The Ice Man Cometh


Moses and the people of Israel were shut out of the Promised Land. Because they didn’t have faith in God’s Word and didn’t follow His will, God refused to let them enter the land He gave them. Instead, the Lord’s prescription for their rebellious attitude was a simple one:

“Since the spies were in the land for forty days, you must wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day, bearing the burden of your sins. I will teach you what it means to reject me. I, Jehovah, have spoken. Every one of you who has conspired against me shall die here in this wilderness.” (Numbers 14:34 – 35 TLB)

That was a big pill for the people to swallow. But swallow it they did. The next four decades were pretty miserable for Israel, but also transitional. God was going to break them and remake them into a people that would serve Him and follow Him.

What happened during those 40 years is mostly a mystery; a historical void. This makes sense because they were years of void – years in which almost a whole generation of Israel’s history quickly died off and the new, youthful generation grew up with no history. Even though history is silent, this was a significant period in the development of Israel.

In terms of geography, the people really didn’t go anywhere. They wandered around aimlessly between Kadesh and the Red Sea, killing time. There is a record of some rest stops they made along the way (chapter 33), but essentially they walked around and around and around. Sometimes, as strange as it may seem, this is God’s will. There may be times in your life when God’s will for you is WAIT – WATCH – and be ready to move out. It’s during those down times when the Lord is helping you to grow, probably teaching you something you need to know. When it seems as though you aren’t going anywhere, yet you’re serving the Lord, living right, doing what you should, take advantage of the time to listen, and learn, and grow in your faith.

In terms of population, Israel lost upwards of 600,000 of its warriors, some to a violent death, many just died in the desert – an almost daily reminder of God’s judgment. Those under 20 when the 40 years began grew up, married and raised children. At the close of their desert judgment, a new generation of Abraham was on the scene.

In terms of this new generation’s spirituality, they were ready to honor the original Covenant. The promise of God was reaffirmed and they were ready to take the land. Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons, the Levites, Joshua, and Caleb were still alive and still leading the people. By now, naturally, Moses was quite old and it was inevitable that there would come a challenge to his leadership. It was odd – really odd! – that that challenge would come from a Levite who was actually a cousin to Moses and Aaron.

One day Korah (son of Izhar, grandson of Kohath, and a descendant of Levi) conspired with Dathan and Abiram (the sons of Eliab) and On (the son of Peleth), all three from the

tribe of Reuben, to incite a rebellion against Moses. Two hundred and fifty popular leaders, all members of the Assembly, were involved. (Numbers 16:1, 2 TLB)

The conspirators

From reading this early history of Israel, you might get the impression all they did was murmur and complain. You might be right. For those who like to know minute trivia, this was actually the fifth time and by the time we get to the end of chapter 16, we’ll be reading about the sixth. But this murmuring was particularly bad because it came from the priesthood, led by a prominent Levite, Korah.

Korah was a man of authority and those associated with his conspiracy to overthrow Moses were all men of prominence and wealth. The rebellion they schemed was no small affair.

“We have had enough of your presumption; you are no better than anyone else; everyone in Israel has been chosen of the Lord, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to put yourselves forward, claiming that we must obey you, and acting as though you were greater than anyone else among all these people of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3 TLB)

The men making this complaint to Moses were all men of renown; they weren’t your average, run-of-the-mill unemployed trouble-makers. Their words carried weight. Their opinions were taken seriously, especially by Moses.

It’s one thing to be unfairly criticized by some loser who barely has the intelligence to walk. Most of us can handle that. But when your work or, worse, your character is impugned by people of note, people you respect, you sit up and take notice. Moses did.

The real sin

Korah, whose name means “Ice,” and he certainly lived down to his name, didn’t like Moses. That was obvious, but those feelings of dislike soon gave way to actions of opposition. As one writer noted, “Where love is thin, faults are thick.” Only somebody with an icy disposition could head up a coup against one of God’s meekest servants.

Their indictment against Moses wasn’t completely wrong. In fact, as they claimed, all Israel was indeed consecrated to the Lord. There was just enough truth in what they said to make Moses cringe. However, most of what they said was bogus. Moses was not taking too much upon himself. He was doing what he was called to do. In fact, at first he didn’t want any part of it; he thought he was unqualified. But God called him and God qualified him. Moses was far from perfect, but he was doing God’s will and Korah’s accusation was unfounded.

The real problem here was not with Moses or the leadership of Israel, but with Korah himself. Jealousy is a terrible thing. Any authority Moses had was derived authority; derived from God Himself. In effect, Moses was working with God’s authority and any complaint against Moses was really a complaint against God. Korah should have known this, and the fact that he didn’t tells us a lot about his spiritual orientation.

Truth is, it was Korah, not Moses, who was out of line. Korah was a Levite. His calling in life – his divine calling – was that of a Levite. He should have been content with what God had called him to do. Moses was doing his job, and Korah should have been doing his.

We learn a valuable lesson in 1 Corinthians 12 about the assigned duties of believers within the Body of Christ:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4 – 6 NIV)

Not everybody in church can be an elder or a Sunday School teacher or a deacon. God calls and He enables individuals to do what He has called them to do. And no believer is better than another, in terms of their service. Why is that? It’s because we have been given the gifts of the Spirit in order to serve God. So in a very real sense, it’s the Holy Spirit working through us. When we complain about or criticize another believer unfairly or undeservedly, what we’re really doing is complaining against God; essentially telling God He doesn’t know what He’s doing. And that’s precisely what Korah did.

Response of a godly man

When Moses heard what they were saying he fell face downward to the ground. (Numbers 16:4 TLB)

Moses didn’t faint. He prayed to God. We know this because of what he said next, and he essentially used Korah’s words against him and he put it all back on God.

In the morning the Lord will show you who are his, and who is holy, and whom he has chosen as his priest. (Numbers 16:5 TLB)

Moses did exactly the right thing, and it’s usually the last thing we think of doing when we are faced with a crisis of faith. God was the one who was insulted and slighted, not Moses. Therefore, God would have to be the one to set His critics straight, not Moses.

In reading the following verses, we can see the real root problem of Korah and the Levites who aligned themselves with him.

Does it seem a small thing to you that the God of Israel has chosen you from among all the people of Israel to be near to himself as you work in the Tabernacle of Jehovah, and to stand before the people to minister to them? Is it nothing to you that he has given this task to only you Levites? And now are you demanding the priesthood also? That is what you are really after! That is why you are revolting against Jehovah. And what has Aaron done, that you are dissatisfied with him? (Numbers 16:8 – 12 TLB)

That’s God’s gift of wisdom at work. Thanks to the Lord, Moses was able to discern what the real issue was. The sons of Levi were belittling their own calling to service and envying the service of others, namely, that of Aaron and his sons, the priests. In harboring such jealousy, they didn’t realize – or they had forgotten – that theirs was also a high calling. They were Levites, which meant four important things other Israelites, not even priests, could experience:

First, Levites were so important to the Lord and His work that they lived their lives completely separated from the general population. This wasn’t a punishment. God needed their undivided attention, so vital was their ministry.

Second, Levites were particularly close to God; far closer than any other Israelite. If anybody should be envied, it should have been Korah and the other Levites! But he, and they, had grown so used to being in God’s presence that they took Him for granted and treated Him with utter contempt.

Third, Levites to work in and around God’s Tabernacle. What a privilege, to be allowed to work where the presence of God is!

And last, the Levites got to minister to God’s people.

These were singular privileges the Levites enjoyed, which Korah and his associates disregarded because all they could see were Aaron and the priests. Their jealousy blinded them to the tremendous blessings they were experiencing.

But Moses was also had to square off against Dathan and Abiram, who criticized his national leadership. So Moses was really getting dumped on from all sides.

Day of reckoning

He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them, and a great fissure swallowed them up, along with their tents and families and the friends who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into Sheol and the earth closed upon them, and they perished. All of the people of Israel fled at their screams, fearing that the earth would swallow them too. Then fire came from Jehovah and burned up the 250 men who were offering incense. (Numbers 16:3 – 35 TLB)

Over in the New Testament, we read this:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NIV)

Moses and Aaron could have taken matters into their own hands, but they understood a basic principle that Paul explained to the Romans. It’s better to leave room for the province of God in a bad situation than to take matters into your own hands. God is the judge of all, and He alone knows the hearts of men. Paul advised, and Moses practiced, “Leave room for God’s wrath.” We may feel like inflicting our own wrath upon one who has done us wrong, but isn’t it better for God to do His thing? Moses trusted God to take care of the situation he was in, and we should do the same. God won’t make the mistakes we would make. God’s people, without exception, will always be vindicated when they are attacked by others. God’s actions on their behalf will always prove more powerful than anything we could do for ourselves.

In Moses and Aaron’s case, God’s wrath was almost immediate. Often, that’s not the case, and in Romans there is no suggestion that God will act right away to right a wrong. But He will, and what we need is faith because our first impulse is not to do what Moses did and what Paul advised. Our first impulse is to act, and act fast, because if not, our opponent will “get away with it.” But Paul said: NO! To take matters into our own hands is to assume the place of God in meting out justice or retaliation, and that is a sin. Moses understood this, and we ought to. We never have all the facts; our understanding is almost always faulty and most of us can never be completely objective. If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t want justice, we want to get even.

Christians should never try to “get even” when they’ve been wronged. Instead, we need to trust that God will administer the right kind of justice upon the unjust person. God came through for Moses, and Korah and his pals got what they deserved.

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