Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Numbers, Chapter 25: Right off the bat, 24,000 Israelites die of a horrible plague. And all this after we've been talking about talking donkeys and the conquests of other nations! What happened?
Well, if you've been following this blog or are familiar with the Old Testament, we all know how Yahweh is. He's jealous, He's psychotic, and He's kind of anal. He almost reminds me of Kim Jong Il.
In a nutshell, the Israelites started hanging out with the wrong crowd; the Moabs and the Midianites. The Israelites even partook of some of the worship ceremonies of the Moabs, who worshiped a god (or Baal) named Peor. Peor is the name of the mountain where they were, so it's likely that Baal Peor was a local god of that particular mountain. Apparently, the Israelite men were getting busy with the Midianite women as well.
Yahweh witnesses this and just goes off the handle. He says to Moses, "Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel."
As a further affront, an Israelite man brings a "Midianitish" woman before the congregation, and takes her into a tent. The grandson of the recently deceased Aaron sees this, grabs a spear, and pursues the two into the tent, and runs both of them through. In fact, the woman is stabbed through the belly.
Yahweh sees this and is greatly pleased, and prevents the entire population of Israelites from contracting the plague He had sent out. Unfortunately, 24,000 do die before this happens. Yahweh tells Moses that the man who killed the two will be blessed for his zealousness. And then the Sumerian god who nowadays Christians revere as the omnipotent creator of the universe turns to Moses again and says, "Vex the Midianites, and kill them all."
I am happy to report that the next few chapters I can pretty much skip, because they repeat things that have already been said. They go through another census as they prepare to make war on the Midianites (numbers are probably inflated), they go through some more rituals about animal sacrifice, there is another reference to the practice of scapegoating, etc. The only thing to add is that in Chapter 30 we find out that women are not really responsible for anything - it's the men who oversee them that are responsible for them. And if she is responsible for something, it's only because her father or husband allows her too.
Next time, the Midianites gets smited!!!
Above: Heavy metal culture has brought back Ba'al into something completely different.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Last time, we discussed the Israelites conquest of the Amorites - which was more like bloody massacre. Numbers, Chapter 22 is about the Moabites.
After witnessing the aftermath of what the Israelites have done, the Moabites are understandably afraid of these new people who have come from Egypt. In response, the Moabites sent a delegation of princes to the nearby land of Pethor, to enlist the help of a wizard. It doesn't actually say "wizard", but I guess that's what he is.
"Balaam, please come to Moab and lay a curse on the Israelites. Those guys are friggin' crazy! They just slaughtered off the Amorites!!!" said the messengers. Oh yea, don't go looking for those exact words in the Bible - I'm just adding a little spice.
Balaam apparently also worships Yahweh, and tells the delegation to spend the night while he consults Yahweh's opinion on the matter. Yahweh, who modern-day worshippers insist is all-knowing, asks Balaam, "Who are these guys that are with you tonight?"
Balaam explains the situation, and Yahweh tells him that he shouldn't curse the Israelites, because they are blessed. The next morning Balaam explains to the princes why he can't go with them.
In response, the Moabites send even higher ranking princes with gold and silver to purchase Balaam's skills. He invites the delegation to spend the night while he consults Yahweh again. This time, Yahweh says, "Look, go ahead and go with them if they call on you. Just do what I tell you to do."
So, the next morning Balaam gets on his donkey and follows the princes back to the land of Moab. But for some reason, this gets Yahweh angry! "And God's anger was kindled when he left ..." That's what it actually says! Yahweh just told him to go with them, and then gets pissed when Balaam does just that!
An angry Yahweh sends an angel to block his path (apparently the princes were not with him on the road to Moab). Yahweh does this three times, and three times Balaam strikes the donkey for trying to go around the angel. It would seem that the donkey is more reasonable then Balaam, unless you realize that only the donkey can see the angel. And the angel doesn't seem to intent on stopping them, either. He just stands in the path, and Balaam and the donkey goes around him.
On the third time, the angel is standing between two walls and there's no way past. So, the donkey lays down and Balaam strikes the donkey for the third time. The donkey looks back at Balaam, open his buck-toothed mouth, and says, "Why the hell do you keep hitting me, man? Can't you see I'm trying to avoid running into one of the Almighty's soldiers?"
And finally, Balaam sees the angel.
Anyways, Balaam finally gets to Moab, where Yahweh apparently "puts a word in his mouth".
Balaam tells the Moabite royalty basically that Yahweh's on the side of the Israelites, and that He sent him to bless the Israelites; not curse them. "Yahweh's not just some man, he's a god, and He brought the Israelites out of Egypt," said Balaam. "Yahweh's got the strength of a unicorn."
A unicorn?!? Unicorns are pretty strong, I'd imagine; but omnipotent? Or is Yahweh just pretty strong? If that's the case, that explains why Jacob was able to beat Yahweh in a wrestling match.
Balaam continues, "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."
So now the Moabites realize that not even their precious magician Balaam is on their side, so they try one last negotiating trick. "Well, how about if you neither curse them or bless them?"
Balaam probably threw his hands up and said, "Hey, Yahweh wants me to do it. What can I do?"
And so, in Chapter 24, Balaam blesses the people of Israel. He concludes the blessing, "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. 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."
The Moabites are pissed, but the deed has been done.
Next time, Yahweh kills 24,000 Israelites!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Massacres and maladies in the service of the Lord. That's what Numbers Chapter 21 is all about. An apologist might argue that this chapter is about the great things that can happen if you put your trust in Yahweh.
In a nutshell, what happens is the Aradites find out that the Israelites are coming. An ancient Paul Revere must have ridden through the town, saying, "The Israelites are coming! The Israelites are coming!"
The Israelites must have had a pretty bad reputation by this point, but they haven't done much massacring - yet - except to their own people of course. But we're talking about Bronze Age desert tribes - they were all pretty damn barbaric. We could hypothetically judge them by our modern morality, but we'd just be missing the point.
After learning about the Israelites march on Arad, the Aradites pull a "Dubya" and opt to act "unilaterally" against the Israelites with a preemptive strike. They are initially successful, and even take a few prisoners.
Man, that pissed off the Israelites! They pleaded to Yahweh, "Hey Lordy, if you deliver these people (the Aradites) to us, we will utterly destroy their cities." (Numbers 21:2)
Of course, Yahweh loves that kind of talk, and did just as they asked! "He delivered up the Canaanites, and the Israelites utterly destroyed them and their cities." (Numbers 21:3)
Now, the Isrealites have also had a history of whiners (check out some of my previous posts). After taking out the Aradites, they go back to their wandering ways, trying to find their "Promised Land". Naturally (for them), they start whining. These guys don't get it, do they? And it's the usual complaints that anyone would have - no food, no water, blah blah blah.
In response, Yahweh sends poisonous "fiery serpents" against the Israelites, and many of them die. As usual, Moses beseeches Yahweh to stop this violence.
Yahweh then does something that contradicts the Second Commandment. He tells Moses to build a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. "Everyone who looks upon this serpent will live," says Yahweh.
Remember the Second Commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath." (Exodus 20:4) Well anyways, by breaking the Second Commandment, the surviving snake bitten Israelites live.
An apologist might defend this by saying that Yahweh's making the order, so it's okay. And everyone else in the world would say that's a lame argument for morality.
A little later, at Numbers 21:14, we come across one of the lost books of the Bible. It mentions The Book of the Wars of the Lord; which is basically an account of all the Israelites battles, from the Red Sea up to the point that Numbers was written. Hey, that's pretty cool if you're a War Nerd like me (or Gary Brecher)!
After this, the Israelites just go on a string of massacres; this time against the Amorites. It roughly the same formula -the non-Israelites try to do a preemptive strike, and they lose against the Israelites - suffering a massacre and the destruction of their cities; and the subsequent occupation of these cities and their outlying villages by the Israelites.
Finally, after all that excitement, the Israelites massacre one last nation before we put Chapter 21 to rest; the Bashanites. Yahweh tells the Israelites not even to worry about these pushovers. "I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people, and his land; and thou shalt do to him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon." (Numbers 21:34)
So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.
Next time, we discover Mr. Ed's ancient precursor. But this time, it's a talking donkey!
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
The Israelites discover an interesting way to qwell a rebellion: give 'em what they want.
A few significant things happen in Numbers, Chapter 20. Miriam dies, Aaron dies, another rebellion occurs, and the Kingdom of Edom refuse to give the Israelites passage through their kingdom.
To sum it up, on the way to the land of milk and honey (aka "the Promised Land"), the Israelites have pass through the desert of Zin. There is no water, and so the people begin complaining again. This time, they know what's going to happen, but in their words, they'd rather die by Yahweh's hand then to die of thirst.
After consulting with Yahweh, Moses comes back with an interesting tactic to qwell the rebellion; give 'em what they want. Yahweh told him to gather the congregation and basically impress them by making water come from a rock.
Moses gathers the congregation and yells out, " Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?" And then he taps the rock twice and a fountain of water shoots out. Everyone is happy; except Yahweh. Yahweh is pissed! You see, Yahweh told Moses to simply speak to the rock; not hit it.
And for this transgression, Yahweh tells Moses and Aaron that they won't be able to see the promised land. Sucks for them. But still, the people didn't get slaughtered off, and that's a good thing.
Well, they continue on their journey and find they have to cross the kingdom of Edom. Edom does not allow them to pass, even after some reasonable bartering on the part of the Israelites. In fact, Edom sends out his army to make sure the Israelites don't pass. And so the Israelites have to go around.
The Israelites come across Mount Hor. At this mountain, Yahweh says that Aaron will die here. He tells Aaron to go up the mountain a ways, and Moses is to take off Aaron's clothing, and put the clothing on Aaron's son. They take off Aaron's clothes, put them on his son, and Aaron dies, presumably butt naked, on the mountain.
As we can see, this is starting to sound like Greek mythology, of sorts. Yahweh is acts like a Greek god or goddess. Sure, He's one god, as opposed to many. But in this one god, we have the traits that stand out in any god at that period of time. Yahweh isn't a vague mysterious deity; He's personal and He's very emotional, and He's definitely got some MAJOR character flaws. Talk about touchy!
Next time, the Israelites massacre two cities and have yet another rebellion, and this time Yahweh qwells the rebellion with snakes.