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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-11

The Challenge of Korah and His Companions

v. 1. Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, himself a member of the band of Levites whom the Lord had distinguished by entrusting to them the special service of the Sanctuary, Numbers 7:9, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, of the tribe of Reuben, Numbers 26:8, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men, organized a rebellion under the very eyes of Moses;

v. 2. and they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, for the conspiracy that had first brooded in secret now came out in open revolt, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown, all of them leaders and influential men in their own tribes;

v. 3. and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, in a formal organization, with the intention of ousting the leaders instituted by God, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, you have had the leadership long enough, 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? Their argument was that, since the entire nation had been called to be the holy people of Jehovah, Exodus 19:5-6, therefore they all had an equal right to the priesthood and to the leadership, and any member might claim its rights and execute its duties. The rebels entirely overlooked the fact that God was responsible for the present arrangement, and that He had made the obedience of the children of Israel to the terms of the covenant His condition when He called them to be His people.

v. 4. And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face, in the attitude of a suppliant bringing his case to the attention of the Lord;

v. 5. and he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to-morrow the Lord will show who are His and who is holy, the reference being to the priestly office, for which Aaron had been consecrated by the special command of the Lord; and will cause him to come near unto Him, even him whom He hath chosen will He cause to come near unto Him. God Himself would indicate whom He had selected to offer the sacrifices before Him in the Sanctuary. Moses was willing to submit the entire matter to a test.

v. 6. This do: Take you censers, Korah and all his company, such vessels as were used for offering incense in the Holy Place, at the altar of incense,

v. 7. and put fire therein, and put incense in them before the Lord tomorrow; and it shall be that the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy, and therefore be accepted as the Lord's priest. Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi. That ought to be sufficient for them; that surely would be a fair test.

v. 8. And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi, he addresses them all by that name, because their leaders were Kohathites:

v. 9. Seemeth it but a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel to bring you near to Himself to do the service of the Tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them? Surely these privileges, as here enumerated, should have been sufficient to satisfy the ambition of even the most ardent defender of the practical priesthood of all Israelites.

v. 10. And He hath brought thee (the tribe of Levi) near to Him, and all thy brethren, the sons of Levi, with thee; and seek ye the priesthood also? The Levites even now held a higher position in the congregation than the other tribes, and their desire to have all Israelites recognized as priests was nothing but sham and pretense, their real aim being the office of the priesthood for themselves.

v. 11. For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord, for that is what their rebellion amounted to. And what is Aaron that ye murmur against him? It was not a case of Aaron's having placed himself into the office of high priest by deceitful or arbitrary measures; and so the murmuring of the rebels, ostensibly directed against Aaron, was in reality a rebellion against Jehovah. In the same manner today false teachers arise in the Church and try to push out those that have the rightful call of the Lord. There is always danger that such methods will be supported by dissatisfied spirits.

Verses 12-22

The Test.

v. 12. And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, the negotiations till now having been carried on with Korah and his company; which said, We will not come up; they refused to come out to the open space before the Tabernacle.

v. 13. Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, for so they now designated Egypt, to kill us in the wilderness, for they accused Moses of deliberately exposing them to a slow death in the desert, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us? That, they insisted, was the object of Moses, to play the lord, the tyrant over them, to make them do his bidding while he lived a life of ease.

v. 14. Moreover, thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, whereby they sneeringly imply that he had not kept his promises, Exodus 4:30; Exodus 3:7-10, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards; wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up. So they flung the charge into the face of Moses that he was boring out the eyes of the people, that is, degrading them to absolute, blind obedience to his wishes and whims, against all individual judgment.

v. 15. And Moses was very wroth, the insulting injustice of the charge provoking him to a just indignation, and said unto the Lord, Respect not Thou their offering; God should not accept their sacrifice, which certainly was a mild form of vindication of his own uprightness; I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them. The charge that Moses had used tyrannical measures at any time was absolutely unfounded.

v. 16. And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou and they and Aaron, to-morrow;

v. 17. and take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the Lord every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also and Aaron, each of you his censer, all of them performing one of the chief acts characteristic of the priesthood.

v. 18. And they took every man his censer, they accepted the challenge in a spirit of blasphemous presumption, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation with Moses and Aaron. They actually had the audacity to press forward to the place which was reserved for the ministrations of the priests.

v. 19. And Korah gathered all the congregation against them, in an attitude of hostility, unto the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation; he encouraged them to press forward to profane the Sanctuary. And the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation; by some miraculous manifestation the Lord gave a display of His majesty preparatory to punishing the offenders.

v. 20. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

v. 21. Separate yourselves from among this congregation that I may consume them in a moment. Because the people had taken sides with the rebels, the Lord intended to exterminate the entire congregation in one moment.

v. 22. And they fell upon their faces, in the attitude of most fervent intercession, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, Creator and Preserver of all living things, shall one man (Korah) sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation? Korah was the leading spirit, he had instigated the rebellion; the rest were guilty indeed, but only inasmuch as they had given heed to his seditious speeches. Apparently the Lord heard the prayer of His servants, for He did not proceed to exterminate all the people. The confident prayer of the believers is a mighty weapon before God.

Verses 23-40

The Punishment of the Rebellious Faction

v. 23. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

v. 24. Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle, the place of habitation, of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

v. 25. ; And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram, who, it seems, had stayed in their tents, as they had said,

v. 12. while Korah led the revolt against the Tabernacle; and the elders of Israel followed him.

v. 26. And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins, be punished as partakers in their transgression.

v. 27. So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram on every side, moved back in a wide circle from their place of habitation. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children, apparently defying the authority of Moses and Aaron to the very last.

v. 28. And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works, everything connected with the leadership of the people; for I have not done them of mine own mind; he was not governed by any selfish motives.

v. 29. If these men die the common death of all men, as men usually die, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men, then the Lord hath not sent me. If Providence would keep the rebellious people from a violent death, then Moses was ready to be accused of being an impostor.

v. 30. But if the Lord make a new thing, something unheard of until now, and the earth open her mouth and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick, while still alive, into the pit, then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord.

v. 31. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them;

v. 32. and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up and their houses, the families of the leaders, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, that is, his servants, and all their goods. The catastrophe included Korah, although he was probably not in his tent at the time, but somewhere between the Tabernacle and the section of the camp south of the Tabernacle, and next to the camp of the Kohathites, where the tribe of Reuben was encamped.

v. 33. They and all that appertained to them went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them; and they perished from among the congregation. It should be noted that the sons of Korah were not included in this punishment, Numbers 26:11. Their descendants were later known as the sons of Korah, a noted family of singers, 1 Chronicles 6:18-22; 1 Chronicles 9:19.

v. 34. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them, for the noise, as the abyss opened beneath them, was mingled with the shrieks of the doomed; for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also. It was not a case of wholesome fear, however, which would have led them to repentance, but of slavish dread, which cowed without conquering them.

v. 35. And there came out a fire from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense, and thus, like Nadab and Abihu, offered strange fire before the Lord, Leviticus 10:2.

v. 36. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

v. 37. Speak unto Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, out of the midst of those that had been destroyed by the fire of the Lord, and scatter thou the fire yonder, that is, the coals of fire that were in the censers; for they are hallowed, consecrated by virtue of the fact that they had been presented before Jehovah.

v. 38. The censers of these sinners against their own souls, who by their sin had forfeited their lives, let them (the artisans) make them broad plates for a covering of the altar; for they offered them before the Lord, although without authority, therefore they are hallowed; and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel, lest some one else encroach upon the functions of the priesthood in the same manner and perish for his foolhardiness.

v. 39. And Eleazar, the priest, took the brazen censers, wherewith they that were burned had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar,

v. 40. to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, even an Israelite who does not belong to the family of priests, come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah and as his company; as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moses. Christians will also be careful to remember that God is opposed to the haughty spirits who occasionally rise and wish to set aside the regular office of the ministry.

Verses 41-50

The Rebellion and the Punishment of the Congregation.

v. 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. They charged these two with the responsibility for the death of the rebels, whom they, in blasphemous exaggeration, call the people of the Lord, the flower of the Lord's army. To that extent the wickedness of the hardened heart will go in refusing to acknowledge its own sinfulness; for the truth of the matter was that Moses had saved the people from sudden destruction the day before.

v. 42. And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, a sullen mob, ready for almost any crime, that they looked toward the Tabernacle of the Congregation; and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared, in a threatening manifestation of His majesty over against the people, while it sheltered, at the same time, the men against whom the murmuring of the mob was directed.

v. 43. And Moses and Aaron came before the Tabernacle of the Congregation, ready to receive the commands of the Lord.

v. 44. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

v. 45. Get you up from among this congregation, remove from its midst as quickly as possible, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces, with the intention of making a plea, even now, for the lives of the people. The attitude of the Lord, however, showed Moses that it was too late for an intercession.

v. 46. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar of burnt offering, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation and make an atonement for them; for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun, a terrible, devastating pestilence, which struck dead without warning.

v. 47. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people; and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people, the incense being a symbol of intercession and of the people's prayers of repentance.

v. 48. And he stood, placed himself like a valiant champion, between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed, shut off, confined to the place where it had broken out.

v. 49. Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.

v. 50. And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, where the faithful leader watched, although rejected by his own people; and the plague was stayed, it did no further damage, wrought no more ravages. Note: The two hundred and fifty censers of the fanatics effected nothing but deadly consequences; the one censer of the true high priest saves life and conquers death by making a separation between the living and the dead. Mark, also: Aaron is here again a type of Christ, the perfect Priest, who entered into the midst of lost and condemned mankind and by His sacrifice stayed the plague of God's wrath, thus making a perfect atonement for the world.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 16". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/numbers-16.html. 1921-23.
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