For the week of July 2, 2005 / 25 Sivan 5765
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 16:1 - 18:32
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14 - 12:22

Buried Alive

As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. (Bemidbar / Numbers 16:31-33)

Central to the community life of the people of Israel was a structure called the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). It was there that sacrifices and other religious activities were performed.

Though God had appointed the whole tribe of Levi to serve in the Mishkan, there were certain duties that were the exclusive responsibility of those designated as priests. Only the descendants of Aaron, who himself was a Levite, were eligible to be priests. The rest of Levi assisted the priests in the service of the Mishkan.

A group of Levites led by certain men named Korah, Dathan and Aviram, challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron, claiming it was wrong to give Aaron's descendants exclusive rights to the priesthood. In actuality they were challenging God himself, for this had been God's decision, not that of Moses and Aaron.

Because Korah, Dathan and Aviram had treated God with contempt, God punished them by causing the ground to swallow them up.

Obviously treating God with contempt is a serious matter. Their attitude demonstrated a total disregard for who God is - the consequences of which are nothing less than total destruction.

Reading this story, it is difficult to determine whether the men's contempt was truly toward God or if it was directed toward Moses and Aaron. Their words sound as if they were challenging Moses and Aaron. But Moses said that they were actually showing contempt towards God. As the story goes, the way in which they met their doom confirms Moses' assessment.

In our day God is also treated with contempt - contempt that is often veiled behind all sorts of attitudes and actions. But it is contempt of God none the less. God's ways are ignored, challenged, and belittled by all sorts of people who should know better. They think that God either doesn't see what they are doing or is powerless to do anything about it.

They will even use a story like this one to help justify their contempt. Since the ground has not swallowed them up (nor have they been hit by lightning, nor experienced any other disaster), they think they are getting away with turning their backs on God.

But maybe the ground has swallowed them up – figuratively that is. How many people are consumed by their circumstances? Claiming to be in control of their lives, they are actually buried under the cares of the world or enslaved by the very things in which they believed they would find true life.

The good news is that even if this is our current situation, there is hope. Unlike Korah, Dathan and Aviram, who lost any opportunity for restoration, as long as we have breath, God will receive us, if we turn to him.

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