Monday, September 17, 2007

The Glory of God in Numbers 4

God's glory is a continuing theme in scripture. I think that we tend to mis-read the word "glory," and we think of it in terms of what we do, that is that we "glorify" God, meaning we worship Him.

The Hebrew word has a more physical meaning, indicating a glowing. (This would be consonant with the Transfiguration account, when -- Matt. 17.2 -- we are told that Jesus' face shone like the sun, and that His clothing was bright white).

In Numbers 4.15, Kohath and his sons were commanded to bear the instruments of the Tabernacle, but they were not to touch the holy things, "lest they die."

Most people hearing this in our culture hear this as a command that they not touch the holy things, lest they "be killed." But in a sense, the potential death warned against here is a passive one, in the same way that we might warn someone to be watchful on a highway because they might be killed.

God is not waiting to catch the sons of Kohath in order to kill them. Instead, a death in such a situation is a "natural" one, in which the one touching dies as a result of touching something partaking of God's glory. This was the fear in much of the Bible, of dying as a result of contact with God's naked glory, to paraphrase Luther. Note again the disciples in Matt. 17.6: "they were sore afraid." Likewise in Acts 9.3, a light from heaven shines on Saul, who is said to be "trembling" (vs. 6). Note again the physicalness of the description: Saul is not only afraid, he is shaking. Good Pharisee that he is, Saul knows the warning to the sons of Kohath, that people who touch God risk death. Did Saul in that instance know that in persecuting the church, he was touching God by hurting the body of Christ?

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