04 July 2009

Ten scouts are killed for their honest report

OK this one requires a bit of explanation.

The story begins in chapter 13 where Moses sends out 12 scouts (one from each of the tribes of Israel) to check out the land of Canaan.
Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan ... And see the land, what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many. Numbers 13:17-18
So the twelve spies go and do that.

When they get back, Caleb says
Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. Numbers 13:30
But the other ten (the Bible doesn't say what Joshua said) disagree.
The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. Numbers 13:32-33
So Caleb (and Joshua?) say it would be easy to take over the land of Canaan, while the other ten say it would be hard, since the people that live there are giants. (The scouts were like grasshoppers in comparison to them.)

When the people heard the reports, they believed the giant story and were a bit discouraged. So they decided to elect a new leader and go back to Egypt.
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! ... And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt. Numbers 14:1-4
Joshua and Caleb try to talk them out of it.
And Joshua ... and Caleb ... rent their clothes ... saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Numbers 14:6-8
But the people weren't buying it. They didn't want to fight any damned giants. So they decide to stone Joshua and Caleb (with stones).
All the congregation bade stone them with stones. Numbers 14:10
And then God gets involved. He tells Moses that he's sick of their whining, so he's going to kill them all. He'll smite them with the pestilence and then make some better people to replace them. People who wouldn't whine so God damned much.
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? ... I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they. Numbers 14:11-12
But Moses talks him out of it. He says the Egyptians will hear about it and say that God couldn't get the people to obey him so he had to kill them all. How would that look to the neighbors?
And Moses said unto the LORD, Then the Egyptians shall hear it ... And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land ... Because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness. Numbers 14:13-16
So God decided not to kill everyone. Not yet, anyway. But he says that he'll make sure that all their carcasses rot in the wilderness (at least all those that are over 20 years old).
Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me ... But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years ... the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die. Numbers 14:29-35
And that would have been the end of the story, except that God was still pissed off about those ten scouts, even though they were just doing their jobs ("To spy out the land of Canaan ... And see the land, what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many."). So he killed them in a plague.
And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land, Even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD. Numbers 14:36-37
But God isn't quite finished yet. To further punish the Israelites for whining and plotting against Moses, God will send the Amelekites and Canaanites to smite them.
Ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the LORD ... Then the Amalekites ... and the Canaanites ... smote them. 14:43-45
(Since the Bible doesn't say how many Israelites were killed by the Amalekites and Canaanites, I'll just add another 100 to God's total -- along with the ten honest spies -- for a total of 110.)

This killing is highlighted in the Poverty and Justice Bible. Here's how they put it.
Ten of the men sent to explore the land had brought back bad news and had made the people complain against the Lord. So he sent a deadly disease that killed those men, but he let Joshua and Caleb live.
This verse was highlighted because it shows God's justice. If you bring back bad news, God will kill you with a deadly disease.

God's next killing: A man gathering sticks on the Sabbath


J. said...

God is supposed to be all-knowing, yet Moses, a mere mortal, had to talk some sense into God in order to save the Israelites from his wrath. So much for God's alleged omnipotence and forgiveness too.

Matthew Blanchette said...

I don't think I ever learned about the second half of this story (the part with all the killing) in church, but, hey; you learn something new every day...

Markus Arelius said...

I really appreciate this blog and for illuminating the true words written in black and white in the Bible, our trusty guide for morality.

"So he killed them in a plague".

While it's very interesting to tally up the God-inflicted deaths on this blog, it seems to me that the real horror behind these deaths is being completely lost.

10 deaths here. 40 deaths here. 1,000 deaths there. Did God go for a 2 point conversion to add insult to injury after he scored all of these touchdowns?

I'm not sure how one makes these Iron Age death counts sound less like a stock report. One suggestion might be that we collectivley begin to read these posts and then imagine ourselves as "surviving eyewitnesses" to these very events.

I think about what it must have been like to watch these individuals die of plague or heavenly fire or drowning by some heavenly spirit. The fear would have been unimaginable.

These people were more than numbers. They were virtually all uneducated, primitive, dumb asses, to be sure. But they were also defenseless women, children, elderly, infirm, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and grandparents.

Watching an innocent bystander die of a plague by the hand of God is one thing.

But imagining that same victim to be your own wife, husband, son, daughter, mother or father, is entirely different.

For example, if I witnessed such a horrifying event first hand, I would live my life in utter fear of this god. Any worship I would offer him would be fear-based and not true fealty. I would worship for fear of repercussions. Nor would I genuinely ever love this God. Instead I would hate him with every fiber of my being for what he did (kill my loved one) and especially for the cruel and painful method he selected to do it.

What a horrible waste of 35 years (Iron age life expectancy) of existence that would have been.

VioletVal said...

At first I thought God was punishing the ten men for doing what they had been asked to do--reporting what they saw in Canaan--and the punishment seemed unjust. But then I reread the last two paragraphs of Numbers 13 and realized that God was not punishing the men for giving bad news. He was punishing them for instigating the complaints among the Israelites by spreading rumors. They did not have faith in God and they spread their lack of faith throughout the camp. So God was punishing the men for their lack of faith. He was going to destroy the other Israelites as well for the same reason, but decided against it.

joshua walker said...


"People who wouldn't whine so God damned much."

has to be one of the greatest puns of all time.

Unknown said...


It would seem logical that fearing a wrathful God (Specially one that has such a short Patience) would've been the logical thing to do. But it isn't the case with the jews, they've just witnessed God killing quite a few because they disagree with Moses, and yet they still complain. These are indeed very brave people, very stupid people or very exaggerated people (and these deaths didn't occur exactly as described but to instill fear in those who read but not those who really were there).