Life in God's Chosen: Numbers 16-17
Life in God’s Chosen
Background: In the first 12 chapters of Exodus God chose Moses and Aaron to lead the Israelite people out from bondage to the Egyptians and to the land of promise. In spite of God’s gracious working to redeem his people from slavery and provide for them in the wilderness, the people were constantly rebelling against God and his leaders. In the last rebellion series the people complained about food, Moses complained about the people, Moses brother and sister complained about him, then all the people rejected God’s gift of the Promised Land. After a single chapter interlude where we were reminded of God’s covenant promises and the fickleness of our own hearts, we enter yet another series of rebellions by the people against God and his chosen leadership.
Main Point: Rejection of God’s chosen leadership leads to death, while the promise of life is found in God’s chosen mediator.
Outline: So our outline for today will examine 1st the rejection of God’s chosen leaders leading to death, 2nd grumbling against God’s judgment leads to death, and 3rd God’s chosen mediator brings the promise of life.
1. Rejection of God’s Chosen Leaders leads to death (16:1-40)
Interwoven story of two rebellions from the south campers (1-2) The rebels introduced include: Korah a Kohathite Levi, which means he was part of the people tasked to carry the holy furniture of the tabernacle. So Aaron and his sons were the Levites tasked with the priesthood, and the Kohathites would have the second position of the Levite authority within their tribe since God had tasked them with such an important job. After Korah is Dathan & Abiram who were camped in close vicinity to the Kohathites on the south side of the tabernacle. Reuben was one of the most powerful and large tribes, and was the leading tribe on the south side of the tabernacle. Then there is a 4th rebel listed in v. 1 that is not described any further in the text, On who was also a Reubenite but from a different family line then Dathan & Abiram. Finally with the listed ringleaders of the rebellion another “250 chiefs from the congregation” came with the rebels. It appears Korah and his crew had been spreading dissent amongst all the tribes and had amassed a powerful contingent of leaders from the people to challenge Moses & Aaron & of course more importantly Yahweh who had appointed Aaron and Moses.
Korah rejects God’s chosen religious authority (3)
Moses entrusts decision to LORD & defines the issue (4-11) Moses begins by prostrating himself before the LORD and communicating the LORD will decide for himself who is supposed to lead. He then defends Aaron’s role as appointed by God and calls out Korah for his power grab. Korah was already part of God’s chosen people, Israel. Further he was part of God’s chosen son among the people, Levi. Further Korah was part of the Kohathites who were chosen to serve God and the people in a special way that most would never get to experience. Yet Korah was not content with the position God had called him too and wanted the position above him on the authority chain. This is by no means an unusual situation. Many people are wired in such a way that they want to better their position. In fact in many situations it is not only normal but desired for a person to desire an increase of authority. However when it swings in the direction of coveting what another person has or jealousy over what God has called one person to another it has moved into sin. There have been times where I have experienced jealousy over the growth that God has given to another church planter or pastor over the years. But few things have given more peace to my oft-anxious heart than just committing to where God has placed me and fully expecting for him to keep me here the rest of my life. That doesn’t mean God never calls people to new things or to wrestle through significant changes or even that he might do that to me. But the warning we see in this text is against rebelling against what God has clearly ordained.
Dathan & Abiram reject God’s chosen civil authority (12-14) While Korah’s rebellion was a power grab for the priesthood, it seems that Dathan & Abiram were more interested in Moses’s civil authority. In fact to press their claim, they did not respond to Moses summons. Further they shift the blame from the rebellion of the people including their kinsman who was one of the ten spies that brought a bad report of the land. Instead they blame Moses for all the rebellion they have partaken in.
God’s chosen Authority put to the test (15-19) Moses was angry with the accusations they made toward him, but he took his anger to the LORD claiming his innocence of the charges to Yahweh. So Moses tells Korah and the 250 with him to bring out their censers in the morning to burn incense before the LORD and God will show who he has chosen. This should especially create a holy fear in the hearts of the listeners, because if you recall even Aaron’s own children who were authorized to offer incense before the LORD were destroyed for offering a type of incense that was not authorized by Yahweh. (Lev 10) But Korah and his companions were confident in their rebellion against Moses and Aaron because the next day they assembled before the LORD bringing their offering.
God’s chosen servants choose intercession not vindication (20-22) When Yahweh appears the next day, he tells Moses and Aaron to move away from the rebellious congregation, “that I may consume them in a moment.” Let’s be honest we often do not respond with the grace and kindness Moses and Aaron did. Moses and Aaron could have just stepped back and let God vindicate his choices, but they interceded on behalf of the congregation, knowing this was not from all the people and recognizing surely their own recent failures before the LORD.
God confirms his chosen leaders by judging the rebels (23-35) The people are warned to stay away “from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” Then Moses prophetical declares as a test of his authority how the men and their families would be judged, swallowed up by the ground. Moses went out to the tents of Dathan & Abiram to declare the coming judgment and warn those who were close to them. So all those who chose to identify with the rebels were destroyed, while those who were wise enough to heed the warning and flee the tents of the rebels would have been rescued. Further all the rebels offering incense at the tabernacle were consumed in similar fashion to Nadab and Abihu who offered strange fire before the LORD. So Yahweh confirms Moses by fulfilling his prophetic words before the people, and he confirms Aaron by his incense being the only one that remains.
Reminder not to reject God’s chosen leadership (36-40) Yahweh tells Moses to pickup the 250 censers that have been made holy through the fires of judgment and have Eleazar oversee the safe disposal of holy ashes and the making of them into a cover for the altar that reminded the people of Korah’s rebellion, so that hopefully it would not be repeated.
So the rejection of God’s chosen leaders leads to death &
2. Grumbling against God’s Judgment leads to death (16:41-50)
Rebellion & Judgment Affects Others (41-42a) Grumbling!
God’s chosen servants choose reconciliation not vindication (42b-48)
Yahweh still judges rebellion (49-50)
So grumbling against God’s judgment also leads to death, but
3. God’s Chosen Mediator brings the Promise of Life (read 17:1-13)
A sign to declare God’s chosen Mediator (1-11) The staffs of 12 tribes and the tribe of Levi were placed before the Ark in the inner Holy of Holies. The staff of a person was representative of their authority and it was an identifying marker. Further their names were inscribed on the staff to make sure everyone knew whose was whose. The placement of the staff in the inner room represented who was able to enter the Most Holy Place on behalf of the people and only Aaron’s staff was chosen. Clearly Aaron represents God to the people and he mediated their access to Yahweh.
A sign to end grumbling leads to more wrong thinking (5, 10, 12-13) Twice in this passage Yahweh says that this sign was to end the grumbling! Clearly Yahweh is not pleased with the grumbling against his chosen leaders. However the result of the sign is the people fear that everyone is going to die. But of course that is missing the point. God has provided a mediator in Aaron and his sons. They will not die when they come near as long as they obey the structures and leaders Yahweh has placed over them.
A sign of the Tree of Life & New Mediator (8) The symbolism of the staff becoming a tree full of life should not be missed. Aarons’ staff is now blooming and fruitful. In other words the mediation ministry of Aaron was one that would give life to Israel. Aaron stands in the gap between the tree of life in the Garden and the tree of life in the New Jerusalem. He and his sons are mediators of the sins of God’s people but his blooming staff ultimately points to another dead tree that bloomed with life. Jesus hung on a wooden tree outside the camp. It was a tree of death and judgment, but from that tree bloomed amazing fruitfulness. Jesus became the firstfruit of all who die. He identified with the sins of rebellious people, in fact he took the judgment they deserved for that sin. But his cross bloomed into resurrection life that goes on for eternity. You see if you identify with Korah and the rebels you will be swallowed up by the earth below you into everlasting death. But if you look to the perfect fruitful Mediator Jesus Christ who died for your sins and raised to give you life, then you will have life forevermore with him.
Points of Application
Rejecting God’s chosen leaders is ultimately rejecting him.
Grumbling about God’s judgment on other is ultimately rejecting him.
Though we are all rebels we are given Great Hope because God has chosen a fruitful Mediator named Jesus Christ! That is the hope we celebrate and rest in each week at the Lord’s table.