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!