It was only moments after God stated that “the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3) that Korah and his compadres asserted that Moses was too big for his britches. “Why then do you exalt yourselves (Moses and Aaron) above the assembly of the Lord?” (16:3). That ended poorly for Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 princes (who were swallowed up in the earth, v. 31) and their 14,700 rebellious supporters (death by plague, v. 49). Approaching God was serious business (17:13; cf. Exodus 3:5; Acts 7:33).
The “Korah Incident,” as it was called, was quite a trauma for Israel and one might think that the memory of so violent an outpouring of God’s wrath would be the fodder for many a camp-fire story for eons to come. Evidently, God thought a historical punctuation mark was also necessary.
The censers used by those who “sinned against their own souls” (v. 38) at this earth-shaking event, by Divine command, were gathered, hammered out (flattened) and used to adorn the altar. Two hundred and fifty flattened out plates enveloping that one piece of furniture used to approach God; “and they shall be a sign to the children of Israel.”
God is serious about how He is approached (cf. v. 40), no less today as then. Every time the children of Israel worshiped God, they saw the plates. Every time a sacrifice was laid upon the alter, they saw the plates. Every time a priest approached God for the people of Israel, they saw the plates. What a sobering reminder!
It is incredible and disappointing that so many Christians today have so cavalier an attitude about approaching God. Yes, He is a loving God, full of mercy and grace, but He is a just God Who makes no allowance for good intentions (Colossians 2:23) or ignorance (Acts 17:22-30), and certainly not rebellion (Colossians 2:18). Coming before God must not be taken lightly. What will it be: holy ground or hammered plates?