Strength for the Journey: “Hidden Agendas” – Numbers 16 (Pt.1)

hidden_agendaAs we come back for more fun with camels and campfires in the life journey of Moses – we will get a window in this lesson to something that runs beneath the surface of our relationships and even our thoughts. All around you are people with hidden agendas. They may be so well hidden; they don’t even know they have them. Lurking beneath our conscious thinking, every person has both a set of hidden prejudices and some defining emotional hungers that dominate their value system. We like the people we like, and dislike others – because of that hidden current beneath us. Many of our choices in life are subconsciously governed by a simple desire to have an emotional need met. We may not be aware of how it was formed – but we live in its significance and many of our responses and behaviors are rooted in it.

Researchers have identified some of the most significant underlying pulls – and have discovered they were most often formed from childhood memories, relationships and especially traumas. Some part of the current is inborn and genetic, but clearly much of it is not. To be clear, consider what emotional pull motivates your responses. Do you feel a deep inner pull:

• To be loved? (hunger for affirmation and affection)
• To be healthy? (hunger for longevity and personal strength)
• To be correct? (hunger for personal perfection)
• To understand? (hunger for knowledge)
• To be wealthy? (hunger for the material choices)
• To believe? (hunger to find a trustworthy source)
• To know? (hunger for certainty in life direction)
• To love? (hunger for someone to share life with)

Since each of us has an underlying value current, we also have along with it a HIDDEN AGENDA. That agenda is our attempt to create the conditions where that reality will flourish – where we close in and control our life situation to get our emotional need met – or at least feel like it is getting met. Now, this isn’t a psychological seminar, it is a Bible lesson. At the same time, we have to admit that our relationships are often seen through the prism of our own agenda. Mature believers meditate on God’s Word specifically because the heart is deceitful – the Bible says you cannot trust what you THINK you know about yourself. We need the Spirit to turn the light on in the recesses of our heart – even for ourselves.

I mention this because I want to recount a story about a group of followers that secretly, and perhaps even subconsciously, desired to be in charge of the children of Israel – when God had not put them in that position. They weren’t happy with God’s direction, and they didn’t like God’s leadership appointments. They didn’t start off as rebels, but a problem lay beneath the surface of their heart – and it eventually surfaced. It usually does. As water is pulled by gravity to the lowest point, so our hearts are pulled by the emotional currents beneath our conscious mind, to the dark place of self-meeting of our needs.

Key Principle: To follow God, we must reduce our inner desires to one – to please Him. We don’t know what is best – only WHO is best.

The Celebrity Challenge (16:1-3):

Our story opens in Numbers 16 with leaders who rose up and challenged Moses and Aaron for the right to lead:

Numbers 16:1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took [action], 2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. 3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”

First, notice who did the complaining: There was a single Levite and two Reubenite men leading a large group of other leaders. The challenge to Moses’ leadership came from:

• Korah the Kohathite Levite was called by birth to be a servant of the Cohenim (priests) at the Tabernacle. His call was to serve Aaron and his sons – because God said to do it.

• Datan, Abiram and On were Reubenites from the two families of that clan. They were part of the tribe that came from Isaac’s first-born – a natural position that meant leadership and honor in the family system of the day.

• The text is clear that these men influenced profoundly two hundred fifty other leaders of the congregation (16:2). It is equally clear that these men were WELL KNOWN. The work “Shem” translated RENOWN in 16:2b simply means they were “Household Names” or celebrities among the camp.

The first issue of our text is the Source Problem:

One of the mistakes we make when accepting opinions is that we listen to the POPULARITY of the voice rather than the REASON of their argument. The first point made in the text is WHO the men were. To be famous is not necessarily to be right. To be “well thought of” is not the same as “to be thinking well”.

In the day in which we live, we need to be especially careful about the SOURCES of our information. We have mentioned this in other passages, but it is an important lesson here. People in the camp may well have believed that the men and their criticism was justified because they “knew the inside” of leadership in the assembly. The fact is they had an underlying agenda – and their facts were correct. Reubenites may well have wanted to assert themselves because of their birth order issues. A Levite may have just been tired of serving. Be careful to examine what a person says and verify it – don’t just accept it because they wear a “lab coat” or come from the “right university”. I believe fully that science is being fabricated everyday in our society, to make right what is not. Soon studies will be presented to explain genetically human perversion. Studies will be rolled out to prove that people grow up stable and well with two mommies. Science will serve the moral compass – and many will believe the statements because they have great regard for the speakers and their costumes. We are facing again a SOURCE PROBLEM.

Don’t despair. Israelites could have sought God for what was true. Many wouldn’t. Many didn’t. Many won’t today. They will take it from the big names of our time – but not check the facts and challenge the notions with the Word of God and prayer. You have that ability – if you will be vigilant.

The second issue of the text is the Conclusion Problem:

The men already decided all the facts without any dialogue with the accused. They felt they could comprehend more than they did, and they could even read hearts and discern intent – when they could not. Look closely at what the group actually DID when Moses and Aaron stood before them:

Got together: The men called a meeting, and had Moses and Aaron come before them. The men who had not been called by God – but were popular among the people – were calling before them the MEN OF GOD that had stood before God Himself. These very men even stood between God and Israel during times God threatened to wipe out the people. Now they were calling Moses BEFORE THEM, as if their popularity gave them ACTUAL STANDING to challenge the leaders.

They expressed an ultimatum: The men opened with the remark: “THAT IS ENOUGH!” (16:3). Note how they have assumed authority because they have read their own press. God didn’t give them charge over the people. Without Moses they would have been an ash pile by now.

Made a misstatement: The men argued: “for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst”. It was a half-truth. God dwelt in their midst. The argument implied that because God was the Master of ALL of them, and they were all God’s people – that a democratic decision making process was in order. They presupposed that the people who had been whining and murmuring were somehow prepared to have an equal voice in leadership with Moses and Aaron. Never mind that the people hadn’t met with God personally, been called by God to do this work, or even had a track record of obedience. God’s leaders are called by Him. Their hearts burn with a passion from Him. They can reason from His Word effectively, and have been consistently walking in obedience.

Made accusation: Notice they asked WHY not IF Moses and Aaron exalted themselves. In essence, the jury reached a verdict based on their discussion among themselves, without the accused present. You have seen this before – a group starts discussing people they are collectively angry about, and each person chimes in. Before you know it the room not only has formed an opinion – and they accept their formed consensus as fact. They think they can even argue about what is in a man or woman’s heart, and what their intentions are!

Stop for a moment and look at what was really happening in 16:3. It looked like Moses was “on the ropes” in leadership, and people had just defected and died. He looked ineffective and may have sounded dictatorial when he told the people “Do not leave to go into the land – God is NOT with you.” (Numbers 14:42). In the wake of the body bags and mourning – some of the leaders had ENOUGH!

At the same time, we have been reading the story from the call of Moses in Exodus 3 all the way to this point. The entire challenge of these leaders was based on UNTRUE STATEMENTS built up on INSUFFICENT EVIDENCES. They may have seemed well established, but were NOT facts.

Because everyone around you agrees with your opinion does not mean you are correct – it may only signal that you don’t have a big variety of friends. Moral correctness is not a consensus issue – it is a revelation issue. When God speaks on an issue, the opinions of all others are of no consequence.

Because many in our nation have rejected our heritage of the moral compass found in Scripture, they seek to know what is right by what is popular. So called “leaders” that do this are not leading, they are following.

Let’s get back to the FACTS.

Moses got the job because God gave it to him. He fought against God in the call – claiming he didn’t have what it would take to do it. A true examination of the record would force any reasonable person to conclude that Moses wasn’t HUNGRY FOR POWER – he was being obedient in his work.

How was Moses to LEAD in the face of such rebellion?


First, he addressed the one that he knew was at the heart of the challenge, face to face and in public. Nothing is served by AVOIDING challenges to leadership. They must be answered and they must not be allowed to continue to spread.

Numbers 16:4 When Moses heard [this], he fell on his face; 5 and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring [him] near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself. 6 “Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company, 7 and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the LORD tomorrow; and the man whom the LORD chooses [shall be] the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!


Next, he fell down in humility and brokenness before them. Self-important people aren’t following God’s model of leadership. Moses was a BUSY GUY, and this wasn’t right – but there was little more important in his schedule than answering those who would lead others astray. Moses didn’t need to PROVE to the people anything – God would take care of that. He needed to SHOW the people something… what a GODLY MAN was supposed to act like.

Let me caution you carefully – Don’t do wrong to get a right result. Ends do not justify means. Moses could have LORDED over the people and told them to simply SHUT UP AND GET BACK IN THEIR TENTS. At the same time, his humility directly contradicted their accusation. It wasn’t a put on, Moses really felt undeserving to be the leader, and broken hearted that these men didn’t recognize his burden of leadership wasn’t something he WANTED.


Moses verbalized a solution that was beyond challenge. He simply told the men to “Let the Lord decide” the issue. If they were bound and bent to take a position that God had not given them, he was going to let the TRY to DO what God told them they could NOT DO. Sometimes, the only way for people to really SEE what God wants is to face the problems themselves. No instruction is more effective than on the job training.

As you keep reading, verse seven seems out of character with a man that has been face down in the dirt before men. Moses wasn’t bowing because he was uncertain of his role, but because he didn’t feel DESERVING of the role beyond the call of God. When it was time to speak truth, Moses SPOKE UP. He told them flatly: “You think I have gone too far – that isn’t true. YOU HAVE, and tomorrow that will be very clear. I won’t do it, but you will all see it!”


Moses offered a clear window into the underlying agenda. Watch closely how the passage breaks down the words of Moses and uncovers the hidden agenda beneath:

Levites thought that SERVING THE LORD was less significant than TELLING PEOPLE WHAT TO DO.

Numbers 16:8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi, 9 is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the [rest of] the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that He has brought you near, [Korah], and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also? 11 “Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD; but as for Aaron, who is he that you grumble against him?”

Moses perceived they wanted something MORE than serving – they wanted to LEAD. This wasn’t hard to see – since they clearly stated that in their complaint. Here is the problem: the leadership of the Tabernacle was not up to Moses – it was established by God. They wanted the position of PRIEST. Again, Moses didn’t choose the line from which the priests were born – God did. When a leader follows the Scriptures and does so with personal humility, the argument is NOT with the man – but with the message. If the message is God’s Word – then the dispute is with God.

Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 1-4 that it is the responsibility of God’s people to follow God’s Word. It is the MESSAGE, not allegiance to the MAN that must be absolute. If Moses made up the rules, then Moses operated out of preferences. If Moses gave them God’s rules – then allegiance to God’s Word would bring allegiance to him. The problem was that the men may not have been aware of the emotional reasons they were in rebellion.


Moses sent a message to the Reubenites:

Numbers 16:12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come up. 13 “Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? 14 “Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!”

Look how far off the mark the “would be leaders” were in their assessment of the journey to date.

• First, they refused to have a dialogue, but rather thought there was no point to dealing with the issues face to face.

• Second, they bitterly argued with Moses for withdrawing them from the land of promise – but Moses didn’t do it – God did.

• Third, they argued that MOSES had brought them this far into the desert – when he didn’t.

• Fourth, they expressed that Moses did it to let them perish – an untrue assessment.

• Fifth, they accused Moses of Lording over, and even being willing to do violence to them – when he had not done anything of the sort since the murder of the Egyptian in his early life.

Moses asked them to meet, and he opened the door to hearing them out. They took their half-formed arguments and threw them out, without any desire to show any respect at all to Moses. Here is the problem: You can’t lead if you can’t follow. You can’t lead if you can’t show respect. You can’t lead if you cannot disagree in a mature manner.


Moses was miffed. He was publicly snubbed. He wasn’t just disrespected, he was being openly challenged. He was ANGRY, embarrassed and incensed with their lies. What did he do? Did he meditate? Did he gossip? Did he YELL! No, he knew where hurt should go…

Numbers 16:15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.”

God knows our frame – don’t forget that. He knows that no one likes to be lied about. He knows when we feel hurt, when we have been unfairly abused, and when we want to fire back at people in anger. He doesn’t want us to shove it down inside – He wants us to GIVE IT TO HIM. He can take it. We can cry out to Him in frustration and anger, and the Lord will hear us, comfort us and renew us.

One of the great lessons of Christian maturity is how to empty out frustration before God.

Three years ago, Chris Simpson led a white pride march. Two years ago, he abandoned the white supremacist movement. This past April (2012), he was baptized. Chris, a 38-year-old garbage man and former Marine had the words “PURE HATE” tattooed across his knuckles. After the loss of his first child, Simpson had a lot of hatred and anger built up inside. The white pride movement gave Simpson a place to direct his anger and frustration—at people of other races. After he and his family watched the movie “Courageous,” he began attending church. One month later he was baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ. “Any kind of burdens I carried before, I let them go.” Simpson said, “There’s no need to carry things that happen in the past. I forgave all those who wronged me and asked forgiveness from those that I have wronged.” Simpson has left hate behind. He’s even going through the Freedom Ink Tattoo removal program too — starting with the word HATE. (Source: Aaron Aupperlee, “Former White Supremacist Sheds Hate and Embraces Christianity,” The Washington Post {7-2-12})


Moses spoke again to Korah, and he passed on God’s Word faithfully. He said:

Numbers 16:16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your company be present before the LORD tomorrow, both you and they along with Aaron. 17 “Each of you take his firepan and put incense on it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty firepans; also you and Aaron [shall] each [bring] his firepan.” 18 So they each took his [own] censer and put fire on it, and laid incense on it; and they stood at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with Moses and Aaron. 19 Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.

God was ready to solve the problem between them. In our next lesson we will see how He carried out validating the leader and quelling the rebellion. For now, it is enough that we note that Moses did not fail to share the Word with the people as God instructed Him to do. When God’s Word was taken seriously, God’s glory made an entrance.

Moses was NOT to defend himself, nor to please himself by calling on the Lord to destroy His enemies. He was to release the need for revenge before God and wait on God’s pleasure for what happened after. He was to follow the Word of God and live for God’s pleasure – not his own. Moses needed to respond properly. He needed to WIN for God in the real estate between his ears. That is where battles are often won or lost.

Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist issued a challenge wherever he went. He could be locked in any jail cell in the country, he claimed, and set himself free quickly and easily. Always he kept his promise, but one time something went wrong. Houdini entered the jail in his street clothes; the heavy, metal doors clanged shut behind him. He took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed to be unusual about this lock. For 30 minutes he worked and got nowhere. An hour passed, and still he had not opened the door. By now he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Finally, after laboring for 2 hours, Harry Houdini collapsed in frustration and failure against the door he could not unlock. But when he fell against the door, it swung open! It had never been locked at all! But in his mind it was locked and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out of the jail cell. (Sermon central illustrations).

To follow God, we must reduce our inner desires to one – to please Him. We don’t know what is best – only WHO is best. Fall in His arms and let Him fight the unfair battles.