The Destructive Road to Discontentment
There are few things in life more destructive than discontentment. Like a cancer, it eats away at the very core of our beings, and left untreated, it will destroy us. Unlike many cancers, however, discontentment is both preventable and curable. But before we can overcome it, we must first understand it. And to understand it, there is no better place to look than the tragic story of Korah and his friends in Numbers 16, where we read these words: They rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ When Moses heard it, he fell on his face (v. 2-4).
Korah’s story reveals the tragic steps he took on the destructive road to discontentment. Understanding them can protect us from making similar mistakes in our own lives.
- Unmet Expectations
Korah bursts on to the scene to challenge the leadership and authority of Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen leaders for Israel. The Bible says that while Korah was the leader of the rebellion, he was joined by 3 co-conspirators: Dathan, Abiram, and On. In all, 250 chief men of the congregation joined the rebellion; these men were well known and influential among the people (v.1-3).
Apparently, Korah was one of the most respected men in Israel (after all, he was able to gather a significant number of strategic followers). Korah was a Levite, so he had nearly unlimited access to the Tabernacle as a worship leader in Israel. The only thing he didn’t possess was the authority of the High Priest. Rather than be content, however, he craved the authority and leadership that Moses and Aaron possessed—something given to them by God Himself. What was the root of Korah’s discontentment? Unmet expectations. Somehow, Korah believed that he and his friends were as qualified to lead as Moses and Aaron.
- Appeal for Resolution
The Bible doesn’t give us much behind the scenes information about Korah’s attempt to usurp Moses and Aaron’s authority. Moses served as a judge over Israel, so it stands to reason that Korah would have approached him with his complaints long before this epic and public showdown. I think it’s safe to say that their private meeting would have revolved around the issues that Korah raised in Numbers 16. The first issue was the equality of the people of Israel. Korah said, “You have gone to far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them.” Korah was a student of the newly given Levitical law, so he would have understood God’s command for the people to be holy (Lev 11:44). Further, he would have understood the process of substitute sacrifice through which the people walked in obedience to God’s commands. Because of this, the people all stood on equal footing before God as they worshiped Him.
The second issue Korah had was with the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korah stated, “Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” While Korah accepted the process of worship, he was unwilling to accept the leaders that God had placed over the people, both in matters of civil governance and worship. God specifically called Moses and Aaron to lead the people, but the people chafed under their leadership. Korah and his friends believed that Moses and Aaron were usurpers who were keeping them from becoming the new leaders of Israel.
- Unwillingness to Accept the Resolution
After Korah made his appeal to Moses based on these arguments, my educated guess is that he then asked Moses and Aaron to step down in favor of a new leadership team led by he and his friends. He may have even had some type of petition from the people calling for their ouster. We know that it would have had at least 250 names on it, and potentially many more.
I’m sure that Moses would have recounted God’s call upon his life at the burning bush, including his own feelings of inadequacy when given the task of leading Israel. I believe he would have told again the way that God used him to bring the plagues upon Egypt and to lead the people out through the Red Sea. He would have recounted his own experiences in the presence of God as he received the law. And, he would have challenged Korah to submit to the leadership God had placed over Israel and to find contentment in the unique blessings of worship ministry that God had given him. In this way, Moses provided Korah with a resolution that could free him from his discontentment.
Unfortunately, the account in Numbers 16 reveals that Moses’ words found no place in Korah’s heart. There was only one outcome that would satisfy Korah—he wanted Moses and Aaron to step down so that he and his friends could take their places. As a result, Korah was unwilling to accept the resolution that God had provided for him through His servant-leader Moses.
- Bitterness and Discontentment
We can only imagine what was happening in Korah’s heart when he left that meeting with Moses. Foremost must have been a spirit of anger. The nerve of Moses to dismiss his complaints and reject his demands! The journey back to his tent was a pivotal one in his life and in the lives of his friends. Had he chosen to submit to Moses’s leadership, a leadership given by God Himself, he could have reversed the whole direction of his life and left the destructive road to discontentment behind him. He could have encouraged the people to think rightly about God’s will for their nation. He could have led the people to submit to Moses’ leadership, and they would have experienced God’s forgiveness and blessing.
Instead, with every step, Korah became increasingly bitter. After all, he was as qualified to lead Israel as Moses—more qualified according to some of his friends. Who died and left Moses and Aaron in charge? In his mind they were self-appointed dictators who had exalted themselves above him, his friends, and the entire nation. Well, enough was enough. Something needed to be done to fix this situation, and if Moses and Aaron wouldn’t step down, then a rebellion was necessary. He would show them. Soon all of Israel would know the truth about those posers, and when the dust settled, he and his friends would be in charge.
- Blame versus Self-Assessment
I often wonder how much time elapsed between Korah’s conversation with Moses and his public act of treason. My guess is that it took a while for him to work up the courage to actually attempt the rebellion; it takes time to coordinate something like that. Most likely, he followed the usual course. He became increasingly angry with Moses and Aaron, and rather than confess and abandon his anger, he began to feed it. This made him bitter against them, and soon he was swimming in a sea of discontentment. The result was that Korah became increasingly unhappy.
When people are unhappy, they always look for someone or something to blame. After all, it’s much easier to blame someone else for one’s unhappiness than to actually shoulder the responsibility for it. Korah needed to do some serious self-assessment; he needed to let God work in his heart. He should have owned his sin, practiced repentance and confession, and continued to move forward with a grateful heart. After all, he was a strategic worship leader for the nation of Israel. Had he done this, he would have found joy in his life. Instead, he chose to blame Moses and Aaron for his own sin and the unhappiness it produced in his life.
- Finding Others to Share the Misery
It has been rightly said that misery loves company. There are few sayings truer than this one. Finally, Korah had enough. He was ready to lead a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and he knew just where to look—amongst his miserable friends. It’s impossible to hide a discontented spirit for any length of time. Eventually, it rips through the façade of one’s life like lava flowing from an erupting volcano. Korah was unhappy and miserable, and it began to affect everyone around him. Soon, all of his close friends and supporters became unhappy with their position in Israel, and they were prepared to blame it on Moses and Aaron.
Sadly, Korah’s inability to escape the clutches of his discontentment soon affected more than 250 people. As a result, they were unable to find joy in their lives either. At this point, there was no turning back. Together they made their way to the Tabernacle to confront Moses and Aaron and demand that they be given authority over the nation of Israel. Only then did Moses propose a solution: God would choose the men he wanted to lead Israel, either Moses and Aaron, or Korah and his friends (v. 4-15).
Moses’ plan was simple: Aaron, Korah, and the rest of the 250 leaders of Israel were to stand together at the threshold of the tabernacle. The entire congregation of Israel was there—fully in support of Korah (v. 16-19). Once there, each man took his censer, lit it with fire, and laid incense upon it. Then, they waited on God’s decision…
God’s anger burned against Korah and the people for their rebellion against His chosen leaders. Initially, He wanted to destroy the entire nation, but Moses and Aaron interceded for the people who had been led astray by the sins of one man (v. 20-22). Instead, God chose to destroy the ringleaders and judge the people who had followed them (v.31-35, 41-50).
Moses commanded the people to move away from the family dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then he made this statement: “If God allows these men to die of natural causes, then I haven’t been sent by God. But if he opens the ground, and swallows all of them alive into hell, then you will know that these men have despised the LORD.”
His final words had barely left his lips when the ground ripped open, and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with all of their families and possessions, disappeared into the depths of the earth. The ground slammed back together with such force that it could be felt for miles. As the people fled in fear, God rained down fire from heaven and destroyed the 250 men who supported Korah.
A massive cloud of dust rose hundreds of feet above the desert. It was the last evidence of the lives of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their families. Another 250 families lost their husbands and fathers—nothing remained of them but ash. In an instant, the wages of the sin of discontentment produced death.
This story contains great insight into the dangers of discontentment in our own lives. Scripture speaks often about this dangerous foe (Pr 27:20; Eccl 1:8, 4:8; Lk 12:15; Jn 6:43; 1 Cor 10:10; Phil 2:14; James 5:9; 1 Pet 4:9; Jude 1:14-16). It’s dangerous, because we must disobey God to indulge it (Mt 6:25-34; Phil 4:11-13; 1 Tim 6:3-8; Heb 13:5). It’s dangerous, too, because it leads to catastrophic choices and outcomes in our lives. Consider,
- It reveals a lack of faith and dependence upon God;
- It hinders our worship and ability to serve God;
- It misdirects our energies and makes us ineffective in our labors;
- It robs us of contentment and the joy that it produces.
Discontentment is a sin that lurks daily at the door of our hearts. It waits to slip in unnoticed at the precise moment when pride cracks open the door. How does this happen? It happens when we feel devalued because of an unmet expectation: in our marriages, at our jobs, or even in our church. Our spouse fails to meet a perceived need; our boss fails to appreciate us, or worse yet corrects us; someone in our church hurts our feelings. Our pride wells up within us, trying to convince us that we deserve better. Suddenly, our view of people and situations changes, and if we’re not vigilant, we will begin traveling down the dangerous road to discontentment.
How do we avoid this dangerous enemy? Proverbs 4:23 gives us the answer, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” We must pursue Christ daily, reflecting His humility and consciously choosing to be content (Phil 2:1-11). In doing so, we can defeat pride and keep discontentment at bay. That said, we need the help of others too. Apparently, Korah had no one in his life that was willing to confront him about his sin, and it led to his destruction. We must each have a system of accountability to battle against this dangerous enemy (Gal 6:1-5); someone with whom we can be transparent, and someone we empower to speak truth into our lives.
Ultimately, our spiritual success and joy in life is determined by our ability to battle and defeat the sin of discontentment. Korah and his friends were unsuccessful, and they were destroyed because of it. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to choose differently. Today, and everyday, let’s choose to be content.
1. We battle the sin of discontentment every day of lives. As we’ve seen, there’s a progression of thoughts that lead us to discontentment. Reflect on the six steps we discovered today:
- Unmet Expectations
- Appeal for Resolution
- Unwillingness to Accept the Resolution
- Bitterness and Discontentment
- Blame vs. Self Assessment
- Finding others to Share the Misery
Discuss a time in your life when you went down this road. How should you have responded differently?
2. Talk with your spouse about the following important areas where we struggle with discontentment. Remember, discontentment always begins with some level of unmet expectations. What unmet expectations are causing you to be discontent today? Based on today’s study, how does God want you to respond?
If the sin of discontentment has taken up residence in your heart in one of these areas (or another), spend some time in prayer. Repent and confess this sin, and ask for God’s help in living a contented life.
3. Read Galatians 5:16-26 and discuss the following questions:
- To what category does the sin of discontentment belong?
- To what category does contentment belong?
- What is the daily key for defeating the sin of discontentment?
- How does the fruit of the Spirit help protect us from the sin of discontentment?
4. Talk with your spouse about the issue of accountability. Who have you each identified as an accountability partner (you should each have a godly accountability partner beside your spouse)? Are you consistently seeking their help in monitoring your hearts?
5. What do you do when you encounter someone who is discontent? Do you feed their discontentment by commiserating with them, or do you seek to lovingly lead them to the joy-filled place of contentment (Gal 6:1).