In the NIV translation of Numbers 16:1, the Bible says Korah became insolent, arrogant, and proud. Instead of being full of God and his joy he got full of himself. His priestly heritage and visible ministry assignment went straight to his head. When Moses was at his lowest, leading the Israelites back into the wilderness for 40 more years of wandering, Korah promoted himself. He thought, “I could do his job a lot better. While Moses is vulnerable, and everyone’s is disgruntled I’ll strike and take my rightful place.”
Korah orchestrated a coup to take what didn’t belong to him. Let me take a break to share a humorous moment from our family. My great-aunt, affectionately known as Aunt Amie by all, greatly enjoyed meeting new people and volunteering in the community. In the late 80’s, after a presidential election, Washington, DC held lavish celebrations. Our vivacious aunt found herself serving at a prestigious ball, and invited us to see her. She promised gifts if we did. Living just 30 minutes from the capital, we decided to make it a family outing. To our amazement, she brought out beautiful, personalized jackets and hats made especially to commemorate the new president. One coat had the president’s name, another the vice president, and others with the names of their wives. She said she found the complimentary items while walking through the hotel. So, we put them on, and began to sport our new digs. But just a few feet from the hotel, security stopped us and ordered to return the memorabilia. It was in fact reserved to honor the presidential party, and those invited to the ball. We happily complied and scampered away with red faces. My gracious aunt had no idea. There’s nothing worse than returning a gift you took.
The Hebrew word for “insolent” is laqach, and it can also mean “to take.” Korah was a taker. He took what was not appointed to him and made himself a thief. He took men. He grabbed the priestly censors. He wanted the priesthood, the tent of meeting, and control of the congregation of Israel.
Let’s check ourselves. Though Korah’s acts are clearly wrong, the story is in God’s Word because if it happened to him, it could happen to all of us. Here’s a critical point. While working for God, we must guard against the works of the flesh. My grandpa Heaston, who pastored for over 70 years, used to say, “Sanctified flesh is still flesh.” In other words, our sin nature can rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times.
Neck deep in God’s work, the works of the flesh took hold of Korah’s heart. We find these vices in Galatians 5:19-21. Let’s look for a moment at the entire list.
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Notice the first five, and the last two. Most would agree those are no-brainers. But notice the ones sandwiched between again – hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy…” Those hit closer to home. Here in the same list are acts and attitudes. Before God, jealousy, selfish ambition, and envy are in the same league with sexual sin and witchcraft. In verse 21 he concludes, “…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The big tamales in this list is selfish ambition. To be clear, we should aspire to do great things, and set lofty goals we could never reach on our own. God receives honor when our motivation is to help others, advance God’s kingdom, and steward our gifts and resources. But selfish ambition burns for distinction. It’s a desire for supremacy to gain attention and praise by whatever means to fulfill a self-centered end. For example, how about manipulating social media to multiply followers or likes? Buying fans to boost your social platform and visibility is a huge industry through sites like buysocialfan.com. Everybody who is anybody is doing it.
It is difficult to spot because it masquerades as holy zeal, righteous fervor, passion, enthusiasm, even anointing. But the Bible says in James 3:14-15, “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
When Korah raised himself up, God opened the earth and devoured him and all his possessions. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” But 1 Peter 5:6 points to a better way, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”