3.40 Numbers -- Korah's Rebellion
A much more serious example of internal purging occurred in Num 16, the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. This revolt was an expansion of what occurred in Num 12 with Aaron and Miriam. What had been a disruption within the family circle now became schism in the camp, involving "250 leaders." Yet the issue was exactly the same as before:
They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" (Num 16:3)
This rebellion included some Reubenites and, more interestingly, a descendant of Levi. Korah belonged to the Kohathites, a Levitical family who had special duties in the care of the tent of meeting:
"After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting" (Num 4:15).
So Korah had proximity to the Presence of God, but he was limited to carrying the furnishings. This humble duty was not enough for him and his followers. His argument echoed that of Aaron -- isn't God with all His people, not just Moses? Korah accused Moses of the sin that motivated himself -- exalting himself above the assembly. Moses reminded Korah that God had already separated his family from the common people to serve in the tabernacle. Wasn't this honor enough? Did he have to aspire to the priesthood as well? (Num 16:8-10). He challenged Korah's followers to offer incense to the Lord, and see if He accepted their worship. This challenge was the Israelite equivalent of "High Noon at the OK Corral."
By now the outcome was obvious to anyone not blinded by visions of grandiosity. Let's see -- Nadab and Abihu: burned by fire! Miriam: turned into a leper! Only dumb people needed a third example. Yet Korah and his allies volunteered to provide the next case of creative self-destruction. Moses himself upped the ante:
"If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me" (Num 16:29).
No sooner did Moses finish speaking than the ground opened up and the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram fell into the crevice, taking their families with them. Then the purging fire fell to burn up the 250 men offering incense. All of which proved great box office for Cecil B DeMille three millennia later.
The rebellion was not done yet, not by a long shot. Having lost their leaders, the people themselves gathered against Moses and Aaron. This was more significant than Korah's actions, because it shows that his plot was rooted in feelings of the entire people.
God's patience was at an end, and judgment began immediately. This time it was in the form of a plague. Moses didn't even have time to intercede. He sent Aaron with a censer of holy fire to come between the dead and the living, and this stopped the plague by making atonement. Nevertheless, nearly 15,000 people died. Twice in this chapter, God threatened to destroy all of Israel (Num 16:21, Num 16:45). Compare Ex 32:10and Num 14:12 for similar confrontations.