Loyally Submit to Godly Authority
“Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King.”—Isaiah 33:22.
1. What factors made ancient Israel unique among nations?
IN 1513 B.C.E., the nation of Israel came into existence. At that time, it had no capital city, no homeland, and no visible king. Its subjects were former slaves. However, that new nation was unique in yet another way. Jehovah God was its invisible Judge, Statute-giver, and King. (Exodus 19:5, 6; Isaiah 33:22) No other nation could make that claim!
2. What question arises regarding the way Israel was organized, and why is the answer of importance to us?
2 Since Jehovah is a God of order, as well as a God of peace, we would expect that any nation he ruled would be well organized. (1 Corinthians 14:33) That certainly was the case with Israel. But how could an earthly, visible organization be directed by an invisible God? We do well to consider the way Jehovah governed that ancient nation, noting in particular how his dealings with Israel highlight the importance of loyally submitting to godly authority.
How Ancient Israel Was Governed
3. What practical arrangements did Jehovah make for the guidance of his people?
3 Although Jehovah was Israel’s invisible King, he appointed faithful men as his visible representatives. There were chieftains, heads of paternal houses, and older men to serve the people as counselors and judges. (Exodus 18:25, 26; Deuteronomy 1:15) However, we must not conclude that without divine guidance those responsible men could somehow judge matters with flawless discernment and understanding. They were not perfect, and they could not read the hearts of their fellow worshipers. Still, God-fearing judges could give their fellow believers helpful counsel because it was based on Jehovah’s Law.—Deuteronomy 19:15; Psalm 119:97-100.
4. What tendencies were Israel’s faithful judges anxious to avoid, and why?
4 There was more to being a judge than knowing the Law, however. Being imperfect, the older men had to be alert to curb any of their own wayward tendencies—such as selfishness, partiality, and greed—that might pervert their judgment. Moses told them: “You must not be partial in judgment. You should hear the little one the same as the great one. You must not become frightened because of a man, for the judgment belongs to God.” Yes, Israel’s judges were judging for God. What an awe-inspiring privilege that was!—Deuteronomy 1:16, 17.
5. In addition to setting up judges, what other provisions did Jehovah make to care for his people?
5 Jehovah made other provisions to care for the spiritual needs of his people. Even before they arrived in the Promised Land, he commanded them to build the tabernacle, the center of true worship. He also set up a priesthood to teach the Law, to offer animal sacrifices, and to burn the morning and evening incense. God installed Moses’ older brother, Aaron, as Israel’s first high priest and appointed Aaron’s sons to assist their father with his duties.—Exodus 28:1; Numbers 3:10; 2 Chronicles 13:10, 11.
6, 7. (a) What was the relationship between the priests and the nonpriestly Levites? (b) What lesson can we draw from the fact that the Levites performed a variety of tasks? (Colossians 3:23)
6 Caring for the spiritual needs of several million people was an enormous task, and the priests were relatively few in number. So provision was made for them to be assisted by other members of the tribe of Levi. Jehovah told Moses: “You must give the Levites to Aaron and his sons. They are given ones, given to him from the sons of Israel.”—Numbers 3:9, 39.
7 The Levites were well organized. They were divided according to the three families—the Gershonites, the Kohathites, and the Merarites—each with an assignment of work to do. (Numbers 3:14-17, 23-37) Some assignments may have seemed more important than others, but all were essential. The work of the Kohathite Levites brought them into close proximity with the sacred ark of the covenant and the furnishings of the tabernacle. However, every Levite, whether a Kohathite or not, enjoyed marvelous privileges. (Numbers 1:51, 53) Sadly, some did not appreciate their privileges. Rather than loyally submitting to godly authority, they became dissatisfied and gave in to pride, ambition, and jealousy. A Levite named Korah was of that number.
“Must You Men Also Try to Secure the Priesthood?”
8. (a) Who was Korah? (b) What might have caused Korah to begin viewing the priests from a purely human standpoint?
8 Korah was not the head of the paternal house of Levi, nor was he the head of the families of the Kohathites. (Numbers 3:30, 32) Nevertheless, he was a respected chieftain in Israel. Korah’s duties might have brought him into close association with Aaron and his sons. (Numbers 4:18, 19) Seeing firsthand the imperfections of these men, Korah might have reasoned: ‘These priests are decidedly imperfect, yet I am expected to be in subjection to them! Not long ago Aaron made a golden calf. Worshiping that calf caused our people to fall into idolatry. Now Aaron, Moses’ brother, is serving as high priest! What favoritism! And what of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu? Why, they showed such gross disrespect for their privileges of service that Jehovah had to put them to death!’* (Exodus 32:1-5; Leviticus 10:1, 2) Whatever Korah’s reasoning might have been, it is clear that he began to view the priesthood from a human standpoint. That led to his rebellion against Moses and Aaron and, ultimately, against Jehovah.—1 Samuel 15:23; James 1:14, 15.
9, 10. What accusation did Korah and his fellow rebels make against Moses, and why should they have known better?
9 Being a man of influence, it was not difficult for Korah to rally to himself others of like mind. He, along with Dathan and Abiram, found 250 sympathizers—all chieftains of the assembly. Together they approached Moses and Aaron and said: “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?”—Numbers 16:1-3.
10 The rebels should have known better than to challenge Moses’ authority. Not long before, Aaron and Miriam had done just that. Why, they had even used reasoning similar to that of Korah! According to Numbers 12:1, 2, they asked: “Is it just by Moses alone that Jehovah has spoken? Is it not by us also that he has spoken?” Jehovah was listening. He commanded Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to assemble at the entrance of the tent of meeting so that He could indicate his choice of leader. Then, in unambiguous terms Jehovah said: “If there came to be a prophet of yours for Jehovah, it would be in a vision I would make myself known to him. In a dream I would speak to him. Not so my servant Moses! He is being entrusted with all my house.” Following that, Jehovah temporarily struck Miriam with leprosy.—Numbers 12:4-7, 10.
11. How did Moses deal with the situation involving Korah?
11 Korah and those who sided with him must have been aware of that incident. Their rebellion was inexcusable. Still, Moses tried patiently to reason with them. He urged them to be more appreciative of their privileges, saying: “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?” No, it was not “a little thing”! The Levites already had so much. What more could they desire? Moses’ further words exposed the reasonings of their heart: “Must you men also try to secure the priesthood?”* (Numbers 12:3; 16:9, 10) How, though, did Jehovah react to this rebellion against godly authority?
Israel’s Judge Intervenes
12. On what did Israel’s continued good relationship with God depend?
12 When Jehovah gave the Law to Israel, he told the people that if they were obedient, they would become “a holy nation” and that the nation could remain holy as long as they accepted Jehovah’s arrangement. (Exodus 19:5, 6) Now, with an open rebellion afoot, it was time for Israel’s Judge and Statute-giver to intervene! Moses said to Korah: “You and all your assembly, be present before Jehovah, you and they and Aaron, tomorrow. And take each one his fire holder, and you men must put incense upon them and present each one his fire holder before Jehovah, two hundred and fifty fire holders, and you and Aaron each his fire holder.”—Numbers 16:16, 17.
13. (a) Why was it presumptuous on the part of the rebels to offer incense before Jehovah? (b) How did Jehovah deal with the rebels?
13 According to God’s Law, only the priests could offer incense. The very idea of a nonpriestly Levite offering incense before Jehovah should have shaken those rebels to their senses. (Exodus 30:7; Numbers 4:16) Not so Korah and his supporters! The next day he “got all the assembly together against [Moses and Aaron] at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” The record tells us: “Jehovah now spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘Separate yourselves from the midst of this assembly, that I may exterminate them in an instant.’” But Moses and Aaron pleaded for the lives of the people to be spared. Jehovah consented to their pleas. As for Korah and his crowd, “a fire came out from Jehovah and proceeded to consume the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.”—Numbers 16:19-22, 35.*
14. Why did Jehovah take firm action against the assembly of Israel?
14 Strangely enough, the Israelites who saw how Jehovah dealt with the rebels still did not learn their lesson. “The next day the whole assembly of the sons of Israel began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘You men, you have put Jehovah’s people to death.’” The Israelites were taking the side of the conspirators! Finally, Jehovah’s patience came to an end. No one—not even Moses or Aaron—could intercede for the people now. Jehovah caused a scourge to afflict the disobedient ones, “and those dead from the scourge amounted to fourteen thousand seven hundred, aside from those dead on account of Korah.”—Numbers 16:41-49.
15. (a) For what reasons should the Israelites have accepted without hesitation the leadership of Moses and Aaron? (b) What has this account taught you about Jehovah?
15 It was so unnecessary for all those people to lose their lives. If only they had reasoned matters out. They could have asked themselves such questions as: ‘Who appeared before Pharaoh at the risk of their lives? Who demanded that the Israelites be set free? Who alone was invited to ascend Mount Horeb after Israel’s deliverance to speak face-to-face with God’s angel?’ Surely the remarkable record of Moses and Aaron gave proof of their loyalty to Jehovah and their love for the people. (Exodus 10:28; 19:24; 24:12-15) Jehovah took no pleasure in putting the rebels to death. Still, when it became evident that the people were going to persist in their rebellion, he took decisive action. (Ezekiel 33:11) All of this is of great significance to us today. Why?
Identifying the Channel Today
16. (a) What evidence should have convinced first-century Jews that Jesus was Jehovah’s representative? (b) Why did Jehovah replace the Levitical priesthood, and with what?
16 Today, there is a new “nation” that has Jehovah as its invisible Judge, its Statute-giver, and its King. (Matthew 21:43) That “nation” came into existence in the first century C.E. By that time, the tabernacle of Moses’ day had been replaced with a beautiful temple in Jerusalem, where Levites were still officiating. (Luke 1:5, 8, 9) However, in the year 29 C.E., another temple, a spiritual one, came into existence, with Jesus Christ as High Priest. (Hebrews 9:9, 11) The question of godly authority arose once more. Who was Jehovah going to use to lead this new “nation”? Jesus proved himself to be unconditionally loyal to God. He loved the people. He also performed many marvelous signs. However, like their stiff-necked ancestors, the majority of the Levites refused to accept Jesus. (Matthew 26:63-68; Acts 4:5, 6, 18; 5:17) Finally, Jehovah replaced the Levitical priesthood with a very different one—a royal priesthood. That royal priesthood continues down to this day.
17. (a) What group makes up the royal priesthood today? (b) How does Jehovah use the royal priesthood?
17 Who make up this royal priesthood today? The apostle Peter answers that question in his first inspired letter. To anointed members of the body of Christ, Peter wrote: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) From these words it is clear that, as a group, the anointed footstep followers of Jesus make up this “royal priesthood,” which Peter also called “a holy nation.” They constitute the channel that Jehovah uses to provide his people with instruction and spiritual direction.—Matthew 24:45-47.
18. What connection is there between appointed elders and the royal priesthood?
18 Representing the royal priesthood are appointed elders, who serve in positions of responsibility in congregations of Jehovah’s people around the earth. These men deserve our respect and wholehearted support, whether they are of the anointed or not. Why? Because, through his holy spirit, Jehovah has appointed the older men to their positions. (Hebrews 13:7, 17) How can that be?
19. In what way are elders appointed by holy spirit?
19 These older men meet the requirements that are set out in God’s Word, which is a product of God’s spirit. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) Hence, their appointment can be said to be by holy spirit. (Acts 20:28) The older men, or elders, must be thoroughly familiar with God’s Word. Like the Supreme Judge who appointed them, the elders also must hate anything that resembles partiality in judgment.—Deuteronomy 10:17, 18.
20. What do you appreciate about hardworking elders?
20 Rather than challenge their authority, we truly appreciate our hardworking elders! Their record of faithful service, often over many decades, inspires our trust. They faithfully prepare for and conduct congregation meetings, work side by side with us in preaching the “good news of the Kingdom,” and provide Scriptural advice when we need it. (Matthew 24:14; Hebrews 10:23, 25; 1 Peter 5:2) They visit us when we are sick and comfort us when we mourn. They loyally and unselfishly support Kingdom interests. Jehovah’s spirit is upon them; they have his approval.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
21. Of what must the elders be conscious, and why?
21 Of course, the older men are not perfect. Mindful of their limitations, they do not try to lord it over the flock, “God’s inheritance.” Rather, they consider themselves ‘fellow workers for the joy of their brothers.’ (1 Peter 5:3; 2 Corinthians 1:24) Humble, hardworking elders love Jehovah, and they know that the closer they come to imitating him, the more good they will be able to do in the congregation. With this in mind, they constantly strive to cultivate such godly qualities as love, compassion, and patience.
22. How has reviewing the account of Korah strengthened your faith in Jehovah’s visible organization?
22 How happy we are to have Jehovah as our invisible Ruler, Jesus Christ as our High Priest, members of the anointed royal priesthood as our teachers, and faithful Christian older men as our counselors! Although no organization directed by humans can be perfect, we are delighted to be able to serve God in the company of faithful fellow believers, who gladly submit to godly authority!
Aaron’s other two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were exemplary in their service to Jehovah.—Leviticus 10:6.
Korah’s fellow conspirators, Dathan and Abiram, were Reubenites. As such, they apparently did not covet the priesthood. In their case, they resented Moses’ leadership and the fact that up to that time, their expectation of reaching the Promised Land had not been fulfilled.—Numbers 16:12-14.
In patriarchal times, each family head represented his wife and children before God, even offering sacrifices in their behalf. (Genesis 8:20; 46:1; Job 1:5) However, when the Law was instituted, Jehovah appointed male members of Aaron’s family as priests through whom sacrifices should be offered. The 250 rebels were apparently not willing to cooperate with this adjustment in procedure.
What Have You Learned?
• What loving provisions did Jehovah make to care for the Israelites?
• Why was Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron inexcusable?
• What lesson is there for us in the way Jehovah dealt with the rebels?
• How can we show that we appreciate Jehovah’s arrangements today?
[Picture on page 9]
Do you consider any assignment in Jehovah’s service a privilege?
[Picture on page 10]
“Why, then, should you lift yourselves up above the congregation of Jehovah?”
[Picture on page 13]
Appointed elders represent the royal priesthood