March 24, 2019 [Lent 3]  Numbers 16:23-40  J.D.Roekle

 

23 Then the Lord said to Moses, 24 “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ ”

25 Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” 27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.

28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”

31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”

35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

36 The Lord said to Moses, 37 “Tell Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, to take the censers out of the smoldering remains and scatter the coals some distance away, for the censers are holy— 38 the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their lives. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the Lord and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites.”

39 So Eleazar the priest collected the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned up, and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar, 40 as the Lord directed him through Moses. This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the Lord, or he would become like Korah and his followers. 

 

God’s Answer to Rebellion

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          We are born with an innate ability to complain.  Some are more vocal than others about it.  But we all do complain.  Something that epitomizes it is our conversation about the weather.  When it’s cold, we complain.  When it’s hot, we complain.  Even when the weather is just right, we still find a way to complain.  It could be a couple degrees warmer or cooler.  I wish it would rain…my grass could really use the moisture.  When will the rain or snow stop! 

          While complaining about the weather doesn’t really seem like a big deal, think about who it is we are actually complaining against.  We are grumbling against the one who is ultimately in control of the weather.  We are lodging complaints against God.  And while we may not think of it this way, complaining about something God controls is really a form of rebellion. 

          When we think about rebellion, we may think about of it as usurping an authority by force.  But our grumbling against God by complaining about the weather or other complaints we may have, is a way of telling God that we don’t like or trust his leadership, and we think we’d do better if we were in charge.  Today we want to talk about this rebellious attitude and see how God responds to it. 

 

          The event that took place in this chapter of Numbers is one of the most terrifying accounts of the Bible.  The man named Korah led a rebellion that ended terribly.  The earth split apart and swallowed up Korah and the leaders who were following him.  They were all buried alive. 

          In order to grasp what’s going on here, let’s go back to the beginning of this account.  Korah is a relative of Moses and Aaron.  They were all Levites.  Levites were in charge of various things relating to the tabernacle, including assembling and disassembling the tabernacle as they travelled through the wilderness.  However, only Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests.  Korah was not a priest.

          Apparently, Korah took exception to this.  He also took exception to the leadership of Moses.  Korah incited other men to rise up against Moses and Aaron.  Three of them were from the tribe of Reuben: Dathan, Abiram, and On.  There were also 250 well-known community leaders that joined them. 

          Grumbling is contagious.  How often do you start complaining about something just because someone else complained about it.  One place where that happens frequently is on social media.  I see that happening often when I read the comments after an article at an online news website.  One person complains about something that was written in the article and others are emboldened and go ever further.  Before you know it, there is an all out assault on the author of the article or someone featured in the article.  A herd mentality develops in which people join the cause even though they may not have all the facts. 

          Korah’s grumbling against Moses and Aaron had caught on.  Not only were Dathan, Abiram, On, and the 250 community leaders complaining, but it appears the rest of the nation joined in on the grumbling.  It was getting out of hand! 

          In order to put a stop to it, Moses told Korah that he and all his followers were to appear before the Lord.  Aaron would be there too.  And this was what they were to do:  The leaders were all to bring censers – which are vessels used for burning incense.  Priests were the ones who were normally tasked with burning incense.  They were all to appear before the Lord with their censers, and the Lord would decide the matter. 

          When they assembled before the Lord, the Israelite people showed up in support of Korah and his followers.  God then commanded Moses and Aaron to move away from this assembly because he was going to put an end to them. 

          It was then that Moses and Aaron fell facedown before the Lord and pleaded that the Lord not wipe out all the people because of Korah and his followers.  The Lord heard their prayer and then the Lord told Moses and Aaron to have the entire assembly move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  And once they did, the events described in our text unfolded. 

          Listen to the description again:  …the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.” 

          And none of those originally rebelling had escaped.  The 250 community leaders who rebelled weren’t swallowed up by the earth.  But they were consumed by fire.  God’s judgment on all these men was swift.  They had rebelled against God’s appointed leaders and they paid the price. 

          That tells you something about God.  He is serious about grumbling because grumbling is really ultimately rebellion against God.  It is like telling God that he isn’t doing a good enough job, and that you can do better.  How often is that the case for us?!  We question why God does this or that.  Why does God put this person is this position and not me.  Why does God give this person this, and not me.  Why does God give this person these certain gifts, but he doesn’t give them to me. 

          Dear friends, recognize how personally God takes these assaults on his good name.  Understand that God is concerned about us giving him the glory.  That’s what the first and second commandments are all about.  He wants us to give him the glory and at the same time he doesn’t want us to bring his name down.  When we grumble and complain, that’s just what we are doing. 

          And so, God is serious about this when we offend him in this way.  Look at what he did to those rebelling against him.  And in fact, the rest of the people, after witnessing what just happened to these rebels, were convinced that the ground was going to swallow them up too.  But it didn’t.  Remember, that Moses and Aaron had interceded on their behalf.  In his mercy, the Lord would spare them.  He had them move away from the Korah and the rest, so that they wouldn’t receive the same fate.   

          When the full weight of our offense against God hits us, we too feel the weight of the punishment we have coming.  But yet, the ground doesn’t swallow us up.  And why?  Because Jesus intercedes for us.  Jesus was swallowed up instead.  He was swallowed up by death.  He took on the full weight of judgment for all our grumbling, for all our rebellion, and we escape unscathed.  You are completely forgiven.  You don’t have to worry about God’s judgment.  In the end, through Jesus, you are God’s child and will one day enter the Promised Land of eternal life with him. 

 

          There’s a happy ending to this account.  Later on in the book of Numbers (26:11), Moses states: “The line of Korah, however, did not die out.”  That means that not all his family followed in his rebellion and were swallowed up by the earth.  In the Psalms, we find evidence of that.  Several Psalms (eleven in all) were written by the sons of Korah. 

          Let’s be encouraged to follow their examples.  Even when everyone else seems to be grumbling, let’s resist.  Let’s keep in mind that God is ultimately the target.  And God is ultimately in control.  Even though we don’t always understand what he does and why he does it, God always has your best interest in mind.  You can’t see the future…you can’t see what God’s plans are for you.  But whatever it is, God will work through it in the best interest of your soul.  Amen.