If you’ve ever read the books of Numbers, you might remember one of the most dramatic sections occurs with the rebellion of Korah.
The congregation had just received the devastating news that, in response to their failure to believe God and enter the promised land, all the rebellious adults (who had been rebelling and complaining since they left Egypt) were going to die in the wilderness over the next forty years (Numbers 13-14). God was going to give the land to their children instead of them.
After this, God gave them instructions about sacrifices that they were to implement, not in the wilderness, but when they came into the promised land. Why would God give them such instructions now, when they just found out they weren’t going to get to the land for forty years? The ESV Study Bible notes point out that some of the materials mentioned wouldn’t be available in the wilderness. But, more importantly, the notes say this instruction about future temple worship coming on the heels of such severe judgement was a reassurance that yes, the children of Israel were still God’s people and would eventually get to the promised land.
But Korah and Dathan and Abiram, along with the other challengers, had this complaint against Moses and Aaron:
You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord? (Numbers 16:3b).
The ESV Study Bible notes say that Korah “[emphasized] one truth to the exclusion of others (which is what heretics and founders of cults commonly do).” In Exodus 19:4-6b, God had told the people if they obeyed Him and kept His covenant, they would be His “treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
But, though they were a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, God had set apart certain people to minister specifically in the tabernacle. Korah was a Levite who had certain duties that he should have considered a privilege.
Is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? (Numbers 16:9-10)
This time, “You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” Moses said Korah’s argument was against the Lord (Numbers 16:7, 11).
After a demonstration to illustrate God’s choice of leadership, He caused the earth to “open its mouth and swallow them up” (verses 28-35). Thus the first wave of deaths of the rebellious, unbelieving adults were swept into eternity.
I had always thought that Korah’s wife and children had died in this judgment, too, since verse 32 says, “their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods” were swallowed up. That always bothered me. But I trust “the Judge of all the earth” to “do right” (Genesis 18:25). I figured either He knew they were rebellious, too, or else He felt it best to take them on to heaven instead of having to live with the aftermath of Korah’s judgement.
But Warren Wiersbe pointed out in his book, Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God, that Numbers 26:9-11 mentions this incident and says in verse 11 “But the sons of Korah did not die.”
Korah’s descendants ministered in the tabernacle in the time of Chronicles.
Some “were in charge of the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent, as their fathers had been in charge of the camp of the Lord, keepers of the entrance” (1 Chronicles 9:19; 26:19).
Some made cakes and the showbread for the temple (1 Chronicles 9:31-32).
Some were among David’s mighty men (1 Chronicles 12:11-6).
Some of them “stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice” when God answered Jehoshaphat’s prayer (2 Chronicles 20:18-19).
And some of them wrote psalms. Eleven of them: Psalms 42; 44—49; 84—85; 87—88.
The people whose ancestors weren’t content with their Levitical role and coveted the priesthood could now say, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10b).
I had noticed the sons of Korah listed with the psalms, but for some reason never connected them with that Korah. That’s one good reason to keep reading the Bible no matter how often you’ve read it or how familiar it is. You keep finding truths and connections you missed before.
In Keep a Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot shares an excerpt from a book titled Fathers and Sons written by Phillip Howard, her grandfather:
Do you remember that encouraging word of Thomas Fuller’s, a chaplain of Oliver Cromwell’s time? It’s a good passage for a father in all humility and gratitude to tuck away in his memory treasures:
“’Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations.
Rehoboam begat Abijah; that is, a bad father begat a bad son.
Abijah begat Asa; that is, a bad father begat a good son.
Asa begat Jehoshaphat; that is, a good father begat a good son.
Jehoshaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father begat a bad son.
I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.”
It’s such a blessing to know that our genetics don’t have any influence in our standing before God. If we’re privileged to come from a long line of faithful believers, their righteousness doesn’t count for us. We have to believe on the Lord and repent of our sins personally to become part of the family of God. And if we come from people who didn’t know God or who were outright rebels, by God’s grace, we can change courses. We can say with the sons of Korah, “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (Psalm 84:12).
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