Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Numbers: Chapter 16 - Rebellion and the Wrath of God

God is a dictator. He brooks no dissent. You are not allowed to argue with him, doubt him or do anything but obey and revere him. Do anything wrong, transgress his rules, fail to pay taxes to his priests and he will smite you. In particular you had to do as you were told and to follow all of the rules and edicts laid down by priests. Or at least that's what the people who wrote all of this would have you believe. Bear that in mind as we go through Chapter 16 together.

So you'll recall that as the Israelites were going on their journey to the promised land there was some doubt about this great mission. Many wished they had never left their nice easy life back in Egypt and wondered if the Pharaoh would have them back in return for them building him a pyramid or two. Who doesn't need more pyramids after all?

But God had heard their bellyaching and they had been punished. Now they were going to have to stay in the desert for decades until the God of forgiveness and mercy showed them some. Talk about not setting a very good example.

And so now there was a rebellion. You could hardly blame them. Korah, Dathan and Abiram were the ringleaders and they gathered 250 other leading figures and confronted Moses and Aaron. Why were they the leaders? they asked. What made them so special?

Well Moses said that God would sort this out.  He told them to go to the Tabernacle the following day with some incense and God would decide if they were allowed to go inside and talk to him. You can hear the alarm bells ringing can't you.

The next day they went to the Tabernacle and God descended with his big cloud. God told Moses and Aaron to stand aside as he was about to do some serious smiting. Moses realised that he was going to kill the entire tribe. He pleaded with God not to punish everyone for the transgressions of a few mouthy rebels. God relented. Moses was very persuasive wasn't he.

So Moses went to the tents of the ringleaders and told everyone but their families to leave. He then told them what was about to happen and that they should see this as a sign from God. So then God just punished the ringleaders, Korah, Dathan and Abiram. The earth split open and dragged down the three of them plus their wives and families into something resembling hell, although it wasn't called hell then because it hadn't been invented yet.

This, not unnaturally, caused panic. Everyone started running around and generally freaking out. Their panic was heightened by God then punishing the 250 other men who had been part of the uprising against Moses.

Once all of this was done and the rebels had been burnt to a crisp, God told Moses to collect up the censers, the small trays they carried incense in and to bash them into plates. They were presumably still hot from all of the smiting and so quite pliable. These were to be put onto the altars as a constant reminder to do as you are told.

Even then though the people were angry and upset. They blamed Moses for the deaths of all of these men and also for the deaths of their children. They probably had a point there. Isn't visiting the sins of a father on to his children a bit immoral?

But God was having none of it. Now he started a plague. Fortunately Moses was once again the calming influence on the rash and nasty God. He told Aaron to perform a cleansing ritual with incense to placate God. The plague stopped but not before 14 thousand people had died.

That's the message. Do as you are told, don't question the authority of the priests or God will punish you. For ignorant bronze age people all of this was very scary. But now we know better. Don't we?

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