Korah’s Rebellion


Rebellion is all around us, children, rebelling against their parents commands, students skipping classes – in fact being a rebel is often glamorized in our culture, for our forefathers were in fact, all rebels – rebelling against the English crown, fighting for their freedom. 

We, as a culture, tend to glorify rebellion.  We don’t like people telling us what to do.  Even here at seminary – we grumble about having to wear ties, and do whatever we can to get around it.

But our passage this morning paints a different picture – far from glamorizing rebellion, it makes it clear through three characters that there is no authority except from God – and to rebel against the authority that God has ordained, is to rebel against God Himself.

Three characters demonstrating that there is no authority except from God
I. The Self-seeking Rebel

Israel is in the wilderness, sometime during the forty years of wandering, and Korah has had enough.  He’s a cousin of Moses and Aaron, and has had it with their exclusive style of leadership.  They have obviously let the power get to their heads, thinking that we’ll just follow them blindly around in the wilderness.  And that Aaron, making sure no one gets too close to infringe on his “God given” right to perform religious ceremonies.  He takes all the glory for himself!  Standing up there, offering sacrifices on the alter while everyone watches.  He makes us all feel like ants beneath his feet!  If it weren’t for us, he would be nothing!  We have to carry that stupid tabernacle around for him so he can “atone” for the people, as if I couldn’t do that!

And so it begins.  Korah winds up with just over 250 men backing him up in rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s leadership.  But these are not just random men. 

Verse 2 tells us they are, “leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.”  This isn’t just some small time rebellion, this is the real thing. 

And so Korah and all these men gathered against Moses and Aaron and said,

Verse 3: “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?”

At first glance, it might seems like Korah has the best interest of the people in mind as he brings his accusations against Moses and Aaron. 

He masks his own personal interests in the interests of the masses.  He says he is advocating equality, and yet he has set himself up as the spokesman for the cause, the hero as it were. 

Korah was not rebelling because of concern for his fellow countrymen, he was rebelling out of envy.  Underlying this claim is a self-seeking desire: As if to say: did you really think you could keep all the power and prestige to yourselves?  And it leads Korah to error.

Korah is like those who turn the grace of God into licentiousness.  He says the whole congregation is holy, consecrated unto God, singled out and that God is in their midst.  He mistakenly took God’s call for Israel to be a holy and said they were holy.  God’s grace had been poured out in Israel, and Korah takes it and twists it for his own selfish reasons.   

But it doesn’t stop here – Though Korah is the leader of the rebellion, he is not the only rebel who speaks.

After Moses deals with Korah and the Levites, he turns to Dathan and Abiram, two Reubenites, who were also involved:

Verse 12: “Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come up. Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us?
Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards.  Would you put out the eyes of these men?  We will not come up!”

What are Dathan and Abiram doing here?  They are saying, what Moses told them was not true – in fact, Egypt was not bondage – IT was the land flowing with milk and honey, Moses got his facts messed up.  And not only is Moses and inept leader, he has the audacity to think he’s the boss of us! What a fool Moses is for thinking he could keep us in the dark!  We know better, and we will not follow you!

They rebel because they think they know more, they know better.

Doesn’t that sounds familiar.  As seminary students, don’t we struggle in this area?

We go to a small Bible study and as we listen to the teacher we drill holes in his arguments in our minds, wondering how in the world he got appointed to leadership; obviously he is inept. Afterwards we pull him aside and “give him THE book” showing how WE would have done it.

Why do we so quickly rebel against God’s leaders?  Do we think ourselves to be a better choice?  Or are we just selfish because they have a position of authority that we do not have?

We must stop seeking our own advantage, and learn from these self-seeking Rebels – there is no authority except from God – why do we find it so easy to rebel against those God Himself has placed in authority over us?

Yes, it would be easy to point our fingers at Korah and his followers and say what fools – do they REALLY think they can take the place of Moses and Aaron, to usurp the very order that God placed into being? 

But in our hearts, like Korah, we rebel against our leaders and think how much better we could do if only given the opportunity.  And yet we find ways to hide our rebellion, in our theology, in our extensive vocabularies, in our “original languages.”

Though we know, like Korah, that God appointed our leaders over us, we still feel free to irk them off our backs.

Korah thought that his way was better than Moses and Aaron’s, but soon, he will find out that he was wrong, dead wrong, for he forgot who was standing behind these two men.

There is no authority except from God – Korah, demonstrates this through his own rebellion and self-seeking towards God’s established leaders.

The first character that demonstrates there is no authority except from God is the Self-seeking Rebel, and the second is:
II. The Submissive Leader

We move back now to the rebels first allegations against Moses, picture now, this mass crowd gathered against Moses and Korah speaks:

Verse 3: “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?”

 Read with me now, verse 4: “When Moses heard this, he fell on his face;”

This section of the text drew me to preach on this passage.  Because it is so unlike me.  I am so proud and arrogant.  Oh! That I would grow to be like this man – to be meek and humble before the Lord!

Moses was not like Korah.  He understood what it meant to lead God’s people, what it meant to be called of God.  He knew there was nothing in himself that made him any better than the next guy, in fact, he didn’t even want the job in the beginning, pleading with God to find someone better to lead His people out of Egypt.  He was a humble man. 

His first inkling when someone confronted him was to fall face down before His God in submission to his authority.

The world would say, what a fool Moses – you might as well just step aside if you’re going to be that weak!  Don’t let Korah just walk all over you – be a man, stand up for yourself!

We idolize movie characters like Rambo, he doesn’t take any slack from anyone – he’s a REAL man!  Stand up Moses, stand up against these fools!  Use your rod, put a plague on them!

But no, Moses falls face down on the ground.

But this isn’t all, Moses shows his submission again after his hearing the complaint  of Dathan and Abiram. 

Look at verse 15 with me:

“Then Moses became very angry…”  Stop there.  What do you think is coming next?  Think about what you do when you are angry. 

“Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not regard their offering!  I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.”

Have you ever been criticized?  Has your leadership ever been questioned?  What is your first response?  Do you look to man? Or do you look to God?

Charles Spurgeon said: Doth the moon stay herself to lecture every dog that bayeth at her? Do not be in a hurry to set yourselves right. God will take care of you. Leave yourselves alone; only be very valiant for the Lord God of Israel. *[1]

Moses knows that it is God who put him in this position of authority – God could take it away in a moment.  Who knows: maybe there was someone better, maybe someone could serve the people better. He knows he is nothing in and of himself.

Moses knew God, he had no desire for the honor men give, he looked only to his Lord, and so he bows in submission.

Behold the Submissive Leader, and how his silent bowing screams: there is no authority except from God

And now the third character demonstrating that there is no authority except from God is God Himself – Number three:

III. The Sovereign Creator

After what occurs in this passage, it is patently obvious what God thinks about rebellion against His chosen ministers.

Moses falls to the ground, in humble submission to His LORD, and then he speaks.  He speaks on behalf of God, as the mediator between God and man, Moses speaks: “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself.”

Tomorrow morning – even in this there is grace – He did not consume them in that very instant, but gave them time – for perhaps they would relent.

Moses goes on to instruct the rebels to take 250 censers, they were normally metal plates with long poles attached to them, he tells them to take 250 censers put fire in them and lay incense on them in the presence of the LORD. 

The imagery here is intense.  What man would not remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu the two sons of Aaron (Lev. 10) when they burned strange fire in their censers.  Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them.

And Nadab and Abihu were priests!!  Here were rebel laymen coming to do the same thing!

But this would not deter them, they were rebels to the core – deceived in their darkened hearts that they were right, and God was wrong.

Though they professed to be wise, they were fools.

And so, the next day:

Verse 19: “Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.”

But they fell on their faces and said, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?”

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ ” Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him, and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.” So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones. Moses said, “By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. “If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. “But 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.” As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.” (Numbers 16:18-33)

Can you imagine it?

God takes rebellion against His chosen ministers seriously, for there is no authority except from God – and when we rebel against His ministers, we rebel against God Himself.

Though we may not realize it, the seeds of rebellion exist in us.  In our criticisms, in our selfishness, in our pride, in our personal ambition, in our judging, in our condemning.

 When we rebel we take lightly the place that God has given us in His service, as though it were nothing.  We are saying God is wrong and we are right.






There is only one hope for rebels, only one escape from the wrath to come.  It is through the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to save rebels like us.  He lived the life we could never life, a life of perfection.  He died a death, of infinite worth. And He rose from the grave on the third day in victory. 

“if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” (Romans 10:9)

“Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”” (Romans 10:11) 

If you do not know him, I beg you, believe in Him today, for the salvation of your soul.

And to you who do know him.  Evaluate your own heart before the Lord.  Are you more like Korah – selfishly ambitious,
critical of those over you,
unable to sit under the teaching of anyone less than a John MacArthur,
and sometimes even have trouble with that? 
Are you just waiting for the day you can take over your Bible study, so you can show everyone “how it’s done”?

Or are you like Moses, reliant on the Lord,
submissive in your spirit,
seeking to know God’s word as given by His ministers. 
When you have an issue with someone in authority, do you run to God first, and even God alone? 

May the Lord grant us grace – for truly there is no authority except from God – may we learn to submit.

* Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 202.



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