Christian Churches of God

No. CB47





Korah’s Rebellion


(Edition 3.0 20050219-20061126-20080131)


Korah and his allies rose up against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 41-42 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and covers Numbers chapter 16 to 19 in the Bible.







Christian Churches of God

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(Copyright ã 2005, 2006, 2008 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)



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Korah’s Rebellion


We continue here from the paper Exploring Canaan (No. CB46).


Korah, Dathan and Abiram


Not long after the Israelites left Kadesh, another awful event took place that resulted in great disaster. The situation devel­oped because a state of envy existed in the minds of some of the people and they set about attacking the leadership of Moses and Aaron.


Foremost among such men was a man named Korah, one of Levi’s great-grandsons and a first cousin to Moses and Aaron. He used deception to advance his claim. Korah was joined in this wrong attitude by three Reubenites, Dathan, Abiram and On and about 250 other leaders of Israel who had their own complaints. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “We are here because we believe you are taking on too much power. You and your priests act as though you are holier than any of the rest of us. If we are God’s chosen people, then all of us are holy and the Lord is with us. Why do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Num. 16:1-3).


Now Korah, a Levite, already had a high office in the service of the Lord in the Tabernacle, but he wanted an even higher office – the priesthood that was given to Aaron (vv. 8-11). What Korah really desired was complete control of all Israel. Leaders of nations have always been envied by greedy men. Even Israel, God’s chosen nation, wasn’t free of these kinds of ambitious trouble-makers. It was the same in the spiritual realm where the first rebellion against the One True God occurred.


Moses was shocked by this blunt demand from Korah and he fell upon his face in despair. He could see that the men weren’t just bluffing.


Moses then said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the Angel of the Lord will show who belongs to God and who is holy. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him and he will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far.”


Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites. Isn’t it enough for you that God has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near to Himself to do the work at the Tabernacle, and to stand before the community and minister to them? Now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?”


Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram to give them an opportunity to separate from Korah. But they said, “We will not come. We refuse to listen to your excuses for leading us from the good land of Egypt and into a desert where we are to die. Your only aim has plainly been to control the people, no matter what becomes of them” (vv. 12-14). Moses was giving these two men a chance to repent and separate themselves from Korah. In the same way God always gives people a chance to repent and change their sinful ways.


These untruthful charges upset Moses and he said to the Lord, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them”.


This scheme against Moses was the same as scheming against God (Num. 26:9).


Moses said to Korah, “You have started something you will have trouble finishing. Your belief that just anyone can be in the priesthood without being ordained by God is false. However, if all of you insist on trying to force your way into such offices, every one of you should be here tomorrow morning with incense and with a censer filled with fire.  Aaron and his sons will also be here with their censers. God will make it known which ones He will choose as priests and their helpers.”


Rebels challenge Moses


Next morning the crowd of two hundred and fifty, plus Korah, Dathan and Abiram, appeared before the Tabernacle. Every man carried a censer filled with fire to show his readiness to go at once into priestly service. Korah had spread the word throughout the camps that he was going to challenge Moses, by demanding that the people be freed from what was wrongly referred to as Moses’ unfair leadership. As a result, a growing crowd of curious people built up behind Korah’s men.


Apart from being told to have the men show up with censers, Moses didn’t know what would happen next. But he was certain that God would somehow make it very clear which group would be in power from then on.


When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Glory of the Lord (the Angel of the Presence) appeared to the entire assembly  (Num. 16:19). But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once” (vv. 20-21).


The Lord had threatened to do the same thing before, but Moses had begged Him not to, and God had answered Moses’ prayer (Ex. 32:9-11). So he again asked God to spare the people. Moses and Aaron fell face down and cried out, “O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?”(v. 22).


God spares the people


Then God’s Angel said to Moses, “Tell the assembly to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram”.


Encouraged by this merciful statement Moses warned the crowd to break up and return to their tents, and not to go near the tents of Korah, Abiram and Dathan. Moses said, “Do not touch anything belonging to these wicked men or you too will be swept away because of their sins”. Dathan and Abiram had come out of their tents, along with their wives and children, to hear what more Moses had to say.


Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord God has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens and swallows them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”


The Earth opened its mouth


As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the Earth opened its mouth and swallowed them with their households and all Korah’s men and their possessions. They went down alive to the grave with everything they owned; the Earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community (Num. 16:31-33 and 26:10).


The only ones spared in this unusual catastrophe were the children (Num. 26:11). 1Chronicles 9:19 also talks of the ‘sons’ or descendents of Korah serving God (see also Ps. 84, 85, 88), so the family line was not wiped out.


This calamity was witnessed by a horde of inquisitive Israelites. They scattered in horror from the scene of destruction, fearful that the ground would open up again and swallow all of them (Num. 16:34).


Among those who fled were the two hundred and fifty men who had followed Korah and who had brought their censers. Many among them no doubt began to regret going along with Korah. Even though they were soon scattered among thousands of others, all two hundred and fifty men met sudden death by bolts of fire shooting down from the Lord (v. 35).


Later, the Lord told Moses that one of Aaron’s sons, Eleazar, should gather up the bronze censers of the men who had been burned because the censers had been consecrated for priestly service.


“The metals in those censers have been presented before the Lord and have become holy,” the Lord explained. “Save them so that they will be used in forming special plates to cover the altar of burnt offerings. Then let those plates be a reminder to the people that no one except the descendants of Aaron is to offer incense before the Lord. Anyone who does otherwise will be subject to the fate of Korah and those who followed him with their foolish ambitions” (vv. 36-40; 2Chr. 26:14-21; and Heb. 5:4).


The bronze altar was where all the burnt offerings were sacrificed. It represents Messiah being the perfect acceptable sacrifice for all of mankind and the fallen Host. See The Tabernacle in the Wilderness (No. CB 42).


Korah’s rebellion is similar to Satan’s rebellion where he, as Lucifer, attempted to ascend above God’s Throne. Lucifer had been created perfect  (Ezek. 28:12-15) and had duties assigned to him just as Korah had jobs assigned to him. But Lucifer wanted to be leader and he tried to take over God’s position. From then on he was no longer perfect because he had sinned (Ezek. 28:15-16). Lucifer and the one-third of the rebelling Host were thrown to Earth (Ezek. 28:16). Lucifer’s name was changed to Satan, which means the accuser (Zech. 3:1; 1Pet. 5:8; Rev. 12:10). So we could say that Moses and Aaron represent God and Messiah, and Korah represents Satan in this story. For more details of Satan’s rebellion and its consequences see The Creation of the Family of God (No. CB4) and What is Sin? (No. CB26).


Next morning...


Next morning, however, the general attitude of the community began to swing back. The people grumbled against Moses and Aaron and they said: “You have killed the Lord’s people” (Num. 16:41).


These people did not seem to understand that if Moses and Aaron had not pleaded with God (see v. 22) the whole nation might have been destroyed because of the continued rebellion. They should have feared to make such a strong, untrue accusation.  We need to be careful not to speak against God's anointed because it is wrong and may result in our death (see also 2Kgs. 1:10-15; 2:23-24).


When the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the Glory of the Lord appeared. Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the Lord said to Moses, “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” Both men immediately fell face down (Num. 16:43-45).


Moses and Aaron were very fearful for all Israel when they heard the Angel’s words. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Anger has come out from the Lord; the plague has started” (v. 46).


Aaron’s prayer of faith


Aaron quickly did as Moses commanded. He ran all the way to the camp where the deaths were taking place. The plague had already started among the people but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead and the plague stopped (vv. 47-48).


This act of Aaron’s symbolised the intercession of the priesthood for the nation, and pointed towards the Church and its roles and functions. The rebellion of the sons of Israel actually commenced with the priesthood and the rulers of Israel. The world’s churches continue in rebellion to God and His Laws to this day.


As a result of the faith of Moses and Aaron, God had decided at the last moment to spare the people. If Moses and Aaron hadn’t earnestly prayed to Him, the whole history of Israel would have been altered. This is one of the outstanding examples of how answered prayer can change the course of history.


God is always ready to listen to the appeals of those who faithfully obey Him. There is more love and mercy in His character than human beings can understand, but that mercy is tempered by judgment and justice. God’s mercy extends in great measure to those who are willing to let Him rule them. But He does punish the wicked for their disobedience. However, we know that in the end all will have their chance to be part of God’s family, even if that means being brought back to life again in the Second Resurrection. For more information see What Happens When We Die (No. CB27).


It was no small task to remove the 14,700 victims of the short-lived plague and bury them. This figure did not include any who were taken in the rebellion of Korah and his supporters (vv. 49-50).


Although God had performed astounding miracles to show that the wrong people wouldn’t be allowed in the priesthood, there were still men who coveted these high positions, and those who were yet to be convinced that the Levites were chosen by God for specific duties. God allocated duties and birthright promises to a number of tribes in Israel but the priesthood was with Levi. Thereafter salvation was extended to the Gentiles, or other nations, through the priesthood of Melchisedek.  (ed.)


God used this example to cut off the rebellious, and as an example to others who blaspheme Him. Blasphemy and rebellious language directed against God and His system and those who act in His name are wickedness, and often bring swift punishment.


Exodus 22:28 says, “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people”. A leader, or head of the Church today, is God’s representative and we are not to speak evil against him. The apostle Paul quoted this Scripture after he had mistakenly insulted the High Priest by questioning his judgment (Acts 23:4-5).


The budding of Aaron’s staff


God wanted to settle this issue once and for all, by performing one more miracle in which a few leaders would have a part. He was now going to convince the last of the doubters.


Carrying out instructions from God, Moses commanded each of the twelve tribal princes to bring him the official staff (or rod) of his respective tribe. The rod for the tribe of Levi was the one used by Moses in Egypt to perform miracles. It was later presented to Aaron.


Each leader’s name was written on his rod. Aaron’s name was inscribed on his rod for the tribe of Levi. In the presence of the princes Moses took all the rods and placed them in the Tabernacle close to the Ark (Num. 17:1-7).


“Tomorrow I shall go back and collect the rods,” Moses told the leaders and the crowd behind them. “One of those rods will be budded out as though it were a green branch. The rod that is budded will indicate in which tribe the priesthood will exist from now on.”


Next morn­ing Moses brought the rods out of the Tabernacle for inspection. The rod with Aaron’s name on it representing the tribe of Levi was studded with live limbs ending in tender buds, green leaves, reddish blossoms and even a few almonds ready to pick (vv. 8-9).


“Now deny the evidence that God wants the priesthood to remain only in the tribe of Levi!” Moses told the astonished leaders. Heads nodded in silent agreement as the crowd broke up. At God’s command, Moses put Aaron’s rod back in the Ark of the Covenant as a stern reminder to would-be rebels. From that time on there were no more major attempts to take over the priesthood (vv. 10-11 and Heb.9:4).


The twelve rods under the rod of Aaron related to the twelve divisions of the tribes under the judges, and then the apostles. The foundation of the City of God rests on these twelve apostles and their works (cf. Rev. 21:10-14).


The people were so impressed by this latest miracle that they told Moses that they didn’t dare go anywhere near the Tabernacle in an effort to get the priesthood because they finally realised God would slay them all if they did (Num.17:12-13).


Duties of priests and Levites


Aaron and his family were chosen by the Lord to be priests and were to be assisted by others from the tribe of Levi who were not to go beyond the serving role. They were not to go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar otherwise they and the priests would die. Only Aaron and his sons could serve at the altar and inside the curtain to minister before the Lord. An outsider who came near the sanctuary had to be put to death. The priesthood was a gift of God to both the priests themselves and the people (Num. 18:1-7).


The priests were to be supported in their work of ministry (see Lev. 7:35-36). Provision was made for their families as well, as we see in Numbers 18:11-13, and “. …  every one that is clean in thine house shall eat of it” (v. 13). The provisions for cleansing were stated in Leviticus 22:4-8.


Since the Levites as a whole and the priests in particular had no share in ownership of the land that God was going to give Israel, it was necessary that the means for their provision be spelled out fully. Their share and inheritance was the Lord himself (Num. 18:20).


Offerings for support of the priests


Through His Angel the Lord said, “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Num. 18:21).


The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering (v. 25). From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest’” (v. 28).


Although the Levites received the tithe given to the Lord they were not exempt from worshipping the Lord by tithing. They in turn were to give a tenth of their income to Aaron (v. 28) and were to ensure that the best part was given to him as the Lord commanded (v. 29).


A tithe is a tenth part of anything, especially the tenth of one’s increase, whether it is income from wages, livestock or crops. A tenth part of anyone’s increase belongs to God. God uses it for His work.


In Old Testament times the Levites did His physical work. So God paid them for their work by His tithes. This tithe, which is actually God’s, became the only inheritance of the Levites, because they did not own farming land on which to earn an income. They were to live and carry on God’s work with this tenth, and in turn were to tithe what they received from God by paying a tenth to Aaron’s family, which held the high priesthood (Num. 18:8-32).


This was the simple but effective system God gave to the Israelites for financing God’s physical work, and all things that had to do with the Tabernacle. Today the tithe still belongs to God and He uses it for His work - the preaching of the gospel. God’s spiritual work of preaching the gospel has replaced the physical duties of the Levites, so that the tithes are to go only to those who represent the true Church of God and who keep the Law and the Testimony faithfully.


Ordinarily it would be a simple matter to figure what a tenth of money wages would be. But some might wonder how a person whose increase was only a sheep would give a tenth of a sheep, or how one who had only a small garden would give a tenth of his crop. The answer is that the value of the sheep would be determined, and a tithe or tenth of the value of the sheep then paid to God.


Tithing is for our good


So often, when the subject of tithing is brought up in these times, the same remark is heard: “If I gave a tenth of my income, my family would starve!”


Perhaps most people don’t realise or appreciate that everything they think they possess is not really theirs. It is God’s. God merely allows them to use or enjoy it for a while. When we stop to consider this fact, isn’t it plain that the Creator is quite generous in requiring that we turn back only a tenth for financing His work?


The tithing law was not instituted for God’s benefit. He owns the world and everything in it (Ps. 24:1; 50:10). God gave the tithing law for our good. Our responsibility for handling some of God’s money as His stewards helps us to learn to love others and enjoy giving. This develops in us God’s type of character and trains us for eternal life’s true riches (Lk. 16:1-11).


To add to His generosity, God has made a sacred promise that He will increase our material wealth if only we are faithful in paying Him what we owe (Mal. 3:10-11). Can you imagine one person telling another that if he pays what he owes he will be rewarded? That’s what God has told us, in so many words. Where can one find a better deal than that?


God has told us that if we don’t tithe we are robbing Him (Mal. 3:8-9). If we are robbing God - and millions of people are doing just that today - we can have no part in the blessings that God has decreed for those who are faithful in tithes.


This doesn’t mean that others may not prosper who want to have no part of God and His laws. God allows many of them to have the good things of this life.


God is the author of tithing. It began long before the time of Moses. Abraham and Jacob paid tithes long before Moses’ time (Gen. 14:18-20; 28:20-22; Heb. 7:4-10).


Many people who believe in giving a tenth of their increase make a practice of giving it to their favourite charities or needy families. Giving to those in need is good, but that first tenth is to go to no one except God (Mal. 3:10). The correct thing to do is to give it to the true representatives of God - those who are in God’s service in His work.


The water of cleansing


The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is a requirement of the Law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke …” 


The red heifer was to be given to Eleazar the priest and taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Eleazar was to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. The hide, flesh, blood and offal of the heifer were burned and cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool were thrown onto the burning heifer (Num. 19:1-8).


The text in Numbers 19 deals with the sacrifice of the red heifer and the handling of the dead.


The purpose of the sacrifice of the red heifer was to cleanse the Tent of Meeting. It was to bear sin and the impurity of Israel. The ashes were to be gathered up and stored in a clean place outside the camp. They were kept for the people of Israel for use in the water of cleansing. This whole structure was to combine to make the sacrifice of purification. It is followed immediately by the rite of the cleansing of those who were impure because of handling a dead body.


There would be many occasions in which a person would become unclean, not because of deliberate contact with a dead body, but just by being near one who died.


All of these events relate to the cleansing power of the blood of Christ as the Passover Sacrifice. By his death on 14 Nisan, he saved and sanctified Israel. He had to fulfill a number of other sacrifices at the same time and by his death the entire sacrificial system was fulfilled, and no further sacrifices are required.


However, the red heifer was the instrument that sanctified the people in this circumstance. It was not the Passover Lamb that performed that function initially. It was for this reason that Messiah had to be placed in a clean tomb where no other corpse had been. This was symbolic of the remains of the heifer. Messiah had to remain uncontaminated until his ascension.


On to Canaan


The next thirty-eight years after the Exodus were spent by the Israelites in wandering aimlessly, and often miserably, from place to place in the desert regions of the Sinai Peninsula west of the Gulf of Aqaba. The Gulf of Aqaba is a finger of the Red Sea bordering the east side of the peninsula.


There is little record in the Bible pertaining to where they camped and what they did throughout most of this time until more than a generation later - when they started back to the northeast on the same route they had taken right after they left Egypt.


During those thirty-eight years people died and a whole new nation had grown up. All those men who complained when the scouts returned from searching Canaan were allowed to die. Only their children were permitted to cross over Jordan into the Promised Land (Deut. 1:35-39). Not all the older people had died since the Israelites had set out in their aimless wanderings, however. Some of those still living were Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Caleb and Joshua.


Once more, after a lapse of nearly four decades, the tremendous caravan of millions moved up to the city of Kadesh from which the twelve scouts had been sent north to look at Canaan. It must have been a sobering thought to the people that they were still no nearer Canaan after plodding about for over thirty-eight years and looping around and around over the same country for thousands of miles. But they couldn’t rightly blame God for their misfortune. If they and those who had gone before had obeyed Him, they would have arrived in safety and prosperity in Canaan almost forty years sooner.


(The New International Study Bible was used as a source of reference in various places in this paper.)