Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face (Numbers 16:1–4, esv).
What do you picture when you hear that word? Some punk, wanna-be, tough guy with the collar of his jacket up and an attitude that won’t quit? A brooding teen facing off against her parents, resolutely refusing to obey? Government protestors, marching in the streets and denouncing authority?
Rebellion has many faces, and all are not equally bad. Certainly the American Revolution had elements of rebellion in it, as did the women’s liberation and civil rights movements of the twentieth century. But when rebellion is against God and His ordained authority structure, the consequences can be devastating.
“When rebellion is against God and His ordained authority structure, the consequences can be devastating.”
We see this tragically, vividly illustrated in the story of Korah’s rebellion, recorded in Numbers 16. A group of men, led by Korah, began a revolt. A mutiny against Moses and Aaron. A conspiracy. An organized, carefully planned coup. They got in Moses’ face about what they felt was wrong with his leadership. In truth, they resented Moses and Aaron because of their prominence as leader and priest.
These rebels knew the truth. They weren’t outcasts or known troublemakers. They weren’t untrained or uneducated, on the fringe of the nation of Israel. These were noble men in Israelite society, responsible leaders gone bad. God took this rebellion very seriously—because He didn’t perceive it as a rebellion against Moses but as a rejection of His authority (16:11). The consequences came hard and fast.
A primary, natural consequence of rebellion is leadership withdrawal. As God prepared to deal with Korah, He first commanded Moses and Aaron to pull back: “Separate yourselves” (16:21), “Get away from the dwelling of Korah” (16:24), “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs” (16:26). God wanted distance between His chosen leaders and the rebels. Often people wonder why those in authority seem to have little interest in them. This could be one of the reasons. If you are continually difficult to lead—in the home, church, and marketplace—leaders will often pull back and stop leading you. That can make your life feel like a lonely, unprotected wilderness.
Rebellion also creates a situation in which innocent people are injured. That is its terrible, second consequence. Korah led an insurrection out from under Moses’ authority, but he couldn’t provide for or protect those who followed him. Korah invited, “Follow me! We know what we’re doing!” But in the end he only led them into a deep hole in the ground that literally became their grave. “The ground under [the rebels] split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods” (Numbers 16:31–32). God’s judgment was shocking and swift.
A final consequence of rebellion is its infectious spread. Hebrews 12:15 warns, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Rebellion is like a spiritual infectious disease: it spreads rapidly and contaminates many people. Korah’s infection spread to his 250 followers, his family, and 14,700 who died in a plague, the aftermath of the rebellion (16:49).
But before we’re tempted to judge Korah & Co. too harshly, we must recognize our own rebellion. A propensity to rebel thrives in every human heart. It’s as old as the Garden of Eden. Recall God’s words to the first couple. In summary, “I’ve created a whole world and put it under your care—99.99 percent of Creation. Do whatever you want; there’s only one thing you can’t do.” And what did they do? They rebelled. They did the one thing God commanded them not to do.
Are we guilty of the same attitude? Rebellion doesn’t refer to ignorance (when we don’t know and need to be taught) or discouragement (when we know but feel discouraged and are struggling). Nor is it the pain of trying, failing, repenting, and trying again. No, rebellion is knowing what God wants me to do but refusing to do it. It says, “I know I should, but I won’t!” Like Saul, like Samson, like Jonah, like Korah . . . like us. We all have rebellion in our hearts.
Lord, rebellion is easy; humility and submission are very hard. I want to take the hard way because it’s the best way, and it’s Your way. Lord, please forgive all my rationalizations. In the relationships where I’m wrong, bring the face of each person to mind, that I might acknowledge my sin and turn from it. Please forgive my rebellion. Create in me a clean, submissive heart, oh God! Thank You for Jesus, who redeems my waywardness. It’s in His name I pray, amen.