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Scripture Reading – Numbers 16-17

Today’s Scripture reading continued a succession of rebellions that followed Israel’s refusal to trust God and enter the Promised Land. However, unlike the uprising perpetrated by the “mixt multitude,” the rebellion recorded in Numbers 16 arose amidst 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 (Numbers 16:1-3)

Three men, and two hundred fifty princes, renowned leaders of the people, conspired to challenge the priestly leadership of Aaron and his sons. So we read that “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 directly attacked the leadership the LORD had ordained for Israel. Indeed, the statement Korah made was true, for the entire nation was set apart (i.e., “holy”) unto the Lord (16:3), for all had received the words of the LORD at Sinai. Korah, however, was not concerned for the people. Instead, he harbored a jealous heart and twisted the truth to cast doubt and demean God’s chosen leader.

Moses Reasoned with the Rebels (Numbers 16:4-11)

Moses’ response to the rebels proved he was a “meek man” (Numbers 12:3), for he “fell upon his face” (16:4) and determined to put the matter of the rebellion before the LORD (16:5). Remembering the uprising 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 revealed that the seed of the rebellion was resentment towards Aaron and his sons. Moses, therefore, questioned Korah, “Would you seek the priesthood also?” (16:10) He then made it clear that the rebels, though murmuring against Aaron, were, in fact, “gathered together against the LORD” (16:11).

The Rebels’ Response to Moses’ Summons (Numbers 16:12-15)

How did the rebels respond? Rather than receive the rebuke, and humble themselves, they scorned Moses. Dathan and Abiram refused to appear before Moses to answer for their part in the rebellion. Instead, they mocked Moses and implied 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).

An Appearance Before the LORD (Numbers 16:16-22)

The next day, Moses summoned Korah and his company to appear before the LORD with their censers (16:16). Two hundred and fifty men, each bearing his censer, assembled “in the door of the tabernacle…with Moses and Aaron” (16:17-18). Then, “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” (16:19).

The LORD then commanded Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them” (16:21). Understanding the judgment of the LORD, Moses, and Aaron “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).

The Judgment of the LORD (Numbers 16:23-35)

Directed by the LORD, Moses commanded the people, “saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram” (16:24). Then, Moses and the “elders of Israel followed him” (16:25) 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).

So, the people removed themselves from the usurpers, even as the rebels defiantly stood in the doors of their tents with their families (16:27). Moses, then raising his voice to the congregation, said to the people, “If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me” (16:29). However, if “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 Moses’ lips, “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up…and they perished from among the congregation” (16:32-33). The people fled, fearing the earth might swallow them up, and the LORD sent fire upon the men who had joined in Korah’s rebellion (16:34-35).

A Perpetual Memorial (Numbers 16:36-40)

Lest Israel forgets God’s judgment, Moses was commanded to take the brass of the 250 censers belonging to the men slain by the LORD and beat them into plates as a covering for the altar (16:36-38). Eleazar, the son of Aaron, did as he was commanded and formed brass plates that would serve as a warning to any who dared aspire to the priesthood and were “not of the seed (or lineage) of Aaron” (16:40).

Another Rebellion (Numbers 16:41-50)

Rather than brokenness, and remorse, the next day, “all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord” (16:41). Suddenly, the presence and glory of the LORD covered the Tabernacle. He commanded Moses and Aaron to separate from the people that He might “consume them as in a moment” (16:45). Fearing the wrath of the LORD (16:46), Moses commanded Aaron to take a censor and go quickly “into the midst of the congregation…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 men who had perished with Korah (16:48-49). Still, in His mercy, the LORD spared the congregation (16:50).

Numbers 17

Aaron’s Role was Confirmed by an Almond Blossomed Rod

Following Korah’s rebellion and the murmuring of the congregation against Moses and Aaron, the LORD determined to confirm the priesthood of Aaron and his sons. Accordingly, the LORD commanded twelve rods be taken, each inscribed with a leader’s name from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (17:1-2).  Aaron’s name was then written, “upon the rod of Levi” (17:3).

The matter of who would be the priest of the LORD for Israel was forever answered when “the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi” blossomed and “yielded almonds” (17:8). Thus, the LORD confirmed the spiritual leadership of Israel and the priesthood would be men of the lineage of Aaron and his sons (17:9-13).

Closing thoughts:

I don’t know of a minister who has not experienced the sorrow and heartache of a murmuring member in his congregation. There are several instances of gossip and unrest recorded in the New Testament. One, in particular, comes to mind that is recorded in John’s third epistle, where he named an offender and warned:

“Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 9-10).

Let John’s warning and God’s judgment of Korah serve as a warning to all believers: “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.” (Hebrews 10:30-31).

Questions to consider:

  • What reason did the rebels give for opposing Moses and Aaron? (Numbers 16:3)
  • How many did Korah rally against Moses and Aaron? (Numbers 16:19)
  • What did the extraordinary deaths of the rebels prove? (Numbers 16:29-30)
  • What means did the LORD choose to prove He had chosen Aaron and his sons to be His priest? (Numbers 17:5)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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