Aaron made atonement for the congregation. It was necessary. Both he and Moses were attacked by the hostile congregation. The Lord was angry and declared, “Get away from the congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment.” Moses made a plan. Aaron would take holy incense and burn it on a holy censor with fire from the holy altar and go into the middle of the congregation. And so he did.
The Congregation Was In The Wrong
Korah and his followers among the Levites were dead. There was nothing of them or theirs left. The Israelite congregation in the Wilderness was stunned and afraid. The next day they found their anger. After all, was not Korah and his people on their side? Was not the whole people holy before God? Moses and Aaron were practicing a kind of spiritual elitism, weren’t they? It was time to tell Moses and Aaron where they really stood. The congregation gathered around the two leaders and accused them of destroying men of God.
The evidence was clear enough. Korah and his followers had been destroyed. Their offering to the God of Israel had been rejected. Moses and Aaron should have been recognized by the Israelites as the truly godly leaders. But it didn’t happen that way.
Korah, The Congregation’s Demagogue
Pastors have their heroes. I have several holy heroes. One of the main ones is Moses. He is a leadership story in himself. And he had been in Korah’s position.
Early in his life Moses decided he would be the one who would free his people from slavery in Egypt. He murdered an Egyptian overseer. He learned the next day that his Israelite contemporaries did not trust an Egyptian nobleman. Later, when God calls him to deliver the people, he is ready to listen to God’s instructions. Murder was not going to be the path of redemption.
Korah decided he was ready to take the reins of leadership from Moses and lead the people. He decides demagoguery is the path to leadership. He gets 250 leaders of the tribes and begins his campaign against Moses and Aaron. “You have gone too far,” he challenges Moses. “All of the congregation are holy, every one of them. So why do you exalt yourself above the assembly of the Lord?”
Projecting One’s Own Faults
Long before we had the psychological term of projection where one person easily accuses another of the evil for which the first person is guilty, Korah accuses Moses of the desire for power and prestige he himself was guilty of wanting. The Yiddish term is chutzpah. Korah’s chutzpah is to declare his own holiness by claiming holiness for every person in the congregation. He says to Moses “you are exalting yourself into a place where no one should be. But if someone is going to lead, it should be a someone who recognizes the true holiness of the people.” The people heard Moses is against us.
Korah and his people are dead and gone. They were swallowed by the earth. The congregation though still has Korah’s claim ringing in their ears. They are holy. They are good. Korah made them feel good about themselves. They confront Moses taking the place of Korah.
Moses And The Congregation
God is ready to destroy the people. The Divine One makes that offer to Moses on many occasions. Each time Moses talks God out of destroying them. Moses is a murderer. He says it is not God’s nature to murder.
These stories are about God and Moses. God asks, “how will Moses react to this situation?” Moses comes through for the people time and again. God punished Moses the one time he exalted himself. This occasion, Moses sends Aaron to make atonement in the middle of the congregation. An incense offering is made by a truly holy person using holy utensils and fire to reconcile the congregation and their God.
The Congregation Becomes Holy
The congregation could not declare itself holy. Korah could not just decide one day to be a priest. Holiness and priesthood are vocations that last the lifetime of the people who must carry them. If Korah could one day decide to make an offering to God based on his own sense of holiness, then he could decide the next to rule on whether or not God should be treated as holy. It isn’t the way things should be done.
Aaron was accused along with Moses. The only people who could make atonement were also the only people who would because they felt the obligation to do so. Churches should think about this when leaders, delegates, ministers, and others with church responsibilities are chosen. Faithfulness should be an important qualification to consider.