Aaron’s Rod – The Backstory to the Korach Rebellion
If you are catching flak from members of your congregation join the club of Moses and Aaron. Disrespect for spiritual leaders is nothing new. Moses and Aaron encountered the disgruntled Korah and his 250 followers (Numbers 16). Korah led the rebellion against the leadership of Moses. Why did Korah have a problem with Moses’ decisions? Like any other congregational revolt or disrespect for leadership there is always a back story.
Korah was the great grandson of Levi and a cousin of Moses and Aaron. Being from the tribe of Levi meant Korah was a man of status. He was born in Egypt and was part of the exodus from Egypt. He crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground and received the commandments of God along with everyone else as they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. The experience of deliverance and his status did not bring him contentment. Korah wanted more!
When became envious when his cousin Aaron was selected as the High Priest. If this were not enough another cousin, Elitzafan, was chosen to be the leader of the family of Kehot, the same Levitical family that Korah was part of (Numbers 3:30). Feeling overlooked for two positions he believed he rightfully should have been chosen for, festered into jealousy which led to a full-blown rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. This jealous spirit eventually led to Korah’s demise.
Moses shows Aaron’s blossoming staff to the Israelites.
Cornelis Huyberts, after Gerard Hoet 1720 – 1728. Rijksmuseum
Emergence of Disrespect for Clergy
Rabbis, priests, ministers, and spiritual leaders of every Jewish and Christian denomination have all faced the test of leadership. “Who put you in charge?” “Why should we listen to you?” And then there is the comment that cuts deeply into the heart, “The board makes the decisions not you.” “You’re just an employee of the congregation.”
If you are a servant who believes there is a “calling” on your life that comes from the Lord, the rebellious words above are painful to hear and may cause you to question your leadership skills and your “calling” and service to the Lord. Remember you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
Over the years I have witnessed a drift then an outright shift in respect for the office of clergy and in some cases a disrespect. Rabbis, priests, and ministers are servants who entered ministry to help people grow spiritually and to lead healthy congregations into fruitful work within the community. In the past, the rabbi or minister was automatically held in high esteem because of the “office” they held.
Most clergy were viewed as pillars of the community and were respected for the work they did within the congregation and in the community. In the United States the place of religion in everyday life is waning. Regular involvement in a spiritual community is no longer valued as important. The spiritual community must compete with many activities and the voices of the world. These options often attempt to press our members into the mold devoid of the spiritual life.
Recent data collected from Barna pastor poll indicate that 38 percent of U.S. pastors have thought about quitting congregational ministry altogether. Clergy are currently in crisis and experiencing burning out. Barna reports that this trend increased in 2021.
Shift from Congregational Ministry
Many clergy are migrating to other avenues of ministry outside the congregation and pulpit. To find meaningful purpose in service and still work out their “calling” they find employment in counseling, chaplaincy, teaching and sometimes walk away from ministry all together. In my work as a counselor, I have had the privilege of listening to countless clergy as they shared the painful experiences of leading a congregation. Today, there is no shortage a Korah and his followers in too many congregations. If you are clergy reading this continue to read on, you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
Rebellion Against Moses and Aaron or the Lord?
The story of the Korach rebellion is recorded in Numbers 16-18. I can hear Korah and his followers say it, “So Moses and Aaron, who made you God and decided to put you in charge?” In his article, Argument for the Sake of Heaven, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, wrote:
“The Korach rebellion was not just the worst of the revolts from the wilderness years. It was also different in kind because it was a direct assault on Moses and Aaron. Korach and his follow rebels accused Moses of nepotism, of failure, and of being a fraud – of attributing to God decisions and laws that Moses had devised himself for his own ends. So grave was the attack that it became, for the Sages, a paradigm of the worst kind of disagreement.”
Keep in mind what may really be eating at Korah. What were the root of his grievances? He was passed over and not considered for two important positions within the nation – Tribal leader of the Levitical family of Kehot and the most honored position in the nation – the High Priest. Power struggles are for certain when we pursue power, prestige, and position. Ask yourself this question. Is the rebellious person in your leadership or congregation in disagreement with a decision made by you or your board or is that person struggling with an offense that has nothing to do with you? Have they experienced rejection in life? Do they feel "passed over" in their career path? What was their relationship with other leaders? Are they battling with you or are they battling deep down with an internal battle or struggle that has been projected onto you and your leadership?
Always a Backstory
In my work within congregations, I have learned a valuable lesson. The grievance presented to the leadership as the real problem may not be the actual driving force behind the complaint against the rabbi, priest, or minister. Often, the rebellion is the result of interpersonal problems, perceived offenses, and jealousy that took a while to come to the surface. These issues are then projected onto the clergy person or congregational leader who may not have done anything wrong or may not be aware that they have offended the Korah of their congregation. In the case of Korah it was his envy of the elevated status of one relative over him.
Moses handled this same type of relative rivalry different than Korah. Back in Egypt we learn that Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they first met with Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7). We hear Moses' name over and over in the early days of the Exodus story. Moses leads the people out of Egypt. Moses splits the Red Sea. Moses leads the people across the sea on dry ground. Moses receives the word of the Lord on Mount Sinai. Aaron is the one the people convinces to build the golden calf (Exodus 32). Yet, Aaron his older brother is chosen to become the first high priest of the nation (Number 17)! Moses could have received this as an offense, a smack in the face. He did not take the path of offense.
Some people look for an offense. Some people perceive an offense where there is no offense.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus, I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” Numbers 17:1-5 NET Bible
Moses did exactly what the Lord asked him to do. Now the staff or rod that Aaron handed to Moses when both were standing before Pharaoh, will be used once again to reveal the authority of the Lord God of the Hebrew nation. This time the staff will have the tribal name Levi carved upon the wood.
Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.
On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Numbers 17:6-8 NET Bible
Aaron's Rod that Budded from the Holman Bible 1890
There is no indication in scripture why Aaron’s staff was from an almond tree. But there is a spiritual nugget when we uncover the Hebrew word used for almond. In Israel, the almond tree is one of the first to bud in the spring. Its white blossoms are a welcomed sign that winter is over. Because sign or signal to watch that spring is here, the almond tree is nicknamed the “watcher.” Jeremiah uses a word play on the almond to symbolize God is watching over his people. We will explore this meaning in a few moments.
Notice the stages of growth that came forth from a previously dead piece of wood! It “sprouted,” “put forth buds,” “produced blossoms” and finally “bore ripe almonds.” The miraculous display from an almond branch. The old dead piece of wood came to life with a new purpose as a sign of authority and it bore fruit where fruit was not expected. Rising up and rebelling against the leadership of Moses or Aaron was considered rising up against the authority of the Lord. So, to answer the question, “Who put you in charge and why should we listen to you?” The simple answer for the Korahs coming against you is, “I am a humble watchman of the Lord who watches over all of us and judges each of us accordingly.” Remember you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
Almond Tree - Free Media Use
Due to the frustrations of ministry and the conflicts with rebellious souls within your congregation you may feel like your ministry is nothing more than a dead piece of wood. You may not be able to see anything that you have done worth remembering. Not so with the Lord. He remembers when he called you and is willing to bring you to the place of renewal with a fresh anointing. Your ministry may appear dead, and it has come for the time for you to move on from this congregation. There is hope. The Lord can sprout in you a new buds full of blossoms that will mature into ripe fruit! Remember you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. And the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” Numbers 17:9-10 NET Bible
Did you notice what the Bible said happened to Aaron’s staff?
It was put back before the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holiest place within the tabernacle – the Holy of Holies, the place where the Lord’s presence dwelled and where the Lord said he would speak to his people (Exodus 25:22). Aaron never carried his staff again before the people. Aaron’s staff remained a sacred sign or silent witness tucked away in the Holy of Holies.
All the other leaders reclaimed their staffs that day. But Aaron’s staff was never carried by him again. It was a “sign for the rebels.” Brown Driver and Briggs indicate the Hebrew word אוֹת – oth means “sign,” “witness,” or an “attestation of divine presence.” It was a reminder that his spiritual authority as a leader was determined by the fruit he produced.
If this old wooden staff endowed with new life was now a witness to the Lord’s presence and authority upon the ministry of Aaron, why was it kept in the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant where only the High Priest Aaron would see it once a year on the Day of Atonement? Who was the sign for?
The Hebrew word בֵּן transliterated as ben, is translated as “Son.” Was this an authoritative sign or reminder to Aaron the first High Priest and every High Priest after him? When they come up against the “sons” of the rebellious in the future and they will, the very fact that the Lord has entrusted them with the authority not only to speak and lead the people in his name but as his servant they have the privilege of hearing his voice speak to them inside the Holy of Holies!
The story of Korah’s rebellion would be retold over the generations but the staff of Aaron remaining in the Holy of Holies was a constant reminder to Aaron that the Lord chose him to be a watchman. The Lord is also "watching" over you.
“And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond(shaked) branch.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching (shoked) over my word to perform it.” Jeremiah 1:11-12 ESV
In this passage Jeremiah deploys a Hebrew word play to convey the Lord’s encouragement to the young prophet Jeremiah. The Hebrew word shaked for “almond” sounds like the Hebrew word shoked, for “watching.” Incidentally, an almond is shaped like and eye! Remember you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did. And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”
Numbers 17:11-13 NET Bible
Pastor, Rabbi, or Priest, if you are still reading this, please allow me to encourage you. You are the Lord’s watchman. Sometimes your eyes see things and your ears hear things as you attempt to serve others. It can be discouraging. You may feel like your ministry has grown lifeless. There may be the temptation to just walk away and forget the whole mess. There will always be Korahs in every congregation. Their words and devices are discouraging and too often demeaning. Remember you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
When we encounter the Korahs in life we need a reminder that we are under the Lord’s authority. Return to your Holy of Holies, the place where you commune with the Lord. Seek refuge in that private place where you can hear the voice of the Lord.
Remember David when he was on the run from king Saul? He sought refuge at the tabernacle at Shiloh. There David would see a reminder of past victories. He sought physical bread, but the Lord gave him nourishment for his soul. The tabernacle of Shiloh was the place where David placed the sword of Goliath after his deceive battle in the creek bed of Elah. A time when David was not considered a candidate to bring forth before the prophet Samuel. A time when he was just an errand boy for his father as he traveled to bring bread and cheese to the battlefield. A time when his brother chastised him for showing up at the battle. A time when the king made fun of him by placing the armor of a grown man on the weak frame of a young teenage boy.
Goliath’s sword deposited at the house of God was a powerful reminder of a previous victory in an impossible situation. Go to your tabernacle place and seek the Lord’s comfort, guidance, and direction.
Remember the Lord has appointed you as a “Watchman” over your flock, but you are a human being not a human doing. You can only do so much and then rely on the Lord to do his part. Take care of yourself and your family. Seek the Godly counsel of a pastoral mentor and spend time with those who offer encouraging words. If you must shift to a new role as counselor, chaplain or teacher do so! Ask the Lord for wisdom. Do not throw in the towel of ministry altogether. Your years of training and work are invaluable in the broken world we live in. Servant of God are needed even if the Korahs do not have a clue. Like Moses’ sister Miriam who came to her senses and made amends with her brother, some people will see the error of their ways. But others will not repent and unfortunately will pay a spiritual price for rebelling against a spiritual authority figure that the Lord placed in their life. But as for you, Remember you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
Re-read those letters and cards or even the emails of gratitude that people of the past sent you after a funeral, wedding, crisis, or the notes thanking you for just being you. Reflect on the good you have done and your reasons for entering ministry. Make note of the good you have done and drive out the negativity that is trying to engulf your spirit.
Cry out to the Lord like the psalmist. And remember, Jeremiah 1:11-12 and how the Hebrew word shaked “almond” sounds like the Hebrew word shoked, “watching.” The Lord hears your cries and is watching over you. Remember you are in good company with Moses and Aaron!
If you are a layperson reading this blog, make it a point this week to encourage your pastor, priest, or rabbi. Call them on the phone. Write a card of thanks. Take them out for lunch or breakfast. Encourage your watchman with your words and deeds! The Lord may have placed your congregational leader in your life to help you grow spiritually and heal the offenses that lay deep within your heart.