For the week of June 12, 2010 / 30 Sivan 5770
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 16:1 - 18:32; 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24; 1 Samuel 20:18-42


They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" (Bemidbar / Numbers 16:3; ESV)

This week's Torah portion includes a rebellious challenge by several key individuals of the community of Israel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Even though the people knew full well that the roles of Moses and Aaron were clearly defined by God, Moses offered to the rebels an opportunity to see God yet again confirm their leadership. This was not acceptable to the rebels, however. Their minds were already made up. God therefore severely punished them by causing the ground to swallow them alive.

This disaster set the whole community against Moses and Aaron. God's response was to destroy the whole nation, except that Moses and Aaron intervened on their behalf. God relented, but not until over 14,000 people had died.

This is one of the many examples of Scripture that illustrates what happens when we stubbornly rebel against God. Not only did it ruin the lives of the rebels themselves, but it destroyed their families and resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths. Rebellion against God is not just an individual matter; it brings destruction far beyond our own personal lives.

But how did the rebels get to the place where they would take such a stand against God's will? How is it that they could so misunderstand God's intentions for their community? When the rebels refused Moses' invitation to allow God to reconfirm the leadership he established, they said,

We will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up. (Bemidbar / Numbers 16:12-14; ESV)

These people had struggled ever since leaving Egypt. This is not the only time that a reference had been made to their having been well fed there and perhaps they were, but that may have been one of the only positive aspects of their lives as slaves. Somehow the hardship of living in the wilderness since their deliverance helped them to forget how terrible their lives had been and why it was they had cried out to God for help in the first place.

Living in the wilderness was not easy. More than once they were without food and/or water, many of their number had already died, and they failed to enter the Promised Land. But it wasn't the hardships themselves that fostered rebellion in their hearts; it was how they responded to those hardships. Instead of seeing life from God's perspective, learning the lessons he sought to teach them, they gave in to discouragement. Their discouragement skewed their view of the situation. They really believed that Moses and Aaron had overstepped their bounds by assuming leadership, when actually they were the ones who were overstepping their bounds by challenging them. Their warped understanding was due to their choosing to view their lives from a place of discouragement. They were completely convinced that Moses and Aaron were the problem and thus failed to learn what God was seeking to teach them.

Many of us tend to think that how we see life and life situations is the way they really are. We don't always realize how profoundly affected we are by the way we respond to circumstances. This is not to say that reality is based on our perspective or that life has no objective meaning. Rather, how we respond to our lives makes all the difference in how we see our lives. This is not just about having a good attitude, though good attitudes can help quite a bit. But good attitudes can only take us so far. In order to view life correctly in the face of serious hardships, we need to have God's perspective.

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