Sunday, April 13, 2008

God Gets Angry Again and Promises to Kill Moses: Numbers 20 : 1-13, 22-29

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

This chapter is a hodgepodge of different events but I'm going to combine them because none of them are all that lengthy or complex.

Once again, the Israelites are upset. There's a water shortage, and once again the writer of Numbers is rigidly contemptuous: naturally, having once again run into trouble, the Israelites proclaim that they'd rather God had just killed them all during the Kohathite protests. Weird. Maybe next time Moses and Aaron should just let God kill them. Apparently they're the only two people present actually opposed to the idea. Moses and Aaron gather the people and Moses, using his magic staff, makes water flow out of a dry rock. Everyone drinks until they are full.

This is a strange story because it's actually about Moses's failure, not the people's. As the people began to complain, God ordered Moses to tell the rock to produce water, but instead, Moses struck the rock with his magic staff. For some reason, this is a mortal sin in God's eyes. This is a strange reaction, given that on pretty much every single previous occasion Moses has been told to perform miracles, God has wanted the staff to be involved. Is this just for variety?

After all that Moses has done and all the times he's restrained God from various orgies of destruction, the penalty prescribed seems particularly cruel: Moses and Aaron are going to be among those who die before entering the promised land. God is pretty calm about it - he doesn't, for example, "burn with anger" and have to be held back by Aaron's magic incense - but somehow that makes it worse.

Aaron doesn't last long after this latest test. Just a few verses later, Moses and Aaron are summoned by God, along with Aaron's son Eleazar. In a highly symbolic if somewhat brutal ritual, Aaron is brought up Mount Hor, his priestly clothes are stripped from his back, ande he is left to die. Moses gives the clothes to Eleazar. Aaron has been rejected by God, demoted, and killed; having lost the priesthood, he also loses his very life. That is the only real lesson that can be taken from this method of death. Moses permits a month of mourning before Isreal moves on.