Bad Book Reviews: Numbers
The book of Numbers if for people who like to read census data… of the most whiny and ungracious bunch of toddlers ever counted. Grab your pacifiers friends.
Let’s start with the fact that there’s a book in our Bible titled Numbers.
Who thought that was a good idea? I mean I get that most writing in ancient cultures was mundane business accounting and genealogical recording. But Numbers? For a minute let’s set the content aside and assume it’s not as boring as math homework. Someone somewhere one day was brainstorming titles and thought: You know what’ll really sell copies? Numbers. And there was probably a whole committee of church Chads who were like: That’s it bro.
You know what makes it worse? That’s not even the title in the original Hebrew. It used to be titled (and still is by our Jewish friends) Into the Wilderness. No lie. Get Eddie Vedder to write the soundtrack and we have an instant best seller. So not only did someone think Numbers was a great title, they thought it was so much better than Into the Wilderness that they changed it.
Let’s get back to the content. Numbers opens with three chapters of, wait for it, numbers. It’s like that nervous type A mom on the youth summer trip who counts everyone every time the bus loads up and is always talking about keeping up with your buddy. It even allocates camping plots like assigned seats.
From there it painstakingly describes the marching order, the roles of the Levites, who’s allowed into the camp and how to determine, using only dust and water, if an accused adulteress is guilty or not. Basically, if she weighs less than a duck and she’s made of wood, then she must be a cheater.
Moving on from the Jerry Springer paternity announcement, Numbers basically rehashes the instructions from Exodus and Leviticus regarding how to set up the Tabernacle, everyone’s roles and establishes a mandatory retirement age of 50. And once the table was set, the Passover party began. God, being the good host, provided the meat and bread.
The observant reader will notice how awful all of this sounds and how much better it must have been in slavery. So you wouldn’t be surprised to read on literally every other page how everyone wanted to go back. Even Moses’s brother and sister got in on the complaining and added their own feelings about his black wife. For those wondering, God punished Miriam’s skin-deep discrimination by making her skin an extra-leprously-white.
Having had all the whining he could take about food and water and other basic human needs, Moses sent 12 spies into the land God had promised them. It lived up to the hype. The spies came back fat and happy but as afraid as a middle school boy at a dance. Only two of them had the guts to cross the long gymnasium floor. And those two got rejected.
So just fourteen chapters into the book we finally reach a narrative: Israel’s adventures in the Numbers, I mean Wilderness.
This, of course, made no one happy. Everyone was on edge. They wanted to go back. Several thought they could do a better job leading Israel than Moses, who also lost his cool and his ticket to the promised land.
The wilderness wasn’t uninhabited. And several grumpy old kings yelled at the Israelites to get off their lawn. One went so far as to hire a wizard to proclaim curses onto Israel in the valley far below. But he only uttered blessings. I’m not sure what the king expected hiring a guy who talked to his donkey.
Perhaps the most interesting plot twist came while beta testing the newly applied law. A few brother-less sisters whose father and husbands had died found a loophole in the inheritance system and women’s rights had it’s first big win.
Like all new parents and national liberators, Moses spend most of his time telling the Israelites to stop touching their brother, stop looking at your brother, stop thinking about your brother, until God would send fire or snakes or something else to end the bickering. On his better days Moses realized it was best to keep the grumpy toddlers distracted. So he would talk to them about all the things they’d do when they got to the promised land, how big and beautiful it’d be, and how no one would would ever have to look at their brother again.
The book ends with a whole generation dead and a new generation at the edge of the numbers, ahem, wilderness looking across the river into the land their parents were too afraid to enter. Even then, some of the tribes decided a view of the promised land was enough and staying home to play Fortnite from the familiar side of the Jordan would be safer than a straight-arm dance with an actual girl. I’d bet $100 they’re the ones who wrote this book.
Oh, and there was another census. Because… Numbers.