Monday, January 18, 2010

Numbers 30-32: So This Is Weird

I'm putting these three chapters together because they're all a little, well, unusual, especially at first glance.  In fact I had to do some research on chapter 31 to understand what was going on better.

Chapter 30 is about making vows.  Basically, if you say you're going to do something, if you make an oath, you have to keep it.  What's interesting though is that if you're a girl and you make a vow, and your father (if you're unmarried) or husband (if you're married) tells you that's a dumb vow, you don't have to keep it.  If the father or husband either doesn't say anything against the vow or, presumably, doesn't hear it, it's binding, but a woman could be released from a stupid vow by her father or husband.  I wish that men could be released form stupid vows by their wives, but then again I suppose wives are always trying to get their husbands to keep their promises, so it's probably just as well.

Chapter 31 is the really weird one.  God tells the Israelites to go kill the Midianites, so they fight them and kill all the men, but then Moses tells them to kill the women and the boys too, but not the children who are girls.  There's also a mention of Balaam being killed - remember him?  And then the rest of the chapter is about splitting up the spoils of war.  So when I first read this, it really didn't sit well with me.  I did some research and went over some of the text again and found out that there's a key verse in the middle of this chapter, verse 16, which tells us that Balaam - the guy who Balak hired to curse Israel - had incited these women to try to destroy Israel through immorality and idolatry back in chapter 25 - remember Phinehas?  Apparently, when the Moabites and Midianites saw the Israelites coming and realized God was on their side in war, they put their heads together and tried to get God off Israel's side, and that's when Balak the king of Moab hired Balaam. When that didn't work, the Midianite and Moabite women went over to Israel to tempt them sexually and also invite them to start worshipping their gods, and it worked, or at least it came really close to working.

But if you're like me, you're wondering, where does Balaam fit into the story?  At the end of chapter 24, it looks like he's headed home, which is to the northeast near the Euphrates River.  But apparently he stuck around with the Midianites for a while, and that's where he was when Israel attacked.  Now, Balaam confuses me.  Here's a guy who seemed to have some kind of relationship with God - that is, he could hear God's voice and prophecy accurately, at least in Israel's case, although he and God don't seem to be on the best terms.  But now he's going and plotting against them.

I still think it's sad that a lot of people died - I mean, I think dropping the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was really sad - but now I see that it didn't just come out of nowhere.

Also, to clear up another common misunderstanding, the girls who weren't killed were not kept as wives.  It was still illegal for Jews to marry non-Jews, so prisoners of war were kept as slaves.

Another interesting note is that not all the Midianites died here.  We'll meet them again in Judges.

Finally, chapter 32.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad decide they want to stay on the east side of the Jordan River instead of crossing into the Promised Land, because it's good pasture for their livestock.  At first Moses isn't too keen on this, but they promise to help with the conquest and not to return to their new homes until after all the other tribes are settled in.  So those two tribes, as well as some of the Manasseh people, end up building permanent settlements over on the east side of the Jordan but leaving their wives and kids there while conquering the land of Canaan.  I guess they keep their promise to help out, because my map has their land marked as being right where it says they wanted to stay.  So I suppose that's a good example of keeping vows, as written in chapter 30.

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