Korah’s rebellion during the Exodus reveals several issues that are worth considering. The situation arises following two events. Moses had sent the twelve spies into Canaan and ten of them came back with a bad report. Their rebellion against His Word, through their lack of trust that resulted in the people refusing to cross into the land, didn’t go over so well with God. The people had risen up against Moses for simply doing what the Lord commanded. Despite them acting against Moses, he interceded for them, but God killed by plague the ten chiefs who’d come back from Canaan grumbling (Numbers 14:37). On the heels of that, the people attempted to go up on their own into Canaan after God said the time for their incursion was over – He would cause them to wander in the wilderness to teach them a lesson. Regardless of God’s Word, the people acted once more in their own will as Numbers 14:44 recounts:
But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp.
For this act of presumption, God allowed the Amalekites and Canaanites to handily defeat the Israelites.
Then comes the man who disobeyed the law for working on the Sabbath. He was caught gathering sticks for firewood, and the Lord ordered him stoned to death (Numbers 15:36).
This was too much for the Levite Korah, a couple of other high ranking men, plus another 250 chiefs of the entire congregation. They challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron, essentially asking the following questions:
- Why was Moses making the rules?
- Why did they have to do what he said?
- Why did he order the man to be stoned to death simply for picking up sticks on an arbitrary day he called the Sabbath?
- Why couldn’t they now go into the promised land instead of him telling him they had to wander in the wilderness?
- What was it about Moses that he was the one who should tell them how to live?
Their act of presumption is captured in Numbers 15:10-11:
“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? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”
At this grumbling act of defiance, what does Moses do? Earlier, in a verse that some people snicker at because it seems presumptuous to them, we’re told in Numbers 12:3:
Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.
But in these situations where the people come against Moses, and thus, are really coming against God, what does Moses (and Aaron) do? Look at Numbers 16:22 in part:
And they fell on their faces…
Time and again Moses interceded for these stiff-necked people. They grumbled, came against Moses, and in so doing challenged God. But Moses, in his meekness – his humility – offered himself up for them. The people never seemed to learn, but Moses fell face down before the Lord asking for Him to relent and not kill them all. Their short memories constantly put them in jeopardy of their lives, and they never seemed to realize it. Moses did, and as their God-anointed leader, he caused God to refrain from His intent.
Moses’ intercession was for the people; it wasn’t for the leaders of the rebellion. As a result, Korah and those who had conspired against Moses all perished. The next day another uprising occurs. Once more a portion of Numbers 16:45 shows us about Moses and Aaron:
And they fell on their faces…
This time it didn’t stop God from sending a plague that consumed a huge number of the people, but because Moses pleaded for them before God, He stopped when only 14,700 of them died (Numbers 16:49). The implication is that it could have been many more.
In the weeding out of the righteous, where Moses and Aaron are shown to be approved by God, the 250 chiefs had been told to light censers so that God would act and reveal His approval. Upon their doing this, God sent fire to destroy these men for their presumption, but here is an interesting fact we learn from Numbers 16:37-38 as Moses speaks:
“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. 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.”
The act of these men lighting these censers and offering the incense to God caused the vessels to become holy. From that, God instructed Moses to make them part of the altar, as the altar itself was holy. The censers had been consecrated to the Lord, much as the Israelite firstborn had been, and then the Levites in their places. Something offered to the Lord became holy and had to be treated as such.
The rebellion of Korah and the associated aspects of the incident fascinate us to this day. It’s a dramatic incident. The presumption of Korah and the many men with him is staggering given all these people had witnessed. Throughout all the Exodus adventures to that point, Moses was obviously appointed by God to lead the people, yet somehow the thinking arose that he was simply acting on his own volition.
Moses’ humble and sacrificial demeanor is put on display numerous times throughout these passages. He was truly a man of God who didn’t value his own life above those of the ones God had sent him to lead.
As to the holiness of something that is offered as sacred to the Lord, surely that has value for us to consider in our Christian walk. What is that we offer to God when we commit to following Jesus Christ? Is it not our very bodies – the life that He has so freely given us? Isn’t this the concept behind our saying that Jesus shouldn’t only be our Savior; that He should also be our Lord? As our Lord, that makes Him our Master. The idea encompassed in that term is that He owns us. We are holy and consecrated in this relationship. Shouldn’t that change us? Shouldn’t we then live out this most unique connection we have with Him as though it’s the most important thing we’ll ever do?