Four months is a lot longer than I anticipated to go on hiatus. One of the reasons I worried about not being able to keep up with this series is that, when I fall behind on a project, I have a very hard time getting back into it again. But it’s November, I’m planning on doing NaNoWriMo, and I’m on my way to moving out, so I might as well start this now and see how long I can keep it going.
I think what’s ultimately bothering me here is that God doesn’t even take the time to explain to them what he’s doing. How long would it take to say that it would be too difficult to have everyone go through the process of being prepared to stand in the presence of God; that while they could offer valid sacrifices, the presence would overwhelm them?
The conclusion God leaves with is having flowering staffs left “as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.” (v 10) So in other words, don’t complain, don’t question, end of story. And what do the Israelites immediately do? They complain and question, “Are we all to perish?” (v 13)
And there’s two ways of looking at that. Are the Israelites idiots for questioning when they’ve just been told not to? Or does God not realize that questioning is human nature?
The answer in the text might be discernible from the next chapter, where rather than respond with wrath again, God decides to reiterate how the responsibilities and privileges of the priesthood work. Which returns to my original question of why didn’t he do that in the first place?
Like I said, a lot of this makes sense if the original writers perceived God as sort of “figuring out” how to have a people, which he’d never done before. That seems blasphemous in our later understanding of God being omniscient, but that doesn’t seem to be how the most ancient writers understood God. They might have seen this as a positive depiction of God learning by trial and error rather than a negative depiction of God as a moody tyrant.
So why is this still included in scripture, in spite of making God look bad from later perspectives? When the Pentateuch was first being redacted, it was when the Israelites were in exile, when they didn’t have a temple and priests. It might have been included as a reminder to people of why temples and priests were needed, and as a threat to anyone who thought they were well-off without the temple system. That may also be why the rabbinical interpretations don’t make Korah look unreasonable – they were working without a temple system.
Regardless, this whole idea of people getting burned up by the presence of God and only a few elites being able to enter the sanctuary is giving me a deeper sense of what Paul meant when he talked about us all being able to see God “face to face.” (1 Cor. 12)
The Japanese: keikoku “warning” (v 3), bankin “sheet metal” (v 4), saigai “disaster,” asamaru “to calm down, to subside” (v 13), kakuji “respective” (v 24), hametsu “ruin, downfall” (v 27).