Lessons from the Children of Israel, Part III

There are literally hundreds of instances in Scripture where God places an emphasis upon the keeping of His Commandments. That is emphasized so much, because it, in reality, is a manifestation of a relationship that we are to have with God and with our fellowman. This is why Solomon, who has been called the wisest man that ever lived, wrote, as a conclusion to his life’s experiences, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Previously, in this series, we have looked at the travels of the children of Israel and the experiences in which they became involved at Kadesh. There we saw a working out of what God wanted for His people all along, but just because God has a congregation does not necessarily mean that congregation is following everything that He has outlined for them or that they are all keeping the Commandments of God. Nonetheless, God has a plan for His people.

In this series on “Lessons from the Children of Israel,” we have seen, in Numbers 14, that the people had sinned, but Moses interceded on their behalf, and because of his intercession, God pardoned the people. As a result of this pronouncement, conversion flourished among the children of Israel. They decided that they wanted to go in and take the land that God had promised to them.

Verse 40 says, “Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the Lord has promised, for we have sinned!” But there is more involved in gaining God’s acceptance than just saying, “I have sinned.” Moses warned them against such action “for the Lord [is] not among you,” but they went anyway. Verse 42.

We are told, “Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt in that mountain came down and attacked them, and drove them back as far as Hormah.” Verse 45. Thus ends this sad chapter in the story of the children of Israel.

The Love Chapter

Then, interestingly, this chapter in the history of the children of Israel is followed by a chapter that could be titled, “How to Deal with the Unintentional Sin.”

If we were to study 1 Corinthians 12 about the gifts of the Spirit, we would find a lot to learn there about how the gifts of the church are applied. Then we could go to 1 Corinthians 14 and study more about the gifts. But sandwiched in between those two chapters is 1 Corinthians 13, which is known as the love chapter. It is there for a very specific purpose. It is indeed contextual, for we can have many gifts, but if we are not in harmony with God and with our fellowman and do not love as God has called us to love, we are doomed to destruction and failure.

The love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, is inserted between the chapters telling us about the gifts to give balance to them. There is—and was for those in the church at Corinth—the tendency to become puffed up thinking, “Look what God has done for me. I am some great person, because I can speak in tongues; I can do miracles.” Paul says of that church, “They came behind in no gift.” (1 Corinthians 1:7.) Yet, in reality, they did not have the love that they should have had. Basically, this was the experience of the children of Israel. Numbers 15 is inserted as a balance between two chapters of rebellion.

Unintentional Sin

The nation of Israel had become involved in a tremendous rebellion against God. It was a rebellion orchestrated by proud hearts and spirits that were in harmony with the devil himself. God said to them, “I am merciful, but I am not going to clear the guilty. Let me show you how I deal with the issue of unintentional sin.” Numbers 15 details the kinds of sacrifices that were to be brought for certain kinds of offenses. Those sacrifices were designed so the people could see that God does make provision. He wants us to be obedient to His will, but if we should unintentionally sin, provision is made so we can find acceptance again with Him.

Rebellion Again

I wish that Numbers 16 were different, but it is not. It begins with the account of another rebellion. It is unfortunately quite easy to focus on the sin to the neglect of the Saviour, and I do not want to do that. I want to try to be as balanced as I can, not only pointing out the sins but also pointing out the Saviour who is able to save from those sins. We must each do that, because if we do not, we may become extremely Pharisaical and lax in our understanding of the mercy of God and His plan. We may lean toward the rigidness of being obedient, and then we multiply the traditions until finally we are in such a narrow box that even we ourselves cannot live in it. We must understand that there needs to be not only the justice of God but also the mercy of God. We are not to skip over the times of rebellion that are placed in Scripture. They are there for a reason. Just as, at the beginning of this article, I mentioned how we could enumerate the number of times in Scripture that God says to keep His Commandments, it is repeatedly mentioned to put into our minds the fact that God requires obedience of us. In Numbers, several accounts showing each type of rebellion are given, so we might learn the lessons and not fall into the same kinds of traps. Even though it may seem at times that we are concentrating on the sin to the neglect of a Saviour, it is just because these things are all foundational for us, and we need to make sure that we are on the right foundation.

“Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took [men]: And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: 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? And when Moses heard [it], he fell upon his face.” Numbers 16:1–4.

Most of the time when we read about someone falling on his or her face, we are usually thinking in the aspect of intercession. We consider this as a posture of prayer—bowing down in a sign of humility and intercession before the Lord. Actually, Moses had just come through one experience where he fell on his face (Numbers 14:5). In this passage, it seems as if he was covering his head in an effort to save his body from being blown apart by the fire that could come from the Lord against the current rebellion. What was it that was happening?

A Better Idea

“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.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 344.

This did not happen overnight. It took awhile to gain the sympathies of these princes. The interesting part about this is that Korah was a cousin to Moses, Miriam, and Aaron. He was of the tribe of Levi who had distinguished themselves and to whom God was giving special attention. He had watched how God had been leading Moses and Aaron, how Miriam had prophesied, and he now complained that they had taken on what we could call kingly power. He declared that they were taking too much upon themselves, that they were exalting themselves where they should not be exalted.

I do not believe for a moment that Moses and Aaron were guilty of self-exaltation. They were just following what and where God wanted them to follow, but Korah came along and gathered Dathan and Abiram, brethren from the tribe of Reuben, and they began to solicit support to undo Moses and Aaron.

The Lesson

How should we look at designated leadership? The foundational question we really should ask ourselves is, “Were Moses and Aaron doing God’s will?” The answer unquestionably is, “Yes, they were doing God’s will.”

If they were not doing God’s will, then God would have perhaps supplanted Moses and Aaron with Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and the 250 princes in a heartbeat. God is always open to change—if it is for the better, if the change will further His cause. If the people in leadership are doing God’s will in all things when advances are made against that leadership, all I can say is, “Woe be unto the person who could be categorized as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram when that kind of thing takes place.”

Charm of Flattery

How was Korah able to gather 250 princes of the assembly—famous men of renown in the congregation—to his cause and to his side? It was through means of flattery.

You know, it is very easy, if we are wanting to get someone on our side, to go to them and pump them up a little bit as far as their personal virtues are concerned—“You have really been successful . . . . You have been able to accomplish this, and you have been able to accomplish that.” Suddenly the person stands straighter, and they adjust their shoulders a little bit—and then the bomb usually drops: “I would like to have your support of me here.” When people are in darkness and in error and deserving of reproof, there is nothing that will please them more than to be praised and flattered. We do not like to be told that what we are doing is wrong. That is just a response of the human heart.

“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.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 345. Error never really can go anywhere unless it has a certain amount of truth to it.

As It Was

The people in those days usually perpetuated their history by the telling and retelling of stories that were pertinent to their history. Their history would usually start with Abraham and continue on down through his descendants. The people were a holy people—at least they had been called to be that in the beginning. Every father of every family was the spiritual leader. They did not have a sanctuary; they did not have a priesthood; they did not offer sacrifices at the tabernacle. They all did that in their own homes. For centuries they did that. As they entered into that experience, that made them holy, as far as God was concerned.

To Korah’s thinking, this was the way it should still be. To establish the tabernacle and to take control away from the people, who used to sacrifice at home, and to centralize the leadership, putting Moses in control, he felt was totally wrong. Not only was it wrong, but Korah thought that Moses had become very harsh and dictatorial in the process. His requirements were way too high, and Korah thought something needed to be done about the situation. Oh, how I wish we could say that that spirit died centuries ago, but that spirit has not died at all. It is very much with us today.

“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.” Ibid. Korah rehearsed all of this to the children of Israel in an effort to separate their affections from the leadership.

“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.” Ibid. This kind of situation did not develop overnight. It had been working for a long time. The children of Israel had come out of Egypt; they had camped at Mt. Sinai where they constructed the tabernacle. It took around two years to do all of that. It could very well have been that Korah was starting his campaign even then.

Hard Decisions

Moses had to make a very difficult decision. Remember that I mentioned earlier that Korah and Moses were cousins. Moses surely pondered what he should do with family—how he should address the issues being raised by his own blood, by his own kinfolk. He had to make a decision, and the decision that he made was: “I am going to serve the Lord and not my family.”

This can be a very hard decision sometimes. Husbands are influenced by wives, and wives are influenced by husbands. Parents are influenced by children, and children are influenced by parents. Jesus could very well have been reflecting upon this instance when He said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37.

Was Jesus being too unyielding and too exacting when He made such a pronouncement as that? I do not think so. It was a painful experience that He was calling the people to go through at that point in time. It was a very painful experience, because there is nothing so close as kindred ties, and there is nothing so painful as the severing of those ties. But if a situation is of such a nature that it will cause you to be drawn away from God and from the plan and purpose that God has for you, then the ties must be severed.

Ultimately, God will bless us in the end, but we know that if we make one little compromise, there will usually be another. Many times they are not of enough notice to demand any attention. It is like being in the ocean and moving out with the tide. People can be playing in the ocean near the beach, and they can begin to bob along in the water without their feet touching the ground. If the tide is moving out, it is imperceptibly slow, and they may suddenly find they have been carried a greater distance from the beach than they are able to swim back. Many people have drowned in the ocean, because they were having a good time and not paying attention, and imperceptibly they were swept away from safety. If we begin to make compromises—things that are imperceptibly observed by others—we are going to find ourselves adrift far from the shore. That is exactly how the devil would have it.

Focus on the Stationary

There is only one way that we drift without knowing it, and that is by taking our eyes off of that which is stationary. If our eyes are on the shore rather than on the water, we will notice that the distance is starting to widen. We must keep our eyes on that which is stationary.

There is nothing more stationary than stone, and there is nothing that is more suitable for us to keep our eyes upon than the Law of God. It is indeed the reflection of the very character of God. It is a reflection of His very will for our lives. If we begin to move away from that, we are going to find ourselves in severe trouble.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were not looking to the Rock; they were looking at themselves, and they were drifting. It seems impossible that these men, who were allowed to climb the mountain with Moses and there experience that sheltered glory of the Lord, could be caught in this kind of a situation, but they were. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, 396.)

They had witnessed the glorious light that covered the divine form of Jesus Himself. These men were in the presence of the glory of Christ, and they ate and drank without being destroyed by the purity and the unsurpassed glory that reflected upon them. Yet as they came down that mountain, they went out and began their movement of subterfuge against what they perceived was not where they wanted things to go.

A Warning to Us

“The facts relative to Korah and his company, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and against Jehovah, are recorded for a warning to God’s people, especially those who live upon the earth near the close of time. Satan has led persons to imitate the example of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, in raising insurrection among the people of God. Those who permit themselves to rise in opposition to the plain testimony, become self-deceived. Such have really thought that those upon whom God has laid the burden of his work were exalted above the people of God, and that their counsels and reproofs were uncalled for. They have risen in opposition to the plain testimony which God would have his servants bear in rebuking the wrongs among God’s people. The testimonies borne against hurtful indulgences . . . have irritated a certain class, because it would destroy their idols. Many for awhile were undecided whether to make an entire sacrifice of all these hurtful things, or reject the plain testimonies borne, and yield to the clamors of appetite. They occupied an unsettled position. There was a conflict between their convictions of truth and their self-indulgences. Their state of indecision made them weak, and, with many, appetite prevailed. Their sense of sacred things was perverted by the use of these slow poisons; and they at length fully decided, let the consequence be what it might, that they would not deny self. This fearful decision at once raised a wall of separation between them and those who were cleansing themselves, as God has commanded, from all filthiness of the flesh, and of the spirit, and were perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. The straight testimonies borne were in their way, and caused them great uneasiness; and they found relief in warring against them, and striving to make themselves and others believe that they were untrue. They said that the people were all right, but it was the reproving testimonies which made the trouble. And when the rebellious unfurl their banner, all the disaffected rally around the standard, and all the spiritually defective, the lame, the halt, and the blind, unite their influence to scatter, and to sow discord.

“Every advance of God’s servants at the head of the work has been watched with suspicion by those who have had a spirit of insurrection, and all their actions have been misrepresented by the fault-finding, until honest souls have been drawn into the snare for want of correct knowledge. Those who lead them astray are so affected themselves by blind prejudice, and by rejecting the testimonies God has sent them, that they cannot see or hear aright. It is as difficult to undeceive some of these who have permitted themselves to be led into rebellion, as it was to convince the rebellious Israelites that they were wrong, and that Moses and Aaron were right.” Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, 306–308.

To be continued . . .