For the week of June 9, 2012 / 19 Sivan 5772
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 8:1 - 12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7


How Things Work

And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary. (Bemidbar / Numbers 8:19; ESV)

When people discuss spiritual things they are often concerned with questions to do with how things work: How can God hear everyone's prayers at the same time? How can God create something from nothing? How does prayer work? How does salvation work? This reminds me of the common reaction of "How did you do that?" to someone doing a magic trick.

This type of reaction is normal and expected in many cultures. I don't know if the whole world is like this and if people have been reacting this way since the beginning. But in the world of today with our obsession with complex technological devices, we are used to impressive human innovations. Few understand how these things work, but we are happy that at least someone does.

An essential aspect of life that many of us are lacking in, is plain old amazement - what we might call wonder. The reaction of wonder is one that is no less impressed by what it encounters, but it allows itself to feel the impact of the thing, rather than analyzing it. Not that it is never appropriate to analyze something. It's that our tendency to think that understanding is derived from trying to figure out how things work that distracts us from what are most likely deeper and more helpful levels of understanding.

When we look at the stars, it is completely mind boggling to think about the vastness of space, the number and sizes of stars and other extraterrestrial objects. As soon as we try to grasp how these things came to be (beyond that God created it all), we get lost in an infinite amount of unknown details. But if we would allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the fact that the heavens are the product of a Creative Genius, who also made us, and that this same Creator wants to be in intimate relationship with us, then we may find ourselves understanding the stars as never before.

The kind of wonder you may be now experiencing is one that is wondering what this has to do with the passage I read. More than you might think! We read that one of the purposes of the tribe of Levi was "to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary". What is that about? Sounds like if it hadn't been for the service provided by the Levites, plagues would have afflicted the people. It sounds like that, because that's what it says. Now it's my turn to wonder. I wonder how many people just skip over passages like this, because it doesn't make much sense to us. Our inability to sufficiently analyze this sort of thing, to understand how something like this works, prevents us from its intended impact.

Its impact upon this passage's first hearers is clear. They knew that the work of the Levites was essential to prevent them from unnecessary suffering. But what about the impact on readers today? Twenty-first century humans are so cocky. Most of us that get up each morning and sleep in a comfortable bed at night, who have enough to eat, enjoy a roof over our heads, and clothing to wear - not to mention all the other extras - have no clue of the things that God does to protect us from the dangers of life. Since the rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, our world has been lethal, filled will all sorts of mortal dangers. Most of us will survive this day, and the next, and the next, but not realize that we will only do so because of the love and grace of God protecting us far more than we realize.

It's not just that the world is full of dangers; it's that in actuality every child comes into this world under God's wrath. It's only because he holds back the full venting of his anger that we are not completely destroyed. The people of Israel were in even greater danger because God chose to have his dwelling among them. If the Levites didn't perform the required sacrifices, Israel would have been obliterated. As for the rest of the world, God has been exercising extreme patience as he has been working out his plan of salvation these thousands of years.

We can spend our time trying to figure these things out or we can accept them for what they are. God, through the Messiah, has provided a way so that we can live our lives no longer under the threat of his wrath. By putting our trust in Yeshua, we can be assured of God's favor in our lives.

How does this work? I have no idea. I just know it does.

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