This chapter is a low point in the history of Israel’s wilderness journey. Can it be worse after what we have seen in the previous chapters: the longing for Egypt again, the contempt for the manna and the refusal to enter the promised land? Yes, we see that in this chapter.
Probably this uprising takes place towards the end of the wilderness journey. If we apply this to the end of the Christian dispensation, the time in which we live now, we can learn two lessons. The first is that after all the unfaithfulness and decay that have occurred in the Christian testimony, the worst is yet to come. The complete apostasy of what is called “Christian” will overshadow everything that has already become manifest in wickedness in Christianity. The low point is the denial of the Father and the Son (1Jn 2:2222Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.).
The second lesson is that if a people do enter the land, heaven, this is not based on the faithfulness of that people, but on the faithfulness of the high priest. The value of the high priesthood of the Lord Jesus is indicated at the end of this chapter and in the following chapters. The blossoming staff of Aaron that we see in the next chapter (Numbers 17) is a telling symbol of this.
The evidence that this history refers to the end time of Christianity can be found in letter of Jude. Dathan and Abiram we recognize in persons who reject the authority (in Moses) (Jude 1:88Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.). In Jude three phases on the way to apostacy can be distinguished (Jude 1:1111Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.). It starts with “the way of Cain”. This represents the principle of man who wants to build up his own righteousness before God, someone who wants to be accepted by God on the basis of his own works.
Then Judas speaks of “the error of Balaam”. In this we see the principle of a man who thinks he can serve God and at the same time serve the mammon. In the Christian church, that comes down to bringing in the teachings of people for money and power. This can be recognized in the ecumenical movement and the charismatic movement. The doctrines of demons have been introduced. It should not surprise us, for this is foretold by the Spirit: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1Tim 4:1-21But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,2by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,).
The way of Cain and the error of Balaam are the preparers for what Judas mentions as third in his letter, “the rebellion of Korah” or the overt, direct rebellion against God. Where Dathan and Abiram reach out to the leadership of Moses, Korah reaches out to the priesthood of Aaron. Korah is a Kohathite. The Kohathites have the most wonderful task in connection with the tabernacle. They may carry the holy objects. But that is not enough for Korah. He wants the position of Aaron.
What Korah actually wants is a position that elevates him above the people, so that he becomes a mediator between the people and God. This sin, the sin of a separate priest class, has become common in Christianity. It is to take the place that only the Lord Jesus is entitled to. He who desires, falls into the rebellion of Korah and will perish. That is strongly seen in the pope. The papacy is the terrible premise of being the substitute of Christ on earth. A separate priest class is completely alien to biblical Christendom.
Korah, Dathan and Abiram are joined by two hundred and fifty men of renown. It is difficult to remain humble when you are someone “of renown”. Pride and ambition are lurking to let that name speak. Often “men of renown” are not content to be well-known, but want more. There is no place for God and His Word in the lives of such men. They have filled the earth with their violence in ancient times and are the reason for the flood (Gen 6:4-74The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore [children] to them. Those were the mighty men who [were] of old, men of renown.5Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.6The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.7The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”).
The rebels first flatter the people by saying that they are holy as a whole. To be holy, however, is not on the basis of a declaration by people, but on the basis of keeping the commandments of the LORD. Such a declaration is accepted by the people. Democracy is seen as a great gain. No one in the church wants to be deprived of that. Not a few men at the top, but everyone should be allowed to have their say. What people are blind to is that power lies with a few authoritarian figures among the people.
Korah wants to draw power to himself. If he can be a mediator, he has the whole people in his grip. The power of the spiritual class is enormous. Man likes to submit to leaders who caress their religious feelings (2Tim 4:33For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,). Moses sees through what Korah wants (verse 1010and that He has brought you near, [Korah], and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also?). We will be preserved from these deceivers and their flattering, seductive language when we listen to ‘Moses’ (cf. Lk 16:2929But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’), that is, when we listen to what God says to us in His Word.
Dathan and Abiram are Reubenites. Reuben is the eldest son of Jacob. As a member of his descendants, Dathan and Abiram claim the most important place among the people. Their behavior reveals their true nature. They refuse to obey Moses and accuse him of ruling over them. But Moses and Aaron do not assume their position among the people of God. God has given them that position (Heb 5:44And no one takes the honor to himself, but [receives it] when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.). To acknowledge that is true wisdom. Whoever consciously opposes this by claiming gifts for himself without looking at what God has given, is nothing else but asking God to judge him. Dathan and Abiram want a place based on natural qualities.
This is how it happens in Christianity. We see that when people with a good mind and a quick talk claim or are given a prominent place.