Numbers 16 holds a story about murmuring that is still applicable today to the extent that we have people demanding the priesthood.

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
2 And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?

Who are these people who are rising up against Moses? 
These were Levites who had charge of transporting the sacred things of the temple.  There were also descendants of Reuben, and they may have resented Moses’ leadership, thinking that they should have had that place.

What is their problem with Moses?
They think he is taking too much power and lifting himself up above everyone.  They argue that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them” and so no one has any right to be above anyone else.

The problem with this argument is, considering the history the Israelites have of murmuring and rebelling, they aren’t holy. 
You have to wonder why they don’t remember the incident when Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses and how that resulted in Miriam getting stricken with leprosy. 

4 And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
5 And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.
6 This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
7 And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the Lord to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.
8 And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
9 Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?
10 And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?
11 For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?

Moses sees that these men are angling for greater authority than they already have.  We get an extra insight from the JST of verse 10, which shows us they were seeking the high priesthood, which lets us know they already had the Levitical priesthood.

Moses communicates an important principle in the above verses:
“the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy”
“the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy”
Moses knows from his own experience that a person doesn’t call himself to priesthood office.  After all, the Lord chose him to be a prophet, and he would have refused the call if he could.  He knows the Lord does the choosing, regardless of what man wants, and he knows that the Lord demonstrates who has been chosen.

Korah and his people seem to have thought that it wouldn’t matter one way or another to the Lord who was given the high priesthood.  They may have thought one person could do those duties just as well as any other.  (They may have been thinking too much of physical qualifications and not enough about the spiritual qualifications, like humility and meekness.)

Moses knew different, so he proposed a test: all the 250 could come to the temple, each with their own censer and incense and they could all perform the priest’s duties of burning incense and he promised them that the Lord would show them who He had chosen to be priests. 

The question would have arisen in their minds—“How will I know if the Lord has chosen me or not?”  They didn’t know beforehand what the sign of God’s choice would be, but I don’t think they took it seriously.  (They were rebelling against Moses, after all.)  When you think about it, the Lord could do two different things to indicate His choice—He could especially bless the person He chose and none of the others, or He could destroy those He didn’t choose and leave His chosen unharmed.   (As it happens, the Lord does both of these; He destroys the presumptuous first in Numbers 16 and then shows where His particular choice is in Numbers 17 with the miracle of Aaron’s rod that budded.)

But first Moses tried to remind Korah and his people of the privileges they already enjoyed.  They were permitted to come near the Lord as they took care of the tabernacle and helped minister to the congregation.  But they didn’t seem to think this was anything special.  With that kind of attitude, it is a sure bet that if they had been given what they wanted, they would have come to despise that as well.

Moses also tried to show them that by complaining about who the priesthood was given to or not given to, they weren’t murmuring against Aaron because Aaron was just the instrument of God.  They were murmuring against the Lord who did the choosing.

12 ¶And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:
13 Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?
14 Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.

It seems that some of the ringleaders refused to participate in the test that Moses proposed on the grounds it was another instance of Moses grabbing power.  They further complained that Egypt had been a good place to live and they had been led away from it and there was nothing to show for all Israel’s journeying.   Moses had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey but hadn’t delivered.

They seem to have forgotten that they had been brought to the borders of Canaan but had refused to enter after the spies’ report had scared them.  (This blatant forgetfulness seems even more obvious to Bible readers because that account comes just two chapters before this.)  They didn’t believe the Lord could help them conquer Canaan, they refused to go up, and then they accused Moses of not leading them where they refused to go?  Sheesh!

This is a place where we love to come down hard on the Israelites, but if we do that, we lose the value of the story.  It’s there as instruction for us, so we need to look really carefully at our lives to see if there is some way that we do the same thing.  Do we hang back from following the Lord and then complain that his promises aren’t being fulfilled when it is our disobedience that has prevented the blessing?

15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the Lord, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.

Here we have another example of Moses blowing off steam to the Lord, which is much better than taking it out on the rebels.  We may be a little surprised at his request to the Lord that He “respect not…their offering,” but this shows us how desperate Moses was for the Lord to vindicate him.  Moses knew he had done no one any harm, but rather done them much good, and it was only their jealous perspective that made them dissatisfied.  Jealousy causes people to feel wronged when they haven’t actually been.

16 And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:
17 And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the Lord every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer.
18 And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.
19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation.
20 And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
21 Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.
22 And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?

Moses simply repeats the invitation to Korah and his rebellious followers that they come offer incense at the tabernacle and find out who has been chosen. 

So they come.  And as they gather, the Lord appears and says He will consume the whole congregation in a moment.  This may seem extreme to us, especially since so often the Lord in this and other instances allows Himself to be persuaded to be merciful, but I think it has an instructive purpose.  It is a reminder to us that these people (and by extention us too) were not yet worthy to enter back into the Lord’s presence.  If judgment came at that moment, they (and we) would be all consumed.  Moses and Aaron’s plea to spare the people is a type of Christ’s intercession giving more probationary time for repentance.   It’s a reminder that we all figuratively walk on thin ice and have to be careful not to offend the Lord.

Moses and Aaron plead for the people.  They argue, “Shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?”  It seems they realized that there wasn’t a majority convinced by Korah and his people; it was instead a very vocal minority making this trouble. 

23 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
24 Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
25 And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.
26 And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.
27 So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.

It is very interesting that these verses speak of “the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”  It sounds like it might just mean their tents, but I suspect that Moses wanted us to understand that by rebelling against the Lord and the organization of the priests at the tabernacle, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram had set up their own tabernacle in opposition to the Lord’s tabernacle.

Moses told the congregation to remove themselves away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to prevent becoming consumed in all their sins.  This is very good advice even today.  When there are people who rebel against church leaders or cause division and contention with their stories of grievance, the smartest thing we can do is “touch nothing of theirs” or refrain from taking up their case, lest we become personally consumed and obsessed by it. 

As everyone moves away from them, Dathan and Abiram come out and stand in the door of their tents with their wives and their sons and their little children.  From things I’ve read about what happens at the door of tents, this seems to be a cultural method of making a public statement.  We see their discontent infected their whole family because their whole family stood together.  If it had been for something good, this could have been a nice story of family solidarity and standing for the right, but as it was to uphold their grievance against the prophet, it is a sad example of stubbornness.

28 And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind.
29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me.
30 But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord.
31 ¶And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:
32 And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
33 They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.
34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.

If Korah and his people were looking for a sign, they got a sign alright, but it was to their condemnation. 

Moses did not have power on his own to cause the earthquake to happen which swallowed the rebels up.  It happened because the Lord backed Moses up.

You don’t often hear of these kinds of signs happening when the prophet says something is going to happen and then it does almost immediately.  Usually the prophecy and the fulfillment have much more space between them, which requires us to exercise our faith.  If we can do that, then we receive blessings.  In this case, the fulfillment came immediately and brought condemnation because they were not willing to exercise their faith.

35 And there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.

Here we see that the Lord indicated His displeasure toward those who aspired to the high priesthood and offered incense contrary to their assigned duties.  They were like Cain, who offered an offering contrary to what had been commanded, and just as the Lord didn’t have respect to Cain’s offering, the Lord did not have respect to these 250 men, though here the penalty was immediate and more severe.

36 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
37 Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed.
38 The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the Lord, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel.
39 And Eleazar the priest took the brasen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar:
40 To be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moses.

It seems really odd that the 250 censers would be considered holy and would be beaten into a covering for the altar.  I think it may have to do with the principle that the men were punished for their own sins and justice had been satisfied, such that the censors weren’t cursed. 

Making the censers into an altar covering makes sense if you look at the spiritual lessons it could teach.  The altar covering would be a barrier that would protect the altar from being defiled and protect people from touching it in a sinful state.  The covering would also remind people of the story of rebellion to warn them, essentially acting like a barrier to prevent them from committing the same sin. 

41 ¶But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.

The effrontery of this accusation is staggering to us.  The Lord judged and punished the rebels in a miraculous way and now the rest of the people accuse Moses and Aaron of killing “the people of the Lord?” 

What we see here is a total mismatch of perspectives between the Lord’s way and the people’s way.  The people are not concerned with being holy.  They operate from a place of social practicality that ignores offenses that are permitted according to their previous traditions, and they look at what happened to Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and the 250 thinking that the punishment was all out of proportion to the offense.  You can almost hear them protesting, “They were good people and you killed them!”  The Lord, in contrast, wants His people to be holy so they can be brought back into His presence.  When holiness is the goal, there is no room for little traditional sins, or any sin for that matter.  Any sin merits death and our life continues only on His sufferance in hopes we will repent.  If after knowing the truth of the gospel we demonstrate determination to rebel and sin anyway, He is right to remove us from the scene as it mercifully caps the amount of sins we will have to suffer for. 

Unhappily, when the people question the obvious judgment that the Lord brought upon the rebels, they set themselves in opposition to the Lord.  And that leads to consequences.
42 And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.
43 And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.
44 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
45 Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.
46 ¶And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun.
47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people.
48 And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
49 Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.
50 And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.
I notice that so often when the Israelites begin to murmur, judgment from the Lord comes in the form of a plague.  The disease would not have spread if the people had been following the cleanliness rules of the Law of Moses regarding who and what to wash when.  Their lack of confidence in Moses led to laxness in following his counsel about sanitation (among other things), which led to conditions that transmitted and spread disease.

Aaron clearly acted as a type of Christ, advocating for Israel when he burned incense among the congregation, making atonement for them instead of separating himself from them.  Also, the way he came among them, prefigured how Christ condescended to come among mortal men and atone for us, becoming as one who might die.  As Aaron stood as a divider between the dead and the living, Christ is the border between the dead and the living because to go from the dead side to the living side you have to go through Him.

As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, it is amazing to me how many types of Christ there are.  Some I’ve known about before, others I’m discovering in unexpected places. 

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