God’s Word for You
Numbers 16:5-11 Sedition
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, September 21, 2021
5 He said to Korah and to all his followers, “In the morning the LORD will reveal which of you are his and which of you are holy, and he will have that person come near to him. The man he chooses, he will have that man come near to him. 6 Do this, Korah, you and all your followers. Take censers, 7 put fire in them, and place incense on them in the presence of the LORD tomorrow. The man whom the LORD chooses will be set aside as holy. You have gone too far, you Levites!”
Moses had fallen on his face to the ground. Now he started to speak, and in my mind I see sand spewing here and there away from his lips as he kept himself prostrate, humbling himself before God and separating himself from this company of rebels, filled with sedition and hypocrisy.
Moses asks for Cain’s judgment when he says, “The man whom the Lord chooses” (see Genesis 4:5). The lesson we learn from Cain’s offering is that God looks at the heart when we bring an offering. It didn’t matter that Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the earth” to the Lord and that Abel brought the firstlings of his flock. It mattered that Abel did this out of thanks and out of faith. It’s clear that Adam and Eve were offering sacrifices to show their thanks to God, and that the idea of sacrifice was in the heart of man from the very beginning of the world. But Cain did not learn his lesson very well from his father, the first high priest of the world. Cain learned how to sacrifice, but not the true reason why. He thought he knew, but he didn’t really understand that this was something to be done from faith. God did not accept Cain’s offering. This was the judgment Moses asked for with Korah and his cronies: Of the two hundred and fifty men opposing him, let them all (notice the “all” in verse 6) bring their censers, fill them with incense, and bring them before the Lord. Then, Moses said, we will see whom the Lord will accept. In the end, God would do even more.
8 Moses said to Korah, “Listen, you Levites! 9 Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the Israelite community and brought you near to himself to do the work of the LORD’s Dwelling and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10 and that he has brought you near, along with all your fellow Levites who are with you? Do you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore you and all your followers have gathered together against the LORD! As for Aaron, who is he that you should grumble against him?”
If we keep the memory of Cain and his sacrifice in mind once again, we see another comparison here. When Cain and Abel made their offerings, and throughout their lives, the world was still new. Eden was never very far away. They were kept from going in to Eden, but they always knew where it was. How? Eden contained the river that was the headwater of the other rivers that ran all through their land (Genesis 2:10-14). Whenever they went to a river to drink fresh water or to bathe or to swim for pleasure, they know that Eden was simply upstream from where they were. That was the special place God had made for them, but sin had caused them to be driven out, and for their protection the Lord kept them out with an armed angel (Genesis 3:24). Yet Eden was also a reminder of God’s blessings and his gospel. Eden was a reminder of the promise of forgiveness and of the resurrection from the dead, since outside of death and apart from death, man had once lived in that paradise, and through the promised Seed of Eve, one day they would know an even greater Paradise.
Korah was a Levite. He was part of the specially chosen family who served the Lord. His division, the Kohathites, were the very special group that were responsible for the care of the sanctuary and cared for the Ark, the table, the lampstand, and everything else that was used in the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (Numbers 3:28-31). Like fallen Adam and Eve, the Levites were permitted to live near the special holy place and even to tend and care for what was just outside the holy place. But now they were fighting for more. They wanted to go inside.
Moses challenges their intentions: “God has brought you near, along with all your fellow Levites. Do you seek the priesthood, too?” (Numbers 16:10). This is what heretics and false teachers always want. They demand equal time, but they don’t offer it and they never give it. What they truly want is all of the time (not equal time), all of the say, all of the decision-making for themselves. They want to ignore the word of God, and when they drive out God’s called pastors and teachers, they never care for the souls of the flock. They fleece their sheep, taking every last penny. And why? To be able to afford to pray for the families of their flock? Is prayer expensive? To be sure, the worker is worth his wages (Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18), but a true minister of the gospel is paid so that he won’t need to work a side job while he cares for the congregation’s needs. A false teacher sucks the church dry of all its funds and then moves on. If there is a parallel to this behavior in horror movies and novels, then at least it should be noted that the answer to such a vampire is truly to hold up the cross and cling to it as the only real defense.
There is some irony in verse 11 as Moses needs to defend Aaron’s position, when Aaron had stood in their place, challenging Moses not all that long before (Numbers 12:1-15). The difference was that Aaron and Miriam were called to repentance, and repent they did. Would Korah repent? Would he take Moses seriously, this prophet laying face down at his feet? Whether this did anything for Korah and his two hundred and fifty rebels, Moses gives us a beautiful example by taking the steps he took. Moses doesn’t just say a few things, going through motions of ministry. He fell down on his face. He called on the name of the Lord. He seriously called Korah to repentance. Cousin or not, Korah was a soul who needed saving, since he had “departed from Moses in such a way that he refused to be obedient, also striving to abuse Moses and establish himself (as leader)” (Luther, LW 28:254).
We need to take Korah’s rebellion to heart. We are all capable of slipping and falling into error. One of Job’s friends remembered that “God charged his angels with error” (that is, the angels who fell, Job 4:18), and therefore each of us is also subject to charges of sin, error, and wrongdoing. What we want to do is remain steadfast in God’s word and his way, and “work for the good of God’s people, and speaking up for their welfare” (Esther 10:3).
To question a called leader such as a pastor is acceptable, of course, especially if it is about something he said or did. To challenge the authority given to him by God through his call is another matter. Pray for your leaders, your ministers and teachers. And remember to pray: Lord, keep us steadfast in your word.
Pastor Timothy Smith