Lessons from Parashat Korah

The reading of this week is a double portion of Korah – Numbers 16:1 -18:32. Korah is the ultimate lesson in leadership in time of crisis.

I suppose that in a life time of every leader there are moments that could be suggestive of the situation of Moses and his cousins the family of Korah.

We have already seen in Numbers 12 the rebellion of Aaron and Miriam, the older brother and older sister of Moses who have been his first hand personal supporters and partners in the leadership of Israel out of Egyptian slavery into freedom. Miriam criticized Moses and spoke against him, and the result was immediately infected with leprosy. Moses her brother prayed for Miriam’s healing from leprosy, and she was healed. It seems like the people of the tribe of Levi did not learn from Miriam’s experience and they come to Moses together with two dubious characters of whom we have heard before, Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben. Korah and his family are from the tribe of Levi and Dathan and Abiram are from the tribe of Reuben. What do these people from different tribes have in common and why would they want to cooperate in this rebellious action against God’s anointed ones, Moses and Aaron? What is their claim against Moses and Aaron?

  1. Numbers 16:3, “You take too much upon yourselves. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”
  2.   “You take too much [responsibility] upon yourselves.”
  3. “All the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them.”
    1.  We are just as good as you and have the same relationship with God that you have. We can lead the people better than you can because we are united in a union and we are more than you two.
    2.  “We want democracy – equal rights – you are not special and therefore you can’t have special privileges as leaders.
    3. They claim that any one of the 250 men of renown, leaders of their tribes, are just as good as Moses and Aaron and that there is nothing special in the relationship of Moses and Aaron with God that is different from what every one of the leaders of the tribes has.
    4. You can see the modern humanistic values peeping through the dark vail of a rebellious spirit and hunger and greed for leadership, recognition, and wanting a piece of the action from the swamp of government.
    5. Around great men of God there always those of lesser character and greater hunger for power motivated by feelings of inadequacy and less self-worth, like Korah and Dathan and Abiram. They feel ignored and slighted. They feel underprivileged. If someone has just a little more than I have I must feel that he is obtaining the position by abuse and evil motivation. Equality is a tool in the hands of Korah and his group and Dathan and Abiram and their group to get into the places of power for motives that are less than holy.

Moses’ response to this rebellion of some of his own relatives?

“So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him. Do this: Take censers, Korah and all your company; put fire in them and put incense in them before the LORD tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the LORD chooses is the holy one. You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi!””

(Numbers 16:4–7 NKJV)

    1. Moses falls on his face – out of grief and sadness.
    2. Moses does not take the action against these people by himself.  He leaves the action to God.  There is no leader that can really defend himself against such accusations as Korah and his group levee against a leader.  Anything that he would do would only prove their claims as true.
    3. Moses leaves the matter in the hands of the Almighty Himself.  Moses tells the rebellious:
    4. Please wait till tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy.
    5. The Lord will take those who are claiming to be holy.
    6. You are Levites – take your censers (little shovels) and fill them with incense put fire in your censers and come before the Lord tomorrow.  This action is actually the daily normal activity of the Korahites they as Levites brought the incense before the Lord.
    7. Notice that Moses turns around the same argument that the sons of Korah had against him and Aaron, “You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi!”
    8. Moses did get angry, but his anger was managed well and he spoke to the Lord: Num. 16:15, “Then Moses was very angry, and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them.”
    9. The Lord heard the prayer of Moses and this is what happened next: “So every man took his censer, put fire in it, laid incense on it, and stood at the door of the tabernacle of meeting with Moses and Aaron. And Korah gathered all the congregation against them at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.”
    10. Before the Lord took action against the rebellion of the Korahite group He warned Moses and Aaron and the rest of Israel to get away from the gang of the rebellious leaders: “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.”
    11. The LORD creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the LORD.”” (Numbers 16:18–30 NKJV)

What can we as leaders learn from this sad occasion in the history of our people in a period when the Lord’s presence was visible by day and by night, in a period that all of Israel enjoyed the daily miracle of Mana, water from the rock, and divine victory over Amalek? That generation of the wilderness wondering, with daily presence of the Lord and access to His divine council, and still the lust for power, selfishness, and greed, gave birth to rebellion against God’s anointed ones. The result was horrible. The whole 250 leaders of Israel that joined Korah and his gang, were burned and their tents and property and their family all paid the high price. Their case became a sign and an example that we all have to learn from and watch for – because such rebellions can happen and do happen even today, but the divine fire is slow to come today because we don’t have a temple or priests or Levites who are actually serving in the presence of the Lord like in those days in the wilderness of Sinai.

This article originally appeared as a part of The Jerusalem Prayer List by Netiviyah Bible Instruction Ministry, June 22, 2017, and reposted with permission.