c-c-c-Cold-Hearted s-s-s-Snake (Numbers 21)

So the Israelites are scoping out new lands inhabited by the Amorites. Of course, the men are too scared to make a move (story of my life, ladies, story of my life) and they stand there impotently, complaining about their situation again. And God is not having it. Here’s how he responds this time: “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Num 21:6). Complaining is so evidently irksome to God that I wonder why “Thou shalt not whine like a sucky baby” is not one of the Ten Commandments.

The Israelites send a message to Sihon, king of the Amorites, asking him to let them pass through his lands. “No can do,” he says and then wages war on them. Bad move on his part because the Israelites actually man up, kill a bunch of his people and take his lands from Armon to Jabbok. Then the Israelites set their sights on Bashan, lands ruled by a guy named Og (a name that doesn’t exactly scream “leadership”). “You got this,” God says. He fixes the battle on behalf of the Israelites. God is so terribly inconsistent in his favours, much like a friend I once had who I swear had borderline personality disorder.



Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Not Without My Brother (Numbers 18-20)

God starts going on and on about what he wants to see in sacrifices, especially animal sacrifices. He wants any animal sacrificed in his name to be pick of the litter and he wants their fat to be burned on the altar because it is a “pleasing odor to the Lord” (Num 18:17). If the smell of burning fat is so pleasing to God then I wonder why bacon isn’t a bigger part of the Jewish faith.

Previously, I mentioned that God did an about-face and let the Levites socialize with the Israelites. To be fair though, the Levites are basically relegated to the position of slaves. But there are perks. After a sacrifice, for example, the Levites get some of the leftovers, which I assume would be primarily organ meat.

God brings up how touching dead bodies makes you unclean for the umpteenth time. We get it. If you touch a dead body, you’re unclean. But if you’re touched by a person who has touched a dead body then you’re unclean, too. This is sort of like second-hand smoking. I don’t understand how this doesn’t cause mayhem. If it were me, and I touched a dead body (accidentally or not), then I would touch some day-dreaming chump right away and yell, “You’re it!”. Then he would touch somebody else. Then that somebody else would touch somebody else. And before you know it, everybody’s unclean and the congregation has been involuntarily signed up for a game of Everybody’s It tag. Fun.

In Numbers 20, the Iraelites start complaining again about getting dragged out of Egypt and having to roam around in the wilderness without food or water. So Moses does that trick he did many chapters ago in which he takes a stick and beats water out of a rock. Ta-dah! It’s a good thing that his people aren’t dehydrated anymore because they have to pass through hostile territory pretty soon. Before they do that, however, God tells Aaron that he has to climb up Mount Hor, give his clothes to his son Eleazar and die. I don’t know why Aaron agrees to this but maybe he was distracted by the name of the mountain (Mount (W)Hor(e)). Whatever. He’s an idiot. When the people find out Aaron’s dead they all weep for thirty days which surely delays their journey.

Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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An Orgy of Egos (Numbers 15-17)

God can’t be accused of being unclear; he expressly forbade doing absolutely anything on the sabbath. So when his people come across a stranger harmlessly picking up sticks on the sabbath, it’s reasonable that God commands them to stone him to death: “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp” (Num 15:35). Stone him with stones? Not rubber erasers? That makes sense.

In Numbers 16, the congregation gets ticked off that Moses and his brother Aaron have all the power. They cry, “You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Num 16:3). Apparently, this comes right out of left field for Moses because he “[falls] on his face” (Num16:4). Faceplant! Moses, ever the sycophant, turns to God and asks what he should do. God says, “Separate yourselves from among the congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Num 16:21). I hope that this refers to some sort of rapture and not cannibalism (although I don’t think it counts as cannibalism technically if a deity eats a human).

As it turns out, God doesn’t eat the whiners. Instead – and this is much more spectacular in my opinion – he opens up the ground beneath their feet and the earth swallows them up in one big gulp. Tricky. That’s what God meant by “consume them in a moment”. Bet they didn’t see that one coming. Then God sends a plague along to finish off all the ones who got away. Between the trap-door trick and the plague God kills about fifteen thousand of his people. I can’t imagine that their rates of procreation can keep pace with this nonsense.




Published in: on February 25, 2011 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Watermelons and Canteloupes, Watermelons and Canteloupes (Numbers 13-14)

Moses and his people are on a search for new lands to inhabit. God sends out bunch of spies to check out Canaan for forty days (thorough) and pick up some fruit while they’re at it (it’s grape season). For whatever reason, the spies lie, saying that the Israelites can’t take over the lands because the people who live there are too big and strong and likely wouldn’t take well to being told to vamoose. I think the spies are trying to avoid packing up their stuff and moving, a process which we all hate.

However, one of the spies pipes up and says that the Israelites are indeed capable of overcoming the current inhabitants of Canaan, causing a terrible row among them. Everyone is arguing about this, which pisses off God because apparently he doesn’t like murmuring: “How long shall this wicked congregation murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the people of Israel, which they murmur against me.” (Numbers 14:27). I appreciate the deft use nouns and verbs in this passage; murmurings (noun) are without a doubt, murmured (verb). God threatens to kill everyone unless they stop it. If I were directing a re-enactment of this scene – une petite vignette, if you will – I would have all the actors turn back and forth between each other quietly whispering, “Watermelons and canteloupes, watermelons and canteloupes” until God’s booming voice cut in, accusing them of being “out of order”. In my experience, that watermelons and canteloupes trick works well.

Moments later, God softens up a bit and decides just to kill the spies who lied rather than everyone. What a guy.

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Meat Sweats (Numbers 11-12)

The people are getting complain-y. They were just starting to feel settled in their camp at the base of Mount Sinai but for some reason, God’s decided that it’s time to move. After some trekking, they start to get hungry. Naturally. The manna doesn’t cut it anymore. They crave meat. Out of all the many things he’s able to do (whip up multiple plagues, for example), God can’t seem to produce a Brazilian buffet for his people. What gives?

A side note: You might have noticed that I remark frequently on meat. This is true. As a former vegetarian (for seventeen years, eleven of which I was also a vegan), I am now obsessed with meat, having leapt back into the fold about ten months ago. It is delicious and I crave it every single waking hour. Plus, I’m way skinnier now. I’m thinking of starting a meat blog in which I write about my experiences buying meat, cooking meat and, of course, eating meat. Thoughts? I’m also thinking about starting a club called “Meat Mates” for like-minded individuals looking to eat at amazing steak houses and enjoy good conversation that mostly revolves around what is being delivered to the face via fork. I know one person who definitely would be into this (M. Sellers). Again – thoughts?

Anyways, God gets annoyed that his people are going on and on about meat and makes threats that are exactly like a father catching his kid smoking: “Oh, you like cigarettes, eh mister? Well, then you can just sit here and smoke the whole damned pack!”). God says, “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you…” (Num 11:18-20). I don’t really see how the digestive system can work this way; at worst, the Israelites might suffer constipation and the meat sweats after such an extended gorge.

Next, God does a weird thing. He summons wind to carry in a large number of “quails from the sea”. Does that mean tuna? I don’t know. Regardless, the meat-crazed Israelites dive in and then – God gets pissed and sends a plague down upon them. What? “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague” (Num 11:33). At least let them finish eating. So random. And he just had Moses do a big, boring census, too. Now those numbers are irrevelant.

In Numbers 12, which veers sharply away from the narrative of Numbers 11, Aaron and Miriam (his wife, I think) get all uppitty about the fact that God seems to be communicating directly only with Moses. Isn’t there room for other prophets (like them, implicitly)? God doesn’t like being questioned on such matters so – ZAP – he gives Miriam leprosy. No punishment for Aaron, other than not being able to have sex with his leprous wife.




Published in: on February 21, 2011 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Is it Really that Hard NOT to Touch a Dead Body? (Numbers 6-10)

There is an awful lot of listing in numbers. I should have figured.

In Numbers 6, the specifications for a special kind of vow, called the vow of Nazirite, are presented. The vow of Nazirite is supposed to bring a man or a woman (how inclusive) closer to God, although I don’t see the point of that since God is annoyingly close already, intruding into the Israelites’ affairs willy-nilly. If anything, you’d think the Israelites would want a little space by now.

The vow of Nazirite requires one to grow their hair long and refrain from drinking anything too strong, or produced by the grapevine. Touching a dead body is off-limits, too. Touching dead bodies is something that is mentioned so often in the Bible that I wonder what I’m missing. Is is really that hard not to touch a dead body? They’re gross. Plus, the more dead they get, the grosser they get. What’s the draw?

After a certain period of time, the man or woman taking the vow goes to the tent of meeting (where all the sacrifices and cool stuff happen) and gets his or her head consecrated with fancy oils. Then he or she has to shave off all their hair and toss it into a fire and watch it burn, probably crying like one of the girls in the standard makeover episode of any given season of America’s Next Top Model. What a waste. At least make some extensions. On that note, I’m noticing that the Bible has a pretty strong anti-conservation message. So much stuff gets wasted in sacrifices and rituals; it’s quite appalling.

In Numbers 7, all the leaders from the different tribes bring special offerings to the tent of meeting. And – how embarrassing – they all pretty much bring exactly the same thing: a silver plate, flour, incense, animals for sacrifice, etc. I guess these are typical, bland offerings akin to giving someone a pomegrante-scented candle from Indigo for their birthday.

Out of nowhere, God decides that the Levite people are alright and can hang out with the Israelites. But first they have to shave their entire bodies and get washed up, emerging looking somewhat like those hairless cats, I imagine. This is probably a good move on God’s part, since he’s killed off a lot of people in the last little while. Time to beef up the numbers. God tells Moses to get two silver trumpets made so all of his commands can be made more bombastic. Meeting – trumpet blast. Alarm – trumpet blast. War – trumpet blast. Feast – trumpet blast. Nap time – trumpet blast.

After two years, two months and twenty days at the base of Mount Sinai, God tell his people (now including the Levites) to pack up shop because they’re moving. God is probably as bored as I am and needs a change of scenery. Good. Where to? Don’t know. I don’t think God knows, either, to be honest. And I doubt any of the Israelite men are asking for directions.

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Numbers is as Boring as Actual Counting (Numbers 1-5)

It’s abundantly clear that Numbers is an apt title for the fourth book of Moses.

Numbers 1-4 detail the census that God commands Moses to undertake. He’s supposed to make a count of his people (which only includes males over the age of twenty since everyone else is of little significance). As it turns out, there are 603, 550 Israelites. Good to know. It would have been great if the Bible had just listed this grand total and moved on with the narrative. But no. It goes through all the different tribes. For example, “Of all the people of Benjamin, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old  and upward, every man able to go forth to war: the number of the tribe of Benjamin was thirty-five thousand four hundred” (Num 1:38). There are pages like that. So boring. So very boring.

And then, Moses has to count the Levites. But this time God wants him to make a record of all the males, regardless of age. I don’t understand why the criteria changes but it does. There are 22, 000. I think he rounded up. In fact, after counting the Israelites he was probably too exhausted to really count and just eyeballed it.

And then, Moses has to count the Kohathites but only those that are males between the ages of thirty and fifty years of age. There are 2, 750.

And then, Moses has to count the sons of Gershon, whoever that is. There are 2, 630.

And then, Moses has to count the sons of Merari. There are 3, 200.

Finally, in Numbers 5 something interesting comes up. What to do if you’re a jealous husband. If you’re a jealous husband then you can bring your wife to a priest for what could only be described as weird voodoo. To be clear, it doesn’t actually matter if your jealousy is substantiated or not. What happens is you drag your protesting wife to the priest’s and he makes her stand there and let her hair down (for dramatic effect). He gives her some cereal to hold in her hand (maybe oats) while he grabs the “water of bitterness that brings the curse” (Num 5:18). See? Voodoo. She listens to him recite the following: “…if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then… the Lord make you an execration… when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell; make this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your body swell and your thigh fall away” (Num 5:20-22). The kicker is she has to repeat some of this with him (I wonder how enthusiastically). If she hasn’t cheated on her husband then nothing happens. I find it hard to believe that this would have been an effective means for smoking out cheating spouses unless the water of biterness contained a vicious and fast-acting strain of the flesh-eating disease.

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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