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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Numb. 16–17]

ONE day, whilst the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath-day, and they brought him to Moses and Aaron, who put him in prison, to see how he should be punished. But the Lord said to Moses: “Let that man die; let all the multitude stone him without the camp.” So it was done.

Some time after, two hundred and fifty men, belonging partly to the tribe of Reuben, and partly to the tribe of Levi, and having for leaders Core, a Levite, and Dathan and Abiron, both of the tribe of Reuben—all these rose up against Moses and Aaron. They were envious of the high position of Moses and Aaron, and accused them of tyranny and ambition. They said: “All the people are holy; why do ye raise yourselves above the people of God?” Moses, hearing this, and knowing that it was a revolt against God Himself, was much afflicted, and fell flat on his face.

He afterwards spoke to the rebellious Levites, saying: “Is it because God has chosen you to serve near the Tabernacle, that you wish to usurp the dignity of the priesthood also? To-morrow the Lord will make known who they are that belong to Him. Prepare, then, and stand each with his censer on one side, and Aaron will stand on the other.”

On the following day, when the two hundred and fifty men were to appear before the Lord with their censers, Moses ordered the leaders of the revolt to come forth from their tents. But they impudently replied: “We will not come.” Then Moses went himself to their tents, accompanied by Aaron, and told the people to separate themselves from those wicked men, lest they should perish with them. Moses said: “If these men die the common death of men, the Lord did not send me; but if the earth, opening her mouth, swallow them down, and they go down alive into hell, you shall know that they have blasphemed the Lord.”

Hardly had Moses ended these words, when lo! the earth opened under the feet of these hardened sinners, and swallowed them up, with their tents, and all that belonged to them, and they went down alive into hell. At the same time fire came down from heaven and destroyed the two hundred and fifty men who had taken sides with Core, Dathan and Abiron.

After this, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod, by their kindreds, of all the princes of the tribes, twelve rods, and write the name of every man upon his rod; and lay them up in the Tabernacle of the Covenant. Whomsoever of these I shall choose, his rod shall blossom.” Moses did as the Lord had commanded.

Next day, when Moses entered into the Tabernacle, he found that the rod of Aaron had budded and blossomed. He then brought out all the rods of the children of Israel, and each one received back his own rod. But the rod of Aaron he placed in the Ark of the Covenant.

The Justice of God was shown by the punishment of the Sabbath-breaker, as well as by that of Core and his adherents.

God’s omnipotence worked a great miracle in connexion with Aaron’s rod, which, in one night, brought forth not only leaves, buds and flowers, but also ripe almonds.

Sabbath-breaking. The severe punishment of the Sabbath-breaker teaches us that the profanation of the Sabbath is a great sin. This sin often calls down temporal punishment, and it will certainly bring eternal punishment. “Remember”, i. e. do not forget “to keep the Sabbath-day holy.”

The divine institution of the Priesthood. By the terrible punishment of the rebels, and the blossoming of Aaron’s rod, God again declared that the priesthood of the Old Testament was instituted by Him.

Rebellion against authority. The rising of Core and his adherents was a rebellion against both spiritual and temporal authority, against throne and altar, for they refused to acknowledge that God had ordained Moses to be their leader, and Aaron to be their High Priest. The rebellion was, therefore, really against God, who had called Moses and Aaron, and who had attested their divine vocation by so many miracles. Hence Moses was right in saying: “Why do you stand against the Lord?” The terrible punishment of Core and those with him shows us how great a sin it is to rebel against those whom God has put in authority over us. “He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation” (Rom: 13:2).

Pride is a capital sin. Core, being proud, was offended at the idea that he was only a Levite, while Aaron and his sons were priests; and the family pride and ambition of Dathan and Abiron were injured by the fact that men of the small tribe of Levi were the representatives before God of the whole people. Their pride developed into envy, and this again developed into rebellion against the authorities ordained by God.

Aaron’s rod, a type of the Cross. Aaron’s rod, which blossomed and bore fruit, is a type of the holy Cross, which by the Blood of Christ has brought forth such wonderful fruits of grace and virtue.

The Priesthood of the New Testament. We Christians are all called to be holy, and were all sanctified in baptism; but all Christians are not priests, for Jesus Christ has instituted a special priesthood in His Church, for the sanctification of all the faithful. If, even in the Old Testament, a special priesthood was necessary for the care of the things of God, how much more necessary is it that there should be a priesthood in the New Testament to look after the sacred mysteries of the Church! “Honour God with all thy soul, and give honour to the priests” (Ecclus. 7:3).

Union of temporal and spiritual authority. God, by entrusting the highest spiritual and the highest temporal authority to the two brothers, Aaron and Moses, gave it to be understood that in all ages spiritual and temporal authority, Church and State, ought to work together for the good of mankind.

APPLICATION. Do you show reverence for your spiritual and temporal superiors, your priests and teachers? Are you unruly or obstinate? Do you ever pray for them?








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