Chapter 14- Because of the bad report the spies gave, the people complain that it would have been better to die as slaves in Egypt than to be killed by the native people in Canaan, and begin to make plans to return to Egypt. This makes God angry, and he threatens to kill them all. Moses talks him out of wholesale slaughter, but God does say that none of the complainers will get to enter the promised land. He will force them to stay in the desert for 40 years until all of the complainers die, then their children can enter the promised land. The spies who gave the bad report are killed. Some of the people try to take the promised land anyway, but the natives repel their attack.
Yesterday I compared God to a bad parent, but today I think he sounds more like a bratty child. (I’m thinking along the lines of King Joffrey, for any GoT fans out there.) When his people dare to question his plans, he throws an almighty fit and threatens to “strike them with pestilence and disinherit them.” Only when Moses deftly strokes God’s ego and reminds Him to think of his reputation does God relent, but not without substituting other punishment. It’s not so much that killing your chosen people is wrong, but just imagine what the Egyptians will think! Better to let them rot in the desert than to kill them outright.
It’s interesting that the people complain, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?” and God’s response is to give them what they wanted: a death in the wilderness. But back in chapter 11, Moses complains, “I am not able to bear all these people alone because the burden is too heavy for me. If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now– if I have found favor in Your sight– and do not let me see my wretchedness!” and God’s response is to actually help Moses. That Yahweh is an unpredictable fellow.
Chapter 15- Instructions are given for making offerings once the people enter the promised land. A man is found gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and God orders the people to stone him.
Why is God giving instructions for offerings in the promised land when he just finished telling the people they won’t get to enter it? It will be 40 years before anyone can, so what are the odds people will remember this rule by then? It feels like God is adding insult to injury, holding it over their heads that they don’t get to go.
The instructions for making offerings after one has sinned unintentionally are repeated here, but this time punishment is listed for those who sin on purpose. Verses 30-31, ” But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.”
Which seems strange enough, but then it is followed by this story about a guy gathering sticks on the Sabbath. It is described as such: “Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day.” It doesn’t specify whether he was an Israelite who should have known the rules about keeping the Sabbath holy, or if he was just some random dude they happened across. It sounds to me like this could possibly have been one of those “unintentional” sins, but God decrees that “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.”
First of all, “stone him with stones”? Duh. What else would you stone someone with?
Second, are you kidding me? In the preceding verses, an accidental sin could be atoned, a purposeful sin results in becoming an outcast. So if this sin was neither accidental nor intentional, what other type of sin was there? What kind of sin could this possibly have been to deserve a stoning?!? The guy was just picking up some firewood on a Saturday, and he was brutalized for it!
I think the whole of Israel was abjectly morally bankrupt. If you see someone gathering firewood, and the voices you perceive as coming from the sky tell you to kill that person, the moral action is to tell the voices to fuck right off. You don’t get your buddies together with a big pile of rocks and make an event of it!
I’ve decided not to include any images of stoning, as it’s a disturbing and brutal method of execution. If you’re interested though, this page “Anatomy of a stoning” in modern Iran is is informative without being too graphic.
The long and short of it here is that stoning is barbaric, and God’s an asshole for condoning it as punishment for any “sin”, let alone something as harmless as picking up sticks on the wrong day of the week.
One more thing I’d like to briefly discuss: God tells the Israelites to put blue tassels on their clothing as a reminder of the commandments he has given them, “that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined.” This is something that really bothers me about religion; God is constantly reminding humans of how inferior we are, and actively trying to make us feel like crap for being the way he made us. (Assuming we were created, which I don’t believe, but I hope you see the point I’m getting at.)
I’ll leave you with this fantastic quote from Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
The very concept of sin comes from the bible. Christianity offers to solve a problem of its own making! Would you be thankful to a person who cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?