30 July 2009

A killing to end God's killing

This is really a strange one, and I'm not sure what to do with it. Maybe you can help me sort it out. (In any case, this is definitely a story to mark up in you next Gideon Bible.)

It all happens in the first few verses of Numbers 25, right after the story about Balaam's talking donkey.

It begins with the people having sex with the daughters of Moab.
And ... the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. Numbers 25:1
After sex, they ate dinner with them and worshiped their gods.
And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. Numbers 25:2
This angered God, so he told Moses to kill all the leaders and hang their dead bodies up on trees so that he wouldn't be so angry anymore.
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel. Numbers 25:3-4
Now this probably wasn't as bad as the King James Version makes it sound. "Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun" sounds like God told Moses to cut off peoples' heads and hang the heads on trees. That would be kind of nasty.

But no. God just wanted Moses to kill the leaders ("the heads of the people") and hang their dead bodies on trees out in the sunshine so "that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel." That's not nearly so bad, now is it?

I can't tell, though, whether Moses did what God asked. Here's the next verse.
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor. Numbers 25:5
Moses tells the leaders (judges) to kill everyone who "were joined unto Baalpeor." I don't know if being joined to Baalpeor was having sex with the daughters of Moab or not. But clearly Moses wasn't following orders here. God told him to kill the leaders and hang their bodies on trees; Moses tells the leaders to kill the people who had sex with Moab women. Different thing entirely, I'd say.

Anyway, I guess neither God's nor Moses' plan was executed, because of what happened next.
And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. Numbers 25:6
And then the real hero of the story shows up. Phinehas. He sees the happy couple and sticks a spear through their bodies while they were having sex.
And when Phinehas ... saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. Numbers 25:7-8a
This double murder made God so happy that he stopped killing everyone. You see, while Moses was trying to get the leaders to kill people who had sex with Moabite women and God was trying to get Moses to kill the leaders and hang their bodies on trees, God was also busy killing people with a plague.
So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand. Numbers 25:8b-9
Now God had planned to kill everyone, but he stopped with just 24,000 because of Phinehas' holy murder. (Paul said that only 23,000 died in the plague, but how would he know?)
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Numbers 25:10-11
So you see my problem here, don't you? How many killings do we have here?

God told Moses to kill the leaders and hang their bodies on trees, but we don't know whether Moses followed God's command.

Moses told the leaders to kill whoever had sex with the Moabite women, but we don't know if his order was carried out either.

Phinehas killed the two people having sex, but we don't know whether God told him to or not. (Even though God was clearly pleased by the killing. So much, in fact that he quit killing after only 24,000, when he'd planned to kill several million.)

And how many died in the plague? Was it 24,000 as Numbers 25:9 says or 23,000 as it says in 1 Corinthians 10:8?

So how do we keep score here? At least 24,002 people died (23,002 if we believe Paul), but in how many separate killing events? And should God get credit for Phinehas' double murder?

I've decided to count Phinehas' double murder and God's plague as a single killing event. God clearly deserves credit for the plague, of course, but the Phinehas' affair is less clear.

However both Moses and God ordered people to be killed either for either having sex with the Midianites or for allowing them to do so (Numbers 25:3-5), and God was so pleased with the Phinehas' killing that he stopped his own mass murder. So I think God deserves credit for either inspiring or directly ordering Phinehas to impale the lovers while they were having sex.

God's next killing: The Midianite Massacre (Have ye saved all the women alive?)

17 comments:

missy said...

So the Moabites were neighbors of the Israelites, created when Lot's eldest daughter got freaky with him after the whole Sodom & Gomorrah thing. They're nasty. And the Israelites are getting it on with them as the Lego photo so eloquently shows. And getting it on apparently leads to parties and worshipping other gods, specifically their main dude Peor. And that was getting on the LORD's last nerve, so when they aligned themselves with Peor, he was like "aw, hell no" and orders the leaders hung up in the sun. So Moses tells the judges (not, apparently, the same guys as the heads) to kill everyone who aligned themselves with Peor. The judges go around killing 24,000 people they figure were aligned with Peor. No idea how they figured out who to kill. And why did Moses go so overkill on the LORD's order? Well, maybe he was trying to get some Phinehas type recognition, but old Phin beat him to the punch with his Isrealite gladiator move, killing Zimri (the Israelite) and Cozbi (the Midianite), because if there is one thing the LORD can't stand, it's jungle fever. Or desert fever. Whatever. So the death count for this story is 24,002. You can count it as two events or one, since they stem from the same basic incident. However, two points have to made clear: Moses didn't disregard the LORD, he just built upon his idea. Why make leader jerky when you can kill 24,000? And they were killed more for worshipping Peor than for all the Moab girls gone wild action.
Oh, and no one fell on their face. That makes me sad.

Steve Wells said...

"Oh, and no one fell on their face. That makes me sad."

FOF!

twillight said...

The apologist-answer I think could be: 24,000 died in God's plague. 23,000 were killed and hunged up on God's order. 2 were killed to please God, according to the prophecy given in Num.24.17.

But as I looked it up, I found what "Baalpeor" was: it was "Balaam the son of Beor". Beats me why it got disfigured like that, but most probably referrs to the nation of that guy: how the jews dissolved into them.

geniusofevil said...

Do you think there was a time that these stories ever made sense?

I am the wise fool. said...

24000 or 23000? What's a thousand corpses between superstitious friends? :-)

But seriously, I think I would side with the original source and claim 24000.

As for the 2, I don't agree with twillight's reference to Num 24:17 above. That speaks of crushing skulls, not impaling bodies.

Instead, I think that the double murder was independent action. I think that God was so impressed by Phinehas' initiative that He decided to stop the plague, thinking that there may just be some cold-blooded, overzealous, God-fearing Jews in the bunch after all.

This story promotes self-policing and vigilant maintenance of religious purity, something which would have been equally important to God as well as leaders of the benefactors of a fictitious religion.

David said...

Is it possible for God to kill someone as an act of love - as a mercy to that person?

It is understandable that from our modern mortal perspective, these killings seem horrifying. I get that. I think everyone would agree, however, that if there is a God out there, omnipotent and eternal, then His perspective would certainly be very different from ours. As mortals, we think of dying as the end of our own world. However, if you are dealing with eternal beings, their physical death may not be that big of a deal in the whole scheme of things.

I'll use a hypothetical to clarify what I'm saying. Note that I am making (among others) the following assumptions:
1) God loves us, His children, and wants us to be happy and to return to live with Him.
2) Part of our purpose on earth is to learn/do the things that will allow us to return to live with God. That is the path to joy in this world and the next.
3) God gives each of us free will - in particular, the ability to choose right from wrong. Choosing right brings us closer to Him - puts us further along the path.

Now the hypothetical example:
Let's say that God sees his daughter, Jennifer, born in a situation where the circumstances (parentage, culture, etc.) will make it essentially impossible for her to follow that path. Allowing her to be killed could be a mercy, right? It's the counter to the term, "Giving her enough rope to hang herself."

I think that is one example of how God could allow someone to die, even if that death included physical suffering, and it would still be a merciful action of a loving father. Does that make sense?

busterggi said...

Gee David, it sure is neat that Yahweh kills Jennifer like that.

Of course, since she hasn't been 'saved' Jennifer will be spending eternity burning in Hell but that can't be too bad.

Does that make sense?

Brendan said...

I was hoping you'd count these as separate from each other, since I'm not sure my response can fit in one post.

Balaam and Baalpeor are not the same. Baal was a sun god worshiped by several cultures (some scholars identify it as a form of Molech). According to the Talmud, Balaam was a gentile prophet who secretly hated the Israelites and plotted their destruction. He believed that G-d would destroy the Israelites if they sinned enough (he wasn't too clear on the whole "omniscience" thing). The Moabite women were used as part of conspiracy by the Midianites, of which Balaam was their prophet. He was captured during the conquest of Midian. According to legend, he was executed in 4 different ways at the same time. He is mocked in the Talmud as "Without a share of the world to come" and "he who ruined the people".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balaam
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal

The issues are:

How many actually died, and who's responsible?
Why'd the hearsay deserve death?
Why did G-d reward Phinehas for murder?

I intend to answer these all. By the way, I'd like to point out yet another reason why the King James translation is terrible: You missed that Phinehas impaled the two through their sex organs. Imagine a Jewish kid named Pinchas (Phinehas in Hebrew) asking his parents what his namesake did.

1. According to Abraham Malamat: "The Hebrew word 'eleph' can be translated 'thousand,' but it is also rendered in the Bible as 'clans' and 'military units.'" Do a quick google search for "eleph Hebrew", and you'll have your evidence. Eleph, without the Hebrew rendering of vowels, could also mean "chief". So if 24 "chiefs" died in a "plague", it wouldn't be a literal sickness, as it would be a divine "smiting". It may also simply refer to Moses' orders to execute the people involved, since there's no mention of a plague before this point. Some suggest that the plague resulted as a curse placed on the tent of meeting.

The responsibility is another issue. G-d clearly ordered 5 deaths. Moses ordered a bunch of them. The plague probably refers to a divine "smiting" (I think I'll stick to that terminology), but it may just refer to Moses' purge. G-d is definitely responsible for 5 deaths. He may or may not be responsible for a series of deaths, the number of which is not actually certain. Phinehas is responsible for 2 deaths. Moses is responsible for an unknown amount of deaths, and it may be 24 chiefs/clans/units/thousands or it may not be.

2. It should be noted that political matters in this time period were intertwined with religious matters. Worshiping a god of another nation is the equivalent of betraying your nation in this time period. Because of the depravity of the time period, harsher methods of enforcement were needed than would be today. What is allowed and not allowed in context of the religion is eternal. The punishments depend on the relative morality of the time period. These primitive people didn't understand anything short of carrot/stick, so G-d gave them carrot/stick.

3. There are some ideologies that deserve harsh responses. These ideologies manifest themselves in political and religious forms. The farther back you go, the more extreme these ideologies are and therefore the worse the responses have to be.
The idea here is that when Zimri started doing it with Cozbi in the Tent of Meeting, he had crossed the line into such an ideology. He also betrayed his religion, and therefore, his people, since nations were based around religion.

I'm not saying that these actions deserve death. I'm saying that in that time period, it was the only response that was effective. And yes, Moses said the law is eternal, but don't forget that Moses and G-d are not the same.

matt311 said...

Holy shit. I only knew of Phinehas's terrible race crime; I didn't know there was a plague and massacre beforehand.

Holy crap; God and Moses are mass murderers who promote race hatred! Who could ever believe in such a thing?

David said...

Bustereggi, no that wouldn't make sense at all. My hypothesis was that God might cause Jennifer to die in order to save her from being essentially forced to do evil by her circumstances. If Jennifer would then "burn in hell", that would not be particularly merciful.

However, I don't believe she would be automatcially condemned. The apostles clearly teach that the work of saving souls continues even after death (1 Pet 18-22). Perhas if she had lived longer, she would have become so hardened and evil that she would not have been able to be saved by that post-mortal preaching.

I don't necessarily believe that this is why all the people died in all the deaths written up in this blog. I just want to see if others can agree that there could be a circumstance in which it is possible for God to kill someone out of mercy to that person.

Mark said...

Sorry to nitpick, but Gideon bibles don't have the old testament in them.

sconnor said...

david

Now the hypothetical example:
Let's say that God sees his daughter, Jennifer, born in a situation where the circumstances (parentage, culture, etc.) will make it essentially impossible for her to follow that path. Allowing her to be killed could be a mercy, right? It's the counter to the term, "Giving her enough rope to hang herself."

I think that is one example of how God could allow someone to die, even if that death included physical suffering, and it would still be a merciful action of a loving father. Does that make sense?


No, david -- you're full of shit.

God, knowing her circumstances, didn't have to create her in the first place, thereby eradicating any hypothetical physical suffering.

God -- knowing what was going to prevent her from her path (parentage, culture, etc.) -- could have put her on another path, thereby once again eradicating any physical suffering.

God -- being god -- could have an infinite amount of ways to accomplish what he wants to accomplish -- ALL without egregious physical suffering and yet horrendous unimaginable suffering exists.

This is why your imaginary all-loving god-concept only resides in the confines of your limited mind.

--S.

I Am said...

David said: "Is it possible for God to kill someone as an act of love - as a mercy to that person?"

I would say no. If I, as a non-omniscient, non-omnipotent being, can think of ways to solve situations without bloodshed, then God should be able to do so. Instead, people have to be slaughter and tortured in the Bible. For your example with a Jennifer, what would be a situation that couldn't be solved that wouldn't involve inflicting one of the many ways of torturous death he personally uses or commands in the Bible? I suppose he could painlessly poof her out of existence, but is there a case where causing someone's end is the only possible solution for an all-powerful God?

Brendan, thank you for pointing out the part about the impaling. I recently reread Numbers and missed this as well. There is so much death going on, it's hard to keep track of what's happening.

About the numbers (chiefs/thousands/etc.) issue, I've seen this brought up many times here or on the SAB forums. If most Bible translations say it's thousands, what theological motivation do we have to argue with this? In other words, what does it change to the underlying story whether it's 24 or 24,000? I would think that from an apologist's point of view, if the deaths are justified, they're justified no matter what the number is. I don't understand the desire to try to minimize God's deeds if they are indeed great and/or necessary.

About the fact that these were "primitive people [who] didn't understand anything short of carrot/stick", whose fault would that be? If God created ignorant humans who didn't know how to follow his orders, why should he punish them with death for this? Why not punish himself for making unwise, misbehaving, and unfaithful creatures?

About your final comment that Moses and God aren't the same: over and over again in the Pentateuch, ad nauseum, we hear how the Israelites are supposed to follow God's law. Sometimes God says this directly, usually when he's addressing Moses; sometimes Moses just says it himself. Are you really claiming that God never said his law was eternal, or that if he never did, that Moses wasn't speaking for him when he did? If you're claiming that what Moses says can't be relied upon, then why should we believe any of this since he's apparently the one that relayed the law of God to the Israelites anyway?

I would think God, who smites left and right, would have at least chided Moses for claiming the law was eternal if it wasn't.

Fawzia said...

Brendan: It should be noted that political matters in this time period were intertwined with religious matters. Worshiping a god of another nation is the equivalent of betraying your nation in this time period. Because of the depravity of the time period, harsher methods of enforcement were needed than would be today. What is allowed and not allowed in context of the religion is eternal. The punishments depend on the relative morality of the time period. These primitive people didn't understand anything short of carrot/stick, so G-d gave them carrot/stick.

Not at all, this intolerance came about only with Judaism & was carried on by Christianity & Islam. The ancient polytheisms tended to be pretty tolerant of additional deities, they were accepted into the pantheon.

For example, the Biblical 10 Commandments have a striking resemblance with the older Papyrus of Ani.
http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_10cl.htm

Note that while there are statements about respecting Egyptian gods & not belittling them, there is nothing prohibiting the worship of neighbouring Hittite or Mesopotemian gods.

This is radically different from the Biblical "jealous" God.

Egypt was also a far more advanced civilization compared to ancient Israel, but none of these ancient polytheistic civilizations had the violent hatred of rival & additional gods which came about with the Abrahamic faiths.

Brendan said...

I am:

1. Most translations say thousands because eleph means thousand. However, it has more than one definition. Scholars (who, incidentally, know more on the subject than you do) are in debate about the meaning because it could mean a number of things.

Side note: I wouldn't consider myself an apologist.

2. G-d did not create primitive, evil, ignorant humans.

The religions at the time mostly contained myths about how violent gods fought each other and created humans evilly. The Hebrew religion believed that G-d made everything good, and humans fucked it up. G-d created human beings with free will, and they chose to be violent.

3. The only time G-d says the law is permanent is when he's talking about the Passover ritual, working on annual festivals, and the doing work on Yom Kippur. He never says it in conjunction with anything regarding the death penalty.

4. Can you tell me when Moses died?

Fawzia:

1. Wow, really? Jews invented intolerance? That's probably the most antisemitic thing I've heard since "Jews killed Moses" (Of course, Freud said that). Congrats.

Of course polytheism was tolerant of additional deities. That's why it's called polytheism. The polytheists were tolerant of additional gods, sure, but not of other nations.

2. I don't see a resemblance between the two. I see they have some laws in common (ie, no murder, no hurting orphans, no hating the Lord), but nothing else.

3. Please note that we do not have Ancient Egypt's complete law code. There may be plenty of intolerant laws they had that we simply don't know about. We do know, however, that they set up colonies and oppressed foreigners and minorities.

I never said ancient Egypt was less advanced than ancient Israel. If that's part of a case against G-d, then where are the ancient Egyptians now?

Steve Wells said...

Mark said...

"Sorry to nitpick, but Gideon bibles don't have the old testament in them."

Actually, Mark, the Gideon Bibles that are most often found in hotel rooms are the complete KJV, with both Old and New Testaments.

The Gideons also make Bibles with just the New Testament, and these are often distributed at schools, probably to keep the nasty brutality and filth of the OT away from the children.

Mike Youdontneedtoknow said...

God is perfectly righteous and holy.
Therefore, if God acts his action is Holy and Just. Period.

He created all things, and has every right, being the font of all Holiness, Righteousness, etc, to do as He wills.

This fact enrages prideful man, b/c he wants his own way to be the way that matters.

Absolute Truths exist...
2+2 will always Equal 4.
If you drop a brick from a great height, unimpeded, it will always crash to the ground. The Power and Just Might of God is Absolute.

We will all be held accountable.

People wonder why God allowed all this suffering in the Old Testament...
The answer is simple:
God is Loving, and wanted a people that had free will.
With Free will comes suffering.

Jesus Christ is King. He lived a sinless life, and died selflessly for all of us, paying for our sin, and He was raised by the power of God. Thusly we have a hope of communion with a Holy God that Loves us.

If any of you wish to avoid hell, you must repent, and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.