Torah Reflections 36
Numbers 16:1 to 18:32
It is difficult to put a precise time on this rebellion, but it was not many weeks after the LORD had dealt with Miriam and Aaron over their dispute with Moses. Korah was a Levite, and he conspired with two others, Dathan and Abiram, who were Reubenites, to again challenge Moses’ authority. Were they brave? or foolish? Evidently they had ambition beyond their wisdom! The LORD had dealt decisively and quickly with Miriam and Aaron. Surely all the people would have known about it because Miriam was struck with a leprous condition and expelled from the camp for a week after her indiscretion. Never-the-less, the challenge was made. “You take too much upon yourselves, for the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them.” Now this was indeed true, but it was not about being holy (set apart), it was about leadership. These challengers wanted to have some part in the leadership of the people. And immediately we see a lesson for ourselves. It is God Himself who provides us with various ministry gifts. Every one of those gifts is important within a body of believers, but they are different for a purpose. The purpose is that the body has to be properly served according to God’s plan for growth in faith and understanding. That service for the LORD is distributed according to need. No-one is unnecessarily burdened thereby, but everyone is (or should be) involved.
Note here the wisdom of Moses. No argument, no justification, no fuss. With a simple rebuke “you take too much on yourselves you sons of Levi!” Their own words quoted back to them, Moses said that they would go before the LORD the next morning for Him to settle their dispute. But then Moses reminded them of the task the LORD had assigned to them. It was a most honourable and important task. “Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself to do the work of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi with you?” And then another question “And what is Aaron, that you complain against him?” Aaron was after all the High Priest, and the Levites had been assigned to him as helpers.
Dathan and Abiram and their associates had more complaints, about having left Egypt and having to “do it tough” in their wilderness camp. Moses became very angry and instructed them all (there were 250 of them) to present themselves before the LORD complete with incense censers, at the entrance to the tabernacle, the next morning. Another lesson. When disputes arise, ask the LORD for the solution. In this case however, the LORD resolved the matter with a mighty display of awesome power. Please read it. The initial challenge resulted in the death of the 250 people who disputed Moses’ leadership, and another 14,700 lost their lives by challenging God’s response!! As we have commented previously “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
So God then chose to give the people another resounding endorsement of His choice of leadership. A miraculous event was about to occur in the presence of the leaders of each of twelve tribes. Each tribe was instructed to bring to the tabernacle of meeting a rod of wood, and on that rod was written the name of the tribe. But on the rod of the tribe of Levi, Aaron’s name was inscribed. The rods were placed in the Holy Place as instructed. God told Moses “And it shall be that the rod of the man whom I choose will blossom; thus I will rid Myself of the complaints of the children of Israel, which they make against you.” The next day, Moses presented all those rods to the people, so that they could see for themselves, The rod which bore Aaron’s name, had not only ‘budded’ but also “had produced blossoms and ripe almonds” That same rod, together with some ‘manna’ and the stones of the commandments, were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant as a permanent reminder of what God had done for the people after they left Egypt. It would be an understatement to say the people were fearful of the LORD. “Surely we die, we perish, we all perish.” was their lament. But that was not God’s plan. What God wanted then, is no different to what He wants today. A people respectful and obedient to His commands and statutes. Faithful in service, using the gifts and talents He has provided for the good of the whole community of faith. This word, on which we ‘reflect’ week by week, shows us His nature and character, His love, mercy and grace, as He communes and relates with His people. But we, like them, also have the option to be disobedient, and many of us are. If we learn nothing else, learn this, that disobedience also comes with consequences.
Our portion ends this week with the promise of God to care for those who are engaged in His service. Specifically, in this case, for Aaron and the priests who serve with him. All the offerings of the people, except those consumed by the fire of the altar, was to be God’s gift of provision for them. “This shall be yours of the most holy things reserved from the fire; every offering of theirs, every grain offering and every sin offering and every trespass offering which they render to Me, shall be most holy (set apart) for you and your sons.” That is a precious promise of God to those He called to serve Him. That is the prosperity God promised His closest servants. It is difficult to comprehend how that simple promise of God’s boundless provision has evolved into the system which has developed today for those who similarly have charge of God’s elect. Or is it just another invention of man ?