Part six takes place primarily around Moab. It is the next kingdom that the Israelites camp near.
This chapter opens with an easily answered vow to destroy the enemy if God lets them. It’s one paragraph and it could easily be glossed over if you’re not paying attention or doing something like this. They just asked for what they wanted and God gave it to them. It’s a great example of how easy it could have been for them all the time. Ask it like a prayer and not a complaint. In their defense, this was a new thing and every new thing has its pains.
Then they begin to make the trek around Edom, because the king didn’t grant them passage through his kingdom back in chapter twenty. As they go around Edom, there is again a grumbling. This time they complain and God just sends out “fiery serpents” who can kill with a bite. If this seems extreme, I implore you to go back and see the MANY other times that it went better for the people. They just did it right with destroying Arad and now it’s back to the complaints. God has no time for it. The serpents go out and they realize their mistake and ask Moses to pray for them. God’s command is interesting.
He has Moses construct a fiery serpent to put on a pole and everyone who is bitten needs to look at it to be healed. Yep, it looks like the medical symbol that is commonly used but it’s not that one. The medical symbol is actually Greek and not Hebrew, click here for that history.
After the episode with the serpents, the Israelites ask to cross two more kingdoms and not only are they refused passage, but attacked! They strike down both and there’s a bunch of singing. There’s also a part where God remembers to give them water before they complain about it and there’s a song for that too.
So this chapter opens with an interesting story. It’s not so much that the king who lives next to their camp is worried about them being there, or even that he crowd sources the funds to have Balaam curse them, it’s Balaam himself.
Up to this point, the story has specifically been about the men in the line from Adam to Moses. It has stuck to whatever nationality the man in that line is from and has focused on the Israelites for some time. Other than the mention of Melchizedek in Genesis, we might even believe that it is only this line of men who understand, know of or worship God. Then comes a story like this. Balaam talks to God. God even talks back to him. More than once.
The neighboring king entreats Balaam twice to come to his aid against the Israelites but Balaam does not go until God gives the go-ahead and yet he isn’t one of God’s chosen people. There’s some confusing bits that follow about God not actually wanting him to go and beating a donkey and God kinda telling him that he should have been more aware of what was going on with the donkey who had never led him astray before.
It ends with Balaam finally meeting the king, Balak.
Here Balak twice asks Balaam to build him altars, make sacrifices, confer with God and curse the Israelites. Twice Balaam comes back with the blessing that God instructs.
Balak is a little hard headed and asks for yet a third set. At each set, he takes Balaam to witness an entirely different group of the Israelites as they are in their camp.
Balaam repeats twice more that he will not curse the Israelites because God does not want them cursed and he listens to God first. His explanation to Balak is long and poetic, but that’s the gist.
Alas, the Israelites can’t help but upset God. It’s not so much they are bad people or that God seems particularly demanding at this point. I think they just don’t get it, like when a little kid doesn’t realize the way they are playing can injure the person next to them until they kick that other kid in the head by accident.
Nevertheless, the people of Israel start to mingle with the people of Moab and God instructs to Moses to kill all the chiefs for allowing this to happen and then someone gets really brash and takes a woman “to his family” right in front Moses. Phinehas, the son of Eleazer (the new priest), pretty much speared them for it. While this was going on there was also a plague that killed 24,000 of the Israelites and it stopped when the spearing happened. For this action, Phinehas is given a special covenant because he “was jealous for his God”.
Then God tells them to go take out that whole section of people because they “harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you” and He cites two of the women. Watch out, this might turn into a pattern. I don’t want to get all negative about it, but there is long standing belief that women are responsible for the sin of the men around them and I’d be interested to see if this contributes to setting that up.
So there are my feelings and impressions on chapters 21-25 of Numbers. Have you read it? What do you think?