Numbers 16

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram Rebel

1 Now Korah son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, the descendants of Reuben,
2 took two hundred and fifty men from the {Israelites}, leaders of the community summoned from the assembly, {renowned men}, and {they confronted} Moses.
3 They were assembled in front of Moses and Aaron, and they said to them, "{You take too much upon yourselves}! All of the community is holy, every one of them, and Yahweh [is] in their midst, so why do you raise yourselves over the assembly of Yahweh?"
4 When Moses heard [this], he fell on his face.
5 And he said to Korah and to his entire company, saying, "[Tomorrow] morning Yahweh will make known who [is] his and [who] is holy, and he will bring him near to him, whomever he chooses he will bring near to him.
6 Do this: take for yourselves censers, Korah and all of your company;
7 tomorrow put fire in them and place incense on them {before} Yahweh; the man whom Yahweh chooses [will be] the holy [one]. You take too much upon yourselves, sons of Levi!"
8 And Moses said to Korah, "Please listen, sons of Levi!
9 [Is it] too little for you that the God of Israel set you apart from the community of Israel {to allow you to approach him} to do the work of the tabernacle of Yahweh, to stand {before} the community to serve them?
10 {He has allowed you to approach him}, you with all your brothers, the descendants of Levi, but yet you also seek the priesthood.
11 Therefore you and your company that has banded together against Yahweh. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?"
12 Moses sent to call [for] Dathan and Abiram son of Eliab, but they said, "We will not come!
13 Is it too little that you have brought us from a land that flows with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, and that you also appoint yourself as a ruler over us?
14 Surely, you have not brought us to a land that flows with milk and honey, and you have not given us the inheritance of fields and a vineyard. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? We will not come!"
15 Then Moses became angry, and he said to Yahweh, "Do not notice their grain offering. I have not offered one donkey from them, and I have not mistreated one of them."
16 And Moses said to Korah, "You and your entire company will be {before} Yahweh tomorrow, you and they and Aaron.
17 Each one take his censer, and put incense on it and you will present it {before} Yahweh, and each of you bring his censer, two hundred and fifty censers, you and Aaron, each his censer."
18 So each of them took his censer, and they put fire on them, and they placed incense on them; they stood [at the] doorway of the tent of the assembly of Moses and Aaron.
19 And Korah summoned them, the entire community, by the doorway of the tent of assembly, and the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the community.
20 And Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
21 "Separate yourselves from the midst of this community, that I can destroy them in a moment."
22 And they fell on their faces, and they said, "God, God of the spirits of all flesh, will one man sin and you become angry toward the entire community?"
23 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
24 "Speak to the community, saying, 'Move away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.'"
25 So Moses stood up and went to Dathan and Abiram; the elders of Israel followed after him.
26 He said to the community, saying, "Please turn away from the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything {that belongs to them}, or you will be destroyed with all their sins."
27 And so they moved away from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out standing [at] the doorway of their tents, with their wives, sons, and little children.
28 And Moses said, "In this you will know that Yahweh has sent me to do all these works; [it is] not from my heart.
29 {If they die a natural death} or {if a natural fate is visited upon them}, Yahweh has not sent me.
30 But if Yahweh creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up and {all that belongs to them}, and they go down alive [to] Sheol, and you will know that these men have despised Yahweh."
31 And it happened, as soon as he finished {speaking} all these words, the ground that [was] under them split open.
32 The land opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their houses and every person {that belonged to Korah} and all the property.
33 They went down alive [to] Sheol, they and all that belonged to them, and the land covered over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
34 All Israel who [were] around them fled at their cry, because they said, "Lest the land swallow us up!"
35 And fire went out from Yahweh, and it consumed the two hundred and fifty men presenting the incense.
36 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
37 "Say to Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, '{Take out} the censers from among the place of burning because they are sacred, and scatter the fire outside.
38 The censers of these {who have sinned} at the cost of their lives, let them be made into gilded leafing plating for the altar; because they presented them {before Yahweh}, they are holy; and they will be a sign for the {Israelites}.'"
39 Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers that the ones who were burned presented, and they hammered them out thinly [as] plating for the altar;
40 [it was] a memorial for the {Israelites}, so that {no strange man} who is not from {the offspring} of Aaron should approach the presence [of] Yahweh to burn a smoke offering; he will not be like Korah and his company, just as Yahweh had spoken to him by the hand of Moses.

The Israelites Grumble

41 The next day all the community of the {Israelites} grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, "You have killed the people of Yahweh!"
42 Then, when the community had gathered against Moses and Aaron, they turned to the tent of assembly, and behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of Yahweh appeared.
43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of assembly,
44 and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
45 "Get away from the midst of this community, and I will finish them in an instant," but they fell on their faces.
46 And Moses and Aaron said, "Take the censer, and put fire on it from the altar. Place incense [on it], and bring it quickly to the community, and make atonement for them, because wrath went out from the presence of Yahweh, and a plague has begun."
47 And so Aaron took [it] just as Moses had spoken, and he ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people; so he gave the incense and made atonement for the people.
48 He stood between the dead and between the living, and the plague was stopped.
49 Those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died on account of Korah.
50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of assembly, and 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 ) .

Footnotes 35

  • [a]. Or "sons"
  • [b]. Literally "sons/children of Israel"
  • [c]. Literally "men of name"
  • [d]. Literally "they rose up before"
  • [e]. Literally "It is much for you"
  • [f]. Hebrew "his company"
  • [g]. Literally "in the presence of"
  • [h]. Literally "to bring you near to him"
  • [i]. Literally "in the presence of"
  • [j]. Literally "He has brought you near"
  • [k]. Or "sons"
  • [l]. Hebrew "We will not come up!"
  • [m]. Hebrew "We will not come up!"
  • [n]. Literally "in the presence of"
  • [o]. Hebrew "on them"
  • [p]. Literally "in the presence of"
  • [q]. Literally "that [is] to them"
  • [r]. Hebrew "dwelling"
  • [s]. Literally "If they die like the death of every human"
  • [t]. Literally "If the fate of every human is visited upon them"
  • [u]. Literally "All that [is] for them"
  • [v]. Literally "to speak"
  • [w]. Literally "that was to Korah"
  • [x]. Numbers 16:36-17:13 in the English Bible is 17:1-28 in the Hebrew Bible
  • [y]. Literally "raise up"
  • [z]. Literally "sinners"
  • [aa]. Literally "in the presence of Yahweh"
  • [ab]. Literally "sons/children of Israel"
  • [ac]. Literally "sons/children of Israel"
  • [ad]. NASB translates "no layman"
  • [ae]. Literally "the seed"
  • [af]. That is, an incense offering
  • [ag]. Or "through Moses"
  • [ah]. Literally "sons/children of Israel"
  • [ai]. Or "in a moment"

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO NUMBERS 16

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