According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. Numbers 14: 34
Miza looked across the camp to the place her eyes always wandered—to the tents of Korah, hoping to catch a glimpse of Elizur, Korah’s son. Her efforts were rewarded, for at that moment the young man appeared from behind the corner leading a donkey. The stubborn animal balked, refusing to move forward, and nearly toppling Elizur. She laughed and his head jerked up. When he saw her the anger in his eyes evaporated like the morning mist, and they slowly removed the short distance between them, a now contrite animal humbly following.
Elizur looked back at the obedient beast with a laugh. “He thinks you have a treat for him.”
Miza’s smile brightened her face as she reached into the folds of her garment. “Of course I do,” she said with a tease in her voice. She looked around and quickly gave a bit of the morning’s bread to the animal, patting his furry head as she did so. Her eyes flitted from the donkey to Elizur and then to her own tent. She knew she could not stay long, and Elizur read her thoughts.
“Meet me tonight,” he whispered anxiously.
Her face shot up and the fear in her eyes broke his heart. “I…”
“Offer to check the sheep and I’ll do the same.” His voice was steady but his eyes pleaded.
Miza’s gaze drifted to the tent of Testimony, the Tabernacle. It seemed to glow in the early morning light as the sun’s rays reached its leathery top, igniting each dewdrop into a million brilliant diamonds. As she watched, the pillar of fire slowly morphed into a billowy cloud, casting a long shadow across the western side of camp. She never tired of looking at the symbol of God’s presence.
Some of their people seemed to completely ignore it—its familiarity dulling their senses—but her father had prayed that his love for Jehovah would grow in the hearts of his children, and God had answered that prayer. His words now echoed in her ears and her cheeks burned. I do not want you to see Elizur. No daughter of mine will join with any offspring of Korah.
It had been nearly forty years since the twelve tribes of Israel had begun their wilderness wandering. Everyone felt the anticipation as they drew near the end of the cursed time. Some obediently followed their great leader, Moses. However, lately, Korah, the Kohathite patriarch, was once again stirring up trouble. Even though Korah’s family had the great privilege to carry the sacred furniture of the Tabernacle, many did it begrudgingly. Levi’s other descendants, carried items of lesser importance on ox carts, but the Kohathites carried their treasured burdens on their shoulders. Perhaps it was the combination of the difficult manual labor and the pride of their elevated position that hardened their hearts. No one ever talked about it. But most of the grumbling came from this family—Elizur’s family. But Elizur was different.
“Miza,” Elizur spoke gently. She looked at him again and saw so much love there that it washed away the warning of her father. She nodded quickly, giving him a reassuring look before she turned away.
As Mia approached their tent, her little sister Nunti, popped out from behind the corner. “Miza has a matok,” she sang.
Miza cuffed her gently, hushing her. “He is not my sweetheart, Nunti.” Her eyes pleaded with the imp. “And if you love me, you’ll not say it again.”
Nunti adored her big sister, and the little girl’s contrite look eased Miza’s fear. “No worry, Miza. I will not say anything.” She looked towards the tents of Korah. “He is so handsome,” she giggled, and Miza knew her secret was safe.
That evening, it was easy for Miza to slip away because it was her turn to check the sheep. She said little during the evening meal, her heart feeling the weight of disobedience; but when Elizur’s face danced across her mind, she knew she would meet him.
Carrying the shepherd’s stick, she tried to walk nonchalantly out of the camp to the designated area where the sheep were kept. Miza called to her sheep as others did the same. Amidst all the bleating, the flock circled and swirled as each animal made its way to its owner. As she watched, she heard Elihur’s strong voice from behind her and her heart raced. Turning ever so slowly, their eyes met, and Miza quickly looked away.
“Good evening, Miza,” Elizur said, much as he would have spoken to any of the other shepherds.
She nodded to him and watched as he moved closer until his arm brushed up against hers as he reached for a lamb. He picked up the little creature and turned to face her.
Do you know this one’s name?” he asked.
Miza slightly shook her head.
Elizur smiled at her shyness. “Dvash.”
She looked at him questioningly, forgetting her shyness. “Honey? That’s a strange name.”
Elizur stepped closer. “I love honey. I couldn’t call her Miza now, could I?”
His meaning became clear and she blushed, once again ducking her head.
Just then, the sheep began to bleat the sound of greeting, as though someone they knew very well was coming.
“Miza,” called the strong voice of her father. She heard the disapproval in his voice.
The two young people turned to see Shelumiel pushing his way through the flock none too mildly.
Shelumiel was a gentle man, a kind father, and as big as a house. His physical presence could make the strongest man quake; and when his countenance glowered, it was a frightening sight even to his beloved daughter. He came and towered over them, working to slow his breathing and calm the storm in his heart.
He looked into Miza’s eyes until they teared.
“Go home, Miza,” was all he said. She dared not look at Elizur but quickly vanished into the dusky evening air.
Shelumiel turned to watch her go before slowly turning back to Elizur. He eyed the boy, really a young man ready to choose a bride, feeling sorry for him—knowing the heartbreak of loving someone out of reach. The tribes allowed their offspring to mingle freely among all groups as little children, but when it came to marriage, each tribe would choose from among themselves. For a fleeting moment, he remembered the young face he had once loved, but quickly drove it away.
Elizur wondered if the man would ever speak and was nearly driven to begin the conversation, but respect for elders was something he had learned well. He stood in silence.
“You are a fine man, Elizur. I have watched you grow up from a little yeled to a fine young man.” Shelumiel hesitated, but when he continued, his voice was strong and unquestioning. “But you are not a little boy anymore. You know that even if your father was …” Shelumiel hesitated, not quite certain how to put his feelings into words. He sighed. “Even if your father was wholly dedicated to following Moses, she would not be available to you.”
The slur against his father made Elizur’s temper rise. He began to speak, but Shelumiel raised his hand.
“Do not say anything you will regret, Elizur. This is not a warning. It is a command. Do not seek out my daughter.” He did not wait for an answer, but turned and walked away.
Elizur’s eyes burned as he watched the giant of a man thread his way through the sheep. He wanted to shout, and his jaw ached from clenching his teeth. His thoughts whirled like the sands of the desert dust devil, which danced across the open spaces of Paran, and he let out a frustrated sigh.
“Baa,” cried the little lamb he still held. Elizur absently scratched its wooly head.
“I will not give up that easily, Dvash,” he whispered fiercely into the lamb’s ear before gently placing it back on the ground.
That night, a plan formed in Elizur’s mind. It might take months, for it to happen, but he would have Miza for his wife.
* * *
And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Deuteronomy 9:21
Camp was in a flurry of activity. The cloud, which had been hovering over the Tabernacle for weeks, now rose high into the air—Jehovah’s sign that it was time to move on. A myriad of emotions rumbled through the camp as the Hebrew children prepared to move. Many of the people had learned from the mistakes of their fathers. They served the almighty Jehovah who had done amazing miracles for His people: sending the plagues in Egypt, opening the Red Sea for them to pass over on dry land, and destroying their enemies. He had fed them, strengthened them, and protected them as they journeyed. Nevertheless, when they neared the Promise Land nearly two years after the Red Sea crossing, ten of the twelve spies, sent to search out the land, gave an evil report. Now, thirty-six years later, only a few of that generation remained.
Kadesh-Barnea was the closest village to their destination, and every move brought them that much closer to the Promised Land. Many of the Israelites moved with excitement, thinking of the land of milk and honey that would soon be theirs. However, some of the older men knew that they would not enter. They were cursed to die in the wilderness for their unbelief, and memories of Egypt’s splendor still tempted them to despise their Maker… and His chosen leader.
Miza watched as the Tabernacle seemed to come alive, breathing a sigh before collapsing. Like a colony of ants, men scurried to organize the equipment on ox carts and be ready for the journey. The sacred Ark of the Covenant was in place at the beginning of the line in the capable hands of Aaron and his sons, while the other pieces, which had also been covered and placed on staves, were also ready to be moved by the Kohathites, their faces like stone. That’s when she saw him. Elizur stood near his brothers, ready to take his turn at shouldering the staves. This would be his first opportunity to carry the sacred objects and she expected to see joy on his face; however, he wore the same look of drudgery that masked all the others.
She looked around for her family, but they were all busy about their work. Quickly, she moved to his side. He looked at her, and a hint of joy edged the stony look.
“You must be excited,” she exclaimed.
At first, he looked confused, but then he understood. “Well, it is our duty,” he said complacently.
Miza could not hide her disappointment. “It is an honor,” she said quietly.
His eyes darkened for a moment, but he decided not to waste this opportunity with an argument. He stepped away from his brothers and bent closer. “We will be near Kadesh-Barnea soon.”
She looked at him questioningly.
“Perhaps we could be together… forever.” He waited for her to think this through before he continued. “We could stay behind and start a new life together,” he whispered excitedly.
Her eyes widened in surprised, but he pressed on, having rehearsed his plan nearly every night since their last meeting. “Miza, we would be like our father Abraham and Jacob. They left their families and went out on their own, and Jehovah blessed them.” As he watched her face, he knew he had said enough. He reached for her hand and quickly squeezed it, sending shivers down Miza’s back. “Please, think about it. It’s the only way.” He moved back to the line of Kohathites and turned back into stone.
Miza just stared before quickly turning and walking away, her mind in a whirl. Could they do this? Did she love him enough to leave everything—her family… her tribe… her nation?
Thankfully, no one had missed her, but her addled mind made her hands clumsy. Twice, she nearly dropped what she was carrying. “Miza, keep your mind on your work,” her mother barked, but she only murmured her apology and kept busy.
That afternoon, they moved on, heading northeast, away from the sinking sun and towards the Promised Land! Once the long procession had begun, someone began to sing the songs of Zion.
I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously:
the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation:
he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation;
my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:1-3)
The sound of the familiar song of praise filled Miza’s heart. This was her favorite part of the journey. The singing not only took their minds off their steps but also reminded them of their wonderful heritage and taught it to their little ones. …my father’s God… The words choked Miza and she blinked away the tears. Her mind rehearsed Elizur’s words. We would be like our father Abraham and Jacob. They left their families and went out on their own, and Jehovah blessed them. His handsome face flashed in her mind and his words played over and over in her thoughts. She loved her family, but her father’s reasons for keeping them apart could not stop her from loving Elizur.
As the sun started its final distance to the horizon, the long procession began to break apart. The Levites broke off to the east, forming a tight circle around the cloudy pillar. Each tribe then moved to their designated place, working together like a well-oiled wheel. Just as Miza turned to follow her family, she saw Elizur. He was watching her, his eyes full of pleading. She smiled and nodded, and the look on his face mirrored the understanding in his heart. She would go!
* * *
Ephah watched the cloud of dust, knowing what it meant. He had heard that they were coming, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He too was a descendant, at least of Abraham. His ancestry dated back to Abraham and Keturah, Abraham’s second wife and mother of his tribe, the Midianites. But no matter the lineage, every nomad and noble knew of the mighty plagues and destruction in Egypt, as though it had happened yesterday. He had been following them for several days, trying to get up the courage to join their group. His sordid past had driven from his own people, but he was certain that these God-fearing folk would include him into their band.
As the sky grew dusky he neared the camp just in time to see the cloud take on its fiery form. The sight made his knees weak. Surely God was in this place and with these people! The thought cast up his guilt before him. He could not hide from this God! But he had also heard that this God was a forgiving God, and Ephah decided that he would take his chances.
Korah had just finished directing the placement of the sacred furniture when he saw Bela coming his way, a stranger walking amicably beside him. It would be Bela who would find this stranger, thought Korah. Bela, son of Benjamin, had the kindest heart in all Israel, and he chatted nonstop as they approached. Korah was tired and ready for his supper, but he stood patiently and waited for them to draw nigh.
“Korah, my brother,” Bela began. “We have a stranger in our midst.” Bela turned to Ephah and smiled broadly. “This is Ephah, son of Midian. He has wandered for some time and would like to join us.”
Korah knew Bela brought him because he had no room for him in his own tents. His wife Bilhah had given him many sons. Surely, his quiver was full! He looked at the man and smiled weakly. “Welcome, my friend. You may stay with my family tonight.” He nodded to Bela and motioned for Ephah to follow him, begrudging the intrusion.
However, Ephah proved to be a great asset to his tent. He willing did the most menial task and kept the children happy while the family set up camp. That evening he filled their tent with news and tales that made even the adults hang on every word. When it was time to retire, Korah clasped him on the shoulder. “Jehovah has brought you to us, Ephah. You are a spring of fresh water on our thirsty souls.”
Ephah looked around the group and smiled. It felt good to be welcomed.
Korah continued. “Tomorrow, we will see Moses and he will instruct you in the ways of our people.”
The new stranger felt a twinge of angst, wondering what the man meant but only nodded.
Moses had spent much time in prayer that night. He could sense a restlessness among the people and prayed for guidance. When he saw Korah coming his way, he tensed. His cousin never seemed to be satisfied with his leadership.
“Shalom,” Korah greeted as he neared, and Moses felt a sigh of relief. He smiled and nodded his greeting. “This is Ephah, son of Midian. He came into camp last night. Bela brought him to me and he was with our family for the evening.”
Moses looked at the man, sizing up his character and silently asking for God’s direction. “Shalom, my friend,” he said quietly.
“Ephah has asked to join us. I told him that you would teach him our ways,” Korah offered.
Korah’s words did not present a challenge, but neither were they laced with humility. Moses chose to push the thought aside.
“Certainly. When we finish, I will send him back to you. Is it possible for him to stay with your family?”
Korah nodded. “We have already enjoyed his company.”
For some reason, the statement bothered Moses, but he only nodded, and Korah went his way.
Ephah followed Moses into his tent and listened as the great leader simplified their laws. He masked his thoughts with a face of interest as he listened to the obvious allegiance and adoration in Moses’ voice. How could anyone keep all these rules and why would you want to? But he kept the thoughts to himself and feigned total dedication.
“Thank you, Moses. It has warmed my heart to see your face,” Ephah gushed.
Moses gave him a hard look, and Ephah had a difficult time not crumbling and confessing his disinterested heart.
“I will do my best to comply,” he offered enthusiastically and smiled his most convincing smile.
Still, Moses continued to stare. “Jehovah has called us out of every nation to be an example of holiness. If it is too much to consider placing yourself under our laws, it is understandable.” His face softened.
Ephah just stood there. He couldn’t think of an answer. The silence made him uncomfortable, but Moses continued.
“You are welcome to stay as long as you wish, Ephah. God go with you, Ephah,” Moses said, and Ephah knew he was being dismissed.
* * *
Laughter echoed throughout the camp, and everyone knew who was in the center of the group: Ephah. The cloud had not moved for several months, and Ephah had made many friends, especially among the Kohathites.
“Korah,” his wife, Adi hissed. “It is nearly time for the Sabbath to begin.” All faces grew sober, and the crowd of men reluctantly dispersed to their tents.
“He tells good stories,” Elizur said to his father.
Korah smiled. “Yes, he is a good msfr syfvrym. He has traveled to many places, making him a good story teller.”
Elizur heard the longing in his father’s voice and felt the same twinge of restlessness. His mind went to Miza. He would soon have an adventure of his own, and the thought warmed his heart.
As they approached the tent, they heard the conversation between Uri, Korah’s youngest son and Ephah. “I’ll do it for you, my boy. I have watched you work all day. It is time for me to do more than just tell stories.” As Korah entered, he watched approvingly as Ephah ruffled Uri’s hair and headed for the door.
Ephah walked towards the edge of the camp, enjoying the feel of acceptance. True, some of the other tribes seemed to stay away from him, but Korah and his close friend, Dathan, had welcomed him and even took him into their confidence. He understood their displeasure with their situation and was always ready to fuel their agitation. If they chose to leave the group, he would gladly go with them.
He was replaying the conversation with the men when he heard his name.
“Ephah, come tell us a story,” Dathan said. “It is my son’s birthday and he loves a good tale. No one can spin a yarn like you!” Dathan’s words of flattery made him forget his mission as he was ushered into a tent full of shining eyes. He felt like a conquering hero, and he told his tale with an extra spark.
An hour later, Ephah left the small group smiling. They had bent the rules a little concerning the Sabbath, but it was nothing serious Dathan had assured him. The sun had set, ushering in the beginning of the Sabbath, and the glow of the fiery pillar cast dancing shadows across the camp. That’s when Ephah remembered the firewood.
Looking around, he headed to the outskirts of the camp. It seemed as though the pillar taunted him as he went, reminding him that Jehovah was watching. Certainly, gathering a few pieces of wood cannot be that much of a problem, he thought as he went. He hurried to his task, thankful for the darkness, and then walked the edge of the encampment to the spot nearest Korah’s tent. Looking furtively in every direction, he hurried down the tidy rows of dwellings until he reached his destination. He quietly deposited the wood behind around back and went inside. The children were already asleep as he entered, and Korah and Adi were quietly talking. They looked up as he came and smiled.
As Ephah settled onto his pallet, he smiled. It had been a wonderful evening. And know one will ever know, he thought… but he was wrong, very wrong.
Bela’s heart sank as he watched Ephah quickly gathered the wood. What should he do? Jehovah’s law rehearsed in his mind:
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, a holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. (Leviticus 23:3)
That night he tossed wearily on his pallet not able to sleep. Somewhere in the night, a desert owl hooted. He sat up and studied each of the sleeping faces next to him: his family, his heritage. Lastly, his eyes rested on Ziva. She had known that he was troubled but did not ask. She knew him so well, and he loved her for it. Quietly, he stood and moved out of the tent. The camp was silent except for the occasional sleeper’s snore and baby’s cry. Bela stared at the pillar of fire, which gave no heat. It simply glowed and shimmered in the night sky. Beyond it shone a thousand stars sparkling in the still desert sky. Bela always felt the presence of Jehovah much more when he walked alone in the tranquility of the night.
“Jehovah, please give me wisdom,” he whispered. His eyes were moist and his heart tender. “What should I do?” But even as he whispered the words, he knew the answer.
The next morning, his face mirrored the burden still weighing down his soul. Ziva watched her husband brood throughout the morning hoping that he would find a peaceful solution to his suffering. But by supper, she could stand it no more.
“Bela, you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Would you like some help?” she offered with a little smile.
He looked at her with sad eyes assessing the situation. He knew he could trust her. “Let’s walk,” he said and instructed their oldest to watch over the little ones. Ziva matched his steps as they walked out of camp, and waited for him to speak.
Finally, the words tumbled forth. “I saw someone doing something wrong and I don’t know what to do.”
His blunt explanation held the simplicity of a child. Oh, how she loved this man and ached for him. She chose her words carefully. “Is it a serious crime?”
Bela stopped and looked at her with unpretentious eyes. “We are to obey every law, Ziva. Even the smallest act of disobedience does not go unnoticed by Jehovah and reveals a rebellious heart.” He started walking again and they continued in silence until he abruptly stopped again. “I did not need to see this. I wouldn’t have seen it if I had not been outside our tent last night.”
Ziva weighed her words carefully. “Jehovah directs our steps, Bela. I know you know this.”
He sighed deeply. “I must tell Moses,” he said resignedly.
She placed her hand upon his arm. “I know you will do the right thing, Bela.”
Her words were a balm to his weary soul, and a sad smile reached his lips.
By the week’s end, everyone knew what had happened. Ephah had been placed inward until Moses heard from God. Daily, he went to the Tabernacle and prayed until he received the answer.
“The man shall surely be put to death. The entire congregation shall stone him with stones outside of the camp,” spoke the strong, steady voice of the Almighty.
In silence, Moses bowed his head and wept.
Before sunset, the message had been given. Ephah would be taken out of the camp and stoned. It would happen that night. Silently, they assembled. Soberly, they gathered stones. Swiftly, the deed was done and they returned to their tents.
It was no surprise to anyone that the cloud moved them on the next day, but a bitter pill had been swallowed by many who were already discontent, and a dark cloud swirled among the people.
* * *
Silence reigned on their early morning march. Everyone seemed anxious to leave the place of death. A few brave souls tried to sing, but the music was empty and lifeless. The notes seemed to fall to their feet offering no joy or comfort.
It was not long after camp had been made that evening that men secreted to other men’s tents and began to whisper a plan.
“This time he has gone too far,” hissed Korah.
Murmurs of agreement circled the room.
“Ephah did not deserve this,” Dathan spat forth.
The air was thick with contention. Voices rasped out all the disappointments of life.
“It should have been you, Libni. Your father was the oldest son,” Elkan said. All eyes turned his way, waiting for him to go on. “Or even you, Korah. Jochebed’s child should not have been the one to lead us.”
All were silent as each man remembered the names of those from their lineage that had been destroyed in Egypt while Moses was spared. Their babies had been cast into the Nile to drown while Moses was taken to the palace to live as a prince!
“You are the oldest son of the eldest. It was your place to rule and even be our priest,” added Dathan. His words sliced open old wounds, which had never truly healed, and the poison seeped into every heart. They talked well into the night and the next night… and the next.
The tension was so thick among the people, yet no one spoke about it, hoping it would pass. It did not.
By the next Sabbath, Korah and Dathan had gathered two hundred-fifty men, princes of the assembly. These were not common men, but famous among the whole camp, men of renown. As a group, they presented a strong rebellion that could not be ignored. Silently, they made their way to Moses’ tent, circling it like a giant cobra, ready to squeeze the life from its prey.
They did not need to call him out; he knew they were coming. Aaron came from his tent and joined his brother. He was ready to angrily order them away, but the quiet calm that he saw in Moses’ eyes silenced him.
Korah’s face was contorted from the anger that roiled just below the surface. He looked around the group and received the support he needed. “You take too much upon yourself, Moses. We are all God’s chosen people, not just you and Aaron. All of us are holy in God’s sight!”
All the men murmured their agreement.
But as Korah’s words lay writhing in the dust, Moses fell to the ground, his face between his knees, silencing every tongue. He stayed there, prostrate, for what seemed like hours until slowly he raised his head.
His words were measured and weighted with the force of Jehovah. “Tomorrow, the LORD will show who are His and who is holy. He will show you the man who is to come near unto him—the man whom Jehovah chooses.”
With resolve, Moses rose to his feet, looking into the faces of his accusers. “Do this—take your censers, Korah, you and all these, your men. Put fire and incense into them and come before the LORD.” Moses’ voice had crescendoed as he spoke, but now the words fell to a whisper. “And it shall be that the man whom the LORD chooses, he will be holy, he will be the priest of all Israel.”
Moses took one step forward and Korah involuntarily stepped back. “You take too much upon yourself.” He raised his eyes to scan the group. “All of you, sons of Levi,” he commanded, his eyes blazing.
But as he glanced from face to face, his countenance softened. “Do you think it is a small thing that our God has separated you from all the other tribes to be near to Him—to serve him in His Tabernacle?” his pleaded. “He brought you near to Him, sons of Levi. Your tents circle the Tabernacle, and you alone serve Jehovah. Why would you seek more?”
Moses searched the group for two faces he knew were part of the rebellion. Several men had told him that Dathan and Abiram were also stirring up the people.
“Where are Dathan and Abiram?” he asked.
The men looked around but no one spoke.
“Get them,” Moses commanded Joshua. But when he returned, he came alone. Moses looked to him for an explanation.
Joshua hesitated but then repeated their reply. “They said they would not come and said, ‘Do you think it is a small thing that you took us from a land of plenty and are killing us in this wilderness? We know you just plan to make yourself a prince and us your slaves.” Joshua could barely speak the insult. He continued. “They say that you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, or given us fields and vineyard! They will not come up,” Joshua finished angrily, disgusted by their insolence.
Moses’ anger flashed in his eyes. “Come to the Tabernacle tomorrow with your censers filled.” After one more steely stare, he turned and walked into his tent, snapping the flap shut.
Korah never spoke a word until he was in his tent with Dathan and Abiram . “We will do this and settle this once and for all.” The others nodded and went their way.
It was a quiet night in the camp. Everyone knew of the confrontation and the challenge of the censers to be executed the next day. Words buzzed and heads wagged.
“What does Korah think he is doing?”
“Perhaps it is time for a new leader.”
“But we’ve come this far. We’re almost to the Promised Land.”
Many prayed throughout the night. Some prayed for mercy, others justice, but all prayed to the same God.
The sweet scent of incense wafted through the air as two hundred-fifty men carried their lit censers throughout the camp and gathered before the Tabernacle. Moses, Aaron, and his sons were already there—their censers lit as well.
Tensions ran high as all wondered what Moses would do, when the glory of the LORD hovered above the Tabernacle, making the cloud whip and swirl. Suddenly, a voice broke the silence.
“Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment,” the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron.
Both men fell on their faces and cried to the LORD, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin and will You be angry with all the congregation?”
“Get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram,” came the clear command from God.
The fear of the LORD fell upon them all as Moses rose and commanded the people, gesturing with one hand while the burning censer swung wildly. “Get away from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything of theirs, or you will die with them!”
Panic spread throughout the camp as the families nearest the company of rebels began to tear down their own tents and gather their belongings, moving as far from them as possible.
Misa looked on in horror as her father pulled up the stakes of their tent. Her mother rushed to pack their belongings. She began to run towards Korah’s tent in search for Elizur, but her father called her back.
“Miza, you heard the command,” her father shouted.
Terror filled her eyes. “But father, what will happen?”
Shelumiel shook his head. “I don’t know, dear one.” He pulled her close as she cried within his strong embrace.
When all was settled each family stood at their tent’s door: fathers, mother, and children–all huddled close as though drawing strength from one another.
The camp was eerily quiet and all looked on as Moses walked towards the three tents which now stood alone.
A sob caught in Miza’s throat when her eyes found Elizur. There was a hardness in his eyes that she had never seen there before. He stood with his sisters and brothers. His mother held Abe, their youngest, her eyes flashed anger as well. Korah stood before them all, his back ramrod straight and his jaw set. His lips formed a tight thin line between his mustache and beard, and his eyes were dark and foreboding.
When Elizur heard her sob, she saw a flicker of hesitation in his eyes. He looked at her with eyes filled with love, but instantly his gaze flitted to his father. Elizur’s chin raised in a look of defiance and he never looked her way again.
Moses stood between the people and the rebels. His mind rehearsed all the murmuring and defiance which had been targeted at him for the past thirty-eight years. He knew Jehovah better than any of them—had seen His finger write the law on tablets of stone, had heard His voice in anger and tender mercy. He was their God, a jealous God as well as a loving Father.
Now, yet another group stood before him, defying their God and His choice of leadership. It certainly was not Moses’ idea to lead this multitude! Nevertheless, he was their leader, and God had already told him what to say.
“This day you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works and that I have not done them of my own mind.” His voice was resolutely quiet but grew like the thunder of an approaching storm as he continued. He raised his staff and pointed straight at Korah. “If these men die a common death like that of all men, or if the natural fate of all men overtakes them and they die, then the LORD has not sent me.”
It was as though the entire group held their breath, waiting for him to continue.
“But,” he cried, “If the LORD does a new thing…” He hesitated, knowing that his next words would seal their fate. “…and the earth opens her mouth and swallows them, and all that is theirs, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will know and understand that these men have provoked the LORD, our God.”
Before his final words echoed off the distant hills, the ground shook. A rumble from deep within the earth was heard as the ground yawned wide beneath the feet of Korah. The dirt sifted away like sand, as though they stood on a delicately baked crust which crumbled beneath their weight.
All watched in horror as they fell–every man, woman, and child. Every animal, every tent simply plunged downward and the earth closed her gaping mouth oupon them as quickly as it had opened.
Children cried. Women covered their faces in horror. Men stared in unbelief. Suddenly, a cry went up. “Run, or we will be swallowed as well!”
Terror overtook the people as they fled to their tents. In all the confusion, no one seemed to notice the pillar of cloud as fire shot forth and completely consumed the two hundred and fifty censers that had been brought to the Tabernacle—no one but Moses. He found the heap of melted brass lying before the tent and bent down to touch them as chaos overran the camp. As he did so, he heard the voice of the LORD.
“Speak to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, that he take these censers out of the fire, and let them be hammered into plates to cover the altar as a memorial of what has happened here today.”
That night, as Moses relayed God’s message to Eleazar, every tent buzzed with conversation. Few slept. Some hearts were heavy for their loss of unity. Others seethed with indignation.
In the morning, an incensed group once again came to Moses and Aaron. Before God’s chosen leader could speak words of comfort, someone shouted. “You have killed the people of the LORD!”
As they spoke, they all saw it. The cloud descended until it covered the Tabernacle and glowed with the glory of God. Moses and Aaron quickly stood before it—their feet barely stopping before they heard the LORD speak.
“Get away from them! I will consume them instantly!”
But both men fell on their faces in humility before their God.
“Take a censer,” Moses commanded Aaron. “Put incense into it and quickly go throughout the congregation.” His face was ashen. “God’s wrath is upon them and the plague has begun. Make an atonement for them! Quickly!”
Aaron stood, took the censer with hung ready for worship, and did as Moses commanded. The sweet scent trailed behind him as he ran between those who now lie dead and those who had not yet been reached by the plague. Memories of Egypt and the Death Angel flashed in his mind as he stood between the living and the lifeless, and the plague was stopped. As he looked into the faces of the living, he was once again amazed that the plague stopped before the innocent in heart had been destroyed. He turned to those lying dead, seeing the defiance still etched upon their faces—even in the face of judgment for their evil deeds.
Fourteen thousand seven hundred had died. The plague had stopped. Wearily, Aaron returned to the Tabernacle, looking into his brother’s tearstained face as tears flowed down his own.
Miza ran. She had kept running when the plague had started. She ran until her sides heaved, only slowing her pace when she reached a distant rock ledge. She frantically climbed the rocks, scrambling for footholds until she reached the top. There she threw herself down and wept.
When she could cry no more, she pushed herself up and slid to the rock’s edge, wanting to throw herself over. Her eyes went to the camp. Even from this distance, she could hear the cries of broken hearts—her people weeping over their sin.
The horrors that she had just witnessed continued to play over in her mind, watching Elizur as he just vanished! Another sob caught in her throat, which ached from her crying.
As her eyes gazed upon the thousands that lie dead around the Tabernacle, she looked at the cloud as it shimmered and glowed, transfixed by its beauty.
“God. Jehovah God. The one true God,” Miza murmured. All she had ever known was this time of wandering. Her father told her of their time in Egypt, of all the miracles. He told her of Israel’s unbelief and murmuring. She thought about Elizur and his family and their honored position in the camp right next to the Tabernacle. Her anger against Korah flamed. “Your foolishness took away my Elizur,” she shouted, looking down at the line in the ground that eerily marked their demise.
“Why couldn’t you just believe?” she whispered, choking on the words.
As she watched, a man came running from the edge of the camp. He hurried, looking in every direction, frantic in his search. Looking closer, she realized it was her father. She stood and waved her arms. “Papa! I’m here!” Her voice carried across the desert and he looked in her direction.
Miza was surprised at his swiftness. Before she knew it, he was climbing the rocks and taking her into his arms. “Oh, Miza. We thought we had lost you!”
He held her so close, she felt crushed in his embrace, but it felt good. “Oh, Papa,” she sobbed. “I loved him.”
He stroked her hair and hushed her, rocking her gently. “I know,” he said quietly. “I know.”
He pulled her back and gently wiped away her tears.
She wanted to ask, “Why,” but she knew the answer. They were God’s chosen people. They were to live as an example of holiness before the nations. God knew each heart.
“Korah’s rebellion did not catch Jehovah by surprise,” Shelumiel said softly. “And God had given Korah many opportunities to change his heart.”
He searched her face for understanding. “You are about to enter into the most wonderful time of our people.” His voice grew urgent. “There will be other people, other gods. You have only known Jehovah, seen His presence every day, Miza. I don’t know if this will continue in the Promised Land. How can it? We will be scattered far and wide.”
Miza nodded, a bit perplexed by his speech.
“You must be strong, Miza. You must allow Jehovah to find a man to be your head, who will lead your home aright.”
Her face saddened as she remembered Elizur, her mind unable to erase his last defiant look. She knew her father spoke the truth. A tear slid down her cheek, but she nodded.
Shelumiel once again pulled her close. “Never doubt Him, Miza. Trust Him completely and He will always lead you and walk with you down any path, no matter how difficult.” He held her tightly.
His voice grew husky. “Never forget what you saw today. It will serve you well as a stark reminder of Jehovah’s greatness.”
“But what if He destroys us all?” she asked. She had heard the anger in God’s voice before she fled. It terrified her.
“Oh, Miza. You never need to fear our God. Remember Abraham’s words: Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” He sighed and stared down into the camp. “I have learned this to be true. There is no safer place than in the center of Jehovah’s will. He does not expect the impossible. He demands our loyalty, but freely gives all that we need. He forgives us and keeps us… forever.”
Miza watched as her children played in the open courtyard. Her heart was full as she punched down the dough she was preparing for supper. God had been good to her and blessed her.
Now, after ten years in the Promised Land, thoughts of their wanderings were a distant memory. Miza wiped her hands and moved to the courtyard. The day was hot and she sat in the shade and watched the children.
Simeon, their firstborn, was so much like his father. She smiled as she thought of her husband. How right her father had been! He was such a good man, strong yet kind and loving—just like her father. Thoughts of her father always brought a tear to her eye, even after ten years. Just as the LORD had said, all of that generation would die before entering the Promised Land. She wanted to rebel as she watched her father slip away, but his words were faithful to his God to the last breath.
“God knows best,” he whispered right before his eyes opened wide. “Jehovah…” And that had been his last word.
Miza’s heart warmed at the memory. She would be faithful to the end. The most precious legacy she could leave to her children and the most honorable memory she could live for her father was to keep that promise.