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The sin of Korah
As we read the Book of Numbers we find in Chapter 15 the records of the preparation for entry into the land and the various sacrifices that are involved. In chapter 16, we learn about the complaints of Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi and a member of the working priesthood with "menial"religious duties about the tabernacle which he seemed to think were below him (cf. Numbers 4:1-4,15). His pride overcame him and he became jealous of the position of superiority that Moses and Aaron had among the children of Israel and was evidently able to persuade men from other tribes to share his resentment (16:1).
It would seem that Miriam's punishment and the recent defeat in the hills would be enough to stop all thoughts of rebellion against God's representatives. Unfortunately, Israel seemed cursed by a poor memory. Before long, a full scale revolt was underway. The key leaders of this movement were Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. With a group of 250 well-known men of the congregation, they confronted Moses and Aaron and accused them of using their positions for personal glory and gain. For this act of disrespect for His chosen representatives, God wreaked wholesale vengeance on the Israelites. The families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up when the earth "opened its mouth" and "the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense" (Numbers 16:351) were destroyed by fire. Of those who complained at the harshness of the punishment, thousands died by a plague - and once again Moses had to plead for the lives of the grumbling, stiff-necked people.
Apparently Korah had sons who were not involved in the rebellion of their father for there are a number of Psalms ascribed to "The Sons of Korah." All of these Psalms seem to have a common echo of praise for the enthroned king and a longing after the sanctuary so it would appear that the family learned a sobering lesson from the solemn judgment on their ancestors. With the crushing of Korah's Rebellion the major internal crisis was past. God's mighty acts vindicated Moses' undisputed leadership, and Aaron's budding rod (Chapter 17) established him as the true priest of God. As a perpetual reminder to the rebels, God instructed Moses to place the rod in the Ark of the Covenant "that you may make an end of their murmuring's against me lest they die" (Numbers 17:10).
As the years of wandering drew to a close, the tribes became aware that they would be inheriting land in Canaan. In Numbers 18:20, the Lord spoke to Aaron and let him know that he would not have such an inheritance. The inheritance of the tribe of Levi was to be the tithes paid (v21) by the other twelve tribes; that would be the remuneration for their service to the tabernacle. God did allocate designated cities throughout the land in which the Levites could dwell, but they did not have a geographical territory to call their own as did the other 12 tribes. God's provision for the priestly tribe is illustrated perfectly in the tithing system: when the tribe of Levi received ten percent from each of the other tribes, each tribe would be left with ninety percent of its income, while the income of the Levites would be equivalent to 120 percent. Even when Levi tithed back ten percent, they would still net 108 percent in contrast to the ninety percent of the remaining tribes. By this unique situation we can see that God intends that those He has chosen for His service should not suffer lack because of their serving, but be able to live a quality of life-style suitable for the maintenance of family, home, good health, and in a respectable manner that will give glory to the cause of Christ and His gospel.
Numbers 20:1 begins the fortieth year in the wilderness. At that time Miriam died and was buried without fanfare. After the incident at the waters of Meribah (meaning "contention" - Numbers 20:2-13) the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed to Mount Hor where Aaron died. Then they crossed the brook Zered. In recounting their history, Moses said (Deuteronomy 2:14) that from Kadesh-barnea (from where the spies had been sent out) to Zered had been just thirty-eight years, and at that point all the numbered men of war who had come out of Egypt were dead. Maps of the area reveal that Zered is between Edom and Moab. Numbers 33 sums up the sequence of their travels. Verse 36 says "they removed from Ezion-geber, and pitched in the wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh." This reiterates Numbers 20:1. From Kadesh they moved to Mount Hor at the edge of the land of Edom. There Aaron was commanded by the Lord to go up to Mount Hor immediately they arrived (v38) and there he died "In the fortieth year after the children of Israel were to come out of the land of Egypt". This summary ties in with the historical account of Numbers 20:22-29 where we read touchingly, in verse 291:
28 And after Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.
Chapter 20 also contains the account of how, in the fortieth year, Moses incurred the Lord's anger at the rock in Kadesh. The children of Israel were again grumbling because they were thirsty. Verse 5 says that they complained to Moses for bringing them out of Egypt to "this evil place." This was the new generation - those who came out of Egypt as children including those who had been born in the wilderness. The adult generation that had previously drunk water from a rock (Exodus 17:6) was dead. But, like their elders, this new generation was equally quick to complain. The Lord said to Moses (vs. 81):
"Speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink."
The rock, as we learned from earlier study (1 Corinthians 10:4), was Christ, and He has already been struck once to yield the water. He is not to be struck again but spoken to as instructed clearly by the Lord. Moses, apparently in anger and frustration, abandoned momentarily his intercessory role, and began to chasten the children of Israel. Thus he struck the rock twice with his rod (v11) and the water gushed forth, but God said to him (v121):
"Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."
What a shock this must have been to Moses. To realize that because of this sudden lapse, because of a momentary sin of anger or frustration, he would not get to see the promised land. Certainly, this should teach us that no individual can sin with impunity, regardless of who he is or what his station in life. We cannot sin without chastisement and judgment, because God is holy and He will always be kept holy in the sight of His people. In striking the rock twice, Moses marred a beautiful Old Testament type of Christ. The Lord Jesus, having suffered once, from that point on need not suffer again. It is not necessary for Him to be crucified each time we need forgiveness of sins. He suffered once, and 1 John 1:91 gives us the promise that:
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"
Hebrews 9:121 tells us very plainly that:
Not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
Through his anger, frustration, or disbelief Moses ruined this type of Christ in the Old Testament and God, in His righteousness, had to follow through with His judgment on Moses, who died just before the people crossed the Jordan into the promised land. But isn't it wonderful how God allowed Moses to see all the land from the mountain top in the Trans-Jordan area. We also read in Matthew 17:3 that Moses did enter the promised land and his feet stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Promised Land, with the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who consider the punishment from Meribah to be too harsh for a man who had served so well, and find it saddening to see this noble servant of the Lord apparently deprived of the goal for which his life had been spent, can acknowledge that the goodness and graciousness of our Lord God rewarded His faithful servant Moses in a most wonderful way.
We see the journey of the children of Israel described in the remaining Books of Numbers as they traverse the southern end of the Dead Sea, coming up east of the Jordan in the Trans-Jordan area, skirting the land of Edom and Moab and finishing east of the Jordan. Numbers 21:4 describes how the people became impatient because of the journey. Even though this was a new generation, they were tiring of their life in the wilderness. They began to speak out against both God and Moses (vs. 5). So God sent fiery serpents among them whose poisonous bites took many lives. God provided just one way of salvation from the poisonous bites, that was for Moses to make a fiery serpent of bronze and set it up on a standard. Verse 91 tells us:
And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
Once again God provided a type of Christ for we read in John 3:14-151:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life."
The bronze serpent which was erected in about 1406 B.C. was around for over seven hundred years. The people kept it and as time went on, it became an integral part of their worship service - but in an idolatrous manner, as we read in 2 Kings 18:41, speaking of King Hezekiah and his reforms in Judah:
He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.
The Asherah was a wooden symbol of a female deity, an idol, and Nehushtan is derived from the Hebrew word for "a piece of copper or bronze") and we read that God was pleased with Hezekiah for these actions (2 Kings 18:3-71):
3 And he did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. . . . 5 He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went he prospered.
Again we find that something God meant for good has been turned by disbelieving man into an object of shame, for this brazen serpent had become an object of idolatry and was probably supposed to possess, as a telesman or amulet, extraordinary virtues, so that incense was burnt before it which should have been burnt before the true God. Some commentators and linguists10 have supposed that the word is compounded of nachash, to divine, and tan, a serpent, so it signifies the divining serpent, and the Targum states that it was the people, not Hezekiah, that gave it this name. Clarke further notes that nachash signifies to view, eye attentively, observe, to search, inquire accurately, etc.; and hence is used to express divination, augury. But as a noun it signifies brass or copper, filth, verdigris, and also some sea animal (Amos 9:3; Job 26:13, and Isaiah 26:1) from which some claimed that it was frequently used for a serpent; and most probably for an animal of the genus Simia (Genesis 3:1).10
There are many lessons we can learn from the earthly ministry of Hezekiah. In 2 Kings 29:1-36 of the second book of Chronicles, we have an account of what this pious king did to restore the worship of God. He caused the priests and Levites to cleanse the holy house, which had been shut up by his father Ahaz, and had been polluted with filth of various kinds; and this cleansing required no less than sixteen days to accomplish it. As the passover, according to the law, must be celebrated the fourteenth of the first month, and the Levites could not get the temple cleansed before the sixteenth day, he published the passover for the fourteenth of the second month, and sent through all Judah and Israel to collect all the men that feared God, that the passover might be celebrated in a proper manner. The concourse was great, and the feast was celebrated with great magnificence. When the people returned to their respective cities and villages, they began to throw down the idol altars, statues, images, and groves, and even to abolish the high places; the consequence was that a spirit of piety began to revive in the land, and a general reformation took place.
We see how the character of this good king contrasts with the behaviour of the Israelites and particularly those who rebelled at Korah:
He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; 2. He clung to the Lord; 3. He was steady in his religion; he departed not from following the Lord; 4. He kept God's commandments. And what were the consequences? The Lord was with him and he prospered wherever he went. What a great lesson this has for believers today who seek revival and a joyful and prosperous Christian life - it begins at home in the hearts of each man and woman!
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