Today’s reading begins with a discussion of laws for sacrifices and concludes with the aftermath of Korah’s rebellion.
In leading a group of two million people through the wilderness, you can imagine that the leader of the group would face challenges to his leadership. Moses faced many such challenges, but the rebellion of the people of Korah was one of the more dramatic episodes.
Korah along with several other men of some notoriety had grown tired of Moses and his leadership and wanted a change. This was no small group of highly vocal men. In addition Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, there were 250 chiefs of the tribes of Israel that had been selected from the congregation to represent the complaints of the people of Israel. This was likely the strongest and most organized challenge to Moses’ leadership. Moses told the men that they should all assemble the next day before the LORD at the Tabernacle, and God would judge who should lead the people.
On the following day the men assembled before the LORD at the tent of meeting and God spoke to Moses telling him that they should separate themselves from Korah, Datham, and Abiram. After telling the people to separate themselves from the leaders of the rebellion, God opened up the earth and swallowed up the leaders of the rebellion along with their entire families. After the earth swallowed up the men and their families, fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 chiefs of the tribes of Israel.
The day after God took the lives of the men leading the rebellion against Moses’ leadership, the people of Israel grumbled against Moses for the deaths of their chiefs. In response, the LORD sent out a plague among the people. Moses commanded Aaron to make atonement for the sin of rebellion of the people to the LORD in order to restrain God’s hand of judgment. Before the LORD’s anger had been checked, 14,700 people had died.
The people of Israel and their grumbling are always amazing to read. I always have to remind myself of the own rebellion in which I regularly engage. It’s really easy for me to look down on the people of Israel: criticizing their actions and being extremely critical of their lack of faith even after having seen the glory of God and spectacular miracles. Knowing that given the opportunity I would have participated in some of the same foolishness and willful, sinful rebellion against God helps me see how desperately wicked I am and merciful God is.