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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-50

Numbers 16. The Rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (JE and P).— The narrative fuses together accounts of distinct revolts led by different individuals and inspired by different motives. The first (from JE) had for its instigators Dathan and Abiram, who are mentioned separately in Numbers 16:12; Numbers 16:25; Numbers 16:27, Deuteronomy 11:6, and who, as Reubenites (a tribe that once possessed the primacy, Genesis 49:3), disputed the civil authority of Moses ( Numbers 16:13; Numbers 16:15), appeal being made for Yahweh’ s decision. The ringleaders and their belongings were swallowed up by an earthquake. The inclusion with these of On is probably due to a textual error: he is not named elsewhere. The second (from an early form of P) was headed by Korah (mentioned separately in Numbers 16:5 f. Numbers 16:16; Numbers 16:19; Numbers 27:3) with 250 adherents; and was a repudiation of the religious supremacy of Moses and Aaron (representing the tribe of Levi). In this version Korah could scarcely have been a Levite, and certainly some of his supporters came from other tribes (see Numbers 27:1-3). A challenge to him and his supporters to offer incense before Yahweh and so learn whether they were acceptable to Him resulted in their being consumed by fire, whilst a subsequent murmuring on the part of the people was punished by a plague. Another version of the second story (from a later form of P) represents Korah as a Levite disputing Aaron’ s exclusive right to the priesthood. The various stories may reflect real struggles against the predominance of tribes or individuals, and the accidental death of any of the actors in such struggles would readily be construed as a Divine judgment: but what proportion (if any) of the narratives is actual fact it is impossible to say.

Numbers 16:1 f. These verses combine Korah, Dathan, and Abiram into one body. The two stories must originally have begun something like this: ( a) “ Now Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, the son of Peleth (in Numbers 26:8, Pallu), the son (LXX, cf. Deuteronomy 11:6) of Reuben rose up before Moses, and certain of the children of Israel “ ; ( b) “ Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, took an offering (see Numbers 16:15), and with him were two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, called to the assembly, men of renown.”

Numbers 16:3-7 . These verses (from P) continue the story of Korah alone, whose contention is that the whole congregation are as holy as Moses and Aaron. Moses invites him and his supporters to submit (with Aaron) to the ordeal of approaching Yahweh with incense.

Numbers 16:3 . Ye . . . upon you: better, “ Enough of your claims.”

Numbers 16:6 . censers: or fire pans, for carrying glowing charcoal.

Numbers 16:7 . ye sons of Levi: a mistaken addition, due to Numbers 16:8, where the words are in place.

Numbers 16:8-11 . This section (from a secondary form of P) represents Korah and his supporters not as claiming the privilege of drawing near to God (as in Numbers 16:5), but as seeking to share the priesthood.

Numbers 16:12-15 . (from JE). A return is here made to the revolt of the Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, against Moses (not Aaron). They remain in their tents, and do not, like the adherents of Korah, attend at the Tabernacle ( Numbers 16:7; Numbers 16:16; Numbers 16:18).

Numbers 16:14 . put out the eyes of these men. i.e. throw dust in their eyes.

Numbers 16:15 . their offering: this has no reference to the incense of Numbers 16:7, but must relate to something which the narrative no longer preserves.

Numbers 16:16-24 . This section (from P) reverts to the revolt of Korah (the “ one man” of Numbers 16:22); but there is some confusion between the claim of the Levites to equality with Aaron ( Numbers 16:17) and the assertion of the rights of the whole congregation as against both Moses and Aaron ( Numbers 16:19 f., Numbers 16:22). Yahweh first threatens to destroy the whole congregation, but at Moses’ intercession changes His purpose and directs the congregation to withdraw from Korah and his 250 companions. In Numbers 16:24, as in Numbers 16:1, the story of Korah has been united by the editor with that of Dathan and Abiram. Probably the command to the congregation was originally, “ Get you up from about the tabernacle of Yahweh (see Numbers 16:19; cf. Numbers 17:13) The Hebrew for “ tabernacle” (in the sing.) is elsewhere used exclusively for the habitation of Yahweh, except in Isaiah 22:16.

Numbers 16:25-34 . These verses (with the exception of the first half of Numbers 16:27 and the last half of Numbers 16:32) come from JE, and are the sequel of Numbers 16:12-15. As Dathan and Abiram refuse to go to Moses ( Numbers 16:14), the latter, attended by the elders of Israel, goes to them; and on his leaving his prerogative to be determined according as his antagonists die a natural death or a violent death, his authority is vindicated by their destruction. Probably the first half of Numbers 16:27 in its original form was “ so they gat them up from the tabernacle of Yahweh on every side.”

Numbers 16:28 . not . . . of mine own mind: this was the distinction between the true and false prophet ( Jeremiah 23:26 f., Ezekiel 13:3).

Numbers 16:30 . the pit: better, “ Sheol” (and so in Numbers 16:33), the nether world of departed spirits; cf. Isaiah 14:9-15 *.

Numbers 16:32 . and all the men . . . goods: this is inconsistent with Numbers 16:35; Korah’ s supporters perished by fire, not by an earthquake. The clause must be due to an editor

Numbers 16:35 . This verse (from P) is the sequel of Numbers 16:18-24 and Numbers 16:27 a (as corrected above).

Numbers 16:36-40 . This section belongs to the second version of the Korah story ( cf. Numbers 16:40 with Numbers 16:8-11). Since the censers of the 250 men destroyed by fire ( Numbers 16:35) had been rendered holy through being offered before Yahweh, Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was bidden to convert them into plates to cover the altar, to the intent that they might be a reminder that none but the descendants of Aaron should draw near to Yahweh. The section is inconsistent with Exodus 27:2, where the altar of burnt offering is represented as covered with brass when constructed.

Numbers 16:37 . for they are holy: these words should be connected (LXX) with Numbers 16:38, and rendered, “ for holy have become the censers of these sinners at the cost of their lives.”

Numbers 16:41-50 . This passage (from P) continues Numbers 16:35. The congregation, whose claims to equality with Moses and Aaron had been championed by Korah, regret his death and begin to murmur; but are smitten by a plague, which is stayed only when Aaron, at Moses’ command, makes atonement with incense. Aaron’ s offering, unlike that of Korah and his supporters, is accepted.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 16". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/numbers-16.html. 1919.
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