They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense on them before the LORD tomorrow, and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” (Numbers 16:3-11)
You have to wonder what exactly brought this on? God has repeatedly shown His favor of Moses, performing miracles through him. The most recent rebellion was stopped by the Lord's appearance in the Tabernacle (Numbers 14:10), when a plague struck down the 10 unfaithful spies and God told the whole congregation that they would wander in the wilderness a year for each day of the spying until they were all dead. The rendering reminds me a little of Exodus 18:18, where Moses' father-in-law tells him that what he had taken on was "too heavy for him." But looking into the original language behind this, the charge from Korah is not that Moses is taking too much on himself, but an offense that he's setting himself up as a "rab" - a chief or captain, the root word of "rabbi," meaning "great one, honored sir."
All the men following Korah and all those who offered incense, 250 renowned men, were killed by the Lord in this rebellion. God showed them who had gone too far. Was the offense against Moses and Aaron the reason? Or was the rebellion really against God Himself? The truth is, Moses was the meekest man among them. (Numbers 12:3) He fell down on his face to seek the Lord when the confrontation was made. (Num. 16:4) The situation shows how easily people with a following can twist a situation to cast a leader in a bad light. It wasn't against God, they claimed, but against Moses' hunger for too much power - were not all the congregation holy? But it was Korah who was trying to be the "rab." In contrast, Moses rightly pointed out, "What is Aaron...?" This seems to foreshadow Jesus' words about the religious leaders who opposed Him:
"...they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:6-12)
I get very uneasy when I hear Ps. 105:15/1 Chron 16:22, "touch not mine anointed..." quoted in conjunction with this story. The point here is not (in either case) that the man God makes a chief STAYS a chief, regardless of what he does. Moses does not bark back at Korah and his assembly from his own position of authority, but unmasks the challenge to God's. God reproved kings for Abraham's and Isaac's sakes, (Gen. 12:14-20, 20:1-13, 26:7-11), not because they were so great, but ultimately because of His Anointed, see the point made in Gal. 3:16.
On the other hand, Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Aaron, though marked out for God's unique service, took humble positions. We can say simultaneously without fear of contradiction that it is both true that God prepared them beforehand for this role (like Moses) and God exalted them because they represented Him to the people in a most appropriate manner. They were lifted up because they made nothing of themselves. (Isa. 40:4, Luke 1:52, James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:1-6)
Once again I can see that my own natural inclination can sometimes be somewhere between James and John and Moses. I need help remembering I am not something, but nothing. Protection from this same kind of self-deception and rebellion. All it takes is one objective look at where I came from to remind me of just how much I have to be humble about.