He Stood Between the Living and the Dead (Numbers 16-17)

He Stood Between the Living and the Dead (Numbers 16-17)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 16-17

Today’s Scripture reading continues a succession of rebellions that followed Israel since the people refused to trust God, and enter the Promised Land. Incredibly, the rebellion recorded in Numbers 16 arose from the Levites, the tribe the LORD had chosen to serve Him, and assist the priests with worship and sacrifices.

Numbers 16 – A Rebellion in the Tribe of Levi

Three men, and two hundred fifty princes, renown leaders of the people, conspired to challenge the priestly leadership of Aaron, and his sons. “Korah…and Dathan and Abiram…took men: 2And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown” (16:1-2). Emboldened, after having colluded in secret, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram “gathered themselves against Moses and against Aaron” (16:3a), and railed against them, saying “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (16:3).

Ponder the assertion made by the rebels. Their words were a direct attack upon the leadership the LORD had ordained for Israel. Their flattery of the people, saying “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them,” was either delusional, or a lie intended to court the favor of the people.

Moses’ response to the rebels, proved he was a “meek man,” for he “fell upon his face” (16:4), and determined to put the matter of the rebellion before the LORD (16:5). Remembering the rebellion was led by men who were Levites, Moses directed Korah, the principal rebel, and his cohorts to bring censers the next day to the Tabernacle, and the LORD would make known whom He had chosen to serve Him (16:6-9). Numbers 16:10-11 reveals the seed of the rebellion was a resentment of Aaron and his sons, for Moses questioned Korah, “Would you seek the priesthood also?” (16:10)

How did the rebels respond? Rather than receive the rebuke, and humble themselves, they scorned Moses. Dathan and Abiram, when summoned to appear before Moses to answer for their part in the rebellion, refused, and mocked him as though he had failed the people as a leader (16:12-14). Provoked by their rebellion, Moses cried to the LORD, “Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them”(16:15). (What pastor, after serving a congregation faithfully, has not felt the same sorrow when some he served murmured against him?) Moses summoned Korah and his company to appear before the LORD with their censers the next day (16:16-17).

The next day, “Korah gathered all the congregation against [Moses and Aaron] in the door of the Tabernacle…and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the congregation” (16:18-19). When the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, “separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them” (16:21), those men “fell upon their faces” and cried out to the LORD, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?” (16:22).

Guided by the LORD, Moses, with the “elders of Israel” following, sought out Dathan and Abiram, and implored the congregation, “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men [Korah, Dathan, and Abiram], and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins” (12:26).

The people removed themselves from the usupers, as the rebels stood in the doors of their tents with their families (16:27). Raising his voice to the congregation, Moses let it be known that should “the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up” (16:30), the people would know those rebels had “provoked the LORD” (16:30). Suddenly, even as the words fell from the lips of Moses, “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up…and they perished from among the congregation” (16:32-33). The people, also fearing the earth might swallow them up, fled as the LORD sent fire upon the two hundred and fifty men who had joined in the rebellion (16:34-36).

Rather than brokenness, and remorse, the next day some of the congregation came together and accused Moses and Aaron saying, “Ye have killed the people of the LORD” (16:41). Suddenly, the presence of the LORD descended on the Tabernacle, and He commanded Moses to separate from the people, that He might “consume them as in a moment” (16:45).

Fearing the wrath of the LORD, Moses commanded Aaron to take a censor and go quickly among the people, “and [make] an atonement for the people” (16:47). The drama of that moment was captured in this: [Aaron] stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed (16:48).

Fourteen thousand and seven hundred perished, not counting the two hundred and fifty who had perished with Korah (16:48-50), but the LORD in His mercy spared the congregation.

Numbers 17 – Aaron’s Role Confirmed by an Almond Blossomed Rod

Numbers 17 addresses the challenge to Aaron, and his son’s role as priests. The matter was solved in a manner that forever answered the question of spiritual leadership in Israel, and confirmed the priesthood would be that of the lineage of Aaron and his sons.

I close with two verses that should serve as a sobering reminder to all believers.

Hebrews 10:30–3130For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith