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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-50

Numbers 16:1 . Korah. One of the firstborn, a very old man, and grandson of Levi by his father Jahar. Dathan and Abiram were descendants of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel; these according to the patriarchal customs had a right to officiate at the altar.

Numbers 16:5 . To-morrow; the time when justice was administered, as appears from many texts. Jeremiah 21:12. Psalms 101:8. This night of indulgence seems to have allowed them a little time for reflection and repentance.

Numbers 16:7 . Put fire therein. The test had a striking resemblance to that of Elijah on mount Carmel: the fire decided between JEHOVAH and Baal.

Numbers 16:15 . Moses said unto the Lord, respect not thou their offering. Woe be to him against whom the church of God shall pray. Lord, said David, confound the counsel of Ahitophel, and he did so.

Numbers 16:21 . Separate yourselves from all men of a wicked, dissatisfied and seditious spirit, against ministers or magistrates.

Numbers 16:22 . God of the spirits of all flesh. The LXX read, God of the spirits, and of all flesh.

Numbers 16:29 . The common death of all men. These men, being descendants of princes, seem to have had larger tents and more wealth than many others. When the earth swallowed up the tents and families of Dathan and Abiram, with Korah and On, who were with them, it is remarkable that the children of Korah should escape; they being, no doubt, at some distance from the scene of convulsion: Numbers 26:11.

Numbers 16:33 . Alive into the pit. Many read here, alive into hell, that is, into the grave; and they further mean that their souls went into a place of torment, as in Matthew 11:23. Luke 16:23.

Numbers 16:34 . All Israel fled at the cry of them. They were not even in that age, wholly ignorant of the nature of earthquakes: but this earthquake was local, special, and divine. Numbers 16:35 . A fire from the Lord consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense. These men had seen the fire at the consecration of Aaron; they had seen the death of Nadab and Abihu, there could therefore be no excuse for their sin. God would not suffer the hallowed types and figures of our redemption to be gaited and marred by the revolts of men.


Carnal men do but ill support the judgments of the Lord. The enmity of their hearts is ever ready to revolt against the word, and against the servants of the Lord; and yet they always cover their designs with some popular plea. They are either seeking truth, or endeavouring to reform abuses, and befriend the people. Here, embracing a crisis of discontent, they pleaded that Moses and Aaron had deprived the firstborn of their ancient and unquestionable right of attending the altar; and they were ready, at the same time, to punish them with death for the offence. They who had not believed in the possibility of conquering Canaan, now affect to disbelieve that God had substituted the Levites for the firstborn: and expressly with a view to presignify the Messiah and his church, and to relieve them of the painful toils of being detained from their farms and families by attendance on the altar. To the patriarchs, these occasional services were easy; but the constant devotion of the nation required the regular attendance of the Lord’s anointed. And let all christians be cautious how they speak and act against faithful ministers regularly appointed by those whose right it is, and by the prayers and good wishes of the people.

Korah and his faction, instead of seeking to resume their supposed rights by counsel and prayer, endeavoured to resist Moses and Aaron by open force, and in language which indicated a wish for their destruction. Surely that was not a spirit becoming the priesthood. Language and tempers so inimical, would soon have made the sanctuary of God a desolation. The Lord’s work must always be done in the Lord’s spirit.

We learn, that the Lord will not forsake his servants when surrounded by wicked and unreasonable men. Moses, acting for God and trusting in him alone, had not surrounded his person with guards; for what has a patriarch to fear when surrounded by a nation of children, if Israel had been worthy of so faithful a father. However, he and Aaron fled to the sanctuary for refuge, and it proved to them an alsufficient refuge in the day of trouble. Dathan and Abiram, with their families who despised the Lord and his servant, sunk to rise no more. Had they obeyed, and come to the door of the tabernacle, their families would not have perished. Korah and his distinguished company, while burning incense in violation of the precept, were burnt of the Lord. Who then would not fear his judgments! Let sinners of every description tremble to violate the commands of God: for soon or late their day of visitation will surely come.

From the conspiracy of Korah, religious characters are particularly cautioned against occasioning faction and schism in the house of God. It is not necessary here to arraign the ancient schisms, because in general our information is partial. The Catharians, and the Novatians seem to have had a good cause. But it sometimes happens that one man, disappointed of preferment, or anxious to obtain some controul over his brethren, will constantly be inveighing against some Moses or Aaron. When any disorder or difference of opinion happens, which in all societies of mortal men must often be the case, instead of healing and composing the evil, he takes advantage of it to strengthen his party. The long-fostered spirit of revolt at length comes to a crisis; and finding himself then strong for battle, he openly declares all his opponents hypocrites and demons, calling aloud for their excommunication. The weak of the flock, appalled, dispersed, destroyed; a minister, and his tender family ruined, are no arguments at all with him. But whether he obtain his object, or be defeated in his design, the tempest will gradually subside; the dark clouds will clear up; the mischiefs occasioned will be appreciated; his partisans, as well as his opposers, will then fully trace his designs; and all good men will sigh at the mention of his name. Hence let ministers and members be wary and wise. Let them compose differences, and put away evils as they arise, neither fearing man, nor knowing relative or friend. And let them fear, more than death, to destroy the house of God for the accomplishment of any private object.

We are next awfully taught, that God will not only destroy the factions of the wicked and the proud, but also the roots of factions where fear does not sanctify. Scarcely had this people, accustomed to miracles, slept a single night; scarcely had the sun arose, before they were assembled in open revolt, and charging Moses and Aaron with having martyred the Lord’s people. Therefore the plague broke out, and fourteen thousand were consumed under the high displeasure of heaven. Let us never murmur at God’s judgments, as those men who were destroyed of the destroyer. 1 Corinthians 10:10. Alas, alas, will nothing humble some proud and haughty men but a consumption, an asthma, a burning. Will nothing cure them of bringing God and his word on all occasions to their bar, but the being brought to the gates of the grave. Let the faithful, forgetful of wrongs, run like Aaron to save them, when fallen vanquished at the Lord’s feet. Let them run with a censer of tears and glowing piety, if peradventure the Lord will heal them, or at least, save the soul in the day of visitation.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 16". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/numbers-16.html. 1835.
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