So what has Moses forgotten this time? Well, the conquering of King Og is pretty much the same as it was in Numbers 21. In fact, there are a few more details. And, confession, I once used the measurements of Og’s bed to determine the size of a ogre race in a fantasy story I was working on. Still don’t know if I’ll ever go back to that – it was an attempt to blur several different mythologies, and I’m not sure how well it worked. Anyway, Og’s bed is about 13 feet long and , so they were 12-foot tall ogres.
Some people theorize the legends of giants may have been inspired by dolmens in the area. I don’t know what I think, personally. The Rephaim feel like an element from a very old stratum of the Bible, one whose significance has been lost in the sands of time. Here it mostly just enhances how awesome the Israelites are – or rather, how awesome God is, because their victories are attributed to him.
What Moses does fudge on is the allotment of land to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. He claims that it was God’s idea to give them the land, rather than their request. This just happened, so you can’t explain it away by Moses’ old age or a decision to let the younger generation get a nicer story. In-narrative, maybe Moses is saving the tribes some face. They weren’t presumptuous, God was gracious.
The tale of Moses going up the mountaintop is of course the metaphor that Martin Luther King Jr. used in his final, amazing speech before he died. I think it goes to show that even in its darker moments – and the genocidal decrees of these chapter are definitely some of its darker moments – the Bible is good literature, good poetry, good imagery. The values of its writers are sometimes alien to readers today, and we can’t except everything they believed. But that doesn’t mean we should smugly dismiss it as irrelevant. I sincerely hope that the beautiful things written in our contemporary time don’t get dumped in the ashbin of history twenty-five centuries from now.
Maybe they will. But I hope not. In thinking of some of my favorite books, I can’t help but think of Nelson Mandela’s death yesterday. My dad, for his Peace and Conflict Studies Certificate, wrote a paper arguing that the reason the film version of Cry, the Beloved Country was the first version to actually be faithful to the book was because, miraculously, the message of reconciliation that the book preaches actually came to pass.
But there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.
Cry, the Beloved Country isn’t perfect. It’s a book about black South Africans written by a white man, and there’s valid criticism of it. But symbols, imagery, the occasional flashes of pure brilliance – literature has power.
And people who would reject studying the Bible as literature reject some of that power.
The Japanese: zen’iki “the whole region” (v 4), kannuki “bolt, bar,” katameru “to fortify against,” yougai “strategic” (v 5), shuchuu ni osameru “to gain control of, to fall into one’s hands” (v 8), anjuu “peaceful place to live” (v 20), choujou “top, summit” (v 27), hagemasu “to encourage, to cheer” (v 28).