The word for rebellion in Hebrew is meri which comes from the root marah. Does anyone recognize that word? Rebellion is the fruit of the bitterness which is the fruit of the grumbling which is the fruit of the unthankfulness of what Adonai has already provided. Remember Genesis 3? Satan stirred ingratitude in what Adonai had given by making Adam and Eve only think of what God had restricted; he then convinced them that they could be like God if they would only rebel against God’s only command.

[Read Numbers 16]

(Vs. 1) Three rebellions, all at the same time: Korah a Levite; two brothers Dathan and Abiram, both Rubenites, and ON and on and on… Who was Korah? He was an Izharite, and was part of the Levites that were responsible for caring for the Mishkan (Num. 3:27-31). Dathan and Abiram were part of the tribe that, although the first born, had been passed over because of the sin of their father. Their rebellion was even worse than Korah’s such that their entire families were destroyed, and when the event was reiterated in Psalm 106 only their names are recounted. As for ON, well … he disappears from the story. It is possible that he was the least impressive, and therefore never mentioned again. However, ledged says that his wife advised against his rebellion, and he repented. These leaders were able to convince 250 other “men of renown”[1] or “name” to follow in their rebellion. This insurrection was well planned and their “battle cry” as it were was that “all the community is holy” and should be allowed to both approach the presence of Adonai and lead the community. There is just one problem: Adonai is the King of kings, and his governance is only by theocratic appointment and never by democratic election. (Rom. 11:28)

(Vs. 4-7) What was Moses’ initial response? Moses was not arrogant, nor was he threatened. He could have lashed out or cowered in fear, but He knew who he was in Adonai’s eyes.

(Vs. 8-14) When Moses does get up and respond, he is clear, articulate, and decisive. Moses knew that Adonai was his judge, and his defender. Moses retorts, “You are the ones who have gone too far!” “Isn’t it enough … that Adonai brought you near … and brought you close?” Then he turns to Dathan and Abiram, but they would not even come out of their tents, but rather they accused Moses of attempting to blind the people.

(Vs. 15) Moses again, takes his complaint directly to Adonai. “They accuse me of tyranny, and yet I have never even enriched myself with the smallest thing.”

(Vs. 16-22) The stage is then set for the showdown at high-noon. They wanted to take the priesthood by force so they all stand with censors to burn incense. Adonai is so incensed that he tells Moses and Aaron to “move out of the way” so he can destroy the entire people. Moses and Aaron both fall to their faces and intercede. Thank God that we have an intercessor who can sympathise with us!  Moses and Aaron plead with Adonai for the “innocent” to not die with the guilty, but Adonai’s intention is clear. He is about to bring wrath upon the wicked.

(Vs. 24, 25) “Move away!” Adonai’s demand is clear; those who stand with the rebellious and against his righteous judgement will be judged as co-conspirators. We know that the much of the family of Korah must have obeyed, for we see them hundreds of years later writing 11 Psalms in the days of David. (Ps. 42, 44 – 49, 84, 85, 87, 88) We also see that the “Elders of Israel” are still with Moses. This probably refers to the 70 who were appointed in the previous chapters.

(Vs. 28-35) Moses, acting as Adonai’s representative, speaks on behalf of Adonai and calls for the ground to open up and swallow them alive. Adonai acts and the rebellious are no more. Oh that this was the end of the rebellion, but the very next day …

(Vs. 41, 44) The “entire community of Beni-Yisrael grumbled … saying ‘You killed Adonai’s people.’” Are they kidding? And now they want to kill him again. And yet, Moses and Aaron intercede before Adonai. And with the censor, the same sort of item that the wicked had held the previous day, Aaron stands between the dead and the living.[2]

So what should our/ my response be? The author of Hebrews says this: [Heb. 3:7-4:3 and 4:11-16)

  • Let us not have an evil heart of unbelief that falls away from the living God.
  • Let us encourage one another so that none will be hardened by sin.
  • Let us make every effort to enter that rest.
  • Let us draw near to the throne of grace with boldness that we might find mercy.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Tree Of Life Version (TLV), 2014.

[2] Ronald Allen, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 2, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2008.  Pg. 244-257.