Book of Numbers Chapter Sixteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Rebellion And Destruction
God has a plan for humanity, which includes you. He has in mind that you will trust in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and be forgiven. He has a calling for you and a timetable for what is to occur. If you are not to be the leader in your situation, He has some appropriate person or persons who will do it. Even the leaders who seem inept or cruel can be perfect for us because their wrong decisions are like magnets that draw us to the Lord. Moses and Aaron were good leaders, especially Moses, who had somewhat reluctantly accepted his leadership position, but then he responded to the Lord in all that He did. When you have a leader like that, thank the Lord who is good to you.
Verses 1-3: "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 action, 2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. 3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, 'You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'" There are really only two kinds of people in the world: 1) Those who place their faith in the Lord and are "born again" (John 3:3,7), and 2) those who persist in unbelief. The faithful are God's people, set for eternal life, and the other group is facing destruction. Faithful Moses is a representation of God's people, and Korah, the great-grandson of Levi, was a religious leader, a Levite, who did not have faith in the Lord. Moses was God's chosen leader and Korah questioned God's choice, smugly remarking, ALL of us in Israel "are holy." Moses was not exalting himself—but Korah was.
Verses 4-11: "When Moses heard this, he fell on his face; 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 bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself. 6 Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company, 7 and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the Lord tomorrow; and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!' 8 Then Moses said to Korah, 'Hear now, you sons of Levi, 9 is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also? 11 Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the Lord; but as for Aaron, who is he that you grumble against him?'" It's dangerous to touch God's anointed ones. Korah and the others who followed him were Levites who served the tabernacle, the tent of the Lord, but Korah wanted more. They were not priests, but instead were more like deacons, selected by the Lord Himself to see and to touch objects that were forbidden for others in Israel. They had—privilege. If you have jealousy in your heart like Korah did, and think your life should be more than it is, then tell the Lord. If you don't like your leader and think you could do a better job, tell Jesus. Let your words of envy go to the Lord. He will hear you and whoever or whatever is wrong, God will heal the situation. Let your grumbling stop and your prayers begin.
Verses 12-15: "Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, 'We will not come up. 13 Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? 14 Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!' 15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the Lord, 'Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.'" We saw Dathan and Abiram in Verse 1, where they were revealed as co-conspirators with Korah. Moses was giving them the opportunity to meet privately with him, which was like the king or president of your country inviting you to a private audience. They refused his offer and isn't it interesting that the men now viewed their former abject slavery in Egypt as something they wanted to go back to? Moses was stung by their response, but he took his anger to the Lord, as we all should.
Verses 16-22: "Moses said to Korah, 'You and all your company be present before the Lord tomorrow, both you and they along with Aaron. 17 Each of you take his firepan and put incense on it, and each of you bring his censer before the Lord, two hundred and fifty firepans; also you and Aaron shall each bring his firepan.' 18 So they each took his own censer and put fire on it, and laid incense on it; and they stood at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with Moses and Aaron. 19 Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation. 20 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 21 'Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.' 22 But they fell on their faces and said, 'O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?'" The censers and firepans of these verses were brass containers used to carry hot coals and incense. Levites such as Korah were privileged to carry such objects, and the next morning they appeared before Moses, censers and firepans in hand, full of hot coals. They may have thought that the meeting reflected God's approval, but the Lord now spoke destruction on them all. Moses and Aaron saw what was happening, and literally fell down and prayed, fervently asking God to have mercy on the people of Israel.
God's answer to the prayer of Moses and Aaron begins in Verses 23-30: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 'Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.' 25 Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him, 26 and he spoke to the congregation, saying, 'Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.' 27 So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones. 28 Moses said, 'By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. 29 If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord.'" The Lord would say through Moses at a later time in Deuteronomy 18:22—"When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen... that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken... you shall not be afraid of him." He also said, in Deuteronomy 13:1-3, that, even if the result is just as the prophet said, do not listen to him if he is leading you to "other gods." Moses was a man who knew through faith that the Lord's command was to warn the people to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram! God speaks to us in our hearts, in the words of Scripture, in words through a faithful someone in our lives, and then—do we risk being embarrassed? Will the event come to pass? Note that the faith of Moses and his love of the people was greater than any fear—he warned the people. Just as the Lord said to him, he spoke those words. And when the Lord tells us to speak, let's do it, just as He says.
Verses 31-35: "As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 All Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, 'The earth may swallow us up!' 35 Fire also came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense." Moses barely finished speaking those words from the Lord when the earth opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan, Abiram, their families, tents, possessions, and they became a shocking memory! And then, as the people ran madly away, God burned-up the 250 followers of Korah who stood holding censers. They had a moment of realization as the ground opened up and took their leader, and then destruction was for them as well. God's holy fire consumed them. Rebellion brings destruction, if not in this life, then certainly in eternity. We have one hope: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Today, right at this moment—trust in the Lord. The destruction for our rebellion fell on Him.
Verses 36-41: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 37 'Say to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, that he shall take up the censers out of the midst of the blaze, for they are holy; and you scatter the burning coals abroad. 38 As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered sheets for a plating of the altar, since they did present them before the Lord and they are holy; and they shall be for a sign to the sons of Israel. 39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers which the men who were burned had offered, and they hammered them out as a plating for the altar, 40 as a reminder to the sons of Israel that no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near to burn incense before the Lord; so that he will not become like Korah and his company—just as the Lord had spoken to him through Moses. 41 But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, 'You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord’s people.'" The assignment was given to Aaron's son, Eleazar, to build a memorial out of the censers that fell from the hands of Korah's 250 dead rebels. Moses, through the gift of prayer that is available to all of us, had averted the disaster that could have destroyed the nation, but, unlike Moses, all too many love to take the credit and assign the blame—it's humanity's sin nature. And blame was what the whole of Israel was doing at the moment—blaming Moses.
The people of Israel, fists clenched, were marching against Moses and Aaron, when, oh-oh, the Lord revealed Himself in in the "cloud" of Verse 42: "It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared." And continuing into Verses 43-45—"Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 'Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.' Then they fell on their faces." Notice that the Lord was ready to destroy the nation. How many times have you had sinful thoughts or participated in sinful actions, and the prayerful intercession of someone you barely knew, saved you from destruction? And if you have trusted in the Messiah, the Christ, you have forgiveness because through His cross— "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). He is the Way of salvation, of life for you. And what happened to On, son of Peleth, in Verse 1? He rebelled, too, but was not mentioned again. If he repented and trusted in the Lord, he was saved, just as you can be.
Verses 46-50: "Moses said to Aaron, 'Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun!' 47 Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. 49 But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked." Aaron had a censer just like the 250 who had been destroyed by fire, and he may have hesitated for an instant as he placed hot coals into his censer, but not for long because a plague of death was sweeping the nation. He ran to the people, held up the censer, prayed and "the plague was checked." God said "yes" to Aaron and his censer, and He said "no" to the 250. What about you today? Do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, or are you rebelling against the plans and purposes of God? It's time to trust in Him and in His plan for you. The alternative is rebellion, bringing destruction which can spread to those you love.
Lord, I am truly sorry for my rebellion against You. I confess my sins and pray for Your forgiveness. I trust in You, Lord Jesus, and what You have done for me. I am Yours, Lord. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.