BIBLE STUDY SERIES #359, 360 and 361

11 October, 1998

WILDERNESS SCHOOLING - PART V

By Douglas C. Nesbit B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us down the generations of his progeny through Jacob (Israel) to Egypt and Exodus, to Mount Sinai and to Canaan's border. But at the border, on hearing the adverse report of the majority of the spies sent to search out The Promised Land, the people of Israel had failed to enter in, though promised The Lord's Strength. Thus they had forfeited their chance; and that whole mature generation must now wander for a further thirty-eight years in the detested conditions of the wilderness for a total of forty years, having been assessed a year for each day that the spies had searched the land. Only the two, Joshua and Caleb, whose testimony upon return from the spy mission had told the truth would survive to lead the following generation where their parents feared to tread.

One of the lessons which had to be learned by the Israelites during their extended period of wilderness wandering was that they must never raise their hand against The Lord, in the sense of open rebellion or open flouting of His Commandments. At the end of our last study, we read of a man who had apparently done so, in verses 32-36 of Numbers 15:

32. And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
33. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
34. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
35. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
36. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

As The New Bible Commentary observes, under the heading "An instance of presumptuous sin (xv. 32-36)": "After the command, an instance of wilful sin is described, which occurred during the forty years in the wilderness. Despite the frequent reiteration of the sabbath law and the fact that thousands of people were observing this law around him, a man was caught flagrantly disobeying it. He was brought to Moses and Aaron, and they sought special wisdom as to what should be done. God ordered that he be killed as a warning to the people of the terrible nature of wilful sin."

On the surface, the execution, by stoning, of this one man does seem an extreme reaction to an apparently harmless action on the part of one person in a camp comprising perhaps two million people. However, things are not always fully appreciated by later generations as they might be by those living at that time. There was probably far more at stake than a simple case of sabbath-breaking in an otherwise tranquil setting.

On the surface, it was such a simple challenge to the regulation required in the Commandment concerning the Sabbath. However, under the circumstances which would be prevailing and well understood at the time, but perhaps forgotten at this distance, it may well have constituted, in fact, a threat to the whole system of authority, which the entire wilderness experience was designed to underscore, to teach, and to drive home to every person in the entire assembly, before God would once again provide the opportunity to enter The Promised Land. Doubtless Moses and Aaron had sought special direction on the matter because the situation was such that to do less might jeopardise most gravely the entire system of Israelite religion and the national civic authority based thereon. It was, perhaps, in fact a threat to the very existence of Israel as a people ruled by The LORD.

We must keep in mind the fact that Korah's rebellion, which included some Levites with an ecclesiastical agenda, and also that of Dathan and Abiram with their challenge to the system of national government, was apparently impending, and possibly about to break out into the open, as we will read in the next chapter. Not only Moses' own authority, but that of Aaron, and, indeed, of the Almighty God Whose Word had provided the commissioning for leadership to these two people ever since the Israelites were in bondage under the Egyptian taskmasters of the Pharaoh, was being threatened by this simple act of gathering sticks. It was perhaps even being done as a sort of "testing" of Moses' authority, with the connivance and backing of the leadership of those hundreds who were, even at the time, being moved towards support of the incipient rebellion. We will be examining that rebellion in the next studies. For the present, let us turn to the final portion of our present chapter, Numbers 15:37-41:

37. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
38. Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
39. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
40. That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.
41. I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.

We may the better appreciate the purpose of this command if we take a look at some modern examples of the use of clothing to provide symbolic unity between people. We may remember, and indeed ourselves use, some such means of communicating to others our solidarity with some group purpose. Even political parties try to associate certain colours in the public mind with their agreed agendas. We can think of the use of an uniform by various groups such as the police, the armed forces, the boy scouts, nurses, workers in assembly plants, security guards, or even the use of a lapel ribbon of some colour in support of some common purpose, or the use of colours matching those of a sports team. Wherever a unity of purpose is being encouraged among people, colours may be used, both to identify the purpose of the group, and to stimulate group activity through mutual support by those similarly accoutered. Matching jackets for a football team and its supporters, or the ecclesiastical show of pomp and circumstance of certain church organizations may be similarly encountered. All such displays show an underlying unity of purpose of those who wear such distinctive clothing.

Under the heading "The ribband of blue (xv. 37-41), The New Bible Commentary notes: "God knows how easy it is for a man living in Satan's world to forget His Creator. So He commanded the Israelites to make special borders on their clothes as a reminder. It is always a good thing to seek ever new ways of reminding ourselves of God and His desires for us. When one means has been used for a time its purpose tends to be forgotten, or it may become an end in itself instead of simply a reminder to do God's will. Hence all such means must be subject to frequent change, if they are to retain their effectiveness.

We can be alone in our singularity, whether we be unaccompanied and distant from all others, or isolated in the midst of throngs who differ in their interests and attitudes. How often have we found ourselves in circumstances wherein we feel disheartened or weary, isolated and alone, in the silence, or on the other hand, in a different sense of the words, isolated and alone amidst vast throngs who pass in self-centered and disinterested attitudes of thought? Have we not on occasion been consoled through knowing of our unity with our family members far away, through some physical reminder such as a much worn and tattered envelope containing a precious letter from a loved one? How often do we seek to revive that sense of peaceful unity with Our Maker; possibly being reminded through glancing at some physical article, such as a small testament worn upon one's person, to renew conversation in the silence of the heart and revive the words which bring assurance of shared hopes and expectations?

Of such mementos which revive one's spirits through reminding us of our main focus in life is this example which emerges out of the distant past, and which was employed by those ancestors so far away. It speaks of our Great God Who revived the nation in the midst of sorrow and dejection. It is the use of that colour of blue ribbon on the fringe of a garment which, by The LORD's Own directive, was now given as a source of remembrance to His people. It is a reminder of the blue colour in view as one scans the physical heavens, and it speaks of the Law given for our guidance and protection by One in the heavens Who loves us enough to die in our place, and Who desires above all else our protection from our own stupidities and ignorance, by the employment of His Laws.

May this be a source of meditation to us all during this coming week.

18 October, 1998

KORAH'S REBELLION - PART I

By Douglas C. Nesbit B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies, which began a number of years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us down the generations of his progeny through Jacob (Israel) to Egypt and Exodus, to Mount Sinai and to Canaan's border. But at the border, on hearing the adverse report of the majority of the spies sent to search out The Promised Land, the people of Israel had failed to enter, and thus they had forfeited their chance. That whole mature generation must now wander in the Sinai wilderness for a further thirty-eight years: forty years in all, each year for a day that the spies had searched the land. Only the two, Joshua and Caleb would survive to lead the following generation where their parents feared to tread.

One of the lessons which had to be learned by the Israelites during their extended period of wilderness wandering was that they must never raise their hand against The Lord, in the sense of open rebellion or open flouting of His Commandments. Today, in Numbers 16, we encounter a serious rebellion, and its consequences.

While it would, in the normal course of a Bible Study, be appropriate to read the Scriptural passage concerned at once, I think that I shall, to begin, quote only the first three verses, in order to "set the stage" so to speak, and then quote something from both Keil and Delitzsch and The New Bible Commentary in order to present at least some portion of their views on the entire chapter. While, I, on the last Bible Study, associated this rebellion to that of the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath, in defiance of God's Commandment, The New Bible Commentary sees this sixteenth chapter as probably occurring later during those years of wandering in the wilderness when, presumably, further irritation with their lot had fed this rebellious spirit. However I find that Keil and Delitzsch, express a view parallel to my own in stating "The sedition of Korah and his company, with the renewed sanction of the Aaronic priesthood on the part of God which it occasioned, is the only important occurrence recorded in connection with the thirty-seven years' wandering in the wilderness. The time and place are not recorded. The fact that the departure from Kadesh is not mentioned in chap. xiv., whilst, according to Deut. i. 46, Israel remained there many days, is not sufficient to warrant the conclusion that it took place in Kadesh. The departure from Kadesh is not mentioned even after the rebellion of Korah; and yet we read, in chap. xx. 1, that the whole congregation came again into the desert of Zin to Kadesh at the beginning of the fortieth year, and therefore must previously have gone away. All that can be laid down as probable is, that it occurred in one of the earliest of the thirty-seven years of punishment, though we have no firm grounds even for this conjecture." Numbers 16:

1. Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
2. And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
3. And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

Here we have recorded the rebellious statement of those who were gathered together against Moses and Aaron. Here, we find that people, some of whose antecedents, as Levites, were of the same tribal roots as those of the two leaders, but who had not, in fact, the divine calling which had been given to the latter, were deeming themselves qualified to replace Moses and Aaron. Here, there was also a second faction which was led by members of the senior tribe of Reuben, joined to Korah's rebellious movement but for different purposes. Of verses one to three, Keil and Delitzsch continue: "The authors of the rebellion were Korah the Levite, a descendant of the Kohathite Izhar, who was a brother of Amram, an ancestor (not the father) of Aaron and Moses (see at Ex. vi. 18), and three Reubenites, viz. Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, of the Reubenitish family of Pallu (chap. xxvi. 8, 9), and On, the son of Peleth, a Reubenite, not mentioned again. The last of these (On) is not referred to again in the further course of this event, either because he played altogether a subordinate part in the affair, or because he had drawn back before the conspiracy came to a head." Keil and Delitzsch continue by telling us that the persons named took ... "i.e. gained over to their plan, or persuaded to join them, 250 distinguished men of the other tribes, and rose up with them against Moses and Aaron." This reference proceeds to examine, and to dismiss a contentious higher critical argument regarding the Hebrew of the statement that conveys the words "They rose up before Moses" as meaning "before Moses' tent", so as to force a seeming contradiction into the passage. Keil and Delitzsch proceed then to state "The 250 men of the children of Israel who joined the rebels no doubt belonged to the other tribes, as is indirectly implied in the statement in chap. xxvii. 3, that Zelophehad the Manassite was not in the company of Korah. These men were 'princes of the congregation,' i.e. heads of the tribes, or of large divisions of the tribes, 'called men of the congregation,' i.e. members of the council of the nation which administered the affairs of the congregation (cf. i. 16), 'men of name'... The leader was Korah; and the rebels are called in consequence 'Korah's company'... . He laid claim to the high-priesthood, or at least to an equality with Aaron (ver. 17). Among his associates were the Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, who, no doubt, were unable to get over the fact that the birthright had been taken away from their ancestor, and with it the headship of the house of Israel (i.e. of the whole nation). Apparently their present intention was to seize upon the government of the nation under a self-elected high priest, and to force Moses and Aaron out of the post assigned to them by God,- that is to say, to overthrow the constitution which God had given to His people.- Ver. 3... 'enough for you!' ...they said to Moses and Aaron, i.e. 'let the past suffice you'...; ye have held the priesthood and the government quite long enough. It must now come to an end; 'for the whole congregation, all of them, (i.e. all the members of the nation), are holy, and Jehovah is in the midst of them. Wherefore lift ye yourselves above the congregation of Jehovah?'" Keil and Delitzsch point out that two Hebrew words, one meaning the congregation according to its natural organization, and the other according to its divine calling and theocratic purpose are found in the same verse, and that this forms an argument against those who theorise that the passage is derived from two sources. "The rebels appeal to the calling of all Israel to be the holy nation of Jehovah (Ex. xix. 5, 6), and infer from this the equal right of all to hold the priesthood... altogether overlooking the fact that God Himself had chosen Moses and Aaron, and appointed them as mediators between Himself and the congregation, to educate the sinful nation into a holy nation, and train it to the fulfilment of its proper vocation. The rebels, on the contrary, thought that they were holy already, because God had called them to be a holy nation, and in their carnal self-righteousness forgot the condition attached to their calling, 'If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant' (Ex. xix. 5)."

The other reference, The New Bible Commentary, under the heading "The Great Rebellion Of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. xvi. 1-50", states "This chapter presents a complicated series of events with many involved details. Two distinct groups are joined in a temporary alliance against Moses and Aaron. One of these, headed by Korah, is composed principally of Levites, who are offended by the setting apart of the family of Aaron for the duties and privileges of the priesthood. The other group, headed by Dathan and Abiram, feel that they, rather than Moses, should have the pre-eminence in the nation, since they are the leaders of the tribe descended from the firstborn son of Jacob. Thus a rebellion against ecclesiastical authority and another against political authority are associated together, and the strength of each is greatly enhanced by co-operation with the other. Yet there is considerable difference in the attitude of the two groups, and to some extent they are dealt with separately and differently. In view of the complexity of these events the running summary below should be helpful in gaining an understanding of the chapter."

That reference then proceeds to give some more detailed thoughts for which we do not have time on today's study. May I leave with you the thought that such occurrences as Korah's Rebellion have probably been the experience of numerous Christian leaders of Godly character down through the centuries since that day when Moses was thus confronted. God holds the prerogative to choose whomsoever He wills to appoint to positions of leadership in His Kingdom.. It was thus that the Twelve Disciples were selected, not from the "high and mighty" or the scholarly of the day, but from those who were willing to merge their thoughts and wills with His own, and to be faithful unto death. May this be a source of meditation for yourself this week and in the weeks ahead.

25 October, 1998

KORAH'S REBELLION - PART II

By Douglas C. Nesbit B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies, which began a number of years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, has taken us down the generations of his progeny through Jacob (Israel) to Egypt and Exodus, to Mount Sinai and to Canaan's border. But at the border, on hearing the adverse report of the majority of the spies sent to search out The Promised Land, the people of Israel had failed to enter, and thus they had forfeited their chance. That whole mature generation must now wander in the Sinai wilderness for a further thirty-eight years: forty years in all, each year for a day that the spies had searched the land. Only the two, Joshua and Caleb would survive to lead the following generation where their parents feared to tread.

One of the lessons which had to be learned by the Israelites during their extended period of wilderness wandering was that they must never raise their hand against The Lord, in the sense of open rebellion or open flouting of His Commandments. Today, in Numbers 16, we continue our study of the Rebellion of Korah, which we began on the last study. We had reached only to verse three, but in order to give the context of the succeeding verses, perhaps we had better read the next portion of the chapter starting at verse 1. Commentaries generally repeat, in various words, the same account as is succinctly presented by the Word of God itself, and we will probably obtain the picture quite clearly if we read the Scriptural words in their entirety:

1. Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
2. And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
3. And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
4. And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
5. And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.
6. This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
7. And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.
8. And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
9. Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?
10. And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?
11. For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?
12. And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:
13. Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?
14. Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.
15. And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.
16. And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:
17. And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the LORD every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer.
18. And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.
19. And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the congregation.
20. And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
21. Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.
22. And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?
23. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
24. Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
25. And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.
26. And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.
27. So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.
28. And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the LORD hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind.
29. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me.
30. But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD.
31. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:
32. And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
33. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.
34. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.
35. And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
36. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
37. Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed.
38. The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the LORD, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel.
39. And Eleazar the priest took the brasen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar:
40. To be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the LORD; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the LORD said to him by the hand of Moses.
41. But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD.
42. And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.
43. And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.
44. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
45. Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.
46. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun.
47. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people.
48. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
49. Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.
50. And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.

Well, there we have the complete picture of the ecclesiastical and also the governmental rebellion which threatened the leadership of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness at that time. Continuing to scan the Commentary's descriptive passages, we come on some further useful notes in this passage: "The families of Dathan and Abiram perished with them. That of Korah did not (see Nu. xxvi. 9-11). Although excluded from the priesthood, his descendants came to hold an honoured place in the service of the sanctuary. One of them, Samuel, was one of the greatest of Hebrew prophets and judges (I Ch. vi. 33-38). Samuel's grandson, Heman, was an outstanding singer in David's reign. A number of Psalms are designated as 'for the sons of Korah'. This is a remarkable instance of a situation where the lamentable failure of a man did not prevent his descendants from achieving outstanding success, and, indeed, in a way closely related to that in which the ancestor had so signally erred. Although the leaders of the revolt were dead, the confusion continued for a time. Verses 41-50 show the people still in revolt, God threatening to destroy them all (44), and Moses and Aaron acting as intercessors on behalf of the people who were reviling them (46-48). At the end, 14,700 lay dead from God's wrath (9)."

In the next study in this series, we will be moving on to see how the subsequent experiences played out the tale of those Israelite ancestors of the generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred descendants of our own day, for we, of the British-Israel-World Federation maintain that this relationship is a true explanation of many prophetic marks which attend us in these last days of our own time.

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