In this rebellion, everyone had heard God speak with Moses and Aaron. Why would Korah and the others rebel against them? Our outward actions reflect our inner turmoil. The lack of spiritual and psychological wholeness will cause quarrels and arguments before we get involved with “machloket” (controversy). We should look into our hearts for the turmoil that we are about to create for ourselves.
In Num 16.1 we have the phrase in Hebrew “Vayilach Korah” which means “Korah Took.” What did he take? He took himself and challenged Moses and his authority. He also took himself out of the blessings. Some would say he was “taken” with himself. Moses answers, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will make known who is his, and who is not.” This will give them time to collect themselves and recognize their error. Spiritually, “tomorrow” alludes to the Olam Haba when there will be no doubts who belongs to the Lord and who doesn’t.
In Num 16.3, Korah charges Moses with nepotism. He is jealous over the fact that Aaron was High Priest. Jealousy will deprive Korah of the peace he should have been enjoying. We can ask ourselves, could we tolerate a neighbor who is living in luxury? How about a neighbor who has a happier marriage, is closer to his children and living in a meaningful existence?
In the field of computers, you can usually make mistakes, correct them, and move on with no consequences. In the medical field you can’t do that. Feed back is not fast enough. The consequences for a mistake could be deadly. Spiritually, most people are not sufficiently in touch with the heavenly realm to recognize immediate feedback from our actions. Some will take time.
As a result, we need teachers who can show us if we are doing God’s will or not. God placed Moses and Aaron in that position, and we need “Moses” (Torah) guiding us and teaching us today. Moses is still guiding us to the Promised Land. We need to be willing to set aside our arrogance and recognize we need good Torah teachers today.
Korah had a strategy. The wilderness generation was still in its spiritual infancy. This mutiny occurred soon after the twelve scouts incident. Moses was set up by the Lord as their teacher. He will try to connect their inexperience and immaturity, and to guide them. It was up to the people to accept them. Moses could not be the one to proclaim his own role given to him by God. That is why he doesn’t answer Korah. He is going to let the Lord confirm his role.
Korah tried to take advantage of the people’s low-point to elevate himself. His strategy is based on jealousy. He could not dispute the fact that Moses was a prophet, but Korah wanted to limit his function to only speaking what God said, but don’t interpret. He wanted to undermine Aaron. Moses and his role was “one generational.” He was not going to give another Torah. But Aaron’s role was multi-generational. His sons would go on teaching the people for all time. The High Priest was the focus, not the position of Moses as lawgiver, interpreter and prophet.
Once Moses was undermined as the interpreter of Torah, Korah could challenge him with his handling of the twelve scouts situation. It was his idea. Moses delivered the punishment. In Korah’s mind, “Who says the nation was saved?” Just because Moses said they were saved doesn’t mean it was true, Korah thought. Who really knew what transpired between the Lord and Moses? He tried to cast doubts. So, they rebel and blame Moses!
So, everything considered, Korah was perfect to lead this mutiny. He had charisma, he had a pedigree similar to Moses and Aaron. And besides, this is just another family schism (Cain and Abel; Esau and Jacob; Joseph and his brothers). He was ambitious and intelligent. But in the end, it was the Word of God spoken by Moses which proved to be what counted. How does this apply today?
Beware how we choose our friends and allies. Pay attention to who is influencing us. Are they for our own good? Bad company corrupts good morals. Two hundred and fifty Reubenites found that out the hard way (16.35). They camped near Korah and were influenced by him (south side). Korah was not interested in serving the people, or getting closer to God. He was only interested in status and honor.
Rebellion and autonomy (means “self “laws” and you can see the root word “nomos” in the word) have their place, but first we must measure the motives behind them. Only then will we have a clear sense of the road ahead. We need to find out if it is for the sake of God or for ourselves. Dissent can be destructive if the motive is distorted. The character of dissent and the motivation is one of the lessons of Korah. He was manipulative and selfish, not morally honest and he had ulterior motives. The test of a true believer is not whether he believes, but “what” he believes. It is not whether he obeys, but “what” he obeys. The critical task of a serious believer is to see through the blind obedience of the “pious” and discern the motivation of the dissenter.
In Num 16.6-7, we have a parallel to an earlier event which involved a fire pan and incense. In Lev 10, it describes the death of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. They were not supposed to take their censors and put incense in them before the Lord. So Moses basically says, “Go ahead if you don’t believe me. Let God decide if you should be priests.”
In Num 16.21 we know that God threatens to destroy the whole congregation. Moses then asks, “When one man sins, will you be angry with the entire congregation?” So, in Num 16.23-24 the Lord tells the congregation to separate from Korah and his allies. From this we learn that the larger congregation was not active in the rebellion, and did not remain near Korah and his group (16.27). So, the “getting back” from around Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their dwellings showed that they did not share their views. If one did not separate from them, they would share in their punishment.
Lev 19.16 says it is a criminal offense to be a witness in a wrong and to just stand idly by. Now, why isn’t On, the son of Peleth of verse 1, mentioned here? What happened to him in Num 16.24? On completely disappears from this narrative and he is not mentioned among those who died. There is a Midrash in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanh 109b-110a and Korah 24) that says On’s wife saved him by getting him away from Korah and his other allies. Whatever the case, it seems he distanced himself from what happened. Israel has a long history of not appreciating its leaders. This story is to remind us that our strength and calling comes from God, and if we are called by the Lord and sent, he will come to our defense. There is a story about a Jewish warrior who told an enemy, “Why have you come? Have you come to destroy us? If you want to destroy us, then leave us alone, we’ll do it ourselves. If you attack, we’ll join together and fight you.”
In this story, we have an example of proper discernment. Was Korah’s motive “L’shem ha shamayim” (for the sake of heaven) or was he a fool? He convinced prominent Jews to follow him and seemed sincere. That’s why people give money to people like that. It’s hard to turn them down. He seemed like he was doing this for “the sake of heaven.” How do we know if one is for “the sake of heaven?” What is a dispute that is for the “sake of heaven?” It is born out of a similar intent to find the truth. You and your opponent, in reality, are on the same team. There will be different perspectives on Torah observance. It is the goal of the dispute that will endure, not the dispute itself. The underlying intentions were for the “sake of heaven” (truth) and not selfish. The dispute in Num 16 was between Korah and his company and Moses. Korah was motivated by selfishness and they were not on the same team as Moses, Aaron and the Lord.
To see the judgment in Num 16.31-34 must have been a horrible thing, and not easily forgotten. There is a concept in the Tanak that says, “Midah Kneged Midah” which means “Measure For Measure.” They attacked with their mouths and the earth opened its “mouth” and swallowed them alive.
As we have mentioned earlier, Num 16.35 is an eerie parallel to Lev 10.1-2. Aaron’s two sons died bringing illegitimate fire and incense before the Lord. This act was not sanctioned by the Lord in the worship services he gave them, and it was not done at the right time or by the right people. In the same way, two hundred and fifty men were offering illegitimate fire and incense and were killed the same way.
In Num 16.41 Moses is blamed for the death of “the Lord’s people.” This must have grieved Moses. Nothing hurts like being blamed for something you tried hard to avoid. But Korah was unsuccessful in another way. In Num 26.11 it says, “The sons of Korah did not die.” They wrote Psalms 42, 44 through 49, 84, 85, 87 and 88. The prophet Samuel arose from the line of Korah, whose genealogy is recorded in 1 Chr 6.31-38 and 1 Sam 1.1. They were Levites who lived in Ephraim. Samuel learned the lesson of his ancestor Korah and supported the leadership God had given in his day. He anointed two kings and he never tried to usurp their authority for himself, even when Saul went against the Lord.
We will pick up here in Part 19.