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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verses 1-2

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:

Now Korah, the son of Izhar. Izhar, brother of Amram (Exodus 6:18), was the second son of Kohath, and for some reason unrecorded he had been supplanted by a descendant of the fourth son of Kohath, who was appointed prince or chief of the Kohathites (Numbers 3:30). Discontent with the preferment over him of a younger relative was probably the originating cause of this seditious movement on the part of Korah.

Dathan ... Abiram ... and On. These were confederate leaders in the rebellion; but On seems to have afterward withdrawn from the conspiracy.

Took men. The latter-mentioned individuals, being all sons of Reuben, the oldest of Jacob's family, had been stimulated to this insurrection on the pretext that Moses had, by an arbitrary arrangement, taken away the right of primogeniture, which had vested the hereditary dignity of the priesthood in the firstborn of every family, with a view of transferring the hereditary exercise of the sacred functions to a particular branch of his own house; and that this gross instance of partiality to his own relations, to the permanent detriment of others, was a sufficient ground for refusing allegiance to his government. In addition to this grievance, another cause of jealousy and dissatisfaction that rankled in the breasts of the Reubenites was the advancement of Judah to the leadership among the tribes. These malcontents had been incited by the artful representations of Korah (Jude 1:11), with whom the position of their camp on the south side afforded them facilities of frequent contact, and who, in addition to his feeling of personal wrongs, participated in their desire, if he did not originate the attempt, to recover their lost rights of primogeniture.

When the conspiracy was ripe, they openly and boldly declared its object, and, at the head of 250 princes, challenged Moses with an ambitious and unwarrantable usurpation of authority, especially in the appropriation of the priesthood; because they disputed the claim of Aaron also to pre-eminence. [ nªsiy'eey (H5387) `eedaah (H5712) qªri'eey (H7148) mow`eed (H4150), princes or chiefs of the congregation (community) that are called to the convention (see the note at Numbers 1:16).] 'I notice this passage particularly,' says Michaelis, 'because it appears from it that 250 persons of this description, who rose up against Moses, became to him objects of terror, which they could not have been, if their voices had not been at the same time the voices of their families and tribes' (cf. Deuteronomy 29:9).

Verse 3

And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

They gathered themselves together. The assemblage seems to have been composed of the whole band of conspirators; and they grounded their complaint on the fact that the whole people, being separated to the divine service (Exodus 19:6), were equally qualified to present offerings on the altar, and that God, being graciously present among them by the tabernacle and the cloud; evinced His readiness to receive sacrifices from the hand of any others as well as from theirs.

Verse 4

And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:

When Moses heard it, he fell upon his face. This attitude of prostration indicated not only his humble and earnest desire that God would interpose to free him from the false and odious imputation, but his strong sense of the daring sin involved in this proceeding. Whatever feelings may be entertained respecting Aaron, who had formerly headed a sedition himself, it is impossible not to sympathize with Moses in this difficult emergency. But he was a devout man; and the prudential course he adopted was probably the dictate of that heavenly wisdom with which, in answer to his prayers, he was endowed.

Verses 5-11

And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.

He spake unto Korah, and unto all his company. They were first addressed, not only because, being a party headed by his own cousin, Moses might hope to have more influence in that quarter, but because they were stationed near the tabernacle, and especially because an expostulation was the more weighty, coming from him who was a Levite himself, and who was excluded, along with his family, from the priesthood. But to bring the matter to an issue he proposed a test, which would afford a decisive evidence of the divine appointment.

Even tomorrow, [ boqer (H1242)] - 'in the morning,' the usual time of meeting in the East for the settlement of public affairs. [The Septuagint has epeskeptai, he has looked at or inspected; as if the text had been biqeer, to look at. But our version has doubtless adopted the proper rendering, which is confirmed by the synonymous word, maachaar (H4279), tomorrow, which is used in Numbers 16:7; Numbers 16:16 (see the note at 1 Samuel 11:5).]

Him whom he hath chosen ... to come near unto him - i:e., will bear attestation to his ministry by some visible or miraculous token of his approval. (These words are cited and applied generally by the apostle, 2 Timothy 2:19.)

Verse 6. Take you censers, Korah ... - i:e., since you aspire to the priesthood, then go, perform the highest function of the office, that of offering incense, and if you are accepted, well. How magnanimous the conduct of Moses, who was now as willing that God's people should be priests as formerly that they should be prophets! (Numbers 11:29.) But he warned them that they were making a perilous experiment.

Verses 12-14

And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up: Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram - in a separate interview, the ground of their mutiny being different; because while Korah complained against the exclusive appropriation of the priesthood to Aaron and his family, they were opposed to the supremacy of Moses in civil power.

We will not come up, [ lo' (H3808) na`ªleh (H5927)]. The phrase is used here not in a geographical or physical, but a moral sense, according to a Hebrew idiom, to denote an appearance before a judge or king (cf. Deuteronomy 25:7; Judges 4:5). They refused to obey the summons; and their refusal was grounded on the plausible pretext that their stay in the desert was prolonged for some secret and selfish purposes of the leader, who was conducting them, like blind men, wherever it suited him.

Verse 14. # Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? [ tªnaqeer (H5365)] - wilt thou bore, or scoop out the eyes? etc. Putting out the eyes was the Eastern punishment of treason and rebellion; and in this view the language of the rebels to Moses is very significant-Wilt thou subject so great a number of men to total and irreparable blindness?-q.d., 'Is it in thy power to punish so widespread a conspiracy as thou mightest a rebellious individual? We are too numerous for you to attempt such a mode of suppressing our dissatisfaction with thy arrogant and ambitious assumption of power.'

Verse 15

And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.

Moses was very wroth. Though the meekest of all men, he could not restrain his indignation at these unjust and groundless charges; and the highly excited state of his feelings was evinced by the utterance of a brief exclamation, in the mixed form of a prayer and an impassioned assertion of his integrity (cf. 1 Samuel 12:3).

Respect not thou their offering. He calls it their offering, because, though it was to be offered by Korah and his Levitical associates, it was the united appeal of all the mutineers for deciding the contested claims of Moses and Aaron.

Verses 16-18

And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:

Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord - i:e., at "the door of the tabernacle" (Numbers 16:18), that the assembled people might witness the experiment, and be properly impressed by the issue.

Two hundred and fifty censers - probably the small platters common in Egyptian families where incense was offered to household deities, and which had been among the precious things borrowed at their departure.

Verse 19

And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the congregation.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 20-21

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

The Lord spake ... Separate yourselves from among this congregation. Curiosity to witness the exciting spectacle attracted a vast concourse of the people; and it would seem that the popular mind had been incited to evil by the clamours of the mutineers against Moses and Aaron. There was something in their behaviour very offensive to God; because after His glory had appeared-as at the installation of Aaron (Leviticus 9:23) - so now for his confirmation in the sacred office, He made Moses and Aaron withdraw from the assembly, 'that He might consume them in a moment.'

Verse 22

And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?

O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh. The benevolent importunity of their prayer was the more remarkable that the intercession was made for their enemies.

Verse 23

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 24

Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

Speak unto the congregation ... Get you up from about the tabernacle. Moses was attended in the execution of this mission by the elders - i:e., in all probability, the council of seventy (see the note at Numbers 11:16), whose influence was exercised by moral persuasion only; because their appointment did not supersede nor interfere with the power vested in the national representatives of the people-to which latter order Korah and his associates belonged. The united and urgent entrearies of so many dignified personages produced the desired effect of convincing the people of their crime, and of withdrawing them from the company of men who were doomed to destruction, lest, being partakers of their sins, they should perish along with them.

Verses 25-26

And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 27

So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.

The tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Korah being a Kohathite, his tent could not have been in the Reubenite camp; and it does not appear that he himself was on the spot where Dathan and Abiram stood with their families. Their attitude of defiance indicated their daring and impenitent character-equally regardless of God and man.

Verses 28-34

And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the LORD hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind.

Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me. The awful catastrophe of the earthquake which, as predicted by Moses, swallowed up those impious rebels in a living tomb, gave the divine attestation to the mission of Moses, and struck the spectators with solemn awe.

Verse 30. They go down quick into the pit. "Quick" is an old English word, which has lost the meaning attached to it at the time our translation was made. The import of the clause in which it stands here is, 'they go down alive into the pit' [ Shª'olaah (H7585), to Sheol, rendered "pit" here; also in Job 17:16; but most commonly in our version, 'the grave,' or 'hell;' Septuagint, katabeesontai zoontes eis hadou (cf. Psalms 106:16-18)].

Verse 35

And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.

There came out a fire from the Lord - i:e., from the cloud. This seems to describe the destruction of Korah and those Levites who with him aspired to the functions of the priesthood (see the notes at Numbers 26:11; Numbers 26:58; 1 Chronicles 6:22; 1 Chronicles 6:37).

Verse 36

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 37

Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed.

Speak unto Eleazar. He was selected lest the high priest might contract defilement from going among the dead carcasses.

Verse 38

The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the LORD, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 39-40

And Eleazar the priest took the brasen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar:

The brasen censers ... made broad plates ... To be a memorial. The altar of burnt offerings being made of wood, and covered with brass, this additional covering of broad plates not only rendered it doubly secure against the fire, but served as a warning beacon to deter all from future invasions of the priesthood.

Verse 41

But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD.

Ye have killed the people of the Lord. What a strange exhibition of popular prejudice and passion, to blame the leaders for saving the rebels! Yet Moses and Aaron interceded for the people-the high priest perilling his own life in doing good to that perverse race!

Verses 42-47

And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 48

And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.

Stood between the dead and the living. The plague seems to have begun in the extremities of the camp. Aaron, in this remarkable act, was a type of Christ. This memorable incident was followed by permanent effects; because it established once and for all the position of the Aaronic priesthood among the national institutions of Israel.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 16". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/numbers-16.html. 1871-8.
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