Last week we began looking at Numbers 16. And this chapter opens up with the grumbling of God's people against Him and the religious leaders He had set up (Moses and Aaron). A man named Korah, a Kohathite who had honorable duties in the service of the Tabernacle, allowed himself to become greedy for the wealth and prestige he thought that Moses and Aaron were after, thinking they were trying to establish a priesthood like the one they had experienced in Egypt. And so Korah incites the people to complain and leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and leads over 250 men to rebel against Moses and Aaron. And we see that God judged them very strongly. Just as they had tried to divide God's people, so God divides the people in order to separate them from Korah and the men following him. And after this, he divides the earth and it closes upon those who chose to follow Korah and the 250 men. And the point here cannot be missed, and that is that God judges those who sin against him according to their sin. You reap what you sow. Well, Korah sowed division and it was the very division of the earth that swallowed him up. And then, if you remember, fire went out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men with censers as they sought to offer incense before the Lord, a task that was reserved for only Aaron and his line.
Harsh?-- Now all of this (as well as our passage today) may seem harsh to us, but when we look at scripture in context we see that Korah's rebellion was only one in a long list of grumblings of the people of God.
Context of Rebellion-- You know, it’s interesting; you can actually divide the wanderings of Israel according to their grumblings and rebellions in the desert. Sad, but true. 14 times we find Israel complaining. They complain saying that Moses made Pharaoh’s oppression worse (Exodus 5:1-22), they complain again later, telling Moses to leave them alone (Exodus 14:11-12); they complain about the bitter water (Exodus 15:22), about being hungry (Exodus 16:1-4), about being thirsty (Exodus 17:1-4); they complain about Moses’ long delay on Sinai and forsake God and worship a golden calf (Exodus 32:28); they complain about the food (Numbers 11); Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ leadership (Numbers 12:1-12); the people complain about how difficult it looked to conquer the giants in the land; so they refused to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:1-10), they complain again and want to even kill Moses and then seek another leader (Numbers 14:10); then the key leaders rebel against Moses (Numbers 16); the people complain again and they accuse Moses of killing God’s people (Numbers 16:41); the people contended with Moses again because of no water (Numbers 20:1-5); and finally the people complain against God and Moses in Numbers 21:4-5. And each of these incidents of complaining is met by a response from God, often of judgment.
Another Instance-- But all this to say, our passage takes place within a much larger context of complaining and rebellion. Chapter 16 begins with the 11th grumbling and before we get out of chapter 16 we come across the 12th, which is the subject of our passage today. Go ahead and look with me, starting at…
Numbers 16:41 (ESV)-- 41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.”
Still Grumbling!!!— Now [It is nearly unbelievable that after the divine judgments—which were so clearly the work of Yahweh—the people held Moses and Aaron responsible for the calamities] But they did. And yet for God’s righteous judgment they blame Moses and Aaron. And it’s interesting they say to Moses and Aaron, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” because the people who died were actually those who had sided against the Lord; they had become Korah’s people. But the people don’t recognize this. In fact, in their saying “the people of the Lord ”, they are actually implying that Moses and Aaron are the ones who have committed a crime against God.
Pointing Fingers-- It is kind of like we see in the modern political world now. Those who point their finger are often times the ones who are the most guilty of the very crime they are accusing. This is not something new. It was going on here too. The people of Israel, even after all of this, still do not demonstrate a repentant spirit. They are still trying to shift the blame onto somebody else; in this case Moses and Aaron. And again they choose to rebel. And so once again God shows up. It says…
Numbers 16:42 (ESV)— 42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.
A Dead Army Mule-- There reads an [Epitaph on the gravestone of an army mule: Here lies Maggie, who in her time kicked two captains, four lieutenants, ten sergeants, fifty privates, and one bomb.] In a similar way the Israelites, after kicking numerous times, have finally kicked the bomb. God must judge them harshly in order to regain order among the people. And so it says…
Numbers 16:43-50 (ESV)— 43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. 46 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” 47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. 49 Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.
You know, it’s amazing that after all of this Moses and Aaron are still willing to intercede and be the means of salvation for God’s people (this is the 5th time Moses has interceded on their behalf. Much like Jesus on the cross, who was saving the very people who were then piercing Him, Moses and Aaron were willing to intercede for the very people who were persecuting them. And though many died, their intervention saved many. And so the judgement is ended. And God gives more instruction to further settle the matter. It says…
Numbers 17:1-2a (ESV) Aaron's Staff Buds--1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers' house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers' houses, twelve staffs.
Staffs As Symbols of Authority-- Now a staff was a very important symbol in the ancient world. It was not just something you would lean on. It was also a symbol of power and authority. You will remember that in many of the hieroglyphics that have been discovered in Egypt, we see images of Pharaohs who typically are holding two objects in their hands: a rod/staff and a flail/whip, which is also seen on the tombs of mummies such as King Tutankhamen, who has them crossed over his chest. You see, the Pharaohs were shepherds (not of sheep, but of people) and needed the staff to care for them and the flail to discipline them. So it is interesting that God chooses to use an easily recognizable symbol of authority to show who in fact has the authority. He says…
Numbers 17:2b-11 (ESV)— Write each man's name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron's name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers' house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” 6 Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers' houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. 7 And Moses deposited the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 8 On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. 9 Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” 11 Thus did Moses; as the Lord commanded him, so he did.
God Affirms the Aaronic Priesthood-- Now each of these staffs had been cut and personalized from some dead piece of wood, or were made dead after being severed from whatever tree they were cut from. And then God has them place them in the Tabernacle, where His presence dwelt in order for Him to choose the staff of the person He wants to be His person of authority. Aaron’s staff (from the tribe of Levi) was among the others and was just as dead and lifeless as the others were. But what happens? Aaron’s staff not only buds (as God promised) but also blossoms and bears almonds. Now imagine this. This would be like sitting at your kitchen table one day and suddenly discovering branches had grown out underneath and fruit was growing on those branches. Aaron’s staff had been just as dead as the staffs of the other men, but his came alive again. Now this is significant because in this we see that Aaron’s priesthood is confirmed by God by resurrection. And the reason this is interesting is that when we come to the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, we find that Jesus’ own resurrection made and ratified Him as our ultimate High Priest.
Hebrews 7:23-25 (ESV)-- 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost[a] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Our High Priest-- So Jesus is our High Priest; and this is confirmed by His resurrection; and not only by His resurrection, but also the resurrection He performs in each and every one of our lives when He is truly allowed to enter in. He brings us from death to life. And when we give Him those things in our life that either are death-producing or are dead themselves, He can bring life; if you’ll let Him.
I want to encourage you this morning, if there is any area of your life that is not yielded to the full control of Jesus, give it to Him. Like that staff, submit it into the presence of God and you WILL experience His resurrection power. Like He did with that dead stick, He will create in you new life; a fruitful life; everlasting life. But that life can only come through submission to God and the high priest He has set over you: Jesus Christ. Submit to Him today. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.