Numbers … oh God … Numbers. It took me seemingly forEVER to get through this one … I’m not sure if that’s just because I’ve been busy with work and stuff or if it’s because there were a couple significant stretches of this book that were pretty boring. I guess it’s a little bit of both. There are some interesting things that happen though … and some good progress is made on the Israelites’ journey at least. Here is the quickie synopsis:
The Israelites are still traveling through the wilderness/desert on their way to the promised land (which is Canaan and various surrounding areas, from what I can tell). I really did not expect that we’d spend this many chapters and books of the Bible on this journey, but here we are, still journeying. The good news is that this book actually covers a LOT of time and distance: from year 2 in the wilderness, all the way to year 40 … and they make it all the way to the plains of Moab near Jericho (which I think is basically a city within Canaan). There have been a couple references to the journey taking 40 years in earlier books, and in this one we finally find out why it’s taking so long: it’s a punishment from God (I’ll get to the reason for the punishment later). Anyway so, there’s plenty of misbehaving by the Israelites along the way, some punishments from God, several more rules/commandments/laws from God, and lots and lots of traveling. Oh and murder of course, because this wouldn’t be the Old Testament without a large helping of some good old fashioned murder. Both of the regular and the mass variety.
Additionally, the reason this book is called “Numbers” is because a good amount of time is spent on the Israelites doing a census of their people (as commanded by God) so that they can figure out how many men can go to war. And the reason they have to go to war is because they have a place they want to live (and have been “promised” by God) which seems to cover a pretty large area of several “nations” and cities around Canaan, but there is just oooone pesky problem standing in their way: other people live there. LOTS of other people. People that presumably enjoy living there, and have no desire to leave. And as we’ve all been taught as children, one of the most vital lessons in life is the following: When someone else has something you want, the best way to deal with that situation is to beat that person up and steal it from them. Because there really is no reason why that thing shouldn’t be yours. That other kid playing with that toy is clearly just a complete loser who is not worthy of having it in the first place. YOU are way better than that kid, so STEAL. THAT FRAKKING. TOY. Thanks, mom and dad (and God)!
Anyway so that is the quick synopsis. Now let’s get to the good points and bad points.
Stuff I Liked
Man, I gotta say … well first off, let me explain the method I’ve been using to take notes while reading these books. What I’ve been doing is that I jot down anywhere from a few sentences to a couple paragraphs for each chapter, in a Word doc. In these notes, I highlight the questionable/bad parts in yellow, the REALLY bad parts in red, and the good parts in green. For every book so far, even Exodus, which had SO many horrific parts … there was green highlighting to be found in various areas of my notes. But THIS time … I can literally find only TWO sentences from my notes that are highlighted in green, and that is it. And when I did highlight those couple sentences in green, frankly, I think I was being fairly generous. Here is the “green” part of Numbers:
Towards the end of Numbers, when God is telling the Israelites which cities and suburbs should be given to the Levites (out of the 12 tribes of Israel, God has appointed the Levites to basically work for him in jobs such as taking care of the tabernacle), he also gives specific instructions about which cities should be designated as “refuge cities.” What the heck is a “refuge city,” you ask? Well, it has to do with the situation of an accidental killing of a person. If you ever accidentally, say, run someone over with your … cattle-driven cart or your chariot, or if you accidentally drop a boulder on someone’s head, or find yourself in some other similar type of situation, you can run to a refuge city so that the surviving relatives of the person you killed can’t come find you and kill you for revenge. Then, you will be put on trial. If you are found innocent of murder (i.e. if it’s ruled that the killing was accidental), then you have to remain in this refuge city until the death of the high priest (I don’t get that part), and the fam of the person you killed is not allowed to kill you to get revenge. These rules also apply for strangers in Israel, so I guess that’s nice. Oh and no one can be found guilty of murder on the testimony of only one witness. I marked these bits in green because it at least shows that on some level God is trying to set up a civilized society here, in this particular respect.
But the problem is that these rules get jacked up again REAL fast:
- If you’re found innocent and you LEAVE the refuge city at any point before the high priest dies, then you are totally free game to be killed by the family of the person you killed.
- If you are found guilty of murder (i.e. you killed the person on purpose), then the family of the person you killed gets to come and personally kill you.
- Also these last couple verses are kind of ridiculously hypocritical: “33. Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.” So God says not to pollute the land by causing bloodshed, but yet he commands to resolve bloodshed with MORE bloodshed.
Now don’t get me wrong, if someone purposely killed a family member or friend of mine, I would personally have a great desire to tear them limb from limb myself. But is that the RIGHT thing to do?? Probably not. Any society which allows this type of behavior is not going to be a very happy or civilized place. People would just be killing each other left and right in a constant cycle of revenge, like gang warfare or something. And the last thing I want is a book that is supposed to be my moral and philosophical guide telling me that this is o.k.
So yeah there you go. The good part of this book was also tied to some very bad parts. And unfortunately that’s pretty much all I found that was semi positive in this book. So, onto the next section …
Stuff I Did Not Like
So let’s see, stuff I did not like … well, that’s pretty much everything else. Let’s start off with the general murder and mayhem:
- Right around chapter 11, after the Israelites start their journey again from Sinai, they start complaining again. So, naturally, God kills the ones in the “uttermost parts of the camp” with fire. Right after that, because these people apparently are NOT very bright, they start complaining AGAIN. This time it’s because they haven’t been able to eat any meat since they were in Egypt. So then God’s like, “Alright, you want
meat, bitches!? I’ll give you meat. I’ll give it to you till it’s coming out of your damn NOSTRILS and you are ready to PUKE!!” So he rains quails down on the earth till they’re piled up two cubits high. While they are still in the midst of eating the quails, God then starts a great plague on the people. It doesn’t say how many people he kills, but presumably it’s quite a big chunk, since the plague is described as “very great.”
- In chapter 13, God/Moses send a man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel on a reconnaissance mission to the land of Canaan, to see what kind of power and numbers they have to fight back if and when the Israelites attack them and try to steal their land. When they come back from their mission, almost all of the 12 dudes claim that, while the land IS certainly flowing with milk and honey, there are a LOT of people there, they look strong, the cities are walled, and there are actual giants who live there (lol?), and there is no way in hell the Israelites can overcome them. But Caleb is the only one among the 12 who is like, “Bullshit! We can do this, guys! Come on!” But the Israelites start pooping their panties again,
talking crap to Moses and God about why they have doomed them. They then throw stones at Caleb and his buddy Joshua when they try to convince them that they shouldn’t freak out and that they should trust God/Moses. So God decides he’s had enough of these whiners, and he declares, “I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.” And as usual, Moses has to try to talk God out of this. The funny thing is that the logic Moses uses to talk God down from the ledge is entirely focused around making sure God doesn’t make himself look like a fool in front of the Egyptians by killing the people he helped escape, rather than appealing to his sense of what is “right”. God plays the role of mob boss most of the time, rather than the role I would expect of a divine being. In the end, God decides that the Israelites’ “carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.” We later realize that this is the reason he makes them dwell in the wilderness for 40 years – So that any of the adult Israeltes who “murmured against him” during this incident will be dead before they ever get to the promised land.
- In chapter 15, we get a totally random subplot where some dude is caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. GASP!! So the people put him in a holding cell until they find out what God wants to do with him. Soon, they find out the answer to that question: “15:35 And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.” So yeah. I think we can all agree that if anyone deserves to be stoned to death, it’s someone who works on a Sunday (or Saturday, whichever day is considered as the Sabbath). So the next time you need to catch up on a few work emails on Sunday night in preparation for your workday to start on Monday morning, you’d better think twice, dude.
- In another story of proof that the Israelites are completely incapable of learning lessons, 250 of them rise up against Moses and Aaron in chapter 16, led by these guys named Korah, Dathan and Abiram (brothers), and On. They accuse Aaron/Moses of “setting themselves above” the rest of the Israelites. So Moses is like, “Isn’t it enough for you Levites (some of these guys are Levites) that God has appointed you to do his work, but now you want to try to get the priesthood too!?” He tells them to all bring incense offerings to the Lord tomorrow, and THEN they will see how God reacts!! Well, as you can guess, God reacts very badly to this. How badly, you ask? He opens up the ground to swallow up and kill Dathan/Abiram/Korah
and their families, along with their households and all their possessions. “33. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!’ 35. And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.”
- The next day after all this Korah shiz goes down, the Israelites once again prove they are incapable of learning lessons by grumbling about the fact that Moses and Aaron and God killed all these people yesterday. So of course, God’s natural response to this another mass murdering spree. So Moses and Aaron freak out and start trying to
make atonement for them with incense as fast as they can. But by then, God has already started the plague on the people. Eventually Aaron and Moses are able to stop the plague with their atonements, but not before 14,700 of the people are already dead.
- In chapter 20 the Israelites arrive into the Desert of Zin, and show that their gluttony for punishment is reaching masochistic levels, as they start bitching and moaning yet again, this time because they have no water. But this time it only winds up being Moses and Aaron who pay the price. God tells Moses and Aaron to take a rock and perform a magic trick for the people where they squeeze water out of it. So Moses and Aaron perform the trick, but they do it wrong. They hit it twice with a staff rather than just “speaking” to it. So God punishes them to die before they reach the promised land. REALLY God, after ALL these two guys have done for you?? THIS is how you repay them?? Aaron then dies on Mount Hor (to be fair, both of these guys are really old at this point).
- In chapter 21, guess what happens? I’ll give you ONE guess. Do you have it? DING DING DING!! You got it!! The Israelites start complaining!! The people are journeying from Mr. Hor and having to take the long way around Edom, because the king of Edom would not let them through. So here comes the bitching and moaning again. “Wah wah, we don’t like this ‘light bread’ we keep having to eat, we
don’t have enough water, boo hoo.” Can you guess how God responds to this? You got it: “21:6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” When the people repent for their sins, God offers them a solution by way of some sort of magic brass serpent pole thing that Moses makes, and when the people look at it, they magically can survive a snake bite. Whee! At least God is starting to get creative again. I was starting to get pretty sick of all these plagues and fire anyway.
- At some point, king Arad the Canaanite finds out about the Israelites’ little spy mission from earlier. So he gets pissed and his people start attacking the Israelites. God is having none of this, so he helps the Israelites destroy these Aradites and steal several cities.
- A little later in the Israelites’ journey they run into the Amorites. They ask the king of the Amorites if they can pass through peacefully, but the Amorites are not having it. So the Amorites attack, and then the Israelites fight back and take all their land too.
- Next up comes the land of Bashan. When the Bashan people start fighting them, (which, to be fair, one would expect them to do at this point since it is quite clear now that the Israelites are just plowing through and taking over ALL the land they come across), this is what
happens: “21:35 So [the Israeltes] smote [the king of Bashan], and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.”
- The Israelites then make it to the plains of Moab, and naturally, the people of Moab are shaking in their boots (err … sandals), because these Israeltes have just completely MOWED down and massacred and taken over EVERY town in their path up until now. So Balak, the king of Moab, sends some men to attempt to convince some dude named Balaam, who lives nearby, to curse them. Balaam seems to have some sort of special powers. But God talks to Balaam and tells him that he must not curse the Israelites, because they are blessed. Balak then sends yet more important men/princes to convince Balaam, and God is like, o.k. fine you can go with them to meet Balak, but do and speak only what I tell you. So Balaam gets on his donkey to go, and then God gets pissed, even though he was the one who TOLD Balaam to go in the first place. Then there’s this whole amusing scene where an angel of God blocks their path and talks through the donkey to Balaam, and then eventually the angel tells him to continue on his way anyway. So Balaam meets with Balak, and goes through all this rigamarole with setting up altars and sacrifices so he can “channel” God and allow God to talk through him. This goes on for a while and involves several locations, and all in all, Balaam eventually gives a total of like 5 or more “oracles” from God. Here are some highlights from a few of them:
- From the second oracle: “23:22 God brought [the Israelites] out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. 23:23 Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! 23:24 Behold, the [Israelites] 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.”
- From the third oracle: “24:8 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. 24:9 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.”
- From the fourth oracle: “24:17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” All of this sounds pretty menacing.
- When the Israelites are camped near Moab, the men start having sex with the Moab women and worshiping their gods. The Lord gets very angry at this and tells 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.” Then a very stupid Israelite man has the gall to bring a Midianite woman before his family and Moses himself and all of Israel as they are weeping by the tabernacle. So Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, takes a spear and stabs it through both the man AND the woman together (kinda like a human barbeque skewer), while they are
having sex. This immediately stops a plague that God has put on the Israelites, but not before 24,000 of them have already died. And God says to Moses, “13. [Phinehas] and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.” So I guess what he did was awesome in the eyes of the Lord.
- Chapter 31 is where God tells Moses and the Israelites to “take vengeance on the Midianites,” I guess because he blames them for all the crap that happened in the story I described in the bulletpoint above. It’s fairly confusing, but I thinkMidian and Moab are like right next to each other. God is once again playing the role of the mob boss here. He tells the Israelites to take a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel and attack and kill the Midianites. So they do this, and they KILL ALL the adult male Midianites. They capture all the women, children, and animals, and steal everything they can from the town, and burn down ALL the Midianite towns, and they bring the captives and the spoils and plunder back to the Israelite camp on the plains of Moab. Pretty effed up, right? Can’t get much worse than this, right? WRONG!! Feast your eyes on what happens next!! “14. Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. 15. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. 16. ‘They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what
happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18. but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.'” WHAT. THE. F*CK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- The second half of chapter 31 is then entirely focused around dividing up all the spoils and plunder that were stolen after the massacre of these people!! “32. The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 33. 72,000 cattle, 34. 61,000 donkeys 35. and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man. 36. The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep, 37. of which the tribute for the Lord was 675; 38. 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72; 39. 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61; 40. 16,000 people, of which the tribute for the Lord was 32. 41. Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the Lord’s part, as the Lord commanded Moses.” Anyway, it goes on from there about how everything is divvied up, but you get the idea. I just … have no words for this.
- Chapter 33 reviews all the places that the Israelites have traveled, camped, and in some cases, plundered and destroyed and captured thus far. They are still in the plains of Moab at this point. God then gives Moses this lovely message for the people of Israel: “When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; 33:52 Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places: 33:53 And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it.” And then, “33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell. 33:56 Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.”
So … I mean … wow. I am seriously exhausted at trying to recount all of this. Originally I had also planned to recount all the misogyny as well, but I really don’t think I have the energy for it at this point. I can only handle so much of this. There’s stuff in here about how to put a curse on women who cheat on their husbands with no similar law for men cheating on their wives, laws about how women only get inheritance if they have no brothers, and rules about how a father or husband can nullify a vow that a woman has made to God if he decides to “forbid” it. But overall, the smaller stuff like this pretty much pales in comparison to all the murdering, stealing, and pillaging which dominates the book of Numbers.
So what lesson can we take out of Numbers? For me, it pretty much goes back to what I stated at the beginning of my review – IMO, the lesson of this book is that if you are one of God’s “chosen people,” then you need to do whatever you can to STEAL the land that God has promised you, and total massacre of the current inhabitants seems to be a perfectly acceptable method for this, at least in some circumstances (especially when God wants revenge). So far the only reasoning behind why it’s ok to steal these peoples’ land, as far as I have seen, is that the current inhabitants don’t “deserve” the land because they don’t follow the one true God. But I mean … is this really the best way to approach the situation? What ever happened to good old fashioned MISSIONARY work!? I guess that had not been invented yet at this point. But I still do not understand why God would NOT give these non-followers a chance to follow him before he decided to massacre all of them and/or force them off their land. Did he give them this chance at some point, and I missed it? I certainly don’t recall that.
So, now I come to my overall rating of the book of Numbers. The more I think about this book, the more I dislike it. Exodus was awful, sure, but at the very least, the people who were killed were part of a nation of people who were enslaving the Israelites. But in Numbers, the people being figuratively raped and literally pillaged are doing NOTHING AT ALL to provoke the Israelites!! They are simply kickin’ it in their own land, minding their own business. Uggh. What did I give Exodus again? 1/10? I might have to give the same to Numbers (or even lower), because there is just so much bad and so LITTLE good here. So here it is:
We’re 4 for 4 here on books of the Old Testament that have not gotten a rating higher than 2.5/10 … I really really hope things start looking up soon. Deuteronomy, here I come!