure a red calf, that after being slaughtered and burned, its ashes are to be mixed in with "holy water" to form a "purification water" to purify people who've touched a corpse.

Moses' sister Miriam dies out in the desert, and the Israelites again find themselves without water. Moses and Aaron botch God's instructions for getting water out of a rock - despite the fact that 1) It worked and 2) they used the same technique that they used prior - and that neither Moses or Aaron shall live to set foot in the "promised land". The Israelites try to get the king of Edom (who were descended from Esau) to let them pass through their land, but the king sends his army to chase them away. They wind up at Mount Hor, where God decides to kill Aaron and appoints Eleazar to take over as the high priest.

The Israelites are then attacked by the Canaanites and some are taken prisoner. The people bargain with God, promising to destroy King Arad's cities if God would deliver the captive people back to the congregation - so the Canaanites and their cities were utterly destroyed, and the region was renamed to reflect that. The Israelites however got discouraged again, so God gets angry and retaliates by unleashing "fiery serpents" upon them. When the Israelites turn to Moses pleading for their lives, Moses forges a statue of a "fiery serpent" out of bronze, puts it on a pole, and tells the people that if they get bit by a snake, all they have to do is to look at Moses' statue and they won't die from their snakebites.

The Israelites requested passage through King Sihon's kingdom, and when he refused and attacked them, the Israelites defeated his army and took all of his cities. When the Israelites approached King Og's army, God tells them to do the exact same thing to King Og as they had done to King Sihon - they defeated his army, killed all of his people, leaving no survivors, and took his land.

King Balak, the king of Moab, fearing that his kingdom would be invaded and conquered by the Israelites as well, summoned a prophet named Balaam to come help him and to curse the Israelites. God initially refuses to let Balaam go, but relents and tells Balaam that he can go, so long as he follows God's instructions to a tee. However, when Balaam leaves the next morning, God gets angry with Balaam and sends an angel to hinder his journey. Only his donkey seems to see the angel blocking the way and the donkey tries to navigate around the angel, but gives up and lays down when the angel blocks a narrow path between two walls. After Balaam beats the donkey for disobeying him, the donkey talks to him and ask him what it had done to deserve such a beating. The angel finally reveals himself to Balaam and also asks why he had beaten the donkey. Balaam sees his mistake and the angel lets him pass, but he gets chewed out by King Balak for delaying his visit.

Balaam and King Balak sacrifice a bunch of animals, and Balaam receives a prophesy from God. However, God won't allow Balaam to curse the Israelites, and under God's instruction he blesses them instead much to the dismay of King Balak. King Balak tries again two more times before giving up in anger and disgust.

The Israelites are now seduced by the local Moabite women, and they coax them into worshiping their gods. God tells Moses to kill the leaders of the Israelites tribes and hang their corpses up in public view, as well as to kill everyone who worshiped any of the Moabite gods. An Israelite named Zimri however, snuck in a Midianite woman into the camp and Aaron's grandson Phinehas barged into their tent and impaled them both while they were copulating. Phinehas' handiwork apparently stopped one of God's plagues (which is never described, or is a reason given for it) which had killed 24,000 people. God rewards Phinehas with an "everlasting priesthood" for him and his descendants. He then tells Moses to "vex the Midianites" (despite the fact that his wife Zipporah and her family are Midianites), and blames them for the worshiping of other gods in Moab (even though the chapter specifies that it were Moabite women who led the Israelites astray).

Moses takes another census of all men fit to serve the military, and is told to divide up the "promised land" amongst the tribes, giving bigger pieces of land to the bigger tribes. However, a group of women demand property rights as their father had died and left behind no male heirs. God grants them property rights and allows for a man's daughter to inherit property (although she has to share it with her uncles) in the event of the man having no male heirs.

God then tells Moses that he will die once he has seen the "promised land" since he "rebelled" against God with the "striking the rock" incident. Moses asks God to pick a successor to lead the Israelites after his death, so God picks Joshua, and has Moses give Joshua a public ceremony to signify his leadership to the people.

God lays out even more demands for animal sacrifices, as well as establishing more animal sacrifices for various holidays. He also gives some rules about making vows, and how women's vows can be overruled by her father or her husband.

God now tells Moses to get revenge against the Midianites, and has him send the Israelites out to battle. The Israelites kill all of the men, but take the women and children prisoner, bringing them home along with all the valuables that they looted. Moses was furious that they had left anyone alive and ordered the troops to kill the women and male children, but stated that the soldiers could keep the female virgins for themselves. Moses exiles those soldiers who had come in contact with any dead bodies, or who were responsible for any killing, out of camp for seven days for "purification" and divides up the loot amongst the soldiers, the priests, the Levites, and the common people of Israel.

Upon their travels the tribes of Gad and Reuben convince a reluctant Moses that they'd rather take the nice cattle friendly land of Gilead than their inheritance in the "promised land". The tribes convince Moses to allow them to reside in Gilead providing they follow through on their military commitments to conquering Canaan and driving out the inhabitants currently residing in the "promised land" there. (The tribe of Manasseh also becomes allowed to reside in Gilead after they drive the inhabitants of Gilead out of the city.)

Moses has apparently been keeping a written record of the entire exodus, and is later told by God that every last Canaanite is to be driven out of the land, and that all of their images, statues, and altars are to be torn down and destroyed. Any Canaanite not driven out of the "promised land" will be a "thorn in the side" of the Israelites, and God will also do unto the Israelites what he "had thought to do" to the Canaanites.

God then sets the border lines for the "promised land" and appoints leaders from each tribe to assist in dividing up the land for each family. God also requires that the Levites are to be given a total of 48 cities (and surrounding suburb land) from the other tribes, and that six of these cities are to be "cities of refuge", where people who have accidentally killed someone can flee to safety away from their victim's family seeking revenge - but if the "revenger" finds them outside of the "city of refuge", then it's perfectly okay for them to kill the innocent person.

Finally, the book closes out with the clan of Gilead (from the tribe of Manasseh) complaining about a loophole in the property rights of the daughters from Chapter 27, and God amends his law to stipulate that if a man's daughters inherit land, they will only be allowed to marry within their own tribe - as otherwise the land would go to whichever tribe her husband belonged to.

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