Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Self-Made Men and the Kingdom of God (Numbers 12, 16-19)

Miriam and Aaron are appalled by Moses’ marriage to a foreign woman, and slander him publically. God has worked through them after all – why should he be so revered anyway? Moses is too shy to speak up, so the Lord himself comes to the defense of his chosen leader:
Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
Moses intercedes for his brother and sister, and they are forgiven. But their resentment is a forecast of storms to come.

A Levite named Korah leads a group of 250 chieftains of Israel in a public revolt against Moses and Aaron. Who exactly do they think they are – Moses holding total executive power and Aaron and his family having exclusive rights to the priesthood? Korah is a man after our own modern hearts - half Thomas Jefferson and half Martin Luther:
You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?
Korah isn’t totally off base here. After all, the Lord did promise that Israel would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But his ambition has blinded him to the nature of holiness. When everyone is holy, in the sense that Korah uses the word, then no one is.

This is not the way of the God of Abraham. He desires for his entire creation to be cared for, so he creates man to reflect his likeness and guide his creatures. He wants to bless all the nations, and so he calls a specific nation, Israel, to be his platform for engagement. Yes the people are holy, and yes they are to be a nation of priests
– but the kingdom of God is no democracy. Their own tents are sanctified by the Tabernacle itself – the shrouding presence of the living God in their midst. The people can be priests before the nations because they themselves have Moses interceding for them and Aaron and his sons making atonement for their sins.

The ground rips open and Korah and his supporters plunge screaming into the abyss. God knows the man he wants to lead this people. He chose Moses when he was only an infant floating in that little basket long ago. Yet another miracle is performed – Aaron’s staff buds with almonds – to remind the people that the Lord still wants these same men he wanted when he turned the staff into a snake as a proof to Pharaoh.

Moses never particularly wanted this calling. It only weighs heavier on him as the years go by. But lead and intercede he must, or there is no hope at all for Israel. God would consume them in a minute if he were not there to mediate. Indeed, the Lord seems to have known this all along – which is why he picked a man with the spunk to argue with him. God’s chosen servant is humble and meek, holding the people on his heart, and bringing rest for their souls.

To Wonders --

Great comments and observations. I have been thinking about the whole concept of a "center of gravity" called "the sacred" that pulls all toward itself. Maybe a better illustration is the sun. The intensity of brightness that is found within the sun does not mean that "the non-sun" is not itself bright with light. The brightness of the sun in fact increases the brightness of that which is within its rays. So according to the illustration, if we (on earth) wanted to be brighter and brighter we would simply celebrate the increasing intensity of the sun. So it is with holiness: that which is set apart as holy, if it is truly holy, does not make other things unholy so much as it draws them toward holiness. The "holier" the sacred, the greater its gravitational pull toward the holy.


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