Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. The ringleader and his policy. Of all the seditious movements which embittered the heart of Moses and wrought trouble in Israel during the forty years' wanderings, the rebellion of Korah was by far the most formidable. The anxious tone of the narrative betrays a consciousness of this, and it is confirmed by the facts narrated. The other seditions were either confined to a few individuals, like the sedition of Miriam and Aaron, or, like the disturbances at Marah, and Kibroth-hataavah, and Kadesh. they were the confused movements of a crowd without definite aims, without leaders, without organization. In this sedition of Korah there is not only a general ferment of rebellious feeling, but there is an organized conspiracy, with a resolute and able man at its head - a man who knows exactly what he would be at, and is consummately skilful in turning to account all the floating elements of discontent that exist in the congregation.
I. Let us begin by taking careful note of THE RINGLEADER. Korah was, like Moses and Aaron, of the tribe of Levi and family of Kohath. He was therefore a far-off cousin of the men against whom he rebelled. That Korah was the soul of the sedition is too plain to need proof. (Compare "the company of Korah," verses 6, 16, 32; 26:9, &c.; "the gainsaying of Korah," Jude 1:11). His design is not difficult to fathom. He is a man of honourable rank. But being an ambitious man, he cannot rest so long as there is in the camp any one greater than himself. He looks with envious eye on his cousins Moses and Aaron. Moses, under God, is supreme in peace and war. As for Aaron, not only has he been invested with the exclusive right to offer sacrifice and burn incense before the Lord, but his family have been set apart to form a priestly caste in Israel. These honours did not come to the brothers by birthright, but by the special gift and appointment of the Lord. It would seem that Korah was of the elder branch of the family, he resolves to cast down both brothers from their high place. Thus far his intention is open and avowed. We need not hesitate to add that he means to vault into their place; but about this part of his intention he holds his peace for the present. So much for the man.
II. HIS POLICY.
1. He begins by announcing a doctrine or principle. As much as anything else in the sedition, this enables us to take the measure of Korah's genius for leadership. Movements which repose merely on brute force rarely achieve abiding results. Blood and iron are not all-sufficient. A true leader of men spares no pains to get hold of men's minds. He likes to give his followers a good watchword or rallying cry. When a nation gets thoroughly possessed with a great and sound principle, when some high and far-reaching doctrine seizes its heart, it is almost invincible. It is characteristic of Korah that he so far appreciates the importance of a great doctrine to rally round, that he casts about for some truth which may be made a handle of for his purpose. In the great oracle which was the first to be uttered at Sinai he thinks he sees what will serve admirably. "Ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). Accordingly, he raises the cry of Equality and Fraternity! Moses and Aaron have engrossed to themselves privileges which are the inalienable right of every Israelite. They have taken too much upon them, and must be stripped of their usurped honours. A cry of this sort has often been raised, in all sincerity, by men of excitable temperament. But Korah was no enthusiast. The principle that all Israelites are kings and priests, if it had been really inconsistent (as he pretended to think) with the rule of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron, would have been equally inconsistent with the rule which he coveted for himself. Still there can be little doubt that the cry Korah raised would gain him many supporters.
2. He organizes a band of conspirators. By one means or another he succeeds in gathering around him no fewer than 250 accomplices. Nor were these obscure men. They all belonged to the ruling class. They are entitled
(1) "princes of the assembly," i.e., chiefs of the congregation, natural leaders in their several tribes;
(2) "famous in the congregation," more correctly, "men summoned in the assembly," i.e., members of the national council;
(3) "men of renown," i.e., not nameless persons, but men of note among the people. Their names are not given, nor the tribes to which they belonged. Korah would take care to have all the tribes represented; but probably the Levites and Reubenites would be most numerous. It was a formidable conspiracy.
3. He diligently enlists into his company all the malcontents of the congregation. An example is seen in the Reubenites. They had a grievance. Reuben was the first-born, and as such had certain rights of priority, according to immemorial custom. These rights have been ignored, or transferred to Judah and Ephraim. The Reubenites are Korah's neighbours in the camp. He has inflamed their discontents, and held out flattering hopes. So Dathan, Abiram, and their people join him in open revolt (verses 12-14).
4. Korah does not confine his attentions to the two hundred and fifty leaders and their pronounced followers. The whole camp is pervaded with his emissaries. Things are in such a train that when the two hundred and fifty confront Moses and Aaron at the door of the tabernacle, Korah is able to "gather all the congregation" at the same time. He hopes to overawe Moses by this demonstration of popular sympathy. We see here: -
1. An example of fine abilities abused. What an admirable helper in the kingdom of God Korah might have been! He might have been a second Joshua. Instead of that. he leads the wretched life of a conspirator, comes to a bad end, and leaves behind him an infamous name. The lust of power - the determination to be the greatest, has been the ruin of many a richly-gifted man.
2. An admonition to leaders in Church and State. There are leaders, not a few, who are such not of their own choice, but by the call of their brethren and by the clear appointment of Divine providence. It is natural and reasonable for them to expect the loyal support of the people. Certainly they are entitled to expect that they shall not be reviled and resisted, as if they had been ambitious and selfish usurpers. The example of Moses admonishes them not to be surprised if such reasonable expectations should be disappointed. A good conscience is an excellent companion under bitter reproach and opposition, but it will not always ward them off. Never was leader less ambitious, less selfish, than Moses; yet he could hardly have been treated worse if he had been another Korah. - B.
I. A CONSPIRACY OF SLANDEROUS REBELS.
1. They begin by blowing up the flame of envy in one another's hearts. The vicinity of the Reubenites to the Kohathites in the camp gave opportunities for this. "Woe to the wicked man, and woe to his neighbour," is a Jewish saying perhaps derived from this incident.
2. Their sin the more serious because they were "men of renown." Influential sinners particularly dangerous.
3. Korah's sin especially grievous
(1) because of his kinship to Moses, but chiefly
(2) because of the honour already bestowed on him and his brethren (verses 9, 10). Note the insatiableness of sin.
4. Their conduct condemns their motives also as bad. They envied the power or privileges, perhaps even the provision, made for the priests, as being somewhat better than that of the Levites. "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not."
5. They bring a false charge against Moses (verse 3), which recoils on themselves (verse 7). God had "lifted up" Moses; they were seeking to lift up themselves.
6. They will not avail themselves of "space for repentance" till the morrow, when God will decide. They will not "sleep over it" with any advantage to themselves.
7. They are unmoved by the reminder that their murmuring is really against God (verse 11).
8. They meet the friendly interposition of Moses by a fresh conspiracy of grievous falsehoods: of ambition (verse 13), deception (verse 14: "Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?"), and responsibility for the evils they had brought on them by their own sins (verses 13, 14: "to kill us;" "thou hast not brought us," &c.).
9. They persist in the most audacious defiance of God till the very last. Sketch Korah and his company with their censers at the door of the tabernacle, while Dathan, Abiram, and their kindred are recklessly waiting the issue at the doors of their tents, in spite of the warning of verse 26. This last act of sin one element also of their punishment.
II. A FEARFUL RETRIBUTION FROM AN ANGRY GOD.
2. New, strange sins call for a new, "strange work" of judgment (verses 31-33; Proverbs 29:1).
3. Those who unbidden handled sacred fire in their censers perished by the fire of God. Learn hence the guilt and peril of murmuring against the appointments of God in regard to the methods of his government, or the means of acceptable approach to him through our Divine High Priest. Teachers and rulers in God's Church are to be honoured and followed (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13; Hebrews 13:17), and Christ is to be recognized as "the head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:10), and the one and only medium of acceptance with God (Psalm 2:12; John 5:22, 23; John 14:6). - P.
I. THE CONSPIRATORS. They were men of position and influence. We come upon a different kind of grievance from that of the ignorant multitude. Korah and his band may have been comparatively free from lusting after the delicacies of Egypt. Different men, different temptations. Korah was a Kohathite, joined therefore in the honourable office of bearing the ark and the sanctuary furniture (Numbers 4:1-20). The others belonged to the tribe of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, and with them were 250 of the leaders in the nation. A conspiracy of men of this sort was not so easily dealt with as an outbreak of the whole people. Korah was probably a man of deep, deliberate designs, able to bide his time, and watching as he had opportunity, to draw first one and then another into his schemes. Here was a set of men seeking great things for themselves (Jeremiah 45:5). They had got as far as they could get in the orderly and appointed way, but they wanted to be higher, and somehow or other Moses and Aaron blocked the way. These two men were a long way above the rest, and seemingly in an altogether different order of service, and thus the rebellious, envious spirit of Korah was excited. He was a man of the sort who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven.
II. THE PRETEXT OF ATTACK. Conspirators against rightful authority like to have a pretext of something fair and just. Thus Miriam: "Hath the Lord not spoken also by us?" And thus Korah: "All the congregation are holy, every one of them." There was something in Korah's office to furnish temptation to an envious mind. As he was engaged in the service of the tabernacle he saw Aaron going where he dare not go, touching things which he dare not touch. He heard Moses coming forward with a message professedly from God, but it was a message from the invisible. No one saw this God with whom Moses professed to hold intercourse, and doubtless Korah concluded that the messages were presumptuous inventions of Moses himself. lie considered the honours and privileges only of the leader and priest; he made no allowance for the burdens. Being a self-seeking, self-aggrandizing man, he could see no higher feeling in others. He wanted to be at the top of the tree himself, and seeing Moses and Aaron there, lie made sure they had got there by audacity and determination, and not by any appointment from God at all. "All the congregation are holy." This was a true statement, but an insufficient reason for attack. Thus the plea of all men being equal is put forth against those who hold high rank and great power. The outward eminence only is seen; the burdens of state, the ceaseless care, are all unknown. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Thus jealously Paul and Timothy were dealt with in the Church at Corinth, when they wished, not to have dominion over the faith of their brethren, but to be helpers of their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). Little did the schismatics dream of the Apostle's trials, crowned with the thorniest of all, the care (μέριμνα) of all the Churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Moses would have rejoiced to take Korah's place, or even the lowest place in the camp, if God had not put him where he was. But of all this inner life of Moses, Korah knew and cared nothing. In his eyes Moses was a self-exalted man, to be immediately and irretrievably abased. "Do we not all wear the fringes, and look each of us on Ms own riband of blue? Did you not tell us yourself that these were to remind us of our holiness towards God. Why then should you lave an access to God and consequent honour which are denied to us?" Thus these leaders of the people had yet to learn, as only bitter lessons would teach them, that they were under a theocracy. There was no room for a democracy, either real or pretended, in Israel. Nor is the Church of Christ now a democracy, though it is the fashion sometimes to speak of the democratic spirit in it. It does indeed make light of human distinctions, traditions, fashions, and prejudices, but only to put in place of them the authority of Christ. He has appointed his Church humbly and faithfully to execute his will. Professing Christians may indeed choose Church officials, but the real call and choice and guidance are of the Master himself. - Y.
2. How the rebellion was encountered and put down, Moses was the meekest of men. There were circumstances of aggravation in the rebellion of Korah which would have exhausted the meekness of most men, but they failed to break down that of Moses. The much-enduring patience of the servant of the Lord never shone out more brightly than in the way in which he encountered the sedition of his bold, unscrupulous kinsman.
I. HE CARRIED THE CAUSE BY APPEAL TO THE MOST HIGH. A proposal to this effect was made -
1. To Korah and the two hundred and fifty chiefs of the conspiracy; verses 5-7: q.d. "You challenge the legitimacy of my government and of Aaron's priesthood. You insinuate that we climbed so high by treading on the rights of our brethren. I might plead in reply that Aaron and I did not grasp at our present honours; they were thrust on us by the Lord. But let us refer the matter to the Lord's decision. Let him show who are his, who are holy, whom he hath chosen to draw near to him in his sanctuary. Take censers and present yourselves before the Lord tomorrow; I and Aaron will come likewise. Let the Lord answer by fire." Such is the proposal. To Moses the result is not doubtful. Yet his heart yearns over the misguided men. This comes out -
(1) In his putting off the trial till next day. After a night's reflection they may perhaps repent:
(2) In his remonstrance with those of the two hundred and fifty who were Levites (verses 8-10). Their participation in the rebellion was peculiarly inexcusable.
2. To the Reubenites. Moses sent for them also; but they were not so bold as the two hundred and fifty, and refused to come. They sent back, instead, an insolent and reproachful reply (verses 13, 14). Nevertheless, in their case also Moses refers the decision to the Lord (verse 15): q.d. "They accuse me of playing the prince and tyrant over them, whereas I have never exacted from them an ordinary governor's dues. So far from defrauding' them, I have not taken from them so much as an ass. The Lord judge between them and me, and respect not their offering."
II. THE APPEAL WAS HEARD AND JUDGMENT WAS PRONOUNCED.
1. We are not told bow the two hundred and fifty passed the night. Some of them must have had misgivings. They could not fail to remember the tragic death of Nadab and Abihu when they drew near to the Lord with strange fire. But Korah suffered no flinching. He mustered them on the morrow. His emissaries too had been busy in the camp, for when the two hundred and fifty took their places they were surrounded with a vast congregation of eager and sympathizing spectators. This gathering it was hoped would at once confirm the resolution of the conspirators and overawe Moses and Aaron. Moses, on his part, having referred the matter to the Lord, left it in his hand; with what result need hardly be told. First the pillar of fire appeared in a way that struck dismay; and then, after a while, fire came forth and consumed Korah and his two hundred and fifty - "those sinners against their own souls."
2. The fate of the Reubenites presented features of a still more tragic interest (verses 23-34). It was resolved flint they should be made a signal example of Divine vengeance. But, in the first place, the congregation were charged to separate themselves from them (cf. Revelation 18:4). This might well have awakened fear, and led to repentance. But they were infatuated in their error. Instead of repenting and craving mercy, "they came out and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children." Oh these last words! What a harrowing scene they bring before the mind! Was it not enough that Dathan and Abiram and their sons should perish? Why should the women and unconscious children die? The sight is a harrowing one, but it is one that meets us every day. When a blaspheming wretch passes us on the road with his like-minded wife, and a string of little children at their heels, is not that Abiram over again, with his wife and little children? A sight not to be contemplated without fear and pity. - Read the terms in which Moses referred the decision in this case to the Lord, and the awful judgment that ensued, verses 28-34. One can hardly help commiserating the Reubenites more than the Levites, for the Levites, one would think, must have sinned against the clearer light. Yet the facts seem to show that the Reubenites were the more aggravated sinners, or at least that their families took part more entirely in their sin. This at least is certain, that while the families of the Reubenite rebels perished with them, the family of Korah survived. Centuries after this, the sons of Korah flourished in Judah, and did honourable service as psalmists (titles of Psalm 42-49, and 84-88). The story of Korah is an admonition to nations, and especially to churches, to "look diligently lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble them, and thereby many be defiled" (Hebrews 12:15). When a society provokes God's displeasure, he does not need to send against it some external foe; there are other and more humiliating forms of chastisement at his disposal. He may suffer some root of bitterness to spring up from within; he may suffer some one of its own children to be its scourge. A Korah will work more mischief in Israel than the Egyptians and the Amalekites put together can effect. - B.
I. KORAH'S QUESTION IS ONE FOR GOD TO ANSWER. It brings an accusation to which Moses had no answer in any language or conduct of his own. He was in a humbler way like Jesus before his enemies. When Jesus spoke of his relation to the Father, his complete dependence on the Father's will, and obedience to it, and of himself as the sole revealer of the Father, these enemies sneered and threatened; and no reply was effectual except that in which the Father glorified the Son by raising him from the dead. And even this was denied by those so enamoured of lies that it was impossible for them to receive the truth. Moses here could but wait an answer in some effectual and crushing way out of the great Invisible. Thus we have the impressive sight of a man who knows he is falsely accused and can wait serenely for the justifying word. If be had been guilty of self-seeking, as Korah was, and with the stain of it on his conscience, he could never have appealed in this way. It was not an empty call upon God, a mere rhetorical device. The challenge to Korah and his band is definite, and expresses a sure confidence in God as vindicator of his servants. "An honest cause fears not a trial, fears not a second trial, fears not a speedy trial." An innocent person needs do nothing in rashness, nor will he seek causes of evasion and delay. Let there be time for decent preparation, and on the morrow a decisive answer shall be given.
II. THE QUESTION SHALL BE ADDRESSED TO GOD IN THE MOST EXPLICIT WAY. By a solemn act he shall be questioned, and by a solemn act he shall answer. Let the people be effectually tested as to this holiness of which Korah makes so much. If even he and his band are holy before God as Aaron is, then let them attempt a part of Aaron's office (Exodus 30:1-9). If God accepts the service from them as from Aaron, then all that Korah says may be taken as true, and Aaron may retreat into obscurity and shame as a detected impostor. Moses was ready for the one test that should be complete. It is always open to us, if we do not believe statements made on authority, to try them for ourselves. If we do not believe that arsenic is poisonous, it is quite open to us to make the experiment on our own life. It may be a foolish experiment, but it is certainly a possible one. There was no fortified wall round the sanctuary. God did not put a guard of soldiers to keep defilers back. He himself was guard of his sanctuary. His own Divine energy resided in the holy things to avenge them against any polluted touch. Thus when men repudiate gospel truth and say, "Who is Christ, or who Paul, that we should be tied to square our future and control our hopes by their requirements?" God takes in hand the clearing of his Son and servants from all reproaches. There is nothing to prevent a man trying to please God apart from him who is appointed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth; but God in his own due time will make the trial manifest as ending in disastrous, ignominious failure. The more distinct and emphatic the challenge, the more distinct and emphatic shall the answer be.
III. MOSES SUGGESTS CERTAIN CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY LEAD TO A TIMELY RETREAT. Moses doubtless had a prophet's premonitions of the terrible doom into which this proud band was advancing; therefore he mentions things which Korah had neglected sufficiently to consider, and which would show him that God had been honouring him as well as Moses and Aaron. Korah belonged to a tribe specially separated to the service of God. If we complain of those who stand in a higher rank than ourselves, then those who are lower may complain of us in turn. All had been by God's appointment. The tribe of Levi had no more right to complain against Moses and Aaron than any other tribe had to complain against Levi. The God who arranged one body and many members arranged tile whole body of Israel, so that every part should contribute in harmony to the whole, and receive good in return. The service of Korah was just as needful in its way as that of Moses and Aaron. Korah was clamouring for the priesthood: who then was to do Korah's work if he stepped into Aaron's shoes? Thus Moses made an appeal to whatever generous and public spirit was in him to think more seriously on the good of the whole. God could not allow any one to imperil the integrity of Israel. They were in a dangerous position, this band of rebels, yet they knew it not. It was the Lord they were gathered against, and not Moses and Aaron, and just in proportion to the greatness of their ignorance was the greatness of their peril. They had talked indeed as if it was the Lord's cause they were thinking of, but their real object, which seemed easily in their grasp, was to trample down Moses and Aaron and take their place. "What is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?" An earthen vessel is a very common, cheap, fragile thing. If it is nothing more than an earthen vessel, then you may in a moment, unhindered, dash it to pieces. But if God, to show the excellency of his power, has put his treasure in an earthen vessel, then it were safer for you to conspire against the best founded of human governments than to touch that earthen vessel with so much as your little finger. - Y.
I. THEIR CHARGE AGAINST MOSES. Notice how all their complaints end with him. There is no word concerning Jehovah. Korah, at any rate, made a pretence of thinking of God's glory, as if Moses were not merely injuring the people, but robbing God of their service. Dathan and Abiram talk like utter atheists, as if the promises were of Moses, and not of God, and as if the non-fulfillment came from the inability or malice of Moses, and not from the righteous indignation of God. God had said that he brought them out of Egypt to be their God. Dathan and Abiram leave God altogether out of the question. It is Moses who has brought them out of a land that might be counted one of milk and honey, as compared with the wilderness. That assertion of Jehovah's appointment, favor, and protection which Moses so rejoicingly made was to them nothing but the lying of tyrannous statecraft. Men who are themselves without perceptions of the Eternal, whose thoughts are wholly within the sphere of time and sense, are fond of speaking concerning such as walk in the light of the Eternal as if they must be either fools or knaves. It is possible that Dathan and Abiram had been so blinded by the god of this world as to have persuaded themselves they were the champions of a righteous cause. The savage and heartless aims which they attribute to him. How easy it is when one's heart is so inclined, to distort into hideousness the lineaments of the most noble characters! Vindictive minds are like those spherical mirrors which alter the shape of everything presented to them. Thus did Dathan and Abiram make it out that Moses had drawn them front comparative comfort and security, to trifle with them and knock them about hither and thither at his own caprice. How differently the same things look according to the point from which we view them! How we should be on our guard against the representations of wicked, self-seeking men! how slow to credit or even to consider any slander upon God's servants! They charge him, moreover, with drawing them into the wilderness by specious promises, made only to be broken, as if, finding he could not keep these promises, he had cunningly thrown the fault on a pretended deity behind. Men will look anywhere for the reasons of disappointment save in their own headstrong and self-regarding lives. The infallible discernment which they claim for themselves. "Do you think people have only eyes for what you would have them see?" What is harder than to get the Dathans and Abirams of the world out of the supercilious egotism in which they are entrenched? It is bad enough to have eyes and yet see not, to fail in discerning the great realities of the unseen and eternal, but it is even worse to see all sorts of horrors and iniquities that have no existence. There is a sort of people in the world who suspect everybody, and the better any one seems, the more for that very reason are they doubtful. Thus Jesus is held for a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, one casting out demons by the prince of the demons; Paul is a pattern of duplicity; there is no real integrity among men, no real purity among women. The defiled minds of such pull down every other person, without hesitation, to their own level. There is no arguing with the man who believes that every face is nothing but a mask.
II. MOSES' INDIGNANT PROTEST. He does not address the slanderers, for where would have been the use? He makes a direct appeal to God: "Respect not their offering'." Probably they were going to set up some sort of altar in their own tents, since they refused to come to the tabernacle; only to find out, as Cain did before, and many have done since, that will-worship (Colossians 2:23) has no acceptance with God. Even if their offering had been made by the strictest ceremonial rules, what would have been its chance of acceptance with him to whom lying lips are an abomination? "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?" (Psalm 15). There is a claim here not only for the vindication of Aaron as the appointed priest, but of Moses also as the appointed leader, the faithful messenger, the pure channel of the pure commandments and promises of God. The man who would teach the people righteousness must be clear of the faintest suspicion that robbery or oppression clings to his own garments. He must be far different from those rulers of after days whom Isaiah denounces (Isaiah 1:10-15, 23). "Moses got more in his estate when he kept Jethro's flock than since he came to be king in Jeshurun." - Y.
I. THE APPLICATION OF THE TEST.
1. Moses and Aaron put themselves on a perfect outward equality with the rest. They humbled themselves that they might be exalted. Aaron, already chosen of the Lord, stands with his censer and incense in the midst of the company of rebels, as if he were but a candidate waiting for approval. Such is not the way of the dignitaries of the world. Their pomp and honour is mostly a mere convention; strip them of their titles and gauds, and you would scarcely notice them in the street. But Aaron was the priest of God wherever he went, and howsoever he was surrounded. Therefore, without fear or shame, he could take the lowest place, sure that he would presently be addressed, "Come up hither." So Jesus was numbered with the transgressors, reduced to the level of criminals, crucified instead of Barabbas. Christians have often had to stand among the ranks of evil-doers, but in due time they have gone out from them, because they were not of them (1 Peter 2:19-23).
2. Korah shows unquailing audacity to the last, i.e., up to the appearing' of the glory. The more the servants of God humbled themselves, the higher and more confident were his enemies in their pride. Korah was at his very highest before he fell. Aaron, whom he had so often seen going where he was forbidden, stands now on a level with the ordinary Levite; nay, more, he is as low as the other tribes. The congregation too has gathered round Korah in sympathy and expectation, for doubtless he has promised them such things as they love. And even as God had allowed rebellious Israel to go on even to the lifting of stones against Caleb and Joshua (chapter 14:10), so here he allows the pride of Korah to swell to its fullest extent. And hence God's people should ever gain confidence in the times when he seems to be inactive. We are not to be discouraged because the wicked go on from strength to strength. The Jews rejected Christ; they consulted to slay him; they seized him; they put him through an examination in their own court; they handed him to Pilate: he was mocked, scourged, crucified; yet God did not intervene. And who now does not see that all this time he was in process of answering the prayer, "Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee"? (John 17:1). Korah, rising, was lifting Moses and Aaron with him. He fell; they remained.
3. The first expression of Divine wrath. A general destruction is threatened, without mitigation or delay. And if we only consider, we shall see how fitting it was that the first word should be a menace of complete and terrible destruction. The holiness of God is a great reality, keenly sensitive to any sin. How much then was it outraged by such a daring attempt as that of Korah and his company! And the whole congregation had shown a sad alacrity in their support. Why, even we ourselves, when we hear of some great crime in which many are engaged, do not stop to make distinctions between principals and accomplices. We feel that our first, word must be one of utter abhorrence and condemnation with respect to all who had part in such great wickedness. It is only because we are so little sensitive to the evil of sin, that we find difficulty in understanding the menace of verse 21.
4. Moses and Aaron promptly intercede. God has already shown what a distance separates them from the rest of the people. Now they proceed to show it themselves. It was the hour of exaltation and triumph but, like truly humble and holy men, they were occupied with intense pity for the great multitude suddenly exposed to the full wrath of God. Was there any in that great multitude who would thus have thought of them? Their position towards God and men comes out in something like its completeness. If Moses had much on behalf of God to say to men, so he had much on behalf of men to say to God. And Jesus is put before us as the great High Priest. If the sinful Aaron could be touched with a feeling of the infirmities of his brethren, not less is the same true of the sinless Jesus. Amid the threatening penalties of sin, and with the growing consciousness of our own helplessness, we can look to him for intercessory services, even. those which he came to earth specially to render. His Father, who is God of the spirits of all flesh, sent him not to destroy men's lives, but to save them (Luke 9:56).
II. THE AWFUL PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCE.
1. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are devoted to destruction. The intercession of Moses and Aaron, earnest and prevailing as it is, has a limit in the request and the result. "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it" (1 John 5:16). The people are first of all included in menace with the three chief rebels that presently they may be separated front them. Leaders and followers are both guilty, but there are degrees in wickedness as in holiness. It is perhaps of great significance, if only we will consider that God in this manifestation of his wrath came not only with three separate punishments, but three different modes of punishment. He seems to shadow forth something of degrees of punishment in the eternal world. If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the pit; but surely the woe of a deeper fall is to those presumptuous blind who drag others with them. Here were those who would not admit that Moses and Aaron had been Divinely separated for a peculiar service, and now in their towering pride they are separated for a peculiar doom. If they had not climbed so high they would not have fallen so far.
2. As we see the people falling away from Korah, we notice what a feeble bond unites the wicked. Only a few minutes ago the people were pressing admiringly on him as he bearded Moses in the very door of the tabernacle; now they flee from him and the other two as if they infected the air with death. The bond that looks so firm is but a rope of sand. It will not hold when anything' appears that looks like a peril to individual selfishness. We may be reminded indeed of "honour among thieves," but this at the most can only mean that wicked men may act together till the last, not that they may be trusted to do it. There is no such coherency possible amongst the wicked as amongst the good. They have no entirely common purpose; each has his own advantage to seek, and so one may easily thwart all the rest. The Jews in the hour of their triumph over Jesus are chagrined by the inscription which obstinate Pilate puts on the cross.
3. Notice the reference to the elders in verse 25. They had been appointed, seventy of them, to help Moses in the burden which had become so grievous (chapter 11). Where then had they been all this time? Men with the Spirit of God upon them should surely have sided boldly with Moses, even before the glory appeared. Perhaps indeed they were on his side; and we must not infer too much from silence, else Caleb and Joshua would appear in a dubious light. But this much at all events may be said, that even though they were select and judicious men, and God took of the spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon them, all this was insufficient to help Moses in his extremest needs. We may take their appointment rather as an expression of regard and sympathy, something fitted to teach the elders themselves to be fall of consideration and attention towards Moses. The great crowning needs of life cannot be met by human help, even when sanctified; we must still, like Moses, fall on our faces before God. Not until God has appeared, vindicated his servant, and scattered the unfriendly crowd, do we hear that the elders of Israel followed him.
4. The carrying out of the judgment on Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Moses announces that the mode of their death was to have great evidential value with respect to himself. Those who had been foremost as accusers and slanderers shall now be chief witnesses on his side, speaking more loudly for him in their death than ever they had spoken against him in their life. It had been their charge against Moses that he had assumed undue authority; therefore, to show how much he was in the secrets of the Divine government, he announces, not only that God himself would take in hand the execution of a righteous sentence, but would execute it in a way hitherto unheard of. And this very way Moses proceeds to indicate. What a point of faith he here reaches! what a perfect community of thought with God! for scarcely has he spoken when that happens which he said would happen, and in exactly the same way. Death and burial are included in the same act. No one was made unclean by these three men or any of their belongings. - Y.
3. How the congregation abetted the rebels, and were only saved through the intercession of Moses and Aaron. Bold and crafty as Korah was, he could not have done so much mischief if elements of mischief had not been everywhere rife in the camp. Many things conspire to show that his policy was to inflame and turn to bad account discontents previously existing among the people. The existence of these discontents is not inexplicable. A crowd of bondmen are not to be transferred into a nation of reasonable free men all at once. Moreover, the circumstances of the congregation at Kadesh Barnea were not fitted to make the task of Moses an easy one. After having reached the threshold of Canaan, the people had been turned back and condemned to pass the rest of their days in the wilderness. To be sure they had no one but themselves to blame; but this did not mend the matter. The consciousness that the ditch into which a man has fallen is a ditch of his own digging does not always move a man to take his fall meekly. Penitent hearts may be silent under God's chastisement; but impenitent hearts blaspheme him the more for what they suffer. We need not marvel, therefore, that there were many in the congregation, besides his active coadjutors, who were ready to lend their countenance to Korah in his rebellion.
I. THE SYMPATHY OF THE PEOPLE WITH KORAH showed itself in various ways.
1. They did not rise and vindicate the government of Moses, as they ought to have done.
2. In the crisis of the rebellion they gathered together in front of the tabernacle to encourage Korah and his two hundred and fifty with their countenance. Probably enough they did this with light hearts. Individuals moving with a crowd are apt to lose the sense of personal responsibility. But we shall have to answer to God for what we do, none the less because many others are doing it along with us. In the case in hand the general countenance given to the rebels was so deeply resented by God that it had almost proved fatal to the whole nation. To swell with our voice the shouts of a popular assembly may seem a trifle; but if the shouts are directed against the maintainers of truth and righteousness, we cannot take part without sin and danger.
3. When the rebels died for their sin, the people charged Moses and Aaron with their blood (verse 41). A fresh example of perversity which again had almost proved fatal to the whole nation.
II. It is a relief to turn from the perverse ungodliness of the people to THE MEEKNESS AND UNSELFISH ZEAL OF MOSES AND AARON. When the Reubenite rebels and the 250 conspirators perished, Moses did not utter a word in deprecation of their terrible doom. A signal example had become necessary. But when the whole people was threatened, he fell on his face and pleaded for it. This he did twice, he and Aaron.
1. When the people abetted Korah and his company before the tabernacle (verse 22). Twice before Moses had been tempted to desert his office of intercessor, and to separate his fortunes from those of his brethren (cf. Exodus 32:10-13; Numbers 14:12). On this third occasion, as on the two former, he refuses to do so. On the contrary, he intercedes with the energy of a man pleading for his own life. When sin abounds and judgments threaten, may the Lord always raise up among us intercessors like Moses and Aaron!
2. When the people charged him with the death of the rebels (verse 41). This time his intercession took a new form. While the people were murmuring the plague was breaking out in the camp. How shall it be stayed? Let Aaron show himself a true priest by making atonement for the people. There is no time for presenting a sin offering. Let him instead fill his censer with coals from the altar of sacrifice, and run in between the living and the dead, burning incense. It was a palpable token and demonstration of the Divine authority of the priesthood which the rebels had affected to condemn, that whereas the two hundred and fifty had by their incense-burning brought on themselves death, Aaron by his incense-burning warded off death, and that not only from himself but from the whole congregation. General lessons: -
1. The greatest storm of trial will not overthrow the man who makes God his strength. Moses begins, carries on, finishes his conflict against Korah with prayer (verses 4, 22, 45). Hence his unfailing meekness.
2. General demonstrations of sympathy with men who are the champions of error and unrighteousness bring guilt on the community, are displeasing to God, and may be expected to bring down his chastisements.
3. Moses, in his meek endurance of obloquy and his successful intercession for those who assailed him with it, is the figure of our blessed Lord. He endured the contradiction of sinners against himself. He prayed, "Father, forgive them." And thousands of them were forgiven. Christ's priesthood which men despise, how often is it glorified in their salvation!
4. The best answer that a Church or a ministry can give to men by whom their legitimacy is challenged or derided, is to bestir themselves like Aaron, standing between the dead and the living, and turning back the tide of destruction. - B.
I. As PROPIETOR. "He formeth the spirit of man within him" (Zechariah 12:1). The verb used is applied to a potter or a smith, and reminds us that God has modeled the human spirit, with its varied powers, according to his own ideal (Psalm 33:15). Since he formed man in his own image, he is "the Father of spirits" in a sense in which he is not the Father of animals. Thus he is our Proprietor, who can say, "All souls are mine," who feels a deep interest in "the work of his own hands" (Psalm 138:8), and who will use, according to his judgment, the spirits he has formed and variously endowed. See Moses' use of this truth in Numbers 27:15-17.
II. As HEART-SEARCHER. Sin has broken into the natural relation of God to his creatures. He has to deal with them as sinners with various degrees of criminality. Hence need of discrimination which only the Creator and Searcher of hearts possesses. This truth used by Abraham (Genesis 18:23-33) and by Moses and Aaron (verse 22). It is only the Heart-Searcher who can righteously adjust
(1) the direct punishment of sin, which falls only on the guilty (Ezekiel 18:1-32), and
(2) the indirect consequences, which may fall on the innocent (Exodus 34:7), as on Dathan's children (verses 27, 32). In this narrative we see
(1) conditional preservation (verse 24),
(2) diverse judgments (verses 32, 35, 49),
III. As THE SAVIOR. If God were not a Saviour there would soon be no "spirits of flesh" to be the God of (Malachi 3:6). But God's salvation is for all flesh (2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). If God is our Saviour, then we may delight in his proprietorship of us (Psalm 119:94; Psalm 116:12; Isaiah 43:1). And we can cheerfully accept any discipline which our Heart-Searcher sends (Hebrews 12:5-10); for "the God of my life" is also "the God of my salvation." - P.
E.g., locusts, war, pestilence. But there is nothing so destructive as sin. As "no man liveth," so no man sinneth, "to himself." Of Korah, as of Achan or of other transgressors, it may be said, "That man perished not alone in his iniquity" (Joshua 22:20). The destructive effects of sin are twofold -
I. PERSONAL: on the sinner himself, as in the case of Korah the Kohathite, honoured as one of the ministers of God's ark. lllustration - Infection, taken unawares, may not be suspected by friends, hardly by the victim; but its effects (fever, eruption, &c.) will be seen by and by. Sin cannot always be kept secret (Isaiah 59:12; James 1:15). "Evil shall slay the wicked." If the consequences are not as fatal as in Korah's case, moral destruction is going on. As Alpine granite may be reduced by frost and damp to a kind of mould, so sin - some sins especially - seems to break up the moral nature and reduce it to ruins. From the personal consequences of sin the destroyer we can only be delivered by Christ the Savior (Titus 2:14).
II. SOCIAL: on others. In the case of Korah and his conspirators, sin was fatal to their families. So perhaps in the case of Achan (Joshua 7:24-26; Joshua 22:20); if not, how terrible for them to see the husband, the father, killed, and to know that he had caused the loss of thirty-six men at Ai! "Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost." We cannot sin with impunity to our family any more than Adam did. Sin propagates sin. It involves others, directly or indirectly, in its fatal consequences. Illustration - King Saul, and the catastrophe to both family and nation at Gilboa. Unrighteous statesmen. Men of high social position who are immoral or infidel. Each sinner a center of contagion (Ecclesiastes 9:18). The fate of the children of Korah's company a warning to sinful parents. The children of the godless may be expected to become the parents of godless children, and thus the evil may be perpetuated from generation to generation. Mournful epitaph for a sinner's grave: "That man perished not alone in his iniquity." "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20, 21; Romans 8:2, 3). - P.
I. THE PEOPLE REMAIN UNCHANGED IN HEART. They had been terrified for the moment, and fled to what they thought a safe distance, but by the morrow all their audacity has returned. It would seem as if men soon become accustomed to even the most terrible visitations of God; and the more they see of his doings, the less able they are to understand them. There was a time when such destruction as they had gazed on would have taught them caution for more than a day, but now a day is quite sufficient to make them bolder than ever. The evidential value which Moses had pointed out in verses 28-30 is quite lost upon them. Perverse minds disregard the clearest evidence. It may be a good thing for some purposes to multiply evidences of Christianity, but if the whole earth were filled with books written on the subject, many would remain unconvinced. The conduct of these people, so quickly murmuring again, may seem scarcely credible as we read it, yet are they in reality worse than unbelievers now? If we also read of these things that happened to Israel of old, and are not in the least impressed by them, then what are we different in our folly and audacity? The lapse of more than three thousand years has not made God less jealous of his ordinances, less able and determined to punish those who slight them. Fearful things are spoken of those who crucify the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame. Instead of marveling at Israel, we shall do well to see in it, as in a mirror, the perversity, blindness, and frivolity of the natural man everywhere. As Israel was, so are we, until and unless God puts within us a new and different life.
II. A STILL FURTHER RECOGNITION OF THE PRIESTLY OFFICE. One is not astonished to read that simultaneously with the gathering of the murmuring people, the glory of the Lord appeared again. Hitherto there has been some little interval, some time as it were for repentance, but now along with this high pitch of audacity, it is fitting that the revelation of the glory should be prompt, and prompt also the vindication of what God had but lately done. Once again he warns Moses and Aaron out of the way of death. And now what can Moses do, for his pleas are exhausted? The people have gone on sinning, until at last the ingenuity of his pitying heart has nothing left to say. In this extremity he turns where all must turn at last, name]y, to the atonement for sin which God has solemnly appointed. Probably in the first institution of the priestly office he did not comprehend all the power and blessing it could confer. He was now to know, and Israel with him, that atonement for sin, made through the appointed officer, had a most certain effect in destroying some, at least, of the consequences of sin. The atonement made under the law sets forth that more efficacious and searching atonement lying at the foundation of the gospel, but it was not, therefore, a mere form. It could not indeed cleanse the conscience or change the life, but it was effectual to keep back the plague that brought physical death. In the light of the honour which God here puts upon his priest, and the real effect produced by this offering for sin, how clearly we see the real effect that must come from the work of Jesus! If Aaron, the feeble, sinful type, could do so much, how much more we are bound to expect from Jesus, the sinless, perfect antitype!
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AARON'S POSITION. He stood between the dead and the living. What a quickly destructive power sin has! The language indicates that Moses and Aaron were full of alacrity. Not a moment was lost in interposing the atoning service, but even so more than fourteen thousand of the people had already perished. The connection between sin and death is very close, and in such a visitation as this the closeness is made very clear. It may seem constantly contradicted, that in the day men eat of the forbidden fruit they shall surely die, but the contradiction is in appearance only. In the sinful act death is begun, and if God so chooses, its full power may be very quickly manifested. Thus when Aaron went in he found death had been before him, and he had to stand between the dead and the living. It was from the dead that the plague passed greedily on to the living, like the licking fire from the black ruins where it has done its work to the firings still unconsumed. But the moment Aaron enters, the atonement begins to work. The very fact that so many had perished, and so rapidly, glorifies the efficacy of his intervention. Sin is then at once in check. It was a noble position for the priest to occupy, and we should think of it as occupied by Jesus. He indeed stands between the dead and the living. As we gaze upon those wrecked and ruined ones, fast settled in despair, and beyond any succour that we can discern, Christ stands between us and them to give assurance that with him there is power to deliver us from such a fate. It is his great and glorious power to deliver us from death by giving to us a new and higher life, and giving it more abundantly, that mortality may be swallowed up of life (2 Corinthians 5:4). - Y.