Israel’s Contention in Arabia
In the article Israel’s Whoring in Egypt, we studied that the Israelites lived a comfortable life in the Egyptian exile and had they remained a moment longer there, they would have risked becoming part of it and there would have been no children of Israel to redeem.
The present author cannot fail to see another episode of Israel’s redemption from Egypt. In our story YHVH who already saved His people from the idolatrous Egypt and brought them to the borders of the land promised to their fathers Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov, had to deal with the Egypt inside Israel. Because it took YHVH seven days to take Israel out of Egypt, but forty years to take Egypt out of Israel.
We read from the Book of Numbers as the nation of Israel came into the Wilderness of Tsin where there was no water to drink.
And Yehovah spoke to Mosheh, saying, “Take the rod and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aharon. And you shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it shall give its water. And you shall bring water for them out of the rock and give drink to the congregation and their livestock.” (Num 20:7-8)
In Hebrew we will read in a deeper level thus,
(Num 20:7) וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
(Num 20:8) קַח אֶת־הַמַּטֶּ֗ה וְהַקְהֵל אֶת־הָעֵדָה אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתֶּם אֶל־הַסֶּלַע לְעֵינֵיהֶם וְנָתַן מֵימָיו וְהֹוצֵאתָ לָהֶם מַיִם מִנ־הַסֶּ֔לַע וְהִשְׁקִיתָ אֶת־הָעֵד֖ה וְאֶת־בְּעִירָם׃
Now, if we start reading (in red) at letter “yud” in the first word of Num 20:7 by counting every eleventh letter forward, from right to left, we will read the encoded name יִשְׁמָעֵאל “Ishmael” in the Hebrew text. The Hebraic but also Semitic name “Ishmael” means “El hears” or “God hears” but more properly “El listens up.” Ishmael was the son of Avraham from the Egyptian Hagar and became the father of all Arabs.
Prophecy is not a prediction. The prophets are not fortunetellers. Prophecy and Bible codes are not meant to predict the future, but to warn the people about the future, about the coming danger. Prophecy is not a Damoclean Sword. Even the darkest prophecy can be diverted, if there is repentance. Repentance can achieve everything. This means that a Bible code and the related prophecy are a subject of interpretation; it may or may not be fulfilled.
By saying that, we may ask the question as to why the name of Ishmael the son of Hagar was encoded in this particular passage concerning Israel’s rebellion against Mosheh and Aharon. There are no vain words in the Torah and the Prophets and if a Bible code which is considered the very literal Word of the Creator says something about or in connection with a certain event, we need to pay a close attention. For more insight on Bible codes and how they may relate to the current political events, the reader may want to refer to the article Obama, ISIL, and the Bible Code.
And in order to find any answer, we will need to do some contextual analysis and see whether we can find this connection.
Let us go back to the time of Avraham when according to the Biblical account he sent away Hagar and Ishmael from the camp. We should remember that Ishmael was thirteen when he was circumcised and Yitschak (Isaac) was born a year later, therefore Ishmael was fourteen years old when Yitschak was born. As children are weaned a couple years later, then it is possible that Ishmael was seventeen or even nineteen years old when he was expelled from the family and Yitschak was then five years old.
For more on the reason why Ishmael was expelled from Avraham’s family, the reader may refer to the article Did Really Ishmael Mock the Little Isaac?
We read from the account in Genesis 21 that that day Avraham arose up early in the morning, took bread and a bottle of water, gave them to Hagar and Ishmael, and sent them away. As they strayed, they came in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
Four hundred and forty years later, the children of Avraham from the promised son Yitschak, the brother of Ishmael, came into the Wilderness of Tsin where there was no water to drink.
These are the settings according to the Biblical narratives.
Now, let us draw a parallelism between these two events and see if we can find any similarities and differences, and what we can learn from them, as we read from the accounts in Genesis 21 and Numbers 20:
And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; for she said: ‘Let me not look upon the death of the child.’ And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept. And Elohim heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of Elohim called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her: ‘What is to you, Hagar? fear not; for Elohim has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast by your hand; for I will make him a great nation.’ (Gen 21:14-19)
Now there was no water for the congregation and they assembled against Mosheh and against Aharon. And the people contended with Mosheh and spoke, saying, “If only we had died when our brothers died before Yehovah! Why have you brought up the assembly of Yehovah into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? And why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? – not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” (Num 20:2-5)
The stories closed thus: when Elohim opened Hagar’s eyes, she saw a well of water. She went and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad to drink. They survived and as it was promised to Hagar, Ishmael became a great nation.
Four hundred and forty years later, YHVH spoke to Mosheh to take the rod and assemble the congregation of Israel and speak to the rock before their eyes, to give its water to the congregation and their livestock. They survived and as it was promised to Avraham, Israel became a great nation and entered the promised land.
In order to properly understand the situations of having to choose between good or bad decision, we should notice how the descendants of Avraham acted. First, both Ishmael and Israel fell in difficult situations: they were in the wilderness with no water to drink. Both survived as they were given water, but this is where the similarities end.
In Hagar and Ishmael’s case there was an existential threat for their survival. It was life or death. On the other side, we see no threat for the survival of the nation of Israel, on the contrary, they had the super food manna to eat; they had their live stock and milk to drink and were not even close to any threat of extinction.
And how both nations acted under the given circumstances? Hagar the Egyptian and her son Ishmael in desperation lifted up their voices and wept to Elohim.
On the other side, the people contended with Mosheh and spoke bad words against YHVH. They wish to rather return to Egypt, as their fathers who died in the desert did, than to enter the promised land at whose threshold they were standing. They were lasting right there for grain, figs, vines, and pomegranates, as if that had not been promised to them.
We should also notice another difference in the narratives in Genesis and Numbers: while the personal and intimate Name of Yehovah is used in the story of contention of the children of Israel with Mosheh (in actuality they did not contend with Mosheh but with YHVH, because it was Him who sustained them during the forty years in the wilderness and it was Him who brought them to the land, and it was Him who promised them the land of milk and honey), the Highest revealed Himself to Hagar and Ishmael by His title “Elohim” meaning “a powerful one”, and only through an angel.
What is the lesson here? We should notice immediately that when Hagar and Ishmael were in the desert they did not contended with Elohim, but wept out of desperation. Probably that was the reason for the Bible code in our passage: to contrast Ishmael to Israel to teach us something.
What is this that is taught to us?
In the Book of Numbers, we are told, there are two censuses of the children of Israel thirty-eight years apart. They are listed in the first and in the twenty-sixth chapters of The Book of Numbers.
TRIBE FIRST CENSUS SECOND CENSUS
Reuben 46,500 43,730
Simeon 59,300 22,200
Gad 45,650 40,500
Judah 74,600 76,500
Issachar 54,400 64,300
Zebulun 57,400 60,500
Ephraim 40,500 32,500
Manasseh 32,200 52,700
Benjamin 35,400 45,600
Dan 62,700 64,400
Asher 41,500 53,400
Naphtali 53,400 45,400
TOTALS 603,550 601,730
We could expect that during the thirty-eight years spent in the desert Israel could have been enlarged significantly just by considering the natural birth rate and the super food (the manna which provided a perfect nutrition) they had, we should expect much larger population than what we see in the second census. At first glance, it is obvious that Israel lost 1,820 men of battle, with Reuven, Simeon, Gad, Ephraim, and Naphtali contributing much to it.
What happened between these two chapters that could have decreased Israel’s population we are not told in the Torah, but there are some clues which we will consider.
The first census numbers those Israelites who came out of Egypt. This generation, which eventually died in the desert, was one of rebellion (see Num_14:29). The second census numbers the new generation, the generation would stand at the bank of the Yarden River. These censuses seem to mark a nearly mirrored division in the Book of Numbers: there is a 38-year gap between Chapter 19 and Chapter 20. During this hidden for us period of thirty-eight years they camped in eighteen locations in the Wilderness of Paran, from station 15 to station 32 (see Num_33:18-35 and chapter Israel’s Journeys in the Wilderness of the present author’s book Reckoning of Time).
In the first census 603,550 men twenty years old and older were numbered and only 22,273 firstborn males (Num_3:40-43); that would make one firstborn per every twenty-seven. How can it be so? There are two possible causes that can explain the apparent discrepancy. The first possible cause but less likely could have been a high mortality rate among the newborn (those who had not reach the age of thirty days, Num_3:15) and the second one: a decimation. In the second census, however, there was a third cause that might have led to decrease of the population and this will be explained further below.
From the table above, we notice that at the first census, the tribe of Simeon had 59,300 men of war (making it the third biggest tribe) and at the time of the second census, it had lost 37,100 men, and with only 22,200 men of war this tribe became the smallest one in Israel. It is very unlikely that this tribe lost so many people due to natural causes. When the remnant of the tribe of Simeon entered the land, they did not inherit its own territorial tribal land; instead, this tribe inherited cities within the territory of the tribe of Yehudah (Jos_19:1-9) because, they did not have enough number of men to dispossess the Kana’anites. We should remember that this is why YHVH did not give Israel the whole land promised to Avraham, but only a portion of it because Israel was too small to conquer it. The same rule applied to Simeon, too.
In the book titled The Exodus Case by Dr. Lennart Möller (which the present author recommends), the author makes the hypothesis that during the thirty-eight years in the desert some of the Israelites settled in the Arabia Peninsula. In his book he shows ancient maps in which one can recognize the names of these settlements: typical Hebrew names, and the name of one of them was even Ras Israel (p.384). Dr. Möller makes the hypothesis that Yemenite Jews may well have been the sons of Yamin (Gen_46:10, Exo_6:15, Num_26:12), one of the major family of the Simeon tribe, most of which most likely left Israel and gave their father’s name to the modern day Yemen (Yaman in Arabic).
So, it is very possible, that Israel lost numbers in this census, because some of them decided to leave Israel and establish their own settlements in Arabia. Also, while wandering there, the Israelites most likely fought the local people and lost lives in addition to the splitting of the nation. In support of Dr. Moller’s hypothesis, a very interesting book, The Book of Wars of YHVH, is mentioned in Num_21:14 immediately after the 38-year exile in Arabia and which is in the context of our passage. If this book was given in Chapter 21 of Numbers, after the thirty-eight years spent in the desert, just before Israel was about to conquer the land, it was given for a reason. It is very possible that this book depicts those wars which YHVH fought for Israel because it is reasonable to expect that the local people, the Ishmaelites, would have fought the Israelites to protect their land.
The rabbinical commentaries explain the large reduction in Shimon’s population was due to the fact that the Shimonites were the major perpetrator in the worship of Pe’or with the daughters of Midian. Although this might be true, this was not the only instance in which Israel was so decimated. We read of plagues and other catastrophes following the sins of the Golden Calf, the “complainers” and the lust for meat, the Ten Spies (Numbers 13-14:38), the attempt to enter the Land (Num_14:39-45), and the rebellion of Korach (Numbers 16:1-50). Indeed other tribes, too, show a fall in population (though none as drastic as Shimon’s), and the people as a whole are fewer despite the natural increase one would expect after a full generation.
The commentaries further note that whole families were wiped out. In the second census there were five Shimonite clans instead of six, Gad had likewise lost a family, and Benjamin had lost five. Below is the table showing the summary of those perished in the wilderness.
Undoubtedly, the whoring with the daughters of Mo’av and the aftermath had contributed to the decrease of Israel’s population, nevertheless it still cannot explain the numbers completely. For instance, between the first and second census the tribe of Shimon had lost 37,100 men which made this tribe the smallest on Israel, even smaller than the tribe of Levi. Even if the 24,000 who perished in the plague (Num_25:9) had been all Shimonites, there are still 13,100 unexplained whom the tribe lost sometime during the 38-year wandering in the desert and definitely before the whoring with the daughters of Mo’av.
It is true that the loss of more than 600,000 male from twenty years and older (those who refused to enter the land) had also contributed to the significant decrease of Israel’s population. The oldest males (except the Levites and women) who were born in Arabia were no older than fifty-seven years old; that makes Israel a pretty young nation, nevertheless, there must be another reason for Israel’s decrease and the present author believes that a large portion of the people left Israel and settled in the Arabian Peninsula.
With all that being said, we may conclude that Israel did not contend with YHVH in the Wilderness of Tsin only (which cost Mosheh his entry into the land). But they might have contented with YHVH all those years which they lived in the Arabian exile. The Bible code is given to us to make us think of why Ishmael had to contrast Israel.
The question we need to ask ourselves is “Would we do any better in our “Arabia?”