Reflection for Korach

“Contend Earnestly for the Faith”

2 Timothy 2:8-21; Jude 1-25


by Mark Huey

By the time Torah readers reach Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) in their annual examinations, the murmuring and complaints of Ancient Israel come to a crescendo. The previous two portions of Beha’alot’kha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) and Shelakh-Lekha (Numbers 13:1-15:41) have described the ongoing complaints of the people as their wilderness march becomes arduous, there is no meat and the delicacies of Egypt are missed,[1] and even Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ positional leadership.[2] While each of these problems is appropriately dealt with—the scene caused by the unbelieving spies[3] culminates in the Lord declaring that none of the faithless “Exodus generation” except Caleb will enter into the Promised Land:

“So the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it” (Numbers 14:20-24).[4]

Given the fact that those who experienced God’s deliverance from Egypt will not be allowed to enter into Canaan, the rebellion witnessed this week in Korach is understandable to some degree. There is discussion among Jewish interpreters which tries to dissect Numbers 16 into a variety of sources, perhaps equating as many as four different rebellious incidents.[5] Yet, the fact remains that the forty-year prolonged death sentence, issued upon the faithless Israelites by the Lord, could naturally spawn malcontent in the hearts of those who would be prohibited from their inheritance. Note the following judgment declared by the compassionate Almighty—who earlier wanted to eradicate this generation—but instead relented after Moses’ impassioned plea for mercy.[6] Those without the faith will be able to live long enough to see their children grow up and mature, who will take their place in entering into the Land:

“The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the LORD, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die’” (Numbers 14:26-35).

After an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Amalekites without the blessing of the Lord,[7] our parashah turns to addressing how the people will offer sacrifices once they enter into the Promised Land.[8] The statutes regulating both cereal offerings and offerings for unintentional sin will be the same for native Israelites and sojourners alike.[9] Significant deviations from God’s Instruction could result in a steady rise of sinful behavior and disloyalty to Him, and so the incident of an individual caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath is recorded, along with him being stoned to death.[10] To remind the Israelites to obey His commandments, the Lord instructs the people to wear tassels or tzitzit on the corners of their garments.[11]

It takes three chapters in total (Numbers 16-18) to record the rebellion of Korah and his associates, the distinct punishments that are meted out to them, and the immediate aftermath in the camp of Israel. Without going into great detail on these events, it is obvious to me that the Jewish Sages saw distinct parallels between the humble, unassuming leadership styles of Moses and the Prophet Samuel, when selecting the complimentary Haftarah reading for Korach (1 Samuel 11:14-12:22). Even with Israel in the Promised Land, too many of the people were insecure and wanting, and so they prodded Samuel into anointing a human king other than the Holy One—so that Israel would be no different than its pagan neighbors (1 Samuel 8:5).

In our recommended readings from the Apostolic Scriptures this week, it is still obvious that even in the First Century C.E., that the mortal proclivity to follow after the inclinations of the flesh continues in every generation. In the time of Moses, only very few like Caleb and Joshua had a “different spirit” to faithfully follow the Lord (Numbers 14:24). During Samuel’s generation when he was called into service as a prophet, a great majority of Israel was more interested in following the ways of the world. One would think that following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the Believers at Shavuot/Pentecost and the years which followed—that the earliest Messiah followers would learn lessons from the past, and desire close conformity with the will of God. But both 2 Timothy 2:8-21 and Jude 1-25 sadly reveal that basic human nature had not changed that much. Paul admonished his ministry colleague Timothy to be mindful of those who would come into the assembly and create problems, and Jude issued a brutal indictment of people who were following after the ways of Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

For those of us living today—in yet just another wicked generation in a long, successive line of wicked and perverted generations since the beginning[12]—it is instructional to often be reminded of warnings to not let one’s spiritual guard down. There are people who will enter into the community of Believers and cause irreparable harm to the naive and innocent. In his final letter written, the Apostle Paul made the distinct point of naming the names of some false teachers who had severely disrupted the Ephesian assembly with serious errors:

“Remember Yeshua the Messiah, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Messiah Yeshua and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.’ Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:8-21).

When reflecting on this as a director of a Messianic educational ministry, it has honestly been difficult for us to not remain mute about various false teachings which have filtered into the ranks of the broad Messianic community over the years.[13] In our ministry experience, we have certainly encountered modern-day characters like Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have infected people with worldly and empty chatter. Because the Messianic movement is so small, and many ministry leaders and teachers have met one another in person at one point or another, we have strived to follow a basic policy of preferring to address teachings, and not teachers. This way we can at least try to be objective, and not get bogged down in various personality conflicts, as we focus our attention on addressing a particular topic or issue from the Scriptures.

While we do possess limited knowledge of the future—for what appears to be His Divine purposes—the Lord will and does test His people. He allows different aberrant and deviant teachings to be disseminated, to see how serious individuals are about pressing into Him and His will, or feeding their flesh with self-assumed knowledge that will not aid them in spiritual service. As Paul puts it above, “The Lord knows those who belong to him” (2 Timothy 2:19, Phillips New Testament). In His sovereign plan, it is entirely up to Him to work out the details of the testing He allows, and whether various people pass or fail such tests. He let the Ancient Israelites have a human king, after all—but they did have to experience various repercussions for not allowing Him alone to be leader.

When looking through Jude 1-25 (the entire Epistle of Jude actually) I am reminded of a time long ago when I was responsible for administrating a conference of some well known teachers in the independent Messianic movement. During the closing activities, I was compelled by the Holy Spirit to read the entire Epistle of Jude. As I think back on that past opportunity for the words of Jude to penetrate the hearts of the listeners, I believe these words should be reconsidered by us more frequently than not:

“Jude, a bond-servant of Yeshua the Messiah, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Yeshua the Messiah: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Yeshua the Messiah. Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’ These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1-25).

Obviously, Jude was not mincing words. He warned his generation about exactly what he was witnessing among many of the Believers. In a like manner, I tried to do so as well—but rather than use my words, I found Jude’s to be more than sufficient.

The tough part, about being placed into a position of full time ministry, is that you must truly understand the severity of what it means “to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 3, NLT). You have to be sure that it is the Spirit of God which is genuinely moving and motivating you. Jude points out that in the Last Days there will be those who follow after their own ungodly lusts, causing divisions because they are worldly minded and devoid of the Spirit (Jude 18-19). Yet those who have been called to simply serve are to focus their attention on “building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20), and being attentive to achieving the Lord’s objectives for the world. It is our responsibility to be about the job of saving others from eternal punishment, seeing them repent of sins and come to eternal life.

It is to this end that we must all continue to declare the good news of salvation to not only the lost—but to those already present within the assembly of saints—so that they grow in salvation and in their walk of faith. This begins by being able to attempt to comprehend the great love that God manifested toward us in His Son. In the words of the Apostle Paul,

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Messiah which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Brothers and sisters: Earnestly contend for the faith!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 11:1-9.

[2] Numbers 12:1-16.

[3] Numbers 13:25-14:10.

[4] Numbers 14:30, 38 later specifies how Joshua will also be allowed to enter into the Land.

[5] Cf. Milgrom, pp 414-415.

[6] Numbers 14:11-19.

[7] Numbers 14:39-45.

[8] Numbers 15:1-13.

[9] Numbers 15:14-31.

[10] Numbers 15:32-36.

[11] Numbers 15:37-41.

[12] For some further thoughts, consult the author’s article “Every Evil Generation Needs Light,” appearing in the June 2010 issue of Outreach Israel News.

[13] For a summary of some of these things, consult Confronting Critical Issues: An Analysis of Subjects that Affects the Growth and Stability of the Emerging Messianic Movement by J.K. McKee.


This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey