Korah, along with Dathan, Abiram, and two hundred and fifty men, challenge Moses and Aaron saying, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Are Moses and Aaron exalting themselves? Doesn’t Moses keep asking the Lord why He made him lead these people? The Lord is the One to exalt, and He exalts the humble not the proud. We have already seen when someone is proud and tries to exalt himself that the Lord will humble him as He did with Miriam when He struck her with leprosy (Number 12:1-16). Moses, however, is “very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” Therefore, the Lord is using him mightily as His faithful servant.
Moses responds saying, “By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the Lord.” So the Lord created a new thing “and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods… And a fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense.”
Now the entire congregation is complaining against Moses and Aaron for killing “the people of the Lord.” Were Moses and Aaron the ones who opened the earth and swallowed the people? No. It was God. God is just and He judges justly so we can trust that He knows who His people are and He knows the ones for whom He can open the earth and send to the pit. Therefore, the congregation’s complaint makes the Lord angry and He sends a plague. Moses has Aaron intercede for the people and the plague stops. However, fourteen thousand and seven hundred died in the plague.
God then makes clear whom He appointed as leader with the budding rod contest between the leaders of each tribe. Aaron, representing the tribe of Levi, is the winner with the rod that sprouts buds and “produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds.” Then God instructs Moses to place Aaron’s rod permanently before the Ark of the Covenant as a warning against the rebels and a testimony to God’s chosen leaders. The Lord reiterates that the priesthood was given to Aaron and his sons, and that all the tribe of Levi are to serve the tabernacle with them. We will find out when we get to the book of Hebrews that the children of Israel obeyed the Lord as the pot of manna from Exodus 16 and Aaron’s budding rod are both described as being in the ark of the covenant, which also contained the stone tablets of the covenant (Hebrews 9:3-5).
The reading ends with the Lord giving instructions for the support the Levites are to receive from the children of Israel. He also says to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in the land; nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.” During the Conquest Era, when the Israelites settle in the promised land, the Levites will not inherit land. However, they will be given cities among the people so they can minister to the communities fulfilling the blessing given by Jacob back in Genesis 49:7 when he said, “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”
Tomorrow, Moses breaks faith with the Lord and lashes out in anger at the people, which is going to cost him greatly. Keep reading to see what happens when the leaders rebel against the Lord. (Numbers 16:1-18:32)