Numbers 21-22

I feel really good about that Diff E test. Hopefully my 9ish hours in the library yesterday paid off. I need to have another study-a-thon today, but I think I earned a little break, which I’ve decided to use for Bible reading so I don’t fall further behind.

Chapter 21- King Arad the Canaanite won’t let the people pass through his land, and decides to attack them. With God’s help, the Israelites obliterate Arad and his people. The people complain again, so God sends fiery serpents to kill them, then has Moses make a bronze serpent that will heal anyone who has been bitten. The Israelites travel some more and obliterate the Amorites, as well as the people of Jazar and Bashan.

I feel badly for the local people. It seems to me that their only crime was not being God’s chosen people, and God/the Israelites are a blood thirsty, land-hungry bunch.

So, the people complain again, since they clearly haven’t learned yet that their God is a vindictive, punitive dictator who has no patience for their complaints. (Seriously, they’ve witnessed thousands of people being horribly slaughtered by God after complaining. Haven’t they learned to keep their mouths shut yet? When does the Stockholm syndrome set in?) God sends fiery serpents to bite and kill the complainers, and many people die.

When they ask forgiveness, God has Moses make a bronze serpent set on a pole, and then people who are bitten will be healed if they look at it. Why couldn’t he have just taken away the snakes? And doesn’t this violate the rule against graven images in Exodus? Ex 20:4, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image- any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

On another note, it was my understanding that this is where we got our modern symbol for medicine with the snakes wrapped around the pole. After a little Wikipedia research, it turns out that the Greeks did it first. The “caduceus” (the one with 2 snakes on a pole with wings) was the staff carried by Hermes the messenger, while the “Rod of Asclepius” (the one with one snake on the pole) was the symbol of the god of healing/medicine Asclepius.

Looks like this is another example of the Abrahamic religions appropriating ancient traditions for their own uses.


Moses’s bronze serpent, the caduceus, and the Rod of Asclepius

I also just learned that we Americans misuse the cadueus as a symbol of medicine, when it really should be a symbol of commerce. I guess my Bible reading hasn’t been for naught; it’s a least a little educational!

Chapter 22- Balak the king of the Moabites is afraid of the Israelites, so he invites the diviner Balaam to come curse the Israelites. God first tells Balaam not to go, but then gives him permission to go, but advises him to only speak the words He tells him to. Along the way, and angel appears to Balaam’s donkey, and she refuses to move forward. Balaam beats the donkey, so God gives her the ability to speak so she can rebuke Balaam. Then God allows Balaam to see the angel, who reminds Balaam to only say the words God puts in his mouth when he gets to Balak.

Isn’t this story delightfully ridiculous? God speaks out his ass! (I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry.)

I’m curious about this Balaam fellow, and why God speaks directly to this “diviner.” It’s my general impression that God dislikes magicians, diviners, sorcerers, etc. It doesn’t sound like he was of any relation to the Israelites, so how does he immediately know to ask God’s permission before going to Balak? Hopefully the next few chapters will hold the answers I seek.

I’m also very confused about why this angel tries to impede Balaam’s journey. In verse 20, God tells Balaam to “rise and go with them”, but then in verse 22 it says, “Then God’s anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the Lord took His stand in the way as an adversary against him.” What? Make up your mind, God.

As for the story of the talking donkey, I’m reminded of the song “Tickle Cove Pond” by Great Big Sea (well, actually, it’s a traditional song, but I know of it because of the GBS version). Basically, the narrator uses a horse to haul logs, and one day his mare hesitates and doesn’t want to cross a frozen pond. The horse gets whipped until she goes out on the pond, where both horse and rider fall through the ice. Moral of the story is that the human should have heeded the horse’s hesitation because she sensed something was wrong before the human did.

Here’s a video of the song from YouTube. It’s live, which isn’t ideal, but even with the drunk people singing along I think Alan Doyle does it better than any other artist.


About Essential Everyday Pineapple

Crazy cat lady extraordinaire, liberal, atheist, feminist, vegetarian, engineering student with an art degree. Essential Everyday Pineapple is just a phrase from a random word generator that had a nice ring to it. What? Blog names are tough.
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3 Responses to Numbers 21-22

  1. Interesting information about the caduceus. Thanks for sharing. šŸ™‚

    • Anonymous says:

      A couple of just a couple of items for clarification. The earliest Greek texts that we have for Hermes is around 500 BC. Numbers was written in 1405 BC, predating any Greek mythology by 900 years. I am not sure that you can argue that the Greeks did it first, based on the timeline alone.

      Also you reference a vindictive God. You may want to check out John 3:12-17, where Jesus actually references this Old Testament incident. He says that just as Moses lifted up a snake, so to will the Son of Man be lifted up. God’s action is hardly vindictive, it is a judgment against the Israelites sin. And in the New Testament, Jesus says that he will be the one that all will look upon and will be saved because of His death. As John 3:16 says, this is not an act of vindication, it is an act of love.

      Think about this example from Tim Keller…if you had a small headache and you went to the doctor, it could be because you did not have enough sleep the night before or it could be because of a brain tumor. If the doctor knows it is because of a brain tumor he will take extraordinary steps to cure the problem. A little grumbling may seem like a small inconsequential sin, but their grumbling was a result ultimately of their disbelief. (The Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves, for crying out loud.)

      Ultimately the Caduceus should say to everyone…there is only one thing that will ultimately kill you and there is only one remedy…the son of man lifted up.

  2. Pingback: Deuteronomy 8-10 | Essential Everyday Pineapple

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