Outrage against God’s men never sounded so heroic.
“You have gone too far!” they shouted at Moses. “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?” (Numbers 16:3).
The hundreds of men at the entrance lobbied for the people. They demanded notice. Far from peeking around avatars and fake names, these men confronted Moses as men — “well-known men,” in fact, chiefs in their communities, shepherds of families and clans (Numbers 16:2). Their charge: Moses and Aaron have exalted themselves; they rule with confiscated authority. Their logic: all of Israel is holy, every last person. Who is this Moses and this Aaron to speak from on high? This was “Power to the People.”
Did they have a point? Moses, after all, wrote that Israel was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Did “kingdom of priests” actually mean “sons of Aaron”? Did “holy nation” actually mean “holy prophet”? Had not Moses and Aaron “gone too far” in asserting their authority?
Korah, the people’s champion, thought so. He placed himself at the head of this small army. Shouts swelled, “All in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Yahweh is among them — come down from your castles!”
Moses, the meekest man on earth, gives us a lesson for today with his reply.
Moses responds with the following steps.
First, he falls on his face. He grew weary of his life as a constant game of thrones. Would Moses have ever chosen this staff for himself? He tried his best to deny it from the start — “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). Since then, he has heard the thankless voices repeat, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” (Exodus 2:14). He collapses in prayer.
Second, he challenges Korah and his company. He bows before God; he stands before men. He challenges Korah and the other sons of Levi to return tomorrow: “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him” (Numbers 16:5).
Third, he unmasks Korah’s motives. Here, Moses gives us our lesson. He diagnoses what Korah’s rebellion is really about — something very different than presented. Korah shouted of equality, of fairness, of removing mountains and lifting valleys. But what did Moses hear?
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? (Numbers 16:8–10)
The revolutionists said, “Sameness for all! All of us are holy! The Lord walks among us — why should Moses and Aaron reign?” But Moses heard, “We want the priesthood.”
Korah and his company were Levites (like Moses and Aaron) but not priests. Priesthood belonged to Aaron and his sons. The Levites helped the priests and served in the tabernacle, but they did not possess full access. Discontent festered. Those closest grasp at crowns. Moses hears envy in their talk of equality. They despised not that some were preferred, but who was preferred. They wanted all level so they could rise. Instead of Aaron, Korah.
They did not admit their hunger for religious authority. And isn’t it ironic — and, as Moses says, shameful — that those already with distinction led this mutiny? He scolds their ingratitude:
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? (Numbers 16:8–10)
“Is your nobility too small, Korah and his complainers, that you stand here and snarl? Has God not separated you for holy service above the other tribes? Do not your sons inherit advantages by birthright?”
They said they were attempting to impeach Moses and Aaron, but again, the prophet strips them bare: “It is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” (Numbers 16:11). In revolting against God’s authority, Korah and his chiefs revolted against God. Moses did not exalt his brother; God did. For “no one takes this honor [of priesthood] for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:4).
Centuries and different covenants separate us from Korah. Yet while the earth swallowed Korah alive — along with his family, his people, and all their goods (Numbers 16:31–35) — the spirit of Korah and his campaign strategy endure.
“The spirit of our age feuds against God’s authorities because it feuds against God.”
The spirit of our age feuds against God’s authorities because it feuds against God. “You have gone too far,” it whispers of those above, “for all are special, every last one of us.” It triggers explosives at the base to collapse categories of parent-child, pastor-sheep, teacher-student, policeman-citizen, elder-youth, employer-employee — crumbling them to our harm. God gives us a world with order for our good — mother over the child, father over the home, king over the nation, pastors over the congregant, and Christ over all. But the Korahs cannot tolerate any Moseses and Aarons, because ultimately they want the Savior’s scepter.
Drunk on Equality
Today, as then, rebellion against God can sound so heroic. We need to be aware of equality’s dark side. This might sound strange at first. Isn’t equality always a good thing?
C.S. Lewis writes in reply, “When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget, but as an ideal, we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. That mind,” Lewis tells us, “is the special disease of democracy” (Present Concerns, 9).
By this, Lewis did not mean legal equality. Justice sings when confronting a Jim Crow South or an anti-Semitic Germany or the barbarous but now fallen Roe v. Wade. What he means is this spirit of Korah, the “man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other — the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow.” He is what Lewis labels “a prosaic barbarian.”
He goes so far as to say that God designed us to desire distinctions. Even when we overdose on sameness, our veneration always travels elsewhere:
Where men are forbidden to honor a king they honor millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead — even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served — deny it food and it will gobble poison. (12)
“We resist flattening God’s good order for the home, the church, and society — especially at the flattery of Korah.”
Our society overdoses on prescription pills. But Christians have the label. We resist flattening God’s good order for the home, the church, and society — especially at the flattery of Korah. Because when we do cave, we extend the new world order designed by shadows and spirits at war with God. And as shown in Korah’s rebellion, even some who scream loudest of equality don’t want it either.
Is It Too Small a Thing?
Shapeless homes and interchangeable churches lower the drawbridge for Korah to invade. The likes of feminism, socialism, LGBTQ+, and smooth-sounding egalitarianism might tell us how special we all are, even co-opting the imago dei. But the plain instruction given to Christian husbands and wives, fathers and children, kings and citizens, masters and servants, shepherds and individual sheep survives.
In Christ, we do not chafe at this. Of all people, we best love just sovereigns, good heads, righteous authorities and their rule. We will not follow Korah’s sweet talk into the earth’s core. If tempted by his rhetoric, hear Christ himself ask us, “Is it too small a thing to you that the living God has loved you, chosen you, redeemed you, and graced you to rule with me in the endless world to come?”