Korach – (Bald) Numbers 16:1 – 18:32 I Samuel 11:14-12:22; II Timothy 2:8-21; 3:1-4:5; II John 1-13
Rebellions continue to plague Moshe. A great mutiny is instigated by its principal spokesman, Korach, who heads a group of malcontents and convinces them to rise up against Moshe and question his leadership.
“Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi,” incites a rebellion against Moshe. He is joined by Dathan and Aviram, and On, the son of Peleth, all of the tribe of Reuben. Also participating are 250 “leaders of the community, those regularly summoned to assembly, men of renown.” (Numbers 16: 1)
They challenged the authority of Moshe. In the words of the Jerusalem Talmud, Korach declared, “The Torah was not given by God, Moshe is not a prophet, and Aahron is not the high priest.” (j.Sanhedrin 50a)
Korach and his rebels had begun to question the legitimacy of Moshe’ prophetic office. Moshe claimed He heard directly from Yahweh, but who was to say that it was so? How were they to know he was really sent from God?
The Background of the Rebellion
Korach... the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi (16:1) was motivated by a sense of injustice, pride and jealousy. Korach’s chief complaint against Moshe was that of nepotism. He believed Moshe hand picked his brother for the job of High priest. Korach was the son of Izhar, the brother of Amram, who was the father of Moshe and Aaron, which makes Korach a cousin to Moshe and Aaron.
Cousin Korach along with Dathan and Abiram who were placed next to them in the camp arrangements, in addition to 250 other princes of the assembly of Yisrael, charged Moshe and Aaron with usurping privileges and offices which rightly belonged to others. Influenced by jealousy, because of the high honors and privileges of the priesthood, Korach and those who were Levites among him complained that they are confined to an inferior service in the tabernacle.
It is very clear from this passage that Korach did not wish to serve the people but to lead them. Those who desire to lead must desire to serve and the driving desire is what shows us the heart of those who believe they should be leading. On the surface it might seem like he was questioning if God really chose Moshe and Aahron to lead the people because all of Israel were holy before God. As was the problem with the scribes and Pharisees that Yeshua dealt with, was with the heart intent that was wrong. Moshe never wanted to lead Israel. In fact he tried to persuade Yahweh that He had made a mistake in choosing him, but that was probably why God wanted Moshe because he did not want to be a leader, he had a servant-heart.
Their accusation was, “It is too much for you!” in Hebrew, “rav lachem”. “You have taken positions that are much too high.” “You are setting yourselves up over the congregation.” “You are going against the principles of democracy.” They thought that Moshe had given special privileges to his family members and those closest to him.
Anyone can perform a service, but it is the one whose life is submitted before the altar in the presence of Yahweh who is the anointed one chosen to speak on His behalf. In presumption, would-be ‘leaders’ such as Korach set aside the fact that Yahweh chooses His anointed leaders. He chose Moshe to be the vessel through whom He spoke on Mt. Sinai in the thick cloud so that all could hear. (Exodus 19:9) Yet although his chosen-ness was obvious, these men - leaders themselves (16: 2), contest Moshe’ position.
He was moved to it by the fact that Elitzafan, the son of his father’s brother, was appointed prince over his family; as it says (Numbers 3:30), “And the prince of the fathers house of the families of the Kehatites was Elitzafan the son of Uzziel.” Korach argued: My father was one of four brothers; as it says (Exodus 4:18), “And the sons of Kehat: Amram, and Yitzhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel.” As for Amram the firstborn, his son Aahron attained to greatness and Moshe to royalty. Who then should rightly take the next office? Is it not the next in line? Yet Moshe appointed the son of Uzziel!
Korach’s rebellion erupts against the background of them being told that their generation will not enter the Land of Israel. Korach’s co-conspirators, Dathan and Aviram, play on the people’s sense of despair. They were placed next to Korach and his company on the south side of the camp. (Numbers 3:29) They therefore had opportunity to talk together with him and to murmur against the leadership and conspire together in their rebellion.
According to the “Legends of the Jews” by Louis Ginzberg (1873-1953), which is a comprehensive compilation of background details to Biblical stories, Korach approached Moshe with the intent of ridiculing his decrees and validating a claim that he was not chosen to the leadership. He did this by challenging the recent instructions which Moshe had given of making fringes on the garments and regarding the mezuzah (scriptures placed on the doorposts), with questions directed to make it appear that they were man-made and inconsistent with something that Yahweh would expect of the people. According to Korach, Moses and Aaron the priest invented all the commandments in order to make the lives of the people hard and to exploit them by taking the many gifts that are due to the priests and the Levites.
This incitement of everyone getting their own direction and making their own choices of how to implement the divine instructions is the essence of rebellion. Yahweh had chosen Moshe as the vessel through whom to give His explicit instructions for all the issues of life for His people. To change those things is to rebel against God Himself, which was how Moshe interpreted it. Moshe therefore did not attempt to answer the challenge, but referred it to back to Yahweh Himself to answer the challenge
Yeshua said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) The rebellion of Korach led an uprising which constituted a complete split in the assembly, and so it had to be dealt with in a decisive manner. The evil tongue, (lashon harah), releases destructive forces and an angel of destruction is given legal right to act when we complain. Let us keep from complaining, so that the Destroyer will not harm us!
There is, a tendency of the masses to follow articulate charismatic-type leaders who play to the crowd. Korach was just such a type leader. But it should be noted here that Korach was a type of Cain or Balaam and it is an admonition to prevent presumptuous and self-seeking teachers. The name Korach means bald and suggests a lack of a normal or usual covering of the Holy Spirit. Korach gathers followers unto Himself not for the greater good of His people of Yisrael, but for himself. His desire, influenced by jealousy, was to become chieftain. Numbers 16:3 However, his pride led him to lose everything.
Pride and ambition can easily give way to slander and rebellion. Korach starts by accusing Moshe and demanding equal rights with him. He took his spirit of discontent, separated himself with others who had a similar grudge against authority and started an uprising. It showed that he had no fear of Yahweh, the Author of divine instruction and law who had instituted His divine order. Moshe said it was a direct rebellion against Yahweh Himself. “For which cause both you and all your company are gathered together against Yahweh... “ (Numbers 16:11 See Stone Chumash, notes on v. 11, p. 823)
Yeshua said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit [contrite]: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and in Matthew 20:27, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” How easy it is to become displeased with those who Yahweh has chosen to be leaders and to fall into the sin (spirit) of Korach. Yahweh curses those who use their mouths to try to destroy godly leadership. Read Jude 1-25 (especially verses 10-13). Notice a progression (or downward spiral) of actions on the part of Korach and his rebels (16:1-3 ): they separated themselves from fellowship, rose up against Moshe, gathered together others of like mind and falsely accused leadership of wrong doings. This is the world’s formula for political (humanistic) power and advancement and is the opposite of how to advance in Yahweh’s kingdom where the way down is the way up (the way of laying one’s life down in service (Matt. 20:27; 23:10). Rebels tend to separate themselves from fellowship, seek out other like-minded rebels and then rise up in defiance and accusation against godly leadership. Again, this leads to political power. The way of spiritual power is laid out in Acts 2:42-47 where the followers of Yeshua continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, in fellowship, breaking bread together, in prayer and sharing their goods with one another. The result was spiritual power and anointing. This can only happen as people forsake not the assembling of themselves together (Heb. 10:25) and function within the Body of Yeshua submitted one to another.
Fire and Earth
When it becomes clear that Korach and the 250 “men of renown” are aspiring for the Kehunah (priesthood) themselves, Moshe challenges them to offer ketoret (incense) to God--the most sacred of the Divine services in the Sanctuary, permitted only to a priest, and only under special circumstances. Aahron, whose appointment as Kohen Gadol (High Priest) they are contesting, will also offer the ketoret. “and God will show who is His, and who is holy... and whom He has chosen will He bring near to Him.”
Korach and the 250 men accept the challenge. Moshe, in great temperance in the situation, gives them time to consider what they are doing, but, overtaken in their deception they come to the challenge the next morning. “And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense on them, and stood in the door of the Tent of Meeting with Moshe and Aahron.” The people having wrongfully listened to their contentions, are stirred in fleshly sympathy to Korach’s rebellion, and gather en masse at the entrance to the Sanctuary. Rabbi Hertz makes the point that Moshe defence of Aahron caused some to turn back from Korach, as seen by his descendants in 1 Chronicles 6:22 who lead in singing in the assembly. Some Psalms also are by the ‘Sons of Korach’
Yahweh’s anger is aroused. He says to Moshe and Aahron: “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, and I will consume them in a moment!” They fell upon their faces and pleaded that the entire assembly would not suffer for the sin of one man.
Dathan and Aviram had already refused Moshe’ summons; now Moshe goes to them, in an effort to quell the mutiny. But they remain defiant. The moment of truth arrives - “Hereby you shall know that God has sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of my own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then God has not sent me. But if God creates a new creation, and the earth opens her mouth, and swallows them up, with all that appertain to them, and they go down alive into abyss; then you shall understand that these men have provoked God.”
And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground split beneath them and all the assembly that were round about them fled at their cry for fear that the earth swallow them up also. The Targum Johnathan says that they screamed from the deep “Righteous is Yahweh, and His judgment is truth, and the words of His servant Moshe are truth; but we are wicked who have rebelled against him:” As for the contenders for the priesthood, “there came out a fire from God, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered the ketoret.” (16:28-33)
The Continuing Rebellion
One would think that upon witnessing all this powerful phenomena that they would have repented and have walked closely with Yahweh after that. But instead they continue on in their rebellion and bring defiant charges against Yahweh Himself for having judged them. How deeply the rebellion of one man had stirred the flesh of the whole assembly.
The next day, the people again massed upon Moshe and Aahron. “You have caused the deaths of the people of God!” they accuse them. They had not learned from the example the day before and rebellion is still in their hearts because they still were blaming Moshe and not acknowledging Yahweh’s sovereignty over them. With all the miraculous signs, they were still reacting in the flesh, so again He has to judge those in rebellion against Him, for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. 1 Samuel 15:23
Yahweh ‘s anger is again aroused, and a plague breaks out among the people. “Take a censer,” cries Moshe to Aahron, “and put fire in it from off the altar, and put on ketoret/incense, and take it quickly to the congregation, and make atonement for them; for wrath is gone out from Yahweh...” And Aahron took as Moshe commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague had begun among the people... And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed but not before 14, 700 of the community have been slain. In their rebellion they had rejected Yahweh just as Korach had done.
The censers which had been used by Korach and his associate rebels were made into a brass plate attached to the altar as a memorial to the assembly of their sin. It was forever a reminder of the judgement exercised against ministering in fleshly motivation and zeal for personal glory. We are to in honour prefer one another, and to minister according to divine calling. If we are motivated by the flesh as were Korach, Abiram and Dathan, then we shall be also as “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals” soundings of the flesh of unholy priests in His Tabernacle, that will incur His judgement. 1 Corinthians 12: 1
The Blossoming Staff
Yahweh instructs Moshe to conduct yet another “test” to prove Aahron’s chosen-ness as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Each one of the twelve tribal heads should place their staff in the Sanctuary; Aahron, as the head of the tribe of Levi, will place his staff as well. Each should write his name on his staff. “And it shall come to pass that the man’s staff, whom I shall choose, shall blossom; and I will put to rest the murmuring of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you.” (17: -15)
And Moshe placed the rods before Yahweh in the Tent of the Testimony and the staff of Aahron for the house of Levi blossomed, producing budding fruit, and bore ripe almonds. The Aramaic Targum Onkelos says, “ the rod of Aharon of the house of Levi had germinated, and produced branches, and had blossomed, and ripened almonds”. This was a miracle that superseded natural laws of operation that a dead branch should germinate, produce branches and go through the fruit-producing stages in one night.
What a miracle and a powerful sign! It was that which brought the people to the realisation that they were in error and had been under judgement from the Almighty. Moshe then brought out all the rods from before Yahweh to them, and they looked, and took every leader his staff. ahweh then instructs that Aahron’s staff should be returned and placed there as a memorial and testimony for future generations of His choice and ordination of Aahron and his sons to the priesthood for the whole tribe of Levi. In the records of the Rabbis (Yoma 52b), there is recorded the the Ark was hidden in the time of Josiah together with the bottle which contained the manna, and Aahron’s rod.
And the children of Israel spoke to Moshe, saying: “Because of the people’s reaction, Yahweh reiterates that it is the Kohanim, assisted by the Levites, who bear the responsibility of serving in proximity to the Divine, where the slightest digression has most drastic consequences. All “strangers” (those not anointed and chosen to ministry) are warned to keep their distance. The text goes on to repeat and reaffirm the duties and the ordinances of the priesthood.
The Levites and the Kohanim will receive no portion in the Land when it is divided among the tribes and families of Israel. The people, in whose stead the Kohanim and Levites serve in the Sanctuary, are to support them with the ordained mattanot kehunah, “gifts to the priesthood.” A number of these 24 “gifts” are enumerated in the closing chapter of Korach:
The Talmud mentions twenty-four offerings, which the Israelites set apart for the priests (Chulín 133b). Ten of them were eaten by the priests in the courts of the temple, four in Yerushalayim, and ten in any city within the land of Israel.
Offerings that were consumed in the temple area: 1. Parts of cattle that was offered as a sin offering. 2. Parts of a bird that was offered as a sin offering. 3. Guilt offerings. 4. Pending guilt offerings. 5. Parts of the congregational peace offerings during Shavuot, see Leviticus 23:19. 6. The remains of the oil that was used to cleanse a leper, see Leviticus 14:10ff. 7. The two bread loafs that were offered during Shavuot, see Leviticus 23:17. 8. The show bread, see Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:5-9. 9. The remains of the meal offerings. 10. The remains of the omer-offering, see Leviticus 23:10.
Offerings consumed in Yerushalayim: 11. The remains of the firstborn of male cattle that is kasher and has been offered on the altar. 12. The first fruit (bikurim). 13. Parts of the offering of thanksgiving and the goat of the Nazarite, Leviticus 7:11-14; Numbers 6:19. 14. The skin from the offerings, see Leviticus 7:8.
Offerings consumed in any city within Eretz Israel: 15. The consecrated part of the harvest (trumah). 16. The tithe of the Levites (which was given to the priests out of the tithes that they received). 17. The cake that was taken out of the dough (challah). 18. The first wool from the shearing of the sheep. 19. The breast, jaws, and stomach of every animal that had been worked (even though it was not an offering animal). 20. The ransom money of a firstborn son (pidyon ha-ben), see Numbers 18:15-16. 21. The ransom money of a firstborn donkey, see Exodus 13:13. 22. A field that was dedicated to HaShem and had not been redeemed within the appointed time, Leviticus 27:16-21. 23. A field of priestly possession that had been dedicated as “cherem”, see Numbers 18:14. 24. Resources that were stolen from a convert and returned by the thief after he had died without an heir, see Numbers 5:7-8.
Moshe, who was the meekest of men, held his peace and first went to Yahweh to seek wisdom and direction as to know how to respond. Yahweh commands the people to separate themselves from the rebels in 16:20-21. Does this not recall a warning in Revelation 18:4 where Yahweh urges his people to separate themselves from Babylon (a rebellious, Antichrist system) so as not to be a partaker of her sins and plagues? See also 2 Corinthians 5:17. Even after Yahweh’s tremendous display of powerful judgment against the rebels (16:41) the people still continued in their complaining. Man is very arrogant and right in his own eyes and will defend himself even to the death. How many times do we face Yahweh’s judgment in our lives (perhaps health issues, financial troubles, broken relationships, legal problems, etc.) but still refuse to repent and change our attitude toward others and our Heavenly Father? How long will we refuse to obey the laws of Yahweh? How long will we insist on doing things our way, instead of Yahweh’s way? The choice is ours: obey Yahweh and be blessed, disobey and suffer the long and short-term consequences.
In Ch.16:35 we see an example of Yahweh’s judgment. These 250 men were the wrong men (they were not priests) offering the right fire (from the altar) up to Yahweh. He has his prescribed method of how men are to approach him. Leaders carry greater responsibility to not lead the people astray and will come under greater judgment if they do.
Moshe was a true intercessor or intermediary between Yahweh and the people, a picture of Yeshua who is our advocate (legal representative) before Yahweh. Yahweh wanted to destroy the people for their unending rebellion and murmuring yet Moshe and Aaron interceded on their behalf and many lives were saved. Yahweh had to take strong disciplinary actions against Yisrael to root out humanistic/democratic rebelliousness. The fear of Yahweh is finally reestablished in 17:12-13, though Yisrael never really demonstrates heartfelt repentance. They changed their attitude to save their skin from a furious Almighty One! The rebellion of Korach ended with devastating results. Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth, and the 250 who offered incense were consumed by fire. Those Yisraelites who continued to complain that Moshe and Aharon were responsible for the deaths of holy people were stricken with a plague, and more than 14,000 died. As further proof of Aaron’s greatness and confirmation that he is Yahweh’s choice, from all the princes’ staffs, Yahweh makes Aharon’s staff bloom and produce almonds miraculously. This demonstrated that that his ministry was anointed of Yahweh. The rod represented his authority and its budding represented the fruitfulness of his ministry and that He chose Aharon himself to perform all the services in the Mishkan. The fruit of a person’s ministry is always the test of their anointing.
Warning Against Rebellion
The Book of Jude is a warning against rebellion and moral perversion. This whole book is about how men rebel against divine authority and turn from the common salvation (Yeshua) and the faith once delivered to the saints (v. 3), go on a downward path of moral and spiritual decay so that the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness (unrestrained moral looseness) (verses. 7-8). These moral and spiritual perverts and apostates don’t want anyone to be their “Lord” and to tell them what to do. They are so full of lust and perversion that they will deny God before they will reign in and repent of their evil. This is the state of our society religiously and culturally today! The Rebellion of Korach is a prophetic warning to end-times believers. Jude 11
- Cain = humanism (my way, not Yahweh’s way);
- Balaam = greed;
- Korach = rebellion and lust for power
Also, just like Korach and his associates, such people are overtaken with such arrogance that they go on in their own way completely blinded to the truth and unrepentant in their ways. This can be seen when Moshe, in his wisdom and temperance, gave them time to reconsider the proposed test of their claim to priesthood and its consequences. They continued on in the course of their folly and as a result, incurred the judgement of Yahweh.
The Spirit of Antichrist
The rabbis note that Korach and his malcontent followers had come under the power of resentment which grew and festered until open rebellion broke out. Korach was a fellow Levite and cousin of Aaron who was “overlooked” for the priesthood and were relegated to merely assistants to the priests. He was also a firstborn of his household (Exod. 6:21) and when the Tabernacle sacrificial service was inaugurated Aaron’s sons replaced the firstborn Yisraelites in offering sacrifices. Furthermore, Dathan, Abiram and On were of the tribe of Reuben, the first born child of Jacob. These men had their own grudge since Reuben had lost his birthright as the firstborn son to the sons of Joseph. Resentment leads to bitterness, which leads to separation and to uprising, which genders accusation, leading to outright rebellion against Yahweh-ordained authority. This usurpation of authority led to judgment and death. This is the path Lucifer took in his rebellion against Yahweh God. Lucifer Was the Original Rebel.
Isaiah 14:12-14, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation [i.e., Mt. Moria. His presence is now there in the Dome of the Rock!], in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." Notice all the “I wills...” Satan the original rebel is the originator of humanism the exaltation of man over Yahweh. The earth swallows Korach and company (Num. 16:32) even as Satan, the originator of the rebellion, will be cast into the bottomless pit.
The Tithe 18:21
Yahweh sanctifies and elevates the ministry of the Levites (18:1-7) and the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood (18:8-20) by defining each one’s offering and the tithe which goes to the Levites (18:21-32). The Children of Yisrael were to pay a a tenth of their income to support the Levites (who ministered to them and taught them Yahweh’s Torah). Although a different order of priesthood is now in place, the tithe is still for the support of those who minister to the people. In 1 Timothy 5:17 -18 we read, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” Just as those who served in the temple ate of the tithes, offering-gifts, and offerings, those who serve by preaching and teaching in the Messiah’s assembly have the right to live by the tithes and offerings.