Numbers 15-18
(Rebellion in the Desert Part II)
February 14th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

"You (Aaron) and your sons alone must fulfil the responsibilities for the Holy Place and the altar, so that my anger will not again break out against the people of Israel. I am the one who has chosen your relatives the Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you. They are dedicated to me, so that they can carry out their duties in the Tent. But you and your sons alone shall fulfil all the responsibilities of the priesthood that concern the altar and what is in the Most Holy Place. These things are your responsibility, because I have given you the gift of the priesthood. Any unqualified person who comes near the sacred objects shall be put to death.”

- Numbers 18:5-7 (GNB)

Summary of Chapters

This set of chapters marks the beginning of the remaining term of the Israelites time in the desert. These chapters include a review of some of the important aspects of the roles of the priests and Levites and also give an account of two challenges to the leadership of the Israeli nation.

In chapter 15 the LORD reviews supplementary offerings, issues a punishment for doing work on the Sabbath, and defines a set of tassels to be worn by the people to remind them of his commands. He also issued a capital sentence for a man who had been caught collecting firewood on the Sabbath.

In chapter 16, a Levite named Korah leads a rebellion against Moses. He rounded up 250 community representatives to challenge both the authority of Moses as the overall leader and Aaron as the head priest.

    Getting on his high horse one day, Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, along with a few Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—rebelled against Moses. He had with him 250 leaders of the congregation of Israel, prominent men with positions in the Council. They came as a group and confronted Moses and Aaron, saying, "You've overstepped yourself. This entire community is holy and God is in their midst. So why do you act like you're running the whole show?"

    - Numbers 16:1-3 (MSG)

Both sides exchanged words, and then Moses suggested they meet again the following morning, in front of the tabernacle, so that the LORD can decide who is better suited to lead the people. The LORD was decisive and emphatic in declaring who is his appointed leader.

First, the LORD opened up the Earth, which swallowed the families of Korah and the other primary leaders of the rebellion. Next, the 250 community leaders who challenged Moses were burned by fire, and then the LORD spread a plague that killed over 14,000 people. Aaron intervened with a sacrifice of atonement so that the rest of the people would be spared, and the LORD granted his request.

In chapter 17, the LORD added a further demonstration of who was in charge. He told Moses to collect a staff from the leader of each of the twelve tribes, and noted that the staff of the man he has chosen will sprout. The next day, the staff of Aaron had sprouted leaves, buds, and almonds, thus making clear that he was the chosen one to serve as High Priest. In the last chapter of this group, after re-asserting who the leaders are, the LORD reviews the laws on who can approach the tabernacle and the sanctuary inside.

Reflection and Application

If we were impartial observers at the confrontation between Moses and Korah we might have thought Korah raised a couple of good points: “ 'The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them’ (16:3a - NIV).” These points were correct, the LORD was with all of the Israelites. Therefore, Korah initially had everyone’s heads nodding. But, then came the lie: “ ‘Why then do you (Moses and Aaron) set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?' (16:3b - NIV).” Moses and Aaron had not set themselves up above everyone else. Rather, they had been appointed by God and had not tried to take advantage of the situation.

Many of us could probably relate to Korah. How many times have we been in situations at work or a volunteer organization where we thought we might be better qualified as a leader than others? Maybe we thought some of the leadership team was on target, but other members were not the right fit. We may have reckoned that we had the right talent, but had not been fully recognized, and consequently it was a frustrating situation.

Instead of challenging Moses, Korah would have been better served by thinking about how blessed he was to be in the Levite tribe. He was in a privileged position serving the priests, and would have been able to take early retirement at 50, as explained in an earlier chapter. But instead, he envied the leadership role of Aaron or Moses. He perceived those roles as ones of power and prestige – but the reality was that Moses and Aaron were humble servants. And, by challenging the authority of those that God had assigned, Korah was also challenging God.

Korah is a good example of how not to react to disappointment. For our part, we ought to concentrate on accepting or finding the special purpose that God has for each of us rather than wishing we were someone else. Whether we are working according to that special purpose to serve God's mission on Earth or working to feed our families (which may be part of our special purpose), we should follow the Apostle Paul’s advice from Collosians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters (3:23 - NIV).”

The envy over someone else’s role or purpose is a sore that will fester and can eventually lead to rebellion against God, as it did for Korah and his cohorts in Numbers 16.

"Even if the Healing Doesn't Come," Kutless

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Who has been the some of the people for whom you enjoyed working?
    2. When did envy get a good grip on you?
    3. What’s the best way to fight envy?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to learn how to push away envy and have an attituted focused on gratitude for what you have done for us.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Embattled leaders who seek to do what is right

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Numbers 19-21 (Moses' Big Mistake)

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