Numbers Chapter 16: The Seven Causes and Consequences of Rebellion

1. The 11th and 12th Rebellions Against God. Nu. 16:1-50.

  • The rebellion of the worship leader. This chapter tells the story of a rebellion initiated by Korah and three others (Nu. 16:1-40). It then tells the story of the rebellion of those who were upset at the death of the rebel leaders (Nu. 16:41-50). Korah was the grandson of Kohah and a descendant of Levi (Nu. 16:1). God had given the Kohath tribe the honor to protect and carry “the most holy things,” which included the ark (Nu. 4:4). Moses said that Korah’s specific duty was to conduct “the service of the tabernacle” and minister to the congregation (Nu. 16:9). The Psalmist’s choir directions to “the sons of Korah” also establishes that Korah lead the worship services while Aaron and his sons performed the sacrifices (Ps. Chapters 42-49, 84, 85, 87, 88). Thus, Korah was a powerful lieutenant below Moses and Aaron. Korah was later joined by 250 “men of renown.” (Nu. 16:2). This story counters the notion that rebellions are led by the weak. They are instead led by the powerful, who then manipulate others. This also reveals that worship is not enough to protect you from rebellion. Do you merely go through the motions when you sing? Are you more likely to rebel when you have power or when you are weak?

  • The rebellion of those who lost power. Along with Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On from the tribe of Reuben “took action” against Moses (Nu. 16:1). Dathan and Abiram later refused to answer Moses’ summons (Nu. 16:14). Reuben lost his firstborn status when he defiled his father’s bed by sleeping with his step mother, Bilhah, Rachael’s maid servant (Gen. 35:22; 1 Chr. 5:1-2). Reuben, like Satan, was not content with his exalted position and wanted more power (Is. 14:12; Ez. 28:12). The leaders from the tribes of Reuben and Kohath most likely formed their cabal while camped next to each other on the south side of the Tabernacle (Nu. 2:10; 3:29). Like a contagion, sin of any kind, including rebellion, spreads when left unchecked. Both groups desired power. If either set of leaders had succeeded in deposing Moses, they would have quickly turned on each other. Leaders cannot simply ignore those who incite rebellion and hope that they will go away. Are you ignoring those around you who gossip and murmur about your leaders?

  • Satan’s counterfeit government – rebellion. After leaving Egypt, the Jews’ lack of faith caused them to rebel “ten times” against God and His appointed leaders (Nu. 14:22). As a result of the Jews’ repeated refusal to obey and have faith, God eventually banished the Jews to spend a total of 40 years wandering in the desert (Nu. 14:34). Twelve is the perfect number of God’s governance. There were 12 tribes and 12 apostles. God uses leaders as His “avengers” to administer His justice (Rom. 13:4). They also are supposed to “watch out for your souls.” (Heb. 13:17). Yet, for everything good and holy, Satan has created a counterfeit to deceive people. Twelve times, Satan sought to incite the Jews into rebellion. If God’s perfect government leads to peace and harmony (1 Tim. 2:1-2), rebellion only brings strife, death, and misery. When civil war breaks out, civilians suffer the most. When civil order breaks down during rebellions or after disasters, crowds of people typically loot unprotected shops and business. Likewise, when leaders rebel against either God’s Word or His appointed church leaders, churches also suffer. As another example, children and a family almost always suffer when a husband or wife rebels against their marriage covenant with God. Are you rebelling against God? If so, what good can come from it?

  • Satan’s attacks on leaders. God commands that you submit to His appointed leaders. First, you submit to God through his Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14), His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and His church leadership (Matt. 18:17-20; Heb. 13:17). Second, you submit to your civil authorities (1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rom. 13:1-2). Third, you submit to God’s family order (Eph. 5:22-25; 6:10). Only when your authorities refuse to follow God’s Word can you ignore them (Acts. 4:19). Satan’s goal has always been to break down authority through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery. His first rebellion led a third of the angels against God (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then led Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen. 3:16). All of Satan’s 12 rebellions sought to depose Moses as the leader of the Jews. Jesus once quoted a prophesy: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mk. 14:23). Upon His arrest, the disciples scattered. If Satan had deposed Moses, the nation would have broken apart in the wilderness because there was no system for succession in place. They would have fought against each other to obtain power. For the same reason, Satan works hard to have people bring down their church leaders, their civic leaders, and their families. America has reaped only sorrow from its rebellions. Are you rebelling against God’s appointed leaders?

2. The Seven Causes of Rebellion.

(1) Pride. Korah, whose name means “ice,” felt a lack of recognition. He perceived that his role was more important amongst the Levities than that the Gershonite tribe, which carried the “fine linens” for the Tabernacle (Nu. 4:21-26), and the Merarite tribe, which carried the sockets and the pegs for the Tabernacle (Nu. 4:32). The 250 leaders who joined him were all “men of renown.” (Nu. 16:2). Being blinded by their pride, these men believed that God would accept their fire and incense offerings (Nu. 16:18). Aaron and Miriam had recently conspired against Moses because of their pride as well (Nu. 12:1-2). Satan was likewise blessed with great beauty as one of God’s angel’s. His pride also caused him to covet God’s power (Is. 14:12-15). Pride may also lead to your downfall (Prov. 16:18). Do you feel that you are better than others because God has given you special talents that others lack? Do you feel that you are smarter, better educated, or more charismatic than those around you? You should worry more about this sin when you struggle than when everything is going well.

(2) Covetousness. Those who rebel do so out of coveting (Is. 1:23). Kohath, Dathan, Abiram, On, and the 250 leaders desired power. They coveted what Moses had and violated the Tenth Commandment by doing so (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). Those who “covet” are disqualified from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:3-6). The person who covets also cannot satisfy their desires by giving into their desires (Hab. 2:5). Are you content with what God has given you? Or, do you find yourself deserving things that others have?

(3) Faithlessness. All of the 12 rebellions were fueled by a lack of faith. For example, Dathan and Abiram accused Moses of leading the people away from the Promised Land to die in the wilderness (Nu. 16:14). As another example, with the first rebellion, the people accused Moses of leading them to die in the wilderness when Pharaoh’s army approached (Ex. 14:12). Likewise, with the second rebellion, the people again accused Moses of leading them to die when he brought them to the bitter waters of Marah (Ex. 15:23). Similarly, with the tenth rebellion, the Jews also accused Moses of leading them to die in a battle for the Promised Land (Nu. 14:2-3; Dt. 9:23). Yet, God was in fact guiding them by a pillar of light (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). An “unbelieving heart” will cause a person to fall away from God (Heb. 3:12). Thus, it is “impossible” to please Him when you lack faith (Heb. 11:6). “When your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation.” (Ps. 95:7-11). Do you complain about your surroundings?

(4) Complaining. According to the Talmud, Korah’s wife grumbled against Moses and encouraged Korah to act. Korah then murmured to those around him until he found sympathetic ears in the neighboring camp of Rueben. A rebellion requires many to act. The cabal of rebel leaders then incited the 250 leaders by openly speaking out against Moses (Nu. 16:3, 13-14, 41). Other rebellions against God began in a similar way. Just prior to the tenth rebellion at the edge of the Promised Land, the people also murmured against their leaders, Moses and Aaron (Nu. 14:2(a)). Aaron and Miriam had also murmured against Moses (Nu. 12:1). As they all learned, God hates rebellion of any kind. When you have contempt toward His leaders, it is equivalent in the Bible to having contempt toward Him (Ex. 16:2, 8; 1 Sam. 8:7). Thus, He warns that you are not to speak ill of His appointed leaders: “Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.” (Ps. 105:15). Nor are you to speak ill of anyone else (Ps. 15:3; 50:19-20; Prov. 6:16-19; Jam. 4:11). It is one of the signs of a “depraved mind.” (Ro. 1:28-30). At its root, complaining about others happens when you feel out of control. Or, it happens out of pride when you believe that you could do something better. Do you have control over your tongue?

(5) Deceit. A successful rebellion requires showing that a leader has lost his legitimacy. A person seeking to stir up the people against a leader will often seek to accomplish that through lies and deceit. Korah, for example, accused Moses of exalting himself over the entire congregation (Nu. 16:3). This was a lie. Moses did not want to lead the people at all (Ex. 3:10-4:13). Korah also used a half truth by stating that the entire congregation was holy (Nu. 16:3). Although God had made them holy, they were not free to sin. Dathan and Abiram also lied when they accused Moses of leading the people away from the Promised Land (Nu. 16:14). Moses merely warned that, if they tried to enter the Promised Land, God would not be amongst them (Nu. 14:42-43). The Jews ignored God’s warning, and many were slaughtered because He lifted His hedge of protection (Nu. 14:45). Later, the masses falsely accused Moses of causing the deaths of Korah and the 250 leaders (Nu. 14:41). You may say that you never deceive. But when you pass gossip, can you be certain that what you are spreading is true? Would you want others to spread gossip about you?

(6) Lawlessness. Once you believe either your leader or the law to be illegitimate, you will refuse to follow the leader and/or the law (Neh. 9:26). Each of the rebel leaders violated the Tenth Commandment against coveting (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). They also refused to honor God’s ordained order. Peter says that the corrupt “despise authority.” (2 Pet. 2:10). When you accept Jesus as Lord, He is to govern every aspect of your life (Lk. 6:46). The Bible should become the source of your instruction (2 Tim. 3:16). According to Jesus, you cannot claim to love Him if you don’t follow His Commandments (Jo. 14:15). Excluding the Laws that Jesus fulfilled, if we say that the Law no longer applies you will be called “least” in Heaven (Matt. 5:19). When a society refuses to follow rules, social order will break down. It is no different with God’s Law. Are you ignoring God’s Word in your life? Do you conform to the rules of the world or the Word of God?

(7) Carnality. When you long for the things of the flesh, God will eventually give you over to your lusts (Ro. 1:28). Rebellion comes from “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2). Solomon said that rebellion was the sign of an “evil man.” (Prov. 17:11). Samuel also said: “. . . rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft . . .” (1 Sam. 15:23). Like witchcraft, Satan becomes your father when you rebel (Jo. 8:44). Are you treating lightly any kind of rebellion in your life? If you fail to discipline your kids, what are you teaching them?

3. The Consequences of Rebellion.

  • There are consequences to sin for believers. God warns all believers He will lift His hedge of protection when you decide to live outside the protections of His covenant: (Dt. 28:15). Your salvation is not tied to your obedience. Yet, a lifestyle outside the protections of the Ten Commandments can lead to progressively severe curses (Dt. 28:16-68; Lev. 26:14-39). This includes, but is not limited to captivity and oppression: “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.” (Dt. 28:47-48; Lev. 26:17). When Israel turned away from God, it was taken captive, placed into exile, and suffered tremendously: “And you will, even of yourself, let go of your inheritance that I gave you; and I will make you serve your enemies In the land which you do not know; for you have kindled a fire in My anger which will burn forever.” (Jer. 17:4; Lam. 5:2; 1 Chron. 9:1; 2 Chron. 36:20; Dan. 1:1-7). Paul also warned: “Therefore, whoever resists authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Ro. 13:1-2). “The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness; but forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations.” (Nu. 14:18; Ex. 34:6-7). Those who rebel suffer seven stages of progressive judgment.

(1) You will feel a loss of peace. You reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7). Korah’s rebellion destroyed peace within the congregation. First, 250 leaders revolted. Second, 14,700 more revolted after these rebellious leaders died. Korah later reaped when he sowed when he felt the fear of His impending judgment. “I will appoint over you a sudden terror . . .” (Lev. 26:16). He also would have likely lacked peace during the rebellion because the other leaders would have likely fought against him for power if he had won. If you rebel against God, His rules or His leaders, you also should not expect peace. Yet, if you follow after Jesus with all your heart, He promises the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). If you are missing peace in your life, are you disobeying God?

(2) You will vex the Holy Spirit, and your prayers will be impaired. “But they rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit; therefore he was turned to be their enemy. . .” (Is. 63:10). Once saved, we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22). The Holy Spirit gives us guidance (Jo. 14:26). Yet, when you rebel, your prayers may be impaired (1 Pet. 3:7; Isa. 59:2; Prov. 15:29). How successful will you be if your prayers are impaired?

(3) You will have God’s hand against you. “But if ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandments of the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers.” (1 Sam. 12:15; Ps. 106:26-27; Lev. 27:17). Korah was blinded by his ambition and believed that God would approve his actions. If you rebel against God, His Word, or His leaders, how successful will your endeavors be?

(4) You will be brought down. “Because they rebelled against the words of God, and condemned the counsel of the most High; therefore he brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help.” (Ps. 107:11-12). “I will break down your pride of power.” (Lev. 26:19; Dt. 28:28-36; Lk. 1:51, 18:14). Korah and the other rebels were brought down. Satan was also cast out for his rebellion. If you are rebelling against God’s law or His leaders, you will also be brought down. What pride will you have then?

(5) You will be impoverished from rebellion. “. . . [T]he rebellious dwell in a dry land.” (Ps. 68:6). “. . . [Y]our land will not yield its produce and the trees of the land will not yield its produce.” (Lev. 26:20; Dt. 28:17-19). After the Jews rebelled, they wondered in a barren wasteland for 40 years. When a spouse rebels and leaves his or her family, the wealth and happiness of that family suffers. If you are rebelling, don’t expect God to bless you.

(6) You will be handed to your enemies. “Nevertheless, they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee . . . Therefore, thou delivered them into the hands of their enemies.” (Neh. 9:26-27; Lev. 26:16, 34, 38; Dt. 28:25, 48). The Jews later were sent into captivity for their rebellions. You also will find only bondage if you rebel against God and give into the desires of the flesh. It is also not easy to break those bonds once you give in to sin.

(7) If you fail to repent, you will perish. God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29). He will cast out those who rebel (Ps. 5:10; Ezek. 20:38). The penalty for coveting is also death (Jam. 1:14-15; Heb. 10:28). If rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft (1 Sam 15:23), the penalty for this is again death (Lev. 20:27; Micah 5:12). Because they failed to repent, God opened the ground and swallowed up Korah for his rebellion. They were sent “alive” into Sheol or hell (Nu. 16:31-33). Fire destroyed the other 250 leaders who rebelled (Nu. 16:35). A plague later destroyed 14,700 other rebels (Nu. 16:49). God is slow to anger and wants no one to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Are you warning those who refuse to repent what awaits them?

4. Repent and Pray for Others in Rebellion.

  • Our rebellious generation must repent. Bronze in the Bible symbolizes judgment. Moses directed the priest Eleazar to fashion the bronze censors of the sinners to the altar as a perpetual “sign to the sons of Israel.” (Nu. 16:38). Korah in essence believed that the Jews should be freed to worship God however they wanted since the entire congregation was holy. The rebellion of Korah was a warning to the people against similar rebellions that will come against God, His Word, and His leaders in the future (Jude 1:11). Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat them. God does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). Today, people demand the right to pick and choose the verses they will follow. The nation and the Church should not expect to be blessed when they rebel against God’s Word.

  • Test every spirit. We are to test every spirit (1 Jo. 4:1-3). Korah obviously felt led to take action against Moses. He and the 250 other rebels came forward with fire and incense offerings expecting God to accept them (Nu. 16:18). Many today yoke themselves into relationships that are contrary to God’s Word and then expect Him to bless them. Yet, these people should not expect God to conform to the political trends of the world. If you feel led to rebel against passages in the Bible, your leaders, or your family, this the spirit the devil.

  • Don’t be spiritually blinded like Korah. All who walk by sight are spiritually blinded: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:3-4; Matt. 13:22; Is. 42:16). If you follow others in rebellion, you will become spiritually blind like Korah.

  • Don’t make the sin of presumption like Korah. Korah could have looked around him and drawn the conclusion that his 250 prestigious followers that God was with him. Likewise, he could have looked at his abilities and drawn the same conclusion. Or, he could have looked the Jews’ rebellions and drawn the reasonable conclusion that Moses was not an effective leader. Moses had lived a life of privilege for 40 years while the Jews suffered. Moses than lived as an exile for 40 years. Korah might have reasonably felt that he knew better the sufferings and needs of his people. Yet, these would all be “sins of presumption.” Are you reading the Word and praying, so that you do not make sin of presumption against God?

  • Be a prayer intercessor for others trapped in rebellion. God was going to destroy the entire congregation for their rebellion. He relented after Moses’ intercessory prayer (Nu. 16:21-24). Moses’ prayers also saved the nation after they made the golden calf and on other occasions (Ex. 32:11-14; Nu. 11:2). His prayers also saved the nation as they rebelled at the edge of the Promised Land (Nu. 14:18-22). Are you and your church praying and fasting for the nation to repent? If not, who will?

  • Encourage others not to rebel. The Talmud tells us that On’s wife saved him from judgment. She purportedly encouraged him to drop out of the rebellion. He was one of the four who took action against Moses (Nu. 16:1). Yet, he was not mentioned in God’s punishment (Nu. 16:24, 27). Are you someone trying to talk others out of their rebellion?

  • Encourage others to find strength in meekness and humility. A believer’s true power in God is magnified through meekness and humility: “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10). “For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.” (2 Cor. 13:9; 1 Cor. 4:10). Meekness is strength under control. Are you in control of your flesh?

  • Deny yourself when using your God-given talents. Every believer has gifts of the Holy Spirit. When you use those gifts for your own self-interests, you are no better than Korah or his followers. Do you rejoice in your weakness and your dependence on God?

  • Pray for Jesus to restore the sight of spiritual sight. Paul’s physical blindness reflected his spiritual blindness (Acts 9:7-8). Jesus later removed the scales from his eyes (Acts. 9:18). Jesus has come to give sight to the spiritually blind (Is. 61:6; Lk. 4:18; Matt. 11:5). “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’” (Jo. 9:39). Are you praying for Jesus to give sight to those who like Korah who are in spiritual blindness around you?