“Moshe said to Aharon,’Take your fire pan, put fire from the altar in it, lay incense on it, and hurry with it to the assembly to make atonement for them, because anger has gone out from Adonai, and the plague has already begun!’ Aharon took it, as Moshe had said, and ran into the middle of the assembly. There the plague had already begun among the people, but he added the incense and made atonement for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. Those dying from the plague numbered 14,700 — besides those who died in the Korach incident. Aharon returned to Moshe at the entrance to the tent of meeting, and the plague was stopped.”-Numbers 17:11-15
Alrighty, from verse 11 of Numbers Chapter 17, we are thrust into a situation of complete and utter chaos.
Because of the people’s rebellion, the Lord had caused a plague to break out (major takeaway here folks!).
In response, Moses commands Aaron grab his fire pan and run into the midst of the dying people to make atonement for them.
But unfortunately, for 14,700 Israelites, it was too late.
And even more unfortunate is that the 14,700 figure is NOT accurate.
Remember, when the Bible conducts population counts only the males are counted.
Hence, not 14,700 people but more like a total of 50,000 men, women AND children were wiped out by the plague before Aaron was able to stop it.
What I also find interesting is that just as the fire pans were used as instruments of destruction to defy God, so now is a fire pan in Aaron’s hands used as an instrument of atonement.
We’ll encounter this dual reality a lot in Scripture where the same type of object is used as both an instrument of evil AND good.
There’s another important point here we shouldn’t overlook.
Recall at the very beginning of this chapter, God told Moses the following:
“Tell Eleazar the son of Aharon the Cohen to remove the fire pans from the fire, and scatter the smoldering coals at a distance, because they have become holy.”
Why did God have Moses command Eleazar to remove the fire pans from the fire instead of commanding Aaron to do the job.
The reason is because High Priests are forbidden to come into contact with the dead.
However, it would appear that Aaron the High Priest is now breaking this commandment big time in his desperate attempts to make atonement for the people now falling over left and right due to the plague.
I have no doubt in my mind that Aaron became defiled while he was trying to make atonement for the dying.
Finally, take a look at verse 14.
“But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah.”-Numbers 17:14
So who does the Torah place the blame for this tragic incident on?
The Torah doesn’t blame the devil or Satan.
The Torah places blame where blame is due, on the one man who instigated the rebellion by letting his evil inclination get hog wild out of control.
The reason I bring this up is because I think all too often we have a tendency to blame the devil or other outside forces for our sin when it is us and only us who are to blame.
But that’s not the biggest takeaway we get from this tragic incident.
The biggest takeaway is this.
Notice how one man can singlehandedly cause so much destruction by leading others astray.
Never underestimate the power of how one rotten apple can most definitely corrupt the whole bunch.
I would say in a sense, Korah establishes the pattern of one of the chief characteristics of the “anti-Christ“.
He will be against God’s chosen mediator and seek to draw others to him in rebellion.
And here in Numbers 17, we are given a clear picture of the horrible fate that awaits those who seek to rebel against God’s chosen mediators and lead others with them.
Finally, just as one man caused so much destruction, verse 15 told tells us that one man (Aaron) and his atoning efforts worked as the plague was stopped.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man,
how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came
by the grace of the one man, Yeshua the Messiah,
overflow to the many!”