22 August 2012

Broad Plates

In Numbers 16, Korah (a Levite) and Dathan and Abiram (from the tribe of Reuben) led a company of 250 Levites in an uprising against Moses’ leadership and Aaron’s priesthood.  “Wherefore lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord (v. 3)?”  These Levites had a position in the Lord’s service but were not content with the position they were given.

(Explanation: God selected Aaron and his descendants to fill the office of the priesthood.  Aaron was a Levite.  Thus, all the priests were Levites.  The Levitical priesthood of Hebrews 7:11 is that of Aaron’s descendants.  But not all the Levites were priests.  There were many families besides Aaron’s in the tribe of Levi. These Levites were selected by God and separated by God for the service of the tabernacle and the service of the priests.  But they did not offer sacrifices or perform the other priestly duties.  This is what angered the group in Numbers 16.)

The test that was to determine whether Moses and Aaron had lifted themselves up above the congregation of the Lord (the charge of vv. 3, 13) or if it was the Lord who had done so involved Korah, the 250 Levites, and Aaron all taking censers, with fire and incense, and standing before the door of the tabernacle.  It is unclear to me what the purpose of the censers was or how the determination was expected to be made, but when the Lord appears, He makes His selection very clear, saying to Moses and Aaron in verse 21, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment,” and in verse 24, “Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”

You’re probably familiar with what happens next.

“And the earth opened up and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained to Korah, and all their goods.  They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit.  And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.  And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense” (vv. 32-35).

What I had never noticed in the account is what was done with the censers brought to the tabernacle by the 250 Levites.  Verse 36, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed.  The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the LORD, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel…To be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the LORD; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the LORD said to him by the hand of Moses.” 

When I read that, those words jumped out at me, and immediately my mind went to King Uzziah.  “But when we was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16).  How could he do that!  In order to offer incense on that altar he had to look right at the broad plates that covered that altar…the plates made out of the censers of the men who had been consumed by the fire of God from heaven…for doing the very thing he was doing!  What willful rebellion!  What open defiance!  What presumptuous sin! 

There’s an application here for us as Christians.  Are there not times when what the Bible says is so clear; when the Lord has clearly shown us what happens to those who disregard it and reject it; when God gives us every warning possible and every opportunity to stop; but we lay all that aside and move forward with our own stupid, stubborn, defiant disobedience. 

We really have no excuse.  Not when the altar is covered with broad plates.  May the Lord help us to heed His warnings and simply follow His word.  Amen.

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