Following an epidemic of jealousy, you'd think the people had learned, but when have we ever learned?
Korah and the rebels were destroyed in a fantastic manner by God. There could be no confusion as to how they died. There was no way anyone could have thought any human had orchestrated their deaths. I can't help but feel a little sorry for Eleazar. It was up to him to clean up the mess that was left in the wake.
However, "The next day the entire Israelite community complained about Moses and Aaron, saying, 'You have killed the Lord's people!'" (Numbers 16:41, HCSB) Even after all that had happened, the people still didn't get it. Instead of learning from the encounter with God, they turned even further away.
If it was the death of so many that really concerned them, why weren't they directing their venom toward the supernatural source? Their rebellion is not really directed toward Moses and Aaron. These two are only symbols and representatives of God's order and instruction. God had placed Moses and Aaron in their positions of responsibility. They weren't leaders. They were messengers. They simply communicated God's expectations and directions to the people.
As this is unfolding, Moses sees what is coming. He knows God, and knows that further rebellion will not be tolerated. So, he responds exactly as you and I would. He crosses his arms and says, "Good! Let them all die! That'll show 'em!" Actually, you won't find those words in our reading today. Instead, what you will see is one of the main reasons Moses was chosen by God to lead.
Without a second thought, Moses sends Aaron to atone for the people. Instead of the very natural response caused by their continued complaints, Moses acts selflessly. Caring not for the apparent attack on him and his leadership, he acts for the best interest of the people. In the face of the wrath of God, Moses wants them forgiven instead of punished.
I can only pray that God would have changed my heart so radically as to allow me to lead like Moses. I have a feeling that I would want these people to "get what they deserved." However, Moses was not interested in himself or his pride. He wanted to protect the people even from themselves.
In the climax of this account we see this beautiful picture of Aaron standing between the living and the dead. This is what godly leadership looks like. This is what it means to serve God by serving others. Has God so captured our hearts that we could or would do the same? Can we forgive those who seem intent on standing against us?
In a way, this is what the Great Commission requires. We are called to stand between the living and the dead. We have been tasked to selflessly serve those who would reject our king by investing our lives among them because wrath, justly, is coming.