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?” Numbers 16:3
These men clearly thought Moses and Aaron were exalting themselves above everyone else. But weren’t Moses and Aaron the leaders God had chosen? Why didn’t these men call a private meeting? They could have sat down and discussed their concern in a meaningful way. But they did not do that. They gathered 250 leaders and then came against God’s leaders. While they may have thought the leadership of Moses was questionable, their behavior dictated something quite different than a mere disagreement. Why would someone assembly 250 leaders? Easy, they were not trying to address an issue; they were trying to take over. It is as simple as that. This was not a disagreement, it was a mutiny. Listen to what Moses tells Korah:
Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together. Numbers 16:8-11
These men were already leaders. They were sons of Levi that ministered to the people. But apparently that was not enough; they wanted to be in Moses’ position. But Moses clearly tells them they have come against the Lord by this action. Adam Clarke in his commentary on these verses says, “they wished to set up a priesthood and a sacrificial system of their own; and God never has blessed, and never can bless, any scheme of salvation which is not of his own appointment.”1 To come against God’s leadership is neither right nor safe, and ultimately invites God’s wrath. There is no other way to deal with such rebellion but by swift force; but before that happens, there is even more rebellion. Moses sends for Dathan and Abiram and they refuse to come. Listen to their words, “and they said, ‘We will not come. It is a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? . . . We will not come up.’” (Numbers 16:12-14) This is very serious. It is the worst kind of rebellion. This is no longer complaining about circumstances, but literally trying to supplant God’s leader. This is where rebellion leads. Sometimes it may start small, but ultimately it leads to total anarchy – a place no one wants to be. And the results of this kind of rebellion are always disastrous. God dealt with this mutiny in a very special way, a way in which no one would ever guess. Here is what happened. Moses told Korah that all the leaders he had assembled (the 250) were to come before the Lord with their censers. They were to burn the incense before the Lord. So all the men stood with Moses and Aaron with their censers and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. Then the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” (Numbers 16:20) God was about to execute his judgment on the people for their sin. But Moses cried out to God and interceded for the people, and God told him to tell the people to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The people obeyed and moved away from these men. And at this moment just before God brings judgment like we have never seen, Moses has this to say:
Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD. Numbers 16:28-30
Moses basically put it to the test saying that if God had sent him and anointed him to be the leader, then they would see the Lord do something brand new – the ground opening up and swallowing the men! How incredible is that! And just as Moses finished speaking the ground opened up and swallowed the men, their families, and all their possessions. And then the earth closed up over them. And in the middle of all this happening, the Lord sent fire and consumed all of the 250 men that were burning incense. Words are not enough to describe what God did to these rebellious men. I think it is evident that God is very serious about whom he chooses to be his anointed. We should pay attention, for God is not in the business of allowing us to do whatever we please. He struck down these men in such a way that the people would never forget!