Day 38--Falling on Your Face--"Unruly Holiness" Numbers 15 - 18
February 6, 2021, 10:47 PM

Blog Day 38—Numbers 15 – 18

There’s really no way around it. God just looks bad to us in these chapters. He is angry and vengeful in ways that make us say “No, no, no. I really like that other nice guy, Jesus, so much more.”

First the whole camp stones a man for collecting firewood on the sabbath, but only after God tells them to do it. Then Korah and the whole crowd of Levites who had revolted against Moses and Aaron were swallowed up in the great chasm that opened up at their feet. How does this seem fair?

Well, Alistair will tell you that it is because the traveling country of Israel existed under a theocracy. A theocracy is a society ruled by God. God makes the rules. God enforces the rules. God can change the rules. In comparison, when Jesus was alive, the authorities were rulers in Rome, and the High Priests of the Jerusalem temple, and of course Herod, were the rulers. These human rulers were fallible and often corrupt. Jesus came directly to confront their abuses of power.

By contrast, the ruler of the traveling Israelites was God himself. Moses and Aaron were able to function as intermediaries, but the rules came directly from God. Therefore, when the people fought or complained against God, they were not fighting against possibly corrupt rulers, they were fighting against the source of pure justice, pure holiness, pure creativity. When they complained against God, they were complaining to the creator of the universe that they weren’t happy with the way he was running things. They were turning against God and hardening their own hearts to him just like Pharaoh had done. And you know what happened to him!!

So a question: when we see people in the world that we think are deserving of punishment, but they don’t get it, what do we hope for? We hope for diving retribution, a sense that God will know the truth and will sort it all out fairly because that’s what God does. But why is it that when God does exactly this in these Old Testament passages, we fight against it even though we don't know the whole picture, the whole plan, the whole deal?

When I read these passages, I have to deal with my own squeamishness, my own aversion to violence, my own code of judgment that is different than God’s. I have to wrestle with context disconnection—I do not live during the time when the nation of Israel was being formed directly by God, and I cannot imagine the challenge of keeping people on the right spiritual and practical path.

I’m going to make a decision here—I’m going to allow myself to ask questions and to be squeamish. I’m going to feel revulsion when entire people groups are being wiped out. But I am also going to trust God, not give God permission or give God a ‘pass’. I need to trust that I don’t know the whole picture, that when God’s leadership is challenged, it must be dealt with and dealt with quickly, that when essential, God-given Sabbath rules are broken as they were when the man gathered firewood, there is a grave consequence. I’m going to go deeper into the story of Korah, to realize that his challenge to Moses' leadership was actually dangerous to the entire gathered community because it questioned God’s choices and God’s actions.

But I cannot pretend that I like it. I cannot make it sound better to you. I will not try to sell you a story to make it all sound nice. It doesn’t and it isn’t.

I think that when Jesus came as God with us, he was able to take on all that violence, all that anger, all that sin—NOT God’s, but ours, and we no longer had to suffer consequences like the Israelites did, or the Amelikites or others that fought against God or against the people of God. We are different, God is not. God still stands for justice and obedience, God is still righteous and is righteously angry when his people turn their backs on him. But Jesus died in our place so we no longer have to experience God’s wrath full on. He died so we don’t have to.

I know. This is complicated and I’m sure I’m not explaining it well. This is hard, and I am trying to do the same thing you are—see the face of Jesus in the God of the Old Testament. We aren’t supposed to. So stop. We are supposed to see the foretelling, the pre-shadowing (if that’s even a word!) of who Jesus is, and how he came to save the people from themselves. How he came to save us from ourselves. How ultimately those who have faith will be reunited in eternity with him, with God, with the Holy Spirit.

So go ahead, be uncomfortable with the stories of violence and death. I believe that is a particular gift that Jesus left us with. But stick with the story. We simply don’t know enough about that time, those people, and the circumstances. We genuinely don’t know enough about what it takes to corral 600,000 to one million people and create a new, faithful nation of people who are humble before the God who created them and who saved them, over and over again, only to find that they were wandering, not just like lost sheep, but like headstrong, determined, ornery and untrainable sheep. What’s a shepherd to do? He culls the herd in order to save the rest.

He still saves. He still saves.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,



02-07-2021 at 10:24 AM
Joyce Barrett
Thank you for helping to clear this up!! It is a big help! Bigger than you know!!
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