Numbers 16:23–40 23The Lord spoke to Moses: 24“Tell the assembly, ‘Move away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram!’” 25So Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram. The elders of Israel followed him. 26He told the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men. Do not touch anything that belongs to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins!” 27So from every side, they moved away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrance to their tents with their wives, children, and little ones.
28Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that all this was not just my idea. 29If these men die a death like everyone else and if they suffer the same fate that everyone does, then the Lord has not sent me. 30But if the Lord creates something unheard of and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”
31As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the ground beneath them split open. 32The earth opened its mouth and swallowed up everyone who was with Korah along with their households and all their possessions. 33So they and everything that belonged to them went down alive into the grave. The earth closed up over them, and they disappeared from the midst of the assembly. 34Hearing their screams, all the Israelites who were around them fled, because they said, “The earth will swallow us up too!” 35Fire went out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred fifty men who offered the incense.
36The Lord spoke to Moses: 37“Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to remove the censers from the burning debris and scatter the fire far away, for the censers are holy. 38Make the censers belonging to those who sinned at the cost of their own lives into hammered sheets for plating the altar, because they presented them before the Lord, and the censers are holy. They will serve as a sign to the Israelites.”
39Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which had been presented by those who had been burned up by fire. They hammered them into plating for the altar 40as a reminder to the Israelites that no unauthorized person, who is not from the descendants of Aaron, should come near to burn incense before the Lord and become like Korah and his followers. Eleazar the priest did just as the Lord said to him through Moses.
This week finally starts soccer practice for our WLS girls. I’ve been coaching girls’ soccer for a long time. I know how these fifth through eighth grade girls behave … and misbehave.
Eye rolls and deep sighs are constant temptations for all pre-teen and teenage girls.
For warm-ups in our school gym, I’ll have them do monster laps, which are running up the steps, across the mezzanine, down the steps and around the gym floor. Already at our first practice, I will warn the girls. If I see them roll their eyes, they get another monster lap. If I hear them sigh, they get another monster lap. If I even think I saw them roll their eyes or think I heard them sigh, they get another monster lap. And if they disagree with what I think I saw or heard, they get two more monster laps.
I am the coach. I will not put up with eye rolls, deep sighs or disagreement. It is disrespectful of the coach. It is grumbling against a leader. The result is more monster laps.
God is God. He does not put up with jealousy, disagreement or rebellion. It is treating the Lord with contempt. It is grumbling against God and his appointed leaders. The result for Korah and his followers was “something totally new” (Numbers 16:30).
The children of Israel are still in their wilderness wandering. Korah is a Levite. The Levites are assistants to the priests in the tabernacle, the tent used for worship. Korah is jealous of Aaron, who is the high priest over Israel. Since Korah is a relative of Moses and Aaron, he concludes that there is no reason why he should not serve as the high priest. He recruits Dathan, Abiram and On to his conspiracy. He also persuades 250 leaders of Israel to join them in opposing Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1-2).
They allege that Moses and Aaron had set themselves up as the leaders of the Israelites (Numbers 16:3). They blame Moses for their wandering: They accuse Moses of deliberately exposing the people to a slow death in the desert. They insist that Moses is a tyrant who made them do their bidding while he is living a life of ease. They sneeringly imply that Moses has not kept his promises about the Promised Land (Numbers 16:13-14).
Although this rebellion is opening directed at Moses as their national leader and Aaron and their high priest and mediator, this is really a clear rebellion against the Lord! Moses challenges the rebels, “It is against the Lord that you and your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him” (Numbers 16:11)?
Only the priests, the descendants of Aaron, are to burn incense in the tabernacle. Korah and his Levite followers, however, defy God’s ordinance. They bring censers to the entrance of the tabernacle to challenge God to accept their incense offerings over that of Aaron, the high priest (Numbers 16:16-18).
But it isn’t only Korah and his followers who are gathered in rebellion. They have been able to stir up the people, so they sided with the rebels against Moses, Aaron and the Lord.
The glory-cloud of the Lord appears among the entire assembly. The Lord orders Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once” (Numbers 16:21). The whole nation is guilty of grumbling against God, so God is going to end the whole nation’s insolence at once.
Moses and Aaron serve as mediators, falling face down and crying out, “O God, … will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins” (Numbers 16:22). They plead this, even though the whole nation was guilty of rebellion. Out of his grace, God relents and does not bring judgment on the entire nation.
The Lord does bring judgment on the grumblers, though!
The Lord commands Moses, “Tell the assembly, ‘Move away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram’” (Numbers 16:24)! As a Levite, the tent of Korah is close to the entrance of the tabernacle. The leaders of the rebellion stand defiantly at the entrance to their tents, challenging God to punish their rebellion.
Moses tells the people, “If these men die a death like everyone else and if they suffer the same fate that everyone does, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something unheard of and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.” (Numbers 16:28-30).
God certainly bring a new judgment on those who had made themselves enemies against God! The ground beneath the rebels split open. “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed up everyone who was with Korah along with their households and all their possessions. So they and everything that belonged to them went down alive into the grave. The earth closed up over them, and they disappeared from the midst of the assembly” (Numbers 16:32-33). They are literally wiped off the face of the earth … by the earth.
The 250 leaders of Israel who had joined in the rebellion, now join in their judgment. They are at the entrance to the tabernacle when “fire went out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred fifty men who offered the incense” (Numbers 16:25).
The very next day, the Israelite community grumbles against Moses and Aaron, “You have killed the Lord’s people” (Numbers 16:41)! So God sends a plague that kills 14,700 people. He puts an end to their grumbling!
Grumbling. We all do it. Students grumble when their teachers give them a social studies fair assignment over spring break. Employees complain about the layout of the warehouse or the inefficient assembly line. Teenagers mutter under their breath as they storm out of the house. Spouses hold onto quiet resentment over hurt feelings.
We grumble about the weather. Grumble about the long checkout lines. Grumble about the roads, traffic and politicians.
We grumble about not having young families in church. Then we grumble about crying kids in church. We grumble about the worship music being too slow or too fast. We grumble about the sermon being too short and the service being too long.
We sure do grumble a lot!
Like Korah and his followers, we often immerse ourselves in our grumbling so that it easily becomes a habit that stays with us through life – home, school, work, sports, travel, church, etc. When we grumble and complain about our situation in life, we are showing ingratitude for all the Lord does and gives to us. St. Paul gives the Corinthian Christians a stern warning that also applies directly to us: “Do not grumble, as some of them grumbled, and were destroyed by the destroyer. All these things that were happening to them had meaning as examples, and they were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:10-11).
We learn from the account of Korah and his rebellious followers that God is patient. But, we should never mistake his patience with acceptance. He is merely allowing us time to repent. We dare never consider God as some white-haired grandfather in the sky who will always give, but never scold; who will always comfort, but never correct; who will always be patient and loving and accepting. No, he is a Father who disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6).
If we think that grumbling against our pastor, child’s teacher, President of the United States or whomever isn’t that big of a deal, then think again. If we think we don’t have a problem with grumbling … that is proof we do. When we stop being kind and considerate, humble and gentle, we stop being children of God. When we don’t see the need for confession and repentance, then we are putting ourselves in danger of being punished like Israel of old. St. Paul again warns the Corinthians and us: “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12)!
We are shocked when we see God dealing so harshly with sin! The earth swallowing people whole! Fire consuming people leaving only ashes! A plague wiping out thousands of people!
We should never ask, “Why does God deal so harshly with sin?” Instead, we should thank God that he has not dealt with us harshly, as our sins deserve. God should send a plague for every dissatisfaction. God should send fire from heaven to consume for every complaint. God should have the earth swallow whole for every resentment.
But God doesn’t do that. And why not? Because He did all that to Jesus.
As Moses and Aaron pleaded for the sinful Israelites and served as their mediators, so Jesus is our mediator between a righteous God and we wretched sinners. Jesus intervened to save us. Jesus was stricken, smitten and afflicted so we would not be. The crown of thorns on his head, purges the sinful thoughts from our minds. The nails in his hands and feet sanctify our hands and feet for service to him. The cup of God’s wrath was poured out on him so God’s grace could be poured out on us. The stripes across his back removed the punishment we deserved. The blood that poured from his pierced side washes away our continual, pet sins.
Jesus is the refuge of the lost. He is the Lamb of God who was wounded for sinners. He is the sacrifice who cancels our guilt. Our sins pierced him, but the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that God’s justice gave. In his love, God punished his Son so that he would not have to punish us.
We may face discipline, hardship and heartache because of our grumbling thoughts, our complaining words and our ungrateful actions. Yet, God still gives grace. God gave grace to Korah and his followers to give them until the next day to repent. Instead, Korah used that time to gain more rebels. Dathan and Abiram stood stubbornly in front of their tents expecting nothing to happen to them. Grace was shown in Moses and Aaron pleading for the people. Grace was God not punishing the whole assembly for they, too, had grumbled and complained against God and his chosen leaders.
Grace is shown to us every day we remain alive. Grace is God holding off his anger by pouring out that anger on his Son. Grace is God allowing us time to repent and return to him.
Don’t abuse that grace. Use it to fight the temptation to grumble.
I tell the girls I’m coaching to fight their teen and pre-teen temptations. If they think they might roll their eyes, close their eyes. If they feel like they might sigh, then hold their breath. Fight it. Don’t go through with it.
Before you utter another grumbling word or complaining thought, consider God’s grace. Shut your eyes to what makes you unhappy. Open your eyes to see God’s grace on the cross. Shut your mouth to your unhappiness. Open your mouth to praise God for his grace given to you through his Son. Amen.