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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The rebellion of Korah and his company; their punishment; all the congregation murmurs; of whom fourteen thousand seven hundred are cut off by the Lord.

Before Christ 1471.

Verse 1

Numbers 16:1. Now Korah, &c.— What we render took men, is, in the original, יקח ikkach, which Houbigant renders rebellionem fecerunt, rebelled; an interpretation of the word which he justifies in his note, to which we refer, and for which he has the countenance of some of the ancient versions. He wholly disapproves of Calmet's proposal to real, Now Korah, &c.—took Dathan and Abiram; and, indeed, the Hebrew is strongly against such a version. For a full account of this transaction, we refer the reader to Josephus, lib. iv. c. 2, &c. Stillingfleet's Sermons, serm. 8: and our Reflections at the end of the next chapter. Bishop Usher supposes this to have happened within the six last months of the second year after the departure from Egypt, and probably at Kadesh Barnea.

Verse 3

Numbers 16:3. Ye take too much upon you, seeing all, &c.— The Hebrew is very emphatical, רבאּלכם. Moses retorts this same expression upon the rebellious Levites in the 7th verse. Dr. Beaumont observes, that the Hebrew signifies much to you, or enough for you.

Verse 11

Numbers 16:11. And what is Aaron, &c.— This might be rendered, as agreeably to the original, what hath Aaron done, that you should murmur against him? As much as to say, Aaron had done nothing of himself, but had acted entirely under the direction of God. See Exodus 16:7.

REFLECTIONS.—How dire are the consequences of ambition! To this the greatest states and most flourishing churches may ascribe their ruin. 1. The ringleader in this rebellion was Korah, a near relation of Moses and Aaron, whose party was quickly increased by the addition of two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly. The spirit of rebellion is a spreading evil. 2. The quarrel was Aaron's preferment to the priesthood. They pretend, as equally holy, to have an equal right to it; and insinuate, that Moses and Aaron meant to aggrandize themselves, though God had in such an especial manner called them to their office. Note; (1.) The best of characters cannot stand before envy. (2.) Ambitious state or church reformers too often pretend that they design to humble others, but only mean, in fact, to exalt themselves. (3.) Moses falls on his face in prayer, lest such a mutiny should ruin them, and through grief to hear such an ungrateful accusation; he appeals to God to decide the controversy, and is ready to resign up all his power into the hand which gave it: to-morrow, the Lord shall choose whom he will have to serve him. Willing, however, to prevent an experiment which threatens to be so fatal to them, he expostulates, with those who will hear expostulation, on the evil of their conduct. Many were the blessings and privileges enjoyed by Korah and his brethren. They were Levites, distinguished by being set apart for God, honoured with the service of the tabernacle, and permitted to draw nearer to God than others. These peculiar distinctions should surely have contented them; but pride is never satisfied, nothing sufficeth them whilst the priesthood is withheld: this was rebellion joined with ingratitude. It was not Aaron, but Aaron's God, against whom they had lifted up their tongues. Note; (1.) Whoever are called to minister before the Lord should esteem it a distinguished privilege. (2.) Envy or ambition in ministers is double guilt.

Verse 14

Numbers 16:14. Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? The original is strong, תנקר tenakker; wilt thou bore out,—"Dost thou think so absolutely to blind us, that none of us shall discern thy deceit and ambition? Or thinkest thou that we will suffer thee to lead us about, like blind men, whither thou pleasest, under pretence of bringing us into a rich and fertile country—from one of which sort, indeed, thou hast brought us, miserably to perish in a desolate wilderness?"—Houbigant says, that the eyes of these men refer to the two hundred and fifty rebellious. See Numbers 16:2.

Verse 15

Numbers 16:15. Moses was very wroth—I have not taken one ass from them Moses pleads, in justification of himself, that so far from dealing arbitrarily, as they allege, (Numbers 16:13.) he had not exacted the smallest thing from them, nor done any one of them the least injury. He ruled the Hebrews, not like the kings of other nations, who took tribute of their subjects, and were accustomed to seize, at their pleasure, their men servants and their maid servants, their goodliest young men, and their asses and put them to work. 1 Samuel 8:16. Moses, on the contrary, declares before God, that he assumed no authority but that of a prophet, which consisted chiefly in putting in execution those orders which he received from God. In like manner, Samuel, clearing himself from the imputation of having acted in an arbitrary or oppressive manner, says, whose ass have I taken? 1 Samuel 12:3. Hence it appears, that this was a proverbial expression, to signify acts of oppression and tyranny in the general. Houbigant, however, greatly prefers the Samaritan reading, which the LXX follow: חמוד chemud; desiderabile, vel pretiosum: I have not taken any thing valuable from them. See his note.

Verse 19

Numbers 16:19. And Korah gathered all the congregation The rebellious spirit of Korah and his company had infected the whole body of Israel, always prone to murmur, and inclined to throw off the authority of Moses and Aaron. The Lord threatens to destroy them all, Num 16:21 but Moses and Aaron intercede for them; Num 16:22 and not only so, but they exhort such as feared the Lord to separate themselves from these wicked men, Num 16:26 which accordingly they did, and so saved themselves from the destruction which overwhelmed Korah and the rest, Numbers 16:33-34.

Verse 22

Numbers 16:22. God of the spirits of all flesh In whose hand is the soul or life of every living thing, and the breath of all flesh of man: Job 12:10. Moses, with a beautiful propriety, gives God this title, in acknowledgment of his power to save or to destroy, because he had threatened that he would consume all Israel; besides, it implies a strong motive to urge the divine compassion: "O God! who, being the father and creator both of the souls and bodies of men, hast therefore the power of preserving as well as of destroying them, deign to display that power by the exercise of mercy towards this people! Searcher of the souls which thou hast created, thou knowest the authors of this sedition, and perfectly distinguishest them from those who have suffered themselves to be drawn aside by their weakness and credulity. Have mercy, &c." When he says, shall one man sin? he must be understood to speak proverbially of the small number concerned in this conspiracy, compared with the immense multitude of all Israel.

REFLECTIONS.—Dathan and Abiram, abettors of Korah, being summoned to attend, return an answer, as insolent as unjust. They charge Moses with having brought them from plenty to perish in the wilderness, with deceiving their hopes and expectations, and designing to enslave them. What infamous and invidious accusations! Was Egypt such a land of plenty to them? Were they kept out of Canaan, but by their own rebellion? And was not Moses a father rather than a master over them, through whose kind interposition alone it was that they were this day alive thus to malign him? Such returns of evil for good are the lot of holy men! The most zealous ministers for the service of men's souls must expect to meet with the severest reproaches.

Indignation fired the heart of Moses at such base ingratitude to himself, but he felt more at seeing them bent on their own destruction. He appeals to God to witness the uprightness of his conduct. He had served them without reward, administered impartial justice, nor could his greatest enemies support a charge of the most minute injury received from him; and, therefore, he begs that God would himself manifest his approbation, and reject their impious offerings. Note; The greatest comfort under all accusations is the testimony of a good conscience. The morrow is appointed for the decision of the controversy; Moses and Aaron offer to appear on a level with them, and let God choose whom he will have. Korah accepts the challenge, and, wilfully blind to the awful judgments on Nadab and Abihu, resolves to make the experiment. Those whom God devotes to destruction, he gives up to the blindness and hardness of their hearts. The morning comes, and Korah, eager to make the trial, collects the congregation against Moses, and, with his censer ready, in own conceit already triumphs. Thus suddenly is the impenitent sinner hurled from the pinnacle of vain confidence into the depth of eternal despair and torment.

God, as the judge, ascends the throne of his glory in terrible Majesty, to decide the controversy. He bids Moses and Aaron instantly separate themselves, that he might consume the rest in a moment: all who followed the rebels are now ready to share in their ruin, so dangerous is it to have fellowship with sinners. Moses and Aaron, as faithful and tender pastors, though so ill treated, fall down on their faces, importunate suitors for mercy on the people; an example to be imitated by every minister, nay, every christian, toward his bitterest persecutors.

Verse 27

Numbers 16:27. So they gat up from the tabernacle Those who were not actually engaged in the rebellion of these men obeyed the divine admonition, and retreated; while the rest, with a degree of audacious infidelity that is scarcely to be parallelled, boldly came forth with their families, and thus declared their absolute defiance of all that Moses could do against them.

Verse 28

Numbers 16:28. All these works Meaning more especially the institution of the priesthood, the appointment of the Levites, and other matters of government.

Verse 30

Numbers 16:30. If the Lord make a new thing The Hebrew, as rendered in the margin of our Bibles, expresses their Lord's doing something which was never done or heard of in the world before; create a new creation. Our translation of pit,—they go down quick into the pit, is certainly right in this place: the original word שׁאל sheol, signifying a grave, or receptacle for the dead, and so any pit or cavity of the earth; and, consequently, gives no countenance to the absurd ideas of the Catholic writers, who understand it here to mean hell, and thence conclude that hell to be in the centre of the earth. But, were there no other absurdity in this opinion, we may be well assured that a just and good God would never condemn little innocent children to the torments of hell for the sins of their fathers. Compare Numbers 16:27; Numbers 16:33. Thus, too, Dr. Beaumont observes, that the word שׁאל cannot be properly taken for hell. What, says he, should their houses and substance do there? Neither will it be easily proved, that they all perish for ever; and that their bodies did now go to Gehenna [hell] cannot be held.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses, at God's command, is enjoined to give the people warning. Some distinguished tent had been reared, perhaps, for the consultation of the rebel prince, and the people had gathered around them, either as partisans of their cause, or spectators of the issue, 1. Moses immediately proceeds to execute his commission; he seeks first to prevail on Dathan and Abiram themselves to repent of their sins, that they might prevent the approaching ruin: at least, if they refused, to call upon those who were about their tents to flee for their lives. The elders of Israel accompany him to countenance his authority, and to enforce, by their presence, the mandate that he brought. Note; (1.) It becomes us to use every endearing method to save our bitterest enemies from ruin. (2.) We must hear the voice of God calling us to flee from the wrath to come, and save ourselves from this untoward generation. 2. The people with haste obeyed; gat themselves up on every side, and removed their tents to a distance: fear of ruin is often the first step to safety. 3. The rebels, incorrigibly audacious, with their families at their tent doors, seem to brave the divine threatening: they who thus refuse to fear will surely fall into mischief. 4. The sentence is pronounced, and Moses appeals to its certain execution for the proof of his own divine mission. If these men should die of natural diseases, or age, or any death common to men, he would admit every accusation as true; but if the earth should open and swallow them up alive, the evidence of his innocence and their guilt must be uncontroverted. 5. No sooner is the word spoken than the thing is done: a new unprecedented judgment overtakes them; the ground cleaves asunder; alive they descend into the pit; their shrieks and cries are fruitless; the earth closes upon them, as groaning under their guilt, and weary of their blasphemies. Note; (1.) It is owing to God's mercy that we are not all consumed, and that the earth does not swallow up such sinners as we are. (2.) If men continue impenitent, the jaws of hell stand open to devour them; and if that pit shut its mouth upon them, then they perish for ever. 6. Shocked at the fearful sight, and terrified by their cries, the people fly still farther from the dreadful scene, not without apprehensions of sharing, as they deserved, the like fate. Note; We should do well to look down into the everlasting burnings, and open our ears to the shrieks which fill the horrid caverns of Tophet, that, warned by others' suffering, we come not into their place of torment.

Verse 35

Numbers 16:35. There came out a fire from the Lord After this stupendous destruction of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and all that belonged to them, the two hundred and fifty princes convened under Korah at the tabernacle, and assuming the priests' office with their censers, were struck dead in an instant by lightning from the cloud of glory, like Nadab and Abihu. See Leviticus 2:4. Moses and Aaron, who stood near them, received no hurt. Numbers 16:37-38. Speak unto Eleazar, &c.] As the censers had been offered to the Lord, and so were separated from every common use, (see Mede's works, book 1: disc. 2 p. 18.) he orders, first, that the incense, or holy fire, which was still burning in them, should be thrown out at some distance from the tabernacle, probably into that place where they used to throw the ashes; Lev 6:11 and then, that the censers themselves should be beaten into broad plates, and laid over the great brazen altar which was always in view of the people, and, consequently, where they would have these plates as a sign always before them, to perpetuate the memory of this rebellion, (Numbers 16:40.) and warn others from the like.

Verse 41

Numbers 16:41. All the congregation of the children of Israel murmured So exemplary a judgment, one should think, would have been sufficient to silence all future murmurings and discontent; yet it had a different effect upon this obstinate and intractable race of men. The very next day they ran upon Moses and Aaron with tumultuous outcries and accusations, charging them with the destruction of such a number of their brethren, the members of God's own church and peculiar nation: ye have killed the people of the Lord. Zealots of all kinds generally deem their own cause, however bad, the cause of God; and the friends and leaders of their party, the people of the Lord, the favourites of heaven.

Verse 46

Numbers 16:46. Take a censer, &c.— Incense could regularly be offered no where but at the golden altar, within the sanctuary: but now, in this extraordinary case, Aaron is sent with it unto the camp; that so, the plague being stopped upon his offering incense, and making intercession for the people, they might have a new and convincing testimony of the authority of his ministry. Accordingly, getting intelligence in what part of the camp the plague raged, Aaron situated himself, Num 16:48 between the infected and the sound quarters of it; and upon his offering, and praying, it stayed, and went no farther. Thus, to use the words of St. Jerome, the anger of God, poured forth with rapidity, was arrested by the prayers of the high priest. In this, Aaron was a remarkable type of the happy effects of the intercession of our great high priest Jesus Christ, Revelation 8:3. If Aaron's sacrifice was thus accepted, says Bishop Hall, how much more shall the high-priest of the New Testament, by interposing himself to the wrath of his Father, deliver offenders from death? The plague had entered upon all the sons of men: O Saviour! thou stoodest between the living and the dead, that all who believe in thee should not perish. Aaron offered, and was not stricken; but thou, O Redeemer, wouldest offer and be struck, that by thy stripes we might be healed. So stoodest thou betwixt the living and the dead, that thou wert both alive and dead; and all this, that we, when we were dead, might live for ever.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 16". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/numbers-16.html. 1801-1803.
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