“Standing Between the Living and the Dead” (Numbers 16-17)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 16-17

Korah and his followers, convinced they were equals to Moses, challenged his spiritual authority in their lives. 

Moses warned the young men, “Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi…seek ye the priesthood also?” (Numbers 16:7, 10).

Undaunted by the question, Moses invited Korah and his company of rebels to take up fire in censers and on the next day approach the LORD to see whom He would choose (16:5-7, 16-18).

Indulging the young men, we read, “Korah gathered all the congregation against” Moses and Aaron (16:19a). Why? How did the people come to turn against Moses and follow their youth?

I suggest proud parents and grandparents saw in their young men the beauty and strength of youth. They foolishly listened as those young men dared to accuse Moses of failing the nation (16:13-14). The next day, those young men and their families stood outside the doors of their dwellings, and the “glory of the LORD appeared” (16:19, 27).

The LORD stated His intention to bring judgment upon the whole congregation; however, Moses, standing with the elders of the tribes against the young men, interceded with the LORD to not “be wroth with all the congregation” (16:22).

Seeing the LORD’s glory, the people withdrew from the rebels (16:25-27), and Moses declared a test:

Should the young men die a common, natural death (perhaps in their old age), then the people would know, “the LORD hath not sent me [Moses]” (16:29).  However, should the earth open up and swallow the rebels, the people would know they had provoked the LORD to wrath (16:30).

Displaying the His wrath and affirming the leadership of Moses and Aaron, we read, “the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up, and their [families]” (16:31-33). As the congregation fled God’s judgment, the LORD sent a fire and “consumed the two hundred and fifty men” who had followed Korah (16:35).

Incredibly, the next day the people, grieving the deaths of their young men, gathered against Moses and Aaron, and accused them of being the cause for their deaths (16:41-42).

Once again, “the glory of the LORD appeared,” and He sent a plague in the congregation that consumed them until Moses interceded and Aaron ran through the midst of the congregation with a censer of burning incense seeking to placate the wrath of God (16:44-49).

In Numbers 17, the LORD determined to leave no doubt the priesthood would descend from Aaron’s lineage and no other, in a simple, but visible sign.  The LORD commanded Moses to instruct the heads of each tribe to bring a wooden rod, a symbol of authority, to the tabernacle with the names of the elders of the tribes inscribed on them (17:2). Aaron’s name was inscribed on the rod for the tribe of Levi (17:3).  A visible testimony of God’s favor was the rod of the man whom God had chosen would blossom (17:5-7).

On the next day, of the thirteen rods that represented the twelve tribes and the tribe of Levi, only the rod of Aaron miraculously budded and “bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” (17:8-9).  Moses displayed Aaron’s rod to the children of Israel as a sign his lineage alone was chosen to lead the priesthood (17:10-13).

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 will swiftly judge 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 ready to level veiled criticisms at spiritual leaders and not give them the respect due their office.  If your minister is called by the LORD, examined, confirmed by an ordaining assembly, and chosen by a body of believers whom he faithfully serves…his office and role is to be respected.

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.

As purveyors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, pastors stand “between the dead and the living” (16:48).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith