Thoughts on the book of Numbers Day 6 Lent 2013

I finished the book of Numbers today in my Lenten blitz reading of the Bible. I have to say, this is probably the most dangerous reading plan of the Bible I've ever tried.

I'm still mulling over the people bored with manna, which angers God, and results in alot of them dying after eating a huge flock of quail, Num. 11. The thing that confuses me is the Israelites seem to be traveling with livestock. They have all these sacrifices to bring, and only perfect animals are accepted. So there must be lots of other animals left over to supplement their manna. I'm just sayin'. When I think about it this way, I really empathize with God instead of thinking he's a short tempered deity. If the manna that he freely gives supplements lambs, goats, and cattle, or provides the necessities for the poor without meat, and they still complain, it seems the issue is their laziness, not His anger issues.

My reading resumed with ch. 14, after the negative report from 10 of the 12 scouts, who only saw obstacles instead of opportunities, with doubt instead of faith. The negative reports discouraged the camp, who despaired and asked why God would trick them like this. God tells Moses He's will strike everyone down and start a new nation from Moses. Moses intercedes. It's a good cop/bad cop routine. I just don't get why God is the bad cop. I do get that Moses is an interceding good cop, a foreshadowing of Jesus, the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). The bargaining gets weirder. Are the indigenous people too strong for God's people after all, v.25? Because of that and the sin of grumbling, God condemns them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. The people repented and tried to obey God after all, and mount an invasion, but they got whooped.
Num. 15 - An out of place review on sacrifices and a clothing command, tassels, sandwich a public execution for a guy who collected sticks on Saturday. It's weird how God has to command people to rest, and enforce it with the death penalty.
Num. 16 - Rival Levites challenge Moses. They are mad at Moses' leading them to the promised land then away from it. Moses is furious and let's God know about it, then challenges the rivals to a face off. During the face off, all the rivals, their families and their tents, are swallowed up by a sinkhole and killed. The next day, all the people were upset that Moses had those guys, their neighbors and friends and playmates, killed, so God backs up Moses again and starts killing the people. Aaron has to run around with incense to stop the slaughter at nearly 15,000 people.
Num. 17 - In order to reinforce God's selection of Aaron and the Levites, Moses collects staffs that represent each tribe. He lays the staffs before Holy place overnight, and in the morning, Aaron's staff has grown leaves and almonds, proving that he is God's selection, and not just Mosaic nepotism.
Num. 18 - More priestly stuff, sort of the perquisites and obligations. It's mostly review from Leviticus.
Num. 19 - Levitical purification laws.
Num. 20 - Moses's sister Miriam, the one who was temporarily cursed with white skin earlier in the book, dies. Then the people complain to him about not having enough water. He's stressed. God tells him to speak to a rock while holding his staff, but he takes a swing at the rock instead. It still results in water coming out, but God tells Moses, this disobedience means Moses can't go into the Promised Land himself.
Apparently 40 years have occurred over the last 5 chapters because Moses and the gang are knocking on the door of the Edomites, as they try to go South of the Dead Sea to swing around over the Jordan River from the East. However, the Edomite king says "No way." Then Aaron dies.
Num. 21 - Some Canaanites raided the Israelite camp, and the Israelites fought back and killed them all. Then Moses led them below Edom, all the way to the northwestern tip of the Red Sea. The people are bored with manna and thirsty, so they start grumping. God doesn't like the grumbling and sends fiery serpents to attack the camp. The people acknowledge their sin and God provides a simple solution. He has Moses raise a bronze serpent on a pole, that whoever looks on it will be cured. The Apostle John says this is a foreshadowing of Jesus.
Jn. 3:14 In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up - 15 and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
It's a simple solution. Just look and believe.
If this were forty years later, why do the people long for an Egypt they no longer know? Most of the people left would either be newborns or have distant memories.
In Num. 21:14, a book is referenced, The book of the Wars of the Lord, which records a song that makes no sense. It makes sense to me, that when Exodus and Numbers read like independent anthologies, unaware of each other, both explaining what manna is for example, a reference to another document adds legitimacy to this idea.
They win another skirmish against the Amorites, and took over their settlements. They win another battle east of the Sea of Galilee.
Num. 22 - A Moabite king named Balak hires a prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites. Balaam apparently knows the true God, (how is this story even known by the author, how is it not made up out of whole cloth, doesn't the talking donkey tip us off?) and his donkey, who is scared of an angel that Balaam can't see, tells Balaam that he's being obstinate for a reason. The angel reveals himself to Balaam and warns Balaam to only say what he hears from God.
Num. 23 - Balak brings Balaam to a high place over the Israelites, and Balaam proceeds to bless them, which is not what Balak hired him for. I don't get what difference blessing and curses make, but it's a big deal to B&B. B&B try again with the same result.
Num. 24 - B&B try again with the same result two more times.
Num. 25 - Balak wins after all, by having pretty ladies fellowship with the Israelites, and enjoin them to worship their idols. This sends God through the roof. According to the Apostle John, this was actually Balaam's idea (Rev. 2:14)  One of Aaron's grandsons takes a spear and impales an Israelite man and Moabite woman in their heat of passion. God approves of that. Uggh.
Num. 26 - Census time again. Verse 11 tells us that all of the rebel's sons did not get swallowed up in the sinkhole after all.
Num. 27 - Here's something progressive, women get inheritance rights. Joshua anointed as Moses' successor.
Num. 28, 29 - The calendar of holy festivals, and mandatory vacations, the types of sacrifices again.
Num. 30 - Women allowed to make vows unless their dads or husbands overrule them.
Num. 31 - A vicious battle where Moses gets mad because the warriors let women and children live. Moses is not into mercy. That's so not like Jesus.
Num. 32 - Two tribes want to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan to accommodate their large herds (some from the peoples they just conquered). Moses consents on the condition that they have to help the other tribes conquer the western territory.
Num. 33 - A travelogue since they left Egypt. I can't see how a couple dozen places can be spread out over 40 years. I have my suspicions about the number's symbolic appeal to begin with. But if half a million people park in one spot for a year, they will be building structures at each spot. Tents don't last for 40 years in the desert. How can half a million pastoralists find pasture to support their livestock, in the desert? Where is there enough water for all of them? Is there evidence of a 40 year rainy cycle? Wouldn't there be any traces left of their passage? Honestly, I think the quantity of people and the length of their trip are legendary, enhanced over time, especially by the time Numbers was written.
Num. 34 - The borders of the Promised Land, which are never realized.
Num. 35 - The cities that Levites get since they don't get land allotments.
Num. 36 - Remember those progressive rights for female inheritance in 27? Well, now there's one condition. They can only marry within their tribe, so the land returns to the tribe every Jubilee, which never happens.

I call this reading plan dangerous, because the inconsistencies really stand out. However, I'm reading as a modernist, but it wasn't written by modernists, and they don't care about the things I care about. However, those modernist fundamentalists today who tell me I should care about these things, and find elaborate excuses to explain away the things I'm reading need to give it a rest. Let it be the genre that it is, not what we or our critics impose on it.
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