Numbers 16

Korah's Rebellion

1 Now 1Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with 2Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action,
2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, 3chosen in the assembly, men of renown.
3 They assembled together 4against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "5You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and 6the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"
4 When Moses heard this, 7he fell on his face;
5 and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, "Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and 8who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even 9the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself.
6 "Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company,
7 and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the LORD tomorrow; and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the one who is holy. 10You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!"
8 Then Moses said to Korah, "Hear now, you sons of Levi,
9 11is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, 12to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them;
10 and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you 13seeking for the priesthood also?
11 "Therefore you and all your company are gathered together 14against the LORD; but as for Aaron, who is he that 15you grumble against him?"
12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, "We will not come up.
13 "Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a 16land flowing with milk and honey 17to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us?
14 "Indeed, you have not brought us 18into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of 19fields and vineyards. Would you 20put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!"
15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, "21Do not regard their offering! 22I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them."
16 Moses said to Korah, "You and all your company be present before the LORD tomorrow, both you and they along with Aaron.
17 "Each of you take his firepan and put incense on it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty firepans; also you and Aaron shall each bring his firepan."
18 So they each took his own censer and put fire on it, and laid incense on it; and they stood at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with Moses and Aaron.
19 Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And 23the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.
20 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
21 "24Separate yourselves from among this congregation, 25that I may consume them instantly."
22 But they fell on their faces and said, "O God, 26God of the spirits of all flesh, 27when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?"
23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
24 "Speak to the congregation, saying, '28Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.' "
25 Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following * him,
26 and he spoke to the congregation, saying, "29Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing * that belongs to them, 30or you will be swept away in all their sin."
27 So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and 31their sons and their little ones.
28 Moses said, "By this you shall know that 32the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing *.
29 "If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the 33fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me.
30 "But 34if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they 35descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD."
31 As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open;
32 and 36the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and 37all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions.
33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
34 All Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, "The earth may swallow us up!"
35 38Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the 39two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.
36 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
37 "Say to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, that he shall take up the censers out of the midst of the blaze, for they are holy; and you scatter the burning coals abroad.
38 "As for the censers of these men * who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered sheets for a plating of the altar, since they did present them before the LORD and they are holy; and 40they shall be for a sign to the sons of Israel."
39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers which the men who were burned had offered, and they hammered them out as a plating for the altar,
40 as a reminder to the sons of Israel that 41no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near 42to burn incense before the LORD; so that he will not become like Korah and his company -just as the LORD had spoken to him through Moses.

Murmuring and Plague

41 But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel 43grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, "You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD'S people."
42 It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and 44the glory of the LORD appeared.
43 Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting,
44 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
45 "45Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly." Then they fell on their faces.
46 Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and 46make atonement for them, for 47wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!"
47 Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. 48So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.
48 He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked.
49 49But those who died by the plague were 14,700 * * * *, besides * those who 50died on account * of Korah.
50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked.

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 50

  • 1. Exodus 6:21; Jude 11
  • 2. Numbers 26:9; Deuteronomy 11:6
  • 3. Numbers 1:16; Numbers 26:9
  • 4. Numbers 12:2; Psalms 106:16
  • 5. Numbers 16:7
  • 6. Numbers 5:3
  • 7. Numbers 14:5
  • 8. Leviticus 10:3; Psalms 65:4
  • 9. Numbers 17:5, 8
  • 10. Numbers 16:3
  • 11. Isaiah 7:13
  • 12. Numbers 3:6, 9; Deuteronomy 10:8
  • 13. Numbers 3:10; Numbers 18:1-7
  • 14. Exodus 16:7
  • 15. 1 Corinthians 10:10
  • 16. Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4-6
  • 17. Numbers 14:2, 3
  • 18. Numbers 13:27; Numbers 14:8
  • 19. Exodus 22:5; Exodus 23:10, 11; Numbers 20:5
  • 20. Judges 16:21; 1 Samuel 11:2
  • 21. Genesis 4:4, 5
  • 22. 1 Samuel 12:3
  • 23. Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:42; Numbers 20:6
  • 24. Numbers 16:45
  • 25. Exodus 32:10, 12
  • 26. Numbers 27:16
  • 27. Genesis 18:23-32; Leviticus 4:3
  • 28. Numbers 16:45
  • 29. Isaiah 52:11
  • 30. Genesis 19:15, 17
  • 31. Numbers 26:11
  • 32. Exodus 3:12-15; Exodus 4:12, 15
  • 33. Ecclesiastes 3:19
  • 34. Job 31:2, 3
  • 35. Psalms 55:15
  • 36. Numbers 26:10; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalms 106:17
  • 37. Numbers 26:11
  • 38. Numbers 11:1-3; Numbers 26:10
  • 39. Numbers 16:2
  • 40. Ezekiel 14:8; 2 Peter 2:6
  • 41. Numbers 1:51
  • 42. Exodus 30:7-10
  • 43. Numbers 16:3
  • 44. Numbers 16:19
  • 45. Numbers 16:21, 24
  • 46. Numbers 25:13; Isaiah 6:6, 7
  • 47. Numbers 18:5; Deuteronomy 9:22
  • 48. Num 25:6-8, 13
  • 49. Numbers 25:9
  • 50. Numbers 16:32, 35

Footnotes 30

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

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