Two years ago, I started following a plan to read through the Bible chronologically. One reason I started doing this was so I wouldn’t avoid unpleasant parts. There are passages in God’s Word that puzzle me and disturb me, and left to my own, I skate past them.
Now I haven’t been following this plan faithfully. Most of the time I focus on studying an individual book of the Bible. But every so often I come back to the plan. At my snail’s pace, I’m almost done with the Pentateuch section.
This explains why I recently read the sobering story of Numbers 16–a chapter I would prefer not to read.
Korah, [a Levite], Dathan, and Abirham, along with 250 other men rose up against Moses and opposed him, saying he had gone too far and was setting himself above the Lord’s assembly. Korah, not satisfied with being just a Levite, wanted to be a priest too, like Aaron.
The next day there was a showdown at the Tent of Meeting. The Lord wanted to put at end to the entire assembly, but Moses and Aaron interceded. God relented and had Moses warn the assembly to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abirham.
And then comes one of the saddest verses in the Bible: “So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abirahm. Dathan and Abirham had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.” [Numbers 16:27] The image of those little ones standing with their parents plucks my heart.
Then the earth split apart and swallowed them and their households. They perished.
It’s hard not to be disturbed by that story. God’s judgment sounds too harsh. And many people have said, “I could never believe in a God who would kill innocent children.” I can sympathize that it’s difficult to accept this.
But there’s a Native American proverb that says, ‘Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” [or shoes or flip flops or babouches]. So when was the last time you tried to make a holy nation? When was the last time you led 603,550 men [Numbers 1:46] through the Sinai peninsula? And that doesn’t include the women and the children which would make a grand total of about two million people.
The closest I’ve come to this experience is the time I co-led ten teenagers on a week-long backpacking trip in the White Mountains. All we had to contend with were mosquitoes, poorly marked trails, bad food, and rain. There were no enemies trying to kill us. But it still wasn’t easy. There were blisters and some dicey interpersonal dynamics. People got grumpy. People complained about decisions we made. At the end of the week it was a relief to finish the journey and go back to our soft beds.
There’s another saying people are fond of: “Who am I to judge?” Usually we ask that question when a person is doing something that has no effect on our own life. But if a leader makes a decision we disagree with that effects us, we’ll change our tune to: “I could never follow a leader who…” When we read a story of God’s harsh discipline or judgment, we’re tempted to question His wisdom.
But it’s funny how I’ve never complained about God sacrificing His Son to save me. On Good Friday we sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I wasn’t there, but I don’t grumble about God’s mercy. I don’t doubt His grace. I don’t question His wisdom in sending Jesus to die for me.
I still don’t fully understand why the little ones of Dathan and Abirahm had to be killed. I don’t understand God’s instructions to destroy all the people of Ai (Joshua 8). But I’m not God. I don’t have the whole world in my hands. I’m not all-powerful. I’m not all-knowing. And I’m definitely not all-loving. I walk by faith, not by understanding.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”