Korach – Korah

Parasha KORACH – by Raphael ben Levi

Num.16:1 to 18: 32   1Sam. 11:1-14;  Acts 5: 1-11

The rebellion of Korach is the main theme of this week’s parsha and was the most devastating challenge to Moses’ leadership. When things couldn’t get worse for Moses they just did and followed on the tail of the sin of the meraglim (spies, emissaries). Their unbelief led to the condemnation of the generation who left Egypt with their exclusion from entering Canaan. It was in this climate of unrest, discontent and shattered hopes that provided the stage for Korach to go one step further and assemble a group of leaders to  challenge the leadership of Moses and Aaron. As a point of interest, it is noteworthy to see how unbelief invariably leads to rebellion – a most serious state of affairs. It occurred in the Garden of Eden and many times thereafter – much later as the prophet Samual spoke against King Saul in his rebellion against the Word of God – “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams 23  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (I Sam 15)

And so, the parasha opens with this sad dialogue:

“16 Sometime later, a discontented contingent challenged Moses. Korah (Izhar’s son, Kohath’s grandson, and Levi’s great-grandson) together with the Reubenites Dathan and Abiram (Eliab’s sons) and On (Peleth’s son) gathered another 250 Israelite men, all of them respectable members of the community, some even chosen leaders, and confronted Moses.

Korah and His Men (to Moses and Aaron): You’ve taken this leadership way too far. We are all holy; indeed each individual is holy to our God. The Eternal One is present among the entire congregation. How can you presume to be better than any of us, the Eternal’s chosen community?” (16:1-3 VOICE) 

Something very ugly was brewing that was rooted in a spirit of rebellion.

Since almost the entire parasha is devoted to the incident concerning Korah, the very fact of the length of the narrative him immediately signals a red light – beware of something that God hates above anything else because it invariably results in disastrous consequences: Rebellion. This can be traced as far back from Lucifer’s rebellion against God, to the Garden of Eden and through time to the present,  packaged in multiple different disguises. And lest we point fingers quickly at others let’s not forget how rebellion has reached epidemic proportions within society and even within the Church today. Godly principles have been abandoned and replaced with ones that are politically correct over and above those that are biblically correct. 

A key message contained in this episode informs us about the manner in which we as believers are called to respond to betrayal. To love our enemy when they are from those we trust is excruciatingly painful and sometimes leaves scars that can remain. But, Yeshua’s message regarding forgiveness is uncompromising because bitterness, offences and grudges keep one bound in chains. Maybe God is challenging you to forgive another person who has betrayed you – someone you trusted, or a person who simply stripped you of everything you cherished in life?

Rebellion is a stark betrayal and a bitter pill. Scripture compares it to the sin of witchcraft (1Sam 15:23). The book of Jude refers to Korah’s rebellion also in the strongest terms describing them as “…waterless clouds carried along by the winds; trees without fruit even in autumn, and doubly dead because they have been uprooted;” (v12). 

It was an act directly against God via Moses who was His humble servant and mouthpiece. 

Betrayal is the most agonising when experienced from those you thought were closest to you. Moses could have defended himself against the complaints of His people but instead “…when (he) heard their complaint, he collapsed to the ground, (wept before the Lord) again hoping to divert God’s anger.” (Ch.16:4) Something very precious about the character of Moses is revealed here. Even now Moses’ prime concern was their welfare above his own. 

Yeshua understood this principle well; it is a sign of a great leader and of true godliness. And so He warned His disciples from early in His ministry how to respond to these kinds of situations. “…blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you or tell lies about you on My account. But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad. Remember that God’s prophets have been persecuted in the past. And know that in heaven, you have a great reward.”  Matt. 5:11-12 Before we protest that this is an impossibility, remember that Yeshua proved it Himself as an example to every person and a model to live by.

Moses is an incredible example for us in this way and an excellent model for us to pursue, but if we want to find a perfect model we can do no better than following in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour, Yeshua.

An argument for the sake of Heaven is a Jewish phrase meaning speaking out for truth. When we stand up for Yeshua, we stand for One who is the “Way the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) For the sake of Heaven we embrace the “fellowship of His sufferings” which is to stand against the tide of the world’s standards and ungodly opinions even though it may not be fashionable. 

An argument not for the sake of Heaven is about power not truth. This is what Korah and his gathering of leaders who opposed Moses were motivated by. The difference is immense and has eternal implications for those who engage in it.  

One famous modern rabbi put it this way: “If I argue for the sake of truth, then if I win, I win. But if I lose, I also win, because being defeated by the truth is the only defeat that is also a victory. I am enlarged. I learn something I did not know before.

In a contest for power, if I lose, I lose. But if I win, I also lose, because in diminishing my opponents I have diminished myself.” The only thing achieved by deliberately sacrificing truth for the pursuit of power is deception and destruction in the same manner as  Korah.

The confrontation that Moses faced with Korah was the first and only time in his life, where his leadership hinged on a miracle perhaps little different to the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. He challenged Korah with the words, “By this you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all these things, that they were not of my own devising: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.” (Num.16:28–30) This  was a risky statement to make except that it was a prophetic word directly from the Spirit of God.

Incredibly, this did not put to closure the conflict but rather exacerbated it. The Israelites now grumbled against Moses and Aaron accusing them of being heavy-handed. (17:6)  This time, the dispute was resolved differently. Each of the tribes were told to take a staff and write their name on it, and place them in the Tabernacle. Only one of the staffs would sprout, that confirmed whom God had chosen. The next morning they discovered that only Aaron’s staff had budded, blossomed, and produced almonds.(Num.17:16–24).

This action was rich in symbolism and immediately put an end to the dispute. As we are reminded at Pesach, the almond is the first tree to blossom, its pinkish-white flowers signalling the end of winter and the emergence of new life. In Jewish tradition, the almond flowers recalled the gold flowers on the Menorah (Ex.25:31; 37:17), lit daily by Aaron in the Holy Place within the tabernacle. We know that the Hebrew word ‘tzitz,’ used here to mean “blossom,” recalls the tzitz, the “frontlet” of pure gold worn as part of Aaron’s turban, on which were inscribed the words “Holy to the Lord” (Ex.28:36). The sages say that the sprouting almond branch represented a symbol of life, light, holiness, and the watchful presence of God. But, for believers, the significance goes far deeper.

Korah fell for one of Satan’s favourite deceptions, half truths, one of his most noteworthy trade marks. The Israelites were holy unto God and as a Levite, Korah had been set apart for service in the Tabernacle, the highest privilege among the different Levitical clans. If that was not enough, they were now wanting to take over the entire rulership of Israel and contested God’s commissioning of Moses.   

Notwithstanding, the next morning Korah and those who stood with him conducted their priestly duties as though nothing had happened and brought their incense offering at the entrance to the Tabernacle alongside Moses. It is amazing how their anger and pride fuelling their rebellion, blinded them to believing that their religious actions would actually camouflage their false spirituality from the eyes of God.

Korah’s apostasy had reached a climax and Moses made a terrifying announcement: “29 If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, (Heb: Sheol,) then you will understand that these men have rejected the Lord.” (Num.16:29–30)

Even as Moses was speaking the earth opened up, “…and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly. ”

Nothing like this had ever happened before particularly those who served as priests in the Tabernacle. Not surprisingly, many within the Israelite camp panicked rallied against Moses, now accusing him of being a murderer of good men! (16:41) and for this sin they were judged harshly by God with a plague. Despite all of these things, Moses displayed a heart of forgiveness without harbouring a grudge, and directed Aaron to pray to God for mercy, and the plague was stopped – but only after 14,700 had already died: (ch.16:45-50)

Moses now placed the staff of each tribal chief, including Aaron’s staff who was from the tribe of Levi, in the Tabernacle for the purpose to put an end to the murmurings of the Israelites: “ …the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and get from them a rod from each father’s house, all their leaders according to their fathers’ houses—twelve rods. Write each man’s name on his rod. 3 And you shall write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi. For there shall be one rod for the head of each father’s house. 4 Then you shall place them in the tabernacle of meeting before the Testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And it shall be that the rod of the man whom I choose will blossom; thus I will rid Myself of the complaints of the children of Israel, which they make against you.” (ch. 27: 1-5)

Despite everything, there remained a godly element among Korah’s descendants who became psalmists (Ps.42-40; 84-95; 87-88) and served God in the Temple, of whom the prophet Samuel was among their descendants which provides us with a warning against typecasting. By God’s mercy, we have been spared the judgement of those gone before us who refused to walk in the wa