In his book, God in the Wasteland, David Wells laments, “It is one of the defining marks of our time that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal, but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests on the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable.”
The “weightlessness” of God in our age is like the refusal of the Israelites to treat God as holy, recorded here in Numbers 16. What was apparently a showdown between rival leaders for Moses’ and Aaron’s positions—a conspiracy motivated by selfish ambition and pride—was at its core a rejection of God’s authority.
By the time we get to Numbers 16, the Israelites had already received revelation regarding the construction of the tabernacle and the duties of the Levites and priests. Korah and other descendants of Kohath were given important responsibilities in the tabernacle. They were assigned the task of transporting on their shoulders holy articles used in the rituals of worship and sacrifice (cf. Num. 7:9). They were not, however, direct descendants of Aaron and could not, therefore, assume priestly duties such as offering the sacrifices or burning incense to the Lord.
Despite God’s explicit instructions, they rebelled. And Moses was clear to say to them that they were not rebelling against human leadership but against God Himself. They had no fear of God, no regard for His holiness. If they had, they would never have had the audacity to offer incense to the Lord as Moses proposed.
We’ve so often seen Moses in an intercessory role when God threatens judgment against His people. Time and time again he pleaded with God to overlook sin and show mercy, and he did so even later in this chapter. However, with Korah and the other dissidents, Moses prayed for God’s judgment upon them. His anger didn’t result from feeling personally offended or accused. He recognized that what was at stake was regarding God as holy.