First off, let me chuckle at the title of the first section of Chapter 17:
The budding of Aaron’s rod
OK, it’s out of my system now. Anyway, quick summary of Chapter 17 is that God wants to stop all the complaints of the Israelites toward Moses by choosing the staff of one of the leaders of the twelve houses, including Aaron who will represent the House of Levi. God will do this by causing one of the staffs to sprout. Gee, I wonder who will win. Obviously, Aaron’s is the chosen staff.
So, I have a problem with these two chapters because it gives away the game. Moses and Aaron were already the defacto leaders of this group and were the only ones who God “spoke” to and who had access to the tent of meeting. So they could have set this all up like a parlor trick in order to keep their hold on power.
In Chapter 18 God tells Aaron that, as the one responsible for the sanctuary, he and his Levite brothers have the right to eat the offerings of the people because they are holy. These offerings include the first fruits of the harvest, the best animals, and shekels of silver (obviously they won’t eat those). They are told that only they are to approach the tent of meeting and that anyone else that approaches will die. That’s a good way to keep people away, by issuing a stern warning and a threat of death.
Three guys took a group of two hundred fifty Israelites to tell Moses that they were just as holy as everyone else in the congregation. Moses told them to prepare their censers with incense and gather at the tent of meeting when God will decide who is holy and who isn’t.
This is another chapter of repetition as the same things are repeated at least twice. The paragraphs following the order above is the action being carried out in the same amount of detail instead of the author saying, “and they did just that.” Is that easier? Maybe I’ll rewrite the Bible and call it the Plain, Everyday Language EditionTM.
Anyway, long story short, the two hundred fifty-three men show up armed with censers and are ready for a smoke-off with Aaron and Moses for God’s affection. Well, God already picked his winner and it’s Moses. The families and possessions of the families of the three men, including slaves and animals were swallowed up by the earth and sent down to Sheol alive.
I was reading another of the tracts that were sent to me by a SecretSatanTM and according to the author of that tract, Sheol is Hell. According to Hebrew scholars, it is not, it is sort of a (my term) waiting room for the dead. Guess which one I tend to believe more? (if you’re new here, the answer is the Hebrew scholar).
Continuing on, God isn’t done killing people. After the first wave of death, Eleazar gathered up the now holy censers and pounded them out as another decoration for the altar. This was to remind everyone that only a descendant of Aaron is permitted to offer incense to God. Well, the rest of the congregation didn’t like the fact that the earth opened and swallowed up all those people, so they let it be known. And God, who is a reasonable and thoughtful listener of complaints…who am I kidding? God started killing all of them until Aaron stepped between God and the congregation to make atonement for the people. Anyway, more than fourteen thousand died before Aaron could light up the censer. So I’m guessing that somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand people died in that chapter.
I received a care package of Bible tracts from a fan (name and location withheld) and now I have new material for the blog to go with the Bible study and Saturday Sermons (I know, I haven’t done one lately). If you would like to point me to an online version of a tract, send me a Twitter DM (@AlienBiblical). If you have physical copies that you would like to send me, hold onto them and if or when I get enough responses, I will set up a PO Box for shipping. Of course, if we know each other, DM me and we’ll make arrangements. With that out of the way, I have a quick one.
This tract, “Why Sing and Not Play in Worship?” is a stellar example of why I find tracts so amusing. The opening question is, “Should we sing and play a mechanical instrument of music or just sing in worship?” It goes on to say that there are only two kinds of music, vocal and mechanical/instrumental. Really? What about the combination of the two which is what most popular music is since forever? That would then make an additional kind of music since I am assuming vocal includes a Capella, choir, chorale, barbershop, and ululation.
The author then goes on to state, “We have been discharged from the laws of Moses!” Problem: as far as I can find on the Internet, the only place in the Old Testament that seems to “command” instruments be used in worship is in Psalms which is not the law of Moses, it’s poetry. The tract lists passages where it says sing or some variation. None of these passages, however, command that ONLY voices be used and none of them explicitly or implicitly forbid the use of instruments (with the exception of one, which I will get into). They are also single verses within a larger context of a chapter. I can go through any book, pull out a line, and say that this is what the author said (people do it all the time with Orwell and Huxley).
The idea of this tract is to say, “The Bible tells us to only sing and not play instruments, so when it tells us anything we have to listen to it.” To me, when somebody states a petty rule like this, they are saying that they are petty and nothing more. Reading through the titles of the rest of the tracts by this same author, I can tell that he wrote them to stroke his own ego. Maybe you’re saying that I’m going after the low-hanging fruit here, but I contend that the author is instead.
This tract (like all other tracts) is for a narrow audience and that is the people who go to the same churches who would order these tracts and put them on display. Perhaps they could be used to try to sway someone from a church such as my girlfriend’s that do play instruments in worship (they have a quite accomplished stable of musicians, including my girlfriend). I could read deeper into this tract and make some inferences about it, but I think I’ll save that for later.
One final note on the exception that I mentioned above. The very first passage listed is Matthew 26:20 and says that it uses the word “sung”, but when I looked it up, it said no such thing. It turns out that it should have been Matthew 26:30, but then the people for whom these are written are not going to question the author because he is, apparently, an authority. While I may have typos in this post, I can correct them on the fly. That’s not so easy to do when the pamphlets have been printed and distributed.
When it comes to the offerings to the Lord that are outlined, I’m pretty sure that’s the priests of the temple writing those up so that the people will give them their best food. “The Lord wants your most fatted calf, your choicest grains, your finest wine.” Actually, the priests probably want to have a party paid for by the congregants. There are a lot of offering rules given here and I’m not going through them all.
Whoever wrote this book had no system for organizing the subject matter, and after the previous section on offerings to the Lord upon entering the new land, we have a section on the penalty for violating the sabbath, and it’s just slightly more than a slap on the wrist.
32When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. 33Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to the whole congregation. 34They put him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.” 36The whole congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (p. 315). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
This is a totally measured and completely sane…who am I kidding? My first question is, is the man that was gathering sticks even a member of the congregation or was he just some rando who was unaware that this particular god existed? Because this passage is not at all clear about that, and that’s the whole passage verbatim. And actually, it’s not the actual penalty that is the worst thing about this chapter, it’s the matter-of-fact telling of it. I would wonder if anyone thought that this penalty was a bit fucked up, but the way the Lord acted in the last chapter, I’m pretty sure people were only trying to think happy thoughts as if God was little Anthony Fremont from the Twilight Zone.
It’s at this point that I have to ask, if evangelicals and fundamentalists take this book literally, why do they seem to skip this law? I’m not saying that I want anyone to want to enforce this law, but why pick Leviticus 20:13 and not the above passage? I think it’s because the people who preach the Bible want the lessons to fit their prejudices.
So we go in a single chapter from offerings to God, to stoning people who gather sticks to fashion rules, this book is disjointed. It’s as if someone is just making it up as they go along. The final part of this chapter talks about fringes on the corners of garments so that they will remember all of the commandments that God has given them. Does this include the rules that will be made after this point?
The Israelites are complaining again and want to go back to Egypt because the idea of gaining the promised land looks like a slim possibility at this point. Moses and Aaron beg and plead with the people to trust the Lord, and Joshua and Caleb go full drama llama and tear their clothes. However, the congregation was not buying their description of the land, their praise for the Lord, or their dramatics, and threatened to stone them. God threatened to stricken the Israelites and disinherit them and then make a greater nation for Moses. So, as far as I can tell, instead of reassuring the people, God just wanted to replace them with yes-men.
Moses pleaded with God and basically guilt-tripped him into not disinheriting the people. Then he reminds of some words he spoke, I guess, at some point (I seriously don’t remember if this was iterated at an earlier point.
18‘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.’
Bibles, Harper . NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (p. 311). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Really? “Slow to anger”? Can we rewind to Genesis 6-8 when God had a conniption fit and destroyed every man, woman, child, infant, animal, tree, and plant except for eight people and a floating zoo. Maybe God should have sought out some behavioral therapy and not bottle up his feelings for so long. I guess we can safely assume that God is, in fact, a man. To be fair, the God of Numbers is probably not the same God as in Genesis.
Starting at verse 26, God has a tantrum and decides that this group of Israelites won’t make it to the land that was promised to them because they complained against him. So he can apparently do anything, like harden Pharoah’s heart, part the Red Sea, and appear as a whirlwind, but he gets his little feelings hurt when people complain? What a snowflake.
Anyway, the people over twenty who were told that they wouldn’t make it to the promised land attempted to make things right. It didn’t go well, of course. The people who currently inhabit the land that God wants to give to the Israelites showed up and killed them. So that’s that. Don’t trust anyone over twenty.