Korach — “Korah”
Portion for the week leading up to June 24, 2017
Korah was a Levite, born into the tribe which God had chosen to serve Him in a special way. In this portion, he and a group of leading men in the community rise up against Moses, saying that he has assumed too much in making himself the leader of the people, even though it was God who had put both Moses and Korah in their respective roles. Although this is an extreme example of discord compared to anything we may encounter in our lives, there are lessons here which are important to learn.
"Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown" (Numbers 16:1-2). It is not recorded what exactly sparked Korah to rise up in this way. As is evident in Scripture, there were many of that generation in the wilderness who were resentful towards Moses and God for bringing them out of Egypt into the wilderness, so it makes sense that many of the influential people would hold this view.
This group comes together and pits themselves against Moses and Aaron: "They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, 'You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'" (Numbers 16:3). God had indeed told the nation, "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). It is true that all the congregation was holy, but God had commanded that there was to be an hierarchy, an inner circle of those who would be able to draw closer to Him in the tabernacle. It is interesting to see the difference between these men and Moses. Korah and his followers are acting in arrogance and asserting themselves as deserving of more power, whereas Moses responds to them in humility: "When Moses heard this, he fell on his face" (Numbers 16:4).
In order to show which of them God had chosen, the 250 men will stand in front of the tabernacle and offer incense. Moses comes before the tents of Dathan, Abiram, and Korah in front of all the people and declares, "By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing... If the Lord brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord" (Numbers 16:28, 30). Just as Moses finishes speaking, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and their households are swallowed up by the earth and the 250 men who were offering incense are consumed by fire from God.
What exactly was Korah's sin? From the perspective of democracy, it may seem honorable for these men to question authority and assert the rights of the people. If Moses had been acting contrary to God's will, perhaps they would have been justified in their actions. But in this case, the opposite was true: Korah and his followers were blind to God's will and assumed they were holier than they were in truth. As we saw above, Moses said that "these men have spurned the Lord." Their sin was not rising against the person of Moses, but because of lifting themselves up in the face of God, which caused them to rise against Moses. Throughout Scripture we see that hubris and pride are dangerous qualities. While it is true that God makes each one of us holy, we must remember that He is merciful towards those who recognize that they are unworthy vessels. Those who try to lift themselves up will be thrown down: "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you" (Ezekiel 28:17).
Yeshua (Jesus) tells us a similar message: "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him... For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:8). In another passage, He tells a parable comparing a Pharisee, who is comfortable in his belief that he is holier than others, with a tax-collector, who can only ask God for mercy: "I tell you, this man [the tax-collector] went to his house justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14). Paul also touches on this topic: "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3).
We must be careful to never think too highly of ourselves either before men or before God. No matter what we do, our salvation relies completely on God's mercy and our faith in Yeshua's sacrifice. Once we accept this, it is our duty to seek first His Kingdom as a humble servant, not because we expect a reward, but because we wish to do the will of our Father. "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Messiah Yeshua came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all" (1 Timothy 1:15).