There are a number of great lessons that we can learn from the story of Korah and his rebellion (Numbers 13). Interestingly, by seeing the impatience, impiety, and arrogance of this man, our eyes are opened to our own faults. If, indeed, somebody great like Elijah was a man with a character similar to ours (James 5:17), then someone evil like Korah represents the other side of our character.
They “Took Action”
We are introduced to a man named Korah in Numbers 16:1, “Now Korah the son of Izhar. The son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action…” It is never a good sign when uninspired men with an agenda “take action.” Usually, the action they take is irrational, so let us never fall into the trap that “any action is better than no action.”
· Similarly, King Saul took action without guidance in 1 Samuel 13. Having waited so long for Samuel to return, it appeared that nothing was happening! “Who will not pity Saul? Nothing was happening. The brave hero, having waited seven days for Samuel to bless the battle at Gilgal, felt he could wait no more and slew the cultic calf himself” (“When nothing’s happening”, Seu, World Magazine, December 24, 2005).
· The big danger when nothing is happening is to make something happen.
· Unhappy husbands do this by looking for fulfillment in extra-marital relationships.
· Children do this when they become impatient about birthday gifts and go looking for them in their parents’ closets.
· Christians do this when they become impatient about how quickly prayers are being answered.
· Sometimes we need to understand that God takes time, and the way He wants to do something may not please us in the short term. Korah, for example, believed that he had a right to bull ahead and take initiative where it was not called for.
“And they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown” (16:2). It does not matter to God whether or not a man is of renown. Even the most noteworthy individuals mean nothing before the Lord (Galatians 2:6) because He does not show partiality. We should always be very careful not to follow a leader simply because of his reputation or his fame. Often, people are led astray by celebrities or “heroes” without ever stopping to listen to what they are saying.
“And they assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone far enough…’” (16:3) Perhaps they ought to have said such a statement about themselves! False teachers and apostates often never apply their own reasoning to themselves, proposing that “everybody else” has taken things too far or has apostatized the truth.
· It is sad that such inconsistency exists in our world. If more people would apply their own lessons to themselves, then maybe we would have fewer hypocrites and more humble people who are willing to grow and learn.
· Many thinkers in our liberal society are like this, as well. They often criticism conservatives because we are close-minded, stubborn, and unwilling to change. Yet I know very few liberals who are open to anything that contradicts their thinking.
· Do righteous people really go “too far” when they obey the word of God? Is it so unreasonable that Moses and Aaron are simply keeping the command given them by God. We need to remember that when people deride us for the stands that we take, we have wisdom from above not below. Remind people of what Peter and John said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
“‘For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’” Korah and his followers assert that it is wrong for Moses and Aaron to say who can and who cannot perform priestly duties before the Lord, i.e., incense burning, animal sacrifices, special ceremonial washing, and other exclusive functions. In the mind of Korah, all of Israel is holy to God, so why should there be any distinction between the priests (the descendents of Aaron) and all the other Israelites? Indeed, this argument sounds much like the one being made today by many religious people about women in church leadership roles. Indeed, if we are all equal in the eyes of God (Galatians 3:28) then why are women not allowed to lead singing, or serve as deaconesses, or even preach? The problem with such arguments, though, is that they completely ignore previously revealed words of God. Women cannot serve as deaconesses because of the scriptures (1 Timothy 3:8), and neither can they preach (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34). In the same way, Korah should have considered what God had already said concerning the priestly duties in Exodus 28:1, 29:9, 28 and should have also accepted the authority of Moses as a prophet (Numbers 12:7-8).
The Godly Challenge
“When Moses heard this, he fell on his face; and spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, ‘Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself” (16:4-5). First, Moses responds very well to these accusations, as he often does. He bows down to the ground and puts his trust in God. Second, he leaves the judgment up to the only One who truly knows best; Jehovah. Moses does not waste his breath trying to defend himself, but instead proposes that God be the One to determine who is in the right. He effectively “leaves room for the wrath of God” instead of just forcing his own wrath (Romans 12:19). If God is on the side of Moses, it will become very clear and the system of priests shall remain intact. But if God is truly on the side of Korah and his followers, then the opportunity to perform priestly duties shall be opened up to every Israelite and Moses shall be supplanted.
· We need to be willing to challenge the enemies of God in the same way. Too often, Christians are sheepish about taking a stand for something. We are unwilling to stick our necks for God, fearing that He will either disappoint us or we will be proven wrong.
· Did Moses have such fears, though? Given the promises of God, as well as the proof that He offered constantly, there was no reason for Moses to doubt!
· So why do we doubt?
“Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company, and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the Lord tomorrow; and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi” (16:6-7)! Moses reverses the situation by reasserting his authority. Even in the presence of usurpers like Korah, this prophet of God still commands attention, respect, and obedience. He further turns the tide when he uses the exact same words originally used against him. “You have gone far enough” is all he needs to say to stop these wicked men in their tracks.
16:8-11 – “Is it not enough…” Is it ever enough for a greedy person to have what God has given to him (Ecclesiasts 5:10)? It is so sad to see privileged people complaining because they do not get their way, even though countless others are suffering from want and hunger. Do we ever ask for more? Do we ever ignore the rich gifts that God has already given to us? As for Korah and his fellow Levites, they were given a very special place amongst the Israelite company – they were helpers in the tabernacle. Although they were not allowed to perform priestly duties, they still were given the chance to do tasks that no other tribe in Israel was allowed to undertake. For their greed, they are condemned in Jude 11. “Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the Lord” (16:11). Although they were gathered together against Moses and Aaron, it was actually against God who they were rebelling. When anybody disobeys a prophet, or even the words of a faithful prophet of God, it is just the same as disobeying God Himself.
16:12-14 – Here we read about how far the unrighteousness had spread. Speaking to Korah’s co-conspirators, Dathan and Abiram, Moses learns just how spiteful these men had become. They personally blame Moses and Aaron for leading them into the wilderness to die and exclaim that they are tired of the supposed “dictatorship” of them.
“Then Moses became very angry and said to the Lord, ‘Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them” (16:15). He is saying that it is extremely unfair for the company of Korah to come up against him because he has done no wrong to them.
16:15-19 – The contest is set up now, with Aaron and his priests offering their incense and Korah and his followers offering theirs, two hundred and fifty firepans altogether. There is a lesson that we can learn here: our enemies will often take us right to the brink before giving up. When doctrinal opponents challenge us, they will not back down from the fight, so we must be willing to support the truth and go the whole way in a challenge.
16:20-27 – The anger of the Lord burns against the transgressors and we once again see the interceding nature of Moses and Aaron. If not for their entreaties, it is likely that God would have wiped out the entire congregation of Israelites right there and started fresh with the few faithful individuals among the nation. Like the Israelites, we make many mistakes in this life and God sees them all. The only reason we have not been judged harshly is because of the grace and mercy of God by the gentle intercession of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1-2). Instead of obliterating all of the Hebrews, though, Jehovah limits the destruction to the rebels and their households – which would include their wives and children (16:27). While some would see this as too harsh a judgment, we should always remember that the will of God is always right. In order to cut off the rebellious nature of Korah and his followers, it would be necessary to destroy the entire household, lest a spiteful son or servant incite another rebellion in memory of Korah. Also, any children who are destroyed in God’s judgment would automatically be received into Paradise because they are sinless.
“By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing” (16:28). It is very unfortunate that people have to learn about God in such ways, but men like Korah will not take prophecies or wise words for what they are worth. This seems to be the only way for God to prove that Moses is His legitimate spokesman.
16:29-35 – “If these men die of the death of all men, or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me” (16:29), that is, if God allows Korah and his followers to live full, healthy lives and die of natural causes, then surely it is God’s will that this rebellion took place and Moses was removed from his position. “But if the Lord brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord” (16:30). And all these things happen exactly as Moses predicts in the following verses. Such a punishment is suitable for people who blaspheme God and mock His worship. Now we must apply this story to our own lives and consider whether or not we have lived like Korah. When we become disgruntled or disappointed with the way that God has organized worship (for example, no instrumental music, no women leading worship, Lord’s supper in a set pattern, etc.) do we rebel and propose a change to the revealed Word? Essentially, that is what Korah wanted to do. He decided that he did not like what God had said, refused to accept it, rebelled against it, and was punished for it.
16:36-40 – The bronze pans that were used by Korah to burn incense are taken and turned into sheets for the altar of the Lord, as a reminder to everybody not to profane the worship.
16:41-50 – As the chapter closes, the remnants of the unfaithful amongst Israel are stricken with some kind of plague and 14,700 Israelites die (16:49).