Life Lessons on What Not to Do
The following was taken from a sermon delivered by Jacob Abshire on April 15, 2009. It was preached at Christian Tabernacle’s The Journey, a Wednesday Night Bible Study. It was part of a series on the bad attitudes that the Isrealites expressed while in the wilderness just before entrance of the promised land (Numbers 11-16).
Turn in your Bibles to Numbers chapter 16. And while you are turning there, let me give you some context, some story line in order to help us frame the big picture here. As you know, we have been in a series on bad attitudes and the consequences that follow. The series is entitled, “Casual Attitudes, Serious Consequences.” Our text has been in Numbers beginning in chapter 11 and we have now arrived at chapter 16. But before we get into the text, let’s first back up to the days before the exodus.
You’ll remember that the Israelites were invited to live freely in Egypt. This was due to king’s relationship with Joseph. But that time has passed. The king was dead and a new king has taken his place. The new king, according to the Scriptures, “did not know Joseph,” which means that he didn’t have the same opinion about the Israelites as the former king (Ex. 1:8). And so he says to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land” (Ex. 1:9-10).
And so they dealt shrewdly with the Israelites. They “afflicted them with heavy burdens,” it says (Ex. 1:11). But, the more they were oppressed, the more the Israelites multiplied. The Egyptians were in dread of the Israelites and so they dealt even more ruthlessly with them and made them slaves. The Bible says that the Egyptians “made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field” (Ex. 1:14).
For over 400 years, the Egyptians afflicted and oppressed the Israelites. This was a terrible time for them. Work was strenuous. Wages were little, if any. They were physically abused. Emotionally mistreated. In fact, there was an attempt by the Egyptians to kill all of the Hebrew male children at birth. This would allow only females to grow up and essentially wipe out the Hebrew people in one generation.
So there was slave labor and genocide. And in case you didn’t know it, this is the first mark of anti-Semitism. The Egyptians gave the pattern for many Jewish persecutions throughout history including that of the killing of Jewish babies in Jesus’ early years and the Nazis in more recent times. Remember God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). God chose the Hebrew nation as the conduits of revelation and through whom the Savior would come. So Satan hates the Jews.
But, as in all of Scripture, God is teaching us that He alone saves. He protects. He delivers. He keeps. He provides. All of this because He is sovereign – even the gravest sins of man are brought under God’s power to bring Him glory.
So God’s people, still in brutal slavery in Egypt, cry out to God for salvation. Exodus 2:23 says that “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning.” Listen, their is close connection between God and his people. He hears them. He hears them, and that is not always a good thing as we will see later.
So God delivers them using a man named Moses who is accompanied by Aaron. Through signs and miraculous disasters, God saves His people. He brings them out of Egypt, out of slavery, and begins a process by which He instructs them and reveals to them Himself. While doing this, He is guiding them toward a promised land, called Canaan.
During the journey to Canaan, God sets up a governing rule with taxes and laws. He helps them get back on their feet, to be independent and more importantly, to be set apart to worship God alone. It was during this time that He gave them the Ten Commandments and the covenants. He also set up the temple worship and instituted a formal sacrificial system.
I say this because these people were privileged. They were hand-picked from the world for no other reason than God’s own prerogative. They did nothing to earn God’s blessing. He just decided by His own will. He took them out of the worst of situations and gave them the best. You could say that these people had it made. They had God and everything that comes with Him.
This would go on for 40 years and the people would become forgetful because that is what sin does. It causes us to forget. The people started grumble and complain. We picked up the story a few weeks ago in Numbers 11. It is about 37 years since the great exodus. And it says that “the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes” (Num. 11:1). Remember that the Lord is hearing. He hears His people. He listens to His people. And sometimes that is not a good thing. It says that “when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Num. 11:1).
After all that God has done and was doing for these people who didn’t deserve anything, they complained about their situation. Listen, sin has its way of finding the little things that are not quite comfortable to us and making them larger then things that matter. Their complaining was visited by fire, an act of God’s mercy. And they knew that God was angered but they did it again.
Numbers 11:4 says that they started to complain about the food. They wanted other food. They wanted something besides the food that God was giving them. Look, God was providing more than enough, but they wanted something else. Sounds just like what happened in the garden, right? This is the pattern of sin and it repeats itself all throughout history even today. We have this same pattern. “Kids, the pantry is full of good food, but you can’t eat the cookies until after dinner.” What do the kids do? They sneak the cookies as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Well, the Israelites wanted different food. They didn’t want what God was giving them. So they complained. And God heard their complaining, verse 18. So He gives them so much food for them to indulge in that they get sick of it and some died. This was God showing them mercy again.
Chapter 12, the Israelites complained again over Moses’ wife and then his authority. In verse 2, the “Lord heard it” and cause leprosy to come. Another act of God’s mercy. Chapter 13, the spies are sent out to survey Canaan because there were people already living there. Most of the spies gave poor reports and stirred up doubt in the hearts of the Israelites. They doubted God’s power and therefore complained again. Numbers 14:27 says that God heard their grumbling.
Now, during these times, God was showing them the purpose and the necessity of sacrifice. He is teaching them the doctrines of grace and redemption. He is showing them that the wages of sin is death. And there must be a perfect death to save them from the wrath of God. Listen, we sometimes forget that salvation is work-based. We are quick to tell others that salvation is not earned. It is not worked for. And that is true in some sense. We believe and are saved apart from our works, but it was works that won us that salvation. It was not our works, but the work of Christ. We need not forget that salvation is costly. It is not cheap.
God is the deliverer and savior. He paid the price. He suffered the loss. He was the perfect sacrifice. And it was this truth, the truth we call the gospel, that God was teaching them and He was not going to have it slurred. You don’t tamper with the gospel.
And it is worth mentioning that the Israelite people were not some special group of beings. They were humans. They were sinners. We are no different from them. In fact, if you have not identified with them throughout this series, then you have deceived yourself. Paul said that we are all sinners. When we read of the many complaints that these people had, we should respond to the Lord in humility knowing that we are guilty of the same. And I pray that the Spirit of God reveal that to you as we read.
And so, here we are in Numbers 16. The Israelites are just outside the promised land. It is near 40 years since their deliverance of over 400 years of slavery. And the complaining reaches an all time high. In fact, if you follow the progression of their complaints, you’ll see a gradual descend. Their attitudes become worse and worse. Their sin piles up each time until they finally rebel.
Now, let’s pick up the story here in Numbers 16.
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.
Now let me help you get the character of this story in order. I know it can be a little confusing with all the ancient names. We really have two camps at work here. The Kohathites, which were under the Levite umbrella. They were workers in the temple put in charge of the Ark of the Covenant, the Menorah, and more. But, they were not priests. They were not spiritual authorities to the people. They were ministers to the priests. Korah, the son of Ishar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, is one of those people. The writer is just showing you the ancestry line.
The other group is the Reubenites. The Reubenites camped right next to the Kohathites. They were more or less neighbors which will explain some things later. There are three people mentioned from this tribe: Dathan, Abiram, and On (who is not mentioned later in the text).
The Bible says that these people “took men” which is a strange thing to say. You don’t just take men. Rather, the writer is telling us that they sort of gathered men with them. They didn’t seize them, they simply brought them along. Verse 2 continues:
And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men.
Listen, the men that took were not ordinary men. They were not randomly selected from the tribes. They were particularly chosen. These were well-known men. The people knew them. And, Moses and Aaron knew them. Verse 3:
They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in 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?”
Now, Korah and Dathan, Abiram, and On assembled a bunch of chiefs from the tribes in order to have a large audience so that they can be more effective with their rebellion. They needed the crowd to appear to be speakers of the people. And they put it on themselves to be their leaders and spoke for them. Notice that they said “all the congregation” and “every one of them” and “the Lord is among them.” They appear to people’s advocates. They rallied up a bunch of important people and then pretended to speak on their behalf.
Listen, this is how rebellions start. People rise up as seemingly helpful people who pretend to do you well and stand up for your well-being, but secretly these people want to crash the authority and then take over.
So, Korah and the guys accuse Moses and Aaron exalting themselves above the people. That is, that they are retaining their unnecessary authority and lording over all the Israelites. They even have a argument for this. They argued that all of the people were holy. Now, they didn’t mean that they were sinless. They meant that they were apt to be priests. They misunderstood the priests to have accomplished their roles in the temple.
Secondly, they argued that the Lord is among them. Now, they were able to get that part right, but I assure you, it was not in the sense that they were expecting. Listen, God was in fact among them. Remember, he hears them. And that is not always a good thing. So if the people are holy and God is among them, why then do you, Moses and Aaron, pretend to be our rulers?
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 bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!”
Now, Moses has thrown it back in their faces. They told Moses that he has gone too far. Moses then responds saying that they have gone too far. And so now there is a struggle of authority in the nation. And rather than defending himself, Moses says, “Let’s let God decide this battle.” After all, it was God who appointed Moses. Remember, Moses objected. But God insisted. Moses was selected by God and that was not by Moses’ preference. So he says, “God can deal with this.”
So he tells Korah and bunch to grab censers and load them with fire then pour incense over them. This was a priestly function. No one else but the priests did this so it was holy thing. Korah and his rebels wanted to be priests so Moses says let’s see if it works. Let’s have you and I do what priests do and see how God responds. In other words, “You guys want to be priests, let’s be priests!”
Now, this should have triggered a memory in the minds of all who were witnessing this. Not too long ago, Aaron’s two sons offered unauthorized censers before the Lord and were consumed by the fire of the Lord. This is worth the look. Turn to Leviticus 10. Verse 1 reads, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Skip down to the end of verse 3. “Aaron held his peace.” Listen, when God burns with anger, you hold your peace.
I’ll say it again, God is particular about His gospel. He is not happy when people distort it. He has a way to be worshipped and that will be the way He will be worshipped. You don’t come to the Lord any way you want. Remember, Cain? He came to the Lord how he wanted and God disapproved.
Well, Korah and the rebels forgot about this incident. They forgot about Cain. They forgot about the Biblical history. That is what sin does. I said it earlier, sin causes you to forget what is important. Had they remembered this event, they would not have been so quick to take Moses up on his test.
And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”
Now, I think that Moses has cooled off a little. Earlier, he fell on his face in disappointment and anger. But he has cooled off a bit and speaks to them a bit more soberly. He appeals to them with reason saying, “Is it a small thing that God has separated you from the others in order to give you temple privileges and special ministries to God’s people?” In other words, these people were not just the chosen people. They were the chosen of the chosen people. They were highly privileged handling the sacred things of the temple. And Moses is asking them, “Is that not enough? Do you have to have more? Are you that discontent with God’s blessing?”
Remember that none of these people deserved any privilege that God gave them. Their specialities were gracefully given them by God’s own decision and not based on anything they did. In fact, if it were, they would have been given death, because such is the wages of sin. But, God, in His mercy, blesses them above others.
So then, since it was God’s choice that they be temple workers, Moses says that “it is against the Lord” that they gather together and not against Moses. It may appear to others that Moses is there problem. But, it was God who was their problem. So Moses let’s God deal with them.
He asks them, “Is it a small thing that God has done this for you?” And in typical argumentative fashion they respond:
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.”
Notice the sarcasm here. Moses asks them if it was a small thing that God blessed them with such great privileges and they respond with, “Is it a small thing that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey?” These guys are full of arrogance and disrespect. They have forgotten God’s miracles and provisions and blessings. And now they are twisting God’s word.
They are essentially doing what the serpent did in the garden. Adam and Eve knew God’s instructions on the fruit of the tree. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Gen. 3:4-5).
Listen, sin makes you twist God’s word. These men turned God’s promise on its head. God said that He would take them out of slavery and put them in a land flowing with milk and honey. But these men have turned it over and said that God has taken them out of a land flowing with milk and honey.
Why? Why would Moses take them into the wilderness? They said, it was so that he could kill them and rule as their Lord. They accused Moses of not bringing them into the promised land nor given them their inheritance of fields and vineyards. They asked Moses, “Will you put out the eyes of these men?” In other words, will you strip the obvious from them? Will you make them blind to the reality of what you have done?
And they refused Moses’ call.
And Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.” And Moses said to Korah, “Be present, you and all your company, before the Lord, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow. And let every one of you take his censer and put incense on it, and every one of you bring before the Lord his censer, 250 censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer.”
So the test will happen. Dathan and his bunch refused the test, but God will let them know the truth wether they participate or not. Remember, God is among them and he is hearing all of this. So Moses tells them to be present. He calls for 250 censers for the 250 chiefs. And showdown begins.
So every man took his censer and put fire in them and laid incense on them and stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron. Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation.
Now, I imagine the scene to be very intense. The air was thick. People were curious and scared. Others were too full of pride to think of what has happened before and what might happen next. And the next part is interesting. God speaks to Moses and Aaron quietly. Verse 20:
And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.”
In other words, God is warning them that He is about to reveal the truth here and pour out his anger on these rebellious folks.
And they fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Say to the congregation, ‘Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’”
Now, this is important because Moses is a type of Christ. He is the Jesus of the Old Testament. Remember that I said that all of Scripture (including the stories of the Old Testament) are teaching of the work of Christ. Well, Moses is the metaphor here. He is the intercessor for God’s people. So, as angry as he was with these people, he begs God to not wipe all of them out. And God shows his mercy again. He tells them to separate themselves from the rebels dwellings.
Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.”
In other words, “If you don’t want to go down with these guys, then step away from them.” I could only imagine what kind of thoughts were going through their minds. Of course, Korah and the rebels were confident that nothing would happen to them.
So they [that is, the smart people] got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones.
Now remember that Dathan and Abiram refused Moses call so they didn’t have the censer with them. They didn’t join everyone at the tent of meeting. They were just standing with their families at their own tents.
And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me.”
In essence, Moses is saying that “If these people share in the fate that is common to man, if they die like normal people, then the Lord has not sent me and I am a liar and what they said is true.”
“But if the Lord creates something new …”
In other words, if the Lord kills these people in a way that is very abnormal and very unhuman-like and very miraculously … “
“But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”
And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
This was no normal death. People don’t die this way. This was an act of the Lord. And He was declaring to the people, “Do not mistake my holiness.” God, since He is supreme, determines how we must worship Him and we have a choice to make. We can do it His way or our way.
Sin causes us to forget. It causes us to be irrational. It causes us to twist God’s Word. It causes us to rebel.
So you are saying right about now, “What then shall we do?” If sin causes rebellion, what does the grace of God cause? In other words, what should Christians do? What sort of attitude should we have toward the Lord and those He puts in our authority?
It is simple. We should submit.
I’ll close this on the upside. Allow me to show you in the Scriptures the proper attitude to have and the motivation that comes with it. Last week, Pastor Joe defined sin as a rejection of God’s goodness. That being true, rebellion is a rejection of God’s good command.
Contrasting this horrible sin of rebellion is submission. Submission is taught all throughout the Bible. And since we have spent so much time in the Old Testament, I’ll give you some New Testament passages.
Turn to Romans 13 and verse 1. Paul, wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This is a profound statement about God’s sovereignty. It says that all authority (good or bad) has been ordained by God. You see, God is that powerful. He gets glory even out of bad people.
Don’t believe it? Ask yourself how the worst person in the Bible was. Would you say that Judas was that person? He would at least make the top ten. Had Judas not turned in Jesus to be murdered, would Jesus have made atonement for our sins? Listen, God is in control. He works all things for good and for His glory.
So with that in mind, Paul tells us to submit (or be subject) to all governing authorities. What does that mean? It means this: Submit to your parents. Submit to your employer. Submit to your pastors. Submit to your government. Submit to the president. Submit to the police. Submit to the laws. Submit to the rules. Need I go on? Is there someone or something that has been put in place to govern you? Submit to it.
Paul wasn’t crazy. Peter said the same thing. Turn to 1 Peter 2:13. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for your life? Here is one clue. Verse 17: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” I like how Peter adds a benefit to the command. And you know that no law of God is without benefit. You obey Him and you reap the benefits He promises.
Peter says that if you submit to your authorities, it will “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” In other words, you will give the gospel and Christianity a good reputation. You know why we are constantly dragged through the mud in the media? It’s because of our rebellion against God and our leaders.
Peter goes on to say this in verse 18, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Skip down to chapter 3 verse 1. “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.”
Paul says the same thing. In fact, he dedicates an entire letter about the subject saying that submission is the perfect formula for effective evangelism. You’ll find that in his letter to Titus. Submission is that important. It permeates all of human life. We find it everywhere. And if we do it, we will in effect win unbelievers to the saving knowledge of Christ.
So there is to be submission in the workplace, submission in the home. And there is one more and this will really tip the cup here. See, I know that submission is frowned upon in our society. It is hip and cool and sometimes even righteous to rebel today. And since certain movements have been made popular, submission has been redefined as something that denotes devalue. In other words, if you submit to someone, you are of lesser value than that person. And so children are confused and rebel. Wives are confused and rebel.
But look, that is far from the truth. Submission, if it is a command of the Lord, must be something good. In fact, no commands of God are contrary to His nature. If God is to judge our submission (or lack thereof), then He must have first exemplified and set the standard by which we should submit.
Listen to Paul’s argument of this point. And really, this is the highest argument. It can be no higher. First Corinthians chapter 11 verse 3 says, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Did you get that? Did you catch his argument. This is fascinating. The wife submits to her husband. The husband submits to Christ. And Christ submits to the Father. You want to know submission is like? You want to be convinced that submission is good? You want to be motivated to submit? You want to see the perfect example of submission and how it is not something whereby value is lessened? Look at God.
Have you ever considered the fact that the Father sent the son? The son wanted the cup to pass, but “Your will be done.” Have you considered the fact that the Son sent the Holy Spirit? Listen, submission is found in the nature of God. Moses calls God Elohim in Genesis. That is the one-yet-plural-God. The Triune God who exemplifies perfect submission.
So in case you wondering if submission is wrong or if it robs you of any value or demotes you in some natural way, look at God. As the Son of God has submitted to the Father and has remained as one equal to the Father, so shall we submit to our authorities and remain equal as people. Sinful people, but people nevertheless.
Listen, we are like the people of Israel. We rebel. We are sinners just the same. We have bad attitudes. But with proper insight into the reality of God and His commands, we can, by the power of His Spirit, be effective witness of the gospel by submitting to all authorities as unto God.
Rebellion is sin. Submission is righteous.