Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On…
The particular characters of these three men, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, are not given in Scripture; but they seem to represent generally all those who rise up against the powers ordained of God: Korah the Levite against Aaron; Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben against Moses; but both conspiracies being combined together, indicates that it is the same temper of mind which rejects the ordinances of God whether it be in Church or State. Their sin was like that of the fallen angels who from envy, it is supposed, arose against the Son of God. But let us consider how far the case is applicable to ourselves now; as it is in some degree peculiar; for Moses and Aaron had their authority all along confirmed of God by outward signs and miracles. Add to which that their characters were such as less than any other to justify opposition or envy. For Moses was the meekest of men; and Aaron was inoffensive in all his conduct toward them. Their pre-eminence, too, was in hardship rather than in wealth or worldly power: in journeyings in the wilderness, not in the riches of Canaan. But these circumstances do not in fact prevent the application to ourselves; for the Pharisees afterwards had no miracles to prove their authority from God; and moreover they were great oppressors, covetous and cruel: yet our Lord says of them, "The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do"; and this He says at the very time when He is cautioning His disciples against their wickedness. They had to obey the ordinance of God, though it had neither outward sign nor holiness to support it. Nor indeed is the presence of God denied by the company of Korah as being vouchsafed to them under the guidance of Moses and Aaron; they say that "the Lord is among them," as He was seen in the pillar of fire and the cloud, in the holy tabernacle, in the manna from heaven: but what they complained of was the want of visible fruits and enjoyments, "Thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey"; "Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?" as men may say now, "We see not our tokens"; where are our spiritual privileges? where is the fulfilment of all the glorious things which the prophets have spoken of the Christian Church? But if this case is of universal application and for general warning, then the question will arise, are there no allowances, no limitations, to be made; and is there no relief in the case of oppressive governors and bad pastors? must all resistance be like that of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, displeasing to God? and is it never without sin? Let us consider this a little more particularly. If such powers are of God, then He gives such as are suitable to the people over whom they are placed; not necessarily such as they like, but such as are good for them to have, and such as they deserve. For instance, the Roman emperors during the early days of Christianity, were many of them monsters of cruelty and wickedness; but when we come to inquire into the character of the people over whom they were placed, we find the corruption of morals so deep and extensive that they were as bad as the tyrants that governed them. And it was to these Romans and living under some of the worst of these governors that St. Paul says, "Let every one be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." And St. Peter unto Christians under the same rule, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him." Moreover, in consequence of this, we find in Scripture that kings and people are often together condemned and visited alike. Pharaoh and Egypt both together oppressed Israel; both hardened their hearts; both were cut off together. The same order of Divine providence applies also to spiritual governors; it is so with the Church of God in all times and places; the angels of the Churches and the Churches themselves are tended on, and in each case addressed together as one by their Lord, who has the seven stars in His hand, while He walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. We may therefore consider it as a general law of God's providence, that their rulers both spiritual and temporal will be such as the people are worthy of; that if they need better rulers, the only way in which this can be produced efficiently and effectively, is by becoming better themselves. But a case of difficulty which may arise is this, if a signal repentance should take place among the people, the spirit of grace and supplication should be poured out upon them, and there should be a general awakening; then the deficiency of their pastors and rulers will come before them in a striking light; and then will be their great temptation to take the amendment of such things into their own hands. But yet not well nor wisely. Surely no reformation can be equal to that which took place suddenly and simultaneously, when the disciples of Christ were yet under the Scribes and Pharisees, yet He said, as they sat in Moses' seat they must be obeyed. Or again, when the apostles wrote to Christians, that they must submit themselves to the powers that be, while those powers were the most corrupt of heathen governments. It is true that the change had not then become extensive, or leavened the general state of society, but the law of God's providence was the same, for it was the gradual progress of that change which would bring over them in God's own good time their own true governors, such as were meet for them. And in the meanwhile those evil rulers formed a part of that discipline of faith by which they were perfected and established, being purified thereby as gold in the fire. Moreover, it is observed that the Church of God has flourished more under heathen than under its own Christian rulers. This consideration may allay our impatience; we are at best so weak and frail that we need the iron rod more than the golden sceptre; in our present state the Cross is more suited for us than the crown. In prosperity we lean on an arm of flesh, and are weakened; in adversity we lean on God, and are strengthened. But then it may be said that there is a case far more grievous than this, that of evil ministers in the Church itself, whether it be of chief pastors, or of those in their own nearer and subordinate sphere. These are trials peculiarly heavy to a good man; and there are some cases which can only be considered as severe visitations of God, and the scourge of sin. But if God does not afford the power of remedying this great evil, then the same law of patience must be applied. In one ruler or pastor you may read God's wrath, in another His love. You cannot reject either; take His wrath in meekness, and He may show you His love. And in the meanwhile, with regard to any particular case of great trial, we must practise forbearance, and God will remember us in His own good time. This duty of meekness and patience applies to a case so far as it is one we cannot remedy, like any evil or scourge that comes to us from God's hand, we must take it as our punishment from Him. But then it may be said, when the case is one that implies grievous sin, an example which dishonours God, corrupts Christ's little ones, and poisons the fount of life, are we to acquiesce in this? Does not the love of God constrain us not to resign ourselves to such evil — to lift up our voice and cry — to move heaven and earth? This is most true: for surely there is a remedy with God. When He has forbidden one way of redress, He has pointed out another and a better. Our Lord has pointed out the one and only way, and that is the way of prayer. He did not even Himself send forth apostles without it. Many are cast down because the Church is in bonds. It can neither appoint for itself suitable pastors, nor set aside evil ministers, nor manage its own affairs, and the government of it is falling into the hands of its enemies. But these are not the g, eat evils to be feared; the one great cause for apprehension is this, whether in the body of the Church at large the spirit of prayer is sufficiently strong to cast off all these impediments; for where prayer is, all such evils from without are thrown off, even as in the spring of the year nature throws off all the chains of winter. The imprisoned eagle may even yet soar aloft, and unfold her wing in the free expanse of heaven.
(Isaac Williams, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: