Rebellion and betrayal…people assembled for God’s judgement…the earth opening up and swallowing people…all details of a story you may not be familiar with, the story of Korah, a Levite. While you may not be familiar with the story, I’d be willing to bet you’ll find emotions and motivations you’re familiar with!
Scripture: Numbers 16 Korah’s Rebellion
Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. 2 And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. 3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” 4 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, 5 and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. 6 Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company;
7 put fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” 8 And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9 is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10 and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”
12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14 Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” 15 And Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.”
16 And Moses said to Korah, “Be present, you and all your company, before the Lord, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow. 17 And let every one of you take his censer and put incense on it, and every one of you bring before the Lord his censer, 250 censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer.” 18 So every man took his censer and put fire in them and laid incense on them and stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron. 19 Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation.
20 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” 22 And they fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” 23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”
. . . 31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to
Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.
36 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 37 “Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to take up the censers out of the blaze. Then scatter the fire far and wide, for they have become holy. 38 As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they offered them before the Lord, and they became holy. Thus they shall be a sign to the people of Israel.” . . .
41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” 42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. 46 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” 47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. 49 Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped. ESV
For 400 years the children of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt and then God sent Moses to rescue them. They escaped Egypt by the miracle of the Red Sea and reached Mt. Sinai where they were given the Law. But they rebelled and refused to trust in the Lord so He sentenced them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years under Moses’ leadership. But Korah and his friends were not satisfied. They wanted more, and because of their dissatisfaction, they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Rebellion means they defied their leaders and led a revolt against Moses and Aaron.
The problem with rebellion is that God takes personally any attempt to rebel against His plans and purposes – that’s why the Israelites were wandering around the desert in the first place! We probably should not be surprised that Korah wasn’t happy. The Israelites as a whole had been grumbling about something ever since they had left Egypt.
Rebellion is very destructive and the consequences seldom work out well for anybody involved. That’s especially true when the adversary is the Lord God! In western society today the underdog who rebels against authority is often portrayed as the hero. Today someone who is unhappy often feels he is entitled to do whatever is necessary to make his situation acceptable to himself, regardless of the consequences.
In movies, TV dramas, books, documentaries, etc., how is the one who rebels against authority often treated? What’s the storyline and what does it produce? The rebel is often portrayed as the hero. Authority seems to be considered the villain and it is acceptable to rebel against authority because it is inherently bad and won’t let you have your own way! The problem with this thinking is that it produces the belief that authority is bad or evil. Self and personal desires are considered more important than law.
Numbers 16:3 says that the rebels claimed that the whole community was holy (set apart) and the Lord was with them. Is there any truth to that statement? Yes, God had declared them holy, or set apart (Nu 19:6), but that did not mean He was with them in their rebellion. There were requirements for receiving God’s blessing and being His people – the Law.
One might suggest that Korah was against Moses and Aaron, and he was. But ultimately he was rebelling against God, since it was God who appointed Moses and Aaron. Korah wanted power, prestige, greater glory, and a high status in the community. If Moses were overcome, then Aaron would certainly be susceptible to being overthrown. Then the rebels would have control of the priesthood.
After God’s victory He wanted to create a covering for the altar out of the dead rebel’s firepans (16:38). It would be a memorial of the rebels’ utter folly in proclaiming themselves leaders. The firepans would have become holy (16:36) because they were cleansed by the fire of the 250 rebels.
Why do you think God reacted so dramatically to Korah’s rebellion? It is very likely He wanted to set an example. The Levites already had a higher station or calling than most of the rest of the people and they were usurping God’s authority. They threatened God directly through the ones He ordained for these jobs.
What do we learn about God in this story? What does God think about rebellion? Does He respond to desperate prayers? Does God give second chances?
In similar circumstances, would prayer be your first reaction?
What would you have done?
What would you have prayed for?
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