How to Split a Congregation

If you're looking for an efficient way to split a congregation or otherwise damage the kingdom of heaven, take a lesson from the story of Korah.

The Punishment of Korah's Congregation (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Korach (קורח | Korah)
  • Torah: Numbers 16:1-18:32
  • Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14-12:22
  • Gospel: John 19:1-17

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Numbers 16:1 | Revolt of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
    • Numbers 17:1 | The Budding of Aaron's Rod
    • Numbers 18:1 | Responsibility of Priests and Levites
    • Numbers 18:8 | The Priests' Portion
  • Prophets
    • 1Sa 11:1 | Saul Defeats the Ammonites
    • 1Sa 12:1 | Samuel's Farewell Address

Portion Summary

Korah (korach, קורח) was the name of a prominent Levite. It is also the name of the thirty-eighth reading from the Torah. It comes from the first verse of this week's reading, which says, "Now Korah the son of Izhar... took action" (Numbers 16:1). This week's Torah reading tells the story of how Korah led an unsuccessful rebellion against Moses and Aaron. After thwarting the insurrection, God confirms Aaron in the priesthood and provides additional legislation regarding priestly and Levitical privileges and responsibilities.

Korah had a gripe against Moses and Aaron. Like Moses and Aaron, Korah was a Levite. He resented Moses for appointing Aaron and his sons to the priesthood and making the rest of the Levites their servants. He felt that Moses was abusing his position of leadership and indulging in nepotism by favoring his brother Aaron. Korah insisted that all Levites should enjoy the privileges and rewards of the priesthood, and that the entire assembly of Israel was holy enough to serve in the Tabernacle.

Korah's attitude is common among Protestant believers today who feel that they are accountable only to God. Many believers view ecclesiastical authorities with suspicion and distrust and refuse to submit themselves to congregational leaders.

Korah spread his spirit of dissent among his fellow tribesmen. The 250 men of renown who followed Korah were also from the tribe of Levi. However, Korah was also joined by three unlikely nobles: Dathan, Abiram and On of the tribe of Reuben. Why would the Reubenites join Korah and the Levites? What did the Levitical dispute have to do with them?

Korah and the Reubenites were next-door neighbors. Korah was from the Levitical family of Kohath. According to the arrangements for the tribal encampments, the Kohathites and the Reubenites both encamped on the south side of the Tabernacle (Numbers 2:10; 3:29).

The sages explain that this next-door-neighbor relationship led the Reubenites into participation in the insurrection. Korah's initial grievances against Moses and Aaron had nothing to do with the Reubenites, but through frequent conversation and the subtle manipulation of ideas, Korah was able to draw his neighbors into his plan.

A proverb says, "Woe to the wicked, and woe to his neighbor." This applies to Dathan and Abiram, the neighbors of Korah. Dathan and Abiram were neighbors with a contentious man. That is why they were punished with him and were swept from the world. (Numbers Rabbah17:5)

Contention against leadership is contagious, and contentious people work hard to convince their companions to join their cause. Congregational rebellions often start in small study groups, special project committees, or volunteer crews where a single, discontent laymen can publish his gripe against the leadership and raise sympathizers.

As disciples of Yeshua, we need to be wary not to fall into the trap of sedition. Paul warns us not to even listen to accusations against congregational leaders "except on the basis of two or three witnesses" (1 Timothy 5:19). Peter tells the younger men in congregations to "be subject to your elders" (1 Peter 5:5). The writer of the book of Hebrews says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17).

Congregational insurrection usually begins with one or two disenfranchised people who have a grievance (real or imagined) against the leadership. They share their grievance with others who will listen. Be careful about granting a listening ear lest you find yourself doing more than just listening.

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