A guideline of 7 steps in handling spiritual rebellion against a leader
As ministry leaders, we look to the Scriptures for inspiration and encouragement. The truth is there are times when we are going through difficult situations that we look through the Bible with our agenda looking to find verses and stories that will strengthen our position and provide ‘spiritual” ammunition to fire at those causing our problems. One example of a Biblical story that is used, and many times over-used in this way, is Korah’s rebellion found in Numbers 16. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard these verses used by a ministry leader as a nuclear bomb tossed into the midst those who would challenge any and all ideas and actions of the leader.
However, I don’t think the story of Korah’s rebellion was provided simply to give a leader a weapon of defense against any and all challenges to their authority. I believe that the events outlined in Numbers 16 were provided in order to teach leaders the proper way to deal with real rebellions. As we read through Numbers 16, we find that G-D provided us with a guideline of 7 steps in handling spiritual rebellion against a leader.
Let’s take a look.
In Chapter 16:1-3, we are introduced to Korah and the 250 “men of renown,” influential leaders from the tribes of Israel.
Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, and sons of Reuben—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth— rose up against Moses and took 250 men from Bnei-Yisrael, men of renown who had been appointed to the council. They assembled against Moses and Aaron. They said to them, “You’ve gone too far! All the community is holy—all of them—and Adonai is with them! Then why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of Adonai?”
In verse 4, we find Moses’ response to this group of people challenging his calling and authority.
When Moses heard this, he fell on his face.
Verse 4 shows us step #1 of how to rightly handle rebellion against G-D-given authority. Notice Moses does not scream, shout, throw a tantrum, or even gather together a force of supporters to balance the equation. No. Moses’ first action was to fall on his face. This idiom is used to denote someone humbling himself in prayer before G-D. Moses knew the only correct first step in battling a rebellion was to go before G-D. Going to G-D allows us to first check our hearts and make sure we are actually walking in a G-D-given calling. Second, it helps remind us that if G-D did call us and give us authority, then the rebellion isn’t against us, it is against G-D.
Then he said to Korah and all his following saying, “In the morning Adonai will reveal who is His and who is holy. The one whom He will let come near to Him will be the one He chooses to come near to Him.
Verse 5 shows us step #2.
After prayer and consultation with G-D, Moses tells Korah and all those with him that Moses didn’t have the ability give them equal calling and ministry with he and Aaron. In other words, Moses didn’t take the authority of spiritual calling and ministry gifting from G-D upon himself. He simply directed Korah and the others to G-D. Basically, Moses said, paraphrasing, “I didn’t choose Aaron and myself so I also cannot choose you.” He went on to say in verses 6-7, “If you really believe that you can choose to make yourself something G-D said you could not be, then go ahead and try it, and G-D will show you if you are right or not.” Again, Moses keeps himself out of the role of judge, pointing them directly to G-D.
Do this, Korah and your whole following! Take for yourselves censers. Put fire and incense into them in the presence of Adonai. Tomorrow the man that Adonai chooses will be the holy one! You sons of Levi are the ones who have gone too far!”
Verses 8-12 show us step #3.
Moses also said to Korah, “Listen now, sons of Levi! Isn’t it enough that the God of Israel has set you apart from the community of Israel to bring you near to Him to do the work of the Tabernacle of Adonai and to stand before the community to minister to them? So He brought you close, along with all your fellow sons of Levi. But you are seeking the priesthood, too!
Therefore you and all your following are banding together against Adonai! Who then is Aaron—that you are grumbling against him?” Then Moses sent word to call Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab. But they said, “We will not come!
We see in verse 8 and verse 12 Moses personally reaching out to both Korah and all of the other men involved in the rebellion, attempting to convince them to turn back to G-D or repent. Too often today, even if they follow steps 1 and 2, leaders have difficulty humbling themselves enough to do step 3. Many times, leaders get a “they-made-their-bed-don’t-let-them-lie-in-it-mindset,” or we are so hurt or angered by their rebellious actions we forget that our whole ministry is to call people to repentance.
Verse 16-17 show us step #4.
So Moses said to Korah, “You and your whole following are to appear before Adonai—you, they and Aaron—tomorrow! Each man will take his censer and you are to put incense into them—250 censers total. You are to present it before Adonai, you and Aaron each presenting his censer.”
Step 4 is, for most of us, the most difficult of the steps of dealing with a rebellion. In step 4, we let the people do what they choose to do. As a leader, especially of people that we have invested time and built relationships with, letting them make the choice to continue to rebel is very difficult. We want to reach out and grab them. Maybe slap some sense into them. But, the truth is that once we have followed steps 1-3, we have to allow step 4 to take place for the safety of the rest of the body. This is difficult, but like allowing surgery to remove cancer, we must allow G-D to remove the rebellious, or else rebellion will continue to spread.
Verses 20-22 show us step #5.
Then Adonai spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, “Separate yourselves from among this assembly, so that I may consume them at once!” But they fell on their faces and cried out, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, will you be angry with the entire community?”
Step 5 actually takes place simultaneously with step 4. It is at this time when the leader must publicly let the community know that they need to separate themselves from the rebellious ones. This step must be done by warning and, as you see in Moses and Aaron, prayer of mercy for the entire community. Again, this is a difficult task, especially for those who have true shepherd’s hearts because it is heart-breaking to ask people who have been in relationship to sever that relationship. But, as above, it is necessary for the spiritual health of the rest of the body. In the New Testament, this concept is taught in Matthew 18:15-17:
“Now if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault while you’re with him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen, take with you one or two more, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.’ But if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to Messiah’s community. And if he refuses to listen even to Messiah’s community, let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector.
Verse 37-38 show step #6.
“Tell Eleazar son of Aaron the kohen, to take the censers from the burning, because they are holy, and scatter the coals at a distance. As for the censers of these men who sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be taken and hammered into sheets as a covering for the altar. For they were presented before Adonai, so they are holy. They are to be a sign to Bnei-Yisrael.”
In step 6, we find Moses turning the negative of the rebellion into a positive as a reminder to the people. Instead of just destroying the censers of the rebellious ones, they became part of the altar and a reminder that rebellion against G-D can be reversed at the altar of sacrifice and it can be turned from something ugly into something beautiful.
The final step, step #7 is found in verses 41-46:
The next day, the entire community of Bnei-Yisrael grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You killed Adonai’s people!” But when they gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, behold, the cloud covered it and the glory appeared! Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Tent of Meeting. Adonai spoke to Moses saying, “Get away from among this assembly so that I may immediately consume them!” So they fell on their faces. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take the censer, put into it fire from the altar and put in incense. Get going and hurry to the assembly and make atonement for them, because wrath has come out from Adonai and the plague has started.”
While some of the steps listed above may be very difficult for leaders to follow, this final step may be the most ignored or left out. After G-D’s judgment comes in whatever form, and G-D (not you) has made it clear whom He has chosen, it is important we understand that just because one rebellion has been foiled, it doesn’t mean all rebellion has been done away with.
The Children of Israel had just watched the ground open up and fire consume those in rebellion and yet, they still looked as Moses and attacked him. Being in leadership in a fallen world is largely one rebellion after another. It is a spiritual war and we have been chosen by G-D to be leaders in the battle. But, the only way we will be victorious against rebellions is to follow these steps, especially step 7, which is to continue to pray and seek atonement for those who simply don’t yet understand. Many times, when someone has a limb amputated because of sickness or disease, after the limb is removed they become angry toward the surgeon.
Somehow, they forget the disease and fixate on the surgeon. If only the surgeon had not removed their limb…The same happens in a congregation. When a rebellious person is removed, it is not only possible but likely that some of your congregants will forget the rebellion “disease” and turn angrily at you. At this time, it is easy to simply get angry in return or even to simply run those people off. But, this is not the proper action to take. We follow the example of Moses and turn to G-D, offering prayers for atonement so that the new plague is squelched.