Numbers 16

Korah, Dathan and Abiram

1 Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent[a]
2 and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council.
3 They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?”
4 When Moses heard this, he fell facedown.
5 Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him.
6 You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers
7 and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!”
8 Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites!
9 Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them?
10 He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too.
11 It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?”
12 Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, “We will not come!
13 Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us!
14 Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves[b] ? No, we will not come!”
15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.”
16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your followers are to appear before the LORD tomorrow—you and they and Aaron.
17 Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it—250 censers in all—and present it before the LORD. You and Aaron are to present your censers also.”
18 So each of them took his censer, put burning coals and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
19 When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly.
20 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
21 “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.”
22 But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?”
23 Then the LORD said to Moses,
24 “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ ”
25 Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him.
26 He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.”
27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.
28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea:
29 If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me.
30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.”
31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart
32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions.
33 They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.
34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”
35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.
36 The LORD said to Moses,
37 “Tell Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, to remove the censers from the charred remains and scatter the coals some distance away, for the censers are holy—
38 the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their lives. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the LORD and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites.”
39 So Eleazar the priest collected the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned to death, and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar,
40 as the LORD directed him through Moses. This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD, or he would become like Korah and his followers.
41 The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said.
42 But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the tent of meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared.
43 Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting,
44 and the LORD said to Moses,
45 “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” And they fell facedown.
46 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.”
47 So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them.
48 He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped.
49 But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah.
50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, for the plague had stopped.[c]

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 85

  • 1. S Exodus 6:24; Jude 1:11
  • 2. ver 24; Psalms 106:17
  • 3. Numbers 26:8; Deuteronomy 11:6
  • 4. Numbers 27:3
  • 5. Numbers 1:16; Numbers 26:9
  • 6. ver 7; Psalms 106:16
  • 7. Exodus 19:6
  • 8. S Numbers 14:14
  • 9. Numbers 12:2
  • 10. Numbers 14:5
  • 11. S Leviticus 10:3; 2 Timothy 2:19*
  • 12. Jeremiah 30:21
  • 13. Numbers 17:5; Psalms 65:4; Psalms 105:26; Jeremiah 50:44
  • 14. ver 7,16
  • 15. S Leviticus 10:1; Revelation 8:3
  • 16. S Leviticus 10:1
  • 17. S Exodus 30:9
  • 18. S ver 6
  • 19. ver 5
  • 20. S Genesis 30:15
  • 21. Numbers 3:6; Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 17:12; Deuteronomy 21:5; 1 Samuel 2:11; Psalms 134:1; Ezekiel 44:11
  • 22. Numbers 3:10; Numbers 18:7; Judges 17:5,12
  • 23. ver 41; 1 Corinthians 10:10
  • 24. S Exodus 16:7
  • 25. S ver 1,27
  • 26. ver 14
  • 27. Numbers 13:27
  • 28. Numbers 14:2
  • 29. S Genesis 13:8; Acts 7:27,35
  • 30. S Leviticus 20:24
  • 31. Exodus 22:5; Exodus 23:11; Numbers 20:5; 1 Kings 4:25; Nehemiah 13:15; Psalms 105:33; Jeremiah 5:17; Hosea 2:12; Joel 2:22; Haggai 2:19; Zechariah 3:10
  • 32. Judges 16:21; 1 Samuel 11:2; Jeremiah 39:7
  • 33. ver 12
  • 34. S Exodus 4:14
  • 35. 1 Samuel 12:3
  • 36. S ver 6
  • 37. Ezekiel 8:11
  • 38. Leviticus 10:1
  • 39. ver 42; Numbers 20:2
  • 40. S Exodus 16:7; Numbers 14:10; Numbers 20:6
  • 41. ver 24
  • 42. S Genesis 19:14; S Exodus 32:10
  • 43. S Numbers 14:5
  • 44. Numbers 27:16; Job 12:10; Job 27:8; Job 33:4; Job 34:14; Jeremiah 32:27; Ezekiel 18:4; Hebrews 12:9
  • 45. S Leviticus 10:6
  • 46. S Genesis 18:23; S Job 21:20
  • 47. S Exodus 19:7
  • 48. Isaiah 52:11
  • 49. S Genesis 19:15
  • 50. Jeremiah 51:6
  • 51. S ver 12
  • 52. ver 32; Joshua 7:24; Isaiah 13:16; Isaiah 14:21
  • 53. S Exodus 33:8
  • 54. 1 Kings 18:36
  • 55. Exodus 3:12; John 5:36; John 6:38
  • 56. Numbers 24:13; Job 31:2; Ecclesiastes 3:19
  • 57. Psalms 141:7; Isaiah 5:14
  • 58. ver 33; S Genesis 37:35; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 5:26; Job 21:13; Psalms 9:17; Psalms 16:10; Psalms 55:15; Isaiah 14:11; Isaiah 38:18
  • 59. S Numbers 14:11; S Ezekiel 26:20
  • 60. Isaiah 64:1-2; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Micah 1:3-4; Zechariah 14:4
  • 61. S Exodus 15:12; Numbers 26:11; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalms 106:17
  • 62. S ver 30; S Ecclesiastes 9:10
  • 63. S Numbers 11:1-3; Numbers 26:10; Revelation 11:5
  • 64. S Leviticus 10:2
  • 65. S Exodus 6:23
  • 66. ver 6
  • 67. Leviticus 10:1; Proverbs 20:2
  • 68. S Exodus 20:24; Exodus 38:1-7
  • 69. Numbers 26:10; Deuteronomy 28:46; Jeremiah 44:29; Ezekiel 14:8; 2 Peter 2:6
  • 70. 2 Chronicles 26:18
  • 71. S Leviticus 20:14
  • 72. S Exodus 30:1; 2 Kings 12:3; Isaiah 1:13; Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 41:5; Jeremiah 44:3; Exodus 30:7-10; Numbers 1:51
  • 73. S Exodus 30:9; 2 Chronicles 26:18
  • 74. S Numbers 3:10
  • 75. S ver 19; Numbers 20:6
  • 76. Exodus 16:7; Numbers 14:10
  • 77. S Exodus 32:10
  • 78. S Leviticus 10:1
  • 79. Leviticus 10:6
  • 80. S Exodus 29:36; Numbers 18:5; Numbers 25:13; Deuteronomy 9:22
  • 81. S Numbers 1:53
  • 82. S Leviticus 26:25; Numbers 8:19; Psalms 106:29
  • 83. Numbers 25:6-8
  • 84. Numbers 25:8; Psalms 106:30
  • 85. ver 32

Footnotes 3

  • [a]. Or "Peleth—took men"
  • [b]. Or "to deceive these men" ; Hebrew "Will you gouge out the eyes of these men"
  • [c]. In Hebrew texts 16:36-50 is numbered 17:1-15.

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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