Taking God Seriously: When He Killed Korah

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If He is who He says He is in the Bible, and if He did what he said He did (and does what He says He does) in the Bible, then I can only reach one conclusion:

We don’t take God seriously enough.

Case in point: Do we really grieve over, or ever feel the weight of, what Jesus went through on the Cross?

The cup that was so awful to take that the God of all things asked for it to pass from Him?

I don’t think I do. I’ve read that crucifixion story two or three times in the last month, and not once did it make me cringe, repent, or feel loved.

In fact, I guarantee that at least one of those times I was wondering what I was going to watch on TV that night while reading.

I don’t take God seriously enough.

So, if you believe what God says about Himself in the Bible, let me throw this one to you:

In Numbers 16, as the Israelites meander aimlessly over desert sand, lost because of their disbelief, a jealous guy named Korah steps up.

Korah tells God’s chosen leader, Moses, that it’s wrong of him to act chosen. To be the only one leading the Israelites. To function how God had called Him to function. To live out and to speak the words God had given Him.

I don’t have the authority of Moses. No one I know has the authority of Moses. Moses audibly heard God and wrote books of the Bible containing what He heard and saw.

Questioning Moses’ job was questioning the God who picked Him for that job.

Korah was brazenly challenging the authority and words of God.

The God who flung whole galaxies across the sky like they were flecks of paint on a canvas.

This is where the story should be getting scary.

Have you ever been frightened of a really loud, really large storm? Black clouds, shouts and claps of thunder, rain so fierce and heavy you can’t see through it?

Or a hurricane, looming over the open ocean and whipping the dark and deep water into whirlpools and long, looming waves?

You know, the red spot on Jupiter is a storm a thousand times bigger and fiercer than any earthly hurricane has ever been. And God made Jupiter, and every other planet, in a split second. Just by speaking them into being.

God is massive, more powerful than the star-powered engine churning the Milky Way. And He is absolutely holy. God is always right.

This is not a popular thing to say, but I am convinced it’s true: God can be a million times more terrifying than the strongest storm, the most massive tempest, imaginable.

So, Korah’s problem as he came out of his tent and shouted accusations at Moses and God wasn’t that he didn’t believe in himself.

Against all modern ways of thinking, I’ll say that Korah’s main problem wasn’t that he didn’t have self-esteem. Wasn’t a lack of empowerment or self-love.

Korah’s problem was that he didn’t fear God.

Moses had been chosen not by a democratic process, and not because his dad had been king, and not by an American Idol-style singing contest.

Moses had been called by the only living God to lead the Israelites and to speak His words.

Korah was angry about the way things had turned out. Korah was jealous of Moses.

Boiled down version: Korah and his followers were faithlessly, fearlessly angry at the holy, all-powerful God who created humans, can forgive them, and can kill them.

So, Moses tells Korah to burn incense to God. To call on Him and see what happens.

“Korah, you and all your followers are to do this: take firepans, and tomorrow place fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord. Then the man the Lord chooses will be the one who is set apart. It is you Levites who have gone too far!”

This is where a sensible person, a penitent person, a humble person, the kind of person you and I should be, would stop and re-think.

But I believe that here in 21st century America we think like Korah. At least most of us seem to do it a good deal of the time.

We tend to think God is a big, cosmic, personable hug.

Read the end of Job. Job’s mouth is stopped, his questioning ceased, by hearing from God that He created oceans and jungle animals and sea beasts and everything, and that He is God.

We need that.

Korah, in his heart and soul, needed that.

God will forgive idolaters and thieves and harlots and racists if and when they repent. God will take the prodigal son into His strong arms, once he acknowledges his sins and that he left home and wasted his inheritance.

But God will not be mocked by uppity humans who fearlessly accuse, revile, or insult Him.

I don’t know when in each case, but I know: Every person who unrepentantly does what Korah did will face the judgment, the good and fair judgment, that Korah faced.

One of the scariest parts of the Bible is when the Lord who spoke outer space into existence tells Moses to step away from this unrepentant man named Korah

There is a healthy fear of God. It’s the kind Moses, loved by the Lord and humbly following Him, had. He loved God. And yet He stepped away from Korah when told to.

Moses tells the community, as they gather around Korah and his followers, burning incense to call upon God themselves, that if God had chosen him (Moses), then He would end Korah.

“Just as he finished speaking all these words, the ground beneath them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, all Korah’s people, and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheol with all that belonged to them. The earth closed over them, and they vanished from the assembly. At their cries, all the people of Israel who were around them fled because they thought, ‘The earth may swallow us too!’ Fire also came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were presenting the incense.”

I think there have been many times, many places in the human story, where this narrative would not have been that jarring. Maybe instead the grace of God would have been shocking, and His righteous wrath less so.

But here, in the central air-maintained cushiness of a Western world that believes it’s entitled to cell phones and hours of television entertainment every day, the reality of God killing a man and everyone with Him for not taking Him seriously seems impossible.

Or mean.

It’s neither.

God loves people insatiably. His love is stronger and greater and less needy than the best of our loves.

But that does not make Him an impossibly large Teddy Bear.

We don’t take God seriously enough, and this causes a defect in our lives, and in our hearts. It makes us less holy, and it gives us an inaccurate and entitled view of the world.

But it also does this: Makes us love Him less.

That’s right.

You can’t appropriately worship what you don’t fear.

To know God, to love Him well, is to take Him incredibly, heart-wrenchingly seriously.

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