As a member of the tribe of Levi, Korah’s life centered around the tabernacle. His great-grandfather Levi had three sons, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari. Each child and their descendants had a vital ministry assignment. The Gershon house cared for the coverings, curtains, and ropes of the tabernacle. The Merari family handled the crossbars, posts, and bases. But God gave the Kohathite clan the unique honor of transporting the sacred furniture – the table, lampstand, altars, all the articles for ministry inside the tent of meeting, including the Ark of the Covenant (Num. 3:31-32). As a member of the Kohathites, this was Korah’s God-given assignment, along with other visible ministry duties in front of the people of God.
However, Korah and his clan had a particular challenge. While the Gershonites and Merarites could use carts, the Kohathites had to carry the sacred items by hand. Notice Number 4:15, “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.”
Did it ever get old lugging furniture through the wilderness by hand? If you’ve helped a new church get established, you know first hand the challenges of setting up each Sunday. God has a special place in heaven for set up team members.
But Korah’s rebellion didn’t come from burnout. It started with comparison. He started comparing his assignment with the high priest Aaron and his family. They were chosen by God to oversee everything related to the tabernacle, and only they had access to the tent of meeting. Numbers 18:7 says, “But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.” The more they compared, the more discontent, envious, and bitter they became. In time, Korah began to see his ministry as slave labor while Moses and Aaron got the spotlight. Korah didn’t want more. He wanted it all.
Having made no progress with Korah, he called on Nathan and Abiram, but their hearts were closed. We can see their quarrelsome spirit in how they turned the question of “Isn’t it enough?” back on Moses. Numbers 16:13 says, “Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us!…Do you want to treat these men like slaves?” In the Hebrew the literal translation for “treat these men like slaves” is “gouge out their eyes.”
For the first time, the Bible says Moses became very angry (Numbers 16:15). But instead of reacting, he told everyone to show up the next day in front of the tabernacle with a censer in hand. Maybe a good night sleep would bring all to their senses.