The location of today’s taste of Torah is Numbers 16:28-35. It reads: Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.” 31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!” 35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.
The context of this judgment is the LORD is instructing His people about the importance of the Levitical priesthood. And the major story line here is that the Israelites are challenging the position of Moses and Aaron in relation to that priesthood; a challenge that’s decisively answered by Yahweh. The central point of this passage is clear. Rebellion against those whom God has chosen is rebellion against God Himself! And notice here that Moses makes a startling announcement. In effect he says, “Something absolutely terrible is about to happen. And the something terrible that’s about to happen is God’s confirmation of me! This confirmation will demonstrate that I’m the man He has chosen to guide and direct you in the Levitical priesthood He has sanctioned and established.
God’s response to Israel’s rebellion against the person He had chosen to serve in a priestly leadership capacity was a graphic and direct message to the nation that He would literally bury alive those who rebelled against His will. We know that because Sheol, the place of the dead, is pictured in this text as being immediately below the surface of the ground. However, having said that we also need to say this; this episode does not teach that leaders are always right! It’s simply but powerfully saying that if a leader is appointed by God rebellion against that leadership is rebellion against God. And so we see that in addition to causing the earth to consume the people who followed Korah, God also destroyed with fire proceeding from Himself, 250 self-styled leaders who arrogantly presumed to come before God’s presence without God’s authorization.
What is this saying to us? Well first it’s not a good idea to step into a sinkhole! But more importantly, with regard to inexcusable disloyalty, it’s saying we must never become a part of a conspiracy against godly spiritual leaders. Just before this incredible display of God’s judgment, as this conspiracy is unfolding, as this rebellion is rearing its ugly head, verse 22 in this chapter says that Moses and Aaron fell “facedown.” What does this mean? It means that despite severe emotional pain, despite being deeply offended, they were not intimidated. They knew God would intervene. And not only that, Moses and Aaron cried out to God not to destroy the entire community! They exhibited genuine heart-felt compassionate intercession. Think about this for a moment. In a context of deserved judgment, they pleaded for undeserved grace, why; because they were godly spiritual leaders.
Here’s where I’m going with this: Over the years I’ve been blessed with some great friendships with pastors. And sometimes, to a small degree, because of the traveling aspect of my ministry as a guest speaker, I get to be a pastor to these pastors. To them I’m a safe place to vent and be real. And I’m genuinely honored that they trust me in this way. These guys are my heroes.
Unless you’ve been there and done what pastors do, and have dealt with what pastors deal with, you don’t really get their world. You don’t know what’s like it’s like to put yourself out there in a public vulnerable way because you love Jesus and sincerely want to serve Him. It’s a toe to toe fist fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil; a conflict that on this side of eternity never totally lets up.
Pastors get fired or are forced to leave their churches all the time for all kinds of unjustified reasons! Don’t be part of that shameful mistreatment. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a pastoral coup d’e’tat. Don’t be a hyper-critical immature/insecure consumer of ministry. Don’t drop out and say, “I’m going to do church at home by watching my favorite bible teacher on TV.” Disciple up, and be willing to do life with messy flawed imperfect people just like yourself. Will you get hurt and disappointed? Of course you will. And guess what, you’re going to hurt and disappoint people as well. So don’t secretly plot behind the scenes to try and remove a godly spiritual leader. If you’re internalizing the Word and cooperating with the Spirit you’re better than that. Love on these guys! They need it. And they deserve it!