The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 35: The Rebellion of Korah
The judgments visited upon the Israelites served for a time
to restrain their murmuring and insubordination, but the
spirit of rebellion was still in the heart and eventually brought
forth the bitterest fruits. The former rebellions had been mere
popular tumults, arising from the sudden impulse of the excited
multitude; but now a deep-laid conspiracy was formed, the result
of a determined purpose to overthrow the authority of the leaders
appointed by God Himself.
Korah, the leading spirit in this movement, was a Levite, of
the family of Kohath, and a cousin of Moses; he was a man of
ability and influence. Though appointed to the service of the
tabernacle, he had become dissatisfied with his position and
aspired to the dignity of the priesthood. The bestowal upon Aaron
and his house of the priestly office, which had formerly devolved
upon the first-born son of every family, had given rise to jealousy
and dissatisfaction, and for some time Korah had been secretly
opposing the authority of Moses and Aaron, though he had not
ventured upon any open act of rebellion. He finally conceived
the bold design of overthrowing both the civil and the religious
authority. He did not fail to find sympathizers. Close to the tents
of Korah and the Kohathites, on the south side of the tabernacle,
was the encampment of the tribe of Reuben, the tents of Dathan
and Abiram, two princes of this tribe, being near that of Korah.
These princes readily joined in his ambitious schemes. Being
descendants from the eldest son of Jacob, they claimed that the
civil authority belonged to them, and they determined to divide
with Korah the honors of the priesthood.
The state of feeling among the people favored the designs of
Korah. In the bitterness of their disappointment, their former
doubts, jealousy, and hatred had returned, and again their
complaints were directed against their patient leader. The Israelites [p. 396] were continually losing sight of the fact that they were under
divine guidance. They forgot that the Angel of the covenant was
their invisible leader, that, veiled by the cloudy pillar, the presence
of Christ went before them, and that from Him Moses
received all his directions.
They were unwilling to submit to the terrible sentence that
they must all die in the wilderness, and hence they were ready to
seize upon every pretext for believing that it was not God but
Moses who was leading them and who had pronounced their
doom. The best efforts of the meekest man upon the earth could
not quell the insubordination of this people; and although the
marks of God's displeasure at their former perverseness were still
before them in their broken ranks and missing numbers, they did
not take the lesson to heart. Again they were overcome by
The humble shepherd's life of Moses had been far more
peaceful and happy than his present position as leader of that
vast assembly of turbulent spirits. Yet Moses dared not choose.
In place of a shepherd's crook a rod of power had been given
him, which he could not lay down until God should release him.
He who reads the secrets of all hearts had marked the
purposes of Korah and his companions and had given His people
such warning and instruction as might have enabled them to
escape the deception of these designing men. They had seen the
judgment of God fall upon Miriam because of her jealousy and
complaints against Moses. The Lord had declared that Moses was
greater than a prophet. "With him will I speak mouth to mouth."
"Wherefore, then," He added, "were ye not afraid to speak
against My servant Moses?" Numbers 12:8. These instructions
were not intended for Aaron and Miriam alone, but for all Israel.
Korah and his fellow conspirators were men who had been
favored with special manifestations of God's power and greatness.
They were of the number who went up with Moses into
the mount and beheld the divine glory. But since that time a
change had come. A temptation, slight at first, had been harbored,
and had strengthened as it was encouraged, until their minds
were controlled by Satan, and they ventured upon their work
of disaffection. Professing great interest in the prosperity of the
people, they first whispered their discontent to one another and
then to leading men of Israel. Their insinuations were so readily [p. 397] received that they ventured still further, and at last they really
believed themselves to be actuated by zeal for God.
They were successful in alienating two hundred and fifty
princes, men of renown in the congregation. With these strong
and influential supporters they felt confident of making a radical
change in the government and greatly improving upon the
administration of Moses and Aaron.
Jealousy had given rise to envy, and envy to rebellion. They
had discussed the question of the right of Moses to so great
authority and honor, until they had come to regard him as
occupying a very enviable position, which any of them could fill
as well as he. And they deceived themselves and one another into
thinking that Moses and Aaron had themselves assumed the
positions they held. The discontented ones said that these leaders
had exalted themselves above the congregation of the Lord, in
taking upon them the priesthood and government, but their
house was not entitled to distinction above others in Israel; they
were no more holy than the people, and it should be enough for
them to be on a level with their brethren, who were equally
favored with God's special presence and protection.
The next work of the conspirators was with the people. To
those who are in the wrong, and deserving of reproof, there is
nothing more pleasing than to receive sympathy and praise. And
thus Korah and his associates gained the attention and enlisted
the support of the congregation. The charge that the murmurings
of the people had brought upon them the wrath of God was
declared to be a mistake. They said that the congregation were
not at fault, since they desired nothing more than their rights;
but that Moses was an overbearing ruler; that he had reproved
the people as sinners, when they were a holy people, and the
Lord was among them.
Korah reviewed the history of their travels through the
wilderness, where they had been brought into strait places, and
many had perished because of their murmuring and disobedience.
His hearers thought they saw clearly that their troubles might
have been prevented if Moses had pursued a different course.
They decided that all their disasters were chargeable to him, and
that their exclusion from Canaan was in consequence of the
mismanagement of Moses and Aaron; that if Korah would be their
leader, and would encourage them by dwelling upon their good [p. 398] deeds, instead of reproving their sins, they would have a very
peaceful, prosperous journey; instead of wandering to and fro
in the wilderness, they would proceed directly to the Promised
In this work of disaffection there was greater union and
harmony among the discordant elements of the congregation than
had ever before existed. Korah's success with the people increased
his confidence and confirmed him in his belief that the usurpation
of authority by Moses, if unchecked, would be fatal to the liberties
of Israel; he also claimed that God had opened the matter to him,
and had authorized him to make a change in the government
before it should be too late. But many were not ready to accept
Korah's accusations against Moses. The memory of his patient,
self-sacrificing labors came up before them, and conscience was
disturbed. It was therefore necessary to assign some selfish motive
for his deep interest for Israel; and the old charge was reiterated,
that he had led them out to perish in the wilderness, that he might
seize upon their possessions.
For a time this work was carried on secretly. As soon,
however, as the movement had gained sufficient strength to warrant
an open rupture, Korah appeared at the head of the faction, and
publicly accused Moses and Aaron of usurping authority which
Korah and his associates were equally entitled to share. It was
charged, further, that the people had been deprived of their liberty
and independence. "Ye take too much upon you," said the
conspirators, "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?"
Moses had not suspected this deep-laid plot, and when its
terrible significance burst upon him, he fell upon his face in
silent appeal to God. He arose sorrowful indeed, but calm and
strong. Divine guidance had been granted him. "Even tomorrow,"
he said, "the Lord will show 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." The test was
to be deferred until the morrow, that all might have time for
reflection. Then those who aspired to the priesthood were to come
each with a censer, and offer incense at the tabernacle in the
presence of the congregation. The law was very explicit that only
those who had been ordained to the sacred office should minister
in the sanctuary. And even the priests, Nadab and Abihu, had [p. 399] been destroyed for venturing to offer "strange fire," in disregard
of a divine command. Yet Moses challenged his accusers, if they
dared enter upon so perilous an appeal, to refer the matter to
Singling out Korah and his fellow Levites, Moses said, "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? And He
hath brought thee near to Him, and all thy brethren the sons of
Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also? for which cause
both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the
Lord. And what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?"
Dathan and Abiram had not taken so bold a stand as had
Korah; and Moses, hoping that they might have been drawn into
the conspiracy without having become wholly corrupted,
summoned them to appear before him, that he might hear their
charges against him. But they would not come, and they
insolently refused to acknowledge his authority. Their reply, uttered
in the hearing of the congregation, was, "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? 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."
Thus they applied to the scene of their bondage the very
language in which the Lord had described the promised inheritance.
They accused Moses of pretending to act under divine
guidance, as a means of establishing his authority; and they
declared that they would no longer submit to be led about like
blind men, now toward Canaan, and now toward the wilderness,
as best suited his ambitious designs. Thus he who had been as a
tender father, a patient shepherd, was represented in the blackest
character of a tyrant and usurper. The exclusion from Canaan, in
punishment of their own sins, was charged upon him.
It was evident that the sympathies of the people were with the
disaffected party; but Moses made no effort at self-vindication.
He solemnly appealed to God, in the presence of the congregation,
as a witness to the purity of his motives and the uprightness
of his conduct, and implored Him to be his judge. [p. 400]
On the morrow, the two hundred and fifty princes, with
Korah at their head, presented themselves, with their censers.
They were brought into the court of the tabernacle, while the
people gathered without, to await the result. It was not Moses
who assembled the congregation to behold the defeat of Korah
and his company, but the rebels, in their blind presumption, had
called them together to witness their victory. A large part of the
congregation openly sided with Korah, whose hopes were high of
carrying his point against Aaron.
As they were thus assembled before God, "the glory of the
Lord appeared unto all the congregation." The divine warning
was communicated to Moses and Aaron, "Separate yourselves
from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a
moment." But they fell upon their faces, with the prayer, "O
God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt
Thou be wroth with all the congregation?"
Korah had withdrawn from the assembly to join Dathan and
Abiram when Moses, accompanied by the seventy elders, went
down with a last warning to the men who had refused to come to
him. The multitudes followed, and before delivering his
message, Moses, by divine direction, bade the people, "Depart, I pray
you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of
theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins." The warning was
obeyed, for an apprehension of impending judgment rested upon
all. The chief rebels saw themselves abandoned by those whom
they had deceived, but their hardihood was unshaken. They stood
with their families in the door of their tents, as if in defiance of
the divine warning.
In the name of the God of Israel, Moses now declared, in the
hearing of the congregation: "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. 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. 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."
The eyes of all Israel were fixed upon Moses as they stood, in
terror and expectation, awaiting the event. As he ceased speaking,
the solid earth parted, and the rebels went down alive into [p. 401] the pit, with all that pertained to them, and "they perished from
among the congregation." The people fled, self-condemned as
partakers in the sin.
But the judgments were not ended. Fire flashing from the
cloud consumed the two hundred and fifty princes who had
offered incense. These men, not being the first in rebellion, were
not destroyed with the chief conspirators. They were permitted
to see their end, and to have an opportunity for repentance; but
their sympathies were with the rebels, and they shared their fate.
When Moses was entreating Israel to flee from the coming
destruction, the divine judgment might even then have been
stayed, if Korah and his company had repented and sought
forgiveness. But their stubborn persistence sealed their doom. The
entire congregation were sharers in their guilt, for all had, to a
greater or less degree, sympathized with them. Yet God in His
great mercy made a distinction between the leaders in rebellion
and those whom they had led. The people who had permitted
themselves to be deceived were still granted space for repentance.
Overwhelming evidence had been given that they were wrong,
and that Moses was right. The signal manifestation of God's
power had removed all uncertainty.
Jesus, the Angel who went before the Hebrews, sought to
save them from destruction. Forgiveness was lingering for them.
The judgment of God had come very near, and appealed to them
to repent. A special, irresistible interference from heaven had
arrested their rebellion. Now, if they would respond to the
interposition of God's providence, they might be saved. But while
they fled from the judgments, through fear of destruction, their
rebellion was not cured. They returned to their tents that night
terrified, but not repentant.
They had been flattered by korah and his company until they
really believed themselves to be very good people, and that
they had been wronged and abused by Moses. Should they admit
that Korah and his company were wrong, and Moses right, then
they would be compelled to receive as the word of God the
sentence that they must die in the wilderness. They were not
willing to submit to this, and they tried to believe that Moses
had deceived them. They had fondly cherished the hope that a
new order of things was about to be established, in which praise
would be substituted for reproof, and ease for anxiety and conflict. [p. 402] The men who had perished had spoken flattering words and
had professed great interest and love for them, and the people
concluded that Korah and his companions must have been good
men, and that Moses had by some means been the cause of their
It is hardly possible for men to offer greater insult to God
than to despise and reject the instrumentalities He would use
for their salvation. The Israelites had not only done this, but had
purposed to put both Moses and Aaron to death. Yet they did
not realize the necessity of seeking pardon of God for their grievous
sin. That night of probation was not passed in repentance
and confession, but in devising some way to resist the evidences
which showed them to be the greatest of sinners. They still
cherished hatred of the men of God's appointment, and braced
themselves to resist their authority. Satan was at hand to pervert their
judgment and lead them blindfold to destruction.
All Israel had fled in alarm at the cry of the doomed sinners
who went down into the pit, for they said, "Lest the earth swallow
us up also." "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." And they were
about to proceed to violence against their faithful, self-sacrificing
A manifestation of the divine glory was seen in the cloud above
the tabernacle, and a voice from the cloud spoke to Moses and
Aaron, "Get you up from among this congregation, that I may
consume them as in a moment."
The guilt of sin did not rest upon Moses, and hence he did
not fear and did not hasten away and leave the congregation to
perish. Moses lingered, in this fearful crisis manifesting the true
shepherd's interest for the flock of his care. He pleaded that the
wrath of God might not utterly destroy the people of His choice.
By his intercession he stayed the arm of vengeance, that a full
end might not be made of disobedient, rebellious Israel.
But the minister of wrath had gone forth; the plague was doing
its work of death. By his brother's direction, Aaron took a
censer and hastened into the midst of the congregation to "make
an atonement for them." "And he stood between the dead and
the living." As the smoke of the incense ascended, the prayers of
Moses in the tabernacle went up to God; and the plague was [p. 403] stayed; but not until fourteen thousand of Israel lay dead, an
evidence of the guilt of murmuring and rebellion.
But further evidence was given that the priesthood had been
established in the family of Aaron. By divine direction each
tribe prepared a rod and wrote upon it the name of the tribe.
The name of Aaron was upon that of Levi. The rods were laid
up in the tabernacle, "before the testimony." The blossoming of
any rod was to be a token that the Lord had chosen that tribe for
the priesthood. On the morrow, "behold, the rod of Aaron for
the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and
bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." It was shown to the
people, and afterward laid up in the tabernacle as a witness to
succeeding generations. This miracle effectually settled the question
of the priesthood.
It was now fully established that Moses and Aaron had spoken
by divine authority, and the people were compelled to believe
the unwelcome truth that they were to die in the wilderness.
"Behold," they exclaimed, "we die, we perish, we all perish."
They confessed that they had sinned in rebelling against their
leaders, and that Korah and his company had suffered from the
just judgment of God.
In the rebellion of Korah is seen the working out, upon a
narrower stage, of the same spirit that led to the rebellion of Satan
in heaven. It was pride and ambition that prompted Lucifer to
complain of the government of God, and to seek the overthrow
of the order which had been established in heaven. Since his fall
it has been his object to infuse the same spirit of envy and
discontent, the same ambition for position and honor, into the
minds of men. He thus worked upon the minds of Korah,
Dathan, and Abiram, to arouse the desire for self-exaltation and
excite envy, distrust, and rebellion. Satan caused them to reject
God as their leader, by rejecting the men of God's appointment.
Yet while in their murmuring against Moses and Aaron they
blasphemed God, they were so deluded as to think themselves
righteous, and to regard those who had faithfully reproved their
sins as actuated by Satan.
Do not the same evils still exist that lay at the foundation of
Korah's ruin? Pride and ambition are widespread; and when
these are cherished, they open the door to envy, and a striving for
supremacy; the soul is alienated from God, and unconsciously [p. 404] drawn into the ranks of Satan. Like Korah and his companions,
many, even of the professed followers of Christ, are thinking,
planning, and working so eagerly for self-exaltation that in order
to gain the sympathy and support of the people they are ready to
pervert the truth, falsifying and misrepresenting the Lord's
servants, and even charging them with the base and selfish motives
that inspire their own hearts. By persistently reiterating falsehood,
and that against all evidence, they at last come to believe
it to be truth. While endeavoring to destroy the confidence of
the people in the men of God's appointment, they really believe
that they are engaged in a good work, verily doing God service.
The Hebrews were not willing to submit to the directions and
restrictions of the Lord. They were restless under restraint, and
unwilling to receive reproof. This was the secret of their
murmuring against Moses. Had they been left free to do as they
pleased, there would have been fewer complaints against their
leader. All through the history of the church God's servants have
had the same spirit to meet.
It is by sinful indulgence that men give Satan access to their
minds, and they go from one stage of wickedness to another. The
rejection of light darkens the mind and hardens the heart, so that
it is easier for them to take the next step in sin and to reject still
clearer light, until at last their habits of wrongdoing become fixed.
Sin ceases to appear sinful to them. He who faithfully preaches
God's word, thereby condemning their sins, too often incurs their
hatred. Unwilling to endure the pain and sacrifice necessary to
reform, they turn upon the Lord's servant and denounce his
reproofs as uncalled for and severe. Like Korah, they declare that
the people are not at fault; it is the reprover that causes all the
trouble. And soothing their consciences with this deception, the
jealous and disaffected combine to sow discord in the church and
weaken the hands of those who would build it up.
Every advance made by those whom God has called to lead in
His work has excited suspicion; every act has been misrepresented
by the jealous and faultfinding. Thus it was in the time of Luther,
of the Wesleys and other reformers. Thus it is today.
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Korah would not have taken the course he did had he known
that all the directions and reproofs communicated to Israel were
from God. But he might have known this. God had given [p. 405] overwhelming evidence that He was leading Israel. But Korah and
his companions rejected light until they became so blinded that
the most striking manifestations of His power were not sufficient
to convince them; they attributed them all to human or satanic
agency. The same thing was done by the people, who the day
after the destruction of Korah and his company came to Moses
and Aaron, saying, "Ye have killed the people of the Lord."
Notwithstanding they had had the most convincing evidence of God's
displeasure at their course, in the destruction of the men who
had deceived them, they dared to attribute His judgments to
Satan, declaring that through the power of the evil one, Moses
and Aaron had caused the death of good and holy men. It was
this act that sealed their doom. They had committed the sin
against the Holy Spirit, a sin by which man's heart is effectually
hardened against the influence of divine grace. "Whosoever
speaketh a word against the Son of man," said Christ, "it shall
be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy
Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him." Matthew 12:32. These words
were spoken by our Saviour when the gracious works which He
had performed through the power of God were attributed by
the Jews to Beelzebub. It is through the agency of the Holy
Spirit that God communicates with man; and those who
deliberately reject this agency as satanic, have cut off the channel
of communication between the soul and Heaven.
God works by the manifestation of His Spirit to reprove and
convict the sinner; and if the Spirit's work is finally rejected,
there is no more that God can do for the soul. The last resource
of divine mercy has been employed. The transgressor has cut
himself off from God, and sin has no remedy to cure itself. There
is no reserved power by which God can work to convict and
convert the sinner. "Let him alone" (Hosea 4:17) is the divine
command. Then "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but
a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation,
which shall devour the adversaries." Hebrews 10:26, 27.
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"In the Wilderness"