About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 16

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Korah, Dathan, and Abiram  (ch. 16:1 - 50)


In verses 1 through 3 we see Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with two hundred and fifty prominent men in Israel rise up and confront Moses and  Aaron.  In verse 2 we see the "council" mentioned.  So far in our study of Israel we have not seen such a council mentioned.  It is clear that by now, with more than two million people, Israel needed some civic leadership.  We did see in Numbers 11 that God ordained seventy men to help Moses in leadership, but this appears to be a different group.


These men were questioning the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  They said that the whole community of Israel was holy, so why did Moses and Aaron set themselves up as leaders.  A couple points to be made here.  It wasn't Moses and Aaron who set them in leadership.  It was God Himself.  Both men weren't all that excited about being leaders. 


The other point to be made here is, was Israel really holy?  I don't think so.  Their behaviour certainly showed that.  Even if they were holy, that most likely would not change the fact that God wanted Moses and Aaron to lead Israel. 


Moses responds to Korah in verses 4 to 8.  He told Korah to prepare to burn incense in the morning, and then the Lord Himself would choose who is holy and who would lead Israel. 


Moses fell on his face, something he has done before.  This is a form of intercessory and also great anguish before the Lord.  Moses was close to God.  Such things really bothered him.  This is something we should learn from the life of Moses.  Things like this should bother us as Christians as well.  The problem is that most of us don't get bothered by unrighteousness in God's people, and it should bother us.  This tells me that our heart's are not in the right place.  We are too worldly 


We learn in verse 7 that Korah and the two hundred and fifty men were Levites.  They accused Moses of going too far, and now Moses accuses them of going too far as well. 


At this point in Jewish history, the nation was a theocracy.  This means that there was not a distinction between civil and religious leadership.   The religious leaders were the civil leaders.  Moses was both the prophet of God and the leader in civil matters.  He had men under his authority.  These men were also united in both civil and religious leadership.  That being said, there was somewhat of a distinction.  The Levites were priests and therefore had their priestly responsibilities.  On the other hand, a few chapters back, God had Moses set aside seventy men to help is matters of disputes among the people.  This would be more civil in nature. So those under Moses had their realm of responsibility and there was a measure of separation between the civil and the religious, but when it came to Moses Himself, the two were united in one man.  In this sense, Moses was a type of Jesus.  Moses was symbolic of Jesus.  Jesus is both a king and a priest, and in one since of the word, so are real Christians.


At this point I need to state that all of these two hundred and fifty men were not Levites.  Some were of the camp of Rueben.  This is important to know in order to understand the following verses. 


In verses 8 and 9 Moses says to Korah that basically he should be happy that God has separated the Levites until Himself to minister in the tabernacle.  This is a special calling of God, and that should mean something.  It seems that Korah wants more than what God has for him.  This is human tendency.  Wherever God has led us, and whatever He has made of us, we should be satisfied. 


In verses 10 and 11 Moses said that now these men, some Levites and some Ruebenites wanted to be priests.  They weren't happy with the place God had put them in.  Priests came from the tribe of Levi, but not all Levites were priests.


In verses 12 and 13 we see that Moses summoned Abiram and Eliab to come to him.  They refused.  Their refusal was a direct act of disobedience.   They accuse Moses of "lording it over them".   This phrase is clearly meant to say that Moses was a harsh dictator.  Jesus in the New Testament uses the same term concerning Christians.  He says that we should not "lord it over others", but we should "serve  others".   This is an important study in itself.  Abuse of leadership in the church by over authoritative pastors is often a problem. 


In verses 13 and 14 these two men accuse Moses of leading them out of a land flowing with milk and honey.  Once again, Israelis are looking back to their enslavement in Egypt as a good experience, when in reality it wasn't.  Human tendency is to rethink history to make it mean something more than it was.  Israel's present distresses caused them to view their depressing past as something glorious. 


These two men also accuse Moses of having them die in the desert.  There is a bit of truth in this statement.   As we saw earlier, people over twenty years of age who complained were cursed by God.  God said that they would not enter the promised land but would die in the desert. The wrong part of the rebels statement is that this was not Moses decision.  It was God's decision based on Israel's rebellion.  They were dying in the desert due to their own choice, not Moses'.  


These men also complain to Moses saying that he did not lead them into the promise land.  This is a blatant misstatement.  Moses and God wanted them to enter the promised land.  They were the once who chose not too.  These men have allowed their complaining to get so far out of hand that they believe their own lies.  This too is human tendency.  So often people get stressed out in life and begin to complain.  If this doesn't get caught and dealt with, the same thing happens.  We begin to believe things that aren't true to be true.


We see Moses getting angry again.  He tells God to not accept the offering of incense that the two hundred and fifty men were going to give.  Moses is a man of intercessory prayer.  He often intercedes on behalf of Israel to God, but sometimes things get so bad he does just the opposite.  He asks God not to listen or bless His people. 


In verses 16 through 19 we see that the two hundred and fifty men, along with Aaron and Korah came to the Tent of the Meeting and offered incense to the Lord.  Moses did not offer any incense, or that appears to be the case.


In verses 20 and 21 God told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the rest so He could put an end to them.  God often does this, even in New Testament times.  He will call His people out of a particular church group, and He will put and end to that group because they refuse to follow Him.


We see in verses 22 and 23 that both Moses and Aaron intercede on the behalf of Israel again.  They were afraid that God would kill many people when it was only Korah that was the ring leader.  Now really, there was more than just Korah.  We just saw Abiram and Eliab acting in defiance.  God did respond to Moses and Aaron.  He told them to make the rest of the people move away from Korah, Datham, and Abiram.  So in verses 25 through 27, Moses did just as God told him.


In verses 28 to 30 Moses tells the assembly of people the plan.  One of two things would happen. Either these men and their procession would die immediately by the ground opening up and swallowing them, or else they would die a natural death in old age.  If they died in front of their very eyes that day, all Israel should interpret that to mean that God had chosen Moses to be their leaders.  It's as simple as that.


As soon as Moses said those words, in verses 31 to 34 the ground opened and swallowed up all the families of these men.  These men not only took themselves down, but their families down with them.  This was a drastic judgment.


What we see in these men that were swallowed up by the ground is great arrogance and defiance.  I picture them standing at the door of their tents, arms crossed, telling Moses, "I dare you".  It is such arrogance that the Lord hares and judges people for.   


In verses 35 to 38 God told Moses to have all the censers melted down and make a covering for the altar in the outer court of the tabernacle.  Now this altar already had a covering, but this was to be a second covering as a memorial of this event.  Throughout the Old Testament, God has His people do things as a memorial of something that they should always remember.  God wants us to learn from history past, but we seldom do.  I think God sees history as important, but we tend to divorce ourselves from the things in the past that God wants us to remember.  For example, the very reason we celebrate the Lord's Supper is for us to remember the cross.  


In verses 39 and 40 the censers were made into a covering for the altar.  This was to be a reminder that only priests could burn incense as a form of worship to the Lord.  This shows us how God feels about this issue.  He takes His laws very seriously. 


The burning of incense is often representative of prayer and praise to the Lord.  In Old Testament days, only priest could do such a thing.  Those men who were killed in this chapter weren't priests.  Yet, in New Testament times, all those who are true followers of Jesus are priests.  We have been given free access to worship Jesus in prayer and praise.  Yet only New Testament believers, New Testament priests should participate in such prayer and praise.  I don't think Jesus is all that happy when non-Christians attempt to do the same in what I would call non-Christian churches.  I think there is a lesson for us to learn here.


Verse 41is hard to believe.  After what Israel just saw, they complained and blamed Moses and Aaron for the death of the men and their families.  Somehow they failed to see the hand of God in this.  This is very hard to understand, but it shows us how sinful man is.  We can't see the hand of God, even when it is displayed in such power right before our very eyes.


In verses 42 to 45 we see that God is extremely angry.  God tells Moses and Aaron to move out of the way because He was ready to kill them all off.


Note here that the cloud came to the Tent of the Meeting and "the glory of the Lord" was seen there.  We often think of the glory of the Lord in more positive terms.  The Bible says in a number of places that at the end of this age the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.  We often think of the glory of the Lord covering the earth as a positive and glorious thing, but that might not be the case at the end of this age.  It was not the case here in Numbers 16.  The glory of God is seen in His anger, and His anger will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea in the Great Tribulation.


As these words were said by God, in verse 45, both Moses and Aaron fall face down to the ground, as they have done so many times.  This is both a gesture of disgust and sadness. 


From verse 46 to the end of the chapter, because of the request of Moses, Aaron ran through the camp of Israel with a bowl of burning incense.  He was making atonement on the behalf of the people.  People had already been killed with a plague from God's wrath. 


Notice at this point the word "wrath" is used in the text and not the word "anger".  Wrath is stronger than anger.  Wrath is uncontrollable anger.  It is an explosion of great anger.  Fourteen thousand, seven hundred people were killed with the plague, which included those who were killed earlier when the earth swallowed them up.  Atonement was made for the sins of Israel and the plague ended. 


Throughout the Old Testament we see the sinfulness of man, and that includes the sinfulness of Israel .  We also see the anger and wrath that God has when His people sin and reject Him.  All that being said, we also see the means of atonement.  God always provides a way to escape His anger. You might say that the main story line to the Bible is the sinfulness of man, and his inability to do God's will.  The story doesn't end there.  God always provides a way of redemption, and it is ultimately found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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