Rebellion of Korah
[This chapter is based
on Numbers 16 and 17.]
judgments visited upon the Israelites served for a time to restrain their
murmuring and insubordination, but the spirit of rebellion was still in
the heart and eventually brought forth the bitterest fruits. The former
rebellions had been mere popular tumults, arising from the sudden impulse
of the excited multitude; but now a deep-laid conspiracy was formed, the
result of a determined purpose to overthrow the authority of the leaders
appointed by God Himself.
leading spirit in this movement, was a Levite, of the family of Kohath,
and a cousin of Moses; he was a man of ability and influence. Though
appointed to the service of the tabernacle, he had become dissatisfied
with his position and aspired to the dignity of the priesthood. The
bestowal upon Aaron and his house of the priestly office, which had
formerly devolved upon the first-born son of every family, had given rise
to jealousy and dissatisfaction, and for some time Korah had been secretly
opposing the authority of Moses and Aaron, though he had not ventured upon
any open act of rebellion. He finally conceived the bold design of
overthrowing both the civil and the religious authority. He did not fail
to find sympathizers. Close to the tents of Korah and the Kohathites, on
the south side of the tabernacle, was the encampment of the tribe of
Reuben, the tents of Dathan and Abiram, two princes of this tribe, being
near that of Korah. These princes readily joined in his ambitious schemes.
Being descendants from the eldest son of Jacob, they claimed that the
civil authority belonged to them, and they determined to divide with Korah
the honors of the priesthood.
The state of
feeling among the people favored the designs of Korah. In the bitterness
of their disappointment, their former doubts, jealousy, and hatred had
returned, and again their complaints were directed against their patient
leader. The Israelites
were continually losing sight of the fact that they
were under divine guidance. They forgot that the Angel of the covenant was
their invisible leader, that, veiled by the cloudy pillar, the presence of
Christ went before them, and that from Him Moses received all his
unwilling to submit to the terrible sentence that they must all die in the
wilderness, and hence they were ready to seize upon every pretext for
believing that it was not God but Moses who was leading them and who had
pronounced their doom. The best efforts of the meekest man upon the earth
could not quell the insubordination of this people; and although the marks
of God's displeasure at their former perverseness were still before them
in their broken ranks and missing numbers, they did not take the lesson to
heart. Again they were overcome by temptation.
shepherd's life of Moses had been far more peaceful and happy than his
present position as leader of that vast assembly of turbulent spirits. Yet
Moses dared not choose. In place of a shepherd's crook a rod of power had
been given him, which he could not lay down until God should release him.
He who reads
the secrets of all hearts had marked the purposes of Korah and his
companions and had given His people such warning and instruction as might
have enabled them to escape the deception of these designing men. They had
seen the judgment of God fall upon Miriam because of her jealousy and
complaints against Moses. The Lord had declared that Moses was greater
than a prophet. "With him will I speak mouth to mouth."
"Wherefore, then," He added, "were ye not afraid to speak
against My servant Moses?" Numbers 12:8. These instructions were not
intended for Aaron and Miriam alone, but for all Israel.
Korah and his
fellow conspirators were men who had been favored with special
manifestations of God's power and greatness. They were of the number who
went up with Moses into the mount and beheld the divine glory. But since
that time a change had come. A temptation, slight at first, had been
harbored, and had strengthened as it was encouraged, until their minds
were controlled by Satan, and they ventured upon their work of
disaffection. Professing great interest in the prosperity of the people,
they first whispered their discontent to one another and then to leading
men of Israel. Their insinuations were so readily
received that they
ventured still further, and at last they really believed themselves to be
actuated by zeal for God.
successful in alienating two hundred and fifty princes, men of renown in
the congregation. With these strong and influential supporters they felt
confident of making a radical change in the government and greatly
improving upon the administration of Moses and Aaron.
given rise to envy, and envy to rebellion. They had discussed the question
of the right of Moses to so great authority and honor, until they had come
to regard him as occupying a very enviable position, which any of them
could fill as well as he. And they deceived themselves and one another
into thinking that Moses and Aaron had themselves assumed the positions
they held. The discontented ones said that these leaders had exalted
themselves above the congregation of the Lord, in taking upon them the
priesthood and government, but their house was not entitled to distinction
above others in Israel; they were no more holy than the people, and it
should be enough for them to be on a level with their brethren, who were
equally favored with God's special presence and protection.
The next work
of the conspirators was with the people. To those who are in the wrong,
and deserving of reproof, there is nothing more pleasing than to receive
sympathy and praise. And thus Korah and his associates gained the
attention and enlisted the support of the congregation. The charge that
the murmurings of the people had brought upon them the wrath of God was
declared to be a mistake. They said that the congregation were not at
fault, since they desired nothing more than their rights; but that Moses
was an overbearing ruler; that he had reproved the people as sinners, when
they were a holy people, and the Lord was among them.
reviewed the history of their travels through the wilderness, where they
had been brought into strait places, and many had perished because of
their murmuring and disobedience. His hearers thought they saw clearly
that their troubles might have been prevented if Moses had pursued a
different course. They decided that all their disasters were chargeable to
him, and that their exclusion from Canaan was in consequence of the
mismanagement of Moses and Aaron; that if Korah would be their leader, and
would encourage them by dwelling upon their good
deeds, instead of
reproving their sins, they would have a very peaceful, prosperous journey;
instead of wandering to and fro in the wilderness, they would proceed
directly to the Promised Land.
In this work
of disaffection there was greater union and harmony among the discordant
elements of the congregation than had ever before existed. Korah's success
with the people increased his confidence and confirmed him in his belief
that the usurpation of authority by Moses, if unchecked, would be fatal to
the liberties of Israel; he also claimed that God had opened the matter to
him, and had authorized him to make a change in the government before it
should be too late. But many were not ready to accept Korah's accusations
against Moses. The memory of his patient, self-sacrificing labors came up
before them, and conscience was disturbed. It was therefore necessary to
assign some selfish motive for his deep interest for Israel; and the old
charge was reiterated, that he had led them out to perish in the
wilderness, that he might seize upon their possessions.
For a time
this work was carried on secretly. As soon, however, as the movement had
gained sufficient strength to warrant an open rupture, Korah appeared at
the head of the faction, and publicly accused Moses and Aaron of usurping
authority which Korah and his associates were equally entitled to share.
It was charged, further, that the people had been deprived of their
liberty and independence. "Ye take too much upon you," said the
conspirators, "seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of
them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves
above the congregation of the Lord?"
Moses had not
suspected this deep-laid plot, and when its terrible significance burst
upon him, he fell upon his face in silent appeal to God. He arose
sorrowful indeed, but calm and strong. Divine guidance had been granted
him. "Even tomorrow," he said, "the Lord will show who are
His, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto Him: even him
whom He hath chosen will He cause to come near unto Him." The test
was to be deferred until the morrow, that all might have time for
reflection. Then those who aspired to the priesthood were to come each
with a censer, and offer incense at the tabernacle in the presence of the
congregation. The law was very explicit that only those who had been
ordained to the sacred office should minister in the sanctuary. And even
the priests, Nadab and Abihu, had
been destroyed for venturing to offer
"strange fire," in disregard of a divine command. Yet Moses
challenged his accusers, if they dared enter upon so perilous an appeal,
to refer the matter to God.
Korah and his fellow Levites, Moses said, "Seemeth it but a small
thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the
congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself to do the service of
the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to
minister unto them? And He hath brought thee near to Him, and all thy
brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also? for
which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against
the Lord. And what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?"
Abiram had not taken so bold a stand as had Korah; and Moses, hoping that
they might have been drawn into the conspiracy without having become
wholly corrupted, summoned them to appear before him, that he might hear
their charges against him. But they would not come, and they insolently
refused to acknowledge his authority. Their reply, uttered in the hearing
of the congregation, was, "Is it a small thing that thou hast brought
us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the
wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us? Moreover
thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or
given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes
of these men? We will not come up."
applied to the scene of their bondage the very language in which the Lord
had described the promised inheritance. They accused Moses of pretending
to act under divine guidance, as a means of establishing his authority;
and they declared that they would no longer submit to be led about like
blind men, now toward Canaan, and now toward the wilderness, as best
suited his ambitious designs. Thus he who had been as a tender father, a
patient shepherd, was represented in the blackest character of a tyrant
and usurper. The exclusion from Canaan, in punishment of their own sins,
was charged upon him.
evident that the sympathies of the people were with the disaffected party;
but Moses made no effort at self-vindication. He solemnly appealed to God,
in the presence of the congregation, as a witness to the purity of his
motives and the uprightness of his conduct, and implored Him to be his
morrow, the two hundred and fifty princes, with Korah at their head,
presented themselves, with their censers. They were brought into the court
of the tabernacle, while the people gathered without, to await the result.
It was not Moses who assembled the congregation to behold the defeat of
Korah and his company, but the rebels, in their blind presumption, had
called them together to witness their victory. A large part of the
congregation openly sided with Korah, whose hopes were high of carrying
his point against Aaron.
As they were
thus assembled before God, "the glory of the Lord appeared unto all
the congregation." The divine warning was communicated to Moses and
Aaron, "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may
consume them in a moment." But they fell upon their faces, with the
prayer, "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man
sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?"
withdrawn from the assembly to join Dathan and Abiram when Moses,
accompanied by the seventy elders, went down with a last warning to the
men who had refused to come to him. The multitudes followed, and before
delivering his message, Moses, by divine direction, bade the people,
"Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch
nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins." The
warning was obeyed, for an apprehension of impending judgment rested upon
all. The chief rebels saw themselves abandoned by those whom they had
deceived, but their hardihood was unshaken. They stood with their families
in the door of their tents, as if in defiance of the divine warning.
In the name
of the God of Israel, Moses now declared, in the hearing of the
congregation: "Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do
all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men
die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the
visitation of all men, then the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord
make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with
all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit, then ye
shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord."
The eyes of
all Israel were fixed upon Moses as they stood, in terror and expectation,
awaiting the event. As he ceased speaking, the solid earth parted, and the
rebels went down alive into
the pit, with all that pertained to them, and
"they perished from among the congregation." The people fled,
self-condemned as partakers in the sin.
judgments were not ended. Fire flashing from the cloud consumed the two
hundred and fifty princes who had offered incense. These men, not being
the first in rebellion, were not destroyed with the chief conspirators.
They were permitted to see their end, and to have an opportunity for
repentance; but their sympathies were with the rebels, and they shared
was entreating Israel to flee from the coming destruction, the divine
judgment might even then have been stayed, if Korah and his company had
repented and sought forgiveness. But their stubborn persistence sealed
their doom. The entire congregation were sharers in their guilt, for all
had, to a greater or less degree, sympathized with them. Yet God in His
great mercy made a distinction between the leaders in rebellion and those
whom they had led. The people who had permitted themselves to be deceived
were still granted space for repentance. Overwhelming evidence had been
given that they were wrong, and that Moses was right. The signal
manifestation of God's power had removed all uncertainty.
Angel who went before the Hebrews, sought to save them from destruction.
Forgiveness was lingering for them. The judgment of God had come very
near, and appealed to them to repent. A special, irresistible interference
from heaven had arrested their rebellion. Now, if they would respond to
the interposition of God's providence, they might be saved. But while they
fled from the judgments, through fear of destruction, their rebellion was
not cured. They returned to their tents that night terrified, but not
They had been
flattered by korah and his company until they really believed themselves
to be very good people, and that they had been wronged and abused by
Moses. Should they admit that Korah and his company were wrong, and Moses
right, then they would be compelled to receive as the word of God the
sentence that they must die in the wilderness. They were not willing to
submit to this, and they tried to believe that Moses had deceived them.
They had fondly cherished the hope that a new order of things was about to
be established, in which praise would be substituted for reproof, and ease
for anxiety and conflict.
The men who had perished had spoken flattering
words and had professed great interest and love for them, and the people
concluded that Korah and his companions must have been good men, and that
Moses had by some means been the cause of their destruction.
It is hardly
possible for men to offer greater insult to God than to despise and reject
the instrumentalities He would use for their salvation. The Israelites had
not only done this, but had purposed to put both Moses and Aaron to death.
Yet they did not realize the necessity of seeking pardon of God for their
grievous sin. That night of probation was not passed in repentance and
confession, but in devising some way to resist the evidences which showed
them to be the greatest of sinners. They still cherished hatred of the men
of God's appointment, and braced themselves to resist their authority.
Satan was at hand to pervert their judgment and lead them blindfold to
had fled in alarm at the cry of the doomed sinners who went down into the
pit, for they said, "Lest the earth swallow us up also."
"But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel
murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ye have killed the
people of the Lord." And they were about to proceed to violence
against their faithful, self-sacrificing leaders.
manifestation of the divine glory was seen in the cloud above the
tabernacle, and a voice from the cloud spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Get
you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a
The guilt of
sin did not rest upon Moses, and hence he did not fear and did not hasten
away and leave the congregation to perish. Moses lingered, in this fearful
crisis manifesting the true shepherd's interest for the flock of his care.
He pleaded that the wrath of God might not utterly destroy the people of
His choice. By his intercession he stayed the arm of vengeance, that a
full end might not be made of disobedient, rebellious Israel.
minister of wrath had gone forth; the plague was doing its work of death.
By his brother's direction, Aaron took a censer and hastened into the
midst of the congregation to "make an atonement for them."
"And he stood between the dead and the living." As the smoke of
the incense ascended, the prayers of Moses in the tabernacle went up to
God; and the plague was
stayed; but not until fourteen thousand of Israel
lay dead, an evidence of the guilt of murmuring and rebellion.
evidence was given that the priesthood had been established in the family
of Aaron. By divine direction each tribe prepared a rod and wrote upon it
the name of the tribe. The name of Aaron was upon that of Levi. The rods
were laid up in the tabernacle, "before the testimony." The
blossoming of any rod was to be a token that the Lord had chosen that
tribe for the priesthood. On the morrow, "behold, the rod of Aaron
for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed
blossoms, and yielded almonds." It was shown to the people, and
afterward laid up in the tabernacle as a witness to succeeding
generations. This miracle effectually settled the question of the
It was now
fully established that Moses and Aaron had spoken by divine authority, and
the people were compelled to believe the unwelcome truth that they were to
die in the wilderness. "Behold," they exclaimed, "we die,
we perish, we all perish." They confessed that they had sinned in
rebelling against their leaders, and that Korah and his company had
suffered from the just judgment of God.
rebellion of Korah is seen the working out, upon a narrower stage, of the
same spirit that led to the rebellion of Satan in heaven. It was pride and
ambition that prompted Lucifer to complain of the government of God, and
to seek the overthrow of the order which had been established in heaven.
Since his fall it has been his object to infuse the same spirit of envy
and discontent, the same ambition for position and honor, into the minds
of men. He thus worked upon the minds of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, to
arouse the desire for self-exaltation and excite envy, distrust, and
rebellion. Satan caused them to reject God as their leader, by rejecting
the men of God's appointment. Yet while in their murmuring against Moses
and Aaron they blasphemed God, they were so deluded as to think themselves
righteous, and to regard those who had faithfully reproved their sins as
actuated by Satan.
Do not the
same evils still exist that lay at the foundation of Korah's ruin? Pride
and ambition are widespread; and when these are cherished, they open the
door to envy, and a striving for supremacy; the soul is alienated from
God, and unconsciously
drawn into the ranks of Satan. Like Korah and his
companions, many, even of the professed followers of Christ, are thinking,
planning, and working so eagerly for self-exaltation that in order to gain
the sympathy and support of the people they are ready to pervert the
truth, falsifying and misrepresenting the Lord's servants, and even
charging them with the base and selfish motives that inspire their own
hearts. By persistently reiterating falsehood, and that against all
evidence, they at last come to believe it to be truth. While endeavoring
to destroy the confidence of the people in the men of God's appointment,
they really believe that they are engaged in a good work, verily doing God
were not willing to submit to the directions and restrictions of the Lord.
They were restless under restraint, and unwilling to receive reproof. This
was the secret of their murmuring against Moses. Had they been left free
to do as they pleased, there would have been fewer complaints against
their leader. All through the history of the church God's servants have
had the same spirit to meet.
It is by
sinful indulgence that men give Satan access to their minds, and they go
from one stage of wickedness to another. The rejection of light darkens
the mind and hardens the heart, so that it is easier for them to take the
next step in sin and to reject still clearer light, until at last their
habits of wrongdoing become fixed. Sin ceases to appear sinful to them. He
who faithfully preaches God's word, thereby condemning their sins, too
often incurs their hatred. Unwilling to endure the pain and sacrifice
necessary to reform, they turn upon the Lord's servant and denounce his
reproofs as uncalled for and severe. Like Korah, they declare that the
people are not at fault; it is the reprover that causes all the trouble.
And soothing their consciences with this deception, the jealous and
disaffected combine to sow discord in the church and weaken the hands of
those who would build it up.
made by those whom God has called to lead in His work has excited
suspicion; every act has been misrepresented by the jealous and
faultfinding. Thus it was in the time of Luther, of the Wesleys and other
reformers. Thus it is today.
not have taken the course he did had he known that all the
directions and reproofs communicated to Israel were from God. But he might
have known this. God had given
overwhelming evidence that He was leading
Israel. But Korah and his companions rejected light until they became so
blinded that the most striking manifestations of His power were not
sufficient to convince them; they attributed them all to human or satanic
agency. The same thing was done by the people, who the day after the
destruction of Korah and his company came to Moses and Aaron, saying,
"Ye have killed the people of the Lord." Notwithstanding they
had had the most convincing evidence of God's displeasure at their course,
in the destruction of the men who had deceived them, they dared to
attribute His judgments to Satan, declaring that through the power of the
evil one, Moses and Aaron had caused the death of good and holy men. It
was this act that sealed their doom. They had committed the sin against
the Holy Spirit, a sin by which man's heart is effectually hardened
against the influence of divine grace. "Whosoever speaketh a word
against the Son of man," said Christ, "it shall be forgiven him:
but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven
him." Matthew 12:32. These words were spoken by our Saviour when the
gracious works which He had performed through the power of God were
attributed by the Jews to Beelzebub. It is through the agency of the Holy
Spirit that God communicates with man; and those who deliberately reject
this agency as satanic, have cut off the channel of communication between
the soul and Heaven.
God works by
the manifestation of His Spirit to reprove and convict the sinner; and if
the Spirit's work is finally rejected, there is no more that God can do
for the soul. The last resource of divine mercy has been employed. The
transgressor has cut himself off from God, and sin has no remedy to cure
itself. There is no reserved power by which God can work to convict and
convert the sinner. "Let him alone" (Hosea 4:17) is the divine
command. Then "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a
certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall
devour the adversaries." Hebrews 10:26, 27.