Numbers 16.1-5, 12: “Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all 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?’ When Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he said to Korah and all his company, ‘In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him; him whom he will choose he will cause to come near to him.’ . . . And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab; and they said, ‘We will not come up.’”
Aaron was God’s anointed priest (see Exodus 29.29; 40.15). The demands of Korah and his followers were an act of rebellion against “the Lord’s anointed.” The haftarah for this portion uses exactly this phrase to describe Saul, who would hold another one of Israel’s anointed positions, as king (1 Samuel 12.5).
The story of Korah and his followers shows, in bright symbolism, what happens when someone rejects the Lord’s Messiah. This refusal to accept the one whom God had chosen resulted in the death of the rebels. So too, the rejection of God’s Messiah will result in spiritual death. Verse 11 tells us that rebellion against the Lord’s anointed is in fact rebellion against God himself.
Because Korah and his followers were also priests, we may see in their rebellious actions a clear contrast of what will be the character of God’s anointed when he appears. We find a hint of this in the opening words of the parashah.
“Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men.”
The first word of the Parasha, ויקח (he took), is not followed by an object. In determining what it was that Korah took, most commentators follow the lead of Ibn Ezra and supply the word “men.” In context it seems to be the most fitting. However, Korah took more than just the men who followed him.
First of all, Korah took a presumptive spirit. He took to himself an attitude of self-importance that was in no way justified. This released a poison in his soul that prepared the way for what would follow. The Messiah, in contrast, “will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” (Isaiah 42.2-3). He will be “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11.29).
The second thing was that he took himself to a place outside of the grace of God. From that vantage point there are a plethora of seemingly reasonable excuses for doing whatever the individual wants to do. In spite of the clear instructions of God, in this wasteland the ways of death seem a better choice than those of life. The Messiah is “full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
Thirdly, Korah took a position of authority that was not his to take. He did the very thing that he accused Moses and Aaron of doing. “You take too much on yourselves. After all, the entire community is holy, every- one of them and the Lord is among them. So why do you lift yourselves up over the Lord’s assembly?” (verse 3) And the truth was that God himself was the one who gave them their positions of authority. He even had to get angry with Moses to get him to receive the assignment. The Messiah does indeed have all authority, given to him by God and not usurped (Daniel 7.14; Matthew 28.18).
The fourth thing Korah took was men. He led them astray, not by physical force but by an evil tongue. By enticing words he led them down into the same hole he was in. The Messiah also takes people, but quite the opposite from Korah, by his obedience he delivers them from the pit (Ephesians 4.8-10; Hebrews 2.14-15).
Fifth and last, Korah took himself and his family to destruction. Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailor that if he put his trust in Jesus, he and his household would be saved (Acts 16.31). He was expressing the very clear truth that our first and foremost realm of influence is our families. The consequences of our actions, for good or for evil, impact those closest to us. Tragically, for the family of Korah, his rebellion brought about their doom. [ES]
Numbers 16.41-50: “But on the morrow all the congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord.’ And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting; and behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.’ And they fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation, and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly; and behold, the plague had already begun among the people; and he put on the incense, and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped. Now those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.”
While the High Priest is often a symbol for the coming Messiah, this story presents us with something quite new. Here we see Aaron saving his people by placing himself physically in the place of danger. As the plague sweeps across the gathered crowd of rebels, Aaron stands, as it were, between where the last one has fallen and the next one must fall. It is like he is saying, “God, if you strike another one, it must be me.” In verses 46 and 47 this act is called “making atonement.” This is a most dramatic illustration of the meaning of intercession, and it is precisely what the Messiah has done in his act of atoning for our sins.
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53.5-6, 12) [BSI/rp]
Numbers 17.6-8: “Moses spoke to the people of Israel; and all their leaders gave him rods, one for each leader, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses deposited the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. And on the morrow Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds, and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.”
We have already noted that Aaron, in his capacity as High Priest, is a type for the Messiah to come. In this matter of attempted rebellion by some of the leaders, the authority of the anointed High Priest is confirmed by a miracle. So to, when the Messiah came, his authority was confirmed again and again by miracles that he did.
The flowering of the High Priest’s rod has been seen as a symbol of resurrection from the dead. As Aaron is a type of the Messiah, this is an allusion to the resurrection of the Messiah. [BSI/rp]
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11.14—12.22