They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” Numbers 16:3 NASB
Against – The story of Korah and his followers is a critical part of Torah. God’s instructions for living come in all kinds of forms: poetry, narrative, history and legislation. This bit happens to be instruction in the form of an historical account, but it is instruction nevertheless. Korah attempts to usurp Moses’ authority, but not on the basis of disagreement over interpretation of God’s word. Korah argues that he and his followers have just as much right to power as Moses and Aaron, simply because they are also members of God’s chosen people. In other words, Korah’s concern is with power, not calling. He does not debate Moses about the meaning of God’s command. He merely claims that it isn’t fair – to him – that he is treated differently.
The sages pay a good deal of attention to this story. After all, the result of Korah’s rebellion changes the priesthood forever. They comment: Any controversy for the sake of Heaven will in the end be preserved; and that not for the sake of Heaven will not in the end by preserved. This advice is appropriate for all of us, especially for Christians who are divided over doctrinal issues. Berkson notes: “The story of Korah also illustrates that the critical tradition within Judaism was limited, as its starting point was an acceptance of the authority of Torah – even though the correct interpretation of Torah is left open to debate.” Perhaps we should ruminate on that statement. What Berkson is suggesting is that the sages accepted Torah as the inviolable word of God. They never questioned the authenticity and veracity of the text. But they constantly debated the meaning of the text. In spite of long disagreements about the meaning of the text, they almost never broke fellowship with each other. Why? Because they absolutely agreed about two things: Torah is God’s word – not Man’s, and men have limited understanding when it comes to God’s word. No one sees perfectly, therefore, everyone is capable of mistakes. I might adamantly disagree with your interpretation of the text. I might have all the verses to prove my point. I might show you the cultural setting, the linguistic evidence and the historical proof. But I might still be wrong. God knows what the text means. I can do my best to understand it, but only He knows all that the text means. By the way, that is true of any author. Only the author knows everything he intended to communicate in his message.
What does this mean for us? It means that we always leave room for learning something new. It means we don’t close the door on further debate. It does not mean that everyone is right. It means that we could all be wrong. So we commit ourselves to loving God and caring for each – and vigorously debating all the rest.
Topical Index: Korah, controversy, debate, Pirke Avot 5:20, Numbers 16:3