“Korah …. and certain Reubenites – Dathan and Abiram …. and On ……. — became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders ……They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far!…… Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”” <Num.16:1-3 (NIV)>
Korah was a descendant of Levi; the Kohathites had been given specific duties serving the Lord in the Tabernacle <Num.4:1-20>; they were to look after “the most holy things” – the ark of the testimony; the table of the Presence and all the related utensils; the lampstand and lamps; all the articles used in the sanctuary; and all the utensils used at the altar. They were not allowed to touch any of these items, since only the priests were permitted to touch and look at the unveiled holy things, they were to wrap each in a covering of specific fabric under the strict supervision of Aaron and his sons (NIV Study Bible). Whenever the people were instructed to move from one encampment to another by the cloud, the Kohathites were to carry these items. Aaron and his sons were to go into the sanctuary and assign each man the items that he was to carry; “But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.” <Num.4:20 (NIV)>. Such were the instructions given by God to Moses.
The Reubenites were descendants of Reuben; Jacob in his blessings of his twelve sons referred to Reuben as “Turbulent as the waters” and he and his descendants were characterized by indecision <Jud.5:15-16>. Because of Reuben’s sin against his father, he and his descendants would no longer excel <Gen.49:1-4>. On was also a member of the Reubenite clan.
Korah, certain Reubenites – Dathan and Abiram, including On, and 250 well known community leaders became disrespectful and came to Moses accusing him of appointing Aaron as High Priest of the people in spite of the fact that all the people were holy, “Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”
This attack frustrated Moses to the point that he could do nothing more than to fall on his face to the ground, saying to Korah and his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him.” <Num.16:5 (NIV)>. The message was that God would identify the person that He had chosen as high priest, and those that were not selected by God would fall under God’s judgment. The intent of this group opposition was an attempt to take over the priesthood that God had instituted: “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.” <Num.16:8-11 (NIV)>. Here we see that the hostility was not against Moses and Aaron, but against God, and such hostility would be judged by God!
Their argument was that all the people were holy, but were they correct? Here again they had learned nothing from the institution of the priesthood and the Commandments that God had given them. Aaron was instructed as to how he should enter the sanctuary, he was not to do so whenever he chooses to; first he must bathe himself and then put on the sacred linen tunic (priestly garments), then take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, and offer a bull for a sin offering for himself and his household <see Lev.16:1-6>; the goats and the ram would later be offered for the cleansing of the people. Neither were the people holy, for that was the whole purpose of Aaron entering the sanctuary as outlined in the rest of Leviticus 16. Today we are made holy by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was the fulfilment of the atonement sacrifice that was given under the old covenant <see 1 Jn.2:1-2>.
Korah then gathers his followers and moved toward the entrance to the Tabernacle and God’s glory appears to the entire assembly of people, God instructs Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the people so that He could put an end to them; but Moses and Aaron intervene, “O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?” <Num.16:22 (NIV)>, and in this we see the grace of God expressed when He instructs the people through Moses to move away from the tents of Korah and his followers; for now, His judgment is about to fall on the hostile group. “Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”” <Num.16:28-30 (NIV)>; this would be the judgment on Dathan and Abiram; then a fire from God consumed the 250 community leaders. Eleazar the priest was instructed to collect all the censers of the community leaders, hammer them out and use them to overlay the altar; “This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the Lord, or he would become like Korah and his followers.” <Num.16:40 (NIV); cf 3:10>. Moses instructs Aaron to burn incense to make an atonement for the people for the wrath of God was about to fall, and it is recorded that Aaron “stood between the living and the dead” <Num.16:48 (NIV)> and the plague stopped.
God now identifies the man He chooses to occupy the office of high priest, and instructs Moses to place a staff belonging to the head of each ancestral tribe, together with Aarons staff in front of the Ark in the Tent of Meeting and “The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout” <Num.17:5 (NIV)>. Having marked each staff with the owner’s name as well as Aaron’s staff; Moses entered the Tent of Meeting the next morning and discovered that “Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” <Num.17:8 (NIV)>, this speaks of Christ’s resurrection and the eternal life that He offers us <see 1 Cor.15:20, 22>; and Christ now stands between eternal death and eternal life for all mankind through His death and resurrection. God then instructs Moses to place Aaron’s staff in front of the Ark as a sign to the rebellious people. Aaron was God’s choice for the High Priest, and that office would forever be held by the leader of the tribe of Levi <see Heb.9:2-4>; until the New Covenant is established, where we see that Christ has been made our eternal High Priest <see Heb.7:11, 18-22, 24-25>.
The lesson for us today is that under the New Covenant, just as it was under the Old Covenant, God has established an order in the Church, Christ our High Priest is appointed by God <Heb.5:4-6>, and He mediates for us before His Father in heaven <Heb.7:25; 9:24>. In similarity to the Levites who performed priestly duties, God has set up Elders and Deacons (under modern terminology theses names have been changed but the office is still the same). Elders being responsible for the preaching and teaching of the doctrines of scripture and the Deacons responsible for the material functions of the church <see Acts 6:2-4>, and Paul further gave the requirements of the offices in his Pastoral Letters to Timothy and Titus. Although Elders and Deacons may be appointed by members of the church it must be understood that the appointments are certified by God, and God is able to overrule such appointments in His way and in His time. The incident recorded of Korah and his followers is a warning to us today that we should never, singularly or in a group, form an uprising against the leadership that has been appointed in the church, for as it was under Moses, God will severely punish today those who oppose Him. Our opposition against the church leadership is an antagonism against Christ our High priest. God is able to remove from office those that have been appointed by the will of mankind as opposed to God’s will, so we need to wait on God to act, even though God’s timing may seem too long for our liking.