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Numbers 16

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Korah's Rebellion

1 Now 1Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and 2Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men.
2 And 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.
3 3They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, 4"You have gone too far! For 5all 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?"
4 When Moses heard it, 6he fell on his face,
5 and he said to Korah and all his company, "In the morning the LORD will show 7who is his,[a] and who is 8holy, and will bring him near to him. The one 9whom he chooses he will 10bring near to him.
6 Do this: take 11censers, Korah and all his company;
7 put fire in them and put incense on them before the LORD tomorrow, and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. 12You have gone too far, sons of Levi!"
8 And Moses said to Korah, "Hear now, you sons of Levi:
9 is it 13too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has 14separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the congregation to minister to them,
10 and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?
11 Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together. What is 15Aaron that you grumble against him?"
12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, "We will not come up.
13 Is it 16a small thing that you have brought us up out of 17a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also 18make yourself a prince over us?
14 Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up."
15 And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, 19"Do not respect their offering. 20I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them."
16 And Moses said to Korah, "Be present, you and all your company, 21before the LORD, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow.
17 And 22let every one of you take his censer and put incense on it, and every one of you bring before the LORD his censer, censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer."
18 So every man took his censer and put fire in them and laid incense on them and stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron.
19 Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 23And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.
20 And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,
21 24"Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them 25in a moment."
22 And they 26fell on their faces and said, "O God, 27the God of the spirits of all flesh, 28shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?"
23 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
24 "Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram."
25 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him.
26 And he spoke to the congregation, saying, 29"Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins."
27 So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood 30at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones.
28 And Moses said, "Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been 31of my own accord.
29 If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, 32then the LORD has not sent me.
30 But if the LORD creates something new, and 33the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they 34go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD."
31 35And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart.
32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and 36all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods.
33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and 37they perished from the midst of the assembly.
34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, "Lest the earth swallow us up!"
35 And 38fire came out from the LORD and consumed 39the 250 men offering the incense.
36 [b] Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
37 "Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to take up the censers out of the blaze. Then scatter the fire far and wide, for they have become holy.
38 As for the censers of 40these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they offered them before the LORD, and they became holy. 41Thus they shall be a sign to the people of Israel."
39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered, and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar,
40 to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so 42that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the LORD, lest he become like Korah and his company--as the LORD said to him through Moses.
41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel 43grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, "You have killed the people of the LORD."
42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, 44the cloud covered it, and 45the glory of the LORD appeared.
43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting,
44 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
45 46"Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment."47And they fell on their faces.
46 And Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for 48wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun."
47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.
48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and 49the plague was stopped.
49 Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, 50besides those who died in the affair of Korah.
50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.

Numbers 16 Commentary

Chapter 16

The rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram Korah contends for the priesthood. (1-11) Disobedience of Dathan and Abiram. (12-15) The glory of the Lord appears The intercession of Moses and Aaron. (16-22) The earth swallows up Dathan and Abiram. (23-34) The company of Korah consumed. (35-40) The people murmur A plague sent. (41-50)

Verses 1-11 Pride and ambition occasion a great deal of mischief both in churches and states. The rebels quarrel with the settlement of the priesthood upon Aaron and his family. Small reason they had to boast of the people's purity, or of God's favour, as the people had been so often and so lately polluted with sin, and were now under the marks of God's displeasure. They unjustly charge Moses and Aaron with taking honour to themselves; whereas they were called of God to it. See here, 1. What spirit levellers are of; those who resist the powers God has set over them. 2. What usage they have been serviceable. Moses sought instruction from God. The heart of the wise studies to answer, and asks counsel of God. Moses shows their privileges as Levites, and convicts them of the sin of undervaluing these privileges. It will help to keep us from envying those above us, duly to consider how many there are below us.

Verses 12-15 Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram to bring their complaints; but they would not obey. They bring very false charges against Moses. Those often fall under the heaviest censures, who in truth deserve the highest praise. Moses, though the meekest man, yet, finding God reproached in him, was very wroth; he could not bear to see the people ruining themselves. He appeals to God as to his own integrity. He bade them appear with Aaron next morning, at the time of offering the morning incense. Korah undertook thus to appear. Proud ambitious men, while projecting their own advancement, often hurry on their own shameful fall.

Verses 16-22 The same glory of the Lord that appeared to place Aaron in his office at first, ( Leviticus 9:23 ) , now appeared to confirm him in it; and to confound those who set up against him. Nothing is more terrible to those who are conscious of guilt, than the appearance of the Divine glory. See how dangerous it is to have fellowship with sinners, and to partake with them. Though the people had treacherously deserted them, yet Moses and Aaron approved themselves faithful shepherds of Israel. If others fail in their duty to us, that does not take away the obligations we are under to seek their welfare. Their prayer was a pleading prayer, and it proved a prevailing one.

Verses 23-34 The seventy elders of Israel attend Moses. It is our duty to do what we can to countenance and support lawful authority when it is opposed. And those who would not perish with sinners, must come out from among them, and be separate. It was in answer to the prayer of Moses, that God stirred up the hearts of the congregation to remove for their own safety. Grace to separate from evil-doers is one of the things that accompany salvation. God, in justice, left the rebels to the obstinacy and hardness of their own hearts. Moses, by Divine direction, when all Israel were waiting the event, declares that if the rebels die a common death, he will be content to be called and counted an imposter. As soon as Moses had spoken the word, God caused the earth to open and swallow them all up. The children perished with their parents; in which, though we cannot tell how bad they might be to deserve it, or how good God might be otherwise to them; yet of this we are sure, that Infinite Justice did them no wrong. It was altogether miraculous. God has, when he pleases, strange punishments for the workers of iniquity. It was very significant. Considering how the earth is still in like manner loaded with the weight of man's sins, we have reason to wonder that it does not now sink under its load. The ruin of others should be our warning. Could we, by faith, hear the outcries of those that are gone down to the bottomless pit, we should give more diligence than we do to escape for our lives, lest we also come into their condemnation.

Verses 35-40 A fire went out from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense, while Aaron, who stood with them, was preserved alive. God is jealous of the honour of his own institutions, and will not have them invaded. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. The censers are devoted, and, as all devoted things, must be made serviceable to the glory of God. This covering of the altar would remind the children of Israel of this event, that others might hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously. They brought destruction on themselves both in body and soul. Thus all who break the law and neglect the gospel choose and love death.

Verses 41-50 The gaping earth was scarcely closed, before the same sins are again committed, and all these warnings slighted. They called the rebels the people of the Lord; and find fault with Divine justice. The obstinacy of Israel notwithstanding the terrors of God's law, as given on mount Sinai, and the terrors of his judgments, shows how necessary the grace of God is to change men's hearts and lives. Love will do what fear cannot. Moses and Aaron interceded with God for mercy, knowing how great the provocation was. Aaron went, and burned incense between the living and the dead, not to purify the air, but to pacify an offended God. As one tender of the life of every Israelite, Aaron made all possible speed. We must render good for evil. Observe especially, that Aaron was a type of Christ. There is an infection of sin in the world, which only the cross and intercession of Jesus Christ can stay and remove. He enters the defiled and dying camp. He stands between the dead and the living; between the eternal Judge and the souls under condemnation. We must have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins. We admire the ready devotion of Aaron: shall we not bless and praise the unspeakable grace and love which filled the Saviour's heart, when he placed himself in our stead, and bought us with his life? Greatly indeed hath God commended his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, ( Romans 5:8 ) .

Cross References 51

  • 1. Numbers 27:3; Ex. 6:16, 18, 21; Jude 11
  • 2. Numbers 26:9
  • 3. Psalms 106:16-18
  • 4. ver. 7
  • 5. See Exodus 19:6
  • 6. Numbers 14:5; Numbers 20:6
  • 7. [2 Timothy 2:19]
  • 8. ver. 3
  • 9. Numbers 17:5; 1 Samuel 2:28; Psalms 105:26; [Exodus 28:1]
  • 10. Numbers 3:10; Leviticus 10:3; Psalms 65:4; Ezekiel 40:46; Ezekiel 44:15, 16
  • 11. Leviticus 10:1
  • 12. ver. 3
  • 13. ver. 13; 1 Samuel 18:23; Isaiah 7:13; [Ezekiel 16:20]
  • 14. Numbers 8:14; Deuteronomy 10:8
  • 15. Exodus 16:8; [1 Corinthians 3:5]
  • 16. ver. 9
  • 17. See Exodus 3:8
  • 18. Exodus 2:14; Acts 7:27, 35
  • 19. [Genesis 4:4, 5]
  • 20. 1 Samuel 12:3; [Acts 20:33; 2 Corinthians 7:2]
  • 21. Exodus 16:9; 1 Samuel 12:3, 7
  • 22. ver. 6, 7
  • 23. ver. 35
  • 24. See Leviticus 9:23
  • 25. ver. 45; [Genesis 19:17, 22; Jeremiah 51:6; Revelation 18:4]
  • 26. Exodus 33:5; Psalms 73:19
  • 27. ver. 45; Numbers 14:5; Numbers 20:6
  • 28. Numbers 27:16; Job 12:10; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Isaiah 57:16; Zechariah 12:1
  • 29. [Genesis 18:23-25; 2 Samuel 24:17]
  • 30. [Genesis 19:12-14; Isaiah 52:11; 2 Corinthians 6:17; Revelation 18:4]
  • 31. [Exodus 33:8]
  • 32. [Jeremiah 23:16; Ezekiel 13:2, 17]
  • 33. [1 Kings 22:28]
  • 34. [Genesis 4:11]
  • 35. ver. 33; Psalms 55:15
  • 36. Numbers 26:10; Numbers 27:3; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalms 106:17
  • 37. [Numbers 26:11; 1 Chronicles 6:22, 27]
  • 38. Jude 11
  • 39. [Numbers 11:1]; Leviticus 10:2; Psalms 106:18
  • 40. ver. 17
  • 41. Proverbs 20:2; Habakkuk 2:10; [1 Kings 2:23]
  • 42. Numbers 17:10; Numbers 26:10
  • 43. Numbers 3:10; 2 Chronicles 26:18
  • 44. See Numbers 14:2
  • 45. Exodus 40:34
  • 46. ver. 19; See Leviticus 9:23
  • 47. ver. 21, 24
  • 48. ver. 22
  • 49. Numbers 8:19; Numbers 11:33; Leviticus 10:6; 1 Chronicles 27:24
  • 50. ver. 50; Numbers 25:8; 2 Samuel 24:25; Psalms 106:30
  • 51. Numbers 27:3

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Septuagint The Lord knows those who are his
  • [b]. Ch 17:1 in Hebrew

Chapter Summary


This chapter gives an account of a sedition of Korah and others against Moses and Aaron, Nu 16:1-4, with whom Moses expostulates, and shows the unreasonableness of their clamour against Aaron, Nu 16:5-11; sends for Dathan and Abiram, who were in the confederacy, but refused to come, which greatly angered Moses, Nu 16:12-15; orders Korah and his company to appear before the Lord the next day, with Aaron, to have the controversy decided, Nu 16:16-18; when all the congregation gathered together would have been, consumed had it not been for the intercession of Moses and Aaron, Nu 16:19-22; and who, being separated from the rebels by the command of the Lord, some of the rebels were swallowed up in the earth, and others destroyed by fire from heaven, Nu 16:23-35; and their censers were made a covering for the altar, as a memorial of their sin, Nu 16:36-40; on which there was a new insurrection of the people, which brought a plague upon them, and destroyed 14,700 persons, and which was stopped at the intercession of Aaron, Nu 16:41-50.

Numbers 16 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.