I’m not going into the details of what’s been keeping my sick this week, but it isn’t pleasant, and I’m going to see a doctor about it tomorrow morning. It’s terribly unfortunate that these last several months I’m in Japan involve me recovering from major surgery, but I guess you can’t control life.
I’ve been rewatching a lot of old(er) blockbuster movies this summer because most of the American blockbusters are delayed until August. Among these were the first two Spider-Man films (Spider-Man 3 I prefer to pretend didn’t happen), and maybe that was the reason that the order of muster in this chapter struck me the way it did. Like I said, there’s been a certain emphasis on Judah as being the largest and most prominent tribe of the Israelites. Here, though, it also focuses on how with great power comes great responsibility. Judah has to be the first tribe to go to war when the trumpets of alarm are sounded, and leads the great mass of people as they head through the desert.
The neatest bit, though, is Moses having a conversation with his brother-in-law. Apparently Jethro/Reuel brought his whole family with him when he reunited Moses and Zipporah, and one of her brothers (or half-brothers) stayed around for a while. Moses talks him into staying because they need a desert guide, promising that he’ll get whatever benefit the Israelites get from God for helping them.
This chapter thus isn’t as xenophobic and genocidal as things are going to get later on. It has another reverence to the idea of foes fleeing rather than being slaughtered (v 35). There’s hasn’t been much talk at all of killing the people who live in Canaan. Apparently they’re going to witness the power of God and abandon the land – or, like Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab, join them and reap the benefit of being on the side of God’s people.
This talk with Hobab is also perhaps the first indicator of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed by his descendents, or the visions in later prophets of all nations coming to Israel. There’s been a lot of commandments about setting the Israelites apart from their neighbors, but they’re not supposed to be completely cut off from them.
Maintaining that balance between being separated and engaged is difficult when separation is the only definition of “holy,” when you don’t have the prophets crying for aid to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger in your midst. And that’s not a jab at Orthodox Jews so much as the Christian subculture in America that does its best to cut itself off from every other outside source of criticism or influence.
You can’t hermetically seal in goodness. It’s meant to leak out.
The Japanese: shutsujin “departure to battle” (v 5), semekomu “to invade, to carry out an attack” (v 9), unpan suru “to carry, convey, transport” (v 17), jin’ei “camp,” shingari “rear” (v 25), junjo “order, procedure” (v 28), gikei “brother-in-law” (v 29).