A Sacred Trust: Standing Between the Dead and the Living (Numbers 16)

Today’s Bible reading is Numbers 15-16, Psalm 49, and Luke 5. Our devotional is from Numbers 16 .

The drama in Numbers 16 serves as a warning to any who sow discord and usurp the spiritual leadership of a congregation.

We are not told the reason for the rebellion, but given the assertions made against Moses and Aaron, we can venture pride leading to discontentment was the root issue.  Three men are named as leaders of the rebellion with the ringleader one named Korah, a Levite, but not a priest (Numbers 16:1). Incredibly, these three men were able to engage two hundred and fifty others, “princes…men of renown”, to join their band (16:2).

While the criticism of the rebels appeared sincere in motive and spiritual in nature, (“Ye take too much upon you”), their object was not for “they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron” (16:3).  Notice how the rebel’s veiled criticism of Moses and Aaron grew to open derision (16:3).  The object of the rebels was not to relieve Moses and Aaron; instead, they aspired to the dignity and duties of the priesthood (Numbers 16:10).

When Moses heard the criticism of the rebels and saw the crowd gathered against him, “he fell upon his face” (16:4); a visible sign of humility.  Rather than a hasty diatribe against his critics, Moses deferred to seek the LORD saying, “Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy” (16:5).

On the next day, Moses called an assembly of the rebels and warned, “ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi” (16:7).  Two of the rebels refused to come before Moses (16:12) and sent an accusation that he had failed the nation in not leading them into “a land that floweth with milk and honey” (16:14).  The charge against Moses was a lie and stoked his anger (16:15) for it was the people, not Moses, who rebelled and turned away from the land the LORD had promised as an inheritance.

The LORD’s judgment against the rebels fell swiftly when “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed [the rebels] and their houses…[who] went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the congregation” (16:31-33).  As the congregation fled from the LORD’s judgment, “there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense” (16:35). Unfortunately, the LORD’s judgment against the rebels did not quench their influence and on the next day another 14,700 were slain (16:41-50).

There are many lessons and cautions we might derive from Numbers 16.  One is, while this passage is instructive, it does not suggest the LORD must always swiftly judge the critics of His ministers.

I have known too many pastors who aspire to pedestals and presume to be above accountability.  The same might be said of some in the church who are all too eager to level veiled criticisms at spiritual leaders and not give them the respect due their office.

Pastors are far from perfect and some engaged in ministry lack the Biblical qualifications of the pastor\shepherd (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9); however, those ministers who are qualified and faithful should be honored for their sacrifices and endeavors.  After all, as purveyors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they stand “between the dead and the living” (16:48).

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith