Some Thoughts on Korach

This week’s parasha, Korach, Numbers 16:1-18:32, is a continuation of times of trouble for Moses. Here is a brief recap of his problems in the last two parashot,

  • Chapter 11 – grumbling crowd wanting a better menu.
  • Chapter 12 – trouble in the leadership team with Aaron and Miriam questioning his choice of wives.
  • Chapter 13 – the episode with the spies and the popular rebellion caused by the ten with the “bad report”.
  • And Chapter 16, Uncle Korach’s rebellion against Moses’ and Aaron’s authority as leaders of the community.

With all this happening is it any wonder Moses prayed “I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me! If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!” (Numbers 11:14-15)

Before we delve into this week’s parasha, remember that the Kohathites, the clan to which Korach belonged (Numbers 16:1), enjoyed a favored position among the three clans of Levi in the assignment of responsibilities, a divine calling as it were.

The Kohathite families were to camp along the side of the Tabernacle on the south. … They were responsible for the Ark, the table, the menorah, the altars, and the implements of the Sanctuary used in service with them, the curtain, and all involved with its use. (Numbers 3:29-31)

When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the Sanctuary and all its holy implements, and when the camp is ready to move out, after this the sons of Kohath may come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy items, or they will die. These are the task of the sons of Kohath with regard to the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 4:15)

“You are not to let the families of the tribe of the Kohathites be cut off from among the Levites. Do this for them so that they may live and not die whenever they approach the most holy items—Aaron and his sons are to go into the Sanctuary and assign each man his job and his responsibility. But the Kohathites are not to go in to look at what is holy, not even momentarily, or they will die.” (Numbers 4:10-12)

But Korach apparently was not happy with his position. Our parasha begins,

Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, and sons of Reuben—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—rose up against Moses and took 250 men from Bnei-Yisrael, men of renown who had been appointed to the council. They assembled against Moses and Aaron. They said to them, “You’ve gone too far! All the community is holy—all of them—and ADONAI is with them! Then why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of ADONAI?”

Apparently, Korach’s discontent centered on the allegation that Moses and Aaron were unjustified in setting themselves over all the people. After all, everyone in Israel, by virtue of Israel being the covenant community of HaShem, was equally holy and capable of being leaders (cf. Exodus 19:6). However, Korach and his crew neglected to realize that HaShem had appointed Moses and Aaron to their offices.

According to Jewish tradition, Korach didn’t really believe the allegation that the whole community was holy. He didn’t believe that God resided within all of the community. Rather, Korach only cared about power. He was jealous of Moses’ and Aaron’s and wanted that power for himself. In his pursuit of that power, Korach drew 250 other men of renown, “chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men” (ESV). It seems that Moses saw through their words to their true motivation, but instead of retaliating, he fell on his face before HaShem (Numbers 16:4).

Like Korach, at times we too look at others and desire the abilities or positions HaShem has given them. Korach had significant, worthwhile abilities and responsibilities of his own. In the end, however, his ambition for more caused him to lose everything. Inappropriate ambition is greed in disguise. Unlike Korach, we should concentrate on finding the special purpose God has for our lives and then walk in that purpose instead of wishing we were in someone else’s shoes.

Also, note that Korach made it on the list of infamy or disrepute in Jude 11. We often speak of the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11, but Jude verse 11 records a less popular roll call,

Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain (the first murderer); they were consumed for pay in Balaam’s error (circumventing the word of HaShem), and in Korach’s rebellion (seeking that which was not his own) they have been destroyed.

We need to be aware of what is motivating us to action. The power of one to do either good or bad is often determined by personal ambition. We also need to be aware, or at least cautious, of what may be motivating the words of others. Korach’s allegation was based in HaShem’s words spoken at Mt. Sinai, “you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation…,” but his motivation was for personal gain and prestige and not for the betterment of the community. Korach made a choice to rebel against the plan and the appointments of HaShem. Moses, instead of retaliating, chose to respond in humility and prayer.

Without a doubt, there is much wrong in our world today. There is a cacophony of voices crying out from all sides demanding change, demanding justice, and personal rights. At a time such as this, we need to hear the voice of HaShem above all others. We all need to fall on our faces before HaShem and to seek His voice and His guidance through these troubled times.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.


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