It was a tough week in the Daily Bible. Last week, we read about God describing the materials and dimensions and requirements for the building of the tabernacle and the priestly garments. This week those things were built, just as God commanded, which is a good thing and all, but the descriptive passages were nearly identical. It was too soon to go through that again. I'm not a great visualizer. So I didn't really get the tabernacle picture last week, and I still don't have it. Oh, I've seen pictures. But when I read it, I kind of go into a survival mode where my only goal is to finish. And that's not the right attitude, I know.
Except for those couple of chapters that we skipped last week that we're going to pick up again sometime in the future, we're finished with Exodus. This week's readings also covered a few bits of Leviticus, the rest of which we'll find with those missing Exodus chapters later. But the lion's share (or so it seemed) of this week's reading was from Numbers. Oh, Numbers, how you test me. There's a passage in chapter seven that describes the offerings brought by the leader of each tribe. They all brought identical offerings of twenty-six different items over the course of twelve days and seventy-one verses. Then in case one missed out on those seventy-one verses, there's a summation of the total offerings from all the tribes. Numbers chapter seven tests my faith. I'm just being honest here.
I understand, or at least try to understand, the importance of those careful instructions regarding tabernacle construction, and I'm going to understand later the importance of the details of the law. God's in the business of making these people set apart. Holiness doesn't just happen. It's not easy, and an obedient heart, a heart that seeks to draw near to God through the methods that He prescribes, is the big deal. So I read most of these passages that occasionally get repetitive, and I appreciate that God, through Moses, is trying to emphasize that obedience matters. So I can be as understanding and appreciative as can be, but it's still a tough read, when taken all together.
But just in case careless readers didn't understand that God is serious about obedience, in this week's reading, we also have, from Leviticus 10, the unauthorized fire of Nadab and Abihu. This is an interesting story to me. It's not the first or last time that some Bible character will know what God expects and do something else anyway. But it is one of those instances when the consequences for disobedience are immediate and final. This sparked a decent amount of discussion in our class this morning. Why does Aaron, who creates an idol for worship, get off with an admonishment while his sons use the wrong fire and get swallowed up in fire instantaneously? A very wise commenter in class saved me from more useless speculation by declaring it a heart issue. God knows the hearts of people in a way that we can't, and perhaps there was something unrepentant or so blatantly defiant in Nadab and Abihu that required their punishment.
As the discussion went on around me, I was struck by the similarities of Nadab and Abihu to one of the few New Testament examples of God's swift and irreversible punishment: Ananias and Sapphira. I don't want to steal a story from next November, but these two early Christians sell a piece of property and lay a portion of the money at the apostles' feet. No one was forcing them to give anything, but when others were giving all that they had to the young community of faith, Ananias and Sapphira keep something back and lie about giving it all. And God strikes them dead without so much as a "how do you do." Just as in the case of our priestly brothers, they weren't the first or last try to serve self and God at the same time. But they were punished in a very public and permanent way.
It occurs to me that in both cases, these folks were caught in their sin when their respective faiths were still young. God was still laying down the Mosaic law to the Hebrews when the unauthorized fire incident occurs, and the New Testament church is still in its earliest days in the Acts 5 account. This is purely speculative, but perhaps it was important to show the followers of these fledgling religions that obedience mattered--that though God is merciful and to quote VeggieTales "the God of second chances (Praise the Lord)," He's still God, and His judgment can be swift.
Additionally, both Nadab and Abihu and Ananias and Sapphira were sinning in a worship context. The unauthorized fire was in the tabernacle, where God encountered His people. Ananias and Sapphira brought the partial offering to where the apostles were assembled. It doesn't seem accidental that if you mess with God in His house (and the NT version of His house is the people), you get what you get (or you get what they got). This is all the worst kind of speculation, but they're just the thoughts I was having as we talked about Leviticus 10 this morning.
One last thing I'm processing as I re-encounter God's covenanting with the Hebrews is this story as a foundation for the Incarnation. As the church is a pre-cursor to Heavenly fellowship, the Judaic law is a model for the God-relationship that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus guaranteed for us. The sacrifice and intercession that God is establishing with this people in this tabernacle are imperfect harbingers of the perfect salvation that is to come. And it's that thought that's going to keep me slogging through Numbers.