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Light from the Sidra

Mattot-Massei

Numbers 30:2 - 36:13

For some people the most difficult passages of the Torah to read or to memorise are those that consist of lists of names. In this Sidra we have such a passage. Moses lists the places Israel had passed through on their journey from Egypt to the land of promise.

Such people question why all this information is necessary. It is very difficult to know where many of these places are now, so what value can such a list of names have?

Though it is true that not all the places listed by Moses can be identified today, many of them can. This in itself is significant. These places were real and therefore the events recorded in the book of Numbers are rooted in time and space, history and geography. These events really happened.  

There are, of course, “scholars” who say these stories are the kind of tales to be found among all cultures; myths and legends that explain the beginnings of a nation, developed to convince themselves that their nation is special. Such “scholars” seem not to realise that within the Hebrew Scriptures there is abundant evidence to confirm the reliability of the stories they relate.

This list is one such example. Why compile an inventory of fictitious place names and events associated with them that never occurred and try to pass it off as reliable historical narrative? Once you do that you lay your tale open to the possibility of falsification. In the sacred writings of other nations we do not find such detailed and exhaustive lists of people and places. Instead, we tend to find fabulous tales which, by their very style, are obviously mythical. They may have some basis in history, but there are so many obvious elaborations that it is impossible to separate fact from fiction. The Hebrew Bible is very different. It reads as sober history.

Furthermore, when the Sidra was originally written it was possible to check its reliability. The places listed were still in existence. If you had lived at that time you could have visited the locations mentioned to check the reliability of Moses’ account. If the report of Israel’s deliverance was a deceit it is highly likely that some information would have been passed down to us. Wouldn’t Moab, Edom and the other nations, aware of Israel’s account of its own origins, have attempted to set the record straight? Wouldn’t they have produced accounts of their own to expose the falsehood of the Jewish chroniclers? If they did, none of the extensive archaeological discoveries in the area where these events took place have so far uncovered such writings.

It is undoubtedly true that we need to believe in God to come to the belief that the Scriptures are true. We must have faith in this truth: that the One Almighty God exists, and is perfectly able to reveal himself as he chooses, and to do so in a way which is sure and reliable, free from error. He has done this in the Bible.

Whatever difficulties we may encounter in the Scriptures, those who believe in the LORD must believe they are his word. But this does not mean unbelievers should not be challenged by the evidence for this within the Scriptures themselves. They contain abundant evidence that they are the word of God and anyone who rejects the Bible will be accountable to God.

Unbelievers in Israel perhaps fail to realise the serious charge that must be laid at Israel’s door if the Scriptures are of purely human origin. That charge is genocide. In this very Sidra Moses repeats the command to go into the land and remove its inhabitants. In most cases that meant putting them to death. If that was not a command of God, but just a story invented by an Israelite years ago to explain how Israel came to be in the land of Canaan, then it is the most horrific and barbaric of explanations. It demonstrates that Israel was happy to be thought of as a warlike nation which established itself by ethnic cleansing. 

The only escape from such a conclusion is to believe what the Scriptures say: that the Lord of the whole earth commanded the Hebrew nation to destroy the Canaanites, to be his instrument of judgement upon them, because it was his will.

He is the same God today. Righteous and terrible in his judgements. A God who will one day assemble all who have ever lived to be judged before him. What will be your covering on that day? God’s promise through Habakkuk is this, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith”. Not by his works, but by his faith - faith in the mercy of the Almighty.


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