Words & numbers

  • Sumo

This post fits the category of ‘I think this might be happening’. The word play I suggest here might not be the case at all. At least here’s a chance to think about how the text of Numbers works.

In Numbers 21 Israel is judged for grumbling, by the presence of snakes. Nasty!

After repenting, Moses is told to make a copper snake for snakebite victims to look to.

In the following chapters we read the major incident of Moabite king Balak and the diviner Balaam. Balak calls Balaam in order for Balaam to put a curse on the people of Israel, who scare him to bits. Balaam, though he’s compelled to only speak what God tells him to say, takes time to learn not to practice divination (Numbers 24:1). In the end, Balaam hears directly from God – he becomes like a model prophet.

And the (possible) wordplay and association of ideas is this:

Snake/serpent: nachash (נחשׁ)

Copper/bronze: nachoshet (נחשׁת)

Divination: nachash (נחשׁ)

Now the vowels change a bit, and I haven’t tried to represent that. But the words all begin with the same three letters (and remember to read the Hebrew from right to left): the ‘n’, the ‘ch’, the ‘sh’.

The serpent is a bad sign, a real judgement for rebellion. Yet the serpent’s bite is annulled by an object that looks like a serpent, and whose material name sounds like ‘serpent’. God uses what looks like death to his people for the very purpose of giving them life.

Likewise, God allows a diviner to travel for the express purpose of cursing the people. But his ‘serpent-like’ divination fails. All Balaam he can do is bless, repeatedly. Balaam himself got it right (our key word here in bold):

For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
‘What has God wrought!’
Numbers 23:33 esv