You would think that they would be greatful. You would think they had learned to trust God after the seven, eight, or ten times (depending on which events you counted in the Torah) that they rebelled and the Lord punished. From death by quail, to plagues and heathen Canaanite troops. However, here is the oncoming foolishness of yet another rebellion, this time among the Levite tribe. Moses’ near relative, Korah, whose clan was responsible for the holy things, including the Lampstand, Incense altar, Presence table, plates, utensils, dishes, bowls, and the ark (Numbers 4:1-20). Yet, they want more. Let’s read
1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; 2 and they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown.
Leadership has an internal breakdown. Leadership of the nation of Israel gathers together.
3 They gathered together against Moses and Aaron,
They gathered against Moses and specifically against Aaron, who had the role of Priest.
and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”
Arguing for the priesthood of all the Jews. I mean that sounds pretty fair, given the rest of the Levites equality to appear before God.
However, there was something deeper at work here. What Korah was doing was much more devious. He was violating what was already set down in Torah. He wanted to rewrite his duties and he wanted more than God had called for him to operate in. God had already set a process down just a few chapters earlier, and other aspects of the same process were set up in Exodus.
4 So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face;
A sign of humility in Moses (Numbers 12:3).
5 and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him.
As if they were needed any other confirmation. Even in their rebellion, God was willing to give them more proof. Nevermind that they were about to lose their lives in the process of God’s establishment of the priesthood. However, that is what happens when you speak against an actual anointed person. God guards his true priests and his true prophets.
That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him.
This was what God was going to do anyway. He was going to cause Aaron and his descendants after him to come before Him.
Another thing that this demonstrates is the following. Korah was challenging God, who can arbitrarily set things up any way He wants. God does respond well to questioning when it arises from a heart of honest humble inquiry. Nevertheless, God does not respond kindly to questioning when it arises from a heart that wants to challenge His authority and holiness. This challenge from Korah and his associates arises not from humility and honest inquiry but from a heart that seeks to challenge the authority and holiness of God.
6 Do this: Take censers, Korah and all your company; 7 put fire in them and put incense in them before the LORD tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the LORD chooses is the holy one.
Moses is saying, “You want to function as a priest, and pretend to be holy and set apart for that task. God ahead and try. See what God does when we choose to flagrantly disregard what He has told us to do.”
You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi!”
8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9 Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; 10and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking the priesthood also? 11 Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD. And what is Aaron that you complain against him?”
As if Aaron was something that they should complain against him. What they were really doing, if you read the Torah to this point, and saw the duties assigned to different groups, was to violate God, and assault His order, and to gather together against Him.
12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, but they said, “We will not come up! 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you should keep acting like a prince over us? 14 Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!”
The promise of a land flowing with milk and honey did not come from Moses, but from God (Exodus 3:8).
15 Then Moses was very angry, and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them.”
God respected Moses’ plea, even though it could have come from a heart of anger and vengeance. Thoughts?
16 And Moses said to Korah, “Tomorrow, you and all your company be present before the LORD—you and they, as well as Aaron. 17 Let each take his censer and put incense in it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty censers; both you and Aaron, each with his censer.” 18 So every man took his censer, put fire in it, laid incense on it, and stood at the door of the tabernacle of meeting with Moses and Aaron. 19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
So, here is the process by which they were going to decide who was the priest set apart by God for God.
Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.
The judge gets ready to fulfill His role.
20 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” 22 Then they fell on their faces, and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?” 23 So the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’” 25 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men! Touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins.” 27 So they got away from around the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, with their wives, their sons, and their little children.
28 And Moses said: “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. 29 If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the LORD.”
If…then…. So many of us do not understand if/then statements. Rather, we take them as accusations, when they are not.
31 Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. 33 So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly.
Wow! So they really were challenging the Lord.
34 Then all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up also!” 35 And a fire came out from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense. 36 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 37 “Tell Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, to pick up the censers out of the blaze, for they are holy, and scatter the fire some distance away.
38 The censers of these men who sinned against their own souls, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar. Because they presented them before the LORD, therefore they are holy; and they shall be a sign to the children of Israel.”
Signs are useful for caution, for dangers, for warnings, for direction, for locations, for marking routes, and for setting limits.
39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned up had presented, and they were hammered out as a covering on the altar, 40 to be a memorial to the children of Israel that no outsider, who is not a descendant of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the LORD, that he might not become like Korah and his companions, just as the LORD had said to him through Moses.
Even though they violated God’s order, they did things that caused their tools, the censers, to become set apart. God still respected the use of the tools, and incorporated them into the work of the temple, and to function as a reminder of God’s judgement that day. And Judson Cornwall tells us in “Incense and Insurrection” that bronze was used in the tabernacle in places that dealt with judgement, most notably the brazen altar, where God dealt with and judged the sins of Israel on all days, except for once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. He judged and acquitted at the brazen altar. He judged Korah, and had that bronze attached to the brazen altar. It was a memorial and a testimony that God had confirmed his word.