Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Numbers 14:1-15:41


I don't believe that God is wrathful. I am convinced, however, that God is judge. For this reason I am never completely comfortable with God. "I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3)

In the fourteenth chapter of Numbers Moses and Aaron are faced with open rebellion. The Israelites, afraid of the giant inhabitants of Canaan, want to pick a new leader and go back to Egypt. Caleb and Joshua try to convince the people to enter Canaan, but the people threaten to stone them to death. God's glory appears at the Tabernacle. YHWH is prepared to destroy the people and carry on his covenant through Moses alone.

It is a dramatic scene.

Moses, against his own best interests convinces the Lord not to destroy his people. It is a matter of honor. What will the Egyptians say if the God who led these people out of slavery killed them all in the desert?  In verse 18 Moses reminds YHWH of his own self description.

 'The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.'  (Numbers 14:18, emphasis added).

That is quoted from the New Revised Standard Version. I'm actually using the New International Version 2011 edition as my primary Bible for this read-through. It's not my favorite version, but it is very popular and I haven't read the entire NIV11 before. it does something interesting with this verse. It renders the words I bolded above as "forgiving sin and rebellion." I trust that this is a legitimate translation. It certainly contextualizes the words to the situation at hand.

At Moses' urging, YHWH relents from destroying the Israelites. Can we hold God accountable to God's best nature? Is it our job to remind God of who God is?

There are consequences, however. The generation of Israelites who were counted in the census will not enter the land of promise. Their sojourn in the wilderness will last 40 years and they will all die. Their children will inherit the land.

The spies, except Joshua and Caleb, are struck down immediately. Some Isrealites repent of their earlier disobedience and distrust but compound the problem by failing to obey God now. They try to enter Canaan and are soundly defeated by the people who dwell there.

Chapter 15 begins with more instructions concerning sacrifices and offerings. It tells us that unintentional sins are forgivable, but sins committed intentionally cannot be forgiven. In the latter case the sinner is to be "cut off" from the people. I've pondered this before. Some of the sources I read suggest that "cut off" means exile. In Exodus 30 it seems to be equivalent to "killed."

In these instructions, once more, we find that the same rule applies for the Israelites and for the foreigners who dwell among them.

In verses 32-36 we find the case of a man who is stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath. This seems harsh. The Sabbath commandment is taken very seriously. By the time of Jesus exceptions to the Sabbath commandment had been established. (c,f, Matthew 12:11, Luke 13:15).

Verses 37-41 end the chapter with instructions that the Israelites are to put fringes on their garments as a reminder of God's commandments. Orthodox and Conservative Jews today have fringes (zitzith) on their prayer shawls (talith).

Have archeologists uncovered the skeletons of giant Anakites who lived in Canaan?I found the picture above on the internet, so it has to be real.

Next: Numbers 16-17

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