5 “Your children didn’t see how the Lord cared for you in the wilderness until you arrived here. 6 They didn’t see what he did to Dathan and Abiram (the sons of Eliab, a descendant of Reuben) when the earth opened its mouth in the Israelite camp and swallowed them, along with their households and tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But you have seen the Lord perform all these mighty deeds with your own eyes! – Deut. 11.5-7 (NLT)
Now one of the things that we have mentioned several times is that sin corrupts the planet. A lot of what we see as natural disasters is just the wages of sin, it is not God judging anything or anyone. Sin pollutes the planet and it is groaning and travailing right now.
Now the events of Korah getting swallowed up by the earth are found in Numbers 16, and what essentially happens is Korah is disloyal to Moses and challenges his position as the leader of the Jewish nation, and some people side with Korah, as is always the case in this kind of foolish disloyalty.
So, they are bringing strife into the people of Israel, distracting them from their path forward into the promised land. Moses says that this rebellion was so strong, the earth swallowed them up. This is what I have been trying to say – the earth itself cannot handle sin and death, it was never designed for the amount of sin that humans commit.
This failsafe is shown first of all at the first murder – that sin leads to the earth opening her mouth to receive Abel’s blood! And the ground was changed so much by the first murder on the earth, it could not even be tilled anymore! (This is all in Genesis 4.10-12 and fairly explicit, I am not quoting it here as I want you to read it in your own Bible and see it is the ground reacting to the murder!). God does not say in those verses in Genesis that He opened the earth up or that He actively made the earth hard for Cain to till. No – the earth is just not designed to handle sin. Even the fact Cain is cursed is not God cursing him – it’s just the result of his sin. Sin pays death, that’s why Jesus set us free from sin.
So, we establish in Genesis that great sin opens the mouth of the earth. And yet in Deut. 11, we see that this is described as a great act of the Lord. Again, we go back to the fact that the Lord did not do it, in fact it says “the earth opened her mouth” – but again in Hebrew we have this permissive case where God is said to do that which He did not actively stop from happening. The fact is that one of the things that is essential in Hebrew is that the Hebrew text will frequently say God did something that He did not actively do, but just that He did not actively stop it.
Cain was a son of Adam, and yielded to satan, so satan could through Cain kill another human and usurp authority on the planet. John tells us Cain was of the evil one – and if we yield to satan, we give satan authority on the earth, and it always leads to an increase in destruction. The earth cannot cope with sin. When we look at natural disasters we often ask “where is God in the midst of it”, and the truth is that God is not in the midst of it, we yielded to satan and rejected God and we ruined the planet! We need to stop attacking our planet by selfish, rebellious, sinful behaviour.
The Lord Makes a New Thing
Now in Numbers 16, before the event, when Korah rebels, Moses says that the Lord will make a new thing, and that the earth will open its mouth and swallow Korah. But again, Moses says “the earth will open its mouth”. The earth is not new – Moses was well aware of what happened when Abel was killed by Cain. It was new – in that this had never happened to a family before, the earth opened up, swallowed the family, then closed back up. But did the Lord make it?
Well, if you look at Isaiah 45.7, it says “I create evil”, in reference to the Lord. Some people read that and actually think God literally created evil, that God invented sin, God is behind sin, God makes people sin, God makes satan sin, God employs satan and so many other strange and foolish ideas. The Bible actually tells us that God has nothing to do with evil (see James 1.13), so that passage does not mean God does moral evil.
But if you study the word “evil” here, it means a disaster. And what God was saying in Isaiah 45, prophesying the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, that the Lord allows disasters to happen. It is not about God actively doing it, or God being behind sin. It means God will let these things happen. One third-century Bible commentary tells us that this verse should be translated “I keep the peace, and I allow war”, so even back then people realized about this permissive understanding of Hebrew.
God is not the author of evil, satan is, and humans help! But in the sense that God lets us face the consequences of our sin, God permitted natural disasters and wars.
So if the work “create” can clearly be passive here, it can be passive in Numbers as well. I know a Hebrew speaker who told me “I create evil” means “I allow evil”, it is wrong to translate it “I do the evil myself”
I hope this helps you realize how sinful sin is here, but also how good God is. Do not make God the direct agent on things that He has already given us dominion that we are abusing and misusing!