Chapter 31 – The Great Rebellion
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and so against the Lord. The Lord had placed special responsibilities upon Moses and Aaron in selecting them for the priesthood and in conferring upon them the dignity and authority of leading the congregation of Israel. Moses was afflicted by the continual rebellion of the Hebrews. As God’s appointed, visible leader, he had been connected with the Israelites through seasons of peril, and had borne with their discontent, their jealousies, and their murmurings, without retaliation and without seeking to be released from his trying position.
When the Hebrews were brought into scenes of danger, or where their appetite was restricted, instead of trusting in God, who had done wondrous things for them, they murmured against Moses. The Son of God, although invisible to the congregation, was the leader of the Israelites. His presence went before them and conducted all their travels, while Moses was their visible leader, receiving his directions from the Angel, who was Christ.
In the absence of Moses the congregation demanded of Aaron to make them gods to go before them and lead them back into Egypt. This was an insult to their chief leader, the Son of the infinite God. Only a few weeks before, they had stood trembling with awe and terror before the mount, listening
to the words of the Lord: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” The glory which sanctified the mount when the voice was heard which shook the mountain to its foundation, still hovered over it in sight of the congregation; but the Hebrews turned away their eyes and asked for other gods. Moses, their visible leader, was in converse with God in the mount. They forgot the promise and the warning of God: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not; for He will not pardon your transgressions: for My name is in Him.”
The Hebrews were cruelly unbelieving and basely ungrateful in their impious request: “Make us gods, which shall go before us.” If Moses was absent, the presence of the Lord remained; they were not forsaken. The manna continued to fall, and they were fed by a divine hand morning and evening. The cloudy pillar by day and the pillar of fire by night signified the presence of God, which was a living memorial before them. The divine presence was not dependent upon the presence of Moses. But at the very time that he was pleading with the Lord in the mount in their behalf, they were rushing into shameful errors, into transgression of the law so recently given in grandeur.
Here we see the weakness of Aaron. Had he stood with true moral courage and in boldness rebuked the leaders in this shameful request, his timely words would have saved that terrible apostasy. But his desire to be popular with the congregation, and his fear of incurring their displeasure, led him to cowardly sacrifice the allegiance of the Hebrews in that decisive moment. He raised an altar, made a graven image, and proclaimed a day in which to consecrate that image as an object of worship and to proclaim before all Israel: These be the gods which led you out of Egypt. While the top of the mount is still illuminated with the glory of God, he calmly witnesses the merriment and dancing to this senseless image; and Moses is sent down from the mount by the Lord to rebuke the people. But Moses would not consent to leave the mount until his pleadings in behalf of Israel were heard and his request that God would pardon them was granted.
The Tables of the Law Broken
Moses came from the mount with the precious record in his hands, a pledge of God to man on condition of obedience. Moses was the meekest man upon the earth, but when he viewed the apostasy of Israel he was angry and jealous for the glory of God. In his indignation he cast to the ground the precious pledge of God, which was more dear to him than life. He saw the law broken by the Hebrews, and in his zeal for God, to deface the idol that they were worshiping, he sacrificed the tables of stone. Aaron stood by, calmly, patiently bearing the severe censure of Moses. All this might have been prevented by a word from Aaron at the right time. True, noble decision for the right in the hour of Israel’s peril would have balanced their minds in the right direction.
Does God condemn Moses? No, no; the great goodness of God pardons the rashness and zeal of Moses, because it was all on account of his fidelity and his disappointment and grief at the sight of his eyes in the evidence of Israel’s apostasy. The man who might have saved the Hebrews in the hour of their peril is calm. He does not show indignation because of the sins of the people, neither does he reproach himself and manifest remorse under the sense of his wrongs; but he seeks to justify his course in a grievous sin. He makes the people accountable for his weakness in yielding to their request. He was unwilling to bear the murmuring of Israel and to stand under the pressure of their clamors and unreasonable wishes, as Moses had done. He entered into the spirit and feelings of the people without remonstrance, and then sought to make them responsible.
The congregation of Israel thought Aaron a much more pleasant leader than Moses. He was not so unyielding. They thought that Moses showed a very bad spirit, and their
sympathies were with Aaron, whom Moses so severely censured. But God pardoned the indiscretion of honest zeal in Moses, while He held Aaron accountable for his sinful weakness and lack of integrity under a pressure of circumstances. In order to save himself, Aaron sacrificed thousands of the Israelites. The Hebrews felt the punishment of God for this act of apostasy, but in a short time they were again full of discontent and rebellion.
The People Murmur
When the armies of Israel prospered, they took all the glory to themselves; but when they were tested and proved by hunger or warfare they charged all their hardships to Moses. The power of God which was manifested in a remarkable manner in their deliverance from Egypt, and seen from time to time all through their journeyings, should have inspired them with faith and forever closed their mouths from one expression of ingratitude. But the least apprehension of want, the least fear of danger from any cause, overbalanced the benefits in their favor and caused them to overlook the blessings received in their times of greatest danger. The experience they passed through in the matter of worshiping the golden calf should have made so deep an impression upon their minds as never to be effaced. But although the marks of God’s displeasure were fresh before them in their broken ranks and missing numbers because of their repeated offenses against the Angel who was leading them, they did not take these lessons to heart and by faithful obedience redeem their past failure; and again they were overcome by the temptations of Satan.
The best efforts of the meekest man upon the earth could not quell their insubordination. The unselfish interest of Moses was rewarded with jealousy, suspicion, and calumny. His humble shepherd’s life was far more peaceful and happy than his present position as pastor of that vast congregation of turbulent spirits. Their unreasonable jealousies were more difficult to manage than the fierce wolves of the wilderness.
But Moses dared not choose his own course and do as best pleased himself. He had left the shepherd’s crook at God’s command and in its place had received a rod of power. He dared not lay down this scepter and resign his position till God should dismiss him.
It is Satan’s work to tempt minds. He will insinuate his wily suggestions and stir up doubting, questioning, unbelief, and distrust of the words and acts of the one who stands under responsibilities and who is seeking to carry out the mind of God in his labors. It is the special purpose of Satan to pour upon and around the servants of God’s choice, troubles, perplexities, and opposition, so that they will be hindered in their work and, if possible, discouraged. Jealousies, strife, and evil surmising will counteract, in a great measure, the very best efforts that God’s servants, appointed to a special work, may be able to put forth.
Satan’s plan is to drive them from the post of duty by working through agents. All whom he can excite to distrust and suspicion he will use as his instruments. The position of Moses in carrying the burdens that he bore for the Israel of God was not appreciated. There is in the nature of man, when not under the direct influence of the Spirit of God, a disposition to envy, jealousy, and cruel distrust, which, if not subdued, will lead to a desire to undermine and tear down others, while selfish spirits will seek to build themselves up upon their ruins.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
By God’s appointment these men had been entrusted with special honors. They had been of that number who, with the seventy elders, went up with Moses into the mount and beheld the glory of God. They saw the glorious light which covered the divine form of Christ. The bottom of this cloud was in appearance like the “paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.” These men were in the presence of the glory of the Lord and did eat and drink without being destroyed by the purity and
unsurpassed glory that was reflected upon them. But a change had come. A temptation, slight at first, had been harbored; and as it was encouraged it had strengthened until the imagination was controlled by the power of Satan. These men upon the most frivolous pretense ventured upon their work of disaffection. At first they hinted and expressed doubts, which took so readily with many minds that they ventured still further. And being more and more confirmed in their suspicions by a word from one and another, each expressing what he thought of certain things which had come under his notice, these deluded souls really came to believe that they had a zeal for the Lord in the matter and that they would not be excusable unless they carried out to the full their purpose of making Moses see and feel the preposterous position he occupied toward Israel. A little leaven of distrust and of dissension, envy, and jealousy was leavening the camp of Israel.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram first commenced their cruel work upon the men to whom God had entrusted sacred responsibilities. They were successful in alienating two hundred and fifty princes who were famous in the congregation, men of renown. With these strong and influential men on their side, they felt sure of making a radical change in the order of things. They thought they could transform the government of Israel and greatly improve it from its present administration.
Korah was not satisfied with his position. He was connected with the service of the tabernacle, yet he desired to be exalted to the priesthood. God had established Moses as chief governor, and the priesthood was given to Aaron and his sons. Korah determined to compel Moses to change the order of things, that he might be raised to the dignity of the priesthood. To be more sure of accomplishing his purpose, he drew Dathan and Abiram, descendants of Reuben, into his rebellion. These reasoned that, being descendants of the eldest son of Jacob, the chief authority, which Moses usurped, belonged to them; and, with Korah, they were resolved to obtain the office of the priesthood. These three became very
zealous in an evil work and influenced two hundred and fifty men of renown, who were also determined to have a share in the priesthood and the government, to join them.
God had honored the Levites to do service in the tabernacle because they took no part in making and worshiping the golden calf and because of their faithfulness in executing the order of God upon the idolaters. To the Levites was also assigned the office of erecting the tabernacle and encamping around about it, while the hosts of Israel pitched their tents at a distance from it. And when they journeyed, the Levites took down the tabernacle and bore it and the ark and all the sacred articles of furniture. Because God thus honored the Levites, they became ambitious for still higher office, that they might obtain greater influence with the congregation. “And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?”
Flattery and False Sympathy
There is nothing which will please the people better than to be praised and flattered when they are in darkness and wrong, and deserve reproof. Korah gained the ears of the people, and next their sympathies, by representing Moses as an overbearing leader. He said that he was too harsh, too exacting, too dictatorial, and that he reproved the people as though they were sinners when they were a holy people, sanctified to the Lord, and the Lord was among them. Korah rehearsed the incidents in their experience in their travels through the wilderness, where they had been brought into strait places, and where many of them had died because of murmuring and disobedience, and with their perverted senses they thought they saw very clearly that all their trouble might have been saved if Moses had pursued a different course. He was too unyielding, too exacting, and they decided that all their disasters in the wilderness were chargeable to him.
Korah, the leading spirit, professed great wisdom in discerning the true reason for their trials and afflictions.
In this work of disaffection there was greater harmony and union of views and feelings among these discordant elements than had ever been known to exist before. Korah’s success in gaining the larger part of the congregation of Israel on his side led him to feel confident that he was wise and correct in judgment, and that Moses was indeed usurping authority that threatened the prosperity and salvation of Israel. He claimed that God had opened the matter to him and laid upon him the burden of changing the government of Israel just before it was too late. He stated that the congregation were not at fault; they were righteous; that this great cry about the murmuring of the congregation bringing upon them the wrath of God was all a mistake; and that the people only wanted to have their rights; they wanted individual independence.
As a sense of the self-sacrificing patience of Moses would force itself upon their memories, and as his disinterested efforts in their behalf while they were in the bondage of slavery would come before them, their consciences would be somewhat disturbed. Some were not wholly with Korah in his views of Moses and sought to speak in his behalf. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram must assign some reason before the people why Moses had from the first shown so great an interest for the congregation of Israel. Their selfish minds, which had been debased as Satan’s instruments, suggested that they had at last found out the object of the apparent interest of Moses. He had designed to keep them wandering in the wilderness until they all, or nearly all, should perish and he should come into possession of their property.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and the two hundred and fifty princes who had joined them, first became jealous, then envious, and next rebellious. They had talked in regard to the position of Moses as ruler of the people until they imagined that it was a very enviable position which any of them could fill as well as he. And they gave themselves up to
discontent until they really deceived themselves and thought that Moses and Aaron had placed themselves in the position which they occupied in Israel. They said that Moses and Aaron exalted themselves above the congregation of the Lord in taking upon them the priesthood and the government, and that this office should not be conferred on their house alone. They said that it was sufficient for them if they were on a level with their brethren; for they were no more holy than the people, who were equally favored with God’s peculiar presence and protection.
As Moses listened to the words of Korah, he was filled with anguish and fell upon his face before the people. “And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even tomorrow the Lord will show who are His, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto Him: even him whom He hath chosen will He cause to come near unto Him. This do; take you censers, Korah, and all his company; and put fire therein, and put incense in them before the Lord tomorrow: and it shall be that the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy. Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi. And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them? And He hath brought thee near to Him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also? For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?” Moses told them that Aaron had assumed no office of himself, that God had placed him in the sacred office.
Dathan and Abiram said: “Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself
altogether a prince over us? Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.”
They accused Moses of being the cause of their not entering the Promised Land. They said that God had not dealt with them thus, and that He had not said that they should die in the wilderness, and they would never believe that He had said so; it was Moses who had said this, not the Lord; and it was all arranged by Moses never to bring them to the land of Canaan. They spoke of his leading them from a land that flowed with milk and honey. In their blind rebellion they forgot their sufferings in Egypt and the desolating plagues brought upon the land. And they now accuse Moses of bringing them from a good land to kill them in the wilderness, that he might be made rich with their possessions. They inquire of Moses, in an insolent manner, if he thought that none of all the host of Israel were wise enough to understand his motives and discover his imposture, or if he thought they would all submit to have him lead them about like blind men as he pleased, sometimes toward Canaan, then back again toward the Red Sea and Egypt. These words they spoke before the congregation, and they utterly refused any longer to acknowledge the authority of Moses and Aaron.
Moses was greatly moved at these unjust accusations. He appealed to God before the people whether he had ever acted arbitrarily, and implored Him to be his judge. The people in general were disaffected and influenced by the misrepresentations of Korah. “And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou, and they, and Aaron, tomorrow: and take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the Lord every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer. And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.”
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3 pp. 339-348