This is probably the most readable of this series so far, but also the most dull. It is not as messy as the shambolic Genesis but neither does it have the horror of Leviticus.
With control of the Israelites having been brutally decided in the last book, Moses sets about structuring the family organisation and formalising everything, from the lucrative kickbacks to who is in charge of tent pegs.
Moses makes a bronze snake idol, before sending the Israelites into war against their neighbours. They are ruthless: they kill one lot of neighbours for being friendly and someone else who had saved the Israelites from attack. When the Israelites don’t commit genocide Moses berates them and gets them to kill more of the women and children, making sure the priests get their share of the robbed goods and virgins.
There is a nod to the last book’s style, when someone is stoned to death for just picking up sticks on the wrong day, but this comes across as stupid rather than scary. There is more magic and divination. God is still so constantly angry he has to be guarded by the Levi family in case he kills someone. Despite this he still gets out occasionally and kills a number of Israelites.
God becomes pissed off with Moses and Aaron, for a reason I don’t understand. This confused me as I thought God might be Moses but, rather tellingly, this does help Joshua. I’m seeing this character in a new light, he has gone from being Moses’ ”young assistant”, in Exodus, to his successor by the end of Numbers and he always seems to be there when God speaks. I’m not sure if the underplaying of Joshua is subtle writing or whether I’m just trying to give this book a meaning it doesn’t merit.