Numbers 16 and 17 are fascinating chapters. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with 250 chiefs of Israel, accused Moses and Aaron of taking the leadership of Israel by presumption: “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are 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, emp. added). Korah and his cohorts were Levites and involved in temple service, but they wanted to be ruling priests as well.
God told all of the Israelites to get away from the houses of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then the ground opened up and swallowed all three men along with their households and all their goods. Also, fire came from the Lord and consumed the 250 men rebel chiefs. God sent loudly and clearly the message that “no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord, lest he become like Korah and his company. . . .” (16:40; cf. Exodus 30:22-38).
The next day, the congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of killing the people of the Lord. The Lord’s response to this complaint was to send a plague that killed 14,700. Then, God told Moses to collect the staff from the chief of each of the 12 tribes and to put these staffs, along with Aaron’s staff, into the tabernacle. The next day, Aaron’s rod had sprouted buds and blossoms, and bore almonds, differentiating it from the staffs of all other leaders. And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron … to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die” (17:10).
Notice some practical lessons from this account:
- God is serious about people following His detailed commands (see 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). We must take care to follow God’s law to the letter (Matthew 4:4).
- Sometimes people are guilty of the very sin of which they accuse others (e.g., Luke 6:41-42). Korah was accusing Moses of the sin of presumption, when Korah was in the process of committing that very sin. We must examine ourselves as we examine others (2 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 7:15-16).
- It is consistent with God’s character to assign different roles to different categories of people. Such assignments do not make any group worth more or less to God (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 3:1-13).
- When God appoints leaders, we must respect them. (see Hebrews 13:7, 17). We must not allow casual, brash accusations against God’s leaders (see 1 Timothy 5:19).