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God’s Word for You

Numbers 16:1-4 Korah’s rebellion begins

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, September 20, 2021

From this point onward, Moses continues the pattern of recording Israel’s sins and troubles with God’s mercy and care for his people, especially revealed as he continues to present some additional laws to his people. There is no attempt to record the events of the forty-year sojourn; most of those years are passed by without any comment at all. But sometimes there were troubles and even rebellions. The most famous rebellion of the entire Exodus and sojourn in the wilderness is recorded here in chapter 16, the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram

16 Now Korah, who was the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, joined with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and with On, the son of Peleth. These three were descendants of Reuben. They gathered 2 two hundred fifty well-known Israelites, tribal chiefs of the community, appointed representatives who served on the council, and they rose up against Moses. 3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For the entire community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them! Why do you lift yourselves up above the LORD’s assembly?” 4 When Moses heard this, he fell facedown.

These men were leaders of the Israelites. Moses says that they were among the tribal chiefs. Korah was from Moses’ tribe of Kohath. If there are no missing generations in the record of Exodus 6:18, then Amram (Moses’ father) and Izhar (Korah’s father) were brothers, and therefore Kohath and Moses were first cousins. The other three were leaders, “tribal chiefs,” from the tribe of Reuben. According to 1 Chronicles 5:3, Reuben had four main divisions, but we can’t say whether these men were the heads of three of those four families, or if they were tribal leaders from just one or two of them.

The charge these men brought against Moses is clear even though we don’t know the date or the circumstances. They felt that Moses, preaching the commands of the Lord, was going “too far” by implying that the community was sinful and in need of sacrifice for sin. They remembered that God had said, “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). What they forgot was that those words followed this: “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant…” (Exodus 19:5). Not only were they failing to keep God’s covenant, they were choosing one thing God had said and holding it up as more important than everything else God said. This is the definition of heresy, which comes from a Greek word meaning “to pick and choose” (2 Peter 2:1).

Satan hates it when men like Moses preserve sound doctrine, and so he raises up ridiculous thoughts in certain men and women, half-baked theories and foolish accusations, and through them he stirs the pot and attacks the gospel, especially the key teaching of justification through Christ alone. By claiming equal status with Moses, these rebels were trying to scrape and claw their way into Moses’ pulpit, but (1) they were not called by God, (2) they were not qualified to be Israel’s spiritual leaders (which they showed by this action), and (3) they had nothing of value to say to anybody about God, God’s will, and God’s plan of salvation.

By attacking Moses and Aaron, they were guilty of sedition. This is also called rebellion, or treason. It is the act of attacking one’s own government without the clear command of God. In our nation’s history, this is something like the rebellion of the Confederate States in 1861, but we might point out that those states were remembering the actions of their own country, which less than a century before had done precisely the same thing by rebelling against Great Britain (something Lincoln acknowledged with the famous first six words of his Gettysburg Address). Wherever the Fourth Commandment is not preached clearly, people will constantly think that it is their privilege, even their duty, to quit, overthrow, or rebel against anyone they don’t agree with.

This is true with people who preach and teach false doctrine in the church. They pretend to want equal time, but they soo set out to show that what they really want is to destroy the gospel and right teaching altogether. Korah didn’t want an equal status with Moses. He wanted to replace Moses. We will hear later on in the text that they actually tried to revise their own history by making Egypt into the “promised land” rather than the prison that it truly was. They were anticipating David’s warning: “Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception” (Psalm 12:2). The Lord has an answer waiting for those who reject his word: “What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant to your lips? You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you… You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit” (Psalm 50:16-17,19).

Moses’ response to Korah’s rebellious statement was to fall facedown to the ground. He laid himself down, prostrate, in an act of submission to God (not to Korah). This is something we seldom if ever see in our culture. But see what a statement the act of Moses makes even before he has spoken any words! He does not stand toe to toe with Korah, nor does he look him in the eye. Nothing Moses does suggests that he felt that he was on equal terms with anyone. In fact, Moses was the humble servant of the nation, “a very humble man” (Numbers 12:3). He wasn’t the least bit concerned about his own status, but about the word of God and the souls of the nation of Israel. This is precisely the opposite of what was in the minds and hearts of the rebels. They didn’t care about the souls of the people, but about their own bellies. They didn’t care about the glory of God, but about honor they might gain for themselves. How different our words might be taken if, when confronted with false teaching, we threw ourselves to the ground before saying any words. But since we also want God to be glorified, I suppose we will keep something of our own dignity in mind, since how we are considered will be a small part of how he is considered. The prophet says: “Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings the darkness” (Jeremiah 13:16). His words are a warning to turn from false teaching and vain pride. Give God glory in everything, even at the cost of what we imagine is some personal dignity.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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