Korah (son of Izhar), Dathan and Abiram (sons of Eliab), and On (son of Peleth) dared to challenge Moses. (Korah was a descendant of Kohath and Levi. Dathan, Abiram, and On were descendants of Reuben.)
These four men were joined by 250 Israelite men, well-known leaders of the community, chosen by the assembly.
They came together to confront Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You've gone far enough! Everyone in the whole community is holy, and the LORD is among them. Why do you set yourselves above the LORD's assembly?"
As soon as Moses heard this, he bowed with his face touching the ground.
Then he said to Korah and all his followers, "In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him, who is holy, and who it is that he will allow to come near him. Only the person the LORD chooses will be allowed to come near him.
Korah, you and all your followers must do this tomorrow: Take incense burners,
and put burning coals and incense in them in the LORD's presence. Then the LORD will choose the man who is holy. You've gone far enough!"
Moses also said to Korah, "Listen, you Levites!
Isn't it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the community of Israel? The LORD has brought you near himself to do the work for his tent and stand in front of the community to serve them.
He has brought you and all the other Levites near himself, but now you demand to be priests.
So you and all your followers have joined forces against the LORD! Who is Aaron that you should complain about him?"
Then Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab. But they said, "We won't come!
Isn't it enough that you brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey only to kill us in the desert? Do you also have to order us around?
Certainly you haven't brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us any fields and vineyards to own. Do you think you can still pull the wool over our eyes? We won't come."
Moses became angry and said to the LORD, "Don't accept their offering. I haven't taken anything from them, not even a donkey. And I haven't mistreated any of them."
Moses said to Korah, "Tomorrow you and all your followers must come into the LORD's presence. Aaron will also be there with you.
Each man will take his incense burner and put incense in it. They will offer all 250 incense burners to the LORD. Then you and Aaron offer your incense burners."
So each man took his incense burner, put burning coals and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
When Korah had gathered all his followers--those who opposed Moses and Aaron--at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the whole group.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
"Move away from these men, and I'll destroy them in an instant."
Immediately, they bowed with their faces touching the ground and said, "O God, you are the God who gives the breath of life to everyone! If one man sins, will you be angry with the whole community?"
Then the LORD said to Moses,
"Tell the community: Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram."
Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the leaders of Israel followed him.
He said to the community, "Move away from the tents of these wicked men. Don't touch anything that belongs to them, or you'll be swept away because of all their sins."
So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing at the entrances to their tents with their wives and children.
Moses said, "This is how you will know that the LORD sent me to do all these things and that it wasn't my idea:
If these men die like all other people--if they die a natural death--then the LORD hasn't sent me.
But if the LORD does something totally new--if the ground opens up, swallows them and everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive to their graves--then you'll know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt."
As soon as he had finished saying all this, the ground under them split,
and the earth opened up to swallow them, their families, the followers of Korah, and all their property.
They went down alive to their graves with everything that belonged to them. The ground covered them, and so they disappeared from the assembly.
All the Israelites around them ran away when they heard their screams. They thought the ground would swallow them, too.
Fire came from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering incense.
Then the LORD said to Moses,
"Tell Eleazar, son of the priest Aaron, to take the incense burners out of the fire and scatter the coals and incense somewhere else, because the incense burners have become holy.
The incense burners of these men who sinned and lost their lives are holy, because they were offered to the LORD. Hammer them into thin metal sheets to cover the altar. This will be a sign to the Israelites."
So the priest Eleazar took the bronze incense burners which had been brought by those who had been burned to death. The incense burners were then hammered into thin metal sheets to cover the altar,
following the command that the LORD had given through Moses. The bronze-covered altar will remind Israel that no one but a descendant of Aaron can come near to burn incense to the LORD. Everyone else will die like Korah and his followers.
The next day the whole community of Israel complained to Moses and Aaron. They said, "You have killed the LORD's people."
The community came together to confront Moses and Aaron. When they turned toward the tent of meeting, they saw the smoke covering it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.
Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting.
The LORD said to Moses,
"Get away from these people, and let me destroy them in an instant!" Immediately, they bowed with their faces touching the ground.
Moses said to Aaron, "Take your incense burner, put burning coals from the altar and incense in it, and go quickly into the community to make peace with the LORD for the people. The LORD is showing his anger; a plague has started."
Aaron took his incense burner, as Moses told him, and ran into the middle of the assembly, because the plague had already begun among the people. He put incense on the incense burner to make peace with the LORD for the people.
He stood between those who had died and those who were still alive, and the plague stopped.
Still, 14,700 died from the plague in addition to those who had died because of Korah.
By the time Aaron came back to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the plague had stopped.