This week’s parasha is titled Korach, which means Korah. It covers Numbers 16:1-18:32. The chapters record one of the most critical times during the Israelis’ wilderness experiences.

A Levite named Korah conspired and incited an unsuccessful rebellion against Moses and Aaron. This discord started in chapter 11, when the Jewish people were grumbling and complaining about the food God had graciously and supernaturally provided. Surprisingly, they preferred the free fish, and food they ate in Egypt and the hardship they endured, rather than trusting God for provision in the wilderness.

Korah wasn’t content with assigned duties, to care for the Tabernacle, but believed that as a leader of the Levites, he had as much right as Aaron to be honored high priest. His defiance influenced Dathan, Abiram and On, along with 250 Israeli leaders. Scripture states: They united against Moses and Aaron and said, “You have gone too far! The whole community of Israel has been set apart by the Lord, and He is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of the Lord’s people?”

When Moses heard this, he fell face down on the ground. But when he got up, he settled the matter, his words now the Lord’s words saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will show who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He will have that person come near Him.” Moses put Korah and his followers to a test. He instructed them to take incense burners, place fire in them and burn incense on them. This was unique since Aaron and his family were God’s choice and were given the ministry to hold the incense burners. Korah was of the house of Levi, not a member of the priestly family. The other followers may not have been Levites, so burning incense was not even a possibility for them. Moses dared them to do as he had demanded. He said to them, “the Lord will make his choice known to all. It is you who have gone too far.”

The chapter continues with a confrontation of Dathan and Abiram. Their behavior was more disgraceful than that of Korah. This is a reminder that sin doesn’t have favorites; it infects us all. They refused to appear before Moses and expressed their disapproval of living in the desert saying: “Isn’t it enough that you brought us out of Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us here in this wilderness, and that you now treat us like your subjects? We will not come!”

This nonsense filled Moses with a righteous indignation; the time for talk was over. The next day, Korah and his followers were present in the camp, with their incense burners. God was angry and ready to destroy this faithless people; but Moses and Aaron interceded. He warned the community to get away from Korah, Dathan and Abiram.

The community was wise enough to listen and move away. After Moses spoke, the Earth opened and swallowed these men and their families. And fire came from the Lord and killed the 250 rebellious leaders.

What followed should have been the end, but the next day the community accused Moses and Aaron of killing the people. This horrible claim serves as a witness, that they were unwilling to obey God. Again, God was angry and sent a plague, but Moses and Aaron asked God to spare the community from the plague. Nevertheless, as a result of their rebellion 14,700 more died.

In chapter 17, God commanded Moses to collect twelve staffs, one from each leader of Israel’s tribes, and write the name of each leader on them. Aaron’s name was written on the staff from the tribe of Levi. The staffs were to be placed in the Tabernacle, in front of the Ark of the Covenant. God informed Moses that buds would sprout on the staff of the man He had chosen. This act of God would put an end to their grumbling and complaining.

The next day Moses entered the Tabernacle and discovered that Aaron’s staff had formed buds, blossoms, and produced ripe almonds. The Hebrew word for almond comes from a Hebrew root that refers to watchfulness (Jeremiah 1:11-12). This is significant because the Lord was revealing to the community that He is always awake and watching (Psalm 121:4). Moses presented the twelve staffs to the community, and a leader from each tribe claimed his staff. This must have been a shameful and humbling experience for them. The Lord said to Moses: “Place Aaron’s staff permanently before the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a warning to rebels. This should put an end to their complaints against me and prevent any further deaths.” At this point the community became very fearful.

In chapter 18, God gave instructions following the sin and judgment of the community. Aaron, his sons and their descendants were given a great responsibility as priests. They would be responsible for iniquity against God’s sanctuary and iniquity involving the priesthood. The Levites were responsible to care for and transport the Tabernacle and its furnishings. The priesthood was God’s gift to Aaron and his descendants.

What can we learn from this tragedy? First, the heart is wicked and deceitful, it’s impossible to know it (Jeremiah 17:9). Where there is envy and selfish ambition, you will find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16). Second, we know that Satan seeks people who are self-exalted, jealous, divisive, grumblers, discontent, false accusers – and the list goes on. As followers of Yeshua, we must ask God to fill us with His Spirit every day and sincerely live lives directed by His Spirit, rather than our selfish desires. Moreover, we must humble ourselves and always obey God. We must endeavor to love one another, serve one another, and pray passionately for one another.