Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How Likely Is It? (4)

From the Errancy Discussion list, 5-4-97:
After the Israelites saw another demonstration of Yahweh's power 
when he afflicted Miriam with leprosy for daring to challenge the 
leadership of Moses, they traveled from Hazeroth and camped in 
the Wilderness of Paran. Surely, the people had seen enough by 
now to understand that their god Yahweh was all-powerful, able 
to provide them with their every need, and above all not to be 
crossed in any way, but such was not the case. While they were 
at Paran, Moses sent spies into the land of Canaan to "see the
land, what it is, and the people therein, whether they are few or 
many, and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good 
or bad, and what cities they dwell in, whether in camps or in 
strongholds, and what the land is, whether it is fat or lean, 
whether there is wood therein, or not" (Num. 13:17-20). At 
this point, rational readers of these stories can only ask, "Why 
would Moses, of all people, have sent spies into Canaan to find 
out all these things?" He had routinely met and chatted with the 
all-powerful Yahweh, who had already told him that Canaan was 
a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8, 17), so are we 
supposed to understand that after all of the demonstrations of 
Yahweh's might and power, Moses wasn't quiet sure to believe 
him about the abundance of the land unless he had independent
confirmation from a band of spies? We also have to wonder why 
Moses would have been concerned about whether there was 
"wood therein," because the Israelites had been incinerating 
animals by the millions in the wilderness of Sinai, on an altar 
whose fire never went out, so if they could find enough wood 
for that in a desert wilderness, Moses shouldn't have been too
concerned about whether there was wood in the land flowing 
with milk and honey.

At any rate, Moses sent spies into the land, who returned with 

a report about "giants in the land," who had made them appear 
as grasshoppers in their own sight (Num. 13:32-33). So surely 
when the people heard this report, they just said, "So what? 
We have Yahweh on our side, who can part the waters of a great 
sea, bring forth water from rocks, send manna from heaven, and 
many other mighty deeds, so we don't need to fear a few giants."
To so think is to think rationally, and one must not apply
rationality to Yahweh's inspired word. The people did just the
opposite. "All the congregation lifted up their voice and cried,
and the people wept that night, and all the children of Israel
murmured against Moses and against Aaron; and the whole 
congregation said to them, Would that we had died in the
land of Egypt or would that we had died in this wilderness.
And wherefore does Yahweh bring us to this land, to fall by
the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey. Were
it not better for us to return to Egypt" (14:1-3)? Yahweh
certainly had to play to a tough audience in that day, because
no matter how great his demonstrations of power and majesty
were, they had little staying power with those Israelites. As I 
have pointed out before, a person today can get all fired up 
after hearing an emotional sermon, give him or herself to God,
and remain forever a born-again Christian no matter what
evidence against Christianity he or she may confront, but it
wasn't so with those wilderness wanderers. They would go
from a mighty miracle of Yahweh to disappointment, and the
disappointments always seemed to prevail over their memories 
of Yahweh's power and greatness. Who can believe it?

Yahweh was thoroughly disgusted this time and except for Moses' 
intervention (which I will discuss in a later posting), he would have 
destroyed the entire nation of ingrates, but after Moses' cool logic 
had convinced Yahweh that the destruction of his chosen ones 
would make him look bad in the eyes of the nations around them, 
Yahweh decided to condemn the people to wander for 40 years in 
the wilderness, except for the children and Joshua and Caleb, who 
had advised the people not to heed the report of the spies (14:28-
35). The spies who had caused the people to whine and complain 
were, of course, struck with a plague and killed "before Yahweh" 
(v:37). And who can pity them? The dummies should have known 

So are we to assume that the people had learned another lesson 
about crossing the petulant Yahweh? Not on your life! An upstart 
named Korah (who was actually Moses' first cousin) "rose up 
before Moses with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred 
fifty princes of the congregation," for lifting himself and Aaron 
"above the assembly of Yahweh" (Num. 16:1-3). To make a long 
story short, Yahweh was plenty ticked off about this and told 
Moses and Aaron, "Separate yourselves from among this
congregation that I may consume them in a moment" (v:20).
So Moses once again had to explain to the impetuous Yahweh
that he was being a bit drastic: "O, God, the God of the spirits
of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be wroth with all 
the congregation" (v:21). Again, Yahweh recognized that Moses
was a clearer thinker than he, so he ordered Moses to have
the congregation move away from the offending parties.
Moses did this, and after a few stern words from Moses, the
ground opened up and swallowed the rebels and "their 
households, and all the men that appertained to Korah,
and all their goods" (v:32). What a demonstration this 
must have been, so surely we can now assume that all of the 
bellyaching, whining, and rebelling was over, but, again, that 
would be a rational conclusion, and the chosen ones of Yahweh
just didn't behave rationally. The VERY NEXT DAY, "all the 
congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses 
and against Aaron, saying, You have killed the the people of 
Yahweh" (v:41). Who would have thought that with everything 
this "congregation" had seen, and especially the events of the 
day before, they would have dared approach Yahweh's chosen 
leaders with a complaint like this? The results were predictable:

Numbers 16:42 And when the congregation had assembled 
against them, Moses and Aaron turned toward the tent of 
meeting; the cloud had covered it and the glory of Yahweh 

43 Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of 
44 and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
45 "Get away from this congregation, so that I may consume 
them in a moment." And they fell on their faces.
46 Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer, put fire on it from 
the altar and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the 
congregation and make atonement for them. For wrath has 
gone out from Yahweh; the plague has begun."
47 So Aaron took it as Moses had ordered, and ran into the 
middle of the assembly, where the plague had already begun 
among the people. He put on the incense, and made atonement 
for the people.
48 He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague 
was stopped.
49 Those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand 
seven hundred, besides those who died in the affair of Korah.
50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the door of the tabernacle, 
and the plague was stayed.

So only by the speedy intervention of Moses and Aaron was the 
death toll from this rebellion limited to a mere 14 thousand. At 
any rate, we can surely conclude that by now the people were 
convinced that they had better toe the line, keep their mouths 
shut, and follow without dissent Yahweh's chosen leaders Moses 
and Aaron. Yeah, sure, and someday pigs will fly too. In today's 
educational terminology, we would have to designate all of them
as "learning disabled."

Farrell Till

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