Keep Standing

by Jared Johnson 

Numbers 16 is sometimes remembered by Bible students as the “Korah’s Rebellion chapter.”  It’s a bit long as Bible chapters go – 50 verses, about 1,300 words in English.  And indeed, the majority of the chapter covers the drama among Moses, Aaron, Korah, Dathan and so on. 

But these are not the only events covered in Numbers 16.  The final few words seem to give a bit of an epilogue.  The main events conclude in verse 40.  In English, we then see a paragraph break, and this phrase right after the superscripted 41 indicating the new verse: “But the very next morning…” 

O my.  Here it goes again.  That all-too-familiar pattern of Israel’s interminable griping reared itself again – the very next morning!  Leadership, so often, can be a thankless task.  And that is precisely what happens in Numbers 16.  

Moses and Aaron faced the very public complaints of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, and 250 additional “community leaders” over the course of a couple very stressful days.  “The elders of Israel” are mentioned on one occasion with Moses (verse 25), but there is no mention of Joshua nor anyone else – the chapter has the feel of being very lonely for Moses and Aaron. 

Over 250 highly respected men voiced very public criticisms and complaints about these two.  God very obviously reaffirmed His choice of Moses and Aaron, who simply “left it at that.”  Moses and Aaron let the Divine punishments speak for themselves.  They didn’t punish anyone else in any additional way – what God said and did was the final word on the matter. 

Then verse 41: “…the very next morning the whole community of Israel began muttering…” 

Thankfully, Moses and Aaron set a great example here.  In the face of fresh rancor, how many of us given a similar situation – I know I’d be tempted! – would wearily cry out to God and take Him up on His “do over” offer as He made in verse 21?  “Get away from all these people so that I may instantly destroy them!” 

Not Moses’ nor Aaron’s MO.  They shielded the people in verse 22 (prayer), and again (prayer and action) here at the end of the chapter.  Verses 46-47 record that “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Quick, take an incense burner … purify them and make them right with the Lord…’  Aaron did as Moses told him and ran out among the people.” 
 
Moses and Aaron intervened on behalf of the people they led in situation after situation, just because it was the right thing to do.  Pastor Appreciation Month was far in the future.  No Starbucks gift cards would be showing up in their Tabernacle Office mailboxes the next morning. 

But here’s the verse that really hits me, verse 48: 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

I cannot imagine. 

It was a plague.  Death came quickly.  In today’s terms, think Ebola or some other severe hemorrhagic fever or an extreme, rapidly progressing bacterial infection.  A plague, in only minutes or hours, had come into the camp of Israel and the leaders intervened. 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

Aaron ran to where he was needed to intervene – he went immediately to the front line between the living and dead.  He undoubtedly saw people expiring before his eyes.  He probably heard people gasp their last – the “death rattle” when fluid fills the throat and bronchial tubes, then the lungs, suffocating the victim.  Whatever this plague was, it’s not unreasonable to think it involved massive bleeding, flesh that looked like it should not, flesh doing what it should not. 
 
And all Aaron had – literally! – was an incense burner and prayer. 

But He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped.  God worked in and through Aaron’s servant-leadership. 

Keep standing, pastor.  Keep standing, elder.  It will often be thankless.  It will be spiritually, relationally, emotionally messy.  It might even be physically messy; modern medicine is a wonder, but that doesn’t mean hospital visits are for the faint of heart. 

Keep standing, shepherd.  Someone will live eternally because you will have chosen to stand with – and in defense of – the living.

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