From: John ZuHone
Yesterday's passage (Numbers 16.1-19) set the scene for today's—Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, with 250 others, grumble against Moses and Aaron. They've decided that Moses has unduly set himself up as a king over them, and that it's not right that Aaron runs the priesthood, since allegedly all of the people are "holy". This sets up a confrontation where these men are instructed to burn incense and see if it is pleasing to God or not. In today's passage, initially God is so ticked off that he wants to burn the whole place down, but is persuaded by Moses and Aaron to spare those who have not sided with the rebels. Then, the whole earth shakes and swallows up the rebels, their families, and all of their possessions. To top it off, fire comes down and consumes the other 250.
When I am confronted with passages like this, I admit that I am usually at a loss as to what to do with them. If this had been read in church, it would have ended with, "The Word of the Lord", and I would have responded "Thanks be to God", but with perhaps a subtle inflection in my voice indicating that maybe I’m not sure.
It's not that I'm uncomfortable with the notion of God's judgment—a perfect, holy, and righteous God has the supreme right to condemn sin and sinners. When I think about it more carefully, what gets me is what these men are guilty of: challenging proper and God-given authority, wrongfully asserting rights and privileges, and presuming a spiritual position that they simply do not have. When I look at my own life, I definitely have been guilty at times of the same things. Yet I'm not walking around worried that the ground may open up under me and swallow me whole. Why not?
Perhaps I should be. Or more accurately, perhaps I should take stock of the ways in which I still fall very short of God's standards for my life—love of himself and my neighbor, and remember that the ground also shook that day that Jesus hung on the Cross of Calvary and was condemned in my place for all of those times that I fall short. The rebels in Numbers 16 wanted to assert the rights of the priesthood; Jesus instead asserted no rights whatsoever, humbly took on the sins of a rebel like me, and in his resurrection was exalted as the ultimate high priest. As today's reading from Hebrews says: "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". Now to that, we can definitely say, "Thanks be to God!"
I’m an astrophysicist at the Harvard Observatory, studying galaxy clusters and X-ray astronomy. I enjoy spending time with my wife, having good conversation with friends, reading books, and playing the occasional Mario game.