Monday, February 27, 2017

How Likely Is It? (3)

From the Errancy Discussion list, 5-3-97:
After the Israelites had seen Yahweh deliver them from the Egyptians by
parting the Red Sea so that they could cross on dry land and then sending
the water crashing in on the Egyptian army, they sang a hymn of praise to
Yahweh and turned inland to march across the Sinai, but they had traveled
only three days from the Red Sea when they began to complain because
there was no water to drink (Exodus 15:22-24).

So we must again ask ourselves, "How likely is this?" Must we believe
that the people who had witnessed the parting of the Red Sea could so soon
forget the power and majesty of their god Yahweh that they would complain
about a shortage of water? Which of them could have possibly been so utterly
dense of intellect that they would not have known that supplying drinking water
would have been next to nothing for a god who could forge a path through the 
Red Sea? In fact, supplying them drinking water is exactly what Yahweh did
(according to the story). At the bitter (nonpotable) waters of Marah, Yahweh
showed Moses a tree, which Moses cast into the waters, and they "were made
sweet" (vs:23-24). So, just like that, the mighty hand of Yahweh had again
supplied the people's need. If any of these miraculous events were real, by now
the people would surely have realized that no situation that they encountered
would be too difficult for their god Yahweh to take care of, but such was not
the case. On the 15th day of the second month of their journey, the "whole
congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against
Aaron in the wilderness" (16:2):

"Oh, that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when
we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have
brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
One wonders why Yahweh didn't at this point strike the entire mob of ingrates
dead, but, of course, he didn't. Yahweh said to Moses that he would "rain
bread from heaven" so that the people could go out each day to gather what
they would need on that day but on the sixth day gather a double portion
(v:4), presumably so that they would not have to (gasp!) desecrate the
sabbath, which wasn't even consecrated until three chapters later in the
narrative. Moses and Aaron then called the people together, who looked
"toward the wilderness" and beheld "the glory of Yahweh" in the cloud.
Yahweh spoke from the cloud to tell them that he would also provide the
people with meat at twilight (vv:9-12).

So how did Yahweh fulfill this promise to provide bread and meat? Well,
when evening fell, quails came in and covered the camp and dew "lay all
around" (v:13). When the dew lifted, the ground was covered with a frostlike
substance that the people gathered to eat. This substance, of course, was
the famous manna from heaven that Yahweh provided the people with throughout
their wilderness journey until they reached the border of the land of Canaan.
Although not directly stated, the implication is that the quails provided the
people with meat. The point is that Yahweh came to the rescue of the
Israelites again as he had consistently done before.

Rationality requires us to believe that if this much of the story really
happened exactly as recorded, the people had surely by now learned that they
could depend on their god Yahweh to deliver them from all dangers, no matter
how great, and to provide them with nourishment when their food and water
supplies ran out. But such was not the case. Just one chapter later, the
people were complaining again. They journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin 
and camped in Rephidim, where there was no water to drink (17:1). Did they 
say, "Well, not to worry; Yahweh provided us with water before, and he will 
do so again"? No, just the opposite! They "complained against Moses" and 
said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children
and our livestock with thirst" (v:3)? This time, the ever-patient Yahweh
told Moses to take some of the elders of Israel with him and stand before
the rock in Horeb. "Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in
Horeb," Yahweh said, "and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out
of it, that the people may drink" (v:6). Moses did this, and the people had
water to drink.

So surely the people knew by now that they had no need to be concerned
about food and water, because their mighty god Yahweh would provide their
every need by sending manna from heaven, coveys of quails, and water from
rocks, but to so assume would be to think rationally, and in Bible-land the
rational just didn't happen.

Just three months after the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, they
camped at Mt. Sinai, where Moses went up to chat with Yahweh and receive the
10 commandments. While they were there, the people "perceived the
thunderings, and the lightnings, and the mountain smoking," and when they
saw it, "They trembled and stood afar off" (Ex. 20:18). One would think
that people who had seen Yahweh's greatness time and time again and were now
seeing this manifestation of his presence on the mountain would have been
confirmed believers in this god for the rest of their lives, but such was
not the case. Yahweh told Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders to
worship him "afar off," while Moses came up into the mountain for another
chat (Ex. 24:1). When Moses came down again, he told the people "all the
words of Yahweh" (v:3). Then he went back upon the mountain again, taking
with him Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders, and, of all things,
THEY SAW THE GOD OF ISRAEL (24:9-10). What an impression this must have
made when they came down and told the people what they had seen on the
mountain, but, alas, the impression was only temporary, because Yahweh
ordered Moses back onto the mountain to receive the law and the commandments
on tables of stone, and while Moses was on the mountain this time, guess
what these Israelites did? As Mark Twain would say, "In a hundred years you
would never guess, so I will tell you what they did." Because Moses
lingered on the mountain to get detail instructions on how to build a tent
that would later be called the tabernacle, the people persuaded Aaron to
make a golden calf for them to worship (Ex. 32:1-19). Yahweh, of course, is
omniscient and omnipresent, so he knew what was going on. He ordered Moses
to go down, and when Moses arrived at the camp, he saw the people dancing
and worshiping the calf. And this so soon after some of them had actually
seen Yahweh on the mountain, and the others had seen day in and day out the
many miracles that Yahweh had performed on their behalf! So once again we
have to ask ourselves, "How likely is this?" People who had seen time after
time the amazing power of their god Yahweh would have forgotten him in just
a few days? Not very likely.

Needless to say, someone had to pay for this impudence, so Moses called
for everyone who was on Yahweh's side to come and stand with him, and "all
the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him" (32:26). Moses then
sent the Levites through the camp to "slay every man his brother and every
man his neighbor" (32:27), but someone couldn't count very well, because out
of the 2.5 million Israelites, only three thousand "fell that day" (v:28).
Obviously, some brothers and neighbors got a break.

One would think that after this, the Israelites would have known that
they should always stand on Yahweh's side, but again such was not the case,
because the people were barely away from their Sinai encampment when they
stated bellyaching again. This was the incident recorded in Numbers 11 when
the people complained because they didn't have meat, although Yahweh had
sent them quails with the manna that they received just two weeks before
camping at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 16). Anyway, they complained about their food
again, and Yahweh sent billions of quails this time that fell to a depth of
2 feet to a distance of about 20 miles all around the camp. This has
already been noted in detail, so I won't dwell on it very long here, except
to notice that the people's complaint brought them a "great plague" from
Yahweh "while the meat was still between their teeth" (Num. 11:33). One
would think that this would have been more than enough to teach them that it
didn't pay to mess with Father Yahweh, but such was not the case. At the
very next encampment, Moses' sister Miriam and his brother Aaron spoke out
against the leadership of Moses (Num. 12:1-8). This so angered Yahweh that
he took his little cloud from over the tabernacle and departed, leaving
Miriam afflicted with leprosy (vs:9-10). Why brother Aaron got off
scot-free is anyone's guess. Even though Yahweh had "departed," he was
still around somewhere, because Moses cried out to him and convinced him to
take pity on Miriam (vs:13-14). Yahweh ordered that she be shut out of the
camp for seven days, and after that she was healed. The people were unable
to journey on for the seven days she was exiled (v:15).

We would think that a people witnessing all of this would understand by now
that Yahweh was king of the hill and that no one should ever doubt him or
question him, but it didn't happen that way. I will discuss what happened
next in another posting.

Farrell Till

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