Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

September 16, 1880

The Great Rebellion; or, the Conflict Ended

By Mrs. E. G. White

The sad history of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who led ancient Israel into rebellion, is recorded as a warning to the people of God until the close of time. “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

We learn from the sacred word that the people of God are still in danger from the devices of their archenemy. Satan stands ready to aim his shafts at the unguarded soul, and he will lead astray all who will give heed to his deceptions. Many who imagine that they have a sincere zeal for the honor of God, have permitted Satan to control their minds, and are accomplishing his purposes. Few understand the terrible power of prejudice, of envy and jealousy, when once they take possession of the soul.

The congregation of Israel had seen the earth open and the leaders in rebellion go down into its depths. Here the Lord gave his people an opportunity to see and to feel the sinfulness of their course. He gave the deceived ones overwhelming evidence that they were wrong, and that his servant Moses was right, and they should have been led to heartfelt repentance and confession. But reason and judgment had become perverted. All the congregation were, to a greater or less degree, affected with the prevailing jealousy, surmisings, and hatred, against Moses, which had brought the displeasure of the Lord in a fearfully marked manner upon them. Yet our gracious God shows himself a God of justice and mercy. He made a distinction between the instigators—the leaders in rebellion—and those who had been led by them. He pitied the ignorance and folly of those who had been deceived.

God directed Moses to bid the congregation leave the tents of the men whom they had chosen in place of their Heaven-appointed leaders. Thus the very man whose destruction the people had premeditated was the instrument in the hands of God of saving their lives upon that occasion. In obedience to the divine command Moses warned the people: “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men.” The whole congregation were in alarming danger of being also destroyed by the wrath of God in their sins; for they were sharers in the crimes of the men to whom they had given their sympathy, and with whom they had associated.

While Moses was entreating Israel to flee from the coming destruction, the divine vengeance might even then have been stayed, if the men who instigated the rebellion had repented and sought forgiveness of God. But Korah and his sympathizers stood boldly in their tents, in defiance of God's wrath. And yet some of this rebellious company were of the number who had been so recently honored of God, having been permitted to approach with Moses almost directly into the presence of the Most High, and behold his unsurpassed majesty. They had also seen Moses when he came down from the mount, his face resplendent with the glory of God, so that the people dared not approach him. But all this is now forgotten. They persist in their rebellion, and the wrath of God sweeps them from the earth, while the people flee in terror from the scene.

The hosts of Israel had an opportunity to pass the following night in reflection upon the fearful visitation of Heaven which they had witnessed. But though greatly terrified, they were not led to humble themselves before God in true repentance for their sinful course. They had been deeply influenced by the spirit of rebellion, and had been flattered by Korah and his company until they really believed themselves to be a very good people, and that they had been wronged and abused by Moses. If they should admit that Korah and his company were wrong and Moses righteous, then they would be compelled to receive as the word of God, the sentence that they must all die in the wilderness. They were not willing to submit to this, and they tried to believe that Moses had deceived them. They had fondly cherished the hope that a new order of things was about to be established, in which praise would be substituted for reproach, and peace for anxiety and conflict. The men who had perished had spoken pleasant words, and had manifested special interest and love for them, and the people had decided that Korah and his companions were good men, and that Moses had by some means been the cause of their destruction.

It is hardly possible for men to offer a greater insult to God than to despise and reject the instrumentalities he would use for their salvation. The Israelites had not only done this, but had purposed to put both Moses and Aaron to death. The multitude had fled from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, through fear of destruction; but their rebellion was not cured. They were not in grief and despair because of their guilt. They felt not the effect of an awakened, convicted conscience because they had abused their most precious privileges, and sinned against light and knowledge.

The goodness and mercy of God was displayed in sparing this ungrateful people when his wrath was kindled against the leaders in rebellion. The congregation, who had permitted themselves to be deceived, were granted space for repentance. The long-suffering and mercy of God toward erring and rebellious Israel is recorded as evidence of his willingness to forgive the most grievous offenders, when they shall have a sense of their sin and return unto the Lord with repentance and humiliation.

Jesus, the Angel who went before the Hebrews in the wilderness, would save them from destruction. Forgiveness is lingering for them. It is possible for them to find pardon. The vengeance of God has come very near, and appealed to them to repent. A special, irresistible interference from Heaven has arrested their presumptuous rebellion. Now, if they respond to the interposition of God's providence, they may be saved.

The repentance and humiliation of the congregation of Israel must be proportionate to their transgression. The signal manifestation of divine power has removed all uncertainty. They may have a knowledge of the true position and holy calling of Moses and Aaron if they will accept it. But their neglect of the evidences which God had given was fatal to them. They did not realize the importance of immediate action on their part to seek pardon of God for their grievous sins. That night of probation was not passed in repentance and confession of their sins, but in devising some way to resist the evidences which showed them to be the greatest of sinners. They still cherished their jealous hatred of the men of God's appointment. They strengthened themselves in their mad course of resisting the authority of Moses and Aaron. Satan was at hand to pervert their judgment and lead them blindfold to destruction.

The day before, all Israel had fled in alarm at the cry of the doomed sinners who went down into the pit, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up also.” “But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.” And in their indignation they were prepared to lay violent hands upon their faithful and self-sacrificing leaders.

Here we find a striking exhibition of the blindness that will compass human minds that turn from light and evidence. Here we see the strength of settled rebellion. Surely, the Hebrews had the most convincing evidence of God's displeasure at their course, in the destruction of the men who had deceived them. But they still stood forth boldly and defiantly, and accused Moses and Aaron of killing good and holy men. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”

A manifestation of the divine glory appeared in the cloud above the tabernacle, and the angry throng were arrested in their mad, presumptuous course. A voice from the terrible glory speaks to Moses and Aaron in the same words which they were the day before commanded to address to the people. “Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment.”

Moses did not feel the guilt of sin, and hence he did not hasten away and leave the congregation to perish, as the people had fled from the tents of Korah and his company the day before. Moses lingered; for he could not consent to give up that vast multitude to be destroyed, although he knew that they deserved the wrath of God for their persistent rebellion.

He prostrates himself before God, because the people feel no necessity for humiliation. He mediates for them, because they feel no need of interceding in their own behalf. Moses here typifies Christ. In this terrible crisis, Moses manifests the true shepherd's interest for the flock of his care. He pleads that the wrath of an offended God may not utterly destroy the people of his choice. By his intercession he holds back the arm of vengeance, that a full end may not be made of disobedient, rebellious Israel.

Moses then directed Aaron to take his censer and make an atonement for the people, for the wrath of God had gone forth, and the plague had begun. Aaron stood with his censer, waving it before the Lord, while the intercessions of Moses ascended with the smoke of the incense. Moses dared not cease his entreaties. He took hold of the strength of the angel, as did Jacob in his wrestling, and like Jacob he prevailed. Aaron was standing between the living and the dead, when the gracious answer came, I have heard thy prayer, I will not consume utterly. Again the very men whom the congregation despised and would have put to death, are the ones to plead in their behalf that the avenging sword of God might be sheathed, and sinful Israel spared. Yet their Heaven-daring presumption had not passed unpunished. Fourteen thousand dead bodies lay upon the earth, a terrible evidence of the judgment of God against murmuring and rebellion. The apostle plainly states that the experience of the Israelites in their travels has been recorded for the benefit of those upon whom the ends of the world are come. Our dangers are not less than those of the Hebrews, but greater. The people of God at the present day will be tempted to indulge envy, jealousy and murmuring, as did ancient Israel. There will ever be a spirit to rise up against the reproof of sins and wrongs. But the voice of reproof should not be hushed because of this. Those whom God has set apart as ministers of righteousness have solemn responsibilities laid upon them to reprove the sins of the people. Paul commanded Titus, “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” There are ever those who will despise the one who dares to reprove sin. But when required, reproof must be given. Paul directs Titus to rebuke a certain class sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. And how shall the reproof be given? Let the apostle answer: “With all long-suffering and doctrine.” The one at fault must be shown that his course is not in harmony with the word of God. But never should the wrongs of God's people be passed by indifferently. Those who faithfully discharge their unpleasant duties under a sense of their accountability to God, will receive his blessing.

The history of the Israelites presents before us the great danger of deception. Many have not a sense of the sinfulness of their own natures, nor of the grace of forgiveness. They do not wish to be disturbed. They have occasionally selfish fears, occasionally good purposes, some anxious thoughts and convictions. But they have not a depth of experience, because they are not riveted to the Eternal Rock. This class never see the necessity of reproof. Sin does not appear exceedingly sinful, for the reason that they are not walking in the light, as Christ is in the light.

The Hebrews were not willing to submit to the directions and restrictions of the Lord. They were restless under restraint. They desired to have their own way, to follow the leadings of their own mind, and be controlled by their own judgment. Could they have been left free to do this, there would have been no complaints of Moses.

God would have his people learn the precious lessons of humility and of willing obedience to his requirements. They will then be united in their purposes and motives, and will thus be brought into harmony of action. For this, Christ prayed in that last petition for his followers, offered before his crucifixion: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”

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