Moses: Jealousy In The Camp

The sin of jealousy does not usually involve an isolated incident. It often has far-reaching effects. It has been the cause of broken relationships in families, resulting in loved ones not speaking to each other for weeks, months, even years. It has also led to loss of warm fellowship in churches and has even caused divisions in local assemblies. Have you ever driven through an unfamiliar town and noticed the Hope Baptist Church on one street, the New Hope Baptist Church on another street, and the Greater New Hope Baptist Church on yet another street? You may be sure that jealousy has reared its ugly head in that community.

Sad to say, many of us are prone to the sin of jealousy. The heart of man never changes. Even among the Lord’s redeemed children, that old sin nature remains, and jealousy can wreak havoc in the lives of committed Christians.


In Numbers 16 and 17, Moses faced a classic example of jealousy. His position as leader of the Israelites and the Aaronic priesthood were questioned. Ultimately, however, the issue under debate was the sovereignty of God. Was the Lord right in assigning leadership to Moses and Aaron? Korah and his cohorts rebelled against their divinely appointed authority. In Jude 11, Korah is accused of gainsaying, which comes from two Greek words, anti and logia which mean to speak against. He spoke against God’s appointed leadership over Israel.

There are three biblical illustrations in these chapters confirming that God was correct in raising up Moses and Aaron as leaders over the people. The first illustration was the rebellion of Korah, the second concerned the plague which followed, and the third was the budding of Aaron’s rod.

Korah Had A Very High Position

Korah’s genealogical record evidenced a very respectable lineage: “Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi” (Num. 16:1). He was a son of Levi and a Kohathite.

God had given the Kohathites explicit responsibilities in Numbers 4. Their sons between the ages of thirty and fifty had the most honored position of all the Levites. They were assigned to do the work of the Tabernacle and were to handle the “most holy things” (Num. 4:4). When God directed the people to move, they were to take down all the holy furnishings of the Tabernacle, cover them, remove the ashes which had accumulated from the sacrifices and prepare for the journey. They also transported the furnishings from within the most holy places, and they apparently put the pieces back in place when the Tabernacle was reassembled at a new site. Theirs was a very important and prestigious position. The Kohathites demanded the respect of all Israel. They had the most desirable charge of all the Levites. The Gershonites and Merarites had far less honorable positions.

Korah Should Have Known Better

With this background and the prestige which accompanied it, Korah still was not satisfied with doing what the Lord had commanded. He wanted more. He formed a conspiracy with Dathan and Abiram to protest the positions of Moses and Aaron. Perhaps the fact that Elizaphan, the son of Uzziel (Num. 3:30), was made chief of the Kohathites bothered him also; although we cannot be certain of this.

Dathan and Abiram may have joined the conspiracy because of their background. They were from the tribe of Reuben, the firstborn son of Jacob. As the firstborn, Reuben should have received a double portion of his father’s inheritance as well as the leadership role over the family. However, due to sin, Reuben lost both of these blessings, and this loss plagued his descendants through the centuries. Dathan and Abiram probably felt that this curse should be removed and that they should have the privilege of giving orders instead of taking them. And so, when Korah prepared to rise up against Moses, they joined right in. Two hundred and fifty well-known tribal leaders also volunteered their support (Num. 16:2- 3). The stage was set for a major revolt against God’s leadership. In the forefront, facing this opposition, were Moses and Aaron.

The Claim Of Korah

There were two basic claims against Moses and Aaron. The first was that they took too much upon themselves (Num. 16:3). This cry by the opposition was made because they were jealous,  and they wanted the leadership positions for themselves. They probably felt they had been at a standstill in the wilderness long enough. Now, they felt, it was time to either move on to Canaan or return to Egypt. With their leadership, things would happen. They could accomplish this goal. They failed, however, to consider the most significant point. Their rebellion was against the divine authority given to Moses and Aaron. They were not just opposing two men; they were challenging God’s sovereign decision. Unknown to them, the divine ordination of Moses and Aaron had significant prophetic implications. Moses was a type of Christ as prophet and king. Aaron was a type of Christ as high priest. Their positions were prescribed by God for very specific purposes, and no one would be permitted to infringe upon their leadership. In a larger sense, God’s plan for the ages, through the coming Messiah, was wrapped up in Moses and Aaron. The second charge brought by the ones who would usurp this authority was, “all the congregation is holy, everyone of them, and the LORD is among them” (Num. 16:3). This was certainly a digression from the truth. It had not been that long since the children of Israel had drifted into idolatry by worshipping a golden calf. That rebellion came, as it usually does, couched in some form of religious piety. Satan had entered the camp while Moses was on the mountain communing with God.

Moses’ Response

Upon hearing these claims, Moses “fell upon his face” before God (Num. 16:4). From eighty years of experience, Moses knew that the only solution to life’s problems was to prostrate himself before God and wait for His answer.

With full assurance from the Lord, Moses informed the rebels that God would reveal His will in this matter the next morning by allowing their leader to come near to Him. Korah and his band were instructed to take censers, put fire and incense in them, approach the Tabernacle and await the Lord’s response.

Moses then delivered a stern reminder to Korah that the Kohathites had been chosen by God from among all the children of Israel and the sons of Levi for a very special ministry (Num. 16:8-10). He chided him for not being content with this divine calling. Moses asked, “seek ye the priesthood also?” (Num. 16:10). He accused the entire “company” of being in opposition to the Lord. He further charged them with murmuring against Aaron. What an indictment!


Moses then summoned Dathan and Abiram to appear before him, but they refused (Num. 16:12). They accused Moses of taking them out of a land of milk and honey (Egypt) to die in the wilderness (Num. 16:13). They made it very clear that they felt Moses had done nothing beneficial for them.

Frustrated and angered once again, Moses cried out to the Lord. He pleaded with God not to accept the incense this rebellious group would offer on the following day. Moses then commanded this group of insurgents to appear the following morning and allow the Lord to show whom He had made rulers over Israel.

The Decision

As the next day dawned, final preparations were made. Korah gathered all the congregation before the Tabernacle, his men having their censers prepared and full of fire. The stage was set.  The glory of the Lord appeared. Moses and Aaron were instructed by God to separate themselves from this wicked group, for He was going to consume them. The congregation was to be separated as well. They were not even to touch anything belonging to this group. God would do the judging.

The guidelines were established. If any of the rebels lived to die a natural death, that would be a sign that Moses was not the God-given leader. If, however, a new thing happened and the earth opened up and swallowed these rebels, the people were to understand that these wicked men had provoked the Lord (Num. 16:28-30).

The Judgment

As soon as the Lord finished speaking, the judgment fell. A miraculous earthquake shattered the morning calm, the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and his men, and everything that belonged to them was gone. Then the earth closed up again, and there remained no evidence that they had ever existed, for they and their families had perished. The Israelites around them fled, fearing that they too would die in a similar manner.

Immediately following this incident, fire fell from God, destroying the two hundred fifty rebellious Israelites who were in the process of offering their incense. All the wicked ones were consumed. God had given the people very clear evidence that Moses and Aaron were not usurpers of power but, rather, that He had placed them in their positions of authority over His people. The selfish desires of men were left unsatisfied.


Unfortunately, most people do not seem to understand discipline. They do not like to accept it, neither do they want to see their friends face it, regardless of the purpose of the discipline. Sentimentality usually rules, and people become very angered. Such was the case with Israel. The day after the judgment of God fell on the would­ be leaders, the entire “holy” congregation of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron. “Ye have killed the people of the LORD,” was their cry (Num. 16:41). When the congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron, the shekinah glory of the Lord appeared. God was about to consume Israel. Once again Moses and Aaron fell prostrate before the Lord, begging His restraint in judgment. Moses then commanded Aaron to take incense in a censer and make an atonement for the people. He quickly carried out the command, but God’s plague had already begun. Before it ended, 14,700 people died.

A lesson had to be learned. People cannot question God’s sovereign authority; neither can they tell Him how or who to discipline. A murmuring crowd will always face the wrath of a holy God.


Aaron’s priestly authority, which had been established directly by God, had been challenged. The Lord was now going to make it clear once and for all that Aaron’s priesthood was His design and plan.

Moses was told to take a rod from the heads of each of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. Each leader was to write his name on his tribe’s rod. Aaron was to write his name on the rod of the tribe of Levi. The rods were to be placed in the Tabernacle in front of the most holy place. The Lord promised that the rod of the man He chose would blossom. When this occurred, the murmuring about the selection of God’s high priest was to cease.

All was done in accordance with God’s orders, and the next day Moses went to see what had happened. He discovered that, not only had Aaron’s rod budded but it was full of blossoms and yielding almonds. None of the other rods had produced anything.

Moses brought out all the rods for Israel to see. Finally, the Lord instructed him to bring Aaron’s rod in and stated that it should be kept before the testimony as a sign against the rebels. The people finally realized that God had established His leadership, and man could do nothing to change it.


God clearly established His leadership over the children of Israel. The Satanic effort to thwart His plan by jealous people was utterly destroyed. Wrapped up in God’s plan for Israel’s leadership was His redemptive plan for the ages fulfilled in Christ, as well as His high priestly ministry. Had the Israelites been permitted to remove God’s appointed leadership during their wilderness journey, His ultimate plan for the ages would have been affected. He could not allow jealousy to rule.

Today, jealousy still causes problems among God’s people. We should seek to so live before the Lord that this insidious sin does not control our lives. God’s Word is far greater than any thing or person of which we might be jealous. As we allow the Spirit of God to lead us, we can have victory over this destructive sin.

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