Really Bad Idea

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When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. (Numbers 21:1)

There are definitely some things you don’t want to do. Never take a bowl away from an eating dog. Never use a charcoal grill indoors. Never pick up a hitch-hiker wearing a hockey mask. Never microwave a bag of nails. Never bring a plunger to a dinner party. Never take a meteor shower. Never substitute plutonium for baking soda. Never iron your clothes while wearing them. Never try to match wits with a volcano.

But of all the things you should never do, one of the biggest no-no’s is attacking God’s people when they’re taking a long stroll. Now the Canaanite king probably freaked when he heard there was a million-man march coming his way. He was already booked for the weekend and was short on kosher salami and matzah balls. Besides, where was he supposed to find a thousand porta-potties on such late notice? It’s understandable that the king was a little concerned.

There were a few things he could have done to avoid the unannounced visitors. He could have pretended not to be home and hoped the Israelites would eventually leave. He could have sent word that the Canaanites were all down with the flu. As a last resort he could have required that all males entering the country must eat pork and be in possession of their foreskins.

Instead, the Canaanite king launches an unprovoked attack and takes prisoners. This does not go over well with the Israelites who are already grumpy from the long road trip. They cry out to God, “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” God, who enjoys a good annihilation every so often, gives them the go-ahead and the Israelites proceed to convert the area into a parking lot.

The idea here is that, even though the Israelites are a major pain in the divine butt, even though they whine and disobey, even though they are ungrateful jerks who leave the toilet lid up, even though God himself wanted to kill them more than once—even though all this, it’s best to let the Chosen People through. Let them walk on your lawn, trash your carpet, use up all your toilet paper, ransack your refrigerator, and leave a disaster for you to clean up. It’s best to smile and keep your opinions to yourself.

This is just how it works. God’s funny that way.

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