Light from the Sidra


Numbers 16 - 18

What awesome events we read of in Sidra Korah! Should we not fear God when we read of such judgements. But there is an abundance of mercy too.

In Sidra Shelach Lecha we considered intentional and unintentional sins. The events of Korah underline those lessons. Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who were leaders of the people and should have known better, were utterly presumptuous in challenging the authority of Moses and Aaron.

Korah, Dathan and Abiram were prototype communists. They asserted the equality of all the people, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?” No doubt their challenge arose out of their frustration that they had not entered the Promised Land and were now condemned to wander for forty years in the wilderness. But instead of humbling themselves, repenting and submitting to the judgement of the LORD, they were determined that things should go differently, and that they were the people to change the situation. It was an open rebellion by those who should have known better and for such intentional sin there was one punishment. The rebels must be “cut off” from the people, and the cutting off happened in a dramatic and terrible way.

The judgement that befell Dathan and Abiram served to underline the authority of Moses, and the judgement on Korah and those who offered incense at the tabernacle once again established the high priesthood of Aaron. Subsequent events, such as the budding of Aaron’s rod, the regulations for the work and the support of the priests and the Levites further strengthened the position of Aaron.

Though all the congregation of Israel gathered with Korah, they were spared the judgement that fell on their leaders. Moses pleaded with the Most High to spare them because Korah, Dathan and Abiram alone were responsible. Only they were punished. But the next day, after all the people had seen the earth open and the fire of God fall on the rebels, they themselves challenged Moses and Aaron. This was presumptuous and intentional sin!

On this occasion Moses could offer no excuse for their behaviour and so offered no prayers for them. Their guilt had to be punished, and a plague killed 14,700 Israelites. It was an awesome moment. Would all Israel be swept away? What could be done to save the people?

Moses commanded Aaron to take a censer full of burning incense and run among the people. When Aaron overtook the pestilence, the wave of divine wrath stopped where he stood. Aaron stood literally between the living and the dead. What high drama! If you had been among the people at the time you would have seen the plague moving inexorably towards you as people fell down and died. What hope would you have had? What could you have done?

Pray for mercy? Not even Moses could do that.

Run? It was too late.

Cry to Moses? Not even he would have been able to save you.

Moses knew that Israel’s only hope was the prayers of the LORD’s anointed High Priest, symbolised by the burning incense. Those prayers would not be refused. The day before, the incense of Korah and his 250 priestly pretenders had been rejected. But this day, when Israel was all but lost, the work of Aaron, the true High Priest, saved the nation. Here is a great lesson for today: only a High Priest appointed by the LORD<, offering what God himself has ordained, can save sinners from God’s judgement.

Because all are guilty of sin, both intentional and unintentional, how can anyone be saved from God’s wrath? Today there is no temple and no priesthood. What can save you? Religion? Good deeds? Prayers? The mitzvot of a Rebbe? The prayers of a Zaddik? Not even the prayers of Moses could save the people from judgement.

The good news is that there is a High Priest whom the Most High has authorised, a great High Priest who has offered a final, once-for-all sacrifice for sin and who lives eternally to pray for his people. He is Jesus of Nazareth and the Almighty gave assurance that his sacrificial death was acceptable by raising him from the dead.

God sent him into the world and anointed him to stand between the living and the dead and protect us from the plague of death. If you try to save yourself by any other means than Jesus you will die by the plague of God’s wrath. But if you stand behind him you will live.

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