Bible Study #24 – The Rebellion of Khorah

After reviewing some of OT insights regarding the day’s feast (St Michael), Fr. Anthony uses Numbers 15-18 as a chance to talk about unintentional sin, the cost of going against God, and the epic battles of censors and wooden rods (with the winners being proven worthy of the priesthood).  What does it all mean?  Enjoy the show!

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OT Bible Study #24: Khorah and the Budding of Aaron’s Staff

Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

A couple of things from today’s feast (The Feast of St. Michael the Archangel).

Hebrews 2:2&5. What is Hebrews 2:2 referring to? It’s not a mystery anymore! Why is Hebrews 2:5 so interesting? Was there ever a time when it looked as though angels were the best that the nations could hope for?

St. Luke 10:17-18. When did Satan fall? Note that there is more than one reasonable answer to this.

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “I am aware of [your power over demons], because as you set out on this journey by my will, you have conquered Satan. I saw him fall like lightning from heaven.” … The saying is true, because before the coming of the Savior, he possessed the world. All was subject to him, and there was no one able to escape the trap of his overwhelming might. Everyone worshiped him. He had temples and altars for sacrifice everywhere and had an innumerable multitude of worshipers. Since the only-begotten Word of God came down from heaven, he has fallen like lightning.

St. Ephraim the Syrian. It was not that [Satan] was actually in the heavens. He was not in them when he said, “I will place my throne above the stars,” but he fell from his greatness and his dominion. “I was looking at Satan, who fell like lightning from the heavens.” He did not fall from heaven, because lightning does not fall from heaven, since the clouds create it. Why then did he say “from the heavens”? This was because it was as though it was from the heavens, as if lightning which comes suddenly. In one second, Satan fell beneath the victory of the cross. Ordinary people were anointed and sent out by reason of their mission and were highly successful in a second, through miracles of healing those in pain, sickness and evil spirits. It was affirmed that Satan suddenly fell from his dominion, like lightning from the clouds. Just as lightning goes out and does not return to its place, so too did Satan fall and did not again have control over his dominion. “Behold, I am giving you dominion.”

Note that the second OT reading for St. Michael is the prophecy of Satan’s Fall (Isaiah 14: 7-20).

Psalm 137(138):1. This is the Psalm verse of the Magnification; the Psalm verse picked out because it best represented the goal of the feast. How does your Bible translate it? Note that it is not literally “angels”, but “elohim” that we will sing before (this is contrasted with the praise of kings (maleks) in the next paragraph).

Now, back to our study…

Numbers 15: 22-26. How can sin be unintentional? What does it even mean?

We often think of sin as if it were intentional rule-breaking, but evidently there is more to it than that. Sin means missing the mark; can you miss a mark you aren’t aiming at? Much of what pollutes our world, damages our relationships, and harms our souls is NOT the result of intentional evil, but 1) the result of unintended consequences of otherwise reasonable actions and 2) the result of apathetic, uninformed and/or ignorant action. Ignorance and good intentions are NOT enough to cover our sin; the ONLY answer for sin is repentance and accepting the grace of God offered in the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ. This is built into the Christian way of life from the ground up. It is only when we approach the idea of sin as worldly philosophers and egoists that we miss it. Here are three examples of the way the reality of this is built into our Christian habits:

From Soul’s Bread; Forgive and forget, O God, all my sins which I have committed willingly and unwillingly, in thought, word and deed, – in daytime and at night; for Thou art good and lovest mankind. (Evening Prayers)

For these and all other known and unknown sins, I am heartfully sorry,… (Prayer at Confession)

… Therefore, I pray Thee, have mercy upon me, and forgive me my transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, whether of word of deed; whether committed with knowledge or in ignorance...” (Prayer before Communion).

Also, regarding the more general thrust of Numbers 15 etc., note how the prayers of the modern priest are similar to those of the Old Covenant;

We give thanks to You, Lord God of Hosts, for You have made us worthy to stand even now before Your holy altar and to bow down before Your compassion on account of our sins and the failings of the people. Accept our prayer, God, and make us worthy to offer You prayers and supplications and sacrifices without the shedding of blood for all Your people. Enable us, whom You have placed in this Your ministry by the power of Your Holy Spirit, to call upon You at all times and in all places without condemnation or offense but with a clear conscience, that hearing us, You may, in your great Goodness, be merciful to us. For to You are due all glory, honor and worship; to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (First Prayer of the Faithful)

Numbers 15: 32-36. What about God demanding the stoning of the Sabbath day wood gatherer?

St. John Chrysostom. The law, if it arrests a murderer, puts him to death. The gospel, if it arrests a murderer, enlightens and gives him life. And why do I cite a murderer? The law laid hold on one that gathered sticks on a sabbath day and stoned him. This is the stark import of “the letter kills.”

Numbers 16. The rebellion of Korahan Levites, the Battle of the Censors, the New Punishment, and the Plague.

St. Ambrose. You are considering then what the causes of their offense were. They were willing to exercise the priesthood unworthily, and for that reason they dissented. Moreover, they murmured and disapproved of the judgment of God in their election of their priests (the sons of Aaron).

Numbers 17 & 18. The Contest of the Staffs. Both callings are supported.

St. Caesarius of Arles. There is only one true high priest, as Scripture says, of whom the high priest Aaron presented a figure. For this reason his rod blossomed. Just as Aaron’s rod sprouted among the Jewish people, so the cross of Christ flowered among the Gentiles. However, since Christ is the true high priest, as we have often said, he is the only one whose rod of the cross not only sprouted but also blossomed and produced the fruit of all believers. What is the fruit which it bore? “Ripe almonds.”

Next Week: Pastor Michael Landsman on the Bronze Serpent.

Bibliography

Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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