The Proud Rebel Korah
THE Levite Korah, a first cousin of Moses and Aaron, was privileged to see firsthand spectacular displays of Jehovah’s power and glory. He was there when the waters of the Red Sea parted, enabling the Israelites to cross on dry land. Then, along with the congregation of Israel, he lifted up his voice in song, praising Jehovah for having destroyed the Egyptian pursuer in the very same sea. From then on, Korah saw the marvelous way in which Jehovah God cared for his people in the wilderness, providing water, manna and meat for them. He also witnessed the vanquishing of the Amalekites who staged an unprovoked attack on Israel. This victory, too, was a proof of Jehovah’s care and protection.
From what he witnessed in the course of that year, Korah had enough evidence to know that Jehovah, though dealing mercifully with his people, would tolerate neither rebellion nor deliberate lawlessness. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu perished in a fire from Jehovah because they, likely while intoxicated, offered incense that had not been divinely prescribed. Miriam was temporarily struck with leprosy because she criticized her brother Moses regarding his marriage to a Cushite woman and challenged his unique position before Jehovah.—Lev. 10:1, 2; Num. 12:1-15.
On one occasion Korah himself had shared in executing Jehovah’s vengeance. After the Israelites became involved in calf worship at Mount Sinai, Moses called for a showdown, saying: “Who is on Jehovah’s side? To me!” Only the Levites, which would have included Korah, gathered themselves to Moses. In obedience to Moses’ direction, they passed through the camp of Israel and killed 3,000 idolaters with the sword.—Ex. 32:26-28.
SEEDS OF DISCONTENT GROW
However, whatever zeal for righteousness Korah may have displayed on that occasion did not continue. It appears that unfavorable circumstances proved too much of a test for him. He was not content with his lot and proudly wanted to seize a position to which he was not entitled. What were the circumstances under which Korah manifested a proud, rebellious spirit?
When the Israelites left Egypt, they had before them the grand prospect of soon entering the Promised Land. But that changed. Ten of the 12 spies sent into the land brought back unfavorable reports that terrified the Israelites. As a result, they began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, saying: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! And why is Jehovah bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” (Num. 14:2, 3) For their faithlessness, Jehovah sentenced them to remain in the wilderness, completing 40 years of wandering until all the registered men of war died. So, instead of enjoying an inheritance in the Promised Land, the Israelites had to put up with the hardships of a nomadic life in a bleak and rugged wilderness. How disappointing this must have been!
With the passing of time, discontent began to grow and to flourish among the Israelites. The influential Kohathite Korah, a man perhaps about 80 years of age, evidently got caught up in this spirit of discontent. In time he became a ringleader in a rebellion against the God-ordained authority of his cousins Moses and Aaron.
The Kohathite Levites encamped near the Reubenites. Consequently there may have been considerable interchange of thought between Korah and certain prominent men of the tribe of Reuben. Since Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob, some of these descendants of his may have resented Moses’ exercise of administrative authority over them. As for Korah, he was not content with serving merely as an assistant to the Aaronic priesthood.
Finally, Korah and the Reubenites Dathan, Abiram and On, along with 250 Israelite chieftains, congregated themselves against Moses and Aaron, saying: “That is enough of you, because the whole assembly are all of them holy and Jehovah is in their midst. Why, then, should you lift yourselves up above the congregation of Jehovah?”—Num. 16:1-3.
Thus, Korah disregarded the fact that Moses and Aaron had received their appointment from Jehovah, and that the holiness of the congregation depended on obedience to God’s law. It was not a holiness, a pureness or cleanness that they possessed inherently. Korah wrongly maintained that Moses and Aaron had arbitrarily seized a standing above a congregation of equals, wherein each member was holy.
MOSES GIVES REPROOF
How would it become clear to all that Korah and his supporters were wrong? Moses said: “In the morning Jehovah will make known who belongs to him and who is holy and who must come near to him, and whoever he may choose will come near to him. Do this: Take fire holders for yourselves, Korah and his entire assembly, and put fire in them and place incense upon them before Jehovah tomorrow, and it must occur that the man whom Jehovah will choose, he is the holy one.”—Num. 16:5-7.
There was not to be a long period for the settlement of the issue that had been raised. The very next morning, Jehovah would reveal whom he had chosen to render priestly service to him. As a Kohathite Levite, Korah had not been authorized to offer incense as a priest. For him to present himself before Jehovah to offer incense would signify that he felt that he had the right to perform priestly services. Hence, in telling Korah and his company to make their appearance with fire holders, Moses invited them to act in harmony with their personal desire to seize priestly functions.
Nevertheless, he made it clear to Korah and his rebellious associates that their contention was wrong, stating: “Is it such a little thing for you men that the God of Israel has separated you men from the assembly of Israel to present you to himself to carry on the service of Jehovah’s tabernacle and to stand before the assembly to minister to them, and that he should bring you and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you near? So must you men also try to secure the priesthood? For that reason you and all your assembly who are gathering together are against Jehovah. As for Aaron, what is he that you men should murmur against him?”—Num. 16:9-11.
This reproof should have caused Korah and his supporters to reconsider their position. Korah along with the other Levites had been highly privileged in being separated from among their fellow Israelites to serve at the sanctuary. That was no little, insignificant thing. So Moses was now demonstrating how unappreciative Korah was of the honor and dignity that Jehovah had conferred on the Levites. In rebelling against Jehovah’s arrangement, Korah and his supporters were setting themselves in opposition to the Most High. What they were doing had no justification. Aaron had not set himself up as high priest. He was such by God’s appointment.
KORAH PERISHES BUT NOT HIS SONS
Moses’ words, however, fell on deaf ears. The next morning Korah with 250 chieftains boldly took their station before the tabernacle entrance in the courtyard, there to offer incense. Jehovah then forcefully demonstrated that only men of the house of Aaron should serve as priests. A fire from Jehovah consumed Korah and the 250 with him.—Num. 16:35; 26:10.
The sons of Korah did not join their father in this rebellion. They were happy and content to serve as assistants to the priests and, therefore, continued living. (Num. 26:9, 11) Among their descendants were men who wrote songs of praise that became part of the inspired Scriptures. One of these songs or psalms gratefully acknowledges: “A day in your courtyards is better than a thousand elsewhere. I have chosen to stand at the threshold in the house of my God rather than to move around in the tents of wickedness. For Jehovah God is a sun and a shield; favor and glory are what he gives. Jehovah himself will not hold back anything good from those walking in faultlessness.”—Ps. 84:10, 11.
Truly, we do well to imitate the example of the sons of Korah, being always appreciative of what Jehovah God has given us. As for Korah himself, he stands as a warning example to us. When the prospects appear gloomy, we must be careful that pride does not get the better of us. Humbly, we should submit to whatever Jehovah God may permit us to experience, not bristling against it. Never should we allow times of adversity to cause us to become complainers about our lot in life and to scheme to seize what is not rightfully ours. If we remember that humbly serving God is truly worth while, regardless of what the circumstances may be, we can avoid the disastrous course of Korah and remain divinely approved as did his sons.