I’m going to get right into chapter sixteen in the book of Numbers before I get sleepy again, because it’s a good one.
In the last several chapters leading up to this one, we see contention brewing among the nation of Israel. They have grumbled, complained and outright defied God. They apparently have not grasped several key concepts: One, if they only were to obey God who is taking care of them, their life would be GRAVY; two, when they complain against Moses they are not wronging Moses, they are sinning against God; and three, the troubles they are having were brought on by them and them only.
Now, some more grumbling and rebellion are about to take place, led by Korah, a Levite. With him were certain Reubenites–Dathan, Abiram, and On. These men rose up against Moses and managed to sway 250 other Israelites, well0knwon community-leaders who were members of the council (peanuts when you remember that there was perhaps a couple million or so Israelites). The group approached Moses and Aaron boldly–far more boldly than they should have been comfortable doing–and told him “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (v. 3).
Apparently these Israelites have a problem with personal and social accountability and with the concept of laws. They were so blind that they had failed to see that their wilderness wandering was not of Moses’s doing. As a matter of fact, despite what they had seen, they obviously didn’t even trust that Moses was truly God’s mouthpiece, God’s appointed, or they would have known better than to blow bad breath on him like that. Their statement and question was super-loaded. “The whole community is holy…” WOW. Interesting thing to say after their numerous acts of widespread disobedience. Were they assuming everyone was holy because the nation of Israel in its entirety had been chosen by God? If that were the case, perhaps there was a misunderstanding of what makes a person holy. First, it is GOD who makes someone holy, because only God can clean us up in a way that he can set us apart and use us. But in order for that to happen, we have to accept God and submit to his will. The Israelites, on a whole, had not done that, so in my very humble opinion, for the council to even suggest that the entire nation was on the same level as Moses was absolutely absurd.
I also wonder if I overlooked any passages that suggested that Moses thought himself to be above anyone. Moses was an example of humility. All we see here is yet another example of people feeling entitled and getting jealous of another person’s prestige or status. I guarantee you that 99.9% of the time, these types of people really have no clue what the person they are envying is going through. While Korah and Co. were busy looking at the possible power that came along with Moses’s position, they were forgetting the work it involved, and the dedication and potential consequences. What if Moses had outright defied God and told the people something God had not said? I’ll bet he would have been smote or something.
As I said, Moses was a humble man, and he showed it again when he fell facedown. But what I like about Moses is how he handled the situation–he turned it over to the Lord with zero hesitation: “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. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!” (vv. 5-7).
Moses then makes a good point: The Levites had already been given a very prestigious position as the priestly tribe of the nation. Their only job was serving God–they did not have to work for their living. They should have been satisfied with what they are given. Do you see examples of unsatisfied people at your church, people who are only happy when the spotlight is on them? It makes no sense to me. God doesn’t run out of blessings. Humbly accept yours when you receive and be happy for the next person too. There is no competition in the church.
Moses attempts to speak to Dathan and Abiram, but they refuse to converse with him. Instead, they flat-out blame Moses for the current situation facing the nation: “We will not come! Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to Lord it over us! Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves? No, we will not come!” (vv. 12-14).
Did they REALLY just refer to Egypt, where they had endured brutal slavery, as “a land flowing with milk and honey”?!?!? Understandably, Moses gets pretty teed off and tells the Lord not to accept any of their offerings, saying that he has not taken so much as a donkey from those people (and that is the thanks he gets, if I might add). He then informs the 250 traitors to bring their censers and incense and appear before the Lord tomorrow–Korah, his followers, and Aaron.
Unbelievably, Korah and Co. do this, as if they stood a chance?? I put question marks there because I am completely confused as to what these individuals were thinking. Need I run down the list of miracles this group of people had witnessed with their own eyes again?? Plagues? Parting of the Red Sea? Manna, quail, etc..? Once all are gathered at the tent of meeting, the glory of the Lord appears before the entire assembly, and he tells Moses and Aaron–if I might paraphrase–“IT’S ABOUT TO GO DOWN”.
Okay, that wasn’t a good paraphrase. God tells Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the assembly so he can deal with them…specifically, “so I can put an end to them at once” (v. 21).
Incredibly, Moses and Aaron plead on behalf of the people. Apparently they believe that the sin lies with Korah, who has conditioned the people to believe his lies. They cry out to God and ask him if he is really going to punish the entire assembly for the sins of one man. The Lord then tells Moses to inform the assembly to move away from Korah, Datham and Abiram, who, as we can tell from the previous Scriptures, are by far the worst offenders in this whole fiasco.
Moses does as told, warning the assembly to get away from those men or be swept away because of their sins. They were warned not to even touch their belongings. (Don’t you wonder how those three and their families felt?? Do you think they were shaking in their sandals at this point, or do you think they were still confident??).
The people move away from the tents inhabited by the three offenders and their families. Datham and Abiram had come out of their tents and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents. Now we are going to see just how God will prove exactly who is holy:
“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 suffer the fate of all mankind, 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 realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.'” (vv. 28-30).
I’m sure you know what happened next.
The ground underneath the offenders tore apart. Their families, tents, all belongings, everything were swallowed up whole by the earth. Not only that, but the earth closed up over them, killing them.
(Sidenote: You would think that this would be the last thing any Israelite needed to see before they finally grasped the concept of obeying and loving the Lord and trusting Moses, right?? NOPE. I have pictured this very scene before. Imagine watching someone you knew being swallowed up whole by the earth, and then the earth closing right back up like nothing had ever happened. Certainly you would immediately acknowledge that such an act is not a natural one–that it had to have had supernatural causes. Certainly you would re-evaluate yourself and re-dedicate your life to the Lord after seeing such a wonder, right?).
The Bible says “At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!'” (v. 34). The interesting part to me is the “at their cries” part. That is just a minor detail that illustrates the horror of this scene. Understandably, those who were swallowed up were screaming. And think about it–although I am uncertain what roles the families of Korah, Datham and Abiram played in their rebellion–I wonder if they had wives who wanted their husbands in a higher position and may have been the type of women to make “suggestions” to their husband to arouse his ego and kindle his anger–or if they had adult children who egged them on. Even worse, what if their families had nothing to do with the situation at all? They perished because of the sins of those men. How awful.
God is not finished yet. There are still the 250 members of Korah and Co. to deal with. Simple–fire shoots out from the Lord and consumes them. Then, he has Eleazar, Aaron’s son, collect the censers from their charred remains and scatter the coals some distance away. The censers are still holy and can be used as a sign to the Israelites. Eleazar collects the censers and had them hammered out to overlay the altar.
After this, the Israelites never disobeyed God again or grumbled against his servant Moses, and they all lived happily ever after.
As a matter of fact, the Israelites waste no time grumbling against Moses. The very next day, they are mad because, according to them, Moses and Aaron “have killed the Lord’s people” (v. 41).
Unfortunately it is not a joke. The people still have no fear of the Lord. They are still looking to man instead of to God. Moses and Aaron have never pretended to have any power. The people gather in opposition to Moses and Aaron–I wonder what they were thinking of doing, stoning them? Confronting them?–and suddenly the cloud covers the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord appears. God has to issue that all-too-familiar warning–he tells Moses and Aaron to get away from the people so he can deal with them. Moses and Aaron fall facedown.
Moses tells Aaron to hurry to make atonement for the people. He instructs him to take his censer and put the incense in it, along with the burning coals from the altar. A plague had already been issued and was spreading throughout the camp. Aaron does as told (can you imagine? I might have been tempted to let the Lord smoke every last one of them after that) and runs into the midst of the assembly. Aaron’s offering of incense to atone for the people is effective, and when he stood between the living and the dead, the plague stopped. However, 14,700 people died from that plague. Aaron then returns to the entrance to the tent of meeting with Moses.
Chapter seventeen is short. The Lord instructs Moses to get twelve staffs from the Israelites, one from the leader of each of the tribes. He is to inscribe the staffs with the name of the tribe it represents. The staff of Levi will bear Aaron’s name. These staffs are to be placed in the tent of meeting in front of the ark of the covenant law. The staff belonging to the man that has been chosen by God will sprout. This will serve as a sign to the Israelites that Aaron has been chosen by God to serve as High Priest.
The staffs are assembled and placed as instructed. The next day, Moses enters the tent and finds that Aaron’s staff had no only sprouted but had also budded, blossomed and produced almonds. The Israelites are given the opportunity to see this 128,429,472,075th miracle for themselves. Each leader takes his staff. God then tells Moses to put Aaron’s staff in front of the ark of the covenant law, to be kept as a reminder for those who might think about rebelling. Now look at what the people say:
“We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?” (vv. 12-13).
Is it that difficult to understand?
You won’t die if you do what God tells you to do.
God does not expect perfection. He knows we are going to screw up. He knew the Israelites were living under a burdensome set of laws, and I am sure he knew there was going to be some hits and misses. But what should never have happened was this continuation of blatant disobedience and constant disrespect. If the nation that was supposed to set the example for the rest of the world disrespected God, then how could they teach the rest of the world to respect him? If they were living outside the will of God, then how could they teach the world what his will truly is?
Although God does not expect us to be perfect, we ought to be pure of heart and repentant when we do sin. We should also experience growth as we go throughout this Christian journey. If one comes to a point in their life where they feel old habits kicking back up, or new bad habits kicking in, they need to re-evaluate their relationship with the Lord. I love the saying “clean Bibles lead to dirty lives”. Think of how you go about developing a relationship with your significant other. You spend a great deal of time trying to learn as much about them as possible. Even when you get married, you spend time with your spouse away from kids, work, etc., building memories together and making sure the fire stays lit. The same has to go for our relationship with God. It is a never-ending work in progress. We’ll never know everything we need to know here, but we have to be lifelong learners in order to be effective for the Lord. Just like in the beginning of a new relationship when we can’t wait to see that special person, there has to be that same type of anticipation in terms of spending time with God, whether it be in prayer or in Bible study. If you think about it, hearing from God, whether it be by learning something new from a passage of Scripture you’ve read a hundred times, or by having a prayer answered, it doesn’t get any better! And as we grow in the Lord, we still have to make sure we are dedicating time to him, just like we dedicate alone-time to our spouses. Our fire for the Lord should never grow dim.
I’ll tell you what is growing dim right now–my eyelids. I have gotten tired. AGAIN. I need prayer for this here–these sleeping issues are taking a lot out of me.