One day Korah son of Izhar, a descendant of Kohath son of Levi, conspired with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, from the tribe of Reuben.
They incited a rebellion against Moses, involving 250 other prominent leaders, all members of the assembly.
They went to Moses and Aaron and said, "You have gone too far! Everyone in Israel has been set apart by the LORD, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than anyone else among all these people of the LORD?"
When Moses heard what they were saying, he threw himself down with his face to the ground.
Then he said to Korah and his followers, "Tomorrow morning the LORD will show us who belongs to him and who is holy. The LORD will allow those who are chosen to enter his holy presence.
You, Korah, and all your followers must do this: Take incense burners,
and burn incense in them tomorrow before the LORD. Then we will see whom the LORD chooses as his holy one. You Levites are the ones who have gone too far!"
Then Moses spoke again to Korah: "Now listen, you Levites!
Does it seem a small thing to you that the God of Israel has chosen you from among all the people of Israel to be near him as you serve in the LORD's Tabernacle and to stand before the people to minister to them?
He has given this special ministry only to you and your fellow Levites, but now you are demanding the priesthood as well!
The one you are really revolting against is the LORD! And who is Aaron that you are complaining about him?"
Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, but they replied, "We refuse to come!
Isn't it enough that you brought us out of Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us here in this wilderness, and that you now treat us like your subjects?
What's more, you haven't brought us into the land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Are you trying to fool us? We will not come."
Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, "Do not accept their offerings! I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, and I have never hurt a single one of them."
And Moses said to Korah, "Come here tomorrow and present yourself before the LORD with all your followers. Aaron will also be here.
Be sure that each of your 250 followers brings an incense burner with incense on it, so you can present them before the LORD. Aaron will also bring his incense burner."
So these men came with their incense burners, placed burning coals and incense on them, and stood at the entrance of the Tabernacle with Moses and Aaron.
Meanwhile, Korah had stirred up the entire community against Moses and Aaron, and they all assembled at the Tabernacle entrance. Then the glorious presence of the LORD appeared to the whole community,
and the LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
"Get away from these people so that I may instantly destroy them!"
But Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground. "O God, the God and source of all life," they pleaded. "Must you be angry with all the people when only one man sins?"
And the LORD said to Moses,
"Then tell all the people to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram."
So Moses got up and rushed over to the tents of Dathan and Abiram, followed closely by the Israelite leaders.
"Quick!" he told the people. "Get away from the tents of these wicked men, and don't touch anything that belongs to them. If you do, you will be destroyed for their sins."
So all the people stood back from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrances of their tents with their wives and children and little ones.
And Moses said, "By this you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things that I have done -- for I have not done them on my own.
If these men die a natural death, then the LORD has not sent me.
But if the LORD performs a miracle and the ground opens up and swallows them and all their belongings, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have despised the LORD."
He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them.
The earth opened up and swallowed the men, along with their households and the followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned.
So they went down alive into the grave, along with their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished.
All of the people of Israel fled as they heard their screams, fearing that the earth would swallow them, too.
Then fire blazed forth from the LORD and burned up the 250 men who were offering incense.
And the LORD said to Moses,
"Tell Eleazar son of Aaron the priest to pull all the incense burners from the fire, for they are holy. Also tell him to scatter the burning incense
from the burners of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives. He must then hammer the metal of the incense burners into a sheet as a covering for the altar, for these burners have become holy because they were used in the LORD's presence. The altar covering will then serve as a warning to the people of Israel."
So Eleazar the priest collected the 250 bronze incense burners that had been used by the men who died in the fire, and they were hammered out into a sheet of metal to cover the altar.
This would warn the Israelites that no unauthorized man -- no one who was not a descendant of Aaron -- should ever enter the LORD's presence to burn incense. If anyone did, the same thing would happen to him as happened to Korah and his followers. Thus, the LORD's instructions to Moses were carried out.
But the very next morning the whole community began muttering again against Moses and Aaron, saying, "You two have killed the LORD's people!"
As the people gathered to protest to Moses and Aaron, they turned toward the Tabernacle and saw that the cloud had covered it, and the glorious presence of the LORD appeared.
Moses and Aaron came and stood at the entrance of the Tabernacle,
and the LORD said to Moses,
"Get away from these people so that I can instantly destroy them!" But Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground.
And Moses said to Aaron, "Quick, take an incense burner and place burning coals on it from the altar. Lay incense on it and carry it quickly among the people to make atonement for them. The LORD's anger is blazing among them -- the plague has already begun."
Aaron did as Moses told him and ran out among the people. The plague indeed had already begun, but Aaron burned the incense and made atonement for them.
He stood between the living and the dead until the plague was stopped.
But 14,700 people died in that plague, in addition to those who had died in the incident involving Korah.
Then because the plague had stopped, Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the Tabernacle.
Then the LORD said to Moses,
"Take twelve wooden staffs, one from each of Israel's ancestral tribes, and inscribe each tribal leader's name on his staff.
Inscribe Aaron's name on the staff of the tribe of Levi, for there must be one staff for the leader of each ancestral tribe.
Put these staffs in the Tabernacle in front of the Ark of the Covenant, where I meet with you.
Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. Then I will finally put an end to this murmuring and complaining against you."
So Moses gave the instructions to the people of Israel, and each of the twelve tribal leaders, including Aaron, brought Moses a staff.
Moses put the staffs in the LORD's presence in the Tabernacle of the Covenant.
When he went into the Tabernacle of the Covenant the next day, he found that Aaron's staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had sprouted, blossomed, and produced almonds!
When Moses brought all the staffs out from the LORD's presence, he showed them to the people. Each man claimed his own staff.
And the LORD said to Moses: "Place Aaron's staff permanently before the Ark of the Covenant as a warning to rebels. This should put an end to their complaints against me and prevent any further deaths."
So Moses did as the LORD commanded him.
Then the people of Israel said to Moses, "We are as good as dead! We are ruined!
Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the LORD dies. We are all doomed!"
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. (New Living Translation - The Bible Online)