Well, my Bible reading has taken me into the book of Numbers, for the first time in years. I have formerly avoided this book like the plague-namely, because it is very appropriately named. This book is full of numbers! And at times, I would be tempted to skip over these sections or regard them as something like reading from the telephone book. But I refuse to fall into this trap. Every word written in the scriptures is Revelation from God. God would not have placed something in the Bible if it was not important. So I read it, in the hopes of learning it's significance.
Some of this is paying off, since I am now rereading some stories that I had long since forgotten.
In one of these, Moses and Aaron are leading the people of Israel in the wilderness, when a rebellion suddenly arises among the people. A man named Korah, leading a large number of men whose words carried weight in the community, challenged Moses. He believed that he, along with his followers (most notably Dathan and Abiram) were more fit to lead Israel than Moses. Moses, as one can easily imagine, was badly upset by this. After all, leading the people of Israel hadn't exactly been easy for him, and he certainly hadn't applied for this job. And now, after he had given all he had for these people, they spat in his face!
Moses proposed a solution, in which everyone would stand before the Lord, and God Himself would reveal who He had chosen to lead Israel. The following day, this was done. Moses, Aaron, and all those who had rebelled stood before the Lord. Then Moses declared that if nothing happened soon, it would be proof that the rebels had been chosen by God to lead the people. But if the earth opened up and swallowed all the rebels, burying them alive, it would prove that God had chosen Moses and Aaron. No sooner had he said this than the ground opened up and swallowed the rebels whole, burying them alive. Korah, Dathan and Abiram were immediately crushed to death, along with their whole families.
You don't hear that story in Sunday school when you're 5 years old.
I think that some people would say that this depiction of God is inconsistent with the New Testament, which focuses heavily on mercy as a theme. But I find this to be oversimplfied. In fact, Jesus addresses the subject of Hell more frequently than any ther subject in His preaching-more frequently than everyone else in the Bible, put together. And in the Old Testament, we find an almost unlimited number of cases where Israel rebels against God, then repents, and God forgives them.
I beleve that this passage is meant to teach us that God is no one to be trifled with. When we sin, he takes it seriously. His wrath against evil in its various forms is terrible to behold. The fact that this wrath is so great is all the more impressive in the New Testament, when all of God's wrath is poured out on Jesus, who willingly submits to it for our sakes. If we do not understand the immensity of God's hatred towards sin, we cannot undersand the immensity of His love in forgiving it.
Here is most recent passage I have memorized: Genesis 3:20-4:5.
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, "The man has now become like one of us-knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever." So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden, to work the ground from which he had been taken. After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden Cherubim and a flaming sword, flashing back and forth, to guard the way to the tree of life. Adam lay with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man!" Later, she gave birth to his broher, Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering. But on Cain and his offering, He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.