Tough Questions Answered

A Christian Apologetics Blog
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  • Why Did Moses Separate the Virgins and Non-Virgins of Midian?

    Posted By on May 21, 2015

    In Numbers 31:18, Moses commands the officers of the army to kill all the women who have had sex and only keep alive the girls who are virgins. What is going here? Why would Moses give this command?

    In order to understand this verse, we first have to understand the background. The Midianites, under the counsel of Balaam, devised a plan to cause Yahweh, the God of Israel, to turn against his people. The plan, which was executed in chapter 25 of Numbers, was to seduce Israelite men into fornication (single men) and adultery (married men), and then formal worship of the Midianite gods, especially Baal of Peor.

    According to Glenn Miller (Christian Thinktank website), the number of Midianite women involved in this conspiracy would have been 6 to 12,000. Yes, you read that correctly. It would also appear that the Midianite kings and husbands of these women were complicit in the conspiracy. They were willing to send their women into the Israelite camp as prostitutes, essentially, to cause the downfall of Israel.

    God does indeed turn against his people, given the sexual and religious crimes they have committed. A plague kills some 24,000 children of Israel. The only reason the plague ends is Phinehas’s quick action to put an end to the sordid affair.

    With this background in place, God orders the Israelites to subjugate the Midianites, taking vengeance for their moral atrocities. The Israelites easily win the battle and the army returns with thousands of women captives. At this point, Moses commands the officers to “kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

    It should be clear now that the females who the army has brought back are a mix of women who participated in the conspiracy and young girls who did not. Moses understandably considers the non-virgin women to be directly culpable for the deaths of thousands of Israelites. Setting this aside, they have shown already that they will turn the men of Israel away from Yahweh and toward Baal, causing further death and suffering in the future. These women simply cannot be allowed to survive.

    Given Moses’ command, how could the Israelites tell the women apart? Glenn Miller explains that there were simple visual tests that could be applied:

    “1) Was the female pre-pubescent? 2) Was the female wearing any attire, jewelry, or adornments required for/associated with virginity for that culture? 3) Was the female wearing any attire, jewelry, or adornments required for/associated with non-virginity for that culture (e.g., veil indicating married status)?”

    He continues:

    Because virginity was generally associated with legal proof for blood-inheritance issues in ancient cultures (e.g., land, property, kinship, relationships), virginity itself was often marked by some type of clothing (e.g., the robe of Tamar in 2 Sam 13) or by cosmetic means (cf. the Hindu ‘pre-marriage dot’); as was more typically non-virginal married status (e.g., veils, headwear, jewelry, or certain hairstyles).  Of course, non-virginal unmarried status (e.g., temple prostitutes and secular prostitutes) were also indicated by special markings or adornments (e.g. jewelry, dress—cf. Proverbs 7.10; Hos 2.4-5).

    The young girls who were virgins would be taken in and cared for by Israelite families, partially to help replace the population of 24,000 who had died by the plague. The young girls would, like all other Israelite women, be married when they matured.

    Commentary on Numbers 25-31 (Vengeance on the Midianites)

    Posted By on May 18, 2015

    Following the prophecies of Balaam in chapters 22-24, the author of Numbers, in chapter 25, records the last rebellion against God before the Israelites enter the Promised Land. Verses 1-4 describe the catastrophe that occurred. The Israelite men are seduced by Moabite (and also Midianite, as we’ll learn later) women. These women, by the thousands, offer themselves to the men of Israel as sexual partners. The text then tells us that sexual immorality quickly moved to formal worship of other gods, Baal of Peor in particular.

    R. Dennis Cole writes:

    Milgrom suggests some kind of covenant agreement was enacted in the process by which the Israelites were permitted (after being invited) to engage in the various forms of debauchery associated with the Baal cult. By engaging in such worship practices, the Israelites had violated both the first and second Commandments—to have no other gods and to worship no other deities by bowing down and serving them in the cult (Exod 20:2–5; Deut 5:7–9). Abrogation of any one of the Ten Commandments was punishable by death, and hence the punishment to be meted out against the idolatrous Israelites was severe.

    God instructs Moses to execute the leaders of the men who have worshiped Baal, but Moses instead instructs the judges of Israel to execute those men known to have worshiped Baal. It is not clear whether Moses is disobeying God or not, as the text simply doesn’t tell us, but it certainly looks like Moses softens the command from God, perhaps leading to the plague that spreads throughout the camp.

    In verse 6, Moses has gathered the leaders of Israel in front of the tabernacle entrance in repentance when something shocking happens right in front of them. An Israelite family leader (Zimri son of Salu) walks right by the assembled crowd with a Midianite woman and takes her to a tent where, evidently, ritualistic sex would occur between the two of them. In other words, the goal of their encounter was to “worship” Baal right in the midst of the Israelite camp.

    Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the high priest, sees the couple and follows them. He finds them having sex and he drives a spear through both of them. This act by Phinehas stops the plague that is killing the Israelites, but already 24,000 had died.

    God is pleased with Phinehas’s quick action to put an end to the Baal worship within sight of the tabernacle. He tells Moses to tell Phinehas that “he and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

    Why would God be pleased that Phinehas killed these two people? Gordon Wenham explains that

    because Phinehas executed the sinner, expressing so clearly and visibly God’s own anger through his deed, [God’s] anger was turned away. . . .  To make atonement (kipper) is the usual phrase to describe the effect of sacrifice (e.g. Lev. 1:4; 4:20; 5:16). In normal circumstances the animal died in place of the guilty man. Here the sinners themselves are put to death and consequently animal sacrifice is unnecessary. . . . Israel had broken the covenant by worshipping foreign gods. Phinehas had restored that covenant by his deed, and is therefore rewarded with the covenant of a perpetual priesthood a reward that mirrors the sin atoned for.

    The chapter concludes with God proclaiming that the Midianites were to be treated as enemies because of their treachery. The seduction of the Israelite men by the Midianite women led to the deaths of thousands of Israelites. Israel has once again broken its covenant with Yahweh.

    Chapter 31 picks up where chapter 25 leaves off. God tells Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites, so Moses calls for 1000 soldiers from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to join the fighting force. Phinehas leads them into battle.

    The Israelites kill all of the men of the Midianite clans involved in the treachery against Israel. Cole writes:

    Taken in the historical context of this being a divinely directed follow-up campaign after the sinful Baal Peor incident (25:16–18; 31:3–8), this crusade was directed at the tribes or clans of Midianites who dwelled in the central and northern Transjordan highlands, in the vicinity of the lands of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Amorites. The Midianites of the southern regions, such as those of Moses in-laws, were on better terms with the Israelites or were not involved on this occasion.

    They also execute the 5 tribal leaders, or kings, of these Midianite clans. In addition, we see that Balaam, the prophet from chapters 22-24, is also killed. We discover in verse 16 that Balaam stayed with the Midianites and counseled them to seduce the men of Israel with the women of Midian.

    Verses 9-12 describe the aftermath of the battle:

    The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.

    Moses, however, is unhappy with the soldiers who bring back the women of Midian as captives. He instructs them to kill all of the women and only keep alive young girls who are virgins.

    Can God Lie or Change His Mind?

    Posted By on May 13, 2015

    In Numbers 23:19, we discover two important attributes of God. First, “God is not a man, that he should lie,” and second, “nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” God cannot lie and God does not change his mind.

    If God cannot lie, then every word that comes from God is only truth. It is impossible for God to deceive or to err when He speaks. Humans, on the other hand, lie to and deceive each other all the time. In this way, God is different from fallen man. When the children of God reach Heaven, we will also only tell the truth, as we will stop all sinning.

    If God cannot change His mind, then the promises God makes to us can be counted on. He will not promise to usher those who trust Christ into Heaven, and then change his mind in the future and decide that our trust in Christ is not sufficient. Again, humans change their mind and break promises all the time. Only in Heaven will we humans keep all of our promises to each other.

    Commentary on Numbers 22-23 (Balak Hires Balaam)

    Posted By on May 11, 2015

    The Israelites have traveled around the borders of Edom and have arrived in the land of Moab, across the Jordan River from the city of Jericho. As they traveled, they encountered two kings who attacked them: Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. Both armies were completely defeated by the Israelites. Having captured the lands of these two kings, the Israelites settle in their territories.

    At the beginning of chapter 22, a third king, Balak of Moab, is extremely concerned after seeing what the Israelites have accomplished against Sihon and Og. Balak confers with the Midianites, another group of people living nearby, and they decide to send for Balaam, an internationally known expert in divination.

    Why did Balak not attack Israel as the other two kings had? It seems that Moab was controlled by Sihon during his reign, so the fact that Sihon was defeated did not bode well.  R. Dennis Cole explains that Balak

    saw as his only resort to reach beyond the confines of his kingdom and thus the realm of his god Chemosh and his consort Ashtar for obtaining divine intervention into his impossible situation. His gods had been ineffective against Sihon of the Amorites and would have thus been even less effective against the Israelites and their God Yahweh.

    Balak’s gods had already been defeated by Sihon’s gods, and Israel’s god had defeated Sihon’s gods, so Balak surmised that he needed supernatural help.

    In verses 4-7, Balak sends a delegation to Balaam, who lived approximately 400 miles away, or about a 25-day journey. Once the delegation reaches Balaam, they are to ask him to come back with them, so that he can curse the nation of Israel, and thus give Balak military victory. In return, he will be paid a fee for his services. This was a standard procedure for divine men in the ancient near east.

    Balaam instructs the delegation to spend the night so that he can consult with the God of Israel. God does indeed speak to Balaam and tells him that he cannot curse Israel because God has blessed them. Balaam is not allowed to go with the delegation back to Moab.

    The delegation returns to Moab and informs Balak that Balaam refused to come. Balak, thinking the issue is with the payment, sends another delegation to Balaam and tells him that he will be rewarded handsomely if he will only come and curse Israel. Again Balaam consults with God, but this time God tells Balaam to go with the delegation, but “do only what I tell you.”

    Up to this point, the reader is led to believe that Balaam might be a true pagan prophet of God. God has certainly spoken to pagans in other biblical narratives, so perhaps Balaam is a true believer. There are hints, though, that he is not a true believer. The fact that he expects to be paid for his services is disturbing, and the fact that his international fame has been gained by cursing and blessing through many different gods is also ominous. Verses 21 and following finally clarify that Balaam is not the spiritual man of God that we might think he is.

    Balaam saddles up his donkey and travels back to Moab with the second delegation. Along the way, God becomes angry with him and places an angelic messenger in his path. Why did God become angry with Balaam after telling him to go with the Moabite delegation? We can’t know for sure, but some scholars have speculated that God became angry because Balaam still thought he might curse the people of Israel. He thought that perhaps with the proper sacrifices, he might change God’s mind. After all, sacrifices were a common method for manipulating the pagan gods.

    Three times the angel of the Lord, with a drawn sword in his hand, stands in the path in front of Balaam and his donkey. Twice the donkey turns aside to avoid the angel, and the third time the donkey simply stops and sits on the ground because there is no way to avoid the angel.

    Why does the donkey see the angel of the Lord, but not Balaam? The clear implication is that Balaam is not as spiritually astute as we thought. In fact, that a donkey, which was considered to be one of the stupidest animals, could see the angel, but not Balaam, is quite an indictment. To make matters worse, Balaam beats the donkey mercilessly, even though the donkey saved his life!

    After the third beating, God has the donkey speak to Balaam and ask him why he is beating the donkey when the donkey has faithfully served him. Suddenly, Balaam’s eyes are opened and he sees the angel of the Lord and falls down on the ground. The angel tells Balaam that he would have killed Balaam if the donkey had not turned aside.

    Balaam admits his sin, and offers to return to his homeland and not continue the journey. The angel tells him to go to Moab, but reminds him once again: “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.”

    What is the point of this story of the talking donkey? Why is it here? Balaam’s sin, the thought that he was in control of the situation, that he could determine whether to bless or curse Israel, led him to  acute spiritual blindness. Cole writes, “A female donkey, presumably the epitome of stupidity and stubbornness in that day, was more spiritually perceptive than this renowned prophet.”

    Cole quotes D. Olson, who believes that Balaam has learned

    that the life of a prophet is like riding a donkey. Balaam’s own personal ability to steer the course of history and see what lies ahead is minimal, less than the animal on which he rides. Lest Balaam have any thought he can make an end run around God, the angel teaches Balaam that he must lay down his own initiative in cursing or blessing Israel and allow God to use him as God sees fit.

    In verses 36-41, Balak greets Balaam and chastises him for not coming sooner. Balaam reminds Balak the hard lesson that he has learned about the God of Israel: “But can I say just anything? I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

    During the following days, Balaam will prophesy three times at the behest of Balak. Even though Balak’s goal is for Balaam to curse Israel, Balaam will instead only prophesy what God tells him to prophesy. Chapter 23 (verses 1-12) recounts the first oracle of Balaam. Due to limited time, we will only discuss the first oracle, but I encourage you to read through chapter 24 to understand everything that God speaks through Balaam, the pagan prophet.

    Each of the three oracles follows the same sequence:

    1. Balak takes Balaam to an observation point to view Israel.
    2. Balaam instructs Balak to offer sacrifices to the God of Israel.
    3. Balak obeys Balaam by sacrificing the prescribed animals.
    4. Balaam tells Balak to stand by his offering altars.
    5. Balaam goes alone and Yahweh reveals himself.
    6. Balaam returns to Balak, who is standing by his offering.
    7. Balaam obeys Yahweh and speaks the oracle.

    After the first sequence occurs, Balaam returns from his communion with God and speaks what God has revealed. One could paraphrase the first oracle in the following way: “Balak asked me to come and curse Israel, but I cannot curse those whom God has not cursed. I see that they are a multitude that cannot be counted, a group of people separated from all others. I wish that I could die a righteous death, just like these people!”

    What is the significance of this oracle? Gordon Wenham notes the following:

    Through the Spirit Balaam is able to appreciate Israel’s peculiar character. Because God has chosen her, she is different from the other nations. Therefore she lives apart from them and is conscious of her distinctiveness, not reckoning itself among the nations. Here Balaam alludes to a fundamental principle of Old Testament theology: God’s choice of Israel to be his own people (cf. Exod. 19:5–6; Deut. 7:6ff.; Rom. 9).

    In addition, Balaam refers back to the promises made to Abraham by God: “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted.”

    Finally, the phrase, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his,” could be, according to Wenham, “construed as an example of Genesis 12:3: Balaam, a non-Israelite, prays to be as blessed as the children of Abraham.”

    The most curious aspect of chapters 22-24 in Numbers is that we have a non-Israelite prophet, speaking the words of God instead of Moses. Why is this? Recall that in chapter 20 of Numbers Moses sins against God and is banned from entering the Promised Land. Chapters 22-24 demonstrate, according to R. Dennis Cole, that “even when the leadership of the nation fails, as in the case of Moses’ sin of violating the holiness of God (Num 20:11–12), God will use whatever means necessary, even a pagan divination expert, to accomplish his desire of blessing the nation.”

    Has Neuroscience Proven There Is No Free Will?

    Posted By on May 8, 2015

    These days you may indeed be told that experiments conducted by neuroscientists and psychologists have proven that free will is an illusion. I always snicker when someone tells me this because it means that they did not come to that conclusion freely, but were determined by their brain chemistry. But, leaving that aside, how should we answer these challenges to free will?

    Philosopher Edward Feser, in a book review written for City Journal, denies neuroscience has done any such thing. Feser is reviewing Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, by Alfred Mele, and he claims that “Mele demonstrates that scientific evidence comes nowhere close to undermining free will, and that the reasoning leading some scientists to claim otherwise is amazingly sloppy.”

    Feser first tackles the work of neurobiologist Benjamin Libet. If you’re not familiar with Libet’s work, here is a summary:

    In Libet’s experiments, subjects were asked to flex a wrist whenever they felt like doing so, and then to report on when they had become consciously aware of the urge to flex it. Their brains were wired so that the activity in the motor cortex responsible for causing their wrists to flex could be detected. While an average of 200 milliseconds passed between the conscious sense of willing and the flexing of the wrist, the activity in the motor cortex would begin an average of over 500 milliseconds before the flexing. Hence the conscious urge to flex seems to follow the neural activity which initiates the flexing, rather than causing that neural activity. If free will requires that consciously willing to do something is the cause of doing it, then it follows (so the argument goes) that we don’t really act freely.

    The argument is that we don’t detect the conscious urge to flex our wrist until after we have sent instructions to flex our wrist, so we can’t be freely deciding to flex our wrist. Is this argument valid? Hardly.

    As Mele shows, the significance of Libet’s results has been vastly oversold. One problem is that Libet did not demonstrate that the specific kind of neural activity he measured is invariably followed by a flexing of the wrist. Given his experimental setup, only cases where the neural activity was actually followed by flexing were detected. Also, Libet did not check for cases where the neural activity occurred but was not followed by flexing. Hence we have no evidence that specific kind of neural activity really is sufficient for the flexing. For all Libet has shown, it may be that the neural activity leads to flexing (or doesn’t) depending on whether it is conjoined with a conscious free choice to flex.

    But there are other problems with the experiment “proving” free will doesn’t exist.

    There’s a second problem. The sorts of actions Libet studied are highly idiosyncratic. The experimental setup required subjects to wait passively until they were struck by an urge to flex their wrists. But many of our actions don’t work like that—especially those we attribute to free choice. Instead, they involve active deliberation, the weighing of considerations for and against different possible courses of action. It’s hardly surprising that conscious deliberation has little influence on what we do in an experimental situation in which deliberation has been explicitly excluded. And it’s wrong to extend conclusions derived from these artificial situations to all human action, including cases which do involve active deliberation.

    Even more fundamentally, why should we tie the conscious feeling in our brain that we made a decision with the fact that the decision was freely made?

    Even if the neural activity Libet identifies (contrary to what he actually shows) invariably preceded a flexing of the wrist, it still wouldn’t follow that the flexing wasn’t the product of free choice. Why should we assume that a choice is not free if it registers in consciousness a few hundred milliseconds after it is made? Think of making a cup of coffee. You don’t explicitly think, “Now I will pick up the kettle; now I will pour hot water through the coffee grounds; now I will put the kettle down; now I will pick up a spoon.” You simply do it. You may, after the fact, bring to consciousness the various steps you just carried out; or you may not. We take the action to be free either way. The notion that a free action essentially involves a series of conscious acts of willing, each followed by a discrete bodily movement, is a straw man, and doesn’t correspond to what common sense (or, for that matter, philosophers like Wittgenstein or Aquinas) have in mind when they talk about free action.

    Mele tackles other science that purports to disprove free will in his book. Given Feser’s review, this book may be well worth reading.

    Commentary on Numbers 20 (Water from the Rock)

    Posted By on May 6, 2015

    The narrative skips over the next 37 years of wandering in the wilderness to the beginning of the last year before the Israelites would enter the Promised Land. This is where chapter 20 picks up the story.

    In verse 1, we learn that after wandering for almost 38 years, the Israelites have returned to Kadesh, the region south of the Promised Land where the older generation had refused to enter. The author notes that Miriam, the older sister of Moses and Aaron, dies after their arrival. Miriam’s death is notable because she is not only the most important woman in Israel at that time, but she symbolizes the older generation that was dying off before the younger generation could take possession of Canaan.

    In verses 2-5, the younger generation repeats the rebellious pattern established by their parents. They complain that Moses and Aaron have brought them out of Egypt to die, and that there is no water or food for them to eat.

    God instructs Moses to take the staff of Aaron out of the tabernacle, assemble the leadership of Israel, and speak to a particular rock. Out of the rock water will flow so that the people of Israel and their livestock can drink.

    Moses grabs the staff, gathers the assembly of Israel in front of the rock, and then disobeys God’s command. Instead of speaking to the rock so that God could cause water to flow out of it, Moses loses his temper, reprimands the assembly, and then strikes the rock twice with his staff. Because of Moses and Aaron’s actions at the rock, God bans both of them from entering the Promised Land, just like the rest of the older generation. Only Joshua and Caleb, from that generation, would now see the Promised Land.

    Why did God punish Moses and Aaron for what happened at the rock? Moses and Aaron had been frustrated with the people of Israel before, but this time was different. R. Dennis Cole explains what might have been going on:

    This time the fullness of [Moses’] frustration was manifest before God and the whole assembled congregation. Moses did not simply call the people rebels, a mere statement of truth (though perhaps out of anger), but he took the Lord’s instructions and used them as a means to justify his self-interest and self-pity. The Lord had said that Moses and Aaron would be the agents for the delivery of the water from the rock, but then the prophet’s self-centered attitude erupted as he usurped the words of God for his own glorification, saying, ‘Shall we bring forth from this rock for you water?’ Such presumption would have the general effect, notes Budd, that ‘they have prevented the full power and might of Yahweh from becoming evident to the people, and have thus robbed him of the fear and reverence due to him.’

    Moses struck the rock not once but twice as he vented his anger and frustration over this ever-rebellious lot. As in previous circumstances of this kind, the rock was a symbol of God’s mercy and benevolence, so striking the rock was in a sense a striking out against God. Moses had damaged severely the intimate personal relationship he had with God. His actions were detrimental to the maintaining of a reverence for God and his mercy in Israel. The trusted servant had fallen into the same trap as the many rebellious people he had complained about to God. Harrison calls Moses’ actions ‘an unpardonable act of insubordination.’

    Not only did Moses and Aaron disrespect God in front of Israel, they tried to claim that it was through their striking the rock that water would flow. They had acted like pagan magicians performing an incantation instead of acting as the representatives of the one true God of the universe.

    God himself tells Moses and Aaron why they were being punished. “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses and Aaron did not trust God. They lacked faith, and thus they were punished in the same way that the unbelieving older generation was punished: they would not enter the Promised Land.

    After this incident, the people of Israel try to make their way directly north to the plains of Moab, directly across the Jordan River from the town of Jericho. This is where they would enter the Promised Land. But, in order to go directly north they would have to go through the land of Edom.

    Verses 14-21 recount a diplomatic exchange between Israel and Edom, where Israel twice asks for safe passage through Edom using a north-south road called the king’s highway. Edom twice refuses and then sends a large army to meet the Israelites and prevent them from entering Edom’s lands.

    What is especially sad about this incident is that the people of Edom are descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Moses appeals to Edom as the brother of Israel (Jacob), and reminds Edom of the trials and tribulations of Israel in Egypt. The descendants of Esau, however, show no mercy. Since the land of Edom was not part of the Promised Land, the Israelites refused to fight, and instead would head south to go around Edom.

    The final eight verses of chapter 20 close with the death of the first high priest of Israel, Aaron. God reminds Moses and Aaron that they will not enter the Promised Land because of their rebellion. Moses is to climb atop Mount Hor with Aaron and his eldest son, Eleazar. There Moses removed the priestly garments from Aaron and placed them on his son, thus transferring the role of high priest to Eleazar. Aaron died on Mount Hor and the people of Israel mourned his death for 30 days.

    The death of Aaron was indeed a blow to the nation of Israel. It must have been difficult for his brother and son to bury him. R. Dennis Cole reminds us of the highlights (both good and bad) of Aaron’s life:

    The date of his death and his age (123 years) as recounted in the journey itinerary in Num 33:38 coincide with the data given in Exod 7:7, which states that Moses was eighty years of age and Aaron eighty-three when they first spoke to the pharaoh in Egypt. The first high priest of Israel was an enigmatic figure in the Old Testament. On one hand he functioned as a spokesman for Moses before the pharaoh (Exod 4:14; 5:2–3; 7:6, 10); at the command of the Lord through Moses he held out his hand over the Nile River and a swarm of frogs emerged (Exod 8:5–9); he stretched out his rod and the dust turned to lice throughout the land (Exod 8:16–17). Later during the judgment against the rebellious gang led by the Levite Korah, Aaron literally stood wielding his censer between the living and the dead, acting as their exemplary mediator (Num 16:48; Heb 17:13).

    On the other hand he succumbed to the whims of the people in the production of the golden calf, which led to idolatrous worship and eventual judgment (Exod 32:1–35), and he followed Moses’ example in the rebellion at the Waters of Meribah (Num 20:10).

    In the Book of Hebrews, Aaron serves as a prototype of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, though his priesthood was deemed inferior to that of the Melchizedek typology that was applied to Jesus (Heb 7:1–9:28). . . . Aaron supervised an earthly priesthood and cult that was but a mere shadow of things to come, in which the sacrifice of animals and plants symbolized the rendering of the life of the offerer when the life of the element was presented to God.

    Out of the three siblings (Moses, Miriam, and Aaron) that had been together in the wilderness for 40 years, only Moses remains, and his time is short. The torch would soon be passed on to the next generation.

    Why Does God Order the Killing of Canaanite Livestock?

    Posted By on May 4, 2015

    During the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites were sometimes commanded to kill all the domesticated animals living among the Canaanites. Why would God command this? The simple answer is this: the Canaanites were having sexual relations with their animals.

    OK, I know this is totally disgusting to us moderns, but that is how it was in the ancient near east. Christian scholar Clay Jones writes about the issue of bestiality among the Canaanites in this blog post and in a paper called “We Don’t Hate Sin.”

    Jones first provides evidence of ancient near east attitudes about bestiality:

    Hittite Laws 199 states, ‘If anyone has intercourse with a pig or dog, he shall die. If a man has intercourse with a horse or mule, there is no punishment.’

    There should be no surprise that bestiality would occur for the Canaanites since the god they worshiped practiced it. From the Canaanite epic poem, The Baal Cycle we learn:

    Mightiest Baal hears; He makes love with a heifer in the outback, A cow in the field of Death’s Realm.

    He lies with her seventy times seven, Mounts eighty times eight; [She conceiv]es and bears a boy.

    Further records from the ancient near east mandate that animals be tied to the bed before intercourse: “At my head a buck is tied. At my feet [a ram is tied]! Buck caress me! [Ram], copulate with me!”

    From the Egyptian dream book, Jones notes that it is a bad omen for a woman to dream about sex with various rodents, birds, and reptiles, but it is a good omen for a woman to dream about having sex with a baboon, wolf, and goat.

    In short, scholars have confirmed that bestiality was rampant among the nations surrounding Israel. In contrast, the God of Israel mandated the death penalty for anyone caught having sex with an animal (see Lev 20:15). The animal itself also must be killed.

    Therefore, since the Israelites would be pushing out the people of Canaan (and killing those who refused to leave), the sexualized animals left behind also had to be killed. These animals, who were used to having sex with humans, could not possibly be allowed to remain around the Israelites, both for practical reasons, and for spiritual reasons.

    Jones records the fact that even the ancient Hittites recognized the problems that sexualized animals could cause.

    They also needed to point out when humans might not be at fault: ‘If an ox spring upon a man for intercourse, the ox shall die but the man shall not die…. If a pig spring upon a man for intercourse, there is no punishment.’ Notice that even the Hittites, who engaged in sex with animals, realized that oxen who tried to mount people had to die.

    Is it the animals fault that humans were having sex with them? No, but Jones argues that the innocent are always impacted by the sins of the guilty. It is a ridiculous notion to think that one person’s sin can be contained and not harm others. Sin always harms others.

    What Are the Main Problems with the Documentary Hypothesis?

    Posted By on April 29, 2015

    Proponents of the various versions of the Documentary Hypothesis believe there must be 4 or more authors of the Pentateuch for several reasons, but the three most common are:

    1. Some texts in Genesis refer to God as Yahweh, whereas others call him Elohim. A single author would not use two different names for God.
    2. The books of the Pentateuch contain duplicate stories and repetitions. A single author would not repeat himself in this manner, thus multiple authors must be behind the text.
    3. The language and style of the Pentateuchal documents vary. There are genealogies, censuses, narratives, and legislation. A single author would not use so many writing styles.

    How do critics of the Documentary Hypothesis respond?

    1. The names of Yahweh and Elohim are often used contextually because they represent different aspects of God. Yahweh is the covenant name of God, which emphasizes his special relationship to Israel. Elohim speaks of God’s universal rule over all the earth. In addition, it was very common in the ancient near east for writers to use multiple names for a single god.
    2. Duane Garrett explains, “The use of doublets and repetition as evidence for multiple documents in Genesis is perhaps of all the arguments the most persuasive for the modern student, while in fact being the most spurious and abused piece of evidence. . . . The assumption appears reasonable, but it is altogether a fallacy. It is an entirely modern reading of the text and ignores ancient rhetorical concepts. In an ancient text, there is no stronger indication that only a single document is present than parallel accounts. Doublets, that is, two separate stories that closely parallel one another, are the very stuff of ancient narrative. They are what the discriminating audience sought in a story.” Again, we know from other ancient near east documents that parallelism and repetition was an important part of the story-telling process, so a single author would frequently make use of this device.
    3. A single author may change literary styles within a single document. He may have different purposes for different portions of the document. Matt Slick reminds us, “A technical work is different from a narrative or historical piece.  The Pentateuch has components of all of these. Therefore, different styles are expected.”

    Commentary on Numbers 16-17 (Korah’s Rebellion)

    Posted By on April 27, 2015

    The Israelites are now wandering in the wilderness for 38 years because of their refusal to take possession of the Promised Land. The events of chapters 16 and 17 take place some time during this time period, but the author does not tell us exactly when.

    Once again, the leadership of Moses and Aaron is questioned. In the first 3 verses of chapter 16, we learn that a man named Korah (who is a Levite), along with 3 other men – Dathan, Abiram, and On (all Reubenites) – have risen up against Moses and Aaron. They question why Aaron should be High Priest and why Moses should have his privileged leadership role as mediator for God.

    Moses proposes a test to see who God has chosen to lead Israel. The next day, Korah and the 250 men who have stood with him, are to burn incense in front of the tabernacle. Since incense is only to be burnt at the tabernacle by God’s anointed priests (remember that two of Aaron’s sons were killed for offering unauthorized incense), then God would make clear who His chosen priests are.

    In verses 8-11, Moses asks Korah why he is not content with the privileges he already has as a Levite. Gordon Wenham reminds us of the privileges Korah would have had:

    The Levites camped next to the tabernacle separating it off from the other tribes. What is more they had the duty of doing service in the tabernacle, that is dismantling, carrying and erecting the tabernacle. Though Moses does not make the point here, the Kohathites, of whom Korah was one, had the task of carrying the most sacred objects such as the ark (4:1–20). They were next in rank to the priests. But they want the priesthood itself.

    Moses then tries to speak to the Reubenites, but they refuse to come and instead send word that Moses has failed to bring Israel to the Promised Land, and that he is a deceitful leader who needs to be replaced.

    In verse 16, we arrive at the testing of Korah, Aaron, and the 250 others who have aligned themselves with Korah. The implication is that Korah and the 250 men all believe that they are fit to be priests, in addition to Aaron and his two sons. They all stand in front of the tabernacle and light their incense censers. Immediately God appears and tells Moses and Aaron to move away so that He can “put an end” to the assembly of people rebelling against Moses and Aaron.

    Moses and Aaron, being the humble servant-leaders they are, throw themselves on the ground and beg for God to have mercy on the assembly. God relents, but tells Moses to move the people away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

    With the elders of Israel watching the tents of the rebel leaders, Moses tells them that they will know God has truly chosen Moses to lead them if the “earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave.” In verses 31-34, this is exactly what happens. The ground opens up, swallows their entire families along with all their possessions, and then closes back up. Not to be exonerated, the 250 who thought they should be priests and lit incense in front of the tabernacle, are also killed by fire.

    God tells Moses to have the 250 censers melted down and reshaped into a cover for the brazen altar in the tabernacle courtyard. This is to be a reminder that “no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD, or he would become like Korah and his followers.”

    Why does God take the lives of these men who rose up against Moses and Aaron? Because God Himself has chosen Moses and Aaron to lead Israel. God has demonstrated numerous times that he speaks only to Moses. Only Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests in a week-long ceremony where God planned every little detail. The priests are the only ones authorized to present atoning sacrifices to God for the people. God’s earthly home, the tabernacle, is administered by Aaron and his sons. To question the authority of Moses and Aaron was to question the choices God had made. This rebellion was a repudiation of God and His leadership of Israel.

    Unfortunately, Israel is still not convinced. In verses 41-50, a second incident of rebellion is recorded. This time, a large number of Israelites complain that Moses and Aaron have just killed Korah and his followers. Again, God seeks to “put an end” to them, and again, Moses and Aaron intercede. Aaron carries an incense censer into the tents of Israel where a plague has broken out, and his offering to God stops the plague. Aaron’s rightful role as high priest is re-confirmed, as only his atonement for the people stops the deadly plague.

    Finally, in chapter 17, in order to, once and for all, confirm that Aaron is God’s chosen high priest, God instructs Moses to gather one staff for each leader of each tribe of Israel. Each staff would have the name of the leader inscribed on it. The staffs are placed in front of the Ark of the Covenant and the next day the staff that sprouted leaves would signify God’s choice.

    Verse 8 reads, “The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” At this point, Aaron’s leadership has been confirmed three times, and the Israelites finally realize that without Moses and Aaron, the people cannot be in the presence of God. They will literally die without the intercession of these men.

    What Is the Documentary Hypothesis?

    Posted By on April 24, 2015

    While Jews and Christians have traditionally believed that Moses was the primary author of the Pentateuch, some biblical scholars today reject that belief.  Instead, these scholars believe that the Pentateuch was written over several centuries by several different authors and not finally compiled into its final form until just a few hundred years before Jesus was born.

    Daniel I. Block, in the Apologetics Study Bibleprovides more detail. Block writes that biblical scholars in the mid-nineteenth century began to question the traditional authorship of Moses.

    The questioning began early with doubts whether Moses recorded his own death and burial (Dt 34), knew of a place in northern Israel called Dan (Gn 14: 14; cp. Jos 19: 47; Jdg 18: 28-29), or referred to the conquest of Canaan as having occurred in the past (Dt 2: 12). Thus scholars developed an alternative explanation for the origin of the Pentateuch known as the Documentary Hypothesis.

    According to the classical form of the theory, the Pentateuch is the product of a long and complex literary evolution, specifically incorporating at least four major literary strands composed independently over several centuries and not combined in the present form until the time of Ezra (fifth century B.C.). These sources are identified as J, E, D, and P.

    J represents a ninth century B.C. (c. 850) document that originated in Judah, distinguished by its preference for the name Yahweh (Jehovah, hence the “J”). The E source preferred the divine title Elohim, and theoretically was composed in Israel in the eighth century B.C. The D stands for Deuteronomy, supposedly written around 621 B.C. to lend support to Josiah’s reforms. The priestly document, P, supposedly was composed c. 500 B.C. by priests seeking to preserve their own version of Israel’s history.

    According to the theory, these sources were compiled and combined in the middle of the fifth century B.C. Nehemiah 8 recounts the moment when Ezra publicly read the Pentateuch as a unit for the first time. . . .

    Variations of the Documentary Hypothesis prevailed for more than a century. However, due to advances in literary studies, today the state of pentateuchal scholarship is confused, with new theories or radical modifications appearing often.

    There are significant problems with the Documentary Hypothesis and its off-shoots, as noted by many conservative scholars. Those will be addressed in a subsequent post. For now, it is important to know that this basic theory of the composition of the Pentateuch is still very influential among many biblical scholars.

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