10 August 2009

God's Killings in Numbers (Don't complain about them!)

Here's a summary of God's 13 killings in the Book of Numbers.
Killing Event Verse Estimated number killed Cumulative total
1 God burned people to death for complaining Numbers 11:1 100 100
2 God sent "a very great plague" for complaining about the food. 11:33 10,000 10,100
3 God killed ten scouts with a plague. 14:35-36 10 10,110
4 A man who gathered firewood on the sabbath is stoned to death 15:32-26 1 10,111
5 Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (and their families) are buried alive for complaining about Moses' leadership 16:27 12 10,123
6 Burned to death for offering incense 16:35 250 10,373
7 For complaining about God's killings 16:49 14,700 25,073
8 Massacre of the Aradites 21:1-3 3000 28,073
9 God sent serpents to bite the people for complaining about the lack of food and water. 21:6 100 28,173
10 God delivers the Bashanites into Moses' hands 21:34-35 2000 30,173
11 Phinehas impales a mixed-race couple having sex 25:6-8 2 30,175
12 For "committing whoredom with the daughters of Moab" 25:9 24,000 54,175
13 Midianite massacre 31:1-35 200,000 254,175

See something that stands out in this list? I do. (You probably do too since I highlighted it.) It is the central message of the Book of Numbers: Don't complain, especially not about the food or God's killings.

8 comments:

Har said...

I like the idea of this list, but wouldn't it be interesting to give an estimate of the number of people of living in those good old days? A few thousands lives don't seem much, but we're over 6 billion now. It's all in the percentages, you know, and it gives a better idea of this god's cruelty.

I am the wise fool. said...

The one possible killing which technically you may or may not have missed is the death of Aaron in Numbers 20:23-28. It doesn't specifically say God killed him, but it is awfully suspicious. God "predicts" his death following the episode when Moses had to provide water from the rock.

You're dead right about the complaining! ;-) In fact, Numbers 17:10 (from the story of Aaron's budding staff) pretty much says that God will kill all complainers.

Of course, what is incredibly ironic is that it was the complaining of the Israelites which finally reminded God to rescue them from their Egyptian enslavement.

I am the wise fool. said...

I was just thinking Steve, it may not be fair to assume every time God plagues the Israelites that people died. When you look at the plagues of Exodus, people didn't die with every plague, like the plague of flies or the plague of boils.

You may need to retract some of the death count and stick to cases were death is explicit.

Steve Wells said...

Did you have a particular plague in Numbers in mind, wise fool?

The only one that I can see as a possible non-lethal plague would be the second killing in Numbers (the "very great plague" of 11:33). But the next verse (v.34) says that they buried the people that were killed in the plague -- so it seems like God must have killed the people that he "smote" in the plague.

Or is there another one of the 13 that you are worried about.

I am the wise fool. said...

Doh! I should have double-checked the context around Numbers 11:33. That was the one I was thinking of. Sorry about that.

There is one more vague plague. You had logged 1000 killed way back at Exodus 32:35 from the golden calf incident, but it doesn't explicitly mention any deaths.

Of course, when you are up in the millions, a 1000 corpses is a drop in the bucket. :-)

matt311 said...

I guess God hated his own people more than he did the Egyptians, since he gave the latter better treatment than his "Chosen People"; he didn't make them wander around in a desert for 40 years, after all...

IZSBHR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brendan said...

1. This is a translation issue. Neither of the translations I own mention any deaths. Considering how terrible the King James translation is, I think I'll trust Richard Elliot Friedman & The Union for Reform Judaism.

2. There's 2 explanations given in the Union of Reform Judaism's Modern Commentary. The first explains that the people, upon receiving the quail, in their greed, bit off more than they could chew (literally), and "choked on their own greed". This makes sense, since the text reads "The meat was... not yet chewed". The idea that G-d struck them with a plague seems to be a figurative analysis of it. There's another explanation it gives, but I don't think it's as good.

3. The ten scouts were trying to get the Israelites to turn back to Egypt. The idea here is that picking them off prevented not only renewed slavery, but more deaths.

4. Well, for starters, we don't know anything about the guy. He was put to death because he was deemed a detriment to the community. All we know is that he was trying to make a fire on Shabbat (that's why he was gathering sticks). The death penalty for the offense was given in a world where the Israelites were literally in the presence of the divine. There is no practical use for the death penalty in today's society.

5. Since Korah's sons did not die, I guess "all that they have" doesn't apply to families. Their families did not die with them. Those that died a) willingly gambled their lives, and b) were trying to get Moses and Aaron killed. The death count for this one is 3.

6. A) again, they willingly gambled their lives, and b) again, they were rebelling against Moses in a way that was potentially dangerous.

7. This goes back to the whole idea that these people would've killed Moses in their rebellion. This is basically the explanation for every single killing involving a rebellion. And without his leadership, they'd be screwed and would all die very quickly.

8. This is that whole "never leave anyone behind" mentality here. According to Midrash Aggadah, Arad had kidnapped a maidservant. The harsh retaliation is just because of the people's mentality.

9. Responded separately.

10. Like Arad, Og was intending to stop the Israelites from advancing. The Israelites asked of him permission to go through his land peacefully, and he attacked their people. They retaliated and destroyed his people. That's the way people fought war at that point in time. It was a practice known as "proscribing" which as carried out by the Greeks, Romans (even then), and pretty much everybody with military power in that time period.

11 & 12. I already wrote about this elsewhere.

13. Not G-d's doing. See my response on the other post.