This week’s parasha is called Korach, named for the leader of one of the largest and most severe revolts against the leadership of Moses and Aaron during the wilderness journey. Our passage for this week covers Numbers, Chapter 16:1 – Chapter 18:32.
While all those who served at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple are descendants of Levi, only the priests and the high priest are descendants of Aaron. Korach, while a descendant of Kohath, is the son of Izhar, who was the brother of Aaron’s father, Amram. This makes Korach Aaron’s cousin. Therefore, Korach is a Levite, who is allowed to serve at the Tabernacle, but cannot carry out the priestly duties.
Let’s examine the elements of this rebellion: We have Korach, representing the Levites. This indicates that this was an attack on the worship structure that God had put in place since Korach’s line of argument is that the whole congregation was holy and should be allowed to serve in the priestly capacity that God designated only for Aaron and his sons.
We have Dathan, Abiram and On, descendants of Reuben. Reuben and his descendants lost their birthright since Reuben slept with Rachel’s maid, Bilhah. This represents a rebellion by those seeking to uphold succession or authority by birthright.
Thirdly, we have 250 leaders of the congregation that side with Korach. This represents a rebellion against the governing structure that God put in place for the congregation of Israel.
And, finally, we have the rebellion of the people, from which we can see that even if a majority believes in something, it may not necessarily be the right thing.
In Chapter 16 God tells Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from everyone else so that the Lord could instantly destroy the entire congregation. You might think that Moses and Aaron would welcome an end to all the grumbling against them, but instead they throw themselves on the ground and beg for forgiveness for the people.
The Lord relents, but there must still be punishment for the main offenders. As a test of whom the Lord will favor, Korach, Abiram and Dathan along with the 250 leaders are instructed to offer the special inscense to the Lord in bronze censers, the pot for holding and burning inscense. Only the priests could burn the incense, so this was a fitting test since Korach had declared that others should be allowed to take on priestly dutues.
However, the consequences for Korach, Abiram and Dathan and their families are disastrous. Not only do they die, but in verse 32, the ground opens up and swallows them, their families, dwellings and possessions and closes up over them.
In addition, fire came from the Lord and consumed the 250 leaders who were offering the sacred incense. God then commanded that each of the censers, which was used by each of those leaders, be gathered and hammered into sheets and used as plating for the altar for burnt offerings. The censers had been offered before the Lord, and even though it was a strange, or unacceptable, offering of incense, it still made the censers holy. Overlaying this plating of bronze censers over the altar would be a sign to Israel that only the priests could approach to carry out the priestly duties.
Despite all that had transpired, the next day, “..the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” (v41). The people wanted to blame Moses and Aaron for causing the death of the 250 leaders.
This rebellion causes a plague among the people and in response to that, Moses tells Aaron to take his censer and quickly go to the people who are being struck down. By the time the plauge is checked, 14,700 people have died.
In order to put the question of priestly authority to rest forever, in Chapter 17, God commands that each leader of each tribe should bring a rod and write their name on their rod. Aaron would be the representative for the tribe of Levi. The rod, or staff, represented authority, so by this, those who would have the priestly authority would be decided by God. God tells them that the rod of the man He chooses will sprout. On the next day, when the rods are checked, not only has Aaron’s rod sprouted, but it has put forth buds and blossomed, producing ripe almonds. To have a dead piece of wood just produce sprouts would have been a miracle, so you can imagine what everyone felt when they saw that Aaron’s rod had even produced blossoms and ripe almonds. God commanded that Aaron’s rod be kept in the Ark of the Covenant as a sign that his descendants alone would have the priestly authority.
The lesson from today’s parasha is rebellion and the consequences that come from that. Hebrews 9:4 speaks of the contents of the Ark of the Covenant: “Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded and the stone tablets of the covenant.” Each one of these items is a representation of the rebellion of the Israelis. The manna, where they complained about food. The staff that budded when there were complaints about priestly leadership (today’s parasha). And the commandments, which Moses shattered when our ancestors turned away from the Living God to worship a golden calf.
And, this rebellion against God is still occurring today. For non-believers, they have not accepted Messiah’s Lordship. And, for believers, we often struggle with the 2 greatest commandments as expressed by Messiah: Loving the Lord with heart, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we think of the Ark of the Covenant, may the three elements within be a reminder to us to stay faithful and true to the one who is the True and Living God.