OT: Numbers 15:17-16:40
Okay, time for "Death Talk, Part 2." If you haven't read it already, you can catch up on the epically long "Part 1" here. I rambled on for longer than even I thought possible, and yet, I wasn't done! So now it is time to pick up the thread again.
Today, God gets mad at the presumption of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and the 250 Israelite leaders who joined them in their rebellion against Moses. I found their statement to Moses to be incredibly fascinating, and I just can't decide what to make of it: "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" (16:3). Typing it out, I realize that my fascination with it lies in the fact that the statement could be said today about God's people, the body of Christ. The New Testament makes clear that as Christians, we are each holy and "set apart." We are all priests of the Most High. And God is with us all. It reminds me of Jesus' anti-hierarchical statements in Matthew 23: 8-10. Jesus makes it clear at that point that no one is supposed to be set above anyone else. Well...Korah, Dothan, Abiram and company were ahead of their time, I guess you could say. And in this case, it wasn't a good thing. Apparently, God doesn't take it lightly when a person claims to be holy and claims to have God's presence, when he actually is not and does not. And so he killed them all.
And he not only killed them, he killed the families of Korah, Dothan, and Abiram. And the families included, "their wives, children, and little ones" (16:27). In the seeming repetitiveness of the last two, it's like the text really wants you to see that there were children involved here. So I think it might be a nice time to stop and explore something I didn't get a chance to explore in the first "death talk." I would like to explore the relationship between death and eternity, especially in the Old Testament.
When I heard these stories as a child, I think part of why they were so horrifying to me is that I pictured all these people going straight to hell. After all, God killed them (and Nadab and Abihu and Uzzah) for rebellion, so...it stands to reason that they would be eternally condemned. Now, let's set aside for a second the fact that I have no idea where these people went:). I still want to think about it some, in order to meditate on God's character. I want to know God, to understand Him. And even though I know I will never come close, I think He wants us to try. So here we go:
This is one of those times where the NT picture of God influences the OT for me. In the NT, we see the lengths that God is willing to go for our salvation. We see the mercy and the grace that He pours on us. On all of us, all of humanity. I really do believe that that includes past and present humanity. And furthermore, in the NT, God's character does not break from the OT; it just expands. In the OT, God is merciful. The fact that He is even willing to deal at all with the Israelites proves Moses' words that God is "slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion" (14:18). But that character is taken to an infinitely higher level in the NT. So just because these people were wiped out doesn't mean that they were eternally condemned. I'm sure God judged them each by His perfectly just and merciful standard. It does mean, though, that they lost their gift of life.
And honestly, I'm okay with that, and not just because I have faith in God. I'm okay with that because more and more, I see clearly how a soul is more valuable than a life. If their deaths served as a stern warning, if they turned souls to God that would have otherwise been lost, then wouldn't that have been worth it? Maybe for some of them, their sudden death saved their own souls! I have had that thought several times throughout my life when I've heard of an untimely death. Several times, through my admittedly very limited perspective, I have seen how death might have been the best thing for a person's soul. Maybe it was because their terminal illness turned them back to God. Or maybe it was because they were currently faithful Christians who were nevertheless sorely tempted by immorality. I have had the thought, "Maybe God killed that person out of mercy, to spare their soul from their future decisions." Or, "maybe God killed that innocent (sorry, Becky:)) child and took him straight to heaven in order to drive another soul to God that would have been lost otherwise." In my mind, the logic is clear: a soul is worth more than a life. So if it takes a death to save a soul, then that's a good trade.
Apparently, Jesus thought so, too:).
Which brings us to....
NT: Mark 15: 1-47
Those are all of my "death thoughts," by the way. I'm going in a different direction now. I just couldn't pass up that segue:).
It's interesting: God's wrath in the OT was quite frightening today, but even that wasn't as chilling as the people's attitude toward death in the NT reading today. Especially Pilate. God killed out of passion; Pilate killed out of apathy. God loved His people; Pilate just couldn't muster up enough compassion to really care. He knew that Jesus was innocent, and that the people had just handed him over out of jealousy (15:10). Unlike God, Pilate had no appreciation for the sanctity of life. God knew the seriousness of what He was doing. Pilate had no concern for it. He handed Jesus over just "to satisfy the crowd" (15). And because he couldn't have cared less, he had him flogged first. Why not? Who cares? If the crowd wants it, why not nearly beat the man to death before you nail him to a tree? Does it matter? Apparently not to Pilate.
And when Joseph of Arimathea comes to request the body, apparently Pilate is simply surprised that he died so soon (44). "Huh. I would have thought that that would taken longer." What is he doing, chewing the fat with Joseph? How can he be this casual over a crucifixion?! Good lands! Different times, I guess....
Psalm 54: 1-7
In light of God's OT wrath, it is interesting to see OT characters like David throw themselves so completely on God's mercy. I would have been terrified by God. I would have been too scared to ask Him anything, lest He strike me down for my "presumption." And yet, apparently, God was able to convey His love and compassion even then, for people did turn to Him for protection and comfort.
I like the idea that righteousness makes a straight path for for the blameless. I definitely know from my own past dealings in deceit that lying makes things complicated very quickly. Like verse 6 says, such unfaithfulness traps us. It makes our road very rough and unpleasant.