You’re not getting my best post here. I thought Numbers would go faster because it’s a mix of different styles. I wasn’t accounting for depression from my hormone pills or a cold or just the busyness of finishing up my time in Japan to interfere this much. The best laid plans…
I’ve had this idea rattling around in my head ever since reading the last chapter, where Moses changes God’s mind. This isn’t the first time he’s done that. Moses seems to be anchoring God away from his divine wrath against sin and towards his divine love and mercy towards his people. Moses himself, as I talked about in Exodus, isn’t always as good at living up to what he wants of God, but he seems to be acting as a humanizer.
The idea of God changing is a controversial thing. Some people argue it’s because we ingested too much Greek philosophy back in the day, where unchanging = good. One thing to note about that idea is that taken to its extreme you get the Epicureans, who believed that the gods, in order to be perfect, had to be uninvolved with the changeable mortals. Otherwise, they ran the risk of being changed.
I’m fairly sure there’s a passage or two in the Bible that actually says something like how God is the same from one age to the next (Hebrews 13:8 for one). But I think most of the fear of the idea of God changing comes from the idea that God might be changeable, might be arbitrary or erratic. Even more terrible, he might change for the worse. But so far, every time God has changed his mind in the Bible, God’s been getting better, becoming more merciful and loving towards people.
This is maybe where divine simplicity – God is one, end of story – can be a hazard to your theology. Something like the sephirot or the trinity, where you come up with a model to keep God one, but more complicated than that number implies, is helpful when thinking about God as simultaneously changing and constant. God the absolute, God transcendent, might be perceived as unchanging because in this way God is beyond space and time. But God the manifest, God interactive, that God has to be able to adapt to the ever-changing creation he’s experiencing.
That’s why, I think these stories are strung together. First God differentiates between sins you make by mistake and sins you make intentionally, and how to offer sacrifice for the one and then punish the other. Then, we have a story about a guy who works on the sabbath and is put to death for it. Lastly, we have God coming up with a tangible reminder of his covenant for them to wear.
So is God learning between story #2 and 3? Is God realizing that sometimes the barrier between intentional and unintentional isn’t as simple as it might seem? Does he realize that something concrete like tassels might be memory-trigger that stands between people and sin? I wonder if the tassels originally had more symbolic details, each thread being a reminder of a commandment…
I’m still developing this idea of God learning, but I imagine it will come up a lot in these ancient texts, so forgive the awkward lumpy version here, I’ll have opportunities to improve it.
The Japanese: nandai “several generations” (v 13), douitsu “same” (v 15, more for the pronunciation, which I’d thought was douichi), yoyo “generation after generation” (v 21), kashitsu “error, mistake, slip-up” (v 25), boutoku “blasphemy” (v 30), anadoru “to make light of, to hold in contempt,” zaiseki “liability for crime” (v 31), ryuuchi suru “to detain, to hold” (v 34), nuitsukeru “to sew” (v 38).