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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

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Verses 1-3

Leaders Rise up Before Moses

This chapter is a low point in the history of Israel’s wilderness journey. Can it be worse after what we have seen in the previous chapters: the longing for Egypt again, the contempt for the manna and the refusal to enter the promised land? Yes, we see that in this chapter.

Probably this uprising takes place towards the end of the wilderness journey. If we apply this to the end of the Christian dispensation, the time in which we live now, we can learn two lessons. The first is that after all the unfaithfulness and decay that have occurred in the Christian testimony, the worst is yet to come. The complete apostasy of what is called “Christian” will overshadow everything that has already become manifest in wickedness in Christianity. The low point is the denial of the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22).

The second lesson is that if a people do enter the land, heaven, this is not based on the faithfulness of that people, but on the faithfulness of the high priest. The value of the high priesthood of the Lord Jesus is indicated at the end of this chapter and in the following chapters. The blossoming staff of Aaron that we see in the next chapter (Numbers 17) is a telling symbol of this.

The evidence that this history refers to the end time of Christianity can be found in letter of Jude. Dathan and Abiram we recognize in persons who reject the authority (in Moses) (Jude 1:8). In Jude three phases on the way to apostacy can be distinguished (Jude 1:11). It starts with “the way of Cain”. This represents the principle of man who wants to build up his own righteousness before God, someone who wants to be accepted by God on the basis of his own works.

Then Judas speaks of “the error of Balaam”. In this we see the principle of a man who thinks he can serve God and at the same time serve the mammon. In the Christian church, that comes down to bringing in the teachings of people for money and power. This can be recognized in the ecumenical movement and the charismatic movement. The doctrines of demons have been introduced. It should not surprise us, for this is foretold by the Spirit: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-Exodus :).

The way of Cain and the error of Balaam are the preparers for what Judas mentions as third in his letter, “the rebellion of Korah” or the overt, direct rebellion against God. Where Dathan and Abiram reach out to the leadership of Moses, Korah reaches out to the priesthood of Aaron. Korah is a Kohathite. The Kohathites have the most wonderful task in connection with the tabernacle. They may carry the holy objects. But that is not enough for Korah. He wants the position of Aaron.

What Korah actually wants is a position that elevates him above the people, so that he becomes a mediator between the people and God. This sin, the sin of a separate priest class, has become common in Christianity. It is to take the place that only the Lord Jesus is entitled to. He who desires, falls into the rebellion of Korah and will perish. That is strongly seen in the pope. The papacy is the terrible premise of being the substitute of Christ on earth. A separate priest class is completely alien to biblical Christendom.

Korah, Dathan and Abiram are joined by two hundred and fifty men of renown. It is difficult to remain humble when you are someone “of renown”. Pride and ambition are lurking to let that name speak. Often “men of renown” are not content to be well-known, but want more. There is no place for God and His Word in the lives of such men. They have filled the earth with their violence in ancient times and are the reason for the flood (Genesis 6:4-Judges :).

The rebels first flatter the people by saying that they are holy as a whole. To be holy, however, is not on the basis of a declaration by people, but on the basis of keeping the commandments of the LORD. Such a declaration is accepted by the people. Democracy is seen as a great gain. No one in the church wants to be deprived of that. Not a few men at the top, but everyone should be allowed to have their say. What people are blind to is that power lies with a few authoritarian figures among the people.

Korah wants to draw power to himself. If he can be a mediator, he has the whole people in his grip. The power of the spiritual class is enormous. Man likes to submit to leaders who caress their religious feelings (2 Timothy 4:3). Moses sees through what Korah wants (Numbers 16:10). We will be preserved from these deceivers and their flattering, seductive language when we listen to ‘Moses’ (cf. Luke 16:29), that is, when we listen to what God says to us in His Word.

Dathan and Abiram are Reubenites. Reuben is the eldest son of Jacob. As a member of his descendants, Dathan and Abiram claim the most important place among the people. Their behavior reveals their true nature. They refuse to obey Moses and accuse him of ruling over them. But Moses and Aaron do not assume their position among the people of God. God has given them that position (Hebrews 5:4). To acknowledge that is true wisdom. Whoever consciously opposes this by claiming gifts for himself without looking at what God has given, is nothing else but asking God to judge him. Dathan and Abiram want a place based on natural qualities.

This is how it happens in Christianity. We see that when people with a good mind and a quick talk claim or are given a prominent place.

Verses 4-7

Moses Lets the LORD Decide

Moses falls on his face, he does not defend himself against criticism. He defers the case until tomorrow. This gives his opponents time to think. He himself has full confidence that the LORD will make everything clear. He puts the decision with Him, at ease about the outcome.

For the decision censers with fire and incense will be used. Maybe this means is used because the most sacred act of the priest, which brings the priest closest to God, is the bringing of incense. In connection with this the LORD has already shown once to the whole congregation of Israel how He by judgment has shown Himself to be the Holy One to those who have approached to Him with incense (Leviticus 10:1-:).

Verses 8-11

The Indictment

Moses reminds Korah of his privileged position and task. Whoever becomes proud of what he has received from the Lord, exalts himself above others. The exercise of a ministry in the church should never be a reason for assuming a special function as mediator, which only the Lord Jesus has.

Verses 12-15

Dathan and Abiram Refuse to Come Up

Dathan and Abiram reject Moses as leader. They accuse him of being an incompetent leader. He has not brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey. On the contrary, they say that he has taken them out of a land flowing with milk and honey. They also accuse Moses of blinding the eyes of the people with beautiful promises, but nothing has come true. But it is exactly the other way around: people who have Egypt in their mind as a land that is flowing with milk and honey, are totally blind to God’s plan and are also totally blind to their own failures. They blind the eyes of others with their false talk.

Here Moses loses his patience. However, he does not express himself against his opponents but against the LORD. He does not take the law into his own hands. He leaves justice to the LORD. He asks the LORD not to look at their offering. With this he aligns them with Cain who came with a selfish offering and whose offering was not accepted by the LORD either (Genesis 4:3; Genesis 4:5).

He also pleads with God about the selflessness of his conduct. He has never enriched himself at their expense. And he never has done harm to them. He has never behaved like a ruler who demands of his subjects and oppresses them. Samuel and Nehemiah acted in the same way as Moses (1 Samuel 12:3-Deuteronomy :; Nehemiah 5:17-Job :).

Verses 16-18

Firepan and Incense

The LORD will make it clear who may approach Him by the hand of the incense. The place where this happens is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.

Verses 19-22

The Glory of the LORD Appears

The next day they all come to the doorway of the tent of meeting. Again God speaks of His desire to exterminate the whole people. But again the true shepherd reveals himself, to whom the people of God is dear. Moses does not take the opportunity to rid himself of his opponents. That is a great contrast with Korah, Dathan and Abiram. They have no heart for the people, for they drag it with them into destruction. By the intercession of Moses God saves the people (Psalms 106:23).

God is called here the “God of the spirits of all flesh”. This name is also found in Numbers 27 (Numbers 27:16). This name indicates that God is omniscient, that He comprehends man’s heart, mind and will.

Verses 23-35

Korah and His Followers Judged

The sin of these men is a sin to death. In the course of this chapter we see a picture of the developments in Christianity. There is talk of three days. The first day is the day of the uprising. We see this in the early days of Christianity, when a priesthood class is created. The second day is the day of intercession by Moses. On this basis God gives a way to escape judgment. That way is the way of separation from evil (Revelation 18:4; 2 Timothy 2:19).

After all these centuries of unfaithfulness of the church, God has not destroyed the church, but has given it a new principle. That is the principle of separation from the evil of all human institutions. In church history we see that this mainly happens in the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the sabbath violator (Numbers 15:32-Zephaniah :) we see the picture that evil is being removed from the church. In this history we see that if evil is not removed from the church, the faithful themselves will have to depart.

Never before has it happened that people entered the realm of the dead, alive (Psalms 55:15). It is the dishonor of the beast and the false prophet to be the first living beings to be cast into hell (Revelation 19:20). What will happen to the beast and the false prophet is yet another clear indication that this history refers to the end time of the Christian testimony on earth.

Verses 36-40

The Bronze Censers

Here begins a special part of the book of Numbers. In this part, the priesthood in its glory is shown as the foundation for the entry of the people into the land. That a new section begins here, can be seen in some Bible translations. Those translations begin here with Numbers 17:1.

Eleazar is the third son of Aaron. The number three speaks of the resurrection. He is the son of the new life, he will become the high priest after Aaron’s death. He is ordered to remove the bronze censers from the fire and use them as a plating for the altar.

The bronze is not consumed by the fire. We can therefore say that the bronze speaks of the righteousness that can withstand the power of judgment. Herein we see a picture of the Lord Jesus, Who is not consumed by God’s judgment. Whoever sees the bronze altar is reminded of the judgment of the bands and of what is resistant to the judgment. It is an enduring testimony, as is the sprouting staff, of the priesthood.

Verses 41-50

Judgment and Reconciliation

On the third day the people assemble again against Moses and Aaron. Yesterday the leaders were judged. The people have not yet been judged. Yesterday the people fled, but what happened did not change their minds. Now the evil of the people is revealed. They speak of the rebels as “the LORD’s people” and blame Moses and Aaron for their death! And this while Moses has prayed for the people that the LORD will spare them (Numbers 16:22). They have not allowed themselves to be warned by the judgment they have seen.

Because of this attitude, God judges immediately. Moses sees how the crowd starts to fall. And again we see Moses’ love for his people and even more how much he knows what is in God’s heart of the plans He has with his people. He orders Aaron to take his censer with which he enters the sanctuary on the Atonement Day. The incense in it speaks of the Lord Jesus. If God smells this, it is for Him the reason to stop the plague. When God is reminded of the Lord Jesus, He can prove mercy.

Atonement here is done by incense and not by blood. That is exceptional. Moses has insight into the heart of God. The Lord Jesus once on the cross brought about atonement by pouring His blood. If we as believers sin, we must confess our sins and there is the “Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1-Exodus :). Incense represents prayer (Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-Numbers :). Because of the intercession of the Lord Jesus not all the people are killed. He can point out to God what He has done on the cross and to Whom He is in the perfection of His Person.

We have arrived in the history of Christianity on the third day. The hallmark of that day is that the whole people are carried away by new teachings, ecumenism and charismatic movement, following what the leaders proclaim. Around us, people in large numbers fall prey to all these doctrines and practices. In order to remain standing, we need the Advocacy, Whom we see in the midst of the church of God. Seeing Him and His loveliness to God is the only thing that preserves us from grumbling and rebellion.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Numbers 16". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/numbers-16.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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