God’s Word for You
Numbers 16:41-50 The whole kit and caboodle
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Centuries after Korah and his followers were put to death by the Lord for their sin, their names lived on as a warning. Jude rightly says that the fate of false teachers will be just the same: “They speak abusively against whatever they do not understand… they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion” (Jude 1:10,11). Yet when it happened, the very next day, the people already forgot the reason why.
41 But on the next day the entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They said, “You have killed the people of the LORD!” 42 When the community assembled together against Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, the cloud covered it, and the Glory of the LORD appeared. 43 Moses and Aaron went in front of the Tent of Meeting. 44 The LORD spoke to Moses: 45 “Get away from this community so that I may put an end to them instantly!” Moses and Aaron fell facedown to the ground.
Moses very carefully and sadly describes this group as “the entire Israelite community.” Everyone. All of them. The whole kit and caboodle. They had already forgotten Korah’s lies, Dathan’s rebellious stance, and Abiram’s treacherous complicity. Those men brought down God’s judgment on themselves, and the two hundred and fifty who died with them were equally at fault. Now, the rest of the entire nation turned on Moses and Aaron, and against God. This meant that all of Israel was on the verge of hardening their hearts. Everyone. All of them. The whole kit and caboodle.
God’s will is that people will be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). But when people turn away from God, having had their salvation and having been on the path toward knowledge of the truth, then he punishes sin with sin on account of people’s impenitence and deliberate sins. As our confession summarizes: “God’s revealed will involves both items: First, that he would receive in to grace all who repent and believe in Christ; and second, that he would punish those who deliberately turn away from the holy commandment and involve themselves again in the filth of this world” (Formula of Concord S.D. XI:83). This explanation expands on Peter’s words: “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20). So when God said to Moses, “Get away from this community so that I may put an end to them instantly,” the prophet understood that Israel, the whole nation of Israel, was about to be destroyed by the wrath of God then and there because they had rejected their God and fallen into complete unbelief. Everyone. All of them. The whole kit and caboodle.
46 Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, put fire from the altar in it, place incense on it, go quickly to the community, and make atonement for them, because wrath has gone out from the LORD! The plague has begun.” 47 Aaron did as Moses said and ran into the middle of the assembly. The plague had already begun among the people. He put the incense on his censer and made atonement for the people. 48 He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. 49 Now those who died by the plague totaled 14,700, besides those who died because of the offense of Korah. 50 Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, and the plague was stopped.
Aaron was an old man by this time, perhaps in his mid-eighties. Yet he ran to do what Moses said. He grabbed his own incense censer, took fire from the bronze altar of burnt offerings, put incense on it, and ran into the middle of the crowd of people. Moses says that Aaron “stood between the dead and living,” and the plague was stopped. Fourteen thousand is a lot of people to have been killed by this sudden, divine plague. If we compare the first census of the book with the later one toward the end of the forty years’ wandering, we find that five of the tribes were significantly reduced in size, and this plague surely had something to do with those reductions. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Naphtali all dropped by several thousand people, Ephraim lost seven thousand, and Simeon was reduced by more than half (some 37,000 people). We might remember that Dathan and Abiram were from the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 26:8), and so it’s reasonable to think that many of the two hundred and fifty who died the day before were Reubenites. But this 14,700? They may have been from many different tribes, or even some people from most of the tribes. But Aaron and Moses showed their humble compassion for these men and women who wanted to depose them. Their quick intercession stopped the plague.
This makes us return to the doctrine of hardening or obduracy. We can’t know or read the hearts of people who have hardened their hearts or who have been hardened by God, but it is never wrong to pray for human beings who are still living. Aaron’s smoking censer is a testimony to that. His prayer, shown physically among the people by the burning incense, was for God to forgive and to spare the souls of these people. And that’s just exactly what happened. God relented, their bodies were not crushed, their souls were not condemned, and they now had the gospel of forgiveness both demonstrated and preached among them.
The practical value of having a high priest chosen by God was also demonstrated for the people. What other man, covetous of Aaron’s position, would have done what he had done, an old man in his eighties running with a burning censer of incense in his hand? They were guilty and deserving of God’s anger. “They are a people whose hearts go astray” (Psalm 95:10). “Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, ‘He won’t call me to account?’” (Psalm 10:13). “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot” (Psalm 11:6). God was justified and righteous in his anger. He might then and there have wiped out a great many more, and no one would have been left to complain. “May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents” (Psalm 69:25). But the prayer of one or two righteous men stopped that divine fury and spared the lives of millions. “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins” (Psalm 85:2). Israel escaped like a bird slipping out of a snare. You may have people in your life who seem to be lost; who have wandered so far away from God that you wonder whether there can be any hope for them at all? They might be people who have forgotten what God has done (Psalm 106:13). You and I agonize over them. We pray, “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me” (Psalm 88:18). But we keep praying. Who knows but that God will have compassion on them? The gospel may yet do its strange, mysterious, wonderful and alien work in their hearts, and call them back to faith in Jesus. Keep praying, though your tears drip onto the very pages of God’s scroll in his hand (Psalm 56:8). Ask for his mercy and for his word to do its work, and do not give up hope. Remember old Aaron, running with a swinging bowl of smoke into the crowd in the desert, saving lives and saving souls. Pray for your loved ones. Everyone. All of them. The whole kit and caboodle.
Pastor Timothy Smith