Sunday, July 20, 2014

Numbers: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible.

In the wilderness around Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to take a census of the people of Israel, so he did.  He also organized them into tribal camps, each tribe named after a different son of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Gad, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and Levi.

Moses was specifically asked to count the number of males of fighting age, of warriors, because God was turning them into a massive invading army, so they could conquer the “Promised Land” of Canaan (which was inhabited by other people who weren’t keen on moving).  The Canaanites would have to be killed, and their cities destroyed, with God’s blessing.  Organized for war, the Israelites set out toward their future homeland.

One tribe was exempted from military service—Levi, the tribe of priests who were constantly getting free stuff from the other tribes, and got to retire at age 50.  Based on the massive perks they got, one might wonder if priests wrote these books.

So the Israelites set out for Canaan, and immediately started complaining to Moses that they were sick of eating the same food everyday—the manna from heaven.  They wanted meat.  God got really pissed and started burning the Israelites with fire, but Moses interceded and God stopped burning them.  God was like, “Alright, Israel, you want meat, I’ll give you meat, I’ll give you meat “until it comes our of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.”  So God rained down millions of quails infected with plague, and lots of people got sick and died.

"A Plague Inflicted on Israel While Eating the Quails" by Gerard Hoet

Then Moses’ brother and sister (Aaron and Miriam) started complaining about Moses’s wife, so God punished Miriam with leprosy, and she had to live alone outside the camp for a while.  God did not punish Aaron.  Sexism?

When Israel neared Canaan, God told Moses to send out spies to see what the land was like, and if there were any weaknesses.  Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, gave a good report, basically saying, “This land is awesome.  We can totally conquer it.”  But the other spies were less confident, so the people started complaining again.  They were afraid, and actually wanted to go back to Egypt, and they tried to stone Josuha and Caleb.  

How did God react to this?  He got pissed, and intended to smite his people with pestilence and wipe them out.  Again, Moses reasoned with God, basically saying, “Look, God, I know you’re angry.  But if you kill these people who you went to all that trouble to liberate, the other nations will think you are weak.”  God, who was very concerned with his reputation, decided not to kill his people.  Instead, God said that none of the people he liberated would enter the promised land.  Instead, he said, “Your corpses shall fall in the wilderness.”  The nation of Israel would have to wait 40 years, until an entire generation had died out, before entering the promised land.  That way, God got his revenge on his people, kept his promise to them,  AND kept his reputation as a God with whom you did not want to fuck.  Meanwhile, an entire generation of former slaves would have to wander in exile and die.

As one might imagine, this did not go over well with the Israelites.  Some of them were like, fuck this, let’s just go ahead and invade Canaan anyway.  So they attacked the Amalekites…and got their asses kicked.  Israel needed God to win wars.  They were just going to have to wait until he was less angry, and they were more dead.

While they were wandering and waiting, God thought it was a good time to give some more laws, and do some fashion design.  He commanded all the men to wear tassels on their shirts.  What could the men do?  If God wanted tassels, they had to wear tassels.

At this point, some of the Israelites got fed up with Moses and God and all these plagues and fire and tassels.  They rebelled and tried to form their own group.  God responded to this by opening up the ground and swallowing all the rebels, killing them.  This made more people mad, and they complained, and that made God mad, and so He sent another plague, killing over 14,000 people.  Whether they liked it or not, Israel was stuck with this God.  

The Israelites came to a place called Meribah and ran out of water again, and complained again.  God allowed water to come out of a rock, but there was a cost.  Moses himself would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  

"Moses Draws Water from the Rock" by Francois Perrier

Israel continued wandering, and got attacked by the king of Arad, and God helped them win, and utterly destroy their cities.

Again, Israel ran out of food and water, and complained, so God killed a bunch of them with fiery serpents.  God was always thinking of new and creative ways to kill his chosen people.

Israel went on to defeat more peoples, the Amorites and the people of Bashan.  As per God’s orders, they killed everyone in the land, leaving no survivors.  it was total genocide.

The king of Moab heard about Israel’s genocidal slaughterfests, and he was terrified for his people.  Israel was dangerous, and their God was super powerful and not shy about genocide.  So the king of Moab sent for a famous prophet named Balaam, hoping this prophet could bless Moab and get them some divine protection.  But God spoke to Balaam and told him not to curse Israel, so Balaam agreed.  God was a little mad at Balaam for even considering cursing Israel so, while Balaam was traveling, God blocked his way with an angel, and Balaam’s donkey got spooked and fell on him.  God allowed the donkey to speak to Balaam, and express his anger.

"Balaam and the Angel" by Michel Wolgemut

Then Balaam went to the king of Moab and, instead of cursing Israel, actually blessed them, and offered some dire predictions for the inhabitants of Canaan:

“Behold, a people [Israel] rises like a lioness,
And as a lion it lifts itself;
It shall not lie down until it devours the prey,
And drinks the blood of the slain.”

The king of Moab was, needless to say, quite unhappy with Balaam and his prophecies.

But, instead of killing the Moabites, the Israelites had sex with them and even started worshipping their gods.  Bad decision, Israelites.  God sent another plague, killing 24,000 people.

Some time passed, God gave more laws, Israel wandered more, slaughtered the Midianites and took their virgins as booty, Moses took another census, etc.  Finally, Israel arrived at the border of the Promised Land, and God told them to prepare to inflict some serious genocide.


Stay tuned for further adventures of Israel, God, and the Canaanites with Deuteronomy: a Book Report.

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