Numbers 19 – 21
Two main problems today, was the making of the serpent a violation of the second commandment, and where, and how, did Moses get water from the stone.
The brazen serpent
The second commandment specifically tells us not to make carved or moulded images (this caused the first major schism in the church resulting in the split between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism). The iconoclasts believed that to make an image was forbidden and decided to use pictures instead, and the Roman Catholics used statues to represent Christ and the saints. Obviously no resolution was ever reached as both groups exist today. But this is just a diversion from the problem we have here.
Obviously the making of the serpent (and the angels for the mercy seat) constitutes making an image. The thing is the context, whenever making images is forbidden it is in the context of idolatory. If people made images, within the context of the time, those images may become objects of worship. In the case of the Angels, they appeared on the ark of the covenant itself, which most of the Israelites never actually saw, which meant there was little, or no chance, of them becoming idols.
The snake was a test of obedience. Nobody actually believes that looking at a model snake can cure a snakebite, so by telling the Israelites to do this in order to get better, would test who would actually listen to God. Later this snake did actually become an object of worship resulting in Hezekiah destroying it. This shows how important the commandment is, since even things that aren’t made as objects of worship can become objects of worship.
What about the waterrock
So, in Exodus 17, we have Moses hitting a rock in the Wilderness of Sin to get water. In Numbers 20 he talks to a rock in the Desert of Zin. Both places are apparently called Meribah.
My first instinct was to say two separate instances, but the similarity of Sin and Zin made me wonder a bit. In the Wilderness of Sin the Israelites were camped at Rephidim, and in the Desert of Zin they were camped at Kadesh. Rephidim is nearby Horeb/Sinai and Kadesh is no where near it. The place was definitely named Meribah in Numbers, but in Exodus, Meribah was a parenthesis to Massah. Given all this, I’d go back to my original statement that they are two separate incidences, and that it’s just coincidental that the two regions have similar names.
I contend that most people wouldn’t even see a problem here, and that the complaint could only have been lodged by someone who was deliberately trying to be as uncharitable as possible.
There is an issue with Aaron’s death, but I’ll cover that when the text concerned reaches us in due course.
Here’s an interesting Wikipedia article on the lost Book of the wars of The Lord mentioned in Numbers 21:14-15. It must be born in mind that while other texts may have been used as sources for Biblical writers, there is no reason to believe that those works were inspired and that the Bible is lacking in any way.
What are your thoughts?
Please give the reading through the Bible page a look if you haven’t already, there are some background posts and the index to this reading plan. Share it with others who you think can benefit from Reading the Bible.