16:1-4 One day a man named Korah…collected some disaffected Reubenites led by Dathan and Abiram…and started an insurrection against Moses. The group had 250 members, all of whom were leaders within the community of Israel. …Korah and the men came before Moses and Aaron and confronted them: “You men have arrogantly set yourselves apart from the rest of us. Are we not all holy before the Lord? Then why do you behave as though you are God’s only chosen ones and better than anybody else? As soon as Moses heard the complaint, he dropped to his knees and put his face to the ground in prayer to God.
16:5-17 He then arose and replied to Korah and the other men, “Come morning the Lord will reveal to us all who is holy and right before him. …You think you have risen up against me but you have risen up against the Lord. …It should be enough for you, Korah and you other Levites, that the Lord has chosen you from among all the people of Israel to serve him at the tabernacle. …You have been given a privileged position as ministers of the Lord. But it seems you are not content with that and want the priesthood for your own possession. So bring all of these men with you tomorrow and each of you fill your censers with incense and meet together with Aaron in front of the tabernacle. Aaron too will fill his censor and appear there with you.”
16:18-30 The next day they all did just as Moses had directed, bringing their incense censers and meeting in front of the tabernacle tent. God’s Shekinah Glory appeared to all the people of Israel who were watching. …Then the Lord said to Moses, “Announce to the people of Israel that they must get away from the tents occupied by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” …After everyone had moved away except the men and their families, Moses turned to the people and said: “You will now be able to judge whether the Lord has commissioned me to lead you or if I have taken control of my own will. If these three men live a full and normal life from this point on, it will be a sign that God has not put me in my position as his representative to you. But if not— if the Lord miraculously opens a fissure in the earth and these men and their families disappear into it—then it will be clear that God has sent me and these men are in contemptuous rebellion against him.”
16:31-41 No sooner had he said these things than the ground heaved and cleft open, engulfing the three men, their tents, and their families. They all disappeared into the bowels of the earth, never to be seen again as it closed over them. Seeing the event, all Israel panicked and began to disperse just as flames of fire came down incinerating all the men save Aaron who were offering incense before the Lord. …By the next day, people were enraged against both Moses and Aaron, saying “You two have gone and murdered God’s own chosen people.”
17:1-5 God knew a serious insurgency was brewing among the Israelites, so he gave these instructions to Moses: “Announce to the people that they are to select twelve staffs from among their leaders, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Each leader is to engrave his name upon his own staff, and Aaron is to do the same with the staff of Levi. Then have each man place his staff at the entranced to the tabernacle tent where the tablets of the law are kept and there I will meet with you. The man of my choice—my personal representative for all Israel—will see his staff sprout overnight. That divine sign will end the constant complaints of the people against you.”
17:8-10 Moses did just as the Lord had instructed and the next morning when Moses entered the tent of the tabernacle, there on the ground were the twelve staffs; but only Aaron’s staff had sprouted. Not only had it sprouted, it had also blossomed and produced ripened almonds! Moses then brought all the staffs out for public viewing and everyone saw the stunning results. The Lord then told Moses, “Now you are to return Aaron’s staff to its place in front of the tablets of the Law where it shall be kept permanently as a sign to all who decide to rebel against you in the future. This sign of my chosen representatives will end the constant complaining against me and save the lives of those who otherwise would die from their profane and irreverent behavior.”
18:1-7 God spoke to Aaron, saying …“You have the responsibility to stop sacrilegious acts against the tabernacle sanctuary and my chosen priests who serve there in order to curtail my wrath against any offenders. Your fellow Levites are to assist you in the work of the tabernacle, but no one beside you and your consecrated sons are to even come near the sanctuary furnishings or the altar of the Lord. …Your work as priests of the tabernacle is a special gift I give to you. Death awaits anyone else who attempts to enter the sanctuary of my presence behind the tabernacle curtain.”
18:8-29 The Lord again spoke to Aaron, saying, “I am making you totally responsible for all the offerings given to me by the Israelites. You and your sons and daughters are to receive these gifts as your own—as your portion and share of inheritance. …You will not receive any land as inheritance or any other share of the Promised Land other than the Lord himself; for I am your inheritance. …And you are to tithe to the Lord one-tenth of the gifts given to you by the people as their offerings. …The very best of the offerings you receive are to be tithed to the Lord.”
Backed by 250 leaders from among the Levites, Korah staged a rebellion against Moses. Korah argued that since God dwelled in their midst, no one like Moses and Aaron should have the exclusive access to God that the priesthood entailed. Moses’ first response was prayer. Then he challenged Korah and his followers to a test in which each was to bring their censers filled with incense before God at the tabernacle tent. Moses announced to the entire congregation that if after offering incense to God something unprecedented happened to Korah, then all were to know that God had chosen Moses and Aaron to be God’s exclusive head priests. After the offering, Korah and two of his co-conspirators, along with their entire families, were swallowed up in a chasm when the earth split open. The rest of the rebel leaders were killed by lightening.
The next day the people complained that Moses was murdering his people. God instructed Moses to have each of the twelve tribal leaders put his name on his own staff and bring them all to Moses. He then left the staffs overnight in the tabernacle tent before the ark containing the Law with the understanding that God would reveal his choice of leader for the priesthood by marking one of the staffs. A clear choice was meant by God to put an end to the constant grumbling of the Israelites over issues of leadership. The next day Aaron’s staff had blossomed while the others remained unchanged. Moses showed the results to all of Israel.
Aaron’s staff was then placed before the ark as a reminder to all the Levites who served in the tabernacle that God had chosen Aaron for special service to him. God then instructed Aaron in his duties as priest, saying that Aaron’s position was a special gift from him. The rest of the Levites were to be under Aaron and to be directed by him in their work in and around the tabernacle. God gave Aaron the responsibility of overseeing all the work and to protect the Levites from the danger of death should they attempt to stray into the sanctuary reserved for the priesthood of Aaron and his sons. Then God told Aaron that he was to be in charge of the people’s offerings to God, and that such gifts were to be the means of support for the priests and their families. They were not to receive any land once the Israelites entered Canaan, since the priests’ compensation for their service to God and their special relationship with him was their full reward.
* We humans are easily lured into jealousy. We want what others have: their possessions, abilities, and positions in life. Men seem especially susceptible to the demands of the ego, which thrusts us into an endless pursuit to achieve a sense of self-importance. Korah’s rebellion represents the drive present in most of us to be seen as more important than others—to be singled out as special—and to be admired as such. Korah was not satisfied with his distinction as a Levite in the service of the tabernacle. He coveted the special office of the priesthood reserved for Aaron and his sons, falsely thinking that it would bring him admiration in the eyes of others and a sense of personal fulfillment. It never could, for the ego is never satisfied. It is a lesson we all must relearn constantly, whatever our station in life and whatever status we seek.
* God reserves the right to choose whomever he will for whatever he wants. As Hosea says, he is the Potter and we are the clay. But we, like the rebellious angel Lucifer, want to assume God’s position and make such choices ourselves. As it turns out, our only basic choices in life are to fully accept who we are (who God made us to be) and to follow God rather than rebel against him. When we do this, we find the fulfillment that ego-driven actions can never accomplish. Some say that God’s will for our lives is writ large upon the personalities and preferences we possess from birth. At the very least such givens are a good starting point to determine God’s will and calling. To try to find that calling in the opinions and approval of others will end in futility and discontent.
* God chose Moses, who scripture says was the most humble man alive at the time (Numbers 12:3), to lead the people of Israel. Unlike the modern notion that humility necessarily entails meekness (i.e., weakness), true humility is strength that finds joy in putting the needs and desires of others first. Humility requires a heart oriented towards service. Moses certainly showed that orientation, constantly giving of himself and intervening for the Israelites before God. Jesus would later declare that the person who wanted to be leader must first become a servant (Matt. 20:26), a principle he demonstrated in his own life and actions. To possess a servant’s heart, one must assume a position in life that is counter-cultural. To be truly humble is to be radically different.
* How opposite this orientation is to the ways of the world. In business, politics, and every other area of social endeavor, leaders scratch and claw their way to the top using all available means to further themselves and their careers. Often this prideful rise to the top is couched within the guise of service, as when politicians refer to their “service to the country.” But the true nature of such “service” is clearly seen in the form of political leaders around the world who refuse to step down, sometimes murdering their fellow countrymen in a vain attempt to retain power when democratic movements insist on more representative governments. Though not overtly violent, American politics is horribly marred by the practice of denigrating one’s opponent verbally to gain or retain office. Not to participate in such behavior is thought to display a weakness of character that throws into question one’s ability to lead. How different the lives of the many biblical characters whose strength was in a humility borne of their unswerving devotion to God.
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