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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2533. B.C. 1471.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, rise up against Moses, Numbers 16:1-4 . Moses reasons with them, Numbers 16:5-11 . Sends for Dathan and Abiram, who refuse to come, Numbers 16:12-14 . His proposal to Korah, Numbers 16:15-19 . The punishment of the rebels, Numbers 16:20-35 . Their censers preserved for a memorial, Numbers 16:36-40 . A new insurrection stopped by a plague, Numbers 16:41-45 . Aaron stays the plague, Numbers 16:46-50 .

Verses 1-2

Numbers 16:1-2. The many ample testimonies, nay, the astonishing miracles, whereby God had established the authority of Moses as chief governor, and of Aaron and his family as priests, were not sufficient to restrain the ambition of mutinous and designing men. Korah, cousin-german to Moses and Aaron, a man of some note among the Levites, thinking himself undervalued, it seems, by the post he was in as a mere Levite, and being left without hopes of arriving at the priesthood, as things now stood, resolves upon a mutiny against them, and attempts to raise himself to the priesthood, by forcing them to change their measures, or else putting them down from their authority. Sons of Reuben These are drawn into confederacy with Korah, partly because they were his next neighbours, both being encamped on the south side, partly in hopes to recover their rights of primogeniture, in which the priesthood was comprehended, which was given away from their father. Rose up That is, conspired together, and put their design in execution; before Moses Not obscurely, but openly and boldly, not fearing nor regarding the presence of Moses.

Verse 3

Numbers 16:3. They Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and the rest, who were all together when Moses spake these words, (Numbers 16:5-7,) but after that, Dathan and Abiram retired to their tents, and then Moses sent for Korah and the Levites, who had more colourable pretences to the priesthood, and treats with them apart, and speaks what is mentioned, Numbers 16:8-11. Having despatched them, he sends for Dathan and Abiram, (Numbers 16:12,) that he might reason the case with them also apart. Against Aaron To whom the priesthood was confined, and against Moses Both because this was done by his order, and because, before Aaron’s consecration, Moses appropriated it to himself. For whatever they intended, they seem not now directly to strike at Moses for his supreme civil government, but only for his influence in the disposal of the priesthood. Ye take too much upon you Hebrew, רב לכם , Rab-lachem. It is much or sufficient for you, as the same phrase is used Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 2:3. Their meaning seems to be, that Moses and Aaron ought not to confine the priesthood to their family alone, but be satisfied with being upon a level with their brethren, who were all holy, they said, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, as they are called, Exodus 19:6; a people separated to the service of God, and, therefore, no less fit to offer sacrifices than you are. The same phrase is retorted upon these rebellious Levites by Moses, Numbers 16:7. The Lord is among them By his tabernacle and cloud, the tokens of his gracious presence, and therefore ready to receive sacrifices from their own hands.

Ye Thou, Moses, by prescribing what laws thou pleasest about the priesthood, and confining it to thy brother; and thou, Aaron, by usurping it as thy peculiar privilege.

Verse 4

Numbers 16:4. Moses fell upon his face Humbly begging that God would direct and vindicate him. Accordingly God answers his prayers, and strengthens him with new courage, and confidence of success.

Verse 5

Numbers 16:5. To-morrow Hebrew, In the morning; the time appointed by men for administering justice, and chosen by God for that work. Some time is allowed, partly that Korah and his company might prepare themselves and their censers; and partly to give them space for consideration and repentance. He will cause him He will, by some evident token, declare his approbation of him and his ministry.

Verses 8-11

Numbers 16:8-11. Ye sons of Levi They were of his own tribe; nay, they were of God’s tribe. It was therefore the worse in them thus to mutiny against God and against him. To minister to them So they were the servants both of God and of the church, which was a high dignity, though not sufficient for their ambitious minds. Against the Lord Whose chosen servant Aaron is. You strike at God through Aaron’s sides.

Verse 12

Numbers 16:12. Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram To treat with them, and give them, as he had done Korah and his company, a timely admonition. We will not come up To Moses’s tabernacle, whither the people used to go up for judgment. Men are said in Scripture phrase, to go up to places of judgment.

Verse 14

Numbers 16:14. Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men Of all the people who are of our mind? wilt thou make them blind, or persuade them that they do not see what is visible to all that have eyes, to wit, that thou hast deceived them, and broken thy faith and promise given to them?

Verse 15

Numbers 16:15. Respect not their offering Accept not their incense which they are now going to offer, but show some eminent dislike of it. He calls it their offering, though it was offered by Korah and his companions, because it was offered in the name and by the consent of all the conspirators, for the decision of the present controversy between them and Moses. I have not hurt one of them I have never injured them, nor used my power to defraud or oppress them, as I might have done; I have done them many good offices, but no hurt; therefore their crime is without any cause or provocation.

Verse 16

Numbers 16:16. Be thou and thy company before the Lord Not in the tabernacle, which was not capable of containing so many persons severally offering incense, but at the door of the tabernacle, where they might offer it by Moses’s direction upon this extraordinary occasion. Indeed, this work could not be done in that place, which alone was allowed for the offering up of incense; not only for its smallness, but also because none but priests might enter to do this work. Here also the people, who were to be instructed by this experiment, might see the proof and success of it.

Verse 18

Numbers 16:18. They put fire in them Taken from the altar which stood in that place, for Aaron might not use other fire. And it is likely the remembrance of the death of Nadab and Abihu deterred them from offering any strange fire.

Verse 19

Numbers 16:19. Korah gathered all the congregation That they might be witnesses of the event, and, upon their success, which they doubted not of, might fall upon Moses and Aaron. And it seems by this that the people were generally incensed against Moses, and inclined to Korah’s side. The glory of the Lord appeared In the cloud, which then shone with greater brightness and majesty, as a token of God’s approach and presence.

Verse 22

Numbers 16:22. The God of the spirits of all flesh And this is no empty title here, but very emphatical. Thou art the Maker of spirits, destroy not thy own workmanship. O thou who art the preserver of men, and of their spirits, the Lord of spirits, (Job 12:10,) who, as thou mayest justly destroy this people, so thou canst preserve whom thou pleasest; the Father of spirits, the souls. Deal mercifully with thy own children: the Searcher of spirits, thou canst distinguish between those who have maliciously raised this tumult, and those whose ignorance and simple credulity hath made them a prey to crafty seducers. Of all flesh Of all mankind: the word flesh is often put for men. One man Korah, the ringleader of this division.

Verses 24-25

Numbers 16:24-25. Speak unto the congregation Whom, for your sakes, I will spare upon the condition following. Unto Dathan Because they refused to come to him. The elders The seventy rulers, whom he carried with him for the greater solemnity of the action, and to encourage them in their work, notwithstanding the obstinate and untractable nature of the people they were to govern.

Verse 27

Numbers 16:27. Stood in the door An argument of their foolish confidence, obstinacy, and impenitence, whereby they declared that they neither feared God nor reverenced man.

Verse 28

Numbers 16:28. All these works As the bringing of the people out of Egypt; the conducting of them through the wilderness; the exercising authority among them; and giving laws to them concerning the priesthood.

Verse 29

Numbers 16:29. The death of all men By a natural death. The visitation of all men By plague, or sword, or some usual judgment. The Lord hath not sent me I am content that you take me for an impostor, falsely pretending to be sent of God.

Verse 32

Numbers 16:32. All that appertained unto Korah That is, all his family that were there, women, children, and servants; but his sons, who were spared, (Numbers 26:11; Numbers 26:58; 1Ch 6:22 ; 1 Chronicles 6:37,) were absent either upon some service of the tabernacle, or upon some other occasion, God so ordering it by his providence, either because they disliked their father’s act, or upon Moses’s intercession for them. Korah himself, it seems, was not here, but continued with his two hundred and fifty men before the Lord, where they were waiting for God’s decision of the controversy. Indeed, it is not probable that their chief captain would desert them, and leave them standing there without a head, especially when Aaron, his great adversary, abode there still, and did not go with Moses to Dathan. Korah was probably consumed with those two hundred and fifty, as seems to be intimated, Numbers 16:40. Accordingly, when the psalmist relates this history, (Psalms 106:0.,) the earth’s swallowing them up is confined to Dathan and Abiram, (Numbers 16:17,) and for all the rest of that conspiracy, it is added, (Numbers 16:18,) And a fire was kindled in their company, the flame burned up the wicked.

Verse 35

Numbers 16:35. From the Lord From the cloud, wherein the glory of the Lord appeared.

Verse 38

Numbers 16:38. Their own souls That is, their own lives; who were the authors of their own destruction. The altar Of burnt-offerings, which was made of wood, but covered with brass before this time, (Exodus 27:1-2,) to which this other covering was added for further ornament, and security against the fire, continually burning upon it. A sign A warning to all strangers to take heed of invading the priesthood.

Verse 41

Numbers 16:41. On the morrow Prodigious wickedness and madness, so soon to forget such a terrible instance of divine vengeance! The people of the Lord So they call those wicked wretches and rebels against God! Though they were but newly saved from sharing in the same punishment, and the survivers were as brands plucked out of the burning, yet they fly in the face of Moses and Aaron, to whose intercession they owed their preservation.

Verses 45-46

Numbers 16:45-46. They fell upon their faces To beg mercy for the people; thus rendering good for evil. Put on incense Which was a sign of intercession, and was to be accompanied with it. Go unto the congregation He went with the incense to stir up the people to repentance and prayer, to prevent their utter ruin. This he might do upon this extraordinary occasion, having God’s command for his warrant, though ordinarily incense was to be offered only in the tabernacle.

Verse 48

Numbers 16:48. Between the dead and the living Whereby it may seem that this plague, like that fire, (Numbers 11:1,) began in the uttermost parts of the congregation, and so proceeded destroying one after another in an orderly manner, which gave Aaron occasion and direction so to place himself as a mediator with God on their behalf. In this action Aaron was a most eminent type of Christ, and the effect of Aaron’s oblation of incense an expressive emblem of the efficacy and happy fruits of the interposition of our great High-Priest.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 16". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/numbers-16.html. 1857.
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