41 The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the Lord’s people,” they said.
42 But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the tent of meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord said to Moses, 45 “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” And they fell face down.
46 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord; the plague has started.” 47 So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them.48 He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped.49 But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, for the plague had stopped.
The people grumbled against Moses and Aaron stating they had killed God’s people. Now, this is a serious accusation, especially against leadership God put in place. But, the people did not see it this way and instead made themselves judge and jury. By stating that Korah and his family were “God’s people”, they implied that Aaron and Moses were not. How could anyone that comes against God’s people, be God’s people? The accusation was that Moses and Aaron were not holy and in fact Korah was. If this were true, how did Moses and Aaron muster God’s power to defeat him?
I think the real insight is that the people thought Moses and Aaron wielded God’s power through some secret divination. That God’s power was for use for who ever knew the secret formula. They did not see this coming from God but from Moses and Aaron, a mistake the Israelites make again and again through the Old Testament.
During grumbling by the people, a cloud shows up and God tells Moses and Aaron to step aside so that he can destroy them. Moses pleas to God but it is too late, a plague had already started. Aaron is told by Moses to take his censer with incense along with fire from the alter. He stands between the living and the dead and the plague stops. God’s wrath subsides.
How did Moses know what to do so quickly? I think he knew the power of salvation. God’s holiness was in the fire and the incense was an aroma pleasing unto the Lord. When God’s judgement reached Aaron, God saw the fire and the incense and not the wickedness behind Aaron. The people were saved.
In the same way, Jesus stands between us and God. We were dead in our sins but now alive through Christ. God sees the holiness of Jesus and provides an aroma that is pleasing, even though behind Jesus stands a wrench like me, a man of sin as long as I remain in this body. Yet, I am holy to God, I am pleasing to God. In this we can rejoice!