Numbers 34: Redistribution of wealth

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It’s not even theirs yet, but the Israelites have decided that it’s already time to start planning how they will divvy up the loot. There’s a relevant saying, something about chickens hatching.

They begin by setting out the boundaries of the ideal Israelite country:

  1. The southern side should include some of the wilderness of Zin, along the border of Edom. The boundary will start in the east from the southern tip of the Salt Sea (which some translations give as the Dead Sea), then south of Akrabbim, cross the wilderness of Zin, and south of Kadeshbarnea. From there, it should go on to Hazaraddar, and then on from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt (which may be the Nile, or something else, who knows?), ending at the Mediterranean.
  2. The western boundary should be the coast of the Mediterranean.
  3. The northern side should run from the Mediterranean to Mount Hor (which is confusing because the Mount Hor we’ve been reading about is to the south of Canaan. Apparently, there are two of them?). From there, the boundary goes out to the entrance of Hamath, ending at Zedad. It then goes to Ziphron, ending at Hazarenan.
  4. The eastern boundary should run from Hazarenan to Shepham, then down to Riblah (on the east side of Ain), and then along the slopes east of the Sea of Chinnereth (which some translations give as the Sea of Galilea). Then hit should head down along the Jordan and end at the Salt/Dead Sea.

According to my Study Bible, the northern border wasn’t actually reached until the time of David – citing 2 Sam. 8:3-14 and 1 Kg. 8:65 (p.210). If true, that leaves us with two options: Either the boundaries presented here are an accidental anachronism written by someone living after the time of David, or the boundaries were written in/modified to legitimize Israelite claims to those lands.

Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh have all gotten their spots already, so they don’t have to be part of this process. The Levites are also excluded because, as with the census, they get their own chapter. For the rest, God selects a leader for each tribe to handle the assigning of lands:

  • Judah: Caleb, son of Jephunneh
  • Simeon: Shemuel, son of Ammihud
  • Benjamin: Elidad, son of Kislon
  • Dan: Bukki, son of Jogli
  • Joseph, Manasseh: Hanniel, son of Ephod
  • Joseph, Ephraim: Kemuel, son of Shiphtan
  • Zebulun: Elizaphan, son of Parnak
  • Issachar: Paltiel, son of Azzan
  • Asher: Ahihud, son of Shelomi
  • Naphtali: Pedahel, son of Ammihud

Numbers 33: The recap

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In this chapter, we get a recap of the journey so far. It’s long and about as exciting as washing the dishes when you’ve finished your last audiobook. We do, however, find out that Aaron was 123 years old when he died. So that’s… something.

Here’s your cliff’s notes image:

In the plains of Moab, God tells Moses to tell the people to “drive out” all the people they meet on the other side of the river, and to destroy all of their religious symbols and buildings. Once this is done, they should divide the land by lot (in accordance with the size of each tribe/sub-tribe/family).

But, God warns, you must make sure to fully stamp out the indigenous population, otherwise you’re going to have to deal with them being “pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides” (v.55). Plus, if they don’t totally wipe out the local population, God “shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them” (v.56) (both quotes from the KJV because it sounds better and doesn’t alter the meaning).

On deserving it

David Plotz sees purpose in this plodding chapter:

Had the chapter skipped the travelogue and begun with God’s fearsome instructions, it would seem brutal.  The 40-year-itinerary—the weary, heartbreaking journey—serves as a reminder to the Israelites of their suffering, and, more importantly, as a justification for conquest. Why is it all right to sack and destroy another civilization? Why is it fair to seize land and settle it? Because of what the Israelites endured, that’s why. The 40-year accounting explains Israel. It says: You’ve earned it.

That may indeed have been the purpose of this summary, but it’s terrible ethics (not to mention a dangerous precedent to set – what’s to stop the Canaanites from doing their own decades-long dispossession dance and then coming right back, ready with their deserving?).

Numbers 27: Succession Planning

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Way back in the halcyon days of last Friday, we found out that Zelophehad, son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh had only daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 

Daughters of Zelophehad by Bonnie Lee Roth

Daughters of Zelophehad by Bonnie Lee Roth

Given the clearly agnatic inheritance assumptions we’ve seen modelled thus far, it seems that this would be the end of the Hepherites. But Zelophehad’s daughters, upset that their father’s name should end, ask Moses to grant them their father’s inheritance.

Moses decides to bring their case before God, who writes up some quick inheritance laws to help out in just such a situation:

  • If a man has no sons, his daughters should receive the inheritance.
  • If he has no children at all, the inheritance goes to his brothers.
  • If he has no brothers either, it should go to his father’s brothers.
  • If his father also had no brothers, it should go to “his kinsman that is next to him of his family” (v.11).

I find it interesting that this didn’t carry forward in many Christian countries, as fans of Downton Abbey well know (read this great article for an explanation of how that came about).

Noa(h)

David Plotz named his daughter Noa after this chapter. Of the name he writes:

In English, the girl’s name Noa sounds identical to the name of Noah the ark builder. But in Hebrew, they’re totally distinct names, spelled and pronounced very differently. Noa the girl is pronounced “No-a,” just as we say it. But Noah the boy is “No-ach” in Hebrew, making it a much harsher sounding name.

Yet the spelling distinction doesn’t exist in my text, nor in any other that I’ve found through a quick BibleHub comparison. In both the cases of Zelophehad’s daughter and the guy who got so drunk that he passed out naked, my Bible has “Noah” with an H.

It’s not a particularly important point, but I do find it interesting.

Sin

When explaining that their father died without sons, the women say that he: “died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin” (v.3).

So what was that sin?

The emphasis on “his own sin” seems to suggest that he didn’t fall under the collective punishment that came with the 40 year wilderness sentence. According to the JewishEncyclopedia, rabbinical literature seems to favour the theory that Zelophehad was the Sabbath-breaker from Numbers 15. Blogger Dovbear has a great explanation of the argument in favour of this association.

Another tradition has it that Zelophehad was one of the gun-jumpers who decided to dismiss God’s 40 year sentence and headed into Canaan without permission in Numbers 14.

Sneak Peek

Once he’s done dealing with the uppity women, God sends Moses up to the mountain of Abarim, from which he can see the promised land. After this, Moses will die because of his rock abuse in Numbers 20.

David Plotz asks:

Is this very cruel or very kind? Is it excruciating for Moses to have to see what he wants more than anything in the world but cannot have? Or is this gaze consolation for a dying man? I can’t decide.

Moses begs God to appoint a successor, “that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep which have no shepherd” (v.17). Interestingly, Moses has a son, so the leadership – at least at this point – is clearly not hereditary. (Unless Moses’ kids are excluded because of their mixed heritage?)

It’s not quite a meritocracy, either. Joshua, son of Nun, is chosen because he is “a man in whom is the spirit” (v.18). In other words, he gets to be the leader because he has the same prophetic status as Moses.

But despite clearly being a very theocratic system, it’s not a system ruled by clerics/priests, exactly. Though he is to “stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgement of the Urim before the Lord” (v.21).

This could mean, as some interpretations have it, that Joshua has the option of consulting Eleazar whenever he doesn’t know what to do. But it could also mean that he must consult Eleazar before making big decisions, functionally putting the high priest above the secular monarch.

Numbers 20: Hitting rocks

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After such a long time without much narration, Numbers 20 is something of a glut.

It opens as the Israelites are arriving in the Desert of Zin, staying in Kadesh. You may remember the Israelite arrival in Kadesh from such passages as Numbers 13:26. It’s possible that it takes them 40 years to get through the wilderness because they’re going in circles. Another possibility is that this section is intended as a summary, temporally placing the events to follow.

At some point around this time, Miriam dies and is buried – all in a single sentence. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s rather significant that her death is recorded at all, given that she is a woman. Between this, her song in Exodus 15:20-21, and her statement in Numbers 12:1-2 that God also talks to her, it suggests to me that she may have been a fairly important folk character at some point before all these stories were put together in the configuration that we use today.

Water from the stone

The people, ever whiny, are now complaining that they are all dying of thirst. Can you believe it? As if mortals even need to drink, pshaw…

Moses' Canteen, by ReverendFun

Moses’ Canteen, by ReverendFun

They bring it up to Moses, and they ask him why he would even bother bringing them out of Egypt if he’s just going to have them – and their livestock – die of thirst. They also, as a side note, ask why they should have ever been brought into a place with “no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates” (v.5), which may be specific, but I can understand the general spirit of the complaint.

Moses and Aaron head into the tent of meeting for a quick consult with God, who tells them to “take the staff” (v.8) and gather all the people together. They are then to speak to a particular rock, and it will start gushing water.

By the phrasing, I got the impression that Moses is to use Aaron’s blooming rod from Numbers 17.

So Moses takes the staff. He and Aaron do as instructed right up until they are before the rock, at which point Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff, instead of just trying to chat with it. The spring that he creates is called Meribah, which, according to my Study Bible, apparently means “contention.”

God gets pissed, saying:

Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them. (v.12)

Which is interesting because this story implies that God decides in this moment not to allow Moses to enter Canaan. However, back in Numbers 14, he made a sweeping statement that none who had come out of Egypt as adults should live to see Canaan, naming only Caleb and Joshua as the exceptions. So while this story clearly implies that Moses is excluded from entering the promised land because he failed to follow God’s instructions, it seems that his fate had already been decided anyway.

It seems, also, that there is some debate as to just what, exactly, was Moses’ crime. My immediate impression was that it was Moses’ failure to follow God’s instructions, but there’s also a little issue of the words he uses when smacking the rock. He says to the gathered people:

Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock? (v.10)

Not only does it sound rather like he’s rubbing it in everyone’s faces, he’s also saying “we,” as in, he’s including himself as an active agent in the miracle. His crime could well be hubris.

Water From The Rock, wall painting in a Roman Catacomb, 4th century AD

Water From The Rock, wall painting in a Roman Catacomb, 4th century AD

In The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, J.R. Porter addresses the issue thusly:

Moses and Aaron both died outside the Promised Land of Canaan. This was an undeniable fact of Israelite tradition, but it was felt that some explanation was needed as to why these two great figures had not shared in the fulfillment of God’s promise to the people. […] In Numbers 20, Moses and Aaron repeat the miraculous provision of water from the rock at Meribah (Kadesh), after which God tells them: “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Num. 20.12). The reason for this is unclear. Perhaps Moses and Aaron were guilty of presumption by not giving God credit for the miracle (Num. 20.10). It may be that the story is deliberately vague about the offense so that Moses and Aaron are not incriminated too greatly. In any case, much care is taken to preserve the brothers’ reputation. (p.60)

It’s interesting to note that the “drawing water from stone” story seems to be a repeat of Exodus 17:1-7. Only, in that story, God did tell Moses to strike the stone with his staff. The ensuing spring was given two names – Massah and Meribah, clearly amalgamating the origin stories of two separate sites (whereas this chapter excludes the former).

The rest of Exodus 17 is about a battle against the Amalekites, lead by Joshua. Both narratives seem to be out of place in that portion of the story.

Edom’s refusal

Moving on, Moses sends messengers to the king of Edom asking for passage through their territory. Their offer is presented as being very reasonable, perhaps to accentuate the unfairness of the Edomite refusal. Perhaps representing the same animosity that we saw in the Jacob and Esau narrative beginning in Genesis 25.

Anyways, the Edomites refuse, forcing the Israelites to find an alternative route.

Aaron’s death

Coming out of Kadesh, they get to Mount Hor. While there, God tells Moses and Aaron that Aaron is about to die, so they should head up the mountain along with Aaron’s son, Eleazar. Once at the top, Aaron should remove his priestly vestments and put them on Eleazer – passing the baton, as it were.

Having learned their lesson at Melbah, they follow God’s instructions properly. The Israelites mourn Aaron for 30 days.

Numbers 13: Return of the Nephilim

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Being now so close to Canaan, Moses can’t help but take a little peek. So he chooses 12 scouts – one from each tribe minus Levi because the Levites apparently don’t have to do anything related to the mundane world. The people chosen to be scouts are “all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel” (v.3), though the list doesn’t match the list of leaders presented in Numbers 1.

  • Of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur;
  •  Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori;
  • Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh;
  • Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph;
  • Of the tribe of Joseph – Ephraim branch, Oshea the son of Nun;
  • Of the tribe of Joseph – Manasseh branch, Gaddi the son of Susi;
  • Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu;
  • Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi;
  • Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli;
  • Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael;
  • Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi;
  • Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.

He then specifically calls “Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua” (or, as my Study Bible has it, “Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua”). I would have assumed that this would be the same person as Oshea the son of Nun, but then why is be being called again separately? There’s no indication that he’s to be the leader of the scouts, or that he’s being singled out for any particular purpose. The name is merely repeated (with the alteration to the father’s name). Is he a thirteenth scout? Or does the text just really want to highlight that Joshua is one of the dudes going?

The Scouting

Possible scouting path

Possible scouting path

The 12 scouts head out and seem to make a good tour, visiting such sites as the wilderness of Zin, Rehob, Hamath, the Negeb, Hebron, and the valley of Eshcol.. I found this neat map on the Generation World ministry website that illustrates the path the scouts may have followed.

As a little archeological side note, the text claims that Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. According to my Study Bible: “Zoan or Tanis [was] rebuilt as the Hyksos capital around 1700 B.C.” (p.180).

If we accept the date of the exodus as somewhere around 1450 B.C., that would put Hebron at between 200-300 years old at this point in the narrative.

Numbers 13 - Abraham Schloss bis ZionAnyways, so the scouts find lots of nice things, including a single cluster of grapes so great that they had to carry it “on a pole between two of them” (v.23), as well as pomegranates and figs. They also encounter descendants of Anak: Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai. Though I’m not sure how they know their names unless they approached them, and it seems implausible that they approached them given that they are set up as hostiles.

The whole trip takes 40 days (of course it does). When they return, they can’t stop gushing about how awesome Canaan is. They describe it as “flow[ing] with milk and honey” (v.27), a turn of phrase first used in Exodus 3:8, where God promises to bring  the Israelites out of Egypt and “unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.”

But it’s not all positive. The scouts also report that the people there are strong, and that their cities are large and fortified. Plus, the descendants of Anak are there and, well, you know how they are.

Speaking of the current inhabitants, the scouts report that:

  • The Amalekites are in the Negeb.
  • The Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites are in the hill country.
  • The Canaanites are by the sea and along the Jordan river.

You will remember the Amalekites from their subduing in the battles of Genesis 14, and from their chronologically confused battle with Joshua in Exodus 17.

Getting Antsy

But then Caleb, Judah’s scouting representative, steps in and calls for the Israelites to “go up at once, and occupy it [Canaan]; for we are well able to overcome it” (v.30).

Numbers 13 - Nephilim Skeleton

Note: This was an entry in an image editing contest. No Nephilim skeletons have yet been found.

The other scouts disagree, and they bring “and evil report of the land which they had spied out” (v.32). David Plotz adds the detail that Joshua did not join them, but I’m not seeing anything like that in my text.

The “evil report” is that the land “devours its inhabitants” (v.32), and the people living there (the ones being devoured?) are giants. These giants are Nephilim – the ones we saw way back in Genesis 6:4 and who are now being called the sons of Anak, “who came from the Nephilim” (v.33). In the hyperbole we’re accustomed to seeing in the Bible, these Nephilim are described as so tall that “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (v.33).

Now, the Nephilim in Genesis had been given as an example of the corruption that ran rampant in the antediluvian period, and were one of the reasons why God decided to kill everyone except for Noah and his family. So what are they doing still around?

One blogger read this appearance back into Genesis 6:4 – “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward” (emphasis mine). According to that person, the “also afterward” refers to the period after the flood. It still doesn’t explain how they survived the flood that killed “everything that is on the earth” (Gen. 6:17), but it does seem to suggest that, at least at some point, someone involved in the production of the Bible may have had the same concerns.

Though the whole discussion may not matter. When the text says that the other scouts gave an “evil report,” does that mean that the report was bad news, or does it mean that they are lying? Are they exaggerating the dangers presented by the inhabitants of Canaan as an argument against Caleb’s gung-ho enthusiasm, or are they merely reminding Caleb of how bloody tall the current occupants of the land are? And if they are lying, what is their motivation?