Numbers 16:12 says, “So each of them took his censer, put burning coals and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” All those in opposition to Moses showed up the next day with a censer in hand. A censer was a priestly instrument reserved only for Aaron and his sons to burn incense. They had in their hands another person’s God-given tool for ministry. Again, they took what didn’t belong to them, and were ready to offer up a strange offering. Remember how David refused to take another man’s armor, humbly accepting the gifts allotted to him. Only then did he slay the giant.
Verse 12 is careful to mention they were standing at the entrance to the tent of meeting. They were eager to charge into the Holy Place, promoting themselves to the priesthood. On that fateful morning, hot coals were taken from the altar, put into each censer, and then sprinkled with incense. The burning incense released a cloud smoke. With so many censers burning, the courtyard was soon covered in a dense fog. But the fragrance was not the aroma of contrite worship, but arrogance and pride. That’s when the Lord showed up and said to Moses in Exodus 16:21, “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.”
Still heartbroken, Moses interceded for those who betrayed him. He prayed in Numbers 16:22, “Will you be angry with the entire congregation when only one man sins?” God relented and told Moses to instruct the people to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. As the people walked away, leaving the rebels standing alone, this was another act of grace. The feeling of aloneness forced them to examine their ways. But this last opportunity for restoration only hardened their defiant hearts more.
Then Moses said in Numbers 26:28, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea.” If those gathered in opposition died a natural death, then Moses was never God’s leader. But if something entirely new happened, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them alive then all would know.
Suddenly, the ground began to rumble. The earth opened its jaws like a mighty T-Rex. Korah, Dathan, Abiram, their families, and possessions disappeared into the belly of the earth. Then God sent fire and consumed the other 250 standing defiantly at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
But the murmuring continued the following morning. Numbers 16:41 says, “The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. ‘You have killed the Lord’s people!” Again the glory of the Lord appeared, and God said, “I’m putting an end to this at once.” A deadly plague was sent much worse than any Ebola virus. Moses told Aaron to go into the epidemic with a burning censor to make atonement for the people. Running through the crowd, Aaron drew a line of grace. Wherever he went, he stood between the living and the dead.
To finally quell the incessant grumbling, God called for one more step. Each of the 12 tribes brought a staff to Moses. Each rod had the name of their leader engraved on it. The tribe of Levi inscribed Aaron’s name. The staff was a shepherd’ rod, a symbol of authority. In the tending of sheep, it was used to guide, correct, and protect the flock. Moses placed each one in the of meeting in front of the ark of the covenant. The next day Aaron’s rod, an old, dead piece of wood, had blossomed and even produced almonds. Aaron’s budding rod was kept in front of the ark as a perpetual sign.
What life lessons does this story teach us?