1. But Qorakh, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Q'hath, the son of Levi, took along both Dathan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On, the son of Peleth--[all] sons of Re’uven,

The complaining continues almost endlessly, though YHWH has been angry enough to kill those who have done so. Here we meet the king of rebels, and will expose what motivates him. In a more blatant example of the sin of the man who was “gathering sticks”, Qorakh was literally gathering men in the wrong way. Qorakh means "bald", but a self-imposed one (by shaving the head) was a symbol of mourning (Yirmiyahu 16:6). A mourner in Israel is seen to have YHWH’s ear in a special way; in second Temple times, a mourner was to enter through the exit gate to the Temple so he would stand out and people would know to console him. He receives special attention, because he alone has lost something irreplaceable. Qorakh is therefore a perfect name for someone who clearly wants a lot of attention. The people were mourning because of the bad report the ten spies gave about the Land (14:39). Qorakh is mourning for the perceived loss of his “rights”. Why? He is Moshe and Aharon’s first cousin, the son of their father’s next younger brother, so he had nearly the identical pedigree to theirs, yet he gets none of the attention Moshe or Aharon get. And Moshe has chosen the son of his father’s youngest brother (Elitzafan ben Uzzi’el, apparently himself the younger son) as the leader of the Q’hathites (Num. 3:30). Qorakh feels cheated out of the honor, authority, and respect, not to mention all the meat Moshe and Aharon receive. Yet this is the first time we ever read of Qorakh doing anything (the first time we hear of him, he is making trouble), while Elitzafan (Eltazafan) earned his right to lead partly by his faithfulness in carrying away the body of one of Aharon’s two slain sons. (Lev. 10:4) Moshe has been faithful; Aharon took second place to his brother, though he was older. There is no record of this whiner, Qorakh, being faithful in anything. Despite his strong genealogy (as one of those in charge of the very furniture of the Tabernacle and Moshe and Aharon’s own first cousin), he betrayed his lineage. It only matters who your father is if you live up to your father’s standards.

2. and stood up to Moshe along with some men from among the sons of Israel--250 leaders of the congregation, famous in the assembly--men of renown.

What audacity, after just having seen the ten "spies" consumed for playing this same political game. A newcomer on the scene feels like he has to have a say in how things are done. He sees himself as representing all of Israel, but demanding to be heard is a dangerous thing, especially when one curses YHWH’s chosen in order to do so. But human nature always looks for someone to blame, especially in the aftermath of great loss. Qorakh was a Levite, and was therefore supposed to be an expert on the Torah, which means he was supposed to keep the nation in order, yet he is the one leading in the disruption of the order. As one of the most respected in Israel, the rabble he gathers to bolster his cause are not low-lifes, but others who are respected. They were famous (literally “called”, for their names were household words; it may even mean they were qualified to call an assembly). It was politically smart, but the problem was that people would even follow them down the wrong road.  

3. And they assembled together against Moshe and Aharon, and told them, "[You presume] too much for yourselves, because the whole congregation--all of them are holy, and YHWH is among them. So why do you raise yourselves above the congregation of YHWH?"

I.e., “What makes you so special?” All of them are holy: This is a contradiction in terms, for if something is set apart, it must be set apart from everything else. This sounds so much like the church’s claim that all days should be holy. Yes, of course, we want to elevate every day to its highest potential, but one of the days has already been elevated by YHWH Himself, as were two of these Israelites (Moshe and Aharon). Compared to the rest of the world, they were right: all of Israel is holy. (Ex. 19:6) But YHWH also chose some to be the "set apart among the set apart". They claimed to be speaking for those less elevated than themselves. Qorakh took advantage of the congregation at this vulnerable time, since killing a man always does something to one's soul, even when it is appropriate to do so. He essentially accused Moshe, the shepherd, of killing his own sheep. But if they are all indeed holy, why does he wish to raise himself up? Moshe saw right through it. He knew he could not plead with YHWH on their behalf much longer. This generation knew they would not be going to the Promised Land after all, so they wanted another leader to take them somewhere--even back to Egypt. Qorakh is lobbying to be that leader. They did not accept YHWH's rebuke; they kept trying to have their way and get around His sentence. If they would have truly repented He might have relented, but they did not, so we will never know. Qorakh exemplifies some classic tactics of the rebellious: First, he finds other people with a gripe. The sons of Re’uven probably felt they still had some claim to leadership since their ancestor was the eldest son of Yaaqov (and the eldest son is supposed to be the priest), though Yaaqov himself had clearly taken away his birthright, bringing them a certain amount of shame as a tribe already (Gen. 49:3ff)—the very sentiment that allowed the Nazis to gain ascendancy. Nor were these men even the leaders of their tribe. But Qorakh played upon the fact that they felt like they deserved more than they were getting. He got the people to identify with his problem. He looked for the weakest link—those who would be likely to be sympathetic: others among the second tier of leadership, and better known than he was, so he was used their authority to endorse his cause. He told them that they, too, had been treated unfairly by Moshe, though they did not realize it! It rung true, though it was not actually true, and he manipulated them with this. As many politicians do, he created a “straw man”—a problem that did not actually exist, but which he could get credit for solving—or that he could blame someone else for if no one was capable of solving it. Moshe had lowered himself on many occasions to beg for the lives of these ingrates. They had never heard Moshe say he was anyone special, yet Miryam had made the same accusation. Possibly because that was not dealt with as severely as it could have been, it came around again. They were annoyed for no reason, but once the suggestion is made, it takes on a life of its own in people’s minds. Worst of all, he cast YHWH as being on his side and against Moshe and Aharon. He assumed numbers proved him right, but all of those who stood with him were wrong. Now he is guilty not only of slander (itself akin to murder), but of leading many astray. When YHWH’s name is attached to something, He pays attention and will prove whose side He is on. (R. Webster) 

4. When Moshe heard it, he fell on his face.

This may have been before YHWH, to find out what He wanted to do about this, or to show them that he was not raising himself up at all. It never says he got back up before he started speaking to them:

5. Then he told Qorakh and all those who were gathered with him, "[In the] morning YHWH will make known who belongs to Him and [who is] holy and may come near to Him. He will bring near to Himself whomever He may choose.

This type of squabble also arose among Yeshua's congregation once they forgot they were headed back to the Promised Land, and assumed they were settling down for the long haul in the mediocre places they had come to think of as normal. There is a difference between those who are with YHWH and those who just want YHWH to be with them. YHWH promised to be with Yaaqov, but Israel went much further by deciding to go with YHWH on His journey rather than just asking YHWH to help him accomplish his own goals. 

6. "Do this: Qorakh and everyone who is with him, take firepans for yourselves,

7. "put fire in them, and set them before YHWH tomorrow [with] incense in them, and whomever YHWH chooses shall be the holy [one. You are the ones who presume] too much for yourselves, sons of Levi!”

He turns their own accusation back on them. They had bitten off more than they could chew. If they wanted to play games with YHWH, He would go along with it, but when they lost, they would have to bear serious consequences. He said, in essence, “Fine. Let’s have a contest. If you want to be in charge, I’ll let you do what those in charge do.” The firepans with incense should have instantly reminded them of Nadav and Avihu—men who were not even rebellious but who were consumed by YHWH for doing something the wrong way when they were a bit too tipsy. (Num. 3:4) If even Aharon’s sons were killed for getting out of order, how would these men ever survive?” Only Aharon knows the recipe for the incense acceptable to YHWH (Ex. 30:23), so whatever anyone else brings will of necessity turn out to be “strange fire”, and they know what the result of that would be. Who knows but that their incense mixtures might have even been noxious? The contest was already won. He says, “If I am doing such a poor job, let me see you pull it off, if you think you can do better!” This was a set-up. He outsmarted them, because he had been granted leverage. They were the ones who challenged him, so they could not back out of this and save face, and Moshe had finally learned to let YHWH weed out those who do not know when to keep their mouths shut.

8. And Moshe told Qorakh, “Listen now, you sons of Levi!

Sons of Levi: the Re’uvenites are not addressed here, because it was a Levite who fomented the discontent in the rest. The Levites were given the most, and therefore are held more responsible.  

9. "Is it too small a thing for you that the Elohim of Israel has separated you from among the assembly of Israel to bring near to Himself to perform the service of YHWH's dwelling place and to stand before the congregation to wait on them?

Too small: a reversal of their words about Moshe taking on too much. YHWH Himself had chosen them for their position. (Lev. 20:8) But whatever YHWH has given us to do is an important job. It is only small if we see it as small. (Zkh. 4:10) If we are faithful, we will move on to larger things(Mat. 25:21; Luke 16:10), especially in this day when truths that were hidden for thousands of years are being revealed again. It is noble to aspire to be a leader (1 Tim. 3:1), but first we must become equipped, and allow YHWH to choose where He wants to put us. It was one thing to let their mouths run, but he puts them to the test to see how they will really stand up. No one else had Moshe’s experience, both learning all the wisdom of the known world in Pharaoh’s household, then learning how to shepherd animals that did not know what was best for them and needed to be protected by someone who did. Notice that they did not want to be leaders until someone else had already done the hardest part and put things in order.

10. "When He has brought you near along with all your brothers, the sons of Levi, are you demanding the priesthood too?

I.e., “Look at all you have already—so much more than the rest of Israel—and you still want someone else’s position?” The reason they did was that the priests got the choicest cuts of the meat, the wool to make the finest clothes, etc. They want to be recognized without paying the price Aharon had--even losing two of his own sons. They want the pay, forgetting that all it takes is one little slip-up and they will die. Of course, they would be glad to let Aharon’s sons continue to do the most dangerous jobs! They should have been grateful, but they have forgotten that they used to be slaves, and have been given free food every day, yet still feel entitled to more. The heart of rebellion is disloyalty to the ones who have done the most for us. The ones who were concerned for higher things than just filling their bellies deserved to eat better and dress better, but this overemphasis on having particular foods at the expense of more important matters goes all the way back to Esau—and the Garden of Eden.

11. "For this reason, you and all those of your party who are conspiring against YHWH, [I ask you], what is Aharon, that you are complaining about him?"

I.e., it is not really Aharon or myself that you are opposing, but YHWH. They want the benefits that come with the priesthood, but Aharon did not arrogate those to himself; YHWH had chosen him.  They think they could make a better choice, but how can they be objective?

12. Then Moshe sent [someone] to call Dathan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, but they said, "We won't come up.

Apparently they had made all of these accusations from a distance, "behind Moshe's back", but were unwilling to do so to his face. If the coup had been pulled off, they would have taken credit for it, but when they saw that the consequences were coming, they chose to sacrifice those they had led astray rather than taking responsibility. When Moshe had allowed Eldad and Medad to stay in the camp when Y’hoshua wanted to rebuke them for not joining the others who were prophesying (11:24ff), his authority may have been eroded, though he did not see it as important at that time. If he had applied a firmer hand then, these men might have shown him more respect. He wanted peace, but sacrificing order to maintain it can lead to people thinking they can get away with anything.

13. "Is it insignificant that you have brought us up out of a land gushing with milk and honey to put us to death in the wilderness? Because you also want to control [our every move]!

They are so confused by their rebellion that they consider Egypt the promised land! Though they were slaves there, they feel that they were uprooted from the only home they ever knew, which did not have shortages of food or water. Many of the people wanted to go back to Egypt, but there was no one to take them there, so they may be offering to be the leaders they wanted. But a true leader does not have to pander to those who pay his salary. If you are comfortable with everything they say, that is a red flag.  

14. "What's more, you haven't brought us into a land gushing with milk and honey or given us property in fields or vineyards [after all]! What are you going to do? Gouge out these men's eyes? [No], we won't come up!"

“You can’t just tell us what to do! We’re Americans—I mean Israelites!” The critical factor seems to be that he had not let them go into the Land--as if it was his fault! Never mind that they live in the presence of YHWH. These people are not worthy of their inheritance; if they did go, the Land would spit them out in short order, saying, “Don’t ever feed me that again!” Gouge out their eyes: So they will not notice that the wilderness is not the Promised Land? Or because they think they can see through his “tricks”? They are assuming the worst about his intentions, and say, “We won’t fall for that!”  Were they beginning to think the pillar of fire was just some magic trick Moshe had conjured up? They made it look as if Moshe wanted to keep all of these things for himself (which was not true, though YHWH had legitimately offered that to him on more than one occasion). They appealed to people’s natural hunger for possessions, but this generation was not to receive their inheritance. They should be busy preparing their children to inherit it. Moshe brought his defense directly back to the Judge whom he knew was on his side:

15. Then Moshe became very incensed, and said to YHWH, "Don't show any respect for their offering, because I haven't taken one donkey from them, or done anything to hurt one of them!"

To take someone's donkey would mean they had to carry their burdens themselves. Moshe was far more merciful than most people, but finally he has had enough. He has been a great shepherd all along, but now he is finally goading and prodding and beating with a stick—the meanings of “teach” in Hebrew. Before this, he only repeated YHWH’s words to them, but now he is growing bolder. He could well have added, "They're only alive because I begged You for their lives!" This time he did not do so, but actually walked in his true authority and “stacked the deck” even against his fellow Levites, because this was what was best for the rest of Israel. He was learning not to have mercy on those who would only take advantage of it.  

16. Then Moshe told Qorakh, "You and your whole party, be there in front of YHWH tomorrow --you, they, and Aharon!

17. "And each of you bring his firepan, put incense on them, and bring them near before YHWH --250 firepans--you along with Aharon, that is, each [with] his firepan."

18. So each of them brought his firepan, [and they] put fire in them, lay incense on them, and stood at the entrance to the Tent of Appointment, along with Moshe and Aharon,

But only 250 came, not 254 (v. 35). Qorakh, who started it all, would not even show up when it was time for his opinion to be given a true test, since in reality he was a coward. He may have thought that with the attention on these men, Moshe might forget Qorakh’s role in it and he might escape. So he sent the other “leaders” to take the risk; he essentially sacrificed them. So he would not even have the dignity of being in the same league with Nadav and Avihu.

19. and Qorakh assembled the whole congregation against them at the entrance to the Tent of Appointment. Then the [full] weight of YHWH became visible to the whole congregation.

20. And YHWH told Moshe and Aharon,

21. "Withdraw from being in the same crowd as this company, so that I can put an end to them in [one] instant."

He could destroy them more easily if He could just attack the whole group at once and not have to find a way to spare some of those among them, for He was using natural forces that would have to be somehow limited if the innocent did not get out of the way. But to Moshe it appeared that He wanted to consume the whole camp:

22. And they fell on their faces and said, "O El, Elohim of the spirits belonging to all flesh! Shall one man sin and You be furious with the whole congregation?"

Though he was rightfully angry, he knew that not everyone in Israel was guilty. Besides, he had already set it up so that the guilty ones would have to die if they persisted in their wickedness.

23. So YHWH said to Moshe,

24. "Tell the congregation, 'Pull [up your tent stakes and get] yourselves away from all around the dwellings of Qorakh, Dathan, and Aviram.'"

25. So Moshe got up and went to [where] Dathan and Aviram [were], and the elders of Israel walked behind him.  

The true leaders of Israel remained loyal to Moshe.  

26. And he told the congregation, "I beg you, get away from the tents of these evil men [now], and do not touch anything that is theirs, so you will not be swept away by all their sins!"

Do not touch: Have no part in what has clearly become opposed to YHWH. He owed them no explanation, but they had to take sides and form a clear line of demarcation. From this we should learn to stay away from any association with those who would bring disorder.

27. So they distanced themselves from the dwelling of Qorakh, Dathan, and Aviram on every side. Then Dathan and Aviram came out and took their stand at the entrance to their tents, along with their wives, children, and toddlers.

The dwellings: Though these men were from two different tribes, they were in close proximity to one another—possibly close enough to “talk over the back fence” between tribal allotments. The Q’hathite branch of the Levites was immediately beside Reuven’s camp, on the southern side of the camp, so some of the Reuvenites had probably simply overheard Qorakh complaining, and it resonated with a chord of discontent that predisposed them to respond favorably to his ideas.  Took their stand: or stood firm, with their feet planted--still defiantly unwilling to bend. But Qorakh’s family was not with him as Dathan’s and Aviram’s were. Apparently among those who distanced themselves from Qorakh were his own children—for his descendants (including Shmu’el the prophet) are listed later in Scripture. (1 Chron. 6:22ff) David chose one of them to preside over the music in the Tabernacle, and his sons were chosen to lead the 24 courses of Levites who would serve there. They were freed from the sins of their ancestor (Yirmeyahu 31:29-30)—and we can be too, if we make the right choices. Read Psalm 84:10-11 (which they wrote)  in light of Qorakh’s misplaced ambition and his complaint that he was being cheated out of something.

28. Then Moshe said, "By this you shall know that YHWH has sent me to accomplish all these achievements (because [they are] not from my own heart):

Moshe never wished to cause anyone trouble; it was YHWH's choice to kill these cowardly rebels. The decisions he made in his shepherding Israel were not just his own whims. They should instead measure his motives by his fruit.

29. "If these [people] die a death like all [other] people, and if they are punished with the punishment [typical] of humankind, then YHWH has not sent me.

30. "But if YHWH makes something new take place, and the ground opens her mouth and swallows them up along with all that they own, and they go down into the underworld alive, then you will know that these men have spurned YHWH!"

It took great confidence to say this, but whether his words come true is the test of a true prophet. They opened their mouths against Moshe; now the very earth would open its mouth against them. All that they own: the pattern of Egypt, which they considered their lost promised land (v. 13), was to bury all of one’s treasures with him. So YHWH adding this reminder of what they were really worshipping.  

31. And it turned out that just as he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them was split open, 

32. and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them, their houses, and all the people who were for Qorakh, along with all their possessions.

They were not allowed repentance, and since all they were after was  possessions, they were allowed to take theirs with them. They were not grounded (humble), so the ground was taken out from under them. Physically this may have still been one of the aftershocks as the earth adjusted to its former condition after the astronomical events that had been YHWH’s means of effecting the upheavals seen at the Exodus. “The earth’s crust trembled and cracked again and again as its strata settled after the major displacement. Chasms opened up, springs disappeared, and new springs appeared. … The earth had not yet recovered from the previous world catastrophe, and reacted with continuous tremors…” (Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, pp. 150-151)

33. They and all that was theirs went down alive into the underworld, and the earth [closed], covering them over. Thus they vanished right from the midst of the assembly.

No evidence remained that most of them had ever even existed.

34. And all of Israel who were around them ran away because of their voice, saying, "so the earth won't swallow us up [too]!"

Voice: i.e., their cries and shrieks from a fear that was appropriate.

35. Then fire came out from YHWH and consumed the 250--each one who offered the incense.

A Chinese proverb says, "The fire you kindle for your enemy often burns yourself more than them." Before we start a fire, we must be sure we can control it, and that it is profitable. These men did not start the fire, so their punishment was different, but they still participated willingly after being given a whole night to repent. They added fuel to it, thus keeping it going, when they might have been able, with their influence, to quench it. They had no time to even realize that their incense was not accepted and Aharon’s was. But at least these men had the honor of dying by fire from YHWH; His fire was too holy to waste on Qorakh, Dathan, and Aviram. But what became of On (v. 1)? Did he repent?


1. [16:36 in many English versions] Then YHWH told Moshe and Aharon,

2. "Tell El'azar, the son of Aharon, the priest, to remove the firepans from among [what was] burning, but scatter the fire out beyond, because they have become set apart.

El’azar had a difficult job because this would remind him of what had become of his two elder brothers, Nadav and Avihu. (Lev. 10) But he did not vacillate, and he would be the one to later inherit Aharon’s position. These were men of the second tier of leadership who thought they should be the first tier.  Set apart: the survivors of these families could not be sustained by the sale of these expensive vessels, because they had been brought forward for a use that belonged to YHWH, even though their motive was selfish. Incense represents prayer, and the words (especially promises) that we say to YHWH are His; we cannot take them back. Though offerings, unlike tithes, are voluntary, once we designate them for YHWH, to withhold them is to rob Him. (Mal. 3:8)  

3. "Let the firepans of these who sinned against their own souls be made into platings beaten thin to overlay the altar, since they have brought them near [to offer] before YHWH, so they are set apart. That way they shall serve as a warning to the descendants of Israel."

They were not to just put this behind them and never talk about it again. The altar was seen as the place of YHWH’s presence, so any time they wanted to draw near to Him, they would be reminded of what became of those who envied the positions YHWH had given to someone else, and think twice before trying to do the same.

4. So El'azar the priest took the bronze firepans which those who were burned up had brought near, and they were made beaten thin to form a plating for the altar,

5. as a reminder to the descendants of Israel, in order that no outsider, who is not of the seed of Aharon, would come near to cause incense to smoke before YHWH, so he would not become like Qorakh and his party, just as YHWH had told him under Moshe's direction.

The point was made that there is one Holy One and one Mediator, and these men were neither. (Compare Yeshayahu 42:8) Bronze highlights the stubborn side of our nature, and would serve as a somber, negative reminder of what not to do. It was the Levites (the initial perpetrators of this rebellion) who would see this reminder more frequently than anyone else. Yes, they served in the Temple, but no one had an audience with YHWH unless they went through Aharon. One would think this was the end of the matter, but it was not:

6. Yet the very next day the whole assembly of the descendants of Israel [again] complained against Moshe and Aharon, saying, "You had the people of YHWH put to death!"

Though Moshe’s authority had been tested and proven valid, somehow they still kept blaming him rather than giving YHWH credit for cleaning house. They just cannot seem to accept the fact that it was YHWH who had brought the judgment. They think YHWH would never do something like this, so in their opinion Moshe must have sent El’azar to retrieve the censers so that no one else would see the gunpowder he had put into them to make them explode! This highlights our twisted human tendency to accuse our leaders during the times when it is most important to stand behind them. Just because they had been called by YHWH at one point, the people assumed they remained so, though they had removed themselves from that calling and no longer deserved respect.  

7. But as the group was assembling against Moshe and Aharon, they turned and faced the Tent of Appointment, and, lo and behold, the cloud had spread over it [concealing it], and the [weighty] splendor of YHWH became visible.

8. Then Moshe and Aharon came to the front of the Tent of Appointment.

9. But YHWH told Moshe,

10. "Pull up [and get] away from being in the same crowd as this company, so that I can put an end to them in [one] instant." But they fell on their faces,

A day later, the fire was still burning; they should have kept their mouths shut. YHWH’s words are harsher than people want to accept; we cannot take one piece and leave the rest on the table. When we know better, we must do better. Yet this extraordinary man Moshe still found it in his heart to stand up for them, so that the nations around them would not deduce that YHWH kills the people He loves. We might not have such patience and magnanimity, but he did, showing how worthy he is to be their shepherd:

11. and Moshe told Aharon, "Take the firepan and put on it fire from the altar, lay incense on it, and go--quickly--to the assembly, and effect a covering over them, because [fierce] fury has gone out from the face of YHWH; the [deadly] plague has begun [to strike]!"

Though he was in authority over Aharon, Moshe respected Aharon’s position and let him operate in the area that was assigned to him. By remaining calm (but not lackadaisical) and keeping his mind clear, Moshe could see immediately what needed to be done.  

12. So Aharon did just as Moshe had said, and ran into the middle of the assembly, and, indeed the plague had begun among the people. So he set the incense [on the firepan] and made atonement for the people.

He could no longer simply beg YHWH to act; Aharon had to act out his role as mediator. There is a certain prescribed order that has to be followed, not just a nebulous "salvation".  

13. That is, he stationed himself between the dead and the living, and the plague was restrained.

David did the same by building an altar on the place that would later become the Temple Mount. (2 Shmuel 24). When a cache of ancient Temple incense was found recently, it was tested and found to be a natural insect repellant; on the physical level it may be that it warded off some kind of pestilence. Maybe the soothing aroma calmed down the people who had turned on each other in anger. Whether the plague was a pestilence or volatile or poisonous gas coming up from the breach in the earth’s crust (which may have also caused the contents of the censers to flare up and kill the 250), people were dying again. Everyone who tried to confront him face to face died; those who stood behind him stayed alive. What actually stopped the plague was that Aharon simply returned everything to its proper order. The very beginning of the Torah speaks of bringing order out of the chaos another rebellion had caused. Here, YHWH had offered to replace all of Israel with their own descendants alone. The new creation this time would consist only of Levites. Again, Moshe was more concerned for YHWH’s reputation than in being celebrated himself. But we cannot have true shalom until there is order. Israel had been out of order for days, but now the right man again had the right incense in the right pan. The restoration of order had to start with the leaders. They became the example of doing things properly, and YHWH relaxed, saying, in essence, “Okay, you’ve got the point.” Things could now get back to normal, with the demonstration fresh in mind of the fact that we cannot allow everyone to say what they want to say. It is a scientific rule that without the application of energy, anything that is in order will return to chaos. This whole book is about establishing and tending to the proper order so we do not fall back into situations like this.

14. But those who had died by the plague [numbered] 14,700 besides those who had died in the Qorakh affair.

The congregation did not learn from what befell Qorakh and his associates, so 60 times as many people died.

15. Then Aharon returned to Moshe at the entrance to the Tent of Appointment, and the plague was kept under restraint.

If we are careful whom we speak against, we could avoid this kind of thing altogether.  

​16. [17:1 in most English Bibles] Then YHWH told Moshe,

17. "Speak to the descendants of Israel, and get a rod from each of them--a rod per patriarch's household, from every one of their leaders: twelve rods. You shall write each one’s name on his rod,

Despite all their complaints about Moshe, YHWH is still speaking speaking to and through him. Even the Egyptians had held him in high esteem, but now his popularity ratings have gone down among his own. But YHWH is not going to give that job to someone else. Only His choice of leader counts for anything; no other opinion matters. But since the people do not automatically recognize His choice, He will go ahead and do a “trick” to prove it to them, since they are one of those evil generations that Yeshua said demanded a sign. (Luke 11:29) For Moshe and Aharon’s sake He will show them definitively who is in charge. It is easy to point the finger, but many people today who claim to love YHWH also try to override Moshe’s authority, but Moshe is still the vessel YHWH has chosen to communicate His will. (Yeshua calls the Torah “Moshe” as shorthand.) He says He will communicate more by dreams and visions in the latter days, but maybe it is because we still aren’t listening. To end all controversy, YHWH commands Moshe to give orders—to treat them like an army, not just a flock—giving them no choice but to take this test with the rods. A rod represents the bearer’s authority to correct and lead. Someone specific would need to take responsibility for the outcome of these proceedings, because the earlier rebellion should have been quenched at the ground level—by the rulers of ten. Qorakh should have been put outside the camp while the rebellion was still a tiny murmur. But apparently they “passed the buck”, all the way up to Moshe. This time YHWH wants someone specific to hold accountable. Most were probably not volunteering this time; those chosen probably assumed it was their death sentence being sealed. It must have been sobering indeed.

18. "and you shall write Aharon's name on the rod of Levi, because [there is] one rod per head of the patriarch’s household.

The leader’s name is also important. David means “beloved”, and this is borne out by how YHWH favored him and chastised him. Levi’s name means "my joining". (Gen. 29:34) His tribe is indeed joined to YHWH in a special way. If we follow the history of Aharon’s rod carefully, we can see that it was once Moshe’s (Ex. 4:1ff). When Aharon was named as Moshe’s spokesman, he ended up using the rod himself. (4:13ff) By Exodus 7:8, the same rod is called Aharon’s. So Moshe and Aharon shared the rulership of the tribe of Levi. Aharon’s authority is that of Moshe; the High Priest’s authority is the Torah. He cannot officiate without it. Moshe’s elder brother is now restored to the privilege of firstborn as regards this area of authority. One rod per head: There can only be one leader in each position, or YHWH’s order will not work. “Too many cooks spoil the broth!” But why would they want such a bloody job as Aharon’s? Because the priests, though they had no inherited land, had the greatest liquid wealth in the nation. They ate meat every day, while many others only ate it at festivals or special occasions. They had hides and pelts that they could sell, and Aharon’s garment had gold threads sewn right into it! During the Roman occupation, the high priest’s job was sold to the highest bidder because of all the revenue that came with it. It was the prestige and power that came with such a job that they wanted.  

19. "Then set them inside the Tent of Appointment, in front of the Testimony where I will meet you.

Testimony: or witness; i.e., the ark and what was inside it—the Torah, which served as a witness to YHWH’s covenant, or marriage contract, with Israel. (Exodus 25:16) A bride needs to sign hers in front of a credible witness to indicate her agreement with the proposal, or the union is not counted as a true marriage. The community is the witness, which also entails the responsibility of doing its part to ensure that the agreement is upheld, for in Israel, marriage is more than a matter of individual preference; it must be an arrangement that fits Kingdom purposes as well. The ark also had a sample of the manna—a reminder of YHWH’s provision but also His testing (Exodus 16:23ff). Any provision from YHWH is a test, because when we are well-provided for, we are more likely than ever to drift away from the Torah.

20. "Then this is what will take place: the rod belonging to the man whom I select will blossom; that way I will cause the [obstinate] complaints of the descendants of Israel (which they are making against you) to subside from [before] Me." 

YHWH is tired of their complaining, and though they are grumbling against Moshe, He takes it personally, and wants to put and end to the whining, whispering, and rebellion once and for all by an unmistakable, objective sign so they would have no room left to argue. (Compare Y'hezq'el/Ezekiel 17:24.) YHWH does not choose the one with the most degrees from a seminary, who has written the most books, or who has the best fund-raising skills, but one whose leadership blossoms in light of these witnesses to YHWH’s covenant, provision, and testing.  

21. So Moshe told the descendants of Israel, and every [one of] their [tribal] chiefs each brought him a rod--one rod per ruler, for the household of their father: twelve rods, with the rod of Aharon among their rods.

Twelve rods: Since Levi is represented, this time there would only have been one rod for the House of Yosef, and it was in the possession of M’nasheh.  

22. Then Moshe placed the rods in front of YHWH, in the Tent of the Testimony.

23. And, sure enough, the next day when Moshe went into the Tent of the Testimony, lo and behold, Aharon's rod had [not only] sprouted, [but also] put forth buds, produced blossoms, and yielded ripe almonds!

A stick that might have been severed from the tree decades before now has not just buds, not just blooms, but fruit! And all in one night! This was more than He said would take place. But this is the key: the leadership of Aharon was fruitful, while the others’ was not. This is how we measure leaders: “A tree is known by its fruit”. This rod was the branch of an almond tree, the first tree to bloom in the spring in the Middle East, sometimes even before the last snow. It is watched (Yirmeyahu 1:11-12), for its flowers alerted the nation that it was time to plant barley. The next full moon would be the time to celebrate Passover, if the barley was in the aviv stage by then. The new festival year would begin. This type of rod was very specifically chosen by YHWH to remind them to be watchful and not lapse into easier, more comfortable ways of thinking which come more naturally, or we will not be in the place we need to be at the right time. The stick that was “dead” is alive again—a picture of the House of Israel (see Y’hezq’El 37:3, 16ff). Almonds are part of the menorah in the tabernacle as well, so they are doubly the sign of priestly authority. This was the same rod Moshe had turned into a serpent, and used to part the sea, bring water from the rock, and defeat Amaleq. But it did not come to life until it had Aharon's name engraved on it and was set in the right place. YHWH is restoring the tribe of Levi, because only they can build the next altar as well.

24. So Moshe brought all the rods out from before YHWH toward all the sons of Israel, and they saw it. So each took up his rod.

Saw it: also means "took it into consideration", and got the point. Took up his rod: They passed the test this time. YHWH’s viewpoint had been proven, and they no longer disputed it.   But it also means each recognized his sphere of responsibility and no longer tried to go beyond it. He took up the burden of the well-being of whomever he was in charge of. Maybe they were not of the caliber of Moshe and Aharon, but that did not mean they were not responsible to lead where they did have authority, and knew their limits. They recognized that this was a big enough job, and chose to be faithful in it, and no one was killed here.  

25. Then YHWH told Moshe, "Put Aharon's rod back in front of the Testimony to be preserved as a warning to the sons of rebellion, to bring their complaints to an end from [being] upon Me, so they will not die."

YHWH was tired of killing Israelites. Now if someone grumbled, all Moshe would have to do was bring out Aharon’s rod as a reminder of his authority and ask if they really wanted to argue with the sign YHWH had already given. When their fruit surpassed Aharon’s, they might have something worth saying! Until it did, if they did not stay quiet, they would feel the rod! They would be reminded of Qorakh’s death when they went to cover the ark, as this was their responsibility – 3:30-31; 4:4-6), but they could survive if they did not give expression to the rebellion that was latent within them. Each new generation that did not see this event still had to be taught authority and proper order so that they would not again fall into chaos.

26. So Moshe did so; he did [it] just as YHWH had ordered him.

27. But the descendants of Israel told Moshe, "We're about to perish! We're being exterminated, and every one of us has given up [hope]!

Nearly 15,000 had died already.  

28. "Whoever comes near--who approaches the Dwelling Place--is put to death! What if we are completely consumed to [the point of] extinction?

I.e., “What if this continues until every last one of us is gone?” But this is a breakthrough. It means that they finally recognize that they are guilty and that their actions have consequences—that if they want to claim that they deserve something, this is what it is. This puts all their petty reasons for complaining into perspective as a deterrent to further foolishness. They aren’t dying of starvation as they imagined they would, but, like immature children, they think it is the end of the world when they find out they are not going to get what they wanted; no one got an extra promotion, and no one got Moshe or Aharon to step down. If we wait to embrace a proven authority until we understand the matter fully, someone will get hurt again. The only way they will ever understand the proper order is to walk in it.  


1. So YHWH told Aharon, "You and your sons, and your father's household along with you shall be responsible for [any] misuse of the sanctuary, and you and your sons along with you shall bear [any] mishandling of your priestly position.

The last time YHWH had spoken directly to Aharon alone was when He told him to go meet Moshe in the wilderness. (Exodus 4:27) This message is so important that He does not send it through Moshe. He has called Aharon aside privately to remind him of a responsibility He gave him earlier, but YHWH has had to do Aharon’s job several times lately because although he has not been irresponsible about his own work, he has not been holding others accountable. If he had, YHWH would not have had to open the earth to swallow people up. He has to say it a second time, so this is a re-commissioning but also a rebuke. The priesthood was responsible to ensure that no one approached YHWH in the wrong way. If he did not stand up and do his job, YHWH is telling him—if the people go where they are not meant to go, they will indeed die as they fear. Ministering to YHWH is a wonderful thing, but caring for YHWH’s people is part of that as well. Those who spend all of their time in the euphoria of close relationship with YHWH but ignore the sins of those for whom they are responsible—praying but not serving—will end up with children who dissipate their lives away, as occurred with Eli and David. One can abuse his authority by not exercising it just as well as by overstepping his limits or taking advantage of his power, like a parent who might not beat his child but fails to spank him either. It is difficult to be responsible if one has no authority (a babybsitter who has no permission to spank will not be able to stop certain actions of the children), but it is impossible to walk in authority without taking responsibility. The people have recognized the dilemma of being required to bring offerings to YHWH yet feel effectively barred from the place He said to bring them. (17:28) They are beginning to realize they need a mediator. YHWH is the one who decides how He wants to be approached; we are not. He has a prescribed order. It is the priesthood’s responsibility to teach it to us (Mal. 2:7).  

2. "And along with yourselves, you shall also bring near your relatives, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your [own] ancestor; they shall be joined to you and shall wait on you [in service] while you and your sons along with you are in the presence of the Tent of Testimony. 

Joined: the root word is the same as that of "Levi””, so this is why they were so named. Why is it now called the Tent of Testimony (edut) instead of the Tent of Appointment (moed) as usual? Because the edut (based on the word for “witness”—this rod that bore fruit) is what is inside the ark (Ex. 25:21 and 40:20), specifically the “two tablets”, called “tablets of the edut” in Ex. 31:18; 32:15; 34:29) The tent’s purpose is to house them. This is even clearer in Ex. 38:21 and Num. 1:50, 53 where the Tabernacle is called “the dwelling place of the edut”. ”. Because YHWH is not so eager to have the people gather here after the way they have been acting, here and in chapter 17 the emphasis is on it being something to guard. Though the whole tribe is responsible for the Tabernacle’s upkeep, only Aharon’s family may handle its furnishings:

3. "And they shall guard your ceremonial office and the obligatory functioning of the whole Tent, but they may not get near the vessels of the sanctuary or the altar; they must not approach, so they will not die--neither they nor yourselves!

The people had expressed fear that whoever came closest to the sanctuary would end up dead as almost 15,000 already had recently. (17:27-28) Verse 22 below suggests that up to this point, the firstborn of some households were still bringing the offerings to the sanctuary, functioning as priests for their families. But because the people had seen His sanctuary as a place of death and destruction rather than trusting Him to distinguish between those who respect the Sanctuary and those who are abusing it, He says, in effect, “If you don’t see this as important enough to take risks for, then just stay away! Then you won’t even get to see that I am trustworthy; I don’t want people like that around Me.” But rather than shutting down operations altogether, in His mercy YHWH introduced another arrangement, of which He also spoke when the census was taken (1:46-51; 3:12ff): that He will substitute the Levites for the firstborn for this job. This would prevent more situations like that which occurred with Nadav and Avihu and these 250-plus rebels. Neither they nor yourselves: If the wrong people did approach, it meant the Levites were not doing their duty, and thus they too would be guilty. Not only would they die, but Aharon or his sons would as well, because they would now bear the blame for any error that took place, since they were all well-trained and they officiated over the Levites who would carry out many of their tasks for them. Using His right hand had not been enough for Aharon, so He had to give him a taste of the left hand. We do have to pay for the errors of others in our community. We must therefore hold one another accountable. By the time of the second Temple, there were full-time Levitical guards on the Temple premises.  

4. "But they will be attached to you, and must guard the functions of the Tent of Appointment for all the servile work of the Tent, so an outsider cannot approach you.

Attached to you: or extra attendants added in addition to you. To Israel, the greatest is the one who serves. (Mat. 20:25ff; 23:11) These servants of the priests could thus be in an environment to learn what it truly means to be great. Functions: literally, "things that are to be guarded". An outsider: any non-Levite. This was not a museum for sightseers who just wanted a glimpse of the ark, but YHWH’s dwelling place.

5. "Thus you shall guard the functions of the sanctuary and the functions of the altar, so there will be no more wrath upon the descendants of Israel.

While the blood of bulls and goats never did take away sin (Heb. 10:4), it did serve to give us a clear conscience by repairing the breach in the relationship that making excuses for our guilt still perpetuated. Making a payment in the form of an animal atoned for (covered up) our shame at having slighted Him or our neighbor.  

6. "And indeed, I have taken your relatives, the Levites, out from among the descendants of Israel for you; they are like a gift given to [you by] YHWH to carry out the service of the Tent of Appointment.

Contrary to the ways of the world, those who caused Aharon trouble are those he is made most directly responsible for, as if they were his children. This is heavenly justice, not just “karma”.

7. "But you and your sons along with you shall guard your priestly office for every matter pertaining to the altar and [everything] up to [what is] inside the veil you shall perform the service. I will give you your priestly office as a service of a gift, but the outsider who approaches shall be put to death."

This was not a job for a “Mr. Nice Guy”, and seems very unfair from the spirit of today’s times. Since YHWH does not want His people to be heartless, it requires great discipline to ensure that it never gets to this point. (v. 3) When there were not enough priests available, Levites filled in and were commended for it by YHWH’s prophet. Until priests and Levites rise to their calling, anyone with enough knowledge to teach the Torah has to fill in to some extent. But the principle still remains the norm. Service of a gift: Today most do not see responsibility as something lent to us, but something forced on us. But Kingdom responsibility is a gift, even though it can get you killed if not handled properly—just like a loaded gun. It may not feel like a gift, but if we have been found untrustworthy, we quickly see how much of a gift it is; we miss this kind of burden if it is taken away. Yes, we will be let down when we trust people, but we must not be stingy about trusting our fellow Israelites. As with children, love for Him makes the burden light. He is so much more trustworthy than we, so when He lets us serve His people, we must be very grateful.  

8. Then YHWH told Aharon, "Now I--I indeed--have given you charge of My contributions, for all the devoted things of the descendants of Israel. To you have I given them for [the sake of] the anointing--and to your sons as a prescribed [portion] forever.

Even Pharaoh was forbidden to enter certain parts of the Egyptian temples. The reason there was because the food supposedly being offered to the idols was actually consumed by the priests. But YHWH is up front about this; there are no such hidden scams with Him.  

9. "From the holiest of the holy things, this is what will be yours: from the fire, everything they bring near for any grain offering or any sin offering, as well as all of their guilt offerings that they return to Me.

Since YHWH did not directly need the things people brought as tithes, offerings, and contributions, He chose to share them with someone who could, and it is He who chooses with whom He wants to share it. The priests and Levites would receive profuse compensation for the immense responsibility they were being told to shoulder in the previous verses.  

10. "It shall be most holy to you and your sons; in the holiest of holy places shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it shall be set apart to you.

The holiest things were to be eaten right in the courtyard, anywhere that they would not interfere with the slaughter proceedings—that is, near the altar where they are cooked. There were not tables for this purpose, since no one was permitted to sit in the holy areas. Eating from these offerings was not optional, so it is easy to see why a high priest like Eli would become so obese. They could only hope that not many people would sin that day if they were already full. Later there were actually stomach doctors on hand in the Second Temple to attend to the priests because of all the meat they ate.

11. "This is also for you: the contribution [lifted off] from what they give for all the wave offerings of the descendants of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters along with you as a prescribed due forever. Everyone in your household who is ritually pure may eat from it.

While what was most holy (v. 10) could be eaten nowhere but in the Temple precincts, the wave offering had a lesser degree of sanctity and could actually be taken home to the priests’ families, both the meat and the hides. But still no one who ate this food could have the picture of selfishness on them; if they were ritually impure they could eat other food that was bought with the proceeds from the hides or other gifts the families had received.  

12. "All the best of the [glistening, pure] pressed oil and all the best of the freshly-pressed wine and grain--the first of which they give to YHWH--to you I have given [it].

Grain: or produce in general. No one who grew the grapes or olives or other produce ever tasted of the best of them, for this always came to YHWH’s servants. Those who were held accountable for the burdens and risks described above were recognized by being given the very best.

13. "The firstfruits of all that is on their land, which they bring to YHWH, shall be yours; anyone in your household who is ritually pure may eat from it.

Firstfruits: or that which ripens first, though another stipulation is that it be the best of the crop. (v. 12, 30). This applies to the priestly families only.

14. "Everything that is dedicated [to YHWH] in Israel shall be yours.

Everything dedicated: At the time of the conquest of the Land this term referred to things that were placed under the "ban"--wholly devoted to destruction. This appears to be one of the few times it is used in a positive sense.  

15. "Everything that opens the womb of all flesh which they bring near to YHWH, [from] among men or animals, shall be yours—though, to be sure, you must ransom the firstborn of humans; you may also redeem the firstborn of unclean beasts.

Ransom/redeem: the same word, meaning to rescue from being killed by accepting something of equivalent value, often paid in money. (v. 16) This is so that one can continue to use unclean beasts rather than slaughtering them, since they are unfit for the altar or consumption. This is elsewhere specified as donkeys in particular (Ex. 13:13), which are the only common unclean animals Israel kept as domestic, other than camels, which may also be intended to be included here. They must be redeemed with a lamb, or else their neck must be broken; one does not get to keep it if he does not pay for it. The picture is of replacing our natural thoughts with others that are more pure and clean—with something more “edible”. Usually the priests could not use these animals, so they would sell them and bring the proceeds or the offerer would bring them and buy them back. But if one brought a dog, the priests could not sell it back to him. (Deut. 23:18) The picture is that even if one is an Israelite, but chooses to continue acting like a Gentile, he cannot have any part in YHWH’s sanctuary.

16. "And [what is to be] redeemed from them, from a month old [and up], you shall redeem with five sheqels, at your valuation of silver, according to the sheqel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.

Yeshua’s parents obeyed this injunction. (Luke 2:23ff)

17. "But the firstborn of cattle, the firstborn of sheep, or the firstborn of a she-goat, you shall not redeem; they are set apart. You must dash their blood against the altar and make their fat go up in smoke as a fire offering--a soothing aroma to YHWH.

Even if the owner offered to pay the priests three times the actual value of their prized bull, if it was a firstborn, it was not an option to sell it back to the offerer. It belongs to YHWH.

18. "But their meat shall be yours, as the breast of the wave offering and the right foreleg shall be yours.

Once the Temple was established, the firstborn may have been given to the Levites in each region on one of the two annual occasions when it was their turn to go up and serve in Yerushalayim. As the breast: that is, it may be eaten for that day, that night, and the next day only. (Lev. 19:6-7)

19. "All the contributions from the holy things which the descendants of Israel shall lift up to YHWH I have given to you and your sons and daughters along with you, to be a prescribed due forever; an eternal covenant of salt it shall be before YHWH for you and for your seed along with you."

Again, these instructions had been given when the Tabernacle was first dedicated. But apparently Aharon has also not been holding the people accountable to bring more than just the prescribed tithes. Withholding offerings is seen as robbing YHWH, but He challenges us to test whether He will not flood us with blessings if we do bring them. (Mal’akhi 3) By not requiring this of the people, he was withholding a blessing from them. One would never come empty-handed before a king or prophet to ask a favor, and the same holds true for the priests, no matter how much anyone preaches, “Come as you are.” He expects more. Anything brought to YHWH belongs in practicality to the priests, who then distribute it among themselves and the needy in prescribed ways. Salt: symbolizes eternity and something to be preserved. A covenant of salt in particular is the promise that one will protect the other who eats salt with him, should the occasion ever be necessary. This is still a practice among Bedouins. (H. Clay Trumbull) “Traditionally, salt was shared to seal a truce between former enemies or as a symbol of alliance between close friends. Treaties or friendships were often formalized by the partaking of a lick of salt to seal the deal or heal the difference between them. Entering into a Covenant of Salt means binding oneself to another in utmost loyalty and truthfulness, even suffering death, rather than breaking the covenant. For this very reason a Covenant of Salt was never done lightly or haphazardly … Today some Eastern people still use the phrase: ‘There is salt between us.’” (White Stone Communications) Salting all the offerings was not only a practical antibacterial agent; it would also constantly remind Israel of this covenant. (Lev. 2:13)

20. Then YHWH told Aharon, "You shall receive no inheritable property in the Land, nor shall you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the descendants of Israel.

Those whom YHWH invites closest to Him and who take up their responsibility will not be among those who are consumed with the mundane. They have a different kind of reward: they will eat at His table, and who could want more than that?  

21. "Now to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel as an inheritance in return for all the service which they carry out--the service of the Tent of Appointment.

22. "The descendants of Israel shall not come close to the Tent of Appointment anymore, [which would lead them] to incur guilt [and] to die [for it].

It would not have had to be this way had the people not begged Moshe to be their mediator since they were afraid to come close at Sinai. We placed the Torah between ourselves and YHWH, so we must approach Him through it. Apparently some people were changing their minds about this arrangement or still sending their firstborn sons to do what the Levites were now to do instead. Just as Aharon had not restrained them during the incident of the golden calf, again he is not doing so. One of the reasons YHWH loves the Levites is that they came to Moshe’s side at that time.  

23. "Rather, the Levite is the one who shall carry out the service of the Tent of Appointment, and they shall bear their crookedness, as an eternally-prescribed appointment for your generations; but among the descendants of Israel, they shall have no inheritance,

24. "because the tithes of the descendants of Israel, which they shall bring near to YHWH I have given to the Levites as a contribution [skimmed off the top] as an inheritance. That is why I have told them that they are to inherit no property that they can pass on."

The Levites had no farms of their own, so they depended directly on YHWH for their daily bread--but this also meant they were free from other concerns so they could concentrate fully on the special task He had given them. If the Levites stopped teaching the people the Torah, the people would stop bringing their firstfruits and tithes, and they would not have food to eat. This did occur a few times in our history.

25. Then YHWH told Moshe,

26. "Speak [again] to the Levites, and tell them, 'When you receive from among the descendants of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them to be your inheritance, you shall lift off a contribution to YHWH from it--a tenth of the tithe.

Part of what they received also went to the widows, orphans, and foreigners staying in Israel to study the Torah.  

27. "And your contribution shall be calculated for you like grain from the threshing floor and like full [produce] of the winepress.

Any increase they receive should be tithed in the same way. The people, who may have grown some crops when they camped long enough at one location, seem to have already been tithing these things.  

28. "Likewise, you shall lift off the contribution to YHWH from all the tithes that you receive from the descendants of Israel, and from it you shall give YHWH's contribution to Aharon the cohen.

This is a tithe of the tithe—the very best 1% from everything Israel brings. Though this instruction is really for those under Aharon’s jurisdiction, Moshe is involved (v. 25), partly so there will be another level of accountability, but also because while Aharon will greatly benefit from this command, Moshe will not, so Aharon is not told to directly request this contribution from them, so there will be no conflict of interest.  But the wonderful thing here is that those who are otherwise receiving also have the occasion to be part of the giving, and as Yeshua said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” They, too, can share in the blessing.

29. "Out of all that is given, you shall lift off YHWH's whole contribution out of all its best and the parts of it that are set apart.

30. "And tell them, 'When you lift off its best part out of it, it must be calculated for the Levites like the produce of the threshing floor and the produce of the wine-vat.

Like...: i.e., by the same percentage as.

31. "Also, you may eat it in any place, you along with your households, because it is your reward in exchange for your service in the Tent of Appointment.

32. "And you shall bear no guilt on account of it, since you have lifted off its best part from it. Do not desecrate the holy things of the descendants of Israel, and you will not die."

If the part that belonged to YHWH was not separated off, they would be stealing from Him. Desecrate: lower by putting it to common use, when it has been dedicated for holy use alone, or eating the portion which was to be their tithe. If YHWH is feeding us, we must be careful how we handle the food. This applies whether we are speaking of literal bread, the bread of community, or when we are fed from the Torah. Give Him credit in this way for providing it, and you have earned the other 90%.  

(Numbers 16:1-18:32)
INTRODUCTION:    The grumbling continues, only this time it isn’t about food, but about the leader and where he hasn’t taken them. No mention of whose fault that was, of course, but the accusations are downright insulting. No one seems to have learned any lesson from YHWH’s previous responses to such whining; they only seem interested in finding reasons that Moshe has no business being above the rest of them. They have latched onto a misunderstanding of what it means to be a set-apart nation, thinking it means they all have a right to be leaders—which essentially means no one would lead and there would be anarchy and chaos.

It takes quick but well-thought-out mediation by the very ones who were the brunt of the complaints to keep the whole camp from being destroyed, but still some people (and remember, they are our ancestors, after all) do not get the point. After something that Moshe clearly could not have orchestrated on his own, he still gets blamed for the death of those who would not repent and would not even follow orders in regard to testing the legitimacy of their claims. They had made up their minds what they wanted, convinced that they were right, so YHWH again shows them what His “opinion” on the matter is.  

This is the people He has created to ensure that the whole world does not get to the point it did before the Flood of Noakh’s day, and so far they are quite disappointing to Him.Moshe and Aharon again step in and show Him a degree of understanding that satisfies Him that not everyone deserves to die, after all. It does put the “fear of Elohim” in them—but still it is misplaced and misconstrued, because they now just want to stay away from Him instead of learning the right ways to approach Him. So He puts in place some safeguards, but also new regulations to keep such foolishness to a mnimum—rules that should not have been necessary, by which the few burdened the many. YHWH puts counter-measures in place to ease the added burden for those who now have to shoulder it, compensating them well for the risks they now have no choice but to take, even giving them the things the previous complainers wished they had to eat!  

He also establishes who He wants to be in charge through an impossible-to-counterfeit event that also holds some symbolic nuances of its own. He has a redemption to accomplish in the earth, and a message to be presented to it, and this will not get done if short-sighted men co-opt the structure He has put in place based on their own ever-changing, never-satisfied whims. So He puts a stop to the intrigues and the ignorant political aspirations, for this is not just any nation. The majority does not get to decide how to do things; those who know and hear from YHWH do. But He does invite us to be in that company (as long as we accept the position He gives us) and participate in His purposes for the world. That should be our ambition, and it alone brings the satisfaction that no other can.

Another Side of YHWH

Some Torah portions stand out more starkly than others, making us ask the hardest questions, and this is one of them. The stage was set in the previous chapter: “Anyone who acts with a high hand (defiantly) …is a reproach to YHWH, and that soul must be cut off from the midst of his people.” (Numbers 15:30) Little did Moshe know how dramatic an example of this was just around the corner.

First the defiant ones dare to say that every last Israelite is of the same caliber as Moshe and deserve to be free from his authority. Now YHWH did free us all from slavery on the premise that all of our lives were indeed worthy of better treatment. And it is right to be ambitious—to aspire to constantly refine ourselves to become the very best we can be, but not at the expense of others, especially those who have a clear validation from YHWH.  

Not that anyone in a position of power—even someone chosen by YHWH Himself—is automatically immune to criticism; His calling is no excuse for bad governing or inconsiderate planning. Moshe implies that if he deserved to be complained about, these people would have been justified. (16:15) He is patient and willing to put it to a fair test. “Let YHWH decide and show us what He wants.” But when he calls them to it, they switch to the other side of their mouths: “You can’t tell US what to do!” (16:13)  

Unwilling to submit it to the litmus test, they forfeit the option of trying to prove their complaint legitimate. They exasperate even this very patient man, who lays it all on the line to show his innocence (16:28), and YHWH honors his risk by coming through for him. He gives them all a permanent reminder of the consequences of bucking an order that YHWH says will work. (16:35)

Yet the survivors still dare to challenge him, and treat him as if he was another Pharaoh! (16:41) If we did not sometimes find ourselves doing things stranger than fiction, we might not believe this was possible. YHWH can’t seem to believe it either, and again He is ready to erase the whole board and start over. He is again (16:21) ready to show mercy as soon as Moshe and Aharon intervene (16:47-49), and they do so immediately, but still not soon enough to avoid many needless deaths.  

YHWH wanted to put an even clearer end to all of this, because He really does not want us to foolishly put ourselves in a line of fire that has to be there, so He gave unmistakable, supernatural proof of which people He wanted to do this job. (Num. 17:5-8) It could not be chalked up to a mere coincidence. “By their fruit you shall know them”, so He made Aharon’s rod (a stick carved from a tree long since dead) to not only bud, but blossom and bear fruit—all in one night! When the evidence speaks for itself, no one else can boast.

Yet still they take pot shots through their whiny, childish tone of voice: “Well, then, I guess we can’t come to the Tabernacle at all anymore; we’d get killed if we did!” So YHWH lays the responsibility on Aharon to ensure that this does not take place. (18:1) He makes a whole new set of rules that should never have been necessary, but which now burden them all because of the stubbornness of a few. (18:5) But YHWH provides reinforcements to lighten his load (18:2), and goes to great lengths to compensate those who bear the brunt, giving them the best of all the offerings, as if to rub it in for those who had envied their position (18:8-19).  

He gives them a unique privilege, which might at first appear to deny them the nicer things in life (18:20), but it is a blessing in disguise; they don’t have to be burdened with what usually takes up men’s time and energy, so they can focus on an inheritance of a different type without the worries that come from wondering if the crops will fail or if they will have enough business to get by. But still they are not always on the receiving end; they are not denied the joy that comes from giving as well (18:26ff); in fact, they get to turn over the best of the best, because the best still belongs to YHWH alone.

The priests are not allowed to abuse the hard-earned donations of the genuinely repentant; it was the bald disregard for this command in particular that would cost Eli’s sons (and himself, indirectly) their lives. (1 Shmu’el 2:12-17) For them, even such a relatively short time after the Exodus, all this stuff about YHWH was chalked up to being a myth; they were only in it for the hedonistic rewards they could squeeze out of their job, and squeeze they did. But the very generation who saw YHWH’s mighty deeds did not do any better. There is no satisfying such people, who are bent on their own ways.  

Thus YHWH is justified in doing these things that seem so harsh. He would not do them if He did not have to, just as we hesitate to punish the children we love, even when they are not so lovable. But if anything good is to survive, as Noakh knew, extreme measures must occasionally be taken. They should never be the norm. But it is up to us to make sure they occur as seldom as possible.
Study questions:

1. Were the men who rose up against Moshe obscure people who just wanted to be in a limelight they had been deliberately denied? (Numbers 16:2) What, then, do you think motivated them? 

2. Were they right about all of Israel being holy? (16:3) What, then, was wrong with their definition of holiness? What was the underlying problem (16:8-10)?

3. What did Moshe tell them to do that should have been enough of a caveat in itself for those who had ears to hear? (16:6-7; compare Leviticus 10. Was the outcome the same? See 16:35.)
4. Which of the three types of sins—khata’ (missing the target), avon (perversion), or pasha (in-your-face rebellion)—were they exemplifying in 16:12?

5. What line in verse 13 was especially a slap in YHWH’s face? What event(s) in the foregoing context might have occasioned their accusation that Moshe was lording it over them?

6. How does Num. 16:15 parallel the oppressed person‘s cry for justice as seen in Exodus 22:22-24?

7. Who can we surmise from Num. 16: 24-27 from what is said about the three men’s families, and what is not said? (Compare the preamble to Psalms 41-49, 84-88. What must have occurred?)

8. Why could the firepans not simply be destroyed? (17:2-3)

9. How did YHWH derive some good from this incident? (17:5)

10. Numbers 17:6 shows how people who have their minds set on something can miss the obvious cues (as in 16:7), even when YHWH does something no one else could do, chalking it up to sleight of human hand! Examine your own heart: Might I be overlooking or blinding myself to something YHWH is doing because I insist on a certain doctrine, dogma, or preference of my own?

11. What two solutions did YHWH put in place to prevent thousands of people dying again because of desecrating or despising of what He had set apart? (17:25; 18:1-5)

12. Did YHWH modify His calling of Aharon’s descendants as priests because of other people’s envy, or did He intensify the distinction between them and the rest of the people? (18:7-22) What heavy responsibility came along with their privilege? (18:23)

13. What is the main consideration behind all of these additional safeguards YHWH set in place? (18:32) How can we begin to express the same purpose in our actions and attitudes while the Levitical priesthood is not yet back in place?
Companion Passage:
1 Samuel 11:14-12:22
The Sidewalk
for Kids

Have you heard the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”? Well, we definitely have a case of that here this week. This Torah portion is about some people who thought they wanted Moshe’s job, even though they had not had the training he had had, nor had they been called and sent by YHWH the way he had.  

These people were Levites. They had been given a very important job in Israel, but just like haSatan, they were not satisfied with the position He gave them, but wanted the highest position. YHWH was not pleased with this.

Who’s in charge? Just anyone who wants to be? That could be all of us, if we’re honest. But there’s no way everybody can be. That can’t work. Somebody has to see the big picture, but everybody else has to work on the details if the job is going to get done.

  These people didn’t really even know what job had to get done. So how could they lead? Even Moshe himself probably didn’t really know where the idea of Israel was meant to lead, other than his part in getting them from Egypt to the promised land. YHWH is the only one who knew what needed to be done after that, but He told Moshe everything that the rest of the people really needed to know at this point. So Moshe was the one they needed to listen to.

Even after YHWH made the ground swallow up the people who were trying to take over, the rest of the people still didn’t believe that Moshe hadn’t just decided to be the leader himself. So YHWH gave an unmistakable sign of which tribe He had picked to lead. Aharon’s rod (which was originally Moshe’s), even though it was a dead branch cut off a tree years ago, sprouted buds and flowers and fruit, and the other Israelite leaders couldn’t imitate that like the Egyptian magicians could (for a while—until Moshe’s rod ate their rods. (It seems like it was alive, but it was just that after Moshe threw it down like YHWH said—giving up his control over it—it became the rod of Elohim. It was even called that later.)

YHWH does have a special job to do through Israel, but we won’t find out what it is by comparing ourselves with what other people are doing. These men were right in saying that all of Israel is set apart, but not all to the same job. We all have the same overall goal, but each of us only has a piece—or maybe a few pieces--to put in the puzzle. None of us has all of it, and if we put ours where someone else’s are supposed to, not only would it look funny but it would not fit either.

YHWH needs someone just like you to do your job. You can’t do somebody else’s, and nobody else can do yours. So you might as well enjoy the one He gave you; I will make life so much easier all around.

The Renewal of QORAKH

Revolt. It’s an all-too-up-to-date concept. Until the last few weeks, it was something most of us could only remember from 50 or 60 years ago, and we thought we’d gotten past such tactics. But now it has reared its head again, and we have to determine why. Is it legitimate? Is it overblown? Is it some of both? That’s what I conclude, so like every other attempt at just litigation, we must take each case by its own merits, and not have knee-jerk reactions or lump people too quickly into only two categories.

In this portion Moshe faced this kind of treatment again, after nearly being stoned (Numbers 14:10) over doing the amazing job of taking all the flak from Pharaoh and successfully getting them out of bondage. (I can think of another modern leader who gets the same kind of treatment despite all the lashings he takes to preserve and restore our freedoms.) Now they are looking for another excuse to complain against this humble public servant, thinking he arrogated to himself the position he tried so hard not to take. (Num. 16:3) And they all but accuse him of nepotism. He doesn’t argue his motives; he takes it to the supreme judge, telling the people to take it up with the One who gave him this job. He says, “We’ll test every charge and let the facts speak for themselves.”  

But when YHWH makes it abundantly clear whom He supports, they still come back to Moshe and say, “You killed YHWH’s servants—His holy people!” (Num. 17:6)  Again, a half-truth at best. So once again, YHWH Himself gives an unmistakable sign that He is the one who chose Moshe’s brother and his family; Moshe did not.

I can relate to Moshe. 21 years ago at exactly this season, I followed the trail of the best information I could get about YHWH at the time, yet was widely thought to have betrayed His cause. It’s not fun being misjudged like that, but can I complain if I “have not yet resisted to the point of blood”? (Hebrews 12:4)

Who was judged more unjustly than Yeshua? In addition to attempts on his life when he was not yet old enough to have done either good or evil, surface “facts” seemed to litigate against him, but only until people checked the real facts; then they began to rave rather than rail about this unique man and his awe-inspiring mission. Is it any wonder Moshe spoke of him, saying, “Whoever does not listen to this prophet like me will have YHWH to answer to for it”? (Deut. 18:18)  Yet his final judges could not fathom the possibility that there was an objective truth by which to judge.

Those who carried on his message met the same kind of opposition: death threats from their own countrymen, unjust imprisonment, actual martyrdom, and riots by Gentiles with a stake in paganism that came very close to having the same result. The politicians also got involved, because this movement allowing amnesty for descendants of traitors to the covenant (and outsiders with no history to join YHWH’s family just because they found His offer of becoming fully human again too compelling to pass up) was becoming too big to ignore. They had to try to suppress the knowledge that YHWH had declared His choice again by raising Yeshua from the dead. (Compare Numbers 17:20 with Acts 2:36.)

This revolt-without-cause all went back to Lucifer (Heylel in Hebrew), who did not want to give up the grip he had over this world when his bluff was now called. He did not yet lose his hold on its institutions, but now there were defectors left and right, and he had to stop this leakage from his “swamp”. So he executed all he could catch, but there was no longer any hiding the truth for those who really sought it out, even when he tried to destroy the evidence.

Now we are entering the final stage of this ages-old conflict; the biggest pretender to the throne, the False Messiah, will probably be on the scene soon. (Beware: the counterfeit will precede the real.) This counterfeit will not be obvious to all because of other ways haSatan has subverted the truth—again pulling it under his own institutions to water down its significance which in its pure form is so caustic to his cause. But the book of Revelation shows what the ultimate outcome will be when YHWH once more “destroys those who destroy the earth” that He created good (Rev. 11:18) and restores its uncorrupted original form—with no more usurpers.

Revolution that will indeed be (coming all the way back around to the beginning)--radical in the true sense (getting to the root of the matter). Don't accept cheap substitutes that really can't change human nature. This one can--and does.