The Rebellion of Korah
Today, I’m going to freak out all over this page. I’m going to write from the deepest, most honest, most vulnerable parts of me. I’m going to write about the Bible today, and I’m going write about that terrifying, deep, vulnerable, honest part of me that whispers relentlessly, what if the most straightforward reading of the Old Testament stories is also the right one?
This afternoon, I opened my Bible and absorbed myself in reading Numbers. It’s been slow-going, but I’ve been trying to read through the entire Bible for the first time in my life. I’ve never encountered Numbers before, or really read any of the Old Testament too extensively. And now, I know exactly why.
Because it’s horrific.
My conscience twinged when I read about Noah and the flood. Of course, I knew the story and had read it before, but I’d never read it through the eyes of those who perished. The truth is that the story of Noah and the flood is also a story of God drowning every single man, woman, and child on earth except for Noah and his family. The reality of that hadn’t really sunk in. The death of nearly the entire human race had always been so sugarcoated by images of graceful doves and coupled animals marching into a magnificent ark and a Noah with a white flowing beard. But now that happy image was gone, and a sore heart was left in its place.
That soreness widened into a wound as I continued on. I read about Sodom and Gomorrah. I don’t care how wicked those cities were; it’s still mass slaughter. But I sucked my breath in and kept trudging through Genesis, knowing that eventually, I’d get out of this confusing violent mess of a narrative and get to the good stuff. The grace stuff.
Then I read Numbers 16 today. And every good and beautiful conception I’d ever had of God came crashing down around me. I read about Korah, who wrangled a bunch of Israelites to rebel against Moses, presumably because they were sick and tired of God’s commands and his severe punishments for breaking them (such as stoning a man for carrying sticks on the Sabbath.) So how does God respond? By ignoring the Israelites’ pleas for mercy in verse 22, opening up the earth, sending every rebel (along with their poor wives and children) screaming into the pit of hell, then burning 250 more Israelites alive.
I read that passage of scripture, and something inside my heart just broke, and I completely disintegrated into pieces. I burst out in tears and snapped my Bible shut and tossed it onto the table with all the force my frustration could manage. I couldn’t read anymore. I just couldn’t handle it. Even now as I type this I can’t stop crying from the horror, from the mental image I have in my head of men, women, and children screaming as the pit opened up and swallowed them, as hundreds of Israelites burned alive afterwards, all done directly because God chose wrath over mercy.
I just can’t take it. Either something is wrong with this story, or something is wrong with the portrait of God that is painted here in this story, or I can’t believe in the God of the Bible anymore. Because if the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, and the God I’ve claimed my entire life, literally and truly wiped out hundreds of people for rebelling against him, I want nothing to do with him. Because I deserve to be wiped out as surely as they do. I’m not so self-righteous that I can claim my heart is less rebellious than Korah’s, that my heart wouldn’t lash out at God. If I’d lived in that day, I’d be frustrated and angry and prone to revolt at the merciless edicts God dished out for his commands.
What’s the freaking deal with this passage, God? Did the writer of Numbers think he understood your nature so well that he attributed a random freak earthquake to you? What I mean to say is, is this story just a massive distortion of a historical natural calamity? Or did you really truly appear to the Israelites in all your glory, just as the text says, and demolish them? Or did you intend a deeper purpose here, a deeper message, a lesson to be learned through a story that is figurative, or at least has a figurative message, and that in reality you would never, never claim to be a monster who would send his children into the pit of hell and scorch them to death?
So who are you? A God whose love knows no bounds? Or a God who murders his rebellious children? A God who forgives and forgets our sins before we even commit them? Or a God who sends us into the pit of fire because we act out?
You. Can’t. Be. Both.