“Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:1-3).
A group of men led by Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron and charged them with exalting themselves above the congregation (Num. 16:1-3). This is a strong warning against rebellion toward God-ordained authority. Compare Hebrews 13:7, 17.
1. The rebels were leaders (v. 2). Instead of leading the people in confessing their sins and glorifying God obeying His Word, they stirred up the people to rebellion. Compare James 3:1; Jeremiah 23:1-2. This reminds us that God’s people must not blindly follow church leaders. They are to be tested by God’s Word (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:20-21).
2. Their sin was motivated by jealousy and pride. Korah was jealous of Aaron because God had chosen him and his sons for the priesthood. Dathan and Abiram, sons of Reuben, were probably jealous because the tribe of Judah was put at the head of the marching order even though Reuben was the firstborn (Num. 2:1-3). They were not content to accept God’s calling on their lives. Compare Romans 12:3.
3. The rebels were neighbors. They were sons of Kohath and sons of Reuben, and they all resided in tents on the south side of the Tabernacle. (Compare Num. 2:10 and 3:29.) Neighbors should exhort one another to godliness and obedience, but these neighbors exhorted one another to wickedness and rebellion. Each believer needs to be the kind of friend and neighbor that pleases God and edifies man, and we need to be careful not to develop close associations with rebels. The Bible warns that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33).
4. The rebels said that all the people are holy (v. 3). This was true, in that all the people were redeemed through the blood of the Passover, but God choses our place within the body and not all are equal in authority. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:18. Each believer is to occupy himself with perfecting and fulfilling his particular calling and not try to be something God has not called him to be (Romans 12:3-11).
5. Their sin had spread widely because of their bitter words (vv. 1-2). Compare Hebrews 12:15. There is a Jewish saying, “Woe to the wicked man, and woe to his neighbor.” The book of Proverbs twice warns of the destructive power of the “words of a talebearer” (Prov. 18:8; 26:22). Nothing is more destructive to the life of a church than bitter gossip and evil words spoken against the leaders by carnal people.
6. Moses was very disappointed in Dathan and Abiram (vv. 12-15). Apparently he thought that he could reason with these men, probably because he had a good personal relationship with them before this or because they had heretofore been respectful of his authority. A pastor once told me that when he had a church split some years earlier that some of the people who turned against him and left were the last ones he would never have thought would have done such a thing.
7. The people who followed the rebels were backslidden, discontented people. They were angry at being left in the wilderness (vv. 12-14). They were angry because of God’s holy judgment on their sin of unbelief in refusing to go into the Promised Land (Num. 13:32 - 14:4) Instead of humbly confessing their sin and accepting God’s will, they demanded their own way. Backslidden people are easily led by rebels.
8. Their murmuring was directed at Moses and Aaron, but their rebellion was against God, who had called Moses and Aaron. Church business is serious business, and we must keep our eyes on God or we will go astray.
9. Moses acted wisely in this difficult matter. The first thing he did was fall on his face in prayer to God for wisdom and help (v. 4). He did not back down before the rebels but stood his ground on God’s Word and reproved them (vv. 5-11). He tried to reason separately with those that he considered reasonable (v. 12). He stood on his good testimony in that he was not guilty of abusing the people or of misusing his position of authority (v. 15). He interceded with God for the sins of the people (vv. 21-22).
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