Saturday, September 11, 2010

Numbers 16, 17, 18 Hesed: A Covenant Honoring Love

An interpretation of the borders of the Promis...Image via Wikipedia

Over the course of the book Numbers, we have read about tens of thousands of people perishing because they showed contempt for God.  Most often God released a plague or a fire through the camp.  In Chapter 16, the entire family of each of three men, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was swallowed up by the earth.  And, immediately after that, 14,700 people, who rebelled against God, died due to a plague.  This is where most people typically ask about happened to the God of Love and Mercy?  Why do we see an angry, wrathful God?  Do we even believe in such a God or is this only true for the Old Testament or Old Covenant?

How we answer these questions depends on how love (Hebrew אָהַב ('ahab)) and mercy  (Hebrew חֶסֶד (Hesed)) are defined.  Love implies enjoying a close, intimate relationship while mercy is about kindness and faithfulness. 

In Genesis 15, God initiated a unilateral, everlasting covenant with Abraham in which He promised to give Abraham numerous descendants and the land of Canaan.   God revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  Then, after four hundred years, God revealed Himself to Moses.  Over this time period God was creating a nation with a special destiny and purpose. 

Through Moses, God instructed Israel in the only way in which He, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, could be approached.  God also separated the Levites to serve Him and within their ranks, only the direct descendants of Aaron were permitted to be priests.  All of the other Levites were to be helpers.  The sacrificial system was initiated and could only be effected through the Levites.  This was the only way that God provided for Israel to seek Him.

By instructing the nation in how to relate to Him, God was showing Israel how much He enjoyed a close relationship with them.  In His mercy, He promised to honor His covenant with Israel, to show that He is predisposed to be faithful and kind to the nation with whom He established His covenant. 

God’s covenant is with the nation.  So, when individuals in the nation, rebelled against God and against His wisdom, He protected the entire nation from the individuals who would have destroyed Israel.  The people who showed contempt for God were endangering the spiritual health and welfare of those who sought a relationship with God.  I believe that since the nation of Israel was still so young and so fragile, God did not think that they were able to withstand the toxic thinking of those who opposed Him, so He summarily dispatched the rebels to the hereafter.

By acting in this way, God was really showing just how much He loved and treasured Israel.
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