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6. The Rebellion of Korah
1. The rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16:1-19 )
2. The punishment (Numbers 16:20-35 )
3. Eleazar and his work (Numbers 16:36-40 )
4. The murmuring of the whole congregation (Numbers 16:41-43 )
5. The staying of the plague (Numbers 16:44-50 )
The history is now resumed and we have the worst episode of Israel’s history in the wilderness before us. We have seen and followed the steps downward and toward this fearful rebellion and the terrible punishment which followed. It started with unbelief. This tragedy is mentioned in the New Testament. In the Epistle of Jude we read, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsayings of Korah.” This little Epistle gives a prophetic picture of the apostasy of the professing people of God during our age. This apostasy began in the days of Jude and is now fully developed in the end of the age. Unbelief is given in Jude’s Epistle as the starting point of the departure from God (verse 5), and Israel’s unbelief is used as the picture of the unbelief of Christendom. Besides Cain (the one who rejects the sacrifice) Balaam and Korah are mentioned as types of the apostasy. The consummation of the apostasy is opposition to Christ, His blessed office-work and glory. And this seems to have been reached in our day. The opposition will continue and become more outspoken, more widespread, till the judgment by fire in the day of the Lord falls upon the apostates.
The leader of the rebellion was Korah, a Kohathite. It will be remembered that the Kohathites had the choicest service among the Levites; they carried the very best upon their shoulders, the sacred things of worship. The departure from God and rebellion against His Word often begins with those who claim the office of teachers and preachers. Such is the case in our times. Korah’s name means “hail; ice.” May not this indicate the coldness of his heart? Even so the apostate teachers of the last days, mere hirelings like Balaam, are only natural men, not having the Spirit (Jude 1:19 ). Their mouths may speak great swelling words, their hearts have never tasted the love of Christ; they know Him not, or they would not betray Him.
The sons of Reuben, Dathan and Abiram, and On, besides two hundred and fifty, joined the revolt. Their attempt was a complete overthrow of the constitution which had been given to Israel and the establishment of another order and other leaders. They themselves sought recognition and Korah aimed at the priesthood of Aaron and would have it himself. Verses 8-10 indicate this. Korah and his associates aimed at God’s appointed high priest. And Moses put this serious matter in the hands of the Lord.
Moses and Aaron could not deal with this rebellion. The glory of the Lord appeared. Divine judgment falls upon them. Dathan and Abiram, their wives, their sons and their little ones, besides the ringleader Korah, are swallowed up by the earth and went down alive into the pit. (It is also foreshadowing the judgment to come upon the apostates when the Lord appears the second time. See Revelation 19:20 .) The two hundred and fifty who had taken presumptuously censers with incense, thereby defying the priesthood, are consumed by fire. It must be noted that the sons of Korah did not perish. A careful reading of verses 27-33 will bring out this fact and chapter 26:11 settles it beyond a doubt, “notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.” Sovereign grace saved the sons of Korah from the awful fate of the father. They were saved from the pit. Mercy was remembered in wrath. What grace bestowed upon them may be learned by consulting the following passages: 1 Chronicles 26:1-20; 1 Chronicles 26:1-20 ; 2 Chronicles 31:14-18; 2 Chronicles 31:14-18 . They had the cities of refuge, were keepers of the gates of the tabernacle; were over the chambers and treasuries of the house of the Lord; the instruments of the sanctuary, the wine, oil, etc., were in their charge; they were mighty men of valor; strong men; they were the royal guards. And more than that, the Holy Spirit inspired them to write some of the beautiful Psalms. Read Psalms 84:0 , “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts.” What meaning this Psalm has when studied in the light of the story of Korah! They were faithful, devoted in their service because they knew that they had been saved from the pit. And we have the same deliverance and knowledge of it. Should we be less faithful and devoted?
Interesting is Eleazar’s priesthood and ministry. As the third son of Aaron and in his ministry here he typifies the priesthood of Christ. The censers are kept as a memorial and as a warning. This ministry of Eleazar and Aaron staying the plague with the censer of incense, when the whole congregation revolted, is a confirmation of the divinely appointed priesthood and its efficacy. The preservation of the sinning, murmuring people depended upon the exercise of the priesthood. Blessed be God for Him who has made atonement, and whose priesthood in the presence of God keeps His people.
What higher criticism has made of this may be learned by the following statement:
“From the plain account of the text it appears that Aaron separated the men and women suffering with the plague from those not yet attacked, and then he piled the censer with incense and swung it between the hosts, so that not a germ in the air could pass over from the plague-stricken to those not yet attacked by the disease.
“The disinfecting of the air and separating of the sick from the well was dictated by Moses, who had learned in Egypt all the science of his day, and the Egyptian priests were master of many secrets which we have to learn over again.” How absurd!
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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Numbers 16". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent