Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Numbers 25-27

Numbers 25 relates the seduction of Israel by Moab. As they were waiting in Shittim, the men "began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women." This led them into making sacrifices to Baal, to eating and bowing down before and worshiping Baal, "and the LORD's anger burned against them." The LORD said to Moses to take the leaders and kill them, so Moses told Israel's judges to "put to death those of your men" who were worshipping Baal. One of the Israelites (Zimri, son of Salu, a Simeonite) brought a Moab woman "right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel." Phinehas, son of Eleazar (high priest since the death of his father Aaron) took a spear, entered the tent and killed both Zimri and the Moabite woman with one thrust. This stopped the plague spreading through the camp, but 24,000 had already died. The LORD expressed pleasure with Phinehas "for he was as zealous as I am for my honor" and made a covenant of a lasting priesthood with him and his descendants. The LORD told Moses to "treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them" because they had seduced the people of Israel.

In chapter 26, they take another census of the people, finding that the count is essentially unchanged since the exodus, though some tribes have had significant changes. The total count, including the Levites, was 624,730 at the time of the second census. The LORD told Moses that the land was to be allotted to them "based on the number of names," with larger groups getting larger portions and smaller groups smaller portions. The number for the division was 601,730, because the Levites had no inheritance of the land. And there were no men in this census who were also in the first census other than Caleb, Joshua and Moses.

In chapter 27, the daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah) of the tribe of Manasseh approached the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and told Moses, Eleazar and the whole assembly that it was not right that their "father's name [should] disappear from his clan because he had no son," and that they should have property among their father's relatives. Moses brought this to the LORD, who agreed and said that they should have property as an inheritance among their father's relatives. And he gave the Israelites the law of inheritance. Then the LORD told Moses to "go up this mountain...and see the land I have given the Israelites." Because of the failure of Moses and Aaron to honor GOD at Meribah Kadesh, Moses was to be "gathered to your people" just as Aaron had been. Moses asked the LORD to appoint a successor "so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd." The LORD told him to lay his hands upon Joshua, and Moses did as the LORD had instructed him.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Obviously, this is not the first time that sex is an issue. Nor will it be the last. It is very possibly the single aspect of our being most easily corrupted and misused.
  • The second census:

    The Second Census - Numbers 26
    TribeCount (2nd census)Count (first census)Increase
    Joseph (Ephraim)32,50040,500-8,000
    Joseph (Manasseh)52,70032,20020,500
    Levi (Numbers 3)23,00022,0001,000
    Twelve Tribes624,730625,550-820
    • It is not clear exactly how much has elapsed between the first and second censuses. The last specific time reference was much earlier in the book, in chapter 9, when the LORD spoke to Moses "in the first month of the second year" after the exodus. The "wandering" didn't really start until chapter 14, after they balked at entering the promised land following the report of the exploration. Moses is still alive even though he was old when they started. On the other hand,
      Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. For the LORD had told those Israelites they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.
      So some significant amount of time has to have elapsed. Is this the full "40 years" that is traditionally attributed to the wandering in the desert? I don't know, though presumably I'll understand more by the time I get to the end of Deuteronomy.
    • However long it's been, there have been significant population shifts. The most extreme are Simeon, which lost nearly 63% of its population, and Mannasseh, which grew by 63%. On the whole, however, the nation is almost exactly the same size as it was at the foot of Mt. Sinai. At the rate of growth experienced in Egypt, and assuming forty more years, it would have been over 1.8 million people, almost three times the size that it is.
    • Obviously, wandering in the desert isn't the ideal circumstance for having and raising healthy kids. Also, there were several instances in which significant numbers were killed.
      Numbers 11:1 - "Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp."
      Numbers 11:33 - "the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague."
      Numbers 14:45 - "Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah."
      Numbers 16:32 - "and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions"
      Numbers 16:35 - "And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense."
      Numbers 16:49 - "But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah."
      Numbers 21:6 - "Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died."
      Numbers 25:9 - "but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000"
      The enumerated casualties (24,000 + 14,700 + 250) equal 38,950, a miniscule portion of the missing 1.2 million, even if the casualties had all been incurred on the first day. But there were many more dead who were not enumerated, and doubtless other instances of mass casualties which aren't mentioned.
    • One can easily understand the LORD's anger with the constant complaining and questioning of the Israelites. But this missing population is interesting, too. Clearly, the population did not grow while wandering the desert. After a survivor birth rate of ~3.4 while in Egypt, the years of wandering produced a survivor birth rate at just about replacement level (~2). It was clearly a hard living, even under the care and protection of GOD.

  • Moses is going to die without entering the promised land. Is it kindness or torment to be allowed to see it? One could read it as the latter, as an additional punishment, but I think it's more likely that the former is correct. GOD's saying to Moses, "I've told you that you can't go in, but you can see what you're work has achieved for my people."

Psalms 26

I've written before of the difference in the Christian and Jewish outlook towards judgement, and we see those differences as being very apparent in the psalms. Here, again, the psalmist is claiming GOD's mercy as his due, as something that he has earned.
Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life...I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked...Do not take away my soul along with sinners...I lead a blameless the great assembly I will praise the LORD.
We pray the psalms, as they are prayers of historic significance, which men through the ages have recognized as great. But this is not a Christian prayer...

Psalm 26

1 Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the LORD
without wavering.

2 Test me, O LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;

3 for your love is ever before me,
and I walk continually in your truth.

4 I do not sit with deceitful men,
nor do I consort with hypocrites;

5 I abhor the assembly of evildoers
and refuse to sit with the wicked.

6 I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, O LORD,

7 proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds.

8 I love the house where you live, O LORD,
the place where your glory dwells.

9 Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
my life with bloodthirsty men,

10 in whose hands are wicked schemes,
whose right hands are full of bribes.

11 But I lead a blameless life;
redeem me and be merciful to me.

12 My feet stand on level ground;
in the great assembly I will praise the LORD.

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