Some notorious historical figures might have remained anonymous if they hadn’t tried to grab on to more than they could hold. But by refusing to be content with what they had, and by trying to get more than they deserved, they ended up with nothing. Korah, one of the Israelite leaders, was one such person.
Korah was a Levite who assisted in the daily functions of the Tabernacle. Shortly after Israel’s great rebellion against God (Numbers 13-14) (or see the last post) Korah instigated his own mini-rebellion (Numbers 16:1-2).
Korah was the ringleader of the coup. He was a Levite and, interestingly, a cousin to Moses. Their fathers were brothers. Three other brothers of the tribe of Reuben were also ringleaders: Dathan, Abiram, and On. Korah was from the Kohathite clan. The Kohathites and the tribe of Reuben camped on the south side of the Tabernacle, camped side by side. Living close together and being friends and co-leaders gave them ample opportunity to sit around in the evenings grumbling, murmuring, and sharing their complaints and disappointments.
Korah recruited a grievance committee and confronted Moses and Aaron. Their list of complaints boils down to three statements (Numbers 16:3-4): (1) You are no better than anyone else; (2) everyone in Israel has been chosen of the Lord; (3) we don’t need to obey you. It is amazing to see how Korah twisted the first two statements—both true—to reach the wrong conclusion.
- Rebellion reveals deeper problems.
Whenever you find complaining and rebelling among God’s people, there’s usually a “stated reason” and a “hidden reason.” Korah’s public complaint was that Moses and Aaron were “running things” and not giving the people opportunity for input. He wanted more democracy in the camp. After all, the Lord dwelt in the entire camp and all the people were “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:3-6), so who were Moses and Aaron to elevate themselves above everybody else? The hidden reason was that Korah wanted the Levites to have the same privileges as Aaron and his sons (Num. 16:10). Korah wasn’t satisfied to be assisting the priests; he wanted to be a priest.
Korah and his associates had seen the advantages of the priesthood in Egypt. Egyptian priests had great wealth and political influence, something Korah wanted for himself. Korah may have assumed that Moses, Aaron, and his sons were trying to make the Israelite priesthood the same kind of political machine, and he wanted to be a part of it. He did not understand that Moses’ main ambition was to serve God rather than to control others.
Like Korah, we often desire the special qualities God has given others. Korah had significant, worthwhile abilities and responsibilities of his own. In the end, however, his ambition for more caused him to lose everything. Inappropriate ambition is greed in disguise. We should concentrate on finding the special purpose God has for us instead of wishing we were in someone else’s shoes.
Note the reaction of Moses: he fell face down, seeking God (Numbers 16:4-11). How long he stayed upon his face seeking the Lord is not stated. But falling prostrate apparently so startled the rebels that they temporarily held their peace, somewhat backing off until he arose from the ground. Note that Moses did not lash out nor retaliate against the rebels. When they first confronted him face to face, he simply fell prostrate to the ground—in great meekness and humility—and took the matter to the Lord. This is a great lesson for us as well; when confronted with bad news, or argumentative people, we should go to the Lord in prayer first.
When Moses got up, he responded:
They were the ones who had gone too far. He used their own charge against them. They were guilty of abusing and trampling underfoot God’s call to them to serve as Levites (Numbers 16:8-9). They had personally been given the privilege of being set apart to serve God and His people. This should have been enough: they were already leaders and servants of God, appointed to lead God’s people as directed by Him. They were guilty of seeking the priesthood itself—seeking a much higher position that should come only from God, never from selfish effort. Numbers 16:10-11
They were revolting against the Lord Himself! (Numbers 16:11)
- Rebellion is ultimately against God.
When Jude wrote to warn the early church about false teachers, he used Korah as an example, pointing out that he “rejected authority and spoke evil of dignitaries.” (Jude 5-11).
The test Moses proposed was a simple one. If Korah and his men were indeed priests acceptable to God, then let them bring their censers to the tabernacle and see if God would accept them. Surely the rebels remembered what happened to Nadab and Abihu when they rashly brought “strange fire” before the Lord (Lev. 10), but even this warning didn’t deter them. The next morning, Korah and his followers showed up with their censers and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance of the tabernacle, while Dathan and Abiram stood with their families at the doors of their tents on the south side of the tabernacle. God showed his displeasure with the rebels as the earth opened up and swallowed them! (Numbers 16:32-35)
Korah’s story of rebellion gives us numerous warnings:
- Don’t let desire for what someone else has make us discontented with what we already have.
- Don’t try to raise our own self-esteem by attacking someone else’s.
- Don’t use part of God’s Word to support what we want now, rather than allowing its entirety to shape our worldview.
- Don’t expect power and position to be an end all; God may want to work through us in the position we are now in.
The selfish desire for greatness and authority is a common theme in Scripture, whether it’s Korah opposing Moses and Aaron, Absalom defying his father (2 Sam. 15), Adonijah claiming the crown (1 Kings 1), the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:23-25), or Diotrephes loving to have preeminence in a local church (3 John 9-11). And yet the most important place in the Christian life is the place of God’s choice, the place He’s prepared for us and prepared us to fill. The important thing isn’t status but faithfulness, doing the work God wants us to do. Every member of the church, the body of Christ, has a spiritual gift to be used for serving others, and therefore every member is important to God and to the church (1 Cor. 12:14-18).
- Rebellion must be replaced with submission.
Whether it’s the ancient camp of Israel or a modern city, no society can function without subordination. Somebody has to be in charge. Parents have authority in the home, teachers in the classroom, managers in the factory or office, and civil servants in the city or nation (Rom. 13; 1 Peter 2:13-25). When this kind of order breaks down, then society is in serious trouble. God places us in families, churches, communities, countries and all of them have people who the responsibility to lead, manage and we must submit to the authority God has placed over us.
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