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  • Writer's pictureTight Spine

Smoke gets in your eyes - Part 1

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

Laughing, Moses clapped his brother on the shoulder as Miriam turned with cups of tea for each of them. As they collectively chuckled into their steaming cups, she noticed Aaron's hands had become quite chapped and cracked from repeated ceremonial washing at the temple. She smiled to herself; a quick mental inventory of her pantry told her that she had everything needed for a balm to heal his hands. She would make it tonight.

From the south, the sound of a large crowd drew close. Moses and Aaron lifted their eyes from the steaming cups of tea, making eye contact with Miriam. They quickly wiped their beards, and stood. The three quickly flipped back the tent opening and faced three men who stood together; one of them began yelling at them, over-enunciating his words. Spittle gathered at the corners of his mouth, his eyes full of rage.

The three siblings instinctively closed the space between them with Moses in the middle. They came out of the tent together, which forced the three men to back into the angry crowd that had grown around them. People filled in all available space between the Levitical family tents. Behind them to the west, stood the Tabernacle. The yelling man was close enough that Aaron saw in the reflection of the man's eyes the courtyard curtains billowing against the sky and the cloud that hovered over The Tent.

The yelling man was Korah, a Kohathite from the South Levite Camp. Whenever the cloud over The Tent lift would lift, the Israelites knew God was telling them to move. The Kohathites were a family within the Levite tribe, responsible for carrying the holy articles from The Tent. When the camps would line up in the caravan, the holy articles were hand-carried between the tribes from the South and West Camps. Korah was one of two men responsible for carrying the Tabernacle altar.

Next to carrying the Ark of the Covenant, there was not a holier job for a Kohathite. To move the bronze altar, Aaron the high priest and his son Eleazor would oversee the removal of the ashes before personally wrapping the altar in purple linen. Once enrobed in the color of royalty, the father and son would then place on the altar the service items such as sprinkling bowls and meat forks. The entire affair would then be bundled in protective sea cow hide before putting the carrying poles in place. The poles and the elaborate wrapping were to prevent unauthorized (and thus deadly) contact with the holy things of Yahweh. Only those in the priesthood could touch them and live.

Aaron's gaze shifted from Korah's familiar face to cautiously study brothers Dathan and Abiram. Scowling, with their arms crossed, they stood on each side of Korah. Their father was Eliab, of the tribe of Reuben. Thinking of Eliab, he knew the man would be shamed by his sons publicly rebelling against God. Thinking of the shame sons could bring, in his mind he saw his two sons, Nadab and Abihu. Not long after the Tabernacle was dedicated, they burned to death while offering unauthorized incense to the Lord. They were no different than Eliab's sons standing in front of him. Somehow the two had gotten in their heads to brazenly approach the Tent, and now they were dead.

Aaron and his two remaining sons had not been allowed to publicly mourn. Stoic, but internally shattered, he had stood silent in front of the community as the remains of his beloved boys were carried out of the Tabernacle courtyard by their cousins. The men were buried without their father and brothers in attendance. The sounds of mourning were audible within the Tabernacle, even over prayers and the singers that day. He knew his wife's heart, she would reach out to Korah's mother to console her and try to alleviate her embarrassment.

"You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" Korah's beard shook, his entire body trembled with anger.

At this, Moses fell face-down. His face hovered inches above the earth, he shouted, "In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and what is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put fire and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!"

Miram gasped along with the crowd and all turned their gaze to Aaron. His eyes filled with tears and his knees buckled as he stared, stunned, at the back of Moses' head. His memory brought the smell of his smoldering sons to his mind.

Moses' hands shook as he pushed away from the ground to stand. He bellowed, "Now listen, you Levites! Isn't it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord's Tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood, too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together." He waved his hand toward his brother, "Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?"

Faces ashen, Dathan and Abiram left. Korah continued to argue with Moses and Aaron, while Miriam watched from the opening of her tent. Moses finally said, "You and all your followers are to appear before the Lord tomorrow -- you and they (pointing to the couple hundred men still standing behind him) and Aaron. Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it and present it before the Lord. You and Aaron are to present your censers also." Korah set his jaw, and by motioning with the jerk of his chin he told the crowd to follow him.

Moses wept into Aaron's shoulder and the two clumsily pulled Miriam into the embrace. Pained anew by the memory of his nephews, he thought of Dathan and Abiram, and Moses quickly tore himself away. He made a right turn around Miriam's tent and headed straight for the South Camp. People made way for Moses as he passed tent after tent, finally reaching the South Camp entrance. Moses sent for Dathan and Abirum and the returned message was that the men would not come. Insolent and disrespectful, the messenger brazenly asked Moses if he intended to gouge out the eyes of the men. Moses stomped back to his tent, muttering to the Lord along the way. Bone-weary of the job, Moses did not sleep well that night.

Shortly after sunrise, a crowd formed around the courtyard to the Tabernacle, watching the men arrive with censers to stand with Korah. Eliab's sons were nowhere to be seen. After gathering at the entrance to the Tent, the glory of the Lord appeared to the entire assembly. The 251 disrespectful men stood, their eyes fixed forward on the Tent. The community did not look at them, but rather the ominous cloud over the men and above the Tent.

Moses and Aaron stood in front of the Tent, between it and the 251 men. In an instant, the glory of the Lord flashed through the cloud, briefly illuminating the men's now terrified faces. The voice of the Lord boomed, telling Aaron and Moses to leave because He was going to put an end to the assembly at once. Falling on their faces, the brothers pled with the Lord for the lives of the people.

Suddenly Moses jumped up and ran out of the Tabernacle courtyard and again heading toward the South Camp, yelling for the crowd to back up and move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Passing through the South Camp entrance, he ran below the Reubenite flag rippling against the overcast sky, and found Dathan and Abiram. They stood in front of their own tents with their families, their eyes locked on Moses. Continuing to shout warning, Moses told the community to back away from these men and their tents.

Moses addressed the masses of people that had gathered around him, "This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: if these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, and they go down alive in the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt."

Numbers 1 - Family lineages

Numbers 2 - Camp layout for non-Levites

Numbers 3 - Kohathite job assignment and Levite camp layout

Numbers 4 - Altar pack-up for moving

Numbers 16

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Smoke gets in your eyes - Part 2

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