Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
1-2 Korah son of Izhar was a Levite from the Kohathite clan. One day he called together Dathan, Abiram, and On from the Reuben tribe, and the four of them decided to rebel against Moses. So they asked 250 respected Israelite leaders for their support, and together they went to Moses 3and Aaron and said, “Why do you think you're so much better than everyone else? We're part of the Lord's holy people, and he's with all of us. What makes you think you're the only ones in charge?”
4When Moses heard this, he knelt down to pray. 5Then he said to Korah and his followers:
Tomorrow morning the Lord will show us the person he has chosen to be his priest, and that man will faithfully serve him.
6-7Korah, here is what you and your followers must do: Get some fire pans, fill them with coals and incense, and place them near the sacred tent. And the man the Lord chooses will be his priest. Korah, this time you Levites have gone too far!
8-9You know that the God of Israel has chosen you Levites from all Israel to serve him by being in charge of the sacred tent and by helping the community to worship in the proper way. What more do you want? 10The Lord has given you a special responsibility, and now, Korah, you think you should also be his priest. 11You and your followers have rebelled against the Lord, not against Aaron.
12Then Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, but they sent back this message: “We won't come! 13It's bad enough that you took us from our rich farmland in Egypt to let us die here in the desert. Now you also want to boss us around! 14You keep promising us rich farmlands with fertile fields and vineyards—but where are they? Stop trying to trick these people. No, we won't come to see you.”
15Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, “Don't listen to these men! I haven't done anything wrong to them. I haven't taken as much as a donkey.”
16Then he said to Korah, “Tomorrow you and your followers must go with Aaron to the Lord's sacred tent. 17Each of you take along your fire pan with incense in it and offer the incense to the Lord.”
18The next day the men placed incense and coals in their fire pans and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the sacred tent. 19Meanwhile, Korah had convinced the rest of the Israelites to rebel against their two leaders.
When that happened, the Lord appeared in all his glory 20and said to Moses and Aaron, 21“Get away from the rest of the Israelites so I can kill them at once!”
22But the two men bowed down and prayed, “Our God, you gave these people life. Why would you punish everyone here when only one man has sinned?”
23The Lord answered Moses, 24“Tell the people to stay away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”
25Moses walked over to Dathan and Abiram, and the other leaders of Israel followed. 26Then Moses warned the people, “Get away from the tents of these sinful men! Don't touch anything that belongs to them or you'll be wiped out.” 27So everyone moved away from those tents, except Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their families.
28Moses said to the crowd, “The Lord has chosen me and told me to do these things—it wasn't my idea. And here's how you will know: 29If these men die a natural death, it means the Lord hasn't chosen me. 30But suppose the Lord does something that has never been done before. For example, what if a huge crack appears in the ground, and these men and their families fall into it and are buried alive, together with everything they own? Then you will know they have turned their backs on the Lord!”
31As soon as Moses said this, the ground under the men opened up 32-33and swallowed them alive, together with their families and everything they owned. Then the ground closed back up, and they were gone.
34The rest of the Israelites heard their screams, so they ran off, shouting, “We don't want that to happen to us!”
35Suddenly the Lord sent a fire that burned up the 250 men who had offered incense to him.
36Then the Lord said to Moses, 37“Tell Aaron's son Eleazar to take the fire pans from the smoldering fire and scatter the coals. The pans are now sacred, 38because they were used for offering incense to me. Have them hammered into a thin layer of bronze as a covering for the altar. Those men died because of their sin, and now their fire pans will become a warning for the rest of the community.”
39Eleazar collected the pans and had them hammered into a thin layer of bronze as a covering for the altar, 40just as the Lord had told Moses. The pans were a warning to the Israelites that only Aaron's descendants would be allowed to offer incense to the Lord. Anyone else who tried to would be punished like Korah and his followers.
The Israelites Rebel
41The next day the people of Israel again complained against Moses and Aaron, “The two of you killed some of the Lord's people!”
42As the people crowded around them, Moses and Aaron turned toward the sacred tent, and the Lord appeared in his glory in the cloud covering the tent. 43So Moses and Aaron walked to the front of the tent, 44 where the Lord said to them, 45“Stand back! I am going to wipe out these Israelites once and for all.”
They immediately bowed down and prayed. 46Then Moses told Aaron, “Grab your fire pan and fill it with hot coals from the altar. Put incense in it, then quickly take it to where the people are and offer it to the Lord, so they can be forgiven. The Lord is very angry, and people have already started dying!”
47-48Aaron did exactly what he had been told. He ran over to the crowd of people and stood between the dead bodies and the people who were still alive. He placed the incense on the pan, then offered it to the Lord and asked him to forgive the people's sin. The disease immediately stopped spreading, and no one else died from it. 49But 14,700 Israelites were dead, not counting those who had died with Korah and his followers.
50Aaron walked back and stood with Moses at the sacred tent.
In this story, Korah, a Levite, along with three friends, recruits 250 respected leaders who challenge Moses’ and Aaron’s right to lead. They accuse Moses and company of thinking they are “better than anyone else,” declaring that they are all part of God’s holy people. Moses views Korah’s rebellion as against God, (not Aaron); the result of an ungrateful spirit that doesn’t recognize the honor God has bestowed upon Levites who serve God in the tabernacle (vv 4-11). Moses suggests that they let God decide who His priest really is. Dathan and Abiram refuse to come and talk to Moses, accusing him of deceitfully moving the people from great farmland in Egypt and giving them absolutely nothing in Canaan. They accuse Moses of simply wanting to boss the Israelites around. You can almost feel Moses’ pain and indignation when he asks God to ignore these charges, since he has never wronged the people or “taken as much as a donkey” from them. It is difficult to withstand irrational and unfair criticism, isn’t it?
The next day the showdown takes place and God warns Moses to get the people away from the conspirators’ tents. God’s choice regarding his leader is made quite clear – the ground opens up and swallows the conspirators and their families and the 250 leaders offering incense to the Lord are consumed by fire from the Lord. Their offering utensils are hammered into a layer of bronze for the altar as a reminder that God had decided only Aaron’s descendants would be authorized to offer incense to the Lord. How adept we are taking a spiritual truth (in this instance, “the priesthood of all believers” doctrine that teaches that we are all God’s holy people) and then misapplying that truth to justify each individual telling God how he will serve him!
It is interesting how quickly the terror of the people (at God’s judgment) changes into complaining! They accuse Moses and Aaron of killing “the Lord’s people”. God appears and kills 14,700 Israelites before Moses can offer incense to appease God’s wrath. I wonder in what ways I dictate to God and the community of faith how I will serve him? Yes, God is with each individual, but he still gets to choose how he uses us!
Father, you are Lord, I am your slave. Please help me to serve you in humility and thanksgiving, content to carry out the roles you have determined for me! May I glorify you in my service. I pray in Jesus name, Amen.