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God’s Word for You

Numbers 16:12-15 Cowardly rebels

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, September 22, 2021

12 Moses sent to summon Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, but they said, “We will not come!

Two of the other men who were ringleaders with Korah seem to have slipped back to their tents. The fourth man, On son of Peleth, is not mentioned again. It’s possible that once he was confronted by Moses, he repented. Dathan and Abiram refused to “come up,” either because they had rejected the tabernacle as the spiritual ‘peak’ of the camp, or because they had rejected Moses as the head of the nation. Or both. But their refusal says this about them: “The wicked say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways’” (Job 21:14).

13 Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness? Must you also make yourself a ruler over us? 14 Besides this, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey. You have not given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.”

Dathan and Abiram had God’s message backwards. They said the words, but applied them to the wrong things, just like Satan tempting Eve. There was talk about a land flowing with milk and honey, but it wasn’t Egypt. Also, Moses is not the one who made himself ruler over Israel. Moses had tried not to get that job; he asked God to send someone else (Exodus 4:13). It was true, in a way, that Moses had “not yet” brought them into the Promised Land. But were they asleep when ten of the spies said that it couldn’t be done? Were they hiding in their tents when the Lord put those spies to death, striking them with a plague (Numbers 14:36-37)? Were they playing with their children in the back yard when the whole nation tried to fight their way into the Promised Land and were beaten back by the Amalekites all the way to Hormah (Numbers 14:44-45)? They seemed to be claiming that it was Moses’ fault that the people kept rebelling against God. That’s as foolish as saying that the church’s stand on this or that sin, clearly called a sin in God’s word, makes people feel bad, and therefore the church is to blame because their position on that sin. That’s another example of the wicked saying to God, “Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways” (Job 21:14).

At the end of verse 14, we learn that they had sent these replies to Moses through some sort of messenger. They refused to come before Moses. Maybe they were truly afraid of being put to death, not only thinking of the rebellious spies but also of Moses’ nephews who had been struck down for offering unauthorized fire as priests (Leviticus 10:1-2). Perhaps the terror of the Lord had fallen on them (2 Chronicles 14:14) but not faith. They did not combine the message with faith, and the result was hostility to Moses, to Aaron, and to God. “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7).

15 Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not pay attention to their offering. I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I wronged any one of them.”

Here again Moses asks the Lord to give these rebels the same answer he gave to Cain when he made his faithless offering. “Do not pay any attention to it.” Moses calls to mind the wicked demand the king of Sodom made, demanding that Abraham give him the captives he took in battle as slaves for Sodom in exchange for the treasure Abraham had also captured. The Patriarch had said: “I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich’” (Genesis 14:23). Then, Abraham paid the Amorites who had helped him in the battle from the spoils the Sodomite king was coveting. Moses applies the reverse sentiment here: To accept a donkey would have meant that he was demanding tribute like a ruler; like the king of Sodom had. But Moses did no such thing. He did nothing to deserve their accusations.

These men were more dangerous than a hostile kingdom, because they were within the nation; they were part of Israel. They had become a sect within the church, luring people away with shouts and empty promises. They had set themselves outside the fellowship of the church, as John says in 2 John: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares his wicked work” (2 John 1:10-11). Moses did not ask for physical punishment, even though they accused him of wanting their eyes to be gouged out (verse 14). When someone falls under the discipline of the church, we must never allow this to be carried out in a vengeful way, or in a way that harms their body. Paul says, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:15). Moses wanted them to repent; to save their souls, not only because these few men were in the wrong, but because hundreds of Israelites were listening to them and were swayed by their lies.

Repentance has two parts: fear and faith. These men had neither. If they truly feared God, they would never have spoken this way. They would have been terrified with the gate of hell before their eyes, “for what hope has the godless when he is cut off?” (Job 27:8), “He will be driven from light into darkness and banished from the world” (Job 18:18). But for the one who truly knows his sin, who brings it to the feet of God Almighty and begs forgiveness, there truly is forgiveness, when his offenses will be tied up in a bag and God will cover over his sin (Job 14:17).

What would happen to Korah and his followers? The text will tell us. What will happen to us when we take our offenses to God? God forgives us for Jesus’ sake. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17), and God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19). We have put our faith in Christ so that we may be justified, declared not guilty of our sins, by faith in Christ alone (Galatians 2:16). Be delighted with your faith and nurture it, let it grow and be strengthened by the means of grace, the gospel as it is preached and read, and by the sacrament you return to again and again. In Christ you have nothing to fear of death or the grave. In Christ you have every good thing to look forward to in everlasting life, joy, peace, and bliss.

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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