When the earth opened up and swallowed a Korah-led group of Israelites who had rebelled against Moses and Aaron, it was a sad day among God’s people. What happened the very next day was not only a tragedy, it was shocking. The Bible’s record of it is found in Numbers 16:41-50.
In a nutshell, as Israel wandered somewhere in the wilderness, following the death of Korah and others, “On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the LORD’” (Numbers 16:41). After a plague broke out in Israel, Aaron made atonement for the people, but not before a slew of additional lives were lost. We know that the Old Testament was written for our learning (Romans 15:4), so let us do some learning.
The complaining continued. Some have labeled the book of Numbers as “the Book of Murmuring,” and we can see why. Over and over we read that the Israelites murmured, griped, and complained. In a number of cases, we read that such complaining brought about quick, unpleasant results. Yet, the complaining continued. Can these people not learn their lesson?! Can they not develop a heart that respects Jehovah, His instructions, and His actions? You and I are charged, “Do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14).
Rash/hasty judgment doomed them. When did the complaints against Aaron and Moses return? “On the next day” after the people had witnessed Korah’s crew of renegades wiped out. The very next day! Amazing. When things happen that stir up our emotions, when difficult matters arise, it is wise to step away from them, consider the whole scenario from every standpoint, reflect on what has happened and why, and turn it over to the Lord in prayer. I have made some horrible decisions when I thought it was necessary to respond with haste to something that was said or done. How I wish I would have delayed my response so that I might let the emotions diminish and be able to make a more mature judgment that comes from calm, sound reasoning.
It was a repeat performance. On the previous day, “two hundred fifty leaders of the congregations” had gathered themselves against Moses and Aaron (16:2). The results were not pleasant. Now, on the very next day, yes, the very next day, other Israelites repeated the blunder, as “the congregation had gathered against Moses and Aaron” (16:41,42). If rebelling against God and His appointed servants was wrong on day one, it was still wrong on day two as well. Part of the process of maturing spiritually is being able to learn from past mistakes, whether those mistakes were our own or those of others.
A false accusation was made. The congregation told the sons of Amram, “You have killed the people of the Lord” (16:41). In fact, it was the Lord who had opened the earth and sent down a fire to cause the death of those rebels (16:30,35). Moses and Aaron were present when it occurred, but the mighty hand of Jehovah caused it. The people failed to see or accept the reality that the Lord was behind it. Not only that, but they claimed that those who died were “the people of the LORD” (16:41). As Israelites, they were the biological descendants of Jacob, but they did not conduct themselves like “the people of God.” They were part of the chosen nation, but they were not faithful servants of the Almighty. And that is a huge difference.
God’s disciplinary action was not accepted well. What did the Creator do with Korah and his comrades? He punished them. If God did it, then our only conclusion can be that it was the right thing to do. Yet, on the following day “all the congregation” accused Moses and Aaron of killing “the people of the LORD.” They did no such thing. Now, on day two of this disastrous series of events, those who stood up in opposition to God’s disciplinary action of the previous day were acting like rebels. When people reject God’s arrangements for discipline of His people, they are rebelling against the Lord Himself. When people criticize and question God’s instructions and actions, in reality, they are criticizing and doubting Him. There is a Bible word for doing such: it is called “blasphemy.” Under the new covenant, there are measures to be employed by the church in order to discipline and win back erring members of God’s church. When other saints stand against the God-given instruction to discipline rebellious members of a local church, they themselves are acting as rebels and are subject to disciplinary action from the congregation.
It was a senseless loss of lives. Accidents take place and things can happen which are out of our control. In this case, however, the non-submissive Israelites brought it on themselves. In the end, a plague resulted in fourteen thousand seven hundred people dying (16:49). Read that number again.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that this matter involved more than Moses and Aaron and those children of Israel who opposed them. God was in the picture, too. His glory appeared (16:42), He spoke to Moses (16:45), and His wrath was poured out (16:46). We must never leave God out of the picture.
Let us close with a positive observation. Aaron took a censure which contained fire from the altar “and made atonement for the people” (16:47). The plague then stopped (16:48). Thank God that because of His mercy, today we can have atonement through the blood of Jesus so that the plague of our sins can be taken away.
— Roger D. Campbell