Forty years of wandering in the wilderness had just begun after the community’s unbelief and lack of faith upon hearing the report of the ten faithless spies prevented them entering into the promised Land.
This portion focuses on Korach and is named after him because he is so important to learn from: he is our role model of how NOT to behave in the Kingdom. The children of Israel are wandering in the wilderness and what does Korach do? He blames it on Moshe! (Numbers 16:13-14). He dares not blame God, so therefore blames His appointed leader rather than the real reason: the report of the ten spies and the subsequent reaction of the community.
Notice that Korach does not criticise any of the spies, including Yehoshua and Calev. He must have seen those two as a threat because they were men of faith and integrity but perhaps he thought that after the ‘coup’ he was planning, he could use them to bolster his position. He was looking for a scapegoat and in Moshe he thought he had one. Three people began the revolt, 50 joined in and then around 15,000 died in the resulting plague. What was the root of all this?
In the Haftarah reading in 1 Samuel, at the coronation of King Shaul, Samuel attacked the people’s unbelief and rebellion against God for choosing Shaul as king. It’s not against Torah to have a king, but rather “wanting a king for yourselves’. Shaul was ‘their’ man, not God’s.
We see a basic pattern emerging here. We are who we are, have what we have because God has made it so; He doesn’t make mistakes. The leadership had been allocated to Moshe and Aaron and the Levites were to run the Mishkan, with certain subgroups doing specific things. Although Korach and his cohort were all allocated roles in the service of the Lord, they did not consider them important enough; they wanted more – and so began the dissent. What seemed to start as dissatisfaction with what one had been allocated, turned into what actually sat at the root of it all, a rebellious attitude towards God.
The rebels misunderstood what God was doing in the lives of the people of Israel in the desert i.e. using it as a time of refining, teaching, learning and spiritual growth. Instead, they preferred to see it as a problem and a representation of bigger ‘issues’ with the leadership etc. Do we accept what God is teaching us or do we choose to rebel and force through our own agendas? The desert brought our people to a place where they no longer were in control of their own destinies and lives and unless we learn in the difficult times to relinquish that control to the One who does know us and what’s best for us, then we shall constantly struggle and rebel against God, in ever desperate attempts to gain the upper hand in one’s own destiny.
These rebels brought God’s judgement not only on themselves but on all those who chose to follow them. The community was devastated by this and surely many capable and talented people who would have been of real use to the community died (no longer able to function for the Lord) because they listened and allowed the seeds of malcontent to form in their own lives. How we respond to our lives and circumstances has a profound impact not only on ourselves but on those around us.
Rebellion is a dangerous thing because it causes harm in the community. This is because of the mercy of God, who always gives us time to repent but this is interpreted by those joining the rebellion as ‘getting away with it’ or worse, that God isn’t just. Rebellion leads people to form an impression of God that isn’t true, so it is dealt with quickly.
But rebellion brings contempt too; it gradually breeds a contempt of God. Korach demonstrated this contempt in his rebellion but we all do when we fight against God and want our own way above His. Perhaps circumstances aren’t as we would like, or situations are taking us out of our carefully controlled comfort zone so we try to claw back from God what is rightfully His i.e. sovereignty over our lives. Korach and his friends were swallowed up in the ground for their rebellion and lack of understanding of God and His ways. We too can be swallowed up by the circumstances of our lives, forever trying to keep our heads above water while the eddies and currents of situations try to drag us under. The illusion of control and being the master of our own destiny doesn’t lead to life but to death as Korach found out, an enslavement to the very things we try to control.
Do we look at our lives with an understanding of the hand of God working every day in every situation, or do we prefer to think of ourselves as our own masters, running the ship in the way we think, expecting more from God? How far do you rebel against God? Or do you trust God for what every day brings, confident and certain in Him and His provision?