Only a Holy God

Only a Holy God

As we prepare to hear the Word of God read, let us go to prayer. Father, Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light into our paths. Lord, work in us that we would love Your law, that we would meditate on it all the day. Lord, you and your word are fixed forever firmly in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all the generations. You have established the earth and it stands fast. And Your Word lasts forever. Father, with your word, your commandments make us wiser than our enemies when it is with us. It gives us more understanding than our teachers when we meditate on them. Father, you give us more wisdom than the aged when we keep your precepts. Your word holds back our feet from every evil way. And we ask that you would work that in us deeper, that we might keep your word, that you would not let us turn aside from your law, and that you would work in us a love such that we would recognize how sweet your words are to our taste, sweeter than honey to our mouths. Father, we ask this through Christ, the word made flesh.

Amen. We continue to work through numbers. We’re in chapters 16 and 17. This morning, I have a selection from those chapters printed in your bulletin. This is the word of God. Now, Kora, the son of Azar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan, and Abiramam, son of Elavath, and On, the son of Peleh, sons of Rubin, took men. And they rose up before Moses with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation chosen from the assembly, well known men. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And they said to them, You have gone too far. For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exult yourself above the assembly of the Lord? And when Moses heard it, he fell on his face. And he said to Corah, and all his company, in the morning, the Lord will show who is his and who is holy and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses, he will bring near to him. Do this. Take sensors, Corah and all his company. Put fire in them and put incense on them before the Lord tomorrow.

And the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi. Then Corah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation. And the people of Israel said to Moses, behold, we perish. We are undone. We are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord shall die. Are we all to perish? The word of the Lord, you may be seated. Would you pray with me for the preaching of the Word? Father, as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But if my words should stray from yours, may they be quickly forgotten. I pray this in the name and the power of Jesus Christ, Amen. I once played with a young boy who had created an imaginary fortress in his room. The main gate was between the box and the bucket. On either side of the box and bucket was this massively high imaginary wall. Of course, my role in the kingdom was generally that of an errand boy fetching things for him.

And it was always simpler to grab those things by just going in a straight line. But he would always correct me. You can’t go that way. It’s a wall. You have to go through the gates. And so I did. His house, his kingdom, his fort, his rules. And what’s true as a matter of courtesy for a child playing king, it is infinitely more true when approaching the king of kings and his appointed leader. Now, Corah and Nathan, Abiram and Onne took men, the ESV states, and rose up before Moses. And they chose to challenge those rules. They particularly took issue with Moses and Aaron as the leaders of Israel, and they wanted a showdown, and God gave them what they wanted. In fact, in our text, the chapters 16 and 16, and 17 this morning, we have three such challenges, which are all quite similar in terms of their issues being challenged and even how they work themselves out, which is why we’re taking them all together. In a nutshell, the question is, why Moses and Aaron? Are they really God’s appointed mediators, leaders for this people? Corah, the cousin of Moses and of Aaron, is not so sure.

His pedigree, he knows, is just as impressive. And perhaps he felt he was given a greater sense of natural talent. His gifts were superior. At any rate, he was determined to challenge Moses. And he was not alone. Now, the first word in our Hebrew text is took. He took the third person masculine singular. And because the second word in the Hebrew text is cora, we know that cora did the taking. But the text in the Hebrew does not tell us what he took. The ESV and the King James noting the mention of Betham, Abiram, and Onne, the 50 chiefs of the congregations, they render it the taking of men. But in the Hebrew, the object taken is left out. The NAS bears that in mind and translates it, took action. The NIV, apparently noting that Corah is about to lead a rebellion, moves away from literally translating that word and instead declares that Corah became insolent. The New Living translation substitutes with conspired with. And all of these options communicate accurately. Corah was insolent. He did take men. He did conspire with them, and he did take action. But I wondered, what did he take?

What’s curious is in the rest of this episode, every time the word took or take is used, it always refers to the sensor that device, object for the offering of incense. The Hebrew word to take is used in the second and third rebellions as well. But their context there broadens. In Corah’s rebellion, the author, Moses, brilliantly leaves the object taken out. I think it does that for a reason. And as the story develops, take sensors, take sensors. Aaron, take your sensor. The hearer may begin to wonder, Was it Aaron’s sensor that Corah took? Would he dare do that? Of course, we know he would dare do that. That’s the point of the story. But Corah is not alone. We see that along with Bethel and a B RAM and Owen listed here in verse 1, Owen is never listed again. Some scholars wonder if he backed out of the rebellion. We don’t know just that he’s not mentioned. But what we do know is that 250 men. There’s a tripling here in the Hebrew. They were chiefs of the congregation. They were chosen from the assembly. They were well known men, and they all joined in this rebellion.

This is not simply an arrogant Quran throwing down the gauntlet to Moses, but rather a well organized representative rebellion. And we see in verse 3 that they assemble themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and listen to their complaint. You have gone too far. With this bold declaration, Corah, I’m sure has captured Moses’ attention. Now, Corah unpacks his challenge, for all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the Lord? Before we unpack the challenge, notice Moses’ response in verse 4, He fell on his face. And here we have a specific example of why Joshua, whoever it was that was the Pentateuch’s finishing author, why they were able to write in numbers 12, 3, Now the man, Moses, was very meek, much more than all the people who were on the face of the earth. How do you respond when attacked? Do you defend yourself? Do you defend your position? Do you gather your arguments and proof? Or do you just ignore that and simply attack? Moses did none of that. Seeing the gravity and the tragedy of the situation, he fell on his face before the Lord and before the children of the Lord, even though they were raised up as enemies against him.

Let’s leave Moses there for a moment and look at Corah’s charge. After that initial attention grabbing remark, I hope you’ll notice that Corah launches into some pretty good covenantal theology. But Corah’s complaint begins with a great truth. He points out that everyone in the congregation is holy. And where did he get that idea? Well, it’s throughout the Old Testament. The grammar affirms that it’s not the congregation as a whole, but rather each individual is seen as holy in relationship to the covenant keeping God. We’ve just read it in Chapter 15, Verse 39. In that section, the people were called to tie tassels onto the robes of their garments and then add a blue thread to remind them to do the commandments of the Lord, to be holy to God. Kora is right. The people of God are holy before him because of the work that God has given and has done. The next Kora declares, The Lord is among them. And he’s accurate again. Exodus 2945 and many other places proclaim something like this, I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel and I will be their God. God has brought his presence among the people.

His presence was seen in the fire and in the cloud. His presence was felt within the holy of holies. So how could Corah be so right and yet so wrong? The answer comes in the next charge. Why, then, do you exalt yourself? Corah’s reasoning may have gone something like this. If all the people are holy, and if God is among us, why then do we need you, Moses? This type of Cavalier attitude towards Christian worship is still present in our day and age. There are many who call themselves Christian but see no need to attend Lord’s Day worship. I’ll just worship at home or in the park, or perhaps not at all. After all, you’re not to judge my sabbath. Others perhaps over emphasize the priesthood of all believers. Well, then, of course I can baptize. Of course, I can serve communion to my family or myself. What’s the big deal? We’re all holy and God is among us. Who needs all these rules and requirements. It seems that’s what Corah was wondering, and he demands to know why Moses thinks he’s so special. I should note that scholar’s debate on what Corah’s a desired end state, something he was trying to modify the priesthood by expanding it.

Others suggest he was trying to abolish the priesthood altogether. Most think he just wanted the exalted position for himself. In any case, Moses’ immediate response to this charge was to fall on his face. It’s a beautiful response to Corah’s charge that Moses had exalted himself. Appreciate Pastor Lloyd’s challenge to us a few weeks back. Go low if you want to find and follow Jesus. And this seems to be exactly what Moses does. And in his humble posture, he knows what he needs to do. Moses, now lying prostrate on the ground, knew that he needed to speak. And so in verse 5, we see him speak. But the text doesn’t tell us that he stood back up. It is possible, and I think even likely, that he may have spoken from that prostrate and worshiping position as he remarked to Corah and to his company in the morning, the Lord will show who is his and who is holy. And then he gives them the simple test, offer incense. Well, testament scholar Timothy Ashley notes that the test offering of offering incense before the Lord is a basic and exclusively Priestley prerogative. He also notes that in light of what had happened to Aaron’s two ordained sons, it could be quite dangerous.

Timothy is referring or Ashley, rather, is referring to that test or the offering of strange fire in Leviticus 10, where Nadab and Abihu offer before the Lord their own concoction, and they are consumed and destroyed by God with that strange fire. Corah accepts the challenge, and it may be a picture of his arrogance. But in any case, he’s ready and his crew of 250 appointed leaders, they’re ready to burn before the Lord. Moses gives a second response in verse 8, he goes to the root of their complaint, Is it too small of a thing that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation to do service in the tabernacle, to stand before the congregation, to minister to them? In other words, he’s asking Corah, do you really despise the work that God has already called you to do? Have you thought about your exulted estate? Cora was a member of the tribe of Levi and his responsibilities would have already included some of the basic Levitical duties with respect to some of the sacrifices. And when it came time to break camp, it was his family that transported all of the holy objects.

He had a position already of prestige, the audacity of cora to want more. But that’s what we regularly do, isn’t it? We are rarely content with our situation, desiring more attention, more acclaim, more prestige, more recognition, along with a bunch of other moors, none of us are not immune to that poisonous pull to power. Timothy Ashley reminds us the Leavite’s call was to the Ministry of service to the people, not to power and position over them. And he further decries that tragic misunderstanding when we see God’s call to privilege and not to service. Just as a note, if you ever move from here and attend another church or a part of another ministry, if the pastor there or the ministry worker or missionary worker, if they live in the best house and drive the best car and take all the best vacations all the time, something is amiss. Our call, your call is to service and sacrifice and not privilege and power. Verse 11 sets the complaint in its proper context. Moses is reminding Corah that while he was charging Moses and Aaron, it was really against the Lord that he and his company have assembled and charged with wrong.

That’s why Moses repeats back to Corah his own words, You have gone too far. See, all the complaints against God’s ordained authority structures are really complaints against God himself. And our text encourages us to beware. You see another variation of this complaint in verse 12 as the focus shifts just a little from the tabernacle a little south where Datham and Abram dwell. The Leivites and the Rubenites both camped on the south side of the tabernacle. They would have been near each other and would have had plenty of time to plan their conspiracy. Moses calls them to appear before him, but they refuse. Perhaps they want a little bit of distance between themselves and Corah, or perhaps they’re even more stubborn, but they lodged their complaints. Nevertheless, Moses, you are a pathetic leader, and you couldn’t lead us out of a paper bag. It’s not actually what the Hebrew says, but it is the sentiment. They take a page out of Moses’ playbook and repeat Moses’ words right back to him in verse 9. Is it too small of a thing that you have brought us out of the land flowing with milk and honey? It’s an extraordinary charge to Moses.

The man called by God to lead them into the land of milk and honey. I think it’s an extraordinary example of another of Pastor Lloyd’s points a couple of weeks back by how easy it is for us to distort the truth in our unbelief. It is only here that Egypt is described as flowing with milk and honey. That description is always reserved for the promised land. But in their frustration, in their unbelief, they look back on that land of their servitude, where they enjoyed leek and onion soup by the Nile, a land of hard, driving task masters, and they see the glory days. Questioning Moses and Aaron’s ability, or Aaron’s ability for spiritual leadership was the first part with Corah. Dotham and Abiram charged Moses with failure in practical and organizational leadership skills. And then to add insult to injury, they charged Moses with making himself a prince over them. I wonder if those words stung in Moses’ ears. I wonder if that reminded him of Exodus 2, verse 14, when in Moses’ early days, he was trying to settle a dispute between two Israelites, and he was rebuked by one who says, Who made you a prince over us?

That exchange ended with Moses exposed and afraid. And this one ends with Moses very angry. In fact, it’s the only time that Moses is recorded as being very angry in the Pentateuch. And he is angry for not only have they pointed out Moses’ failure to bring him into the promised land, as if that was Moses’ fault, but they also ask him in verse 14, Will you put out the eyes of these men? It’s a curious question that likely simply means, Will you keep them deluded? Will you keep them unseen? The charge here is that Moses has intentionally blinded his followers. One scholar says he’s hoodwinked them or misled them. These charges are too much for Moses. And this time, instead of falling on his face, he speaks directly to the Lord. He transitions from being intercessor to instigator. And he says, Lord, do not respect their offering. What a fearful thing it is to have no mediator between us sinful people and a holy God. How many times has Moses and Aaron, as mediator, pleaded with the Lord to spare his wayward children, but no more. You want to offer fire to the Lord? So be it.

You want to go down to Egypt? Oh, you’ll go down. I would have said that with a wicked smile. I bet Moses didn’t. But in verses 16 to 18, the stage of Corah’s men preparing their 250 sensors, along with Aaron’s sensor, they’re ready. And that all ends with verse 19, And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation. The charges have been leveled. The test has been set. And now the judge, the one who can save and destroy, has appeared. And before he renders judgment, he speaks. He’s ready to consume them all in an instant. It’s a word in the Hebrew that refers to the receiving of an offering, a burnt offering. He will receive them. He will receive them and their offerings once for all. But it appears that this pronouncement of so fierce a judgment awakes Moses from his anger. Once again, he and Aaron interceded. They function here as a type of Christ. And in their intercession in verse 22, they asked of God, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with the whole congregation? It’s an amazing question. Time prevents us from unpacking that story of how one man, the first Adam with one sin, did condemn the congregation.

And how another man, the second Adam, that sinless Jesus, did with one sacrifice make the many righteous. But here, Moses and Aaron asked the Lord to narrow his judgment. Maybe that’s where the expression make it a thin bolt, Lord, comes from. That’s what Moses is asking God to do. Don’t destroy us all for the sin of one. And the Lord warns all to stay away from Corah and Bethel and Abram. And God’s judgment comes down swiftly. And in a flash, Corah and his men, with their offerings of fire, are destroyed by fire. And the families, in our text says, the wives and sons and little ones of Datham and Abram are swallowed up as the earth opens up and pulls them into Sheol and to their destruction. It ought to be a sobering reality to the men, to the fathers in this congregation, to see the consequence of poor leadership so dramatically revealed. Here, the rebel man brings death and destruction, not just to himself, but to his families. Adam, that first Adam, through the abdication of his leadership. And here, Corah, through his arrogant ambition. Dothin, for his critical spirit. They’re all condemned, and their families are condemned to death.

Christ’s call to men as the heads of their families is one that requires humility and service, not power and prestige. The Lord has spoken and he has rendered judgment. And all that remains is a gaping hole and molten sense. I think there’s a certain irony in chapters or in verses 30, 6 to 40, where Eliezer, another of Aaron’s son, is told to take those burnt up sensors and to hammer them out. They’ve now been made holy, and he’s to hammer them out and have them serve as a type of a covering for the altar to serve. Verse 40 instructs that no outsider is to draw near to the Lord to burn incense. And sadly, this extraordinary test doesn’t settle the leadership question. For in verse 41, we read, The very next day, the people are ready to complain again. And this time they blame Moses and Aaron for killing the people of the Lord. I think they’re referring to those 250 chosen representatives, the chiefs of the people, the well respected men of Corah’s rebellion. But this time, the movement, God’s response, is much quicker. And when the glory of the Lord appears in 42, God is ready again to bring swift judgment.

And once again, Moses and Aaron provide that mediation, that intercessory prayer, which foreshadows the great work of our risen Savior, the work that Jesus Christ has accomplished perfectly for us. But here in the wilderness rebellion, Aaron is called to quickly take his sensor. It’s the same word again, take it and offer incense again and hurriedly make atonement for the congregation among whom a plague had already broken out. It seems that within just a few moments, or the Hebrew here feels hurried, so it’s a fraction, perhaps, of an hour. The plague had already wiped out 14,000 plus people. And we read in verse 48 that Aaron, when he made atonement for the people, stood between the dead and the living and the plague was stopped. We need a mediator. It is a gift to the people that in Chapter 17, while they still wondered about Moses and Aaron, this time God initiates his test. God gives the requirements. And because he describes and they obey, nobody dies in this third test. Each tribe chooses a chief whose staff, not the chief, but the staff spends the night before the presence of the Lord. And it is no surprise, or it should be no surprise, that only Aaron’s staff has budded.

And it also contains flower blooms and ripe lemons. And all this is God’s work. He gave it and he states in Chapter 17, Verse 10 as a sign for the rebels that they may make an end to their grumblings against me, lest they die. And the good news is no one’s grumbled sense. If only. But God has given us this sign. And in Chapter 18, Verse 6, He gives us another take. He tells the people that I have taken the tribe of Levi and I have given them to Aaron. And it seems that the people finally understand. They call out in Verse 12, We perish. We are undone. We are all undone. They finally realize that everyone who comes unauthorized without a mediator to the temple will perish. And so they close out the chapter with the question, are we all to perish? The question gets answered in part in chapters 18 and 19, but it’s answered in full on the cross. When our Holy Lord appeared before the Father in our place, when he bore the weight, the full weight of our sin, when he offered the perfect sacrifice that has satisfied the Father’s justice forever for us, it is only with Christ as our mediator that we, with confidence, can know that we will never perish.

Let us pray. Father, with this truth, plainly seen before us with all of the great and glorious miracles with which you again and again show your people. Father, with all of the provisions in our lives, our own lives that we’ve experienced, your speaking, your moving, your orchestration, we still grumble. And Lord, we confess that for you. And we thank you that you have accomplished what we cannot, that you have shown us in the older times, you showed us that we need an intercessor. And through the priesthood and through the sacrifices, you showed us our need for cleansing. And then you accomplished it when you sent your own son. Father, we thank you for his gift of his life and his perfect death as a substitution for us. when we thank you that in Christ and only in Christ can we approach you, a Holy God.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription