As the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness between Egypt and the land of Canaan, the Lord led them. He cared for them. He provided for them. In fact, the Bible says that He “sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing” (Nehemiah 9:21).
Did the Israelites show gratitude for God’s wonderful mercy and provisions? Not hardly. What they did was murmur. And murmur. And then murmur some more. As a consequence of their dissatisfaction and frequent complaining, God punished them in a variety of different ways.
One of the most intriguing accounts is found in Numbers 16, where we read that “the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pits; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly” (Numbers 16:31-33). That was not a vision or a dream. It really happened. What in the world?
Here is how it started. Four men – Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, led a group of two hundred fifty leaders in Israel in attacking Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1-3). Since the Holy Spirit labels their activities as “the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 11), he must been the main leader of their treachery.
In what manner did this group of rebels attack Moses and Aaron? Verbally. It is written: “They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’” (Numbers 16:3). Those were some serious accusations.
Hear a portion of Moses’ reply:
You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi! . . . Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; and that he has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking the priesthood also? Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD. And what is Aaron that you complain against him? (16:7,9-11).
There you have it. The disrespect shown and murmuring done by Korah’s clan was what brought about their death. And what a memorable burial they had – swallowed up by the earth! Now let us go back and pick up a few lessons.
He was not just Korah; he was “cousin Korah.”
You see, Korah’s father (Izhar) and Moses’ father (Amram) were brothers (Exodus 6:18,20,21), meaning that Korah was a cousin to both Aaron and Moses. To Moses’ credit, he stood up against his cousin’s wrongdoing just like he would have anyone else. We are not surprised, as we recall that Moses also had stood against his older brother’s sin of making a golden calf (Exodus 32). Let us learn from Moses’ response and deal with people according to the facts and truth rather than allowing friendship or family relations to prevent us from doing what is right.
Leaders can be losers. The men who rose up against Moses and Aaron were “leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown” (Numbers 16:2). So, they were leaders; however, we must not confuse leadership with godliness. Those men had no regard for God’s authority. They led people, but they were losers, leading men to rebel against Jehovah. Lord, raise up leaders among Your people who will lead like You do – “in the paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3).
Korah and those other Levites with him should have been content, but they felt cheated. As Levites, they were blessed greatly, being entrusted with the privilege and honor of serving at the tabernacle. As Moses reminded them, such an opportunity to serve was no “small thing” (16:9). Korah’s crowd felt slighted. They wanted more than “just” serving as Levites – they wanted to be priests, too (16:10). Here is the reality: per God’s arrangement, only Aaron and his descendants were allowed to serve as priests. Korah’s rebels distorted the truth when they claimed that Moses and Aaron had exalted themselves (16:3). Those two men did not exalt themselves – God is the One who put them in positions of authority! Brothers and sisters, let us be grateful for what we have and what we can do in God’s service. Jealousy and distrust of others, just because they have abilities or privileges which we lack, has no place among the people of God.
Against whom did Korah’s brigade rebel? It is stated that they came together “against Moses and Aaron” (16:3). It also is written that they “gathered together against the LORD” (16:11). The truth is, by rebelling against the authority and role of Moses and Aaron, they were rebelling against God Himself. One who refuses to submit to God’s arrangement, including submission to those to whom He has delegated authority, is rebelling against the Creator. That principle holds true regardless of where the lack of submission occurs, whether it be in the home, in society, or in the church.
God wants you and me to remember the day that the earth opened up and swallowed those men. He says “Woe” to those who follow the rebels’ path (Jude 11).
— Roger D. Campbell