Numbers 16 – 18
Enter the consummate politician! In the Torah? Yes, in the Torah.
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, 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. Num. 16: 1-2
Very often, we have read these chapters without realizing that there is not one rebellion happening, but two. Notice: Korah is a Levite (from the tribe of Levi). Dathan, Abiram and On are from the tribe of Reuben. In the arrangement of the tribes around the Tabernacle in the wilderness, each tribe had its ‘neighborhood’. The Levites were camped by the door of the Tabernacle while the other tribes encircled the larger area.
First, we are presented with Korah’s challenge to Moses and Aaron:
You have gone far enough for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?
The Levites were the only ones who had permission to transport the Ark of the Covenant; they were the only ones allowed to set up and break down the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Of the thirteen tribes of Israel, God chose only one tribe out to draw near to Him in that special way. Korah was privileged to be a Levite but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more power; he wanted the leadership position that Aaron had so he issues this ultimatum to Moses and Aaron.
Moses response was first to fall on his face before God and then he instructed Korah and the 250 with him to put fire in their censers and gather the following morning at the entrance of the Tabernacle. God will demonstrate, Moses declared, who is holy. (vs. 6-7)
Meanwhile ‘Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram‘ so obviously they were not present with Korach and the 250 Levites. Dathan and Abiram refuse to come but convey their complaint against Moses:
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? 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 to you. (vs.13-14)
Do you see the difference?
Korah wanted power, pre-eminence, leadership over the people.
Dathan and Abiram were angry that Moses had not yet taken them into the Land.
Korah had a spiritual complaint. Dathan and Abiram had a political complaint.
But though their focus was different, Korah somehow managed to take the leadership of both groups. He ‘worked the crowd’ as it were – back and forth between both groups of rebels, building a case against Moses and Aaron. God was watching.
The next morning, the crowd of Levites assembles. God commanded Moses to get away from the ‘tent’ of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Now this is interesting. Your translation may say the ‘dwelling’ of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. But we’ve already noted that they didn’t live together. So what does this mean?
It’s clearer in the Hebrew. It was the ‘meeting place’ of Koran, Dathan and Abiram; a place where they met to develop their scheme to seize power from Moses, the priesthood from Aaron and then march on into the Land under the leadership of Korah. You realize, of course, that no one organizes a rebellion with 250 adherents overnight. This had been brewing for some time.
Notice: in vs. 24 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the meeting place of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ But the very next verse says, ‘Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram with the elders of Israel following him.’
If Moses had to get up and go find them, then Dathan and Abiram were not present with Korah and the 250! As Moses approaches that meeting place, God commands the people to get away from the ‘tent’ of these wicked men. Look what happened: vs. 32 ..and the earth swallowed them up and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions.
Now that would put the fear of the Lord in you, wouldn’t it?
Remember, this crowd is gathered with Dathan and Abiram by the meeting place of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, not at the entrance of the Tabernacle where Korah is, with his 250 followers. Yet those who joined in with Dathan and Abiram’s complaint are called ‘the men who belonged to Korah’, indicating that the two companies of grumblers were united under the leadership of Korah.
Meanwhile, back at the entrance of the Tabernacle, ‘fire came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.’ (vs. 35)
Two complaints – two different punishments – one overall leader. What was Korah’s real sin?
He was a consummate manipulator of people to pursue his own agenda. Whatever it took to gain power, that’s what he would do. The substance of the complaints was secondary to his egotistical goal.
Some of the Levites, including himself, wanted to be priests instead of Aaron and his sons – a religious issue. Fine, Korah massaged their frustration with his own.
The Dathan and Abiram crowd wanted political leadership to get them out of the desert and into the Promised Land right now with no more waiting. Fine, Korah latched onto their discontent, met with them, gained their allegiance and formulated a plan to challenge the divine mandate God had given to Moses and Aaron.
He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who appointed Moses and Aaron.
He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who delivered the people from Egypt, not Moses and Aaron.
He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who decreed the prolonged stay in the desert because of the rebellion of the people, not Moses and Aaron.
He failed to realize that his fight was not with Moses and Aaron but with God Himself.
The root of his problem goes back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted more than the incredible abundance God had already given them. Korah made the same mistake. Korah was born into the tribe of Levi. That, in itself, was a great privilege and accorded him special privileges among God’s people. But he didn’t think that was good enough. Like Esau, Korah despised his birthright and wanted what was not his to have. The result was tragic, not just for him but for hundreds of others.
One last curious fact: notice that Korah and his 250 companions were in front of the Tabernacle with their fire pans, so there were 251 Levites there. The text says that fire came out of heaven and consumed the 250. Which one of those 251 was spared?? Let me know what you think below.
In Tune with Torah this week = God created you with your own unique destiny and sent you to this earth with your own unique purpose. The human tendency to compare oneself with others, to want what they have, not just materially, but in talents, skills and opportunities is a base drive that must be disciplined if we are to live a peaceful and productive life. Korah’s story challenges us to accept God’s plan for us with gratitude and joy, to live it out with enthusiasm and to refuse any jealousy or envy that tries to take root in our souls.
Don’t forget to leave a comment – and your idea of which one of the 251 Levites was not consumed by fire.