Here we go: rebellion against authority brings death. This is the clear message of the narrative in Numbers 16 as we continue through the whole Bible. God has anointed His workers, and one dare not get in the way of that!
Except that is not the whole of the passage. It is true that there are several rebellions against the Moses and, by extension, God, in this chapter. Yes, indeed, we find people struck down for these rebellions. Or, in the case of Korah, we see the ground open up and swallow the rebels.
The key part of this passage, though, is none of those. We can already count the Israelites in this portion of the narrative as folks not to be like. They have accepted the negative report of the spies and turned their back on the Promised Land. Why would we think any of this is recorded to tell us to not be like the Israelites?
Instead, this passage serves an even greater example for us to learn from. It’s found in Numbers 16:46-48. At this point in the passage, there is a plague upon the people, and Moses sends Aaron to make atonement for the people before God. Verse 48’s “he took his stand between the dead and the living” gives us the image of Aaron standing at the line between where the plague has killed and where the plague is going.
And the plague stops. What do we take from this?
First, we cannot miss who takes the stand to end the plague: it is the very men who are being rebelled against. The next time you, the leader, start thinking that people need struck down for opposing you, you need to reread this. God’s leaders take their stand to preserve people for grace. That stand comes from the very leader that the rebellion is against.
Second, we cannot miss who brings the plague: Moses never asks for it. God brings the judgment in His own way. That is His business, and not ours. Why? Because we have to be aware of the possibility that the leadership we exhibit is wrong. We have to acknowledge our own need for rebuke. If, in hindsight, we see God cleared the way for our leadership, then that is another matter.
Third, we cannot miss the shadow of Jesus falling across this passage. Ultimately, without making this eschatological, all people are reflected in the Israelites of the wilderness. We all have gone astray from God’s commands, and we all have rejected His promises at times. We rebel. We rebel against the rightful King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Yet who stands between the dead and the living? Jesus does. He stands there, above the cross and beyond the empty tomb, to make atonement and stop the plague of sin.
Do you see that? Do you see that ultimately, we are all rebels against God and that His Own Son died in our place to stop the plague? Catch that here. Grab hold of this truth for all eternity.
Today’s Nerd Note: There’s a relationship between Korah and the “sons of Korah” or the Korahites mentioned frequently in the Psalms.
Don’t lose this: the worst traitors and rebels can become the greatest worshipers of the Lord God Almighty. So there is hope for you. There’s even hope for me.