Lessons From Korah’s Rebellion

Years ago, when I first came to Southside, one of my spiritual mentors and an elder of the church here came to gathering of the church wearing a particular hat I will never forget. It was truly a visible representation of his position of authority as a Shepherd of the flock. It was a ball cap with two bills, one pointing each direction to the side, and the title on the cap read, “I am their leader, which way did they go?” Glindle Johnson and I often joked about his unique hat. It did not describe his attention as a leader – He always was aware of the direction fot he flock and was out in front, leading by example. But, no doubt the sentiment was true of many who have been chosen to lead – What I am doing here?; Did I volunteer for this?

I.  Moses was chosen to be the leader. God specifically called him to speak as His representative. He was in charge by God’s choosing, not his own. There were times when he no doubt, wondered if he was where he was supposed to be.

I.  The rebellion of Korah – Number 16: There is much to learn from this OT event. It speaks about our attitudes towards God’s authority; The pressure of our relationships; and God’s response to rebellion.

A.  The seed of rebellion: Read Number 16:1-2: The main character is a man named Korah. He is a Kohathite, from the tribe of Levi. He was a cousin of Moses and Aaron (Izhar and Amram were brothers). Although he was a Levite, he was not satisfied with his position or responsibility (the Kohathites were responsible for transporting the elements of the sanctuary). He wanted to be a priest, maybe even High Priest.

1.   His unwillingness to accept His role was the seed of ultimate rebellion. He was dissatisfied with what God had chosen.

2.   Dathan and Abiram and On were Reubenites. their ancestor, Reuben, the first-born of Jacob, had been disposed as the first among the tribes (replaced by God’s choice of Judah.) They shared in this spirit of dissatisfaction, and were easily persuaded by Korah to join in.

3.   The 250 princes, men of renown, were probably also suffering from an attitude of dissatisfaction toward Moses’ leadership. They were possibly disgusted with the sentence of death announced for their whole generation in the previous chapters. They may have interpreted Moses’ work as a leader as a slight toward them personally. They were not as holy. They were jealous.    James 3:14-16 – 4 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. Envy is a seed of rebellion.  They too were persuaded to join in.

4.  Korah used his relationship with these princes to sway the majority of the people to voice their dissatisfaction and confront Moses and Aaron. These men were well respected and were used to influence others.

II. The Language of Rebellion: Korah skillfully presents his case to Moses & Aaron: Num 16:3You 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?”

  • Their complaint centered on the exclusiveness of holiness to the priesthood – Everyone is holy before God. God is among all of us, not just you. Moses is discounted by an appeal to fairness and democratic equality. This has great appeal. It is what seems right to us. We naturally believe that we are both capable and responsible for directing our own lives.
  • The complaint of Dathan and Abiram also included their evaluation of Moses effectiveness and success as God’s leader. In their estimation he had not done a very good job.  Numbers 16:1313 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? Where is this land of milk and honey from which they came? This is Egypt – a land of slavery, genocide, and death. Their desire to go their own way caused them to distort reality.  Shows their contempt for God’s words of promise given through Moses.
  • But the matter at hand here is, Who really led them into the wilderness? Who was telling Moses what to do and where to go? Whose fault was it that they were not now in possession of the land of Canaan?

III.  Moses’ Response to Rebellion: Korah’s attempt to seize the Priesthood.  Moses’ response to Korah’s complaint says much about God’s leader.

1.  Num 16:4 –  So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; Some suggest that Moses was expressing his emotion. I believe he was calling on the Lord in prayer. He could answer this charge. His authority was from God. God was the one being challenged.

a.  Moses emerges from the prayer with the full assurance of what to do: vs. 5and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him. 6 Do this: Take censers, Korah and all your company; 7 put fire in them and put incense in them before the Lord tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the Lord chooses is the holy one. You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi!”  Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; 10 and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking the priesthood also?

  • Vs. 5 – Moses tells Korah that the lord will show us who is His and who is holy. God’s choice is still the issue – not what seems fair or just to us, or what we think will work.
  • Vs. 12 – Moses goes on a separate mission to speak to Dathan and Abiram – their complaint was different. They were opposed to the civil authority of Moses. They despised his leadership and were unwilling to submit – so they refused to come when he asked them to come.  Will you put out the eyes of these men? This was the punishment for treason. They chided his ability to deal with this great show of force – You have no authority. Moses, the meekest man, became angry. But Who was going to deal with this rebellion?
  • On the surface Moses’ response seems to yield to the rebel’s request. You come and take charge. Bring your censors. Korah may have though he won a victory. Moses was not defending his own rights or position. He would allow God to defend Himself. (what a unique perspective – Matt. 5, Rom 13, etc – we are not called to defend ourselves).
  • Moses indentifies their dissatisfaction with what God had given them to do – vs. 9Is it a small thing (in your eyes) that God has given you the job of caring for the tabernacle? We fule rebellion when we are always looking at what we is not our responsibility, rather than focusing on what is.  (Feminist attempts to cause rebellion is this precise way. )

II.  God’s Answer to Rebellion: How did this all turn out?  Was Korah successful in his efforts to reform Israel’s leadership?  Read Num 16:18-33

A. The text identifies this great gathering of men – Korah, 250 princes, the entire congregation. Power to the people – they were there to choose their way, and follow their leaders. But notice vs. 19 – “the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation” – what did they see?  God exhibited His glory by the confirmation of His word.

– God called on Moses & Aaron  to separate themselves from the congregation. He was ready to destroy them all. But here we see the true spirit of Moses. Rather than allow God to destroy them all he intercedes in behalf of the rebels.

  • His faith in God does not produce a self-righteous attitude. He still has compassion on the lost. God allows him to speak to those who about to feel the wrath of God. He gives us that opportunity as well.
  • God demanded that those who would be spared to be separated from the rebellious. They had to make a choice to be saved.  (v. 26)
  • Again we notice that Moses points everyone to God’s choice. (vs. 28 – By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. 29 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. 30 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.” )
  • The earth opened its mouth” – the imagery here is vivid. The earth, as His representative, is speaking for God. If they will not listen to Moses, they will listen to the earth – both are servants of God.
  • Fire consumed those who attempted to offer their incense. (v. 35)

B.  Num 16:38-40 –  The censers of these men who sinned against their own souls, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar. Because they presented them before the Lord, therefore they are holy; and they shall be a sign to the children of Israel.”  39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned up had presented, and they were hammered out as a covering on the altar, 40 to be a memorial to the children of Israel that no outsider, who is not a descendant of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the Lord, that he might not become like Korah and his companions, just as the Lord had said to him through Moses. By God’s orders, the censors were formed into a covering for the altar. A continual reminder of what happened here. We need to learn the lessons of the past. Did Israel learn?

1. Num 16:41 – 41 On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” The congregation was unwilling to accept responsibility and chose to blame Moses for the death of the rebels. – The people of the Lord were not the ones who died, bug those who lived.

a.  The seeds of rebellion were still at work. The congregation had no respect for Moses or God.  Num 16:45-50 5 “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. 46 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the Lord. The plague has begun.” God responds with a continuing plague, and if not for the atonement offered by Aaron, the whole bunch would have perished.

b. We too, all suffer from the seeds of rebellion in our hearts, and often do not learn to follow God. If not for Jesus’ sacrifice we would all be lost. Stands between the living and the dead.

Conclusion: Let us respect God’s choices and learn the lessons of rebellion.