2 Chronicles 5-7: Consecrating the Temple

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In these three chapters, we see Solomon bringing the ark of the covenant into the new Temple, then consecrating the building. I apologize in advance because it’s all painfully boring. I had steeled myself for the early chapters of 1 Chronicles, having been warned that it would just be a list of names. However, I actually found myself enjoying them. Comparing the lists to their occurrences in other books of the Old Testament was actually quite fun, like a scavenger hunt. This chapters about the Temple, however, are making my eyes fuzzy.

Bringing Home the Ark

With the construction finished, Solomon’s first order of business is re-homing the ark. The narrative takes up all of 2 Chron. 5, and largely matches up with the same narrative found in 1 Kgs 8:1-11.

The ark isn’t alone. First, Solomon moves in all the knick-knacks and bits-and-bobs he and David had collected for it. Then, in the 7th month, he assembled the elders and leaders of Israel. They formed a procession before the ark, making sacrifices along the way. The Levites (who are called “priests” in 1 Kgs 8:3) carry the ark, as well as the tent of meeting and holy vessels.

When they get to the Temple, the ark is placed in the inner sanctuary, in its spot beneath the cherubim wings. The poles, which remained with the ark, are so long that they can be seen from the inner sanctuary’s antechamber (but, the Chronicler assures us, not from outside!).

The poles, we are told, “are there to this day” (2 Chron. 5:9). Except that they clearly aren’t. I mean, obviously they aren’t to this day, but they weren’t to the Chronicler’s day, either. So why is this sentence here? Did our Chronicler just zone out for a bit while copying from his sources? Is there some broader theological point that I’m missing? To quote Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare In Love, it’s a mystery.

The ark, we learn, contains only Moses’s two tablets, which had been placed there at Horeb. The location of the covenant’s reception is consistent with the Chronicler’s source, 1 Kgs 8:9, as well as Deuteronomy (see Deut. 29:1). It does not, however, match Exodus (see Ex. 31:18 or Ex. 34:4), nor Leviticus (see Lev. 26:46 or Lev. 27:34), where the covenant was received at Sinai.

When I read here that there was nothing else in the ark, I narrowed my eyes and hissed “gotcha!” As, apparently, I also did when I read the same thing in 1 Kings 8. See, I’m very clever to have remembered Aaron’s staff and the pot of manna, but not quite clever enough to remember that neither of these items is ever described as having been placed in the ark, merely in front of (see Ex. 16:33-34 for the manna, and Num. 17:10 for the staff). My sole consolation is that my error is a common one. So common, in fact, that the author of Hebrews 9:3-4 did it as well. So I suppose I can say that I made an error of biblical proportions.

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that neither the staff nor the manna is mentioned here, either in the ark or in its accompanying luggage.

After the priests had all been sanctified, they and the musicians (who are mentioned only in the Chronicler’s version of events) were forced to stop their ministrations when the Temple filled with smoke.

As I read this, it occurred to me that the ark could have doubled-up as a large censer. It’s often associated with clouds (see Ex. 24:16, Ex. 40:35, Num. 10:34), so perhaps something was burned inside the ark in order to, literally, create a “smokescreen.” If that’s the case, it might be the basis of the story of Nadab and Abihu, told in Lev. 10:1-3. In that story, the two priests incorrectly load their censers, and both are burned to death as a result. It could be that the story originated as a cautionary tale for priests tending the ark, as whatever they burned there could be quite volatile. (Where as the immediate death in Num. 2:40 seems to be more about protecting the cultic mysteries.) Perhaps the fuel used in the ark was a little unstable, and sometimes it would smoke too much and force the priests out of the Temple. This is all unsubstantiated fancy, of course, but fun to think about.

Dedication and Consecration

2 Chron. 6-7 mostly follow 1 Kgs 8:12-66. I’ll note content changes as we go along, but I’m given to understand (via Dr. Joel Hoffman of God Didn’t Say That) that there are quite a few grammatical differences between the two accounts, suggesting that the Chronicler wasn’t just copying mechanically from his source. To me, this suggests that what is left the same is meaningful, as it was done so with intention.

The ark carried into the temple, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, early 15th cent.

The ark carried into the temple, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, early 15th cent.

Solomon begins with an evocation, in which he states that God has said “he would dwell in thick darkness” (2 Chron. 6:1). It’s impossible to tell, in English, whether God’s statement should be read as an imperative (“God desires to dwell in thick darkness”) or a prediction (“God would one day dwell in thick darkness”). I’d be interested to know if the difference is clearer in the Hebrew. In any case, this and the next verse serve to introduce the Temple.

Solomon blesses the assembly, then gives yet another speech about God’s greatness, his fulfilling of promises, and all the other usual blather. It would be nice if these guys could hire a new speech writer every once and a while.

In his speech, Solomon says that God once had no Temple and no king, but that between David and this lovely new Temple, he now has both (2 Chron. 6:4-6). This pretty strongly implies that, as far as the Chronicler is concerned, there was no king before David (and this is new, the passage doesn’t occur in 1 Kgs 8). Yet, we know that the Chronicler knew about Saul, and that he expected his audience to know about Saul (1 Chron. 10 is devoted to the guy). The point is clearly that David is the first true king, but does that mean that the Chronicler does not believe, as the author of 1 Sam. 9 did, that God chose Saul to be Israel’s first king?

In the 1 Kgs 8 version of events, we get a Quantum Solomon who is both standing (1 Kgs 8:22) and kneeling (1 Kgs 8:54-55) during the dedication of the Temple. Here, the Chronicler fixes up the story by having Solomon stand before the altar, his hands spread out. He then kneels, with his hands stretched up to the sky. The only weirdness that remains is the position of Solomon’s hands, where we seem to get some repetition.

The Chronicler adds another detail: Instead of simply being in front of the altar, Solomon is standing on a special bronze platform. According to my study Bible, this could be meant as a sort of ‘safe zone’, so that Solomon can perform the ceremony on this one occasion even though the spot before the altar was exclusively reserved for priests. This could reflect a change in custom, perhaps as Israel sought to differentiate itself from other nearby religions that did not distinguish overmuch between the roles of king and priest (or, heck, between god and priest, if we’re willing to skip over to Egypt). If so, there may be other clues as to widening gap between the secular and the religious roles – in 2 Sam. 8:18, we are told that David’s sons served as priests.

The emphasis of Solomon’s speech is mostly on the idea that the Temple is not meant to contain God, but rather to serve as a focus for God’s attention. So that vows made at the Temple are particularly binding, and apologies for sins made at the Temple are more likely to be heeded (if, for example, the people want to end a punishment, such as drought, plague, or famine). Solomon also mentions that foreigners are welcome to worship God at the Temple, if they want to.

Solomon also includes provisions for people who are unable to come to the Temple. He asks God to listen to the prayers of soldiers, directed toward Jerusalem, when they are out fighting God’s wars. Lastly, he asks (rather poignantly, given the Chronicler’s perspective) that God listen to the prayers of Israelites who have been taken captive abroad.

The 1 Kgs 8 version of the dedication ends with another reference to the Exodus and to Moses. Somewhat surprisingly, given the Chronicler’s penchant for referencing Moses, he omits this. Instead, he replaces it with a bit about David that follows Ps 132:8-10 fairly closely.

Once Solomon is finally done talking, a fire comes down from heaven to consume the burnt offering (though is it still a burnt offering if God himself burns it? At that point, it’s just an offering that will then be burned). Someone apparently messed up the fuelling of the ark again, however, and God’s “glory” filled the Temple, driving out the priests. The Israelite masses saw the fire and worshipped. This whole bit about the fire, including the repetition of the priests being forced out of the Temple, is not found in the 1 Kgs 8 telling.

The Israelites feasted for seven days, then held a solemn assembly on the 8th day. On the 23rd day of the 7th month, the people were finally dismissed and returned to their homes. In 1 Kgs 8:65, the people are merely sent home on the 8th day, and there’s no mention of a solemn assembly.

The Chronicler tells us that the people returned to their homes with gladness in their hearts because of the goodness that God had shown to David and Solomon (2 Chron. 7:10), though the parallel verse (1 Kgs 8:66) mentions only David.

Wrapping things up, God appears personally to Solomon to let him know that he approves of what’s been done and, of course, issue a few threats. This passage is mostly lifted from 1 Kgs 9:1-9, and includes special concern that the Isrealites not go off to worship other gods (if they do, they will be plucked out of Israel and God will make an example of them, lovely).

1 Kings 8: Consecration

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According to Collins, it’s a feature of the Deuteronomist that key turning points are marked by speeches (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94). Some of the others we’ve seen have been Joshua’s speech in Joshua 1 to make the beginning of the conquest, and its mirror in Joshua 23 to mark its conclusion. In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel’s speech marked the dawn of the monarchy. Here, Solomon’s speech rings in the first temple era.

He begins by assembling all the elders of Israel, the tribal heads, and the leaders of the “fathers’ houses” (1 Kgs 8:1), a change in the language of “all Israel” that we’ve seen previously. Another change has been the use of “Israel” alone as a designation for the people, rather than Israel and Judah. This could either indicate the work of a different author, or it could be a subtle signal that the schism had largely been quelled by this point.

The gathering occurs in Ethanim, which would put it around September-October. When compared to the completion of the construction in 1 Kgs 6:38, it seems that eleven months had elapsed. According to my study Bible, it could be that the consecration was postponed so that it could coincide with the New Year.

The ark was brought up from where it was being kept in the City of David, along with its tent and accompanying stuff, to the new temple. It seems that the priests and Levites carried the gear while the rest of the people made sacrifices before it. When the ark is placed in the inner sanctuary (under the wings of the cherubim), its carrying poles were visible and were still there “to this day” (1 Kgs 8:8), allowing us to date that particular passage to sometime prior to the destruction of temple.

We’re told that there was nothing inside the ark except the two tables of stone Moses had received at Horeb (1 Kgs 8:9). This struck me as odd as I was sure I could remember other items being mentioned. However, once I looked it up, I realized that the jar of manna (Exodus 16:33-34) and Aaron’s staff (Numbers 17:10) had only been placed in front of the ark, not necessarily inside. It seems that this is not a unique misremembering, as the author of Hebrews seems to have done the same thing (Hebrews 9:3-4). That said, I still find it interesting that neither the jar of manna nor the staff are mentioned here as being among the relics moved into the temple (an omission that may or may not be significant).

Apparently, this whole passage is a fair bit shorter in the LXX – which, as we’ve seen so far for 1 Kings, may indicate that it was originally shorter and only elaborated in the Hebrew after the Septuagint was written. Another possibility is, of course, that the LXX was corrupted and portions of it lost.

1 Kings 8 - ConsecrationFinally, it seems that during the ceremony, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). While the imagery is clearly meant to evoke the pillar of cloud from the exodus (Exodus 14:19), yet it reminded me of my stint at a Catholic school. At Christmas, we were packed off to our patron church to sing in the choir. Unfortunately, the one year I participated, whoever was in charge had decided to use far too much incense – well beyond what was reasonable even for Catholics. Rather than sing, the entire choir suffered a prolonged coughing fit and my friend, who was an actual practising Catholic unlike your humble narrator, had to be taken outside because it had made her feel so ill. I could imagine the priests, still new to the whole temple business and unaccustomed to solid, windowless walls, might have accidentally used far too much incense and been forced out of the building on the temple’s inaugural ministering.

The spiel

The first part of Solomon’s speech was, according to the LXX, taken from the Book of Jashar (mentioned as a source in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Sam. 1:18). It is also, according to my study Bible, the work of the first Deuteronomist editor (close to the end of the monarchy, prior to the fall of Jerusalem). In it, Solomon declares that God has fulfilled his promise not to have a temple built by any tribe until now. David had wanted to build a temple, to his credit, yet the task had been saved for Solomon. Now, Solomon has fulfilled his destiny and the temple is built.

The second part of Solomon’s speech is also, apparently, mostly from the first Deuteronomist. In it, he makes liberal use of thees and thous, which seems rather protestant for someone in the tenth century BCE. In it, he goes on with the usual shtick about David’s dynasty lasting forever, though only so long as his descendants are as godly as he was (which, if we remember, was so godly that he was deposed at least once in his lifetime, and possibly twice).

The only thing that really stands out in the chapter is Solomon’s insistence that the building of the temple was proper. It seems that the tradition of the mobile, tent-dwelling god was a strong one, perhaps even right up until the first temple was destroyed (or perhaps the destruction ignited a wave of doubt). Solomon concedes that no temple can contain god, revealing a shift from the discrete God who can possess and enter a temple or icon (or even a God whose power is limited to geographic bounds) toward a god who can be ever-present – a necessity for an exiled religious community.

Solomon argues that his temple does not attempt to contain God, but merely to house his name and to direct his eye so that he can listen to prayers. Which seems contrary to the idea of an omnipresent God, explained only, it seems, by the fact that Solomon wanted to excuse his actions (and the Deuteronomist author likely didn’t want to hand over the argument to those who would worship at alternative shrines).

He then moves on to specific situations in which he would implore God to pay attention:

  • If a man sins against his neighbour and the two are made to swear an oath at the altar, the guilty party is to be condemned by God. Clearly an arrangement that would have put an awful lot of judiciary power into the hands of the priests, and therefore subject to nasty things like bribery. Especially since the method by which the guilty is to be condemned is not specified.
  • When the people are defeated because they’ve been so terribly sinful (the possibility that they might simply be defeated regardless of their purity is never allowed), they should be forgiven if they repent.
  • If a foreigner (it seems a true foreigner is meant here, rather than a sojourner – or non-Israelite resident of Israel) comes to Israel to seek out God, God should listen to them.
  • God should side with the Israelites if they pray toward the temple prior to battle.
  • If the people sin (“for there is no man who does not sin” – 1 Kgs 8:46) and are punished with exile, they should be returned to Israel if they repent.

Obviously, these are all phrased as requests rather than an indication of the order of things – a hope rather than an expectation. Throughout this portion, particularly after the bit about foreigners, the idea that the people might be exiled by an enemy and might hope for a return to Israel is mentioned several times. This would indicate that at least one author or editor was working after the fall of Jerusalem.

My New Bible Commentary, which does not like the multi-authorship idea one bit, argues instead that the mentions of exile are simply realism. The Israelites had not experienced it themselves when 1 Kings was authored, but would be aware of the practice, and would have known that it was likely that at least some portion of their population would find themselves in exile and one point or another. To defend the assertion, the authors argue: “Hammurabi’s law Code, among other documents that are much earlier than Solomon, speaks of redeeming captives and returning them to their own lands” (p.332). In other words, the authors of 1 Kings would have been familiar with both the concept of exile and of return.

In 1 Kgs 8:22, Solomon stands before God. This requires some cultural context, since standing over someone is usually (though not always) seen as an aggressive/dominant act in my culture. My New Bible Commentary helps: “Solomon is described as standing in prayer. Art from the Ancient Near East always indicates the inferior standing and the superior seated. Thus kings are represented as standing before a sitting deity” (p.332). We see the break between the first and second Deuteronomist editors when, in 1 Kgs 8:54, he stands from a kneeling position. This my New Bible Commentary explains away by implying that Solomon was so overwhelmed that he fell to his knees during his speech.

To end the consecration, the people sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep, plus other miscellaneous offerings made in the courtyard because the altar was too small for so much at once. Israel then feasted for seven days (or two weeks, according to the Masoretic Text, says Both Saint and Cynic). The chapter closes with Solomon sending everyone packing on the eighth day.

Deuteronomy 29-30: The sealing of the covenant

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In these two chapters, Moses concludes his treatise. Once again, he summarizes the journey so far and the sorts of awesome works God has used to demonstrate his power, including the fact that they’ve been wandering in the desert for forty years without their clothes or sandals wearing out. Personally, I’d say that might be more indicative of losing a couple calendars, time warps, accidentally entering the Fey lands, or perhaps a testament to the quality of pre-WalMartization clothing.

There’s another mention of conquering lands from King Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan, giving their lands to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.

Coming to the present, the people are gathered at Mount Horeb to swear to the covenant, which will be binding not only on them, but also those who are not present (I assume he means the descendants).

A Poisonous Root

Moses reminds the people to beware of anyone who approaches the covenant without full commitment, “lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deut. 29:18).

The Olive Trees, by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

The Olive Trees, by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Further, no one should think that simply agreeing to the covenant is enough, that they’ve done their good deed, and can then continue to “walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deut. 29:19).

This is actually quite a good point and something that made me rather cynical when I worked for not-for-profits. Generally, people in my sector (at least in my corner of the sector) earned less than their for-profit or public sector doubles. I noticed that a lot of my co-workers, particularly the higher ups, seemed to think that they were earning their brownie points by working in the sector, so they didn’t have to do other little acts of kindness – like treat the people at the bottom of the totem pole with respect and fairness, or not steal people’s labelled lunches from the common refrigerator (seriously, what is someone making $100K+ doing stealing the lunch of someone who makes under $30K??).

It reminds me a bit of the famous compassion study.

Anyways, point is that I do like that Moses makes clear that simply making a big show of faith is not enough, commitment must be demonstrated by action.

I also find it notable that Moses tells the whole congregation to “beware” of those who are this way (and though I haven’t mentioned it, this includes people who might worship other gods, not just hypocrites). In doing so, it becomes the whole community’s responsibility to be on the lookout for evil or lapsing. Obviously, this isn’t something I like at all. I am all for an individual being held accountable for his stated beliefs, but all the stuff we’ve been getting about worship and the relationship with God being a communal action makes me very nervous – particularly as someone who is of a minority belief in my geographical area.

Then there’s a passage I’m a bit confused about. In Deut. 29:29, Moses says: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

According to David Plotz, the distinction being made is between an individual’s private thoughts and his outward actions:

The Israelites don’t believe in thought crime! The community must punish public wrongdoing. But God will take care of private sin and bad thoughts. This is, you could argue, the first right to privacy.

My study Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to see this at all:

The secret things refer to the divine wisdom beyond man’s ken; the revealed things are the teachings set forth in Deuteronomy. (p.254)

Which I take to mean a distinction between the mysteries of spirituality and that which God has revealed to his people. I’m not sure that I understand how this interpretation is supposed to fit in the context, and I’m inclined to take Plotz’s interpretation.

More Carrots, More Sticks

Unable to help himself, it seems, Moses returns with the carrot and the stick. Follow all the commandments and everything will be completely, utterly, stupendously awesome. Interestingly, the description of how awesome it will be in Deut. 30:1-10 seems to presuppose a people in exile, rather than a people coming into awesome for the first time.

Remember, God made the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would bring their descendants to greatness. Never was it assumed that they were great at the time (and with only ~70 people heading down into Egypt and the slavery that followed, they could hardly be considered to be as numerous as the stars!). Then there was slavery, then there was walking in the desert for forty years eating nothing but manna and poisoned quail. There’s no call for all this “return” and “restore” language.

This passage also doesn’t describe a whole people moving from one place to another. The language suggests a scattering – “if your outcasts are in the uttermost part of heaven” – and a calling back – “from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will fetch you” (Deut. 30:4).

And there’s there obligatory “if you don’t follow the commandments” threats. Namely, that Israel will be pulverized so bad that they’ll resemble Soddom and Gomorrah, or Admah and Zeboim.

I had to look up the latter two because I couldn’t recall a destruction of any Admah or Zeboim. If my Google-fu can be trusted, my memory was correct. The cities have come into the narrative twice, but in very different contexts:

  1. Gen. 10:19 – They are used as geographical markers to describe the borders of Canaan.
  2. Gen. 14:2 – They are on Sodom and Gomorrah’s side in the totally contextless and very confusing battle against Chedorlaomer.

But apparently there exists some alternative tradition in which they are also named among the destroyed cities.

Look, I’ve made it easy for you

Closing up, Moses argues that the people now have the Law, it’s been given to them. It isn’t far off in heaven or across the sea, it’s not inaccessible. Therefore, there is only the choice to either follow it or not, with no excuse not to. “I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil” (Deut. 30:15).

Which makes perfect sense from a Hebrew, “chosen people” perspective, but I wonder how Christians view this passage given how many people have lived and died with the Law literally being across the sea and totally inaccessible. From the perspective of a missionary religion, this passage is much more difficult.

I do know that there’s been some wrangling to make sins “not count” for people who had never been in contact with “the right religion” and therefore had no ability to make an informed choice. I would also include in that lot people who grew up with their own religions – such as some of my Muslim friends – and who would therefore have heard of Christianity in a very different context (when they finally did).

Also, has Moses even read the ordinances? Most of them aren’t too bad, but one thing I hear often from devout Jews is that keeping them is extremely hard, especially if you add in the difficulty of even knowing what they are some of the time (like the extent that the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk should be applied, or how to understand the prohibition against making others work on the Sabbath in a modern context). To reduce it to a simple matter of choice isn’t exactly honest.

There’s also some conflating of Moses and God in this passage. In telling the people to follow the Law, Moses says: “For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you” (Deut. 30:11). Is Moses merely describing his role as the relater of the laws, or is there really some conflation?

Deuteronomy 1-3: Recapping with a slightly faulty memory

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Deuteronomy picks up the story from the end of Numbers. The Israelites are hanging out in Moab, on the wrong side of the Jordan, getting some last minute instructions from Moses. Before getting into the ordinances, however, Moses decides to make sure that everyone is up to speed on what’s happened so far.

Moses recalls feeling rather overwhelmed with the duties of being the leader, and he tells the story of selecting tribal leaders (and sub-leaders) to help him. He does not mention the involvement of his father-in-law (then called Jethro) – as told in Exodus 18 – where he notices that Moses seems a little tightly-wound and recommends that he do some delegating. We also don’t get the details from Numbers 11, with the prophesying and the involvement of Joshua.

But where this narrative does flesh things out a bit is with the instructions that Moses gave to his new judges during the delegation. In particular, he instructs them to judge “righteously,” whether between two Israelites or an Israelite and a non, whether when judging a “small” man or a “great” one, etc. They are also not to “be afraid of the face of man, for the judgement is God’s” (Deut. 1:17), which I take to mean that they shouldn’t allow fear repercussions (social, political, physical, etc) to influence the judgement rendered. Overall, these are great ideas in principle, though, of course, nearly impossible to enforce.

He also tells them that they are to come to him if the cases are too hard, and Moses will consult with God on their behalf. It’s not specified whether that means that they are to come to Moses specifically, or whether they are to come to whomever happens to be the leader or prophet at the time. The implications of either interpretation are rather important.

The Scouts

When Moses retells the story of the scouts, he gets a rather important detail wrong, and then it cascades from there.

He tells the Israelites about how “all of you came near me, and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us'” (Deut. 1:22). But if you’ll remember, back in Numbers 13, it was God who told Moses to send the scouts, saying: “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan” (Num. 13:1-2).

Why the difference?

Stained glass found in the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

Stained glass found in the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

One clue may be in Moses’ response. In Deuteronomy, he agreed to send the scouts, for “the thing seemed good to me” (Deut. 1:23).

The sin that condemns all the people to spend 40 years in the wilderness is still that they were scared by the scout’s report. In Numbers 13, we read about the “evil report” that the scouts brought back, but I noted then that it was unclear whether the “evil” part of the report was that it was untrue or whether it was just bad news.

The two books agree that Canaan is wonderful and has some nice fruit, but the Israelites say: “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there” (Deut. 1:28).

Granted, they could simply be repeating what the lying scouts told them, but it seems to me now as it seemed to me in Numbers – that the scouts are punished for telling the truth because doing so makes the people falter. By warning them of what’s to come, they are guilty of introducing doubt where there should only be blind faith in God’s ability to win any war he pleases. So it matters whether it was the Israelites who had sent the scouts or God (because if God sent the scouts and then punished them for doing as instructed, it’d create a really tough situation for his PR team).

What’s really interesting here, though, is how the passage seems to be a continuation of Numbers 14. I had noticed then that when God lists the people who will be spared, he only lists Caleb and Joshua. He doesn’t mention either Moses or Aaron who, at that point in the narrative, were still goodies in God’s books.

We had to wait until much later, Numbers 20, for Moses to commit the sin that is explicit said to be the reason why he will be barred from entering Canaan. Yet here, Moses agrees with the Numbers 14 narrative that he is not an exception to the punishment:

The Lord was angry with me also on your account, and said, ‘You also shall not go in there’ (Deut. 1:37)

Moses plays the Blame Game in Deut. 3:26, as well:

But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not hearken to me.

Though, of course, it was entirely his own actions that damned him in Numbers 20.

I also find it interesting that, as in Numbers 14, Caleb’s exception to the punishment is mentioned first, and Joshua’s comes later, almost as an afterthought. In every instance where Joshua has appeared so far (except, tellingly, in Numbers 13 where he is listed as being among the scouts but his name is spelled quite differently), he feels added in – like a later editor had the book of Joshua and wanted to legitimize his leadership by giving him a history of associations with Moses. (I discuss this at greater lengths in this post about Joshua.)

Whom to kill, whom to spare

Moses retells the story of why the Israelites had to go around – rather than through – Edom. In Numbers 20:14-21, the Israelites sent messengers to Edom asking for passage. When Edom refused, they were forced to go around. In Deuteronomy 2:4-5, God was worried that the Israelites might spook Edom, and asked them to go around as a courtesy.

There’s a speech in there about how the Israelites are related to the Edomites (Jacob, patriarch of the Israelites, and Esau, grandsire of the Edomites, were brothers), so they should not harm them. Likewise, the Moabites and Ammonites are descended from Lot and should also be left alone.

In both cases, we are also told that they are living in lands that God has given them, so those lands are rightfully theirs.

David Plotz sees this as an explanation for why the Moabites were not punished – but the Midianites were – in Numbers 25, though women of both groups were caught trying to tempt the Israelites into the worship of other gods.

But not to worry, there were plenty of people that the Israelites were allowed to harass.

We get a repeat of the story from Numbers 20:14-21, where the Israelites are refused passage by the Edomites. Except that in Deuteronomy 2:26-31, the one doing the refusing is Sihon, king of the Amorites in Heshbon. This makes them fair game for harassment (and is presumably the reason why the Edomite refusal is conveniently unmentioned).

Of course, the reason given for King Sihon’s refusal is that God made him refuse:

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as at this day. (Deut. 2:30)

So it’s not really Sihon’s refusal that dooms his people, but rather all part of God’s original plan. But, I guess not to appear the jerk, he orchestrates things so that it looks like Sihon deserved his fate. Or, more likely, God is like a cat that just tripped – he wants to make sure that everything knows that he totally meant to do that.

The Israelites also fight with King Of of Bashan. His and Sihon’s lands are divided between the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh.

The multitudes

When addressing the Israelites, Moses says: “The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude” (Deut. 1:10). Does that mean that the multitudes part of the promise to Abraham has been fulfilled?

The reference certainly seems to suggest it, yet Moses is not yet satisfied:

May the Lord, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you. (Deut. 1:11)

Closing business

Commenter Abbie from The King and I went through much of these chapters and found which parts of what stories were selected for retelling – and, most importantly, which sources those passages came from. Her analysis deals with the Documentary Hypothesis, which you can read more about on Wikipedia.

Her whole comment is quite interesting, so do go have a read. But in summary, she found that material is derived strictly from Exodus and Numbers, and that it seems to be “mostly drawn from chapters that have a mix of JE and P, but only containing JE references… except in ONE case… which is basically fossil rabbits in the precambrian.”

Deuteronomy 3 ends with the appointing of Joshua as Moses’ successor.

Exodus 40: Putting the pedal to the metal

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God can’t help himself. He just has to micro-manage and gives some last minute instructions for setting up the tabernacle, and he makes Moses write down every single step he takes in arranging the furniture and the curtains just to make sure that nothing is missed or placed in a way that clashes with the principles of feng shui.

Next, God confirms that Aaron is to be his high priest (and his descendants after him). A questionable choice after the Golden Calf incident (in which Aaron not only built the thing, he also lied about it afterwards). He hardly seems to be the most competent spiritual leader.

Have you ever wondered how much time the Hebrews have spent at Sinai/Horeb? We’ve had talk about 40 days here and 40 days there, but according to my Study Bible, that’s just “a round number for an indefinitely long time” (p.109), so I haven’t bothered trying to get an estimate. In this chapter, however, we’re told specifically that Moses puts the tabernacle together on the first day of the first month of the second year (Exod. 40:17). Many chapters ago, we read that the Hebrews arrived at Sinai/Horeb “on the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone forth out of the land of Egypt” (Exod. 19:1). Ergo, it’s been 9 months. BAM! Question answered.

Do you walk with the Lord?

Exodus 40In this chapter, we also get a description of how God is leading the Hebrews. He is presenting himself over the tabernacle in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 40:38), so the people walk when they see him and stop when they don’t. This is the same system they were using way back in 13:21. I guess God’s had some time to cool off and no longer needs to get an angel to lead them since he “will not go up among you, lest I consume you in the way” (Exod. 33:3).

There is one rather confusing detail here, though. We’re told at several points through the story that God is physically present among the people when there’s a cloud hanging around the tabernacle. But in Exod. 33:9, we’re told that “when Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend.” In other words, God and Moses hang out together in the tabernacle.

But in this chapter, we’re told that “Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it” (Exod. 40:35). Unless God hasn’t forgiven the Hebrews and that’s why he’s refusing to chat with Moses now! Oh my goodness, I think I’ve solved it!

Exodus 33: Check out the back on that deity!

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In this chapter, God tells Moses to stop lollygagging around and start legging it towards the land of milk and honey so that God can start driving out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Not my idea of fun, but hey, to each their own.

However, from now on, the Hebrews are going to have to be led by an angel rather than God himself because he’s still peeved about the whole calf thing and might just lose control and “consume” the Hebrews if he spends too much time around them (Exod. 33:3).

Everyone was so upset when they heard that God was struggling not to eat them that none of the men put on ornaments (a sign of mourning). God, apparently not seeing this, tells Moses to tell the Hebrews to take their ornaments off.

A Tale of Two Tents

Exodus33_Moses seeing GodSo Moses apparently has his own tent that he also calls the “tent of meeting.” This one is pitched “far from the camp” (Exod. 33:7), as opposed to the centrally-located tent we just finished building. Another difference is that Joshua, son of Nun, is the caretaker of this one, while the other is cared for by the priests.

Once again, I think we’re seeing evidence of two different traditions being cobbled together – one in which Aaron is a Big Man Hero, and another in which Joshua is Big Man Hero. In both traditions, the Big Man Hero is given legitimacy through his closeness to and association with Moses and, then, the tent.

Anyways, this is where Moses and God like to chill.

So Moses is in his tent chatting with God and trying to make sure that they’re still besties despite the whole calf thing, and God reassures him. As a token of his ongoing friendship, God repeats his name to Moses, and I assume that they hug, though the text suspiciously neglects to mention this.

Can you look on the face of God?

While Moses and God are chatting, we are told that they are speaking “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod. 33:11). But just a few versus later, God tells us that Moses “cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Exod. 33:20). This leads to a hilarious exchange in which God shields Moses with his hands as he passes by him, and then moves his hand away so that Moses “shall see my back” (Exod. 33:23), which sounds an awful lot like God just mooned Moses.

But back to the bit about seeing God, what’s going on there? Well, first of all, we get a very anthropomorphized God in this chapter. He has a face, he has a “back,” he has a hand. From this, we can understand that there is an actual discrete God-object that can be seen. So is seeing it deadly or not?

  • Genesis 12:7 – We’re told twice that God appeared to Abram.
  • Genesis 17:1 – God appears to Abram.
  • Genesis 18:1 – God appears to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre.
  • Genesis 26:2 – God appears to Isaac to tell him not to go to Egypt.
  • Genesis 26:24 – God appears to Isaac at Beersheba.
  • Genesis 35:9 – God appears to Jacob at Paddanaram.
  • Exodus 24:9-11 – Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders climb up Mt. Sinai, where they “saw” and “beheld” God.

But, okay, in all  of these examples, it just says that God “appeared” to someone. It doesn’t say, necessarily, that he let them see his face. That’s why we turn to these verses:

  • Genesis 32:30 – Jacob names Peniel, saying “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”
  • Exodus 33:11 – Moses and God speak “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”

I suspect that we’ll be coming back to this subject a few times in our reading. In the meantime, Jared Calaway of Antiquitopia has a nifty little meditation on the subject.