Pride and ambition cause a great deal of mischief in both churches and governments. Here in this chapter, we see that these things were the origin of another very serious rebellion, questioning the settlement of the priesthood upon Aaron and his family – although the rebels, in this case, assumed the language of high spirituality. The main ringleader of this rebellion was Korah, a Levite. He was a descendant of Izhar, the brother of Amram (Ex. 6:18, 20); and therefore, he was a close relative of Aaron. He was supported in his rebellion by three men from the tribe of Reuben: Dathan, Abiram, and On. However, since On is not mentioned again after verse 1, it is possible that he changed his mind and withdrew from the conspiracy. These men gained over to their side no fewer than 250 princes from among the other tribes; all of them were members of the national representative council, and well-known leaders. Thus the movement assumed very large proportions, and evidenced wide-spread disaffection and dissatisfaction. The rebels unjustly charged Moses and Aaron with taking too much honor to themselves, even though God Himself had called them to it.
When Moses was faced with this new rebellion, he sought instruction from God. He told Korah and his 250 followers to bring their censers to the Tabernacle the next day, so that the Lord might show whom He had really chosen to stand before Him in His presence – Aaron or themselves. Moses also showed these men their privileges as Levites, and he convicted them of the sin of undervaluing those privileges. Next, he summoned Dathan and Abiram to bring their complaints to him, but they would not obey. Instead, they brought very false charges against Moses; and they also spoke as if it was his fault that they had not entered into the Promised Land. Moses was the meekest man; yet, finding that God was being reproached in these men’s complaints against himself, he was very angry. He could not bear to see the people ruining themselves in this way, and he appealed to God concerning his own integrity.
The next morning, Korah and his 250 followers presented themselves at the door of the Tabernacle. The visible manifestation of the Lord’s glory that appeared in order to place Aaron in his office at first (Lev. 9:23) now appeared again, in order to confirm him in it, and to confound those who rose up against him. Moses warned the people to get away from these rebels, or else they would perish with them. Those who do not wish to perish with sinners must come out from among them and be separate. The people of Israel did separate themselves from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Moses, by Divine direction, declared that if these rebels died a common death, he would be content to be labelled as an imposter. But if the Lord executed a new and unheard-of judgment against them, then the people would know for certain whom He had chosen; and they would be assured that these men had provoked the Lord by their rebellion. As soon as Moses had spoken the word, God caused the earth to miraculously open and swallow them all up – as well as all in their households who had taken part in their crimes, all their possessions, and any others among the people who had taken sides with them. A fire also went out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who offered incense; but Aaron, who was standing with them, was preserved alive.
Alas! The gaping earth was scarcely closed before the same sins were committed again, and all these warnings are disregarded! The next day, the people of Israel labelled those perished rebels as “the people of the Lord”; and they found fault with Divine justice. They had seen the terrors of God’s law when it was given on Mount Sinai, as well as the terrors of His judgments; and their obstinacy goes to show how necessary the grace of God is, in order to truly change people’s hearts and lives. Love will do what fear can never do.
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and began to intercede with God for mercy, for they knew how great this provocation was. But the Lord began to send a plague among the people. When Moses saw this, he commanded Aaron to take a censer, fill it with incense in it, run among the people quickly, and burn the incense to make an atonement for the people. Here we see Aaron representing the Lord Jesus indeed! For surely there was no holiness in Aaron himself that could interpose between an offended God and perishing sinners. But he stands as one of the most interesting pictures of the Redeemer in His priestly office – putting on the incense of His own merits, and running into this world from the tabernacle of glory, in order to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself! There is a plague of sin in this world, which only the cross and intercession of Jesus can remove. He enters – running! – into the defiled and dying camp! He stands between the dead and the living – between the eternal Judge and the souls that are under condemnation! We must have redemption and remission of sins through His blood! We admire the speedy devotion of Aaron, who – notwithstanding his great age (he was at least 84 or 85 at this time) – ran in quickly among the dying people in order to atone for their sins. But shall we not bless and praise the unspeakable grace and love which filled our Savior’s heart, when He put Himself in our place, and bought us with His own life? Greatly indeed has God demonstrated His great love for us; for “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” (Rom. 5:8)
Lord Jesus, as the dying Israelites were sheltered by the offering of Aaron’s incense, cause us to take refuge under the covering of Your blood and righteousness. Amen.
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illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible | Wikimedia Commons