Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Him. The one whom He chooses He will bring near to Him.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from Me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.
On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. And the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against Me, lest they die.” Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.
And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone."
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the One of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of Him,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Numbers 16:1-5, 17:1-12; Hebrews 7:11-19
The people of Israel are wandering in the wilderness, and they rebel yet again in Numbers chapters 16-17. Led by Korah and his sons, Dathan and Abiram, 250 chiefs come to Moses and complain. This delegation is not just a disgruntled fringe, but rather represents the whole congregation: they are “chosen from the assembly, well-known men.” They present their two-fold case to Moses. First, they say, “You’re no better than us! God is in the middle of all the people; we’re holy too. What makes you so special?” And second, “We’re still wandering in the desert. There’s no milk and honey here.”
Moses then invites Korah and the 250 chiefs to approach the tabernacle and offer incense to the Lord. They come the next morning and present the bowls of burning incense, but when the glory of the Lord descends upon the tabernacle, He does not receive their offering. The Lord instructs the people to stand back from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and the ground opens up to swallow them. Fire comes out and consumes those who are offering incense.
Instead of repenting, though, the people double down into their rebellion, grumbling now that Moses “has killed the people of the Lord.” Moses then intercedes to God for the people, as a plague is already spreading among them. Aaron stands between the living and the 14,700 dead, offering incense in his own censer, stopping the spread of the plague. To demonstrate still further that the Lord had chosen Aaron to be His priest, He causes Aaron’s staff to bud, flower, and bear ripe almonds, setting it apart from the rest of 12 staffs left in the temple overnight.
It is easy to believe ourselves superior to the people of Israel. It seems obvious, we feel, that their arrival to the land of milk and honey is inevitable. We would never question Moses. We would certainly never usurp the place of Aaron and offer bowls of burning incense ourselves.
Yet the sins of the people of Israel in Numbers 16 are the ones that we commit most commonly – envy and discontentment. If we look at what lies underneath their specific complaints (“We’re just as holy as Aaron, so why does he think he’s so special?” and “Why are we still here in the wilderness?”), we can see clearly that they both constitute a rebellion against God’s providence. They protest both the station that God gave them – as Levites and members of the congregation, not priests – and the circumstances in which God placed them – yet a little while longer wandering in the wilderness.
We do this all the time! Whenever we complain about anything, we reject God’s providence. Even when we think that it is seemingly harmless, like when we gripe about the weather (something all of us are tempted to do these days!), what we are actually doing is saying “This thing, God, that you just gave me, is bad. You should not have done that.” In contrast to this, the Puritan writer Jeremiah Burrows writes that Christian contentment “freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment) Along with discontentment, it is very easy to slip into envy. Envy says, “You’re no better than me; why should you have that and not I?” and “If I can’t have that, neither can you!” It is very easy for us to resent others for having something that we want, whether it is wealth, status, or anything else.
Joyful submission to God’s sovereignty is the antidote to both discontentment and envy. Whenever you meet with circumstances that seem bad to you, rejoice! If someone has something that you do not, and you’re tempted to resent it, leap for joy instead! I conclude with two questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism on the providence of God, in an encouragement to receive all things from Him with gratitude.
Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by His fatherly hand.
Q. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from His love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without His will they can neither move nor be moved.