The existence of the nation in the wilderness is NOT a given in these two chapters, Numbers 15 and 16. Look at Nm 16:21 and 16;45. There is a compounding of judgment upon judgment occurring, because of a rebellion against a previous judgment (16:41).
The issue of grumbling has come to a level so severe that even the explanation of it is stretched over many chapters. We can say the same thing about the issue of the authority of Moses and Aaron (16:3). But authority concerning what? Unique ability to do what? To preserve the very life of those who grumbled, which was everyone else (16:41)! All these laws (cf. 15:1ff) are not to be thought of as empty rite/ritual: there is no way to lessen the significance of the activity of 16:47 which "made atonement for the people": the direction of the remedy is FROM the altar TO the midst of the congregation, and this activity -- incense placement! -- had to be done "quickly," (16:46), because it was to stop what was occurring in real time, at that very moment.
The narrative is very explicit about the justice of the issue. "All" the congregation grumbled (16:41). Are the 14,700 who died an exception? No.
We certainly are not at a satisfying ending by the end of chapter 16 (16:50). Tomorrow the story of dealing with grumbling continues. However, the events of these chapters have in common one thing, which is the illustration of a principle that hasn't been as explicit in the narrative until now: defiance (15:30).
Defiance can be seen in the first individual's Sabbath breaking (15:32). What laws are not to be broken deliberately? All of them (15:40). Who among the people is responsible for enforcing this? All of them (15:36). How long should this go on? "Throughout their generations" (15:38). What is the positive principle behind this perfectionism? Is remembering "to do all My commandments" (15:40) an end in itself? No.
The Israelites' problem is described in 15:39, that of seeking "your own heart and your own eyes." That is a very broad indictment, but it is of a specific quality: something was turned in toward their own selves, that should have sought the Someone in whose Presence they were. The indictment is that of a breach of the relationship God has created with them: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God" (15:41). The tassels to wear (15:38) are about remembering commandments. The commandments to keep are not ends in themselves, but are a relational expression to God: "so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God" (15:40). Being holy is for the sake of this Someone Else, not just a thing in itself. Holiness is to God.
God is the one who defines their religion. The rebellion of Korah (16:1) sounds so politically progressive (16:3) until we see what is lost if it is accepted (16:7). In Israel, there was going to be one Elector of holiness to Himself, not an electorate composed of all. The principle is there, as a plain statement, in Numbers 16:5.
Korah -- "you and all your company" (16:16) wanted the priesthood, not just the service of the tabernacle (16:10). And they got all the people to take their side (16:19). That changed later (16:26-27).
In the process of Moses dealing with the Korahites, his testimony about himself comes out, almost missed, in all the drama: "Moses said, 'by this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not from my heart" (16:28). Moses got the verification from God regarding that heart problem described back in 15:39. Moses was not seeking after his own heart, and his own eyes. He was vindicated immediately (16:31ff).
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