The Hebrew word chatta and the Greek word hamartano that are translated sin in the Bible have a common meaning: to miss or to err so as not to share in the prize. Even if we kept the whole law perfectly yet missed it on one point of law we are guilty of breaking the whole law in God’s eyes.[1] The evidence that all have missed, erred or sinned is confirmed by two things: the Bibles declaration that the wages of sin is death and the fact that we all die.[2] In other words, if we had no sin we would not die.

Being a sinner does not automatically mean we are bad people doing evil things without shame. A study of the Bible and history reveals that good people striving to do good things commit the worst of sins. Eve desired something good: to be wise like God. Her desire caused her to err and everyone who descended from Adam and Eve are still paying a price for the good Eve desired. King Saul of the Old Testament worshipped God and cherished his relationship with godly Samuel, yet he erred in his efforts to please God and his family lost the throne. Saul of the New Testament erred when his zeal without love moved him to inflict great suffering on the church.

Every one misses the mark, and every one dies as a result of sin. However, there are some sins that are more serious than others and carry a greater penalty.  

 1 John 5:16

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.

 Every ones dies because of sin yet John tells us there are sins that lead to death and sins that don’t. If all sin and all die because of sin what was John talking about?

Before Noah’s flood people lived as long as 900 years. After the flood they barely reached 200 years.[3] Today, it is rare to make it to 100. We find in the Psalms that God has given us at least 70 years.[4] Some live longer than the promised 70, some don’t, but if God hadn’t intervened to grant at least 70 years humanity may have ceased to exist by now. Sin robs us of time. 

While it is true that the end of all sin is death there are some sins worse than other sins because they can cause an early death. In essence, John told us if we see someone commit a sin that does not lead to an early death we can pray about that sin and God will grant life for the sinner, apparently, without the sinner even knowing he sinned and has been granted life. John did not instruct us to go to the brother about the offending sin we saw him commit. He instructed us to go to God. On the other hand, if we see someone commit a sin that leads to death or rather a sin that will cut their life short, we are instructed to stay out of it, don’t even pray about it, indeed we would be wise to avoid people who commit such sins.   

Moses intercession spared God’s people more than one time but Moses only prayed for those who sinned ignorantly and for those who repented of their sin. Moses did not intercede for people who committed sins that led to death unless they asked him to intercede. At Pharaoh’s request, Moses interceded more than one time but his intercession did not spare Pharaoh from an early death. Pharaoh repeatedly asked for prayer, but he never repented. Moses brother Aaron also committed a sin unto death. God wanted to kill Aaron when he taught the people to worship a cow. Unlike Pharaoh, Aaron repented and Moses intercession preserved his life until he became a minister God approved.

There are sins that provoke God to cut a persons life short. This lesson is about one of those sins. If we really want to know the kind of sin that moves God to be severe, we need to listen when God calls someone a “sinner.” 

 Numbers 16:36-38

36 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 37 Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed [or holy]. 38 The censers of these sinners …

 When God said “these sinners” he was talking about men who held positions of leadership in the church. The holy things they handled survived the fire. The sinners did not. It is interesting to note that the sin of these sinners did not stop God’s things from being holy. God consumed the sinners in a fire cutting their life short, and then sent Eleazar to collect the holy things for continued use in the service of God. 

The men God called sinners were saved out of Egypt, baptized in water and full of the Spirit of God. Yet, they perished in the presence of God because they missed it.[5] They fell short. They were not bad people trying to do bad things without shame. To the contrary, they were famous men in the church loved by multitudes.

 What happen to these saved, baptized men who ate and drank from the spiritual rock called Christ in the wilderness that their God called them sinners and destroyed them? We need to know. What happened to them could happen to any of us. If you are thinking it can’t because we live under grace and God no longer does such things, read the book of Acts until you get to the story of Annaias and Sapphira. It is not the devil we need to fear, but our God, for he alone decides when our life on earth is over.

It is time for the church to stop blaming the ills of the society we live in on the sins of people who never darken the door of a church. Their sins do not cause a fraction of the havoc that the sins of men and women in ministry do. A corrupt church counts as big sins things God counts as nothing, while God counts as big sins things people in the church feel justified in doing. Korah, Dathan, Abriam, and 250 men of renown thought they were doing the right thing when they boldly committed a sin that resulted in an early death.


To understand what led these men to become sinners in the sight of God, we need to understand the time and the circumstances. According to Reese’s Chronological Bible the people were sentenced to be shepherded in a wilderness until a generation died around October 1461. The death of 250 men God called sinners took place in December 1461, three months after God’s discipline began.

The book of Hebrews tells us God’s discipline is painful.[6] When God’s judgments produce pain in your life, you must take great care that a bitter root does not take hold in your heart and sprout into a sin that leads to death.[7] The things that happened to the church in the wilderness were written as a warning to prevent us from making the same mistakes. Let’s learn what happened lest we make the same mistake.

The children of Jacob left Egypt for a better life but that life was always out of reach. They came so close and were yet so far again and again as they had to wait for that better life one more time.  The book of Proverbs tells us that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,”[8] The Hebrew word translated “sick” in this Proverb means to be rubbed or worn. When something you hope for is deferred it makes your heart worn out, weary, fed up, and tired. When you get to this dangerous place it is easy to sin and feel justified in doing so. A lot of famous people in leadership sinned at Kadesh because they were sick and tired of never getting the better life they had been promised in Egypt. They were at the breaking point when Moses told them to accept that they would not possess the promised better life of milk and honey in their lifetime. 

The experience of Jacob’s children is not unlike the experience of many today. Jacob’s children attended a revival meeting at Goshen and saw miracles. They believed and wanted to worship this God. For the first time in a very long time they had hope of a better life. Only to have their hope deferred as they waited in Egypt for God to be merciful to the people who had made their lives a misery. After the revival, Pharaoh, the leader they loved and worshiped as a god, quit supplying the straw they needed to make bricks. Then Pharaoh sent his lackeys to whip the Hebrew leaders who sold their brothers into Pharaoh’s service for failing to produce the demanded quota of bricks.

When God showed up life became harder instead of better. If they had left immediately after the revival meeting none of this would have happened. Finally, Moses told them to kill a lamb and splash blood on the doors of their homes. Before they finished eating their lamb Egypt all but threw them out of the land with Egypt’s riches in their hand. At last the journey to a better life had begun.

But Moses did not bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. He brought them to a mountain in a desert where their hope was deferred again while God established a covenant of law with them. Then God showed up and scared them so bad they didn’t want God to talk to them anymore. God was so frustrated with them he moved out of the camp and refused to continue the journey with them. Moses persuaded God to change his mind but it seemed like every time you turn around God was killing somebody. No doubt many of Jacob’s children wondered why they ever left Egypt for a better life and began murmuring that they had been lied to.

They finally arrived at the door of the Promised Land only to peek in side and end up in a fuss with one another as they railed at Moses, “You didn’t tell us we would have to fight gods! We will die and our women and children will be defenseless!” Now they were sure they had been lied to!

God was amazed! After all he had done for them in Egypt what were they afraid of. Had they forgotten that their God turned Pharaoh, also considered a god, into carrion?  The children of Jacob continually reproached God by claiming he brought them into the desert to kill them. They insulted God by claiming the sons of mortal men are greater than he is. They despised God and were making plans to elect a new leader and return to Egypt when God appeared and the better life they hoped for was deferred again. This time what they hoped for was moved so far into the future they would not live long enough to partake of the promise.

The hope of the people had been deferred at least three times within a two-year period. They did not know God’s ways. Therefore, they did not understand the delays as they sought to obtain the better life they were promised. The delay in Egypt revealed that Pharaoh is not worth serving. Why did they desire to return to Egypt and serve a man that made impossible demands of them and then beat them when they failed? The delay at Sinai to establish a covenant of law was designed to lead them to Christ and the better covenant of grace that would give them a better life than the covenant of law could. Their hope was deferred at the border of the Promised Land. God refused to be mocked by people that despise, insult and reproached him. They didn’t want God, so he gave them what they wanted.

God will leave us in a miserable life and prove to us over and over and over that he loves us until we repent of the hatred in our hearts or perish. When God sent them into the wilderness for forty years, God went with them. He lived in the tabernacle they built for him. If God hated them why didn’t he abandon them? If God brought them into the wilderness to kill them, why did he wait while the people who did not want him lived out their natural life?

The children of Jacob are stuck in a wilderness living under a harsh, unforgiving covenant of law because they do not love God.[9] All they see in God is evil. The evil in them continually came out of their mouth until it brought evil into their lives. They are the ones that said it would be better to die in a wilderness than do what God desires. It was the evil in their hearts causing the delays that wore them out and made their lives bitter. 

The people are sick and tired of having what they hoped for delayed again and again. To make matters even worse they repented and attempted to obey God by entering the Promised Land but God spurned their repentance and let their enemies defeat them.[10] On the surface, God’s treatment of them appears to confirm their belief that God intends nothing but evil for them. The good they attempted to do blinded them to the insulting reproach their repentance was in God’s eyes when they presumptuously tried to change God’s judgment that they should remain in a wilderness 40 years until they died.

Jacobs children were faced with the painful reality that everyone 20 years old and up will not possess the better life they were promised when they attended the revival meeting at Goshen. The only people who had any hope left at all in this rebellious church are the people willing to embrace God’s grace in the covenant he made with Abraham. Before they lost anything in the wilderness, God made a way for them to obtain something better. For the better life they desired could still be theirs if they will confess with their mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts God raised, in their generation will raise, Jesus from the dead. The law could never give them what Jesus can – more time! Yes, they could walk down the Roman Road to salvation before Paul penned the book of Romans. They were saved the same way you and I get saved today.


The morale of Jacob’s children was at its very lowest when one of them wandered out of his tent on the Sabbath day and picked up some sticks. 

Numbers 15:32-34

32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him.

 The people knew that the man gathering wood did something wrong or they would not have made a citizen’s arrest and brought him to their leaders. But their leaders did not know what to do. They claimed the law wasn’t clear. It is true that the people kept the man in custody because they said the law was not clear. But it wasn’t true that the law was not clear. The law plainly said,

 Exodus 35:2-3

2 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death. 3 Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”

 Now put yourself in the wilderness with the children of Jacob. When God said do not work it was clear to them what he meant. They did not go to places of employment for eight hours a day to earn money so they could buy what they needed. Their work was gathering the things they needed – like wood to make a fire. The law was clear that this man was working and should be put to death.

The demand of law was so harsh God’s people did not want to do it, so they put the man in jail while Moses consulted the Lord.  The Lord said no more or less than the law said, “Kill him.” The idea of living by the law was fine until the people that agreed to live by the law had to enforce the law. Nobody wanted to put this man to death for such a minor offense like gathering wood. The truth is God did not desire to put this man to death for such a minor offense either, if he did he would not have allowed Jesus to die on some wood, so he could change the law.

The covenant God entered into with the children of Jacob legally bound God to the dictates of the law just like the people are bound to live by the law. They have a covenant both parties agreed to live by sealed with blood and dinner. God will not fail in even one point of law for then he to would be guilty of all. Now the children of Jacob must do what they agreed to do, live by the law or be cursed. Moses returned from discussing the matter with God and to the people’s credit they performed the requirement of law, but it left a bad taste in their mouth and stirred up a major conspiracy to overthrow the men God choose to lead them.


 Num 16:1-2(KJV)

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:

 It took a bit of digging to uncover what happened in this conspiracy, so I’ll spare you the long details and give you a summary of the story. Some of the timing of events is speculation on my part but it fits. 

Dathan and Abiram helped Korah start his own church.[11] My best guess would be around the time Aaron’s sin resulted in the death of 3,000 people, yet Aaron retained his job of High Priest. Aaron was a lousy pastor and anyone who had to bury a loved one over the lie Aaron taught them could not disagree. Korah’s church was without doubt large and attractive to many because it was not exclusive to one family in the service of God. In Korah’s church 250 famous princes had censers to offer incense before God. In Moses church only Aaron and his children could perform this service to God.

After the leaders in Moses church killed a man for picking up sticks on the Sabbath day, Korah and his followers decided it was time to remove Moses family from power. Korah informed Moses that everyone in the church was holy and the Lord was with all of them. Then Korah accused Moses and Aaron of exalting themselves above everyone else. Moses rebuked Korah for not being content with the place God gave him. Then he chided all the Levites that supported Korah for counting it “a small thing” that God separated them from the congregation to serve in the tabernacle. Finally, Moses let Korah and his followers know that Korah was the only one trying to exalt himself above others. Moses challenged Korah and his followers to meet him at God’s tabernacle and God would prove whom he chose and who chose themselves!

Korah ran back to his church and called an emergency meeting of the elders. He informed them that Moses had challenged them to a showdown.[12] Tomorrow, they would all go to God’s tabernacle with their censers and God would expose who is his and who is not his. During the meeting Dathan and Abiram received a message summoning them to appear before Moses. The summons struck fear in their hearts[13] and to save face they mocked Moses by using Moses words in their complaint saying, “Is it a small thing” that Moses brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in a wilderness. Dathan and Abiram believed their eyes had been opened by Korah.  Moses had lied to them about God giving them an inheritance and deceived the nation into believing he should be their leader.

The next morning the only people who came to God’s tabernacle were the 250 famous leaders who attended Korah’s church. These men were thoroughly persuaded they were doing the right thing or they would not have come to offer incense at God’s tabernacle.[14] Less than a year earlier, Aaron’s own sons offered incense contrary to God’s command and were instantly killed by fire. That episode no doubt confirmed their belief that Aaron’s family was not acceptable to God and should be removed, so Korah could be installed in his place. They believed Korah was kind and merciful. He would never kill someone for picking up sticks. The stakes were high. If these men are wrong, they will die like Aaron’s sons, and they know it. Korah had them so convinced they were doing the right thing ,they were not afraid to offer incense contrary to God’s written commands.  

Korah, Dathan and Abiram were supposed to be at this showdown, but they didn’t show up. When your leaders send you to do the dirty work, it’s a good indication your leaders are dirty. Korah deceived them and then sent them on a suicide mission while he sat in his church office hoping they would succeed, and he could take over.[15] Dathan and Abiram already let everyone know they did not have to obey Moses, so they stayed home too.

When Moses inquired where Korah, Dathan and Abiram were the 250 famous leaders delivered Dathan and Abiram’s message Moses is a liar and they didn’t have to obey him. Then Moses did what John told us to do when we see a man commit a sin unto death. Don’t pray about it. Don’t ask life for the sinners. Moses prayed that the Lord would not accept the offering of Korah, Dathan and Abiram’s followers and the Lord was more than happy to comply.

 Numbers 16:20-22

20 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 21 “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” 22 But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?”

 Did one-man sin? There were at least 253 men in places of leadership rebelling. BUT only one of those men we know for a fact was a priest selected by God to cover and protect his people. If the famous leaders had not had a priest/pastor to lead them, they would not have had the courage to rebel. Moses never failed to intercede for those who sinned ignorantly. But he did not pray for those who sinned arrogantly. God does not want us to pray for ministers like Korah who are not content with the place God gave them and lead multitudes astray so they can promote themselves in ministry. The New Testament calls them spots and blemishes.[16] If we don’t separate ourselves from these ministers we will suffer the same penalty they do when God judges them.

In response to Moses prayer that God would not be angry with everyone when one man sins, the Lord gave all of Korah’s followers a choice.

 Num 16:23-27

23 Then the LORD said to Moses, 24 “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'” 25 Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” 27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.

 Num 16:27 KJV

So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.

 The Kings James holds truer to the original language than the NIV because two different Hebrew words are used for tent. The tent of Korah Dathan and Abiram is the Hebrew word mishkan[17] (mish-kawn’). It can mean a residence but it also means a temple or shrine, hence it is a residence for a deity. The first time this word is used in the Bible God was telling Moses to build him a mishkan or a tabernacle.

 God told Moses to tell Korah’s followers to move away from the mishkan of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. In verse 27 we read some did separate themselves from the mishkan/tabernacle of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Then Dathan and Abiram came out and stood in the door of their tents, a completely different Hebrew word; ohel[18] (o’-hel), a tent, home, dwelling place.  Korah was not stand in the door of his ohel because he was at the mishkan, the tabernacle he built with the help of Dathan and Abiram, waiting for his followers to come back and tell him Moses and Aaron had been humiliated.

Thankfully, we can start new churches when the old ones fail us. It’s called freedom from religious tyranny. But in this case the original church had not corrupted. It was being lead by men who obeyed God’s command. Moses was far from perfect, but he was always faithful to intercede for the people who sinned ignorantly and the people who repented. That we never hear the name of On the son of Peleth mentioned again tells me he repented and was spared from an early death. 

Once the elders who followed Moses to the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan and Abiram understood that the earth would open its mouth and swallow these men as evidence Moses had obeyed the Lord it did not take God very long to clean all the spots and blemishes off his church.

 Numbers 16:31-35

31 As soon as he [Moses] finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!” 35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

 It does not take God very long to clean up his church but it does take a long time for people to understand that God is justified in what he has done. As soon as Moses made it clear to the elders how they could know everything that was done to them was Gods idea things started popping. People started falling in holes in the ground, 250 famous leaders were instantly incinerated in front of God’s tabernacle and everyone else was running around screaming we are all going to die.

Now look again at who was swallowed by the earth. 

 Numbers 16:32

. . .and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.

 The earth opened its mouth and swallowed “them” meaning Korah, Dathan and Abiram with their households “and”  all Korah’s men.  Korah, Dathan and Abiram were not the only ones swallowed by the earth. The earth swallowed Korah’s men and all their possessions too. Who were Korah’s men? Let me tell you who it’s not before you try and tell me who it is. It’s not Dathan and Abiram. The Bible refers to them being swallowed by the earth, then says “and” signifying another group of men. It’s not the 250 leaders offering strange fire at God’s tabernacle because the earth did not swallow them. They were incinerated in fire trying to take over God’s tabernacle. Who are Korah’s men that were swallowed by the earth?


 Korah’s men were the people who chose the wrong church. God instructed Moses to tell the people to move away from the tabernacle Korah built before judgment fell. When God judged Korah, Dathan and Abiram for starting a church he did not authorize the people who refused to separate themselves from Korah’s church were swept away in the sins of the leaders they followed. Korah’s men are the people who refused to leave Korah’s church after a true man of God told them to separate themselves least they get swallowed in God’s judgment against their leaders.

The people had a choice. They chose to stay. They were not God’s men. Their hearts belonged to Korah. They are Korah’s men and you get what your man gets. That is why you can get eternal life when you don’t deserve it. Your Lord has it – if your Lord is Jesus. Is your Lord a man that is not content with the place of ministry God gave him or is Jesus your Lord?

It matters where you go to church. It matters whom you support in ministry. The New Testament is filled with warnings about wolves in sheep’s clothing. Are you God’s men or are you the pastor’s men? Do you belong to God or do you belong to a TV evangelist? Do you love your friends and family more than your God? Sometimes you have to separate yourself from friends and family least you perish with them. The families and friends of Korah, Dathan and Abiram did not have to die an early death. But if they would rather die with the wicked than honor God how can anyone say God wronged them? Jesus said,

 Luke 14: 26

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple.

 It sounds so unfair that whole families died in Korah’s rebellion. Why did Korah’s children have to die for their father’s sin?


 They didn’t! The only children who died for the sins their father committed were the children who committed their father’s sins.

 Numbers 26:9-11 KJV

And the sons of Eliab; Nemuel, and Dathan, and Abiram. This is that Dathan and Abiram, which were famous in the congregation, who strove against Moses and against Aaron in the company of Korah, when they strove against the LORD: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died, what time the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men: and they became a sign. Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.

 The only family members who died were the ones who did not separate themselves from the leaders who sinned against God.  Korah’s children were God’s men. Dathan and Abiram had a brother who loved God more than his family. Nemuel is not named in the conspiracy. The children of Korah and Nemuel did not walk in the sin of their family. They did not support Korah, Dathan and Abiram’s church. Korah’s own children never forsook the tabernacle God erected and separated the Levites to serve in. The children of a sinner grew up to be the choir appointed by King David. You can be the child of a sinner and still grow up to praise God because you have a choice. Those choices are not always easy. Sometimes you must choose between fathers, brothers, friends or God. When the children of Korah chose God, he chose them to lead his people in worship. 

[1] James 2:10

[2] Romans 5:12; 6:23

[3] Abraham died at 175 compared to Methuselah’s 969 years.

[4] Psalms 90

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:1-5

[6] Hebrews 12:10 NIV

[7] Hebrews 12:1-15

[8] Proverbs 13:12

[9] 1 Corinthians 13:5, if love thinks no evil why did they believe God would do evil things to them?

[10] Numbers 14:39-45

[11] In Num. 16:27 the Hebrew word translated tent in the NIV and tabernacle in the KJV is mishkan which means a temple or shrine. The first time mishkan is used in the Bible God is telling Moses to build him a mishkan or tabernacle.

[12] We know Korah told his followers everything Moses said because Dathan and Abiram threw back in Moses face the same phrase he used in talking with Korah, “Is it a small thing”

[13] I believe they were afraid because they did not have the courage to face Moses with Korah and their complaints. When they were called into the open they ran home and hid till Moses came to them.

[14] Proverbs 16:25 says There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

[15] We know Korah did not accompany them because he did not die in the fire but was swallowed by the earth along with Dathan and Abiram.

[16] 2 Peter 2:13; Jude11-12

[17] Strongs Number 4908

[18] Strongs Number 168

About Teena Myers

Teena Myers is the Chairman of Southern Christian Writers, a freelance writer and author of three books.
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