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Korah's Rebellion

Korah's death

by Dennis Pollock

The life story of Moses is truly unique. Never, before or since, do we see God using and speaking so clearly to a man as He did Moses, apart from our Lord Jesus Himself. The Scriptures tell us that God speaks to His prophets through dreams and visions, but to Moses He spoke face to face, the way a man speaks to his friend.

When we consider the life of Moses we naturally think of the mighty way God used him to force the stubborn-hearted Pharaoh to release the Israelites, but in fact that was but a very brief portion of his life and service to God and God’s people. In fact it might be argued that the season of the plagues and confrontations with Pharaoh made up the easy part. The really tough and frustrating aspect of Moses’ ministry came afterwards, when he led the whining, complaining, rebellious Israelites through the wilderness for the next forty years.

One of the greatest challenges to Moses’ authority happened relatively early after being freed from Egypt. By this point they had already defied the God of Israel by refusing to enter the promised land. For their unbelief and rebellion God had told them that they would wander for the next 40 years through the wilderness, until all the adults had died off. Since they could not trust in God, their descendants would be the ones to inherit the land of Canaan.

After a while a general dissent and widespread murmuring began to fill the camp. It started with several Levites, men whose tribe had been chosen to serve as helpers to the priests in the service of the tabernacle. The men’s names were Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The Bible tells us: "Now Korah with Dathan and Abiram rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, men of renown." This mutinous spirit had spread quickly and infected some of the key leaders and most impressive personalities in this roving nation.

Confrontation

Confronting Moses, they told him, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" Not only did they defy the servant of the Lord; they had the audacity to bring God into their argument, declaring that Moses was no more God’s representative than they were. Moses’ leadership and even his life was at stake here. 250 of the key leaders of Israel were arrayed against him, and seemed determined to remove him from his office.

Moses on his faceAt that point Moses resorted to a peculiar habit of his, one that no doubt puzzled many. He fell prostrate on the ground. Moses was strange that way. You could be arguing with him, or he might feel himself in a sudden crisis, and the next thing you know, he would be on the ground. The Bible tells us that Moses was the meekest man on the earth, and one of the manifestations of this meekness was that he refused to get into shouting matches or fight his own battles. In times of confrontation or peril he would fall to the ground and wait for God to speak to him and defend him.

Soon Moses rose to his feet, filled with a mixture of confidence and indignation, declaring, "Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His and who is holy." He told the band of rebels to bring incense holders the next day and stand before the tabernacle and present them to the Lord. At that time the Lord would show who was His and who was holy. Later, in an apparent attempt to head off the impending confrontation and the judgment he knew was sure to come upon the rebels, Moses called for two of the principal discontents, Dathan and Abiram. These men refused to even meet with him, sending him the following message:

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 should keep acting like a prince over us? Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.

As is always the case when men rebel against God’s authority, these men had it exactly wrong. The truth was, they could have been in the promised land by now if they had the faith and courage of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. It was their cowardice and unbelief that was forcing Moses to play nursemaid for them, as they wandered from one wilderness camp to another, while their generation gradually passed from the scene.

God Shows Up

The next day all the 250 leaders, along with the authors of the rebellion, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, stood before the door of the tabernacle with their incense holders in their hands. These men were brimming with confidence, fully expecting that God would vindicate them and rebuke or remove this bossy, dictatorial, humorless Moses. It is one of the more ironic and fascinating principles of life that men and women can be dead wrong in their opinions, totally, flagrantly, blatantly, unquestionably evil, and still be convinced that they are the good guys. Hitler, Stalin, Jim Jones, Osama Bin Laden, and many lesser known moral monsters have lived with a supreme confidence that they were saviors of humanity, the correctors of a world desperately in need of their wisdom and ruthless solutions.

The Bible says: "The glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation." But God was not just upset with these leaders. Their complaints and  murmurs against Moses had by now affected the majority of the people of Israel, and God was ready to destroy them all. He told Moses, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” Once again Moses fell to the ground, this time not for defense from rebels but out of deep concern for the "congregation of Israel." He cried to the Lord, "Shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?" Of course Moses was exaggerating a bit here, and both he and God knew it. This rebellion might have begun with one man, but by now it had spread throughout nearly the entire nation. Still, Moses’ heart was in the right place, and God heard the prayer of the great intercessor.

He instructed Moses to command the people to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Moses obeyed, and urged the people of Israel to separate from the three principal rebels. Then he addressed his whining flock, saying:

If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the LORD.

"I Was Wrong!"

Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their families stood confidently by their tents, sure they were in the right and that Moses was nothing more than a tyrant. It didn’t take long for them to learn differently. Moses had barely finished speaking when the ground split apart and the three men, their wives, and their children all fell into the deep chasm God had just created. As they fell to their deaths, screaming and terrified, they must have had a few brief seconds to contemplate that apparently Moses was God’s man after all. They had been wrong - dead wrong as it turned out! Not only were the three principal mutineers removed from the face of the earth, but God sent fire from heaven and consumed all 250 men who had been brought into their impeachment attempt.

One might suppose that this would surely have put an end to all of the complaints and murmurings in the camp. In fact the opposite happened. The next day, when the initial shock had worn off, a whispering accusation against Moses spread rapidly among these stiff-necked people. Finally they had the courage to confront Moses, protesting: "You have killed the people of the Lord!" The words had barely escaped their lips when someone noticed that cloudy, misty presence over the tabernacle, as the glory of the Lord was suddenly manifested. God spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." Again Moses, along with Aaron, fell on his face before God, pleading with the Lord to spare His people.

A plague began to sweep across the people of Israel, leaving instant death in its wake. Moses acted quickly, and told Aaron, the high priest, to take an incense censer and to stand in the midst of the plague, to make atonement for the people. Aaron did as he was instructed, and the Bible says, "And he stood between the dead and the living; so the plague was stopped." When the dust had cleared nearly fifteen thousand people were dead, and people’s murmurs and complaints were finally ended, at least for the time being.

Relevance For Us

This is a dramatic story but in some ways seems a bit irrelevant for us today. Moses is long dead; God doesn’t work with us today as He did then, and there is no man, pastor, preacher, or evangelist who can dare claim the kind of authority that Moses had.

And yet the Bible tells us that "These things were written for our admonition..." These dramatic Old Testament stories contain powerful lessons for people of every generation. First, although there is no Moses for us to obey today, God has always had an expression of His authority in the earth. In fact, when you study His word and His ways you find that God is very big on authority. He tells wives to be subject to the authority of their husbands, children to obey their parents, Christians to be in subjection to their church leaders, and all of us to be respectful of the civil authorities and laws that govern the land.

The ultimate authority God has placed over all of us is His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And just as the Israelites of old chafed at Moses’ authority, so men and women today resist the authority of Jesus - at least the Jesus of the Bible. They don’t mind a generic, wimpy sort of Jesus, who accepts everybody and demands nothing. But a Jesus who insists upon total and supreme obedience, who forbids sexual immorality, who says that the failure to believe and follow Him will result in perishing in outer darkness with terrible regret and gnashing of teeth - this Jesus is one not too many are prepared to accept.

All About Jesus

The Old Testament is filled with symbols and characters that foreshadow Jesus Christ, and in this story of Israel’s rebellion we find two. Not only is Moses a symbolic foreshadowing of Jesus, but Aaron is as well. See Aaron standing in the midst of the dying holding up a censer filled with incense. Watch the plague that was sweeping across Israel come to a sudden halt, as Aaron stands "between the dead and the living." On one side of Aaron are dead bodies; on the other are the living. Death cannot pass the sweet atoning incense pouring forth from the censer of the high priest.

Today Jesus Christ has become our great High Priest. It is His cross that stands between the dead and the living. Those who reject and refuse Him perish in their unbelief. Those who trust and receive Him are given the gift of eternal life. Throughout the ages, it is the cross and resurrection of Jesus that send forth a sweet incense which pleases our Holy Creator, and makes atonement for every one of us. He is our High Priest who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," as well as our great Intercessor who "ever lives to make intercession for us."

Let us not rebel against God's designated authority as the Israelites did. Rather let us gladly submit to His loving, wise leadership over our lives, and follow Him wherever He may lead us. The greatest irony of this story is that the man whom the Israelites accused of bossing them around was in truth their best friend. Apart from Moses' passionate intercession for them, they would soon have been consumed from the earth. Even so, today Jesus is the best friend we will ever have. He came, not to quench our fun, not to restrict our pleasure, but to give us life, abundant life that brings unspeakable joy and fulfillment that never ends.

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