Numbers 15:17-16:40; Mark 15:1-47; Psalm 54:1-7; Proverbs 11:5-6
Whew. This is a heavy day. We've got the destruction of the innocent families of guilty men on the Old Testament hand and the trial, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus in the New Testament reading. Rough going.
I don't feel uncomfortable with the punishment God metes out to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. These men challenge the religious authority of Aaron (Korah's claim as a Levite disputes the priesthood of Aaron and his sons) and the political authority of Moses (Dathan and Abiram are from the tribe of Reuben, which might argue for leadership of the nation as the tribe of Jacob's oldest son). They make a plot, they diligently recruit for it, and they speak against God's representatives in an insulting manner. They get what was coming to them. Nor do I balk about the fire from heaven that comes, once again, to devour those offering unauthorized incense (remember Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10?). These 250 leaders, who should have held firm to God's established hierarchy, instead allow themselves to be persuaded into revolt. They've seen God's fierce protection of his holiness and yet they come before him.
It's the "wives, children and little ones" of Numbers 16:27 that unsettle me. Were they involved in the rebellion somehow? Did their knowledge of it make them complicit? Are they judged because of the patriarchy of the day? What about the declaration of God that the children are not responsible for the sins of the father and vice versa? Would the rebellion and judgment of the fathers have given their offspring a resentment that would result in future dissension? Why does Moses say that "only one man sins" (vs. 22) as an attempt to stop God's destruction of the entire assembly?
These are the same questions I'll ask when I get to Joshua and Judges. Why are the nations' "innocents" killed along with the men and warriors? Why are the animals and possessions, even homes, destroyed? And I've got to be honest - I don't have easy or tidy answers. I try to hold in tension God's self-description, which Moses used to persuade God away from killing the nation just yesterday (see Num. 14:18), especially as it provides for the punishment to the third and fourth generation. I try to remember that any other tribe or member of the nation could have spoken in defense of Moses and Aaron, but apparently did not. I try to understand how intensely God views his holiness and that he was creating a people who would live distinctly. I try to remind myself that rebellion (Korah, Dathan, Abiram) and wickedness (the Canaanite nations yet to be encountered) cannot go unchecked and must be weeded out completely.
But the brutality of it is still hard for me.
And so it was in our reading in Mark. This reading puts Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to shame. A farce of a trial, the rejection by the same crowd that cheered him only days earlier, the physical torture and psychological mockery of the soldiers, the long journey to the cross. Awful, awful, awe-full. There's such attention to detail in the lead-up events - the information about Barabbas, the color of the robe, the name of the place - and yet the moment of crucifixion is understated. "And they crucified him" (Mk. 15:24). So brief and small a statement for the climax of the situation. I wonder: Do the gospel writers avoid detail about the crucifixion because it is simply too dreadful to describe? Is it because the execution was so well-known that early readers wouldn't need any extra information? Or is it to highlight all that came before that moment and all the suffering that Jesus still had ahead of him?
I have so many questions when I read Scripture. Many of them will go unanswered. I'm okay with that. In fact, I don't want to be able to understand fully why God works the way he does. If I could, that would reduce him to a human level. (And let's be honest, how many of us look at our spouses or children or neighbors or friends or colleagues and say, "I really don't understand how he/she/they could do ______." We cannot comprehend the humans closest to us. Why expect that from God?) Instead, I return to a passage we've yet to read, from Deuteronomy. Shortly before his death, Moses will deliver one last sermon and, in it, he will tell the Israelites that "the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law" (Dt. 29:29). The secret things - all my unanswered questions - are not my responsibility. Rather, what do I do with the portions of Scripture that I do understand? Do I forgive? Do I give to God's church? Do I use my tongue for growth and life? Does my sexuality glorify the Lord? Do I rejoice in evil? While the unresolved (and, likely, unresolvable) questions are worth asking, these latter questions are where I live and wrestle and show that I follow Jesus. Or, all too often, where I don't.
- Sarah Marsh
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