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Now Korah - took men - Had not these been the most brutish of men, could they have possibly so soon forgotten the signal displeasure of God manifested against them so lately for their rebellion. The word men is not in the original; and the verb ויקח vaiyikkach, and he took, is not in the plural but the singular, hence it cannot be applied to the act of all these chiefs. In every part of the Scripture where this rebellion is referred to it is attributed to Korah, (see Numbers 26:3, and Judges 1:11;), therefore the verb here belongs to him, and the whole verse should be translated thus: - Now Korah, son of Yitsar son of Kohath, son of Levi, He Took even Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth, Son Of Reuben; and they rose up, etc. This makes a very regular and consistent sense, and spares all the learned labor of Father Houbigant, who translates יקח yikkach, by rebellionem fecerunt, they rebelled, which scarcely any rule of criticism can ever justify. Instead of ראובן בני beney Reuben, Sons of Reuben, some MSS. have בן ben, Son, in the singular; this reading, supported by the Septuagint and the Samaritan text, I have followed in the above translation. But as Eliab and Peleth were both Reubenites, the common reading, Sons, may be safely followed.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/numbers-16.html. 1832.
Korah, Dathan and Abiram (16:1-50)
In the events recorded in this chapter, two groups combined to rebel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. One was a group of 250 prominent Levites under the leadership of Korah, who were envious that only Aaron and his family were allowed to be priests. The other was a group headed by two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, who were envious and critical of Moses' leadership of the nation (16:1-3).
Moses again allowed God to be the judge. He asked both groups to appear before God with him to see who was right. The Reubenites refused but the Levites went, taking a crowd from the camp with them in support (4-15). The Levites were to burn incense in firepans, or censers (which, as a rule, only Aaron and his sons were allowed to do), so that God might show his approval or otherwise (16-19).
God threatened to destroy the whole camp, and although Moses and Aaron knew he had the right to do so, they begged him not to (20-24). He responded to their prayer by destroying only those who actually took part in the rebellion. Korah, Dathan, Abiram and some of their chief supporters were swallowed up by the earth in the sight of the camp, but the 250 Levites suffered a different fate. They had wanted to burn incense before God; now they were burnt by fire from God (25-35).
Neither the fire nor the firepans used by the rebellious Levites could be used again. Eleazar the priest emptied the firepans and had them beaten into a bronze plate to cover the altar, where it was a constant reminder that only the family of Aaron could burn incense before God (36-40).
The people blamed Moses and Aaron for the death of the rebels and gathered at the tabernacle in a hostile demonstration against the leaders (41). Again God threatened to destroy the people (42-45), and again Moses and Aaron begged him not to. But God's judgment in the form of a deadly plague had already begun, and it was stopped only when Aaron made atonement for them by burning incense. This emphasized once more that only the priests could take fire from the altar and offer it with incense before the Lord (46-50).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/numbers-16.html. 2005.
The whole of these two chapters, except the last short paragraph of Numbers 17, deals with the events related to the Rebellion of Korah, and even those two verses record the congregation's reaction to the events just related. Also, the Jewish Bible ends chapter 16 at verse 36, transferring the last fifteen verses to Numbers 17. Therefore, it seems advisable to think of these two chapters (Numbers 16-17) as one.
As is usually the case where Biblical narrative is concerned, the current crop of commentaries still wallow in all the allegations and uncertainties of the radical criticism of the first half of this century. Their objections to this account of Korah's rebellion makes out that there were really two different rebellions, one led by Dathan and Abiram which was essentially an objection to Moses' government, and another led by Korah which sought to broaden the priesthood to allow others than the sons of Aaron to participate. According to critical theory, the two accounts were interwoven and combined. Of course, all of this could be true, if Moses himself was the one who combined the two rebellions as a composite in his account of it, a thing not impossible at all, especially if the events happened simultaneously or almost so. This is not what the critical fraternity have in mind however. They would make the Korah account a FABRICATED narrative woven into the Numbers record for the purpose of strengthening the exclusive right of the priesthood as belonging to Aaron only, something, which according to them took place centuries after Moses.
We cannot believe that anything like this occurred. The rebellion here was one in every sense of the word, and like all rebellions, there were diverse elements cooperating in the prosecution of it. To find two accounts here is merely pedantic doodling. The proposition that "P" wrote part of the story (the priestly source) is frustrated by the fact that the sections they assign to "P" have inferences and assumptions that are traceable to all of the other "alleged sources," also by the fact that no two scholars agree on which passages belong either to "JE," or to "P"; and Marsh even split "J" into subordinate parts, that maneuver springing from the very obvious truth that the alleged "JE" is in no sense unified. Furthermore, both the Samaritan and Septuagint (LXX) versions support the narrative as it occurs here.
How do they get all that?
(1) They simply delete certain passages that will not fit their theories.
(2) They misinterpret some passages.
(3) They "emend" (change the meaning of) others.
(4) Their "a priori" assumption is that there is perhaps no truth whatever in the Biblical narrative.
Note the following snide denial by Wade. "What portion, if any, is actual fact it is impossible to say." Of course, such a remark carries the meaning that the author of the statement believed that there is very probably no truth whatever in the Biblical account, and that, in case some of it might be true, it is impossible for him to imagine what it could be!
It is long past the time that Christians should stop allowing the Devil to explain the Word of God for them! That was the primeval mistake of our mother Eve.
That there are difficulties with this chapter is true, the reason being that: (1) there could have been damage to the text in some places; (2) that many details are omitted, the knowledge of which would remove all ambiguities; and (3) that people cannot always discern God's reasons for what he did.
What people really have trouble with in the Bible is not so much the sacred text as the whole conception of the SUPERNATURAL. Such things as a providential earthquake to crack open the earth and swallow some of God's enemies, or a common walking stick left overnight in a dry place, that actually budded, bloomed out with fresh leaves, blossoms, and ripe fruit all at the same time within a twenty-four hour period - aye, "There's the rub." People, who do not actually believe in the God of the Bible will never be able to understand it!
"Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan, and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: and they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, called to the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Jehovah is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of Jehovah?"
"Now Korah ..." Korah was clearly the leader of this rebellion, a fact inherent in his name's appearance here at the head of the narrative, but, as in every rebellion in all ages, there must of necessity have been others besides the leader who associated with it. Despite the plural "they" in Numbers 16:3, it was Korah who took the 250 princes (Numbers 16:2); and Dathan and Abiram, the dissident Reubenites, are mentioned as satellites and subordinates. True, Moses, in Deuteronomy 11:6, mentioned what God "did to Dathan and Abiram," with no mention of Korah, but the rebellion was not even under consideration in that passage. What Moses referred to was the spectacular wonders God that had performed now and then in Israel's history, citing particularly those men as being "swallowed" up by the earth! Korah's name could not have fit into that context at all. Korah probably perished, not in the earthquake, but in the fire from God that devoured the 250 princes whom he led. This is just another SICK EXCUSE that the critics have seized in order to allege TWO REBELLIONS. Throughout both the O.T. and the N.T., Korah stands out as the named leader and author of this rebellion, and there is no mention anywhere of a rebellion by Abiram and Dathan, except in their participation here as satellites.
There were three visible elements in this major challenge of Mosaic authority:
(1) Korah, himself a Levite, and a part of that group assigned to guard and transport the most sacred portions of the sanctuary, was not satisfied with his status and desired also a share of the priesthood, even the High Priesthood, and moved, through ambition and jealousy, to seize it contrary to the express commandment of God.
(2) Dathan and Abiram and On were Reubenites, their ancestor, Reuben, the first-born of Jacob, having been deprived of the right of primogeniture (because of his adultery with Bilhah, the concubine of his father Jacob), thus losing the headship of Israel, and many have supposed that the participation of some of Reuben's descendants in this rebellion led by Korah was due to their hope of recovering some of the lost prerogatives of Reuben, especially as it pertained to the leadership of Israel.
(3) Then, there were 250 princes from all of the Twelve Tribes. They, also, apparently were moved by a number of motives:
(a) They had just been "passed over" in previous enumerations of the leaders of the tribes and were perhaps jealous.
(b) They were disgusted with the sentence of death announced for their whole generation in the previous chapters.
(c) They possibly blamed Moses for their disastrous defeat at Hormah, where, it will be remembered, the ark did NOT accompany them.
(d) And the "public" always finds occasion to complain, disapprove, and ultimately reject public leaders, no matter who they are.
It is a tribute to the skill and ability of Korah that he was able to organize and rally these several streams of dissatisfaction into one viable sedition directed against Moses and Aaron. In a human sense, one may well understand their motivation. They were simply determined not to waste away and die there in the wilderness without a vigorous attempt to do something about it. To them, the most practical thing appeared to be the overthrow of Moses and a return to Egypt, which they remembered as "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Numbers 16:13)! The blindness of this whole rebellious movement is not only seen in the false memory they had of Egypt, but also in their total unawareness of God and God's will as made known unto them through Moses.
"On ..." was here named a part of the seditious party, but the fact of his being nowhere else mentioned is interpreted in various ways. Most believing scholars assume that perhaps, "He probably withdrew from the contest before it came to a head." Critics, on the other hand, never miss an opportunity to use their axe on the Word of God. Wade mentions "others" who see a split in what the critics usually call the "J" source, making another from "E", hence "JE". Some dismiss On's name here as due to "a textual error." All quibbles of that kind may be resolved in the simple truth that no man knows why On's name appears here and nowhere else. In the brief story of an entire rebellion, would Moses have stopped to make a report on just who was involved at every moment of it, or who might have been drawn into it at first and later withdrew from it? We are simply not dealing with that kind of narrative, and how blind are those using such devices, which have no effectiveness at all when applied to the Word of God.
"All the congregation are holy ... wherefore lift ye up yourselves (Moses and Aaron) above the assembly ...?" (Numbers 16:13). Note the skill by which Korah combined two definite streams of complaint. As pertaining to Korah and his partisans, their complaint centered on the exclusiveness of holiness to the priesthood, and as for Dathan, Abiram, and On, the elevation of Moses over the people (Moses was a Levite), rather than some Reubenite from the tribe of Dathan and Abiram (Reubenites) was the issue. Both issues come up in the same Numbers 16:3. Even the great bone of contention about that sentence of death in the wilderness, which seems to be the grounds upon which the 250 princes associated with the sedition, was explicitly included in Numbers 16:13. "Thou hast brought us up ... to kill us in this wilderness."
Now look at this: The critical nonsense that ascribes this passage to some priesthood in post-exilic times, who allegedly invented this narrative and inserted it into the Holy Scriptures to strengthen their claims of the Aaronic priesthood, appears here as unqualifiedly fraudulent. Could a priesthood intent on strengthening their claims have inserted a reference here to Exodus 19:5,6, which reference exposes the whole Jewish priesthood in their true status as a substitute for the will of God? See my notes on that passage. It does anything but strengthen the priesthood of Israel, but rather casts a most solemn shadow over all of it, a shadow that culminated in Malachi in God's curse of that very priesthood! Of all the theories ever concocted by unbelieving men, this priesthood "source" of anything in the whole Bible is the champion falsehood!
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/numbers-16.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Amram and Izhar were brothers (compare Exodus 6:18), and thus Korah, the “son,” i. e. descendant of Izhar, was connected by distant cousinship with Moses and Aaron. Though being a Kohathite, he was of that division of the Levites which had the most honorable charge, yet as Elizaphan, who had been made “chief of the families of the Kohathites” Numbers 3:30, belonged to the youngest branch descended from Uzziel Numbers 3:27, Korah probably regarded himself as injured; and therefore took the lead in this rebellion. Of the others, On is not again mentioned. He probably withdrew from the conspiracy. Dathan, Abiram, and On were Reubenites; and were probably discontented because the birthright had been taken away from their ancestor Genesis 49:3, and with it the primacy of their own tribe among the tribes of Israel. The Reubenites encamped near to the Kohathites (compare Numbers 2:25 and plan), and thus the two families were conveniently situated for taking counsel together. One pretext of the insurrection probably was to assert the rights of primogeniture - on the part of the Reubenites against Moses, on the part of Korah against the appointment of Uzziel.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/numbers-16.html. 1870.
Now. See note on "while", Numbers 15:32.
Korah. First cousin to Moses and Aaron. Numbers 6:8. 1 Chronicles 6:2, 1 Chronicles 6:3. These three associated, because encamped together on south side. Compare Numbers 2:10 and Numbers 3:29. See p. 181.
sons. Some codices, with Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint, read "son".
men. This word necessitated through Authorized Version and Revised Version misplacing the verb "took", which should be after Levi. "Korah took Dathan . . . and Abiram . . . and On, the son of Peleth, the son of Reuben". See below.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/numbers-16.html. 1909-1922.
1.Now Korah, the son of Izhar. The impious conspiracy is here related of a few men, but these of the highest rank, whose object was to subvert and destroy the divinely-appointed priesthood. They make their attack, indeed, upon Moses, and accuse him of ruling unjustly; for thus it is that turbulent persons are carried away without reason or discrimination; but, the only cause why they are set against him is because they suppose him to be the originator of the priesthood, as we easily collect from his reply. For he does not command them to stand forth, in order that they may decide respecting the political government or chieftainship, but that it may be made plain whether God acknowledges them as priests; nor does he reproach the Levites with anything but that, not content with their own lot, they have an unreasonable ambition to obtain the honor of the high-priesthood. It was jealousy, then, that instigated Korah and his companions to set on foot first a quarrel, and then a tumult; respecting the priesthood, because they were indignant that the hope of attaining that honor was taken away from themselves and their posterity for ever. Thus there never was any more deadly or abominable plague in the Church of God, than ambition; inasmuch as it cannot be that those who seek for pre-eminence should range themselves beneath God’s yoke. Hence arises the dissolution of legitimate authority, when each one neglects the duties of his position, and aims at his own private advancement.
Now, this conspiracy was the more formidable, because the sedition did not arise from the dregs of the people, but amongst the princes themselves, who were of high dignity, and held in the greatest estimation. For although there were only four leaders of the faction, there is but little room to doubt but that the purpose of the two hundred and fifty was the same; for they would never have eagerly embarked in a grave and invidious contest for the sake of four men; but the fact was, that all unholy covetousness misled them all, for there was none of them who did not expect some prize as a reward of victory. They not only, then, dissemble their mental disease, but conceal it under an honorable pretext; for they pretend that they are instigated by zeal for the public good, and that their object is the defense of liberty. For, inasmuch as ambition is crafty, it is never destitute of some specious excuse: thus, whilst schismatics are influenced by nothing but pride to disturb the peace of the Church, they always invent plausible motives, whereby they may conciliate in some degree the favor of the ignorant, or even of the unstable and worthless. We must, therefore, cautiously weigh the designs of those who seek to make innovations, and to overthrow a state of things which might be endured; for thorough investigation will make it plain that; they aim at something besides what they pretend. By the, fact of their so speedily engaging such a multitude of persons in their party, we perceive how disposed man’s nature is to the most unpromising and unreasonable revolts in the world. Four worthless men wickedly endeavor to overthrow Moses and Aaron; and straightway two hundred and fifty persons are ready to follow them, not of the populace, but chiefs of the tribes, whose reputation might dazzle the eyes of the simple. Hence we must be the more cautious, lest any bugbears (larvae) should deceive us into making rash innovations.
With respect to the wording of the passage, some refer the verb “he took,” (86) to the other conspirators, as if it were said that Korah stirred them up. Others explain it that he instigated himself, and hurried himself onwards by his evil passions. I do not, however, assent to either signification, but take it for “he set to work” (aggressus est.) When it is afterwards said that “they rose up before Moses,” some understand the words according to their simple meaning, others in a bad sense; and undoubtedly here the expression “before the face of,” is equivalent to “against,” and thus indicates the wantonness of their aggression. There is more difficulty in the words קראי מועד, (87) kerei mogned. All, however, almost with one consent, translate them “great in the congregation;” but since the word קריים,keriira, generally signifies persons called or invited, and מועד, mogned, not only an assembly, but also an appointed time, or convention, it seems probable to me that these princes and men of high name are stated to have been present, because they were called according to appointment: as if Moses had said that they were called at a fixed time, or by agreement. For neither do I see any reason why, after the word עדה, (88) gnedah, מועד , mogned, should be used with the same meaning.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/numbers-16.html. 1840-57.
- Rose Barnes - volunteer with an organization called Bring Me Hope.
- She has gone 4 times to China, the last 3 summers she’s worked w/ Bring Me Hope & helped put on summer camps for orphans.
- How do you handle criticism? It seems like someone’s always waiting to criticize!
- Like the 2 men who were standing looking in a window at a taxidermy shop at a bird on a limb. And one man said, “That’s a poor job of mounting a bird!” Just then the bird flew down from the perch.
- Let’s see how Moses deals with severe criticism!
- Rose Barnes - volunteer with an organization called Bring Me Hope.
- GOD’S SINKHOLE!
- MINE, MINE MINE! (1-19) [Seagulls on Finding Nemo!]
- Paul teaches us “Godliness with contentment is great gain!” 1 Tim 6:6
- When you’re not content with your gifts, you really not content with your calling; & when you’re not content with your calling, you’re really not content with God’s calling; & when you’re not content with God’s calling, you’re really not content with God.
- Remember God made tabernacle appointings...not Moses!
- Four men who desire to promote themselves.
- They were not content to assist, they wanted to serve as a priest as well.
- Korah aspired to priestly privilege not being content with sacred duties.
- (1) Korah was 1st cousin to Moses & Aaron.
- He was camped close to Reuben & thus their association in this rebellion.
- (2) The opposition was staggering! 250 men, all united against Moses & Aaron.
- Most people aren’t content with rebelling alone!
- Here we have Mutiny in the Desert!
- Yet Moses was not intimidated; he took the matter to the Lord & let Him be the judge! (4,5) [good advice!]
- God will vindicate His servants better than they can vindicate themselves!
- How to deal with Criticism Practically!
- Expect it - It came Jesus way. He was lied about, slandered, blasphemed, & openly ridiculed; & it all finally ended w/a cross. Expect it!
- Satan will use criticism as a weapon to batter us; God will use it as a tool to build us.
- Evaluate it - Consider the source. Not all criticism is bad.
- Tozer, “If the critic is right, he has helped you. If the critic is wrong, you can help him. Either way, someone gets helped.”
- Watch out for Praise/flattery - It’s a general rule that the person who is encouraged by praise will be devastated by criticism.
- “Grant me prudently to avoid him that flatters me, and to endure patiently him that contradicts me.” Thomas `a Kempis
- Wait on the Lord - Not, phone a friend; not, gather forces.
- Prov.27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
- Look beyond the Critic - See God on the throne; see the big picture; see how many friends love you; see the purposes God wants to achieve. (Excerpts from Warren Wiersbe; In Praise of Plodders; pg. 15-19)
- Expect it - It came Jesus way. He was lied about, slandered, blasphemed, & openly ridiculed; & it all finally ended w/a cross. Expect it!
- (3) A successful leader is often accused of exalting himself, especially by those who are jealous of him & want to take his place!
- (4) Moses fell on his face, that is, he stepped aside so that the rebels should stand face to face with God.
- We need to act similarly, when we’re unjustly attacked.
- 2 Cor.10:18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
- (5) Who is His & who is holy - It’s true that all of God’s people are set apart by Him & for Him. But it is also true that God calls some of His people to be leaders in special places of service. (W/o leadership = chaos)
- Same is true of the church today: all saints are beloved of God, but some have been given spiritual gifts & spiritual offices for the work of the ministry.
- We are to desire spiritual gifts(1 Cor.14:1), but not to covet another person’s spiritual office.
- If a believer wants a place of spiritual leadership, let him prove himself worthy of it by his character & conduct. (Warren Wiersbe)
- (5,9,10) It is only God who can draw you near to Himself.
- (12-14) It’s easier for rebels to find a scapegoat than to confess their own sins.
- Wow, they refer to Egypt as a land flowing w/milk & honey!
- This statement shows exactly where their hearts were at!
- Wow, they refer to Egypt as a land flowing w/milk & honey!
- (17) Censer - fire-pan/incense shovel. (coals from altar, then incense poured upon)
- JUDGEMENT DAY! (20-40)
- What lay behind this revolt?
- (11) It was, against the Lord.
- (19) Korah gathered all the congregation (stirred up troubled)
- (28) By this you shall know the Lord has sent me.
- (30) That these men have rejected the Lord.
- Also, to come against the Aaronic priesthood was to come against God’s way of salvation via blood.
- (22) Once again, the love & intercession of Moses saved the very people who had created problems for him.
- Wow, almost sounds like Jesus advice in Mt.5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; (i.e. chip off the ol’ block; be just like dad!)
- (24) Stay clear of the troublemakers if you want to continue living.
- Sounds like Rev.18:4,5 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached(have been heaped up) to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
- (35) Hey Korah, Congratulations! you made the NT - Jude 11.
- Reasons not to follow the false teachers – they follow in the footsteps of these 3 amigos:
- Self-Competent Cain(offered 1st of their works instead of trusting the blood of the Lamb)
- Buy-me Balaam (sell their prophecies for profit);
- Rebellious Korah (defy the authority of God’s chosen vessels of truth)
- Reasons not to follow the false teachers – they follow in the footsteps of these 3 amigos:
- (32) In 26:11 we learn not all of Korah’s family was destroyed (were’nt involved) :)
- This explains we have Psalms titled “A Psalm of the sons of Korah” (Ps.84,85,87,88)
- Apparently the descendants of Korah were content to be humble ministers & not priests, for they wrote in Ps.84:10 “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” [see Numb.16:26 for the tents of wickedness]
- (36-40) The censers made into brass plates for a covering for the brazen altar, would have been a great visual reminder to all worshipers coming to the altar that...the sin of rebellion is severely judged by God.
- Did the rest of the community now believe that Moses & Aaron were God’s chosen? No!
- A NEW DAY...NOPE! (41-50)
- (41) Wow, the very next day!
- You 2 have killed the people of the Lord! (the 250)
- They blamed Moses & Aaron for their failures to enter the land, when it was their own unbelief that brought this defeat.
- To rebel against Moses meant rejecting the Word of God, for he was God’s prophet; To rebel against Aaron meant rejecting the Work of God on the altar, salvation by blood.
- Only the grace of God can change the human heart; no amount of law or judgment will ever make the heart new! (Wiersbe; Outlines)
- (46) Had Moses had a bitter spirit, he would have allowed the plague to destroy the people. Instead he commands his brother Aaron to go into the midst of the plague w/his censer to stop it.
- How little the people realized Moses’s love & sacrifice for them.
- (48) What does the service of the priesthood involve by reading vs.48?
- Aaron literally becomes their savior standing between the living & the dead. To stop the plague. [type of Christ]
- His 1 censer accomplished more than the 250 censers of the rebels!
- (49,50) Nearly 15,000 people died because of four men who wanted to promote themselves.
- The story is told of a judge who had been frequently ridiculed by a conceited lawyer. When asked by a friend why he didn’t rebuke his assailant, he replied, “In our town lives a widow who has a dog. And whenever the moon shines, it goes outside and barks all night.” Having said that, the magistrate shifted the conversation to another subject. Finally someone asked, “But Judge, what about the dog and the moon?” “Oh,” he replied, “the moon went on shining—that’s all.”
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Brian Bell Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cbb/numbers-16.html. 2017.
Now we get to chapter sixteen and this guy Korah, who is brought into mention in the book of Jude, has gotten the conspiracy together. He is of the tribe of Levi and he said, "Hey Moses, you take too much upon yourself. You"ve got the whole thing tied up with your family. You"ve appointed your brother as the high priest. Look, we"re Levites and we have just as much right to offer the sacrifices to the Lord as does Aaron and we want to have a part in the service to God, more than just carrying this tent around." So Moses said, "All right. You get your little band together, two hundred and fifty guys, and you get your incense burners and you bring them with fire in them tomorrow and incense and we"ll see what the Lord will do."
Well, Korah stirred up the Israelites. He gathered a big crowd around and the people were all, you know, "incensed". Yeah, Moses taking too much upon himself, whole family deal. He"s just, you know, putting his family in there and all. And they were really gathered against Moses and Aaron again. And Korah the Levite was the leader of this insurrection and rebellion. And there were a couple of other fellows that Moses commanded to come and they said, "We"re not gonna do it. We don"t have to obey you." Dathan and Abiram.
We"ll not come up ( Numbers 16:11 ):
Is it a small thing that you brought us out of Egypt and you haven"t brought us up into the land? We"re not in the land; this is a wilderness place? You didn"t keep your word. You think we"re gonna listen to you now? We don"t have to come up. And so there was a real mutiny, rebellion in the camp. Korah and Abiram and all, and so Moses gathered the congregation of Israel together and he said, "Okay, you guys. You don"t want to come out you just stand there in your tents with your families and kids. And all of you that want to go along with this you just stand over there. If this thing be of the Lord, then let the Lord do a new thing. Rather than you guys going on and dying natural deaths, let the Lord open up the earth and swallow you alive right down into the pit." And no sooner had Moses said it then the earth opened up and Korah and the whole rebellious troop went right down into the pit. The earth closed up again and a great fear came upon Israel.
And all of Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: Lest the earth would swallow them up also. And fire came up from the LORD, and consumed these two hundred and fifty guys with their incense burners ( Numbers 16:34-35 ).
These guys that were wanting to offer incense and all, the fire of the LORD wiped them all out. So Moses said, "All right, now take these little incense burners that were made of brass and flatten them out into plates and use these brass plates to cover the altar as a constant reminder that no one intrudes into the office of the priesthood except he be anointed and called of God." And so those brass plates over the altar were a continual reminder to the people that God had anointed and appointed the family of Aaron to the priesthood and no man takes that office unto himself or presumptuously. That is to just keep men from rising up and saying, "Well man, I"m priest over you. Now I"m the spiritual one and the holy one and I have an inside track with God".
Now in the New Testament there was to be no priesthood at all. That whole system was abolished by Jesus Christ who has become our great High Priest and has entered into heaven for us and has opened the door for all of us to have free access unto God through Him. And in the church of Ephesus, the Lord commended them in that they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which was the establishing of the priesthood laity in which the Lord said, "I hate" to the church of Pergamos rebuked them because that which was rejected by the church of Ephesus was accepted by the church of Pergamos. Thou hast there the deeds of the Nicolaitans and the Lord again declared his hatred of it. Why? Because Jesus died to make free access for every one of you to come into heaven and each of you are equally close to God.
God"s ear is open to your prayer and to your cry just as readily as He is to my prayer or my cry. I am no closer to God than you. I am no more spiritual than you. I have no more access to God than you. I have no privileges that you do not have. We are all one together in Jesus Christ; equally privileged, equally blessed and equal opportunities for each of us to come before God at any time. And that"s a glorious thing to me that God has broken down any kind of barriers that would hold men back and away from God. And I feel that it is dangerous in the church to set up a spiritual hierarchy, whether we call it priesthood or shepherding or anything else. Where I say to the person, "Now look, I"ll go to God for you and I"ll tell you what God wants you to do with your life. Now don"t you trust in yourself, you trust in me and I"ll get God"s word and God"s direction for you. So if you wanna, you know, buy a new car you come to me first and I"ll tell you whether or not you should and all".
Hey I feel like Moses, Lord I didn"t conceive all these people, I can"t handle all that kind. I wouldn"t want to carry that kind of a load. I don"t want to shepherd or lord over you. I"m your servant. I"m here as God"s ambassador to declare God"s love and God"s truth and God"s Word to you. I"m here to serve you not to lord over you, not to tell you or not to try to direct your life but to tell you, "hey, you seek the Lord. You seek guidance from him." Cause I might tell you something that"s absolutely wrong and then you come back and say, "You told me to do that and, man, look what happened". I"ve counseled too many people who"ve come back and said, "Man, you told me this and ooh boy. I really messed up, you know. It"s just rotten, you know." That"s why I don"t like to counsel anymore. Man, I don"t like that kind of responsibility. You seek the Lord and you let God guide you.
And so they made these plates and they were a memorial that no stranger which is not of the seed of Aaron should come near to offer incense before the LORD that they be not like Korah, and his company: [verse forty] And on the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and said, You have killed the people of God ( Numbers 16:39-41 ).
Oh at this point I would have said, "Forget it!" Now they come to Moses said, "You"ve killed the people of the Lord" because the earth had opened up and swallowed these guys and the fire came out and consumed them. Now they"re trying to blame Moses. Oh, oh, oh, oh, I couldn"t take it. And so, boy the anger of God was really kindled against the people at this point. Moses and Aaron went in before the Lord and Moses said to Aaron, "Hey, get the incense and go out because the plague has already started. The people are beginning to drop like flies and you stand between the living and the dead and make intercession." So Moses grabbed the incense and he went out and he stood between the living and the dead to stop the plague of God that was wiping out these people for their murmuring.
There"s a beautiful picture of intercession; standing between the living and the dead. And we as Christians often do this, our intercession for those that are lost.
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Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/numbers-16.html. 2014.
The Rebellion of Kokah, Dathan, Abibam, and On
This incident is similar to that recorded in Numbers 12, and while it illustrates the difficulties Moses encountered in his leadership, owing to the jealousy of those under him, it served to confirm him (Numbers 16:28) and Aaron (a 17) in the position assigned to them. It is now generally agreed that this chapter is composed of two narratives interwoven with each other. The one describes a rebellion led by Dathan, Abiram, and On against the civil authority of Moses (Numbers 16:1-2, Numbers 16:12-15, Numbers 16:25-34); while the other describes a different sort of rebellion, headed by Korah and 250 princes of the congregation, against the ecclesiastical leadership of Moses and Aaron. This separation of the chapter into two distinct narratives reduces it to order and serves to explain, not only the literary inequalities, but also the differences of fact; such as e.g. in the one case the refusal to obey the summons of Moses, and in the other the compliance with it (cp. Numbers 16:12 with 18, 19); the difference in locality, in the one case the sanctuary, and in the other the tents of Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:18 and Numbers 16:25-26); and the different fate of the two companies, in the one case death by earthquake, and in the other by fire from the Lord (Numbers 16:31-34 and Numbers 16:35).
4. The action may denote the dismay of Moses, but more probably his praying for guidance: cp. Numbers 16:22, Numbers 16:45, Numbers 20:6.
5. To Korah] not to Dathan and Abiram, whose rebellion is distinct from this: see above.
11. Against the Lord] not merely against Aaron, of whose privileges Koran and his company are envious.
13. Dathan and Abiram are envious of the position of Moses. They complain that, instead of bringing them into a land flowing with milk and honey, as he had led them to believe he would do, he was taking them away from it into a wilderness (Numbers 16:13-14). Except thou make thyself] RV 'But thou must needs make thyself also.' '
14. Put out the eyes of these men] blind them to the real state of matters. The English equivalent would be to 'throw dust in the eyes.'
19. All the congregation] This shows the serious nature of Korah's rebellion. The people were in sympathy with it. The claim put forward by Korah was plausible, and flattered the multitude: see Numbers 16:3.
22. The God of the spirits of all flesh must know the thoughts and intents of the heart and be able to judge the real instigator of the evil. The one man is Korah: cp. for the thought Genesis 18:23.
28. Hath sent me] i.e. Moses. Dathan's rebellion is directed against Moses as that of Korah against Aaron. On the sending of Moses see Exodus 3. Not.. of mine Own mind] The mark of the true messenger or prophet of God is that he does not speak of his own initiative: cp. Numbers 24:13; 1 Kings 22:13-14; Jeremiah 1:5-10; Matthew 10:19, Matthew 10:20. The false prophet, on the other hand, runs where he is not sent and speaks 'out of his own heart': see Ezekiel 13:2; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:25-32.
30. Quick] i.e. alive. The pit] Heb. Sheol, usually rendered 'the grave.'
32. Their houses] their households, as in Numbers 1:2; Genesis 7:1. The sons of Korah, however, did not perish: see Numbers 26:11.
36-39. The censers used by Korah and his company are collected and made into a covering for the altar, as a memorial of their sin and punishment, and a warning to others against profaning holy things: cp. Judges 1:11.
37. Eleazar is commanded to do this, not Aaron, who, as high priest, must not defile himself with contact with the dead: see Leviticus 21:11;
38. The altar] the altar of burnt offering, which was overlaid with brass: see on Exodus 31:1-10.
41-50. The people now turn upon Moses and charge him with being the occasion of this calamity. Their unreasonable murmuring is punished with a plague, which is only stayed by means of the intervention of the high priest.
46. Incense was usually offered, not alone, but as an accompaniment of a sacrifice. On this occasion the plague had begun, and incense was the readiest sacrifice that could be offered. It is symbolical of prayer and intercession: see on Exodus 30:1-10. Observe that the unauthorised offering of incense by the rebels was provocative of the divine indignation, while in the hands of Aaron, the appointed high priest, it was accepted as an atonement, and procured the grace of forgiveness.
48. A striking picture, illustrating the efficacy of believing prayer (cp. James 5:15-16) and the way in which Christ by the offering of Himself has stayed the plague of sin and death: cp. Ephesians 5:2.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/numbers-16.html. 1909.
The leaders of this rebellion were Korah-a Levite of the Kohathite branch of the tribe and thus a kinsman of Moses and Aaron-and Dathan, Abiram, and On, who were Reubenites. Perhaps these Reubenites felt slighted because their tribe had lost the rights of the firstborn and they wanted a larger role in the nation. [Note: Ibid, p303.] These men gained the support of250 other men (perhaps a round number) from the other tribes who were leaders among the Israelites.
These men intended to overthrow the constitution that God had handed down for Israel and to replace it with one that seemed better to them. They based their action on the truth that the whole congregation was holy ( Exodus 19:5-6). They inferred from this that all Israelites therefore had the right to serve in the priesthood. They failed to appreciate the fact that God had chosen the Levites for special priestly service because the nation as a whole had apostatized at Sinai ( Exodus 32). They also failed to see that divine election to priestly service, which had been the privilege of the entire nation, did not in itself constitute qualification for priestly service. This depended on obedience to God"s covenant ( Exodus 19:5).
The rebels attributed Moses and Aaron"s prominence in the leadership of Israel to personal ambition rather than to obedience to God"s commands.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/numbers-16.html. 2012.
The rebellion of Korah and his followers ch16
"As the laws increase and the constraints grow, the people seem less willing or less capable of following them. At this point in the narrative we see that the whole order of the priesthood is thrown open to direct confrontation. God"s Word revealed at Sinai, which at first seemed so final and authoritative, is now being challenged on every side." [Note: Ibid.]
"In Numbers 16:1-17:28 (Eng. Numbers 16:1 to Numbers 17:13), three stories illustrate the need for and legitimacy of the Aaronic priesthood [i.e, Numbers 16:1-35; Numbers 16:36-50; and ch17]. As there had been challenges to Moses" leadership in chs11-14, so here there are challenges to Aaron"s." [Note: Ashley, p295.]
It is not possible to determine from the text where or when during the38 years of wandering this incident took place. This story ties in with what precedes in that Korah and his companions failed to appreciate their calling and became discontented. The tassels on their garments should have reminded them of their high calling and privilege. It was not the "rabble" or even the ordinary Israelites who instigated this rebellion but some of the Levites (cf. Numbers 8:5-26).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/numbers-16.html. 2012.
(1) Now Korah, the son of Izhar . . . —Some suppose that the copula before “Dathan and Abiram” should be omitted, and that the verse should be rendered thus: Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, took Dathan and Abiram, &c. The rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram is the only important event which is recorded in connection with the protracted wandering in the desert. The time and place of its occurrence cannot be positively determined. The circumstances out of which it appears to have arisen render it probable that it took place during one of the early years of the wanderings in the wilderness, either during the abode at Kadesh or subsequently to the departure from it. In favour of the supposition that the occurrence took place during the sojourn at Kadesh, it may be urged—(1) that the history of the Israelites between the first and the second encampments at Kadesh appears to be designedly regarded and treated as a blank; and (2) that during that interval they appear to have been dispersed over the face of the wilderness, whilst the narrative of the rebellion of Korah seems to assume the concentration of the people in one place. The whole of the narrative bears the clear impress of historical truth. The leaders of the rebellion, amongst whom Korah holds the most conspicuous place (comp. Numbers 16:1; Numbers 26:9; Jude 1:11), belonged to the tribes of Levi and Reuben. Korah, as the descendant of Izhar, the brother of Amram, who was the father (or. as some maintain, the more distant ancestor) of Moses and Aaron, may well be supposed to have been jealous of the peculiar prerogatives of the priestly family, and also of the leadership of Elizaphan, the son of Uzziel (Numbers 3:30), who appears to have been the youngest son of Kohath, whilst the name of Izhar stands next to that of Amram (Numbers 3:19). Dathan and Abiram, moreover, as the sons of Eliab, the son of Pallu, the son of Reuben (Numbers 26:5-9), who was the eldest son of Jacob, may, on like grounds, be supposed to have been discontented on account of the transference of the birthright, and the consequent loss of the leadership which had been possessed by their tribe, and which was now held by the tribe of Judah. It is possible that they may have regarded the priesthood also as amongst the prerogatives of the firstborn which should have descended to them. The proximity of the Kohathites to the Reubenites—for both were encamped on the south side of the Tabernacle—afforded opportunity for their common deliberations; and it has been inferred by some, from Numbers 16:24-27, that they had erected a tabernacle in rivalry with the Tabernacle of the Congregation. No further mention is made of the name of On, nor is he expressly included in the account of the final punishment.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/numbers-16.html. 1905.
THE REBELLION OF KORAN
This was a very serious revolt, because so many princes associated themselves with the Levites. Jealousy was at the root of the entire movement. â€œAll the congregation are holy,â€ they said. â€œWherefore lift ye up yourselves?â€ There is no root of bitterness that needs such careful watching as jealousy! If it is in your heart you must, like Samuel of old and General Gordon in our own times, â€œhew Agag in pieces before the Lord.â€
The record of Mosesâ€™ meekness precedes this story of his testing. Whatever is strongest and best in us will be searched as by fire. Even Moses was ruffled by these gross charges. See Numbers 16:15. The best of men are but men at the best. Only Jesus was without a flaw.
What a beautiful thought is expressed in Numbers 16:5; Numbers 16:7; Numbers 16:9. There are holy and blessed souls who have an especial right of access into Godâ€™s presence-chamber. See Zechariah 3:7.
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Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "F. B. Meyer's 'Through the Bible' Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbm/numbers-16.html. 1914.
6. The Rebellion of Korah
1. The rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16:1-19)
2. The punishment (Numbers 16:20-35)
3. Eleazar and his work (Numbers 16:36-40)
4. The murmuring of the whole congregation (Numbers 16:41-43)
5. The staying of the plague (Numbers 16:44-50)
The history is now resumed and we have the worst episode of Israel’s history in the wilderness before us. We have seen and followed the steps downward and toward this fearful rebellion and the terrible punishment which followed. It started with unbelief. This tragedy is mentioned in the New Testament. In the Epistle of Jude we read, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsayings of Korah.” This little Epistle gives a prophetic picture of the apostasy of the professing people of God during our age. This apostasy began in the days of Jude and is now fully developed in the end of the age. Unbelief is given in Jude’s Epistle as the starting point of the departure from God (verse 5), and Israel’s unbelief is used as the picture of the unbelief of Christendom. Besides Cain (the one who rejects the sacrifice) Balaam and Korah are mentioned as types of the apostasy. The consummation of the apostasy is opposition to Christ, His blessed office-work and glory. And this seems to have been reached in our day. The opposition will continue and become more outspoken, more widespread, till the judgment by fire in the day of the Lord falls upon the apostates.
The leader of the rebellion was Korah, a Kohathite. It will be remembered that the Kohathites had the choicest service among the Levites; they carried the very best upon their shoulders, the sacred things of worship. The departure from God and rebellion against His Word often begins with those who claim the office of teachers and preachers. Such is the case in our times. Korah’s name means “hail; ice.” May not this indicate the coldness of his heart? Even so the apostate teachers of the last days, mere hirelings like Balaam, are only natural men, not having the Spirit (Jude 1:19). Their mouths may speak great swelling words, their hearts have never tasted the love of Christ; they know Him not, or they would not betray Him.
The sons of Reuben, Dathan and Abiram, and On, besides two hundred and fifty, joined the revolt. Their attempt was a complete overthrow of the constitution which had been given to Israel and the establishment of another order and other leaders. They themselves sought recognition and Korah aimed at the priesthood of Aaron and would have it himself. Verses 8-10 indicate this. Korah and his associates aimed at God’s appointed high priest. And Moses put this serious matter in the hands of the Lord.
Moses and Aaron could not deal with this rebellion. The glory of the Lord appeared. Divine judgment falls upon them. Dathan and Abiram, their wives, their sons and their little ones, besides the ringleader Korah, are swallowed up by the earth and went down alive into the pit. (It is also foreshadowing the judgment to come upon the apostates when the Lord appears the second time. See Revelation 19:20.) The two hundred and fifty who had taken presumptuously censers with incense, thereby defying the priesthood, are consumed by fire. It must be noted that the sons of Korah did not perish. A careful reading of verses 27-33 will bring out this fact and chapter 26:11 settles it beyond a doubt, “notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.” Sovereign grace saved the sons of Korah from the awful fate of the father. They were saved from the pit. Mercy was remembered in wrath. What grace bestowed upon them may be learned by consulting the following passages: 1 Chronicles 6:54-67; 1Ch_9:19-32; 1Ch_26:1-20; 2 Chronicles 23:3-4; 2Ch_23:19; 2Ch_31:14-18. They had the cities of refuge, were keepers of the gates of the tabernacle; were over the chambers and treasuries of the house of the Lord; the instruments of the sanctuary, the wine, oil, etc., were in their charge; they were mighty men of valor; strong men; they were the royal guards. And more than that, the Holy Spirit inspired them to write some of the beautiful Psalms. Read Psalm 84, “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts.” What meaning this Psalm has when studied in the light of the story of Korah! They were faithful, devoted in their service because they knew that they had been saved from the pit. And we have the same deliverance and knowledge of it. Should we be less faithful and devoted?
Interesting is Eleazar’s priesthood and ministry. As the third son of Aaron and in his ministry here he typifies the priesthood of Christ. The censers are kept as a memorial and as a warning. This ministry of Eleazar and Aaron staying the plague with the censer of incense, when the whole congregation revolted, is a confirmation of the divinely appointed priesthood and its efficacy. The preservation of the sinning, murmuring people depended upon the exercise of the priesthood. Blessed be God for Him who has made atonement, and whose priesthood in the presence of God keeps His people.
What higher criticism has made of this may be learned by the following statement:
“From the plain account of the text it appears that Aaron separated the men and women suffering with the plague from those not yet attacked, and then he piled the censer with incense and swung it between the hosts, so that not a germ in the air could pass over from the plague-stricken to those not yet attacked by the disease.
“The disinfecting of the air and separating of the sick from the well was dictated by Moses, who had learned in Egypt all the science of his day, and the Egyptian priests were master of many secrets which we have to learn over again.” How absurd!
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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gab/numbers-16.html. 1913-1922.
Here begins the story of perhaps the strangest and most fully organized opposition that Moses had to encounter. Two elements were at work. The first was ambition and the second was dissatisfaction.
The plea of the elders was for equal rights and consequent independence of action. The reply of Moses was a reassertion that his authority was divinely ordained. Sudden and terrible discipline fell upon the people. The whole incident is a warning for all time and for all men against any attempt on the ground of popular right to violate the crown rights of Jehovah.
The last movement in the story is a startling revelation of the blindness of the people and of how far the dissatisfaction had spread. The whole congregation charged that the death of those who had been punished rested on Moses Again the divine voice threatened the extermination of the people, and immediately a fierce and swift plague afflicted them. Directly it commenced, however, at the instigation of Moses, Aaron, the appointed priest, whose right it was to swing the censer, filled it with fire and sprinkling the incense thereupon passed into the midst of the afflicted people. The mediation prevailed, the plague was stayed, and by that fact and with renewed emphasis, the right of Aaron as priest and the right of Moses as leader were indicated.
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Morgan, G. Campbell. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "G. Campbell Morgan Exposition on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gcm/numbers-16.html. 1857-84.
Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi,.... A great grandson of Levi's, and own cousin to Moses and Aaron, being brothers children; for Amram the father of Moses and Aaron, and Izhar the father of Korah, were own brothers, both of them the sons of Kohath, and Amram the eldest, and Izhar the next, Exodus 6:16; this man is mentioned first, being the contriver, and plotter, and ringleader of the following sedition, and which is called "the gainsaying of Core", Judges 1:11; when this was made is not certain; Aben Ezra thinks this affair happened in the wilderness of Sinai, when the firstborn were exchanged, and the Levites were separated for holy service, Numbers 3:1; but, according to the Targum of Jonathan, it was after the law concerning the fringes was given, which it here follows, and was on that account; for it says, that Korah took his coat, which was all blue, and that the men with him rose up, and in the face of Moses taught the rite concerning the blue ribbon; when Moses declared he had it from God, that the fringe should be of white, and one thread of blue should be in it; but Korah and his company made their coats and fringes all of blue, which the Lord commanded not: but what Korah is said to take is either himself, or men, or both, and not clothes, as follows:
and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth,
sons of Reuben, took men; which men are described in Numbers 16:2, even princes of the assembly, &c. or he, Korah, took himself, as Ben Melech, or divided himself, as Onkelos, separated himself from the congregation, and set himself at the head of a party he gathered together; and the "vau" or "and" before "Dathan" may be additional or superfluous, as Chaskuni observes, and so Abendana; and then the sense is, that Korah took Dathan, Abiram and On, apart by themselves, and entered into a consultation and confederacy with them against Moses and Aaron, with whom he was offended on account of the priesthood being bestowed on the latter by the former; and these men he associated to him, being the sons of Reuben, who would the rather listen to him, and join with him, because the right of the firstborn was taken from them, and the camp of Judah was placed before them; and with these men he could more easily commune, because the camp of Reuben and the Kohathites lay on the same side of the tabernacle, Numbers 2:10; Eliab, the father of Dathan and Abiram, was the son of Pallu, the second son of Reuben, Numbers 26:5; but as for On, no mention is made of him elsewhere, nor any more in this place; it is thought he separated from his company after he had heard what Moses said to them; and the Rabbins say, his wife delivered him out of their hands, as Abendana observes.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/numbers-16.html. 1999.
Isaar was brother of Amram; and, consequently, his son was the cousin of Moses. --- Core engaged the rest in his revolt. Hebrew, "took or replied," interrupting Moses at the very time when he was speaking, in the name of God, and requiring that he should shew by what right he arrogated to himself alone that authority. "Core separated himself," Chaldean. "He retired," Syriac. "Core spoke....and Dathan....and they rose up," Septuagint. The Caathites encamped near the tribe of Ruben; and hence Core had an opportunity to engage some of them in his revolt, by insinuating that Moses occupied the post in the state which ought to belong to them, as Ruben was the first-born; while Aaron had obtained the high priesthood, and the rest of the Levites, though of equal nobility, were to be treated as his servants. It is not known when this revolt happened. Some place it at the camp of Sinai; others at that of Jetebata, Deuteronomy x. 8.
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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/numbers-16.html. 1859.
Numbers 16:1-30. The rebellion of Korah.
Now Korah, the son of Izhar — Izhar, brother of Amram (Exodus 6:18), was the second son of Kohath, and for some reason unrecorded he had been supplanted by a descendant of the fourth son of Kohath, who was appointed prince or chief of the Kohathites (Numbers 3:30). Discontent with the preferment over him of a younger relative was probably the originating cause of this seditious movement on the part of Korah.
Dathan and Abiram, and On — These were confederate leaders in the rebellion, but On seems to have afterwards withdrawn from the conspiracy [compare Numbers 16:12, Numbers 16:24, Numbers 16:25, Numbers 16:27; Numbers 26:9; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalm 106:17 ].
took men — The latter mentioned individuals, being all sons of Reuben, the eldest of Jacob‘s family, had been stimulated to this insurrection on the pretext that Moses had, by an arbitrary arrangement, taken away the right of primogeniture, which had vested the hereditary dignity of the priesthood in the first-born of every family, with a view of transferring the hereditary exercise of the sacred functions to a particular branch of his own house; and that this gross instance of partiality to his own relations, to the permanent detriment of others, was a sufficient ground for refusing allegiance to his government. In addition to this grievance, another cause of jealousy and dissatisfaction that rankled in the breasts of the Reubenites was the advancement of Judah to the leadership among the tribes. These malcontents had been incited by the artful representations of Korah (Judges 1:11), with whom the position of their camp on the south side afforded them facilities of frequent intercourse. In addition to his feeling of personal wrongs, Korah participated in their desire (if he did not originate the attempt) to recover their lost rights of primogeniture. When the conspiracy was ripe, they openly and boldly declared its object, and at the head of two hundred fifty princes, charged Moses with an ambitious and unwarrantable usurpation of authority, especially in the appropriation of the priesthood, for they disputed the claim of Aaron also to pre-eminence [Numbers 16:3 ].
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/numbers-16.html. 1871-8.
Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
Now Korah, the son of Izhar. Izhar, brother of Amram (Exodus 6:18), was the second son of Kohath, and for some reason unrecorded he had been supplanted by a descendant of the fourth son of Kohath, who was appointed prince or chief of the Kohathites (Numbers 3:30). Discontent with the preferment over him of a younger relative was probably the originating cause of this seditious movement on the part of Korah.
Dathan ... Abiram ... and On. These were confederate leaders in the rebellion; but On seems to have afterward withdrawn from the conspiracy.
Took men. The latter-mentioned individuals, being all sons of Reuben, the oldest of Jacob's family, had been stimulated to this insurrection on the pretext that Moses had, by an arbitrary arrangement, taken away the right of primogeniture, which had vested the hereditary dignity of the priesthood in the firstborn of every family, with a view of transferring the hereditary exercise of the sacred functions to a particular branch of his own house; and that this gross instance of partiality to his own relations, to the permanent detriment of others, was a sufficient ground for refusing allegiance to his government. In addition to this grievance, another cause of jealousy and dissatisfaction that rankled in the breasts of the Reubenites was the advancement of Judah to the leadership among the tribes. These malcontents had been incited by the artful representations of Korah (Jude 1:11), with whom the position of their camp on the south side afforded them facilities of frequent contact, and who, in addition to his feeling of personal wrongs, participated in their desire, if he did not originate the attempt, to recover their lost rights of primogeniture.
When the conspiracy was ripe, they openly and boldly declared its object, and, at the head of 250 princes, challenged Moses with an ambitious and unwarrantable usurpation of authority, especially in the appropriation of the priesthood; because they disputed the claim of Aaron also to pre-eminence. [ n
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/numbers-16.html. 1871-8.
Every Man In His Place
This is strikingly modern in its temper. This ancient democracy has steadily kept pace with the ages and is at this moment as lively and audacious as ever. It is hard for men to keep their places; it is hard because the next higher place appears to be so near and so accessible. It is always difficult for the heart to be quiet, contented, restful in God; it is fertile in plan, ambitious in spirit, conscious of great power, and not wholly unconscious of great deserts. But men fritter away their strength by finding fault with their positions. We can only work really and deeply, and therefore lastingly, as we have the blessed consciousness of being where God has put us, and doing the kind of service God has indicated. The appointment may be an inferior one, but it is divine, and, therefore, if we answer it with faithfulness and obedience, we shall find in the discharge of its duties sweet comfort and a continual Revelation -invigoration of our best motive and purpose. The people who rebelled against Moses had inferior appointments in connection with the tabernacle; but they were not content with these: they actually sought not only the priesthood, but, according to the literal translation, the high-priesthood. They would have censers such as Aaron himself used; they would try what they could do on the throne; they did not see any reason why they should be excluded from the very pontificate of Israel. Who ever did see any reason why he should not be a great man? It is expecting much of human nature to expect it to be just what it Isaiah, and to accept the position simply, loyally, gratefully;—but only in such acceptance of position can men be their best and do their best. Let a preacher once get it into his mind that he ought to move in a larger circle and have a pulpit twice the size of his present pulpit, and the ambition which moves his mind in that direction, takes away from him much of his working strength, so that, instead of filling the little sphere, or the sphere comparatively small, he shrinks within it and becomes for all effective service a smaller man than he really is. Let us accept our position whatever it be, saying,—God put me here, he takes care of me while I am here, and when he wants me in some larger place he will send for me, and until the message comes I will serve him with both hands diligently, and my heart shall be as a fire burning up towards him in aspiration and sacrifice.
What a picture life is with regard to personal position and social gradation!—and we cannot alter the picture; do what we may, still the graduated lines are plainly written, and they constitute a kind of unnamed but verily inspired Bible. There are men who are as Moses and Aaron amongst us, and there are men who are as Korah, and Dathan, and Abiram. Outbreaks of temper do occur in regard to social position and influence. The question will arise,—"Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"—but all complainings arise and perish without touching the settled and determined lines of personal function, and social gradation, and ecclesiastical and other relationships. There is a tide in these things, as in the sea, and no Canute can roll back the advancing water. It is not enough to assent to these propositions; the aim of their statement is to constitute itself into a noble persuasion to adopt them and to make them part of the rule and guide of life. Moses said,—If this is the case, meet me to-morrow; bring your censers, put fire therein, and put incense before the Lord to-morrow; and whom the Lord chooses, let him be pontiff. That is the only appeal. The battle has been settled ten thousand times, and still the war of ambition rages in the human heart. The morrow came; the competitors were there; what became of them we know. It would be difficult to believe the letter of this ancient history if we did not see the same fate happening to every Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in our own day. Modern facts help us to receive the testimony of ancient history. In all the departments of life there are men who are as Moses and Aaron. Take any department of life that may first occur to the imagination. Shall we say the department of commerce? Even in the marketplace we have Moses and Aaron, and they cannot be deposed. Where is the man who thinks he could not conduct the largest business in the city? Yet the poor cripple could not conduct it, and the greatest punishment that could befall the creature would be to allow him to attempt to rule a large and intricate commercial concern. But it seems to be hard for a man to see some other man at the very head of commercial affairs whose word is law, whose signature amounts to a species of sovereignty, and to know that all the while Hebrews, the observer, Isaiah, in his own estimation, quite as good a man—a person of remarkable capacity, and he is only waiting for an opportunity to wear a nimbus of glory—a halo of radiance—that would astound the exchanges of the world. But it cannot be done. There are great business men and small business men: there are wholesale men and retail men, and neither the wholesale nor the retail affects the quality of the man"s soul, or the destiny of the man"s spirit; but, as a matter of fact, these distinctions are made, and they are not arbitrary: in the spirit of them there is a divine presence. If men could believe this, they would be comforted accordingly. Every preacher knows in his inmost soul that he is fit to be the Dean of St. Paul"s, or the Dean of Westminster,—every preacher knows that; but to be something less—something officially lower—and yet to accept the inferior position with a contentment which is inspired by faith in God, is the very conquest of the Spirit of heaven in the heart of Prayer of Manasseh, is a very miracle of grace. Even the Apostle Paul required education in this matter—"for," said Hebrews, "I have learned,"—referring to a process of daily education—"in whatsoever state I Amos, therewith to be content." Shall we take the department of poetry? As a matter of fact, even in that department there are some men higher than others. It is an astounding thing that there should be in the department of poetry some men who can make poetry, and some men who can only read it. How difficult to believe that the man who has made two lines rhyme cannot write the "Idylls of the King"! There is always the secret hope that the development may come late; it is an ineffable comfort to know that some men reached their highest influence at a very remote period of life. Who made these men different? Who made one man able to make paper and another man able to write upon it as the great poets have written? We cannot be atheistic in presence of such facts. We may differ about the name to be applied, but there is the absolute fact—that even in the region of poetry, some men can make it and other men cannot. When it is made, there is no mistake about it; the heart answers the appeal; the world waits to see where the fire will fall, and when it has fallen there is no mistaking the answer of the human observer. We know the Bible by the reading of it; we know inspiration by the sharing of it; we feel that the stranger beside us is a guest from heaven, because he makes our heart burn within us. We did not make ourselves; we must not attempt to appoint ourselves. We must remember that we are not our own: that we are the flock of God—the sheep of his pasture: that he formed us, and not we ourselves: that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, and that in the Father"s house there are many mansions. "O, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him; and he will give thee thine heart"s desire,"—or, if not, he will give thee some larger blessing, showing the capacity of the heart is not the measure of the divine bounty.
Moses took the only course that was open to him. It is no use arguing with men as to greatness: let the appeal be to experience; let us come to the testimony of fact. This applies to the pre-eminence of the Cross of Christ. Many a Korah, Dathan, and Abiram has said to the Cross,—Thou dost take too much upon thee. The Cross says,—Let the appeal be to history, to fact, to power. The Cross never claims to be accepted without examination, and testing, and competition in some sacred and noble sense of that term. Philosophy has said,—I can save the world, and as for thee, thou grim Cross, thou takest too much upon thee; thou art broad in sentimental appeal, but I am subtle in all my researches and fundamental in all my relations and my instructions. The Cross is willing that philosophy should be tried. It has been tried. It has a beautiful voice, a delicate touch, an eye that sees in the darkness. The Cross does not despise the love of wisdom—which is the true definition of philosophy;—but philosophy cannot touch the whole life: it touches certain men, appeals with great effect to certain qualities of men: it speaks to men of large capacity or of ample leisure, to persons who have time to give to the study of philosophy proper attention; but philosophy, as ordinarily understood, does not get into the universal heart, does not cover the universal experience, does not rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep; it lacks what the Cross has—the patience, the sympathy, the long hand that reaches into the heart"s innermost necessity and ministers to the life"s profoundest need. Morality says to the Cross,—Thou dost take too much upon thee; I can make the world what it ought to be. And the Cross says,—Let the appeal be to history; let the appeal be to facts; let us abide by the arbitrament of reality. So morality comes with small recipes and nostrums and codes of behaviour, and bills of disci pline, and insists upon registering human behaviour according to certain more or less pedantic laws; but morality never touches the world"s deepest wound; morality Isaiah, according to its own verbal definition, a manner, a posture, a calculated attitude, a providence based upon a species of arithmetic. So philosophy, morality, imagination, new schemes, new books, have all arisen to challenge the supremacy of the Cross. Is the Cross not a philosophy? The Cross is the profoundest of all philosophy, though it does not come to the world under that name, but under some tenderer designation. Is not the Cross a morality? The Cross insists upon righteousness; it will have nothing to do with wickedness; it seeks to purge human nature of its depravity. It does not begin with codes of behaviour, but with regeneration—with the new or second birth of the heart, and out of that will come clean hands, a pure tongue, a noble speech, a charitable disposition, and a sacrificial service of the world. So we do not separate Christianity from philosophy, morality, imagination, great and intellectual speculation; but we put these things all in their right places and relations, and the appeal of Christianity is an appeal to sinners, to lost men, to hearts that cannot heal themselves, to a ruin complete and absolute; afterwards we come to high thinking, brilliant speculation, a very apocalypse of vision and wonder and gracious delight. So Christianity asks for no quarter upon any arbitrary or superstitious grounds; it is willing that to-morrow every Korah, Dathan, and Abiram shall meet it, and let the contest be settled by experience. Christianity can call upon a thousand men to speak in its name and ten thousand times ten thousand more day by day. Let the question be—What has most deeply touched your life? What has given you the surest and strongest hope under the pressure of a guilty conscience, the charges of an accusing memory? What has touched your tears most lovingly and healingly? What was it that sat up with you longest in the dark night time? What was it that found for you flowers in the snow, and summer among the winter ice? Speak out—be just; and the heart will say, whenever there has been any real experience,—The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has covered most of my life, most has healed my diseases, has spoken to me a larger language than I ever heard before—"God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The rebels were overthrown and a marvellous providence asserts itself immediately in connection with the overthrow:
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed. The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the Lord, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel" ( ).
So Christianity uses the weapons of its opponents: as David uses the sword of Goliath; so that which has been consecrated unto the Lord, even by men whose spirit and temper were not divine, must be claimed for the service of the altar. The altar was made of wood, yet it was covered with metal that the continual burning upon it might not injure the structure; and now "the censers of these sinners against their own souls," shall be made into "broad plates for a covering of the alta;r."—Behold the Cross—what changes it is undergoing in outward appearance! What are these things which men are nailing to it now? Swords taken in war, trophies brought from the battlefield, crowns once erected in ignoble pride against the supremacy of Christ. So the process goes on. What a Cross it is! What a spectacle!—nailed to it every weapon that has ever been raised against it; and in the very upbuilding of the Cross through the generations we shall read a history which no pen could ever fully write. Shall we join this process of nailing to the Cross that which we have used against it? We have used our little genius—let us go and nail it to the Cross. We have opened our mouth in rude eloquence in many a charge and objection against the Cross—let us give our remaining breath to the praise of him who has never looked upon us but with upbraiding or hopeful gaze. We have fooled away our money in helping those to propagate their views whose object was to turn all earth into a flat plane confined within the four corners of a definite boundary, and to shut out the blue heavens, or to use them merely for the sake of convenience—let us take what remains and say,—Thou wounded Lamb of God, we know thou canst pardon sin, but canst thou forgive folly?—we know not the measure between the tragedy of thy sacrifice and the turpitude of our guilt, but we are not only sinners: we are fools—oh canst thou, Son of God, pity the fool as well as forgive the criminal?—we thought to fight against thee: we meant to win: we accepted the challenge, and now there is nothing left of our rebellious selves but our censers,—Galilean, thou hast conquered!
Let us then accept our places in the divine providence; let us acknowledge a divine order in social relations; do not let us attempt to settle great social questions by the rule of thumb.—Do not imagine that rich and poor can be levelled together all into one plane by some easy democratic method; do let us recognise the presence of a marvellous providence in life. On the other hand, do not let us take such a view of that providence as to lead us to tyrannise over our weaker fellow-creatures; do not let us imagine that we are gods and have a right to override all poor and inferior persons; the true line of wisdom lies between. What hast thou that thou has not received?—that should be the question which every man should hear addressed to himself when he is counting his gold and adding fields to his estate and is most conscious of his commanding intellect and his imperial genius. And as for the poor, they should be taught that poverty is no disgrace. There is a rich poverty. There is a noble failure in life; there is a bankruptcy with extenuating circumstances. There are sufferings that have a divine meaning behind them. So we will have no boasting and no despairing. We are free—the rich and the poor, the leader and the follower. "The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice."
Korah was the leader of the famous rebellion against his cousins Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, for which he paid the penalty of perishing with his followers by an earthquake and flames of fire ( Numbers 16; ). The particular grievance which rankled in the mind of Korah and his company was their exclusion from the office of the priesthood, and their being confined—those among them who were Levites—to the inferior service of the tabernacle, as appears clearly, both from the words of Moses in Numbers 16:9, and from the test resorted to with regard to the censers and the offering of incense. The same thing also appears from the subsequent confirmation of the priesthood to Aaron ( Numbers 17). The appointment of Elizaphan to be the chief of the Kohathites ( Numbers 3:30) may have further inflamed his jealousy. Korah"s position as leader in this rebellion was evidently the result of his personal character, which was that of a bold, haughty, and ambitious man. This appears from his address to Moses in Numbers 16:3, and especially from his conduct in Numbers 16:19, where both his daring and his influence over the congregation are very apparent. Were it not for this, one would have expected the Gershonites—as the elder branch of the Levites—to have supplied a leader in conjunction with the sons of Reuben, rather than the family of Izhar, who was Amram"s younger brother. From some cause which does not clearly appear, the children of Korah were not involved in the destruction of their father, as we are expressly told in Numbers 26:11, and as appears from the continuance of the family of the Korahites to the reign at least of Jehoshaphat ( 2 Chronicles 20:19), and probably till the return from the captivity ( 1 Chronicles 9:19, 1 Chronicles 9:31). Perhaps the fissure of the ground which swallowed up the tents of Dathan and Abiram did not extend beyond those of the Reubenites. From Numbers 26:27 it seems clear that Korah himself was not with Dathan and Abiram at the moment. His tent may have been one pitched for himself, in contempt of the orders of Moses, by the side of his fellow-rebels, while his family continued to reside in their proper camp nearer the tabernacle; or it must have been separated by a considerable space from those of Dathan and Abiram. Or, even if Korah"s family resided amongst the Reubenites, they may have fled, at Moses"s warning, to take refuge in the Kohathite camp, instead of remaining, as the wives and children of Dathan and Abiram did ( Numbers 16:27). Korah himself was doubtless with the two hundred and fifty men who bare censers nearer the tabernacle ( Numbers 16:19), and perished with them by the "fire from Jehovah" which accompanied the earthquake.
—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.
Almighty God, thou art our Father. God is love. We live in God; without God we cannot live. Thou hast made us, and not we ourselves. The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord. Thou hast given unto us a time of birth and a time of death, and no hand can alter the record. We stand in God"s eternity. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people. Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our Father; the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Behold, in what a way hast thou led us these many years in the wilderness! When there was no water, thou didst find streams in the rocks; when the pool was bitter, the healing tree was nigh; when thou didst send upon us a great judgment, in the whirlwind we heard a tone of mercy. In wrath thou dost remember mercy; in judgment thou art compassionate. The mercy of the Lord endureth for ever; and this will we say with the passion of great love. The way of man is not in himself. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, and the Lord"s way is always right. Even Song of Solomon, Father: for so it seemeth good in thy sight—would we say in every event of time, how much soever we may be disappointed, and how heavy soever may be the burden we have to bear. This is the time of endurance; this is not the season of explanation. What we know not now we shall know hereafter, and thy answer shall be greater than our question, and where we were much pained we shall be mightily delivered and glorified from on high. Thou art the Father of our life. We are thine, not our own. If we have aught that is our own, it was thine first and will be thine last, for we ourselves are bought with a price. Make us tender, loving, sympathetic, always living in others and for others; and watch over us with Christly solicitude, even though it become aggravated into pain of mind and sorrow of soul because of ingratitude and because of rebellion. May our love be measured by the divine love, and not be changeful, fickle, and uncertain; may it be a great love, originating in the Cross, sustained by daily grace, made larger and more intelligent by the constant inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Bless the orphan, the sad, the lonely, the friendless. Why these miseries should come upon us we cannot wholly tell in words, though there is a voice in our heart which tells us that the way of the Lord is right. Where thou hast given heavy burdens, thou wilt give needful strength; where the tears are many and hot, thy hand will be present in its gentleness. The Lord succour those who need continual help; be a light to the blind, a staff to the weak, a Guide to the perplexed, and the Saviour of all. We commend to thee the children who have no earthly father, those whose homes have been desolated by sudden death, or other invasion of distress. Thou dost anticipate our prayer: and, behold, the infinite answer of thy pity is uttered upon the earth before our prayer is heard in heaven. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of Prayer of Manasseh, Son of God, God the Song of Solomon, who loved us and gave himself for us, and who, being our Saviour and Priest, is not ashamed to be called our Brother. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/numbers-16.html. 1885-95.
Numbers 16:1. Korah. One of the firstborn, a very old man, and grandson of Levi by his father Jahar. Dathan and Abiram were descendants of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel; these according to the patriarchal customs had a right to officiate at the altar.
Numbers 16:5. To-morrow; the time when justice was administered, as appears from many texts. Jeremiah 21:12. Psalms 101:8. This night of indulgence seems to have allowed them a little time for reflection and repentance.
Numbers 16:7. Put fire therein. The test had a striking resemblance to that of Elijah on mount Carmel: the fire decided between JEHOVAH and Baal.
Numbers 16:15. Moses said unto the Lord, respect not thou their offering. Woe be to him against whom the church of God shall pray. Lord, said David, confound the counsel of Ahitophel, and he did so.
Numbers 16:21. Separate yourselves—from all men of a wicked, dissatisfied and seditious spirit, against ministers or magistrates.
Numbers 16:22. God of the spirits of all flesh. The LXX read, God of the spirits, and of all flesh.
Numbers 16:29. The common death of all men. These men, being descendants of princes, seem to have had larger tents and more wealth than many others. When the earth swallowed up the tents and families of Dathan and Abiram, with Korah and On, who were with them, it is remarkable that the children of Korah should escape; they being, no doubt, at some distance from the scene of convulsion: Numbers 26:11.
Numbers 16:33. Alive into the pit. Many read here, alive into hell, that is, into the grave; and they further mean that their souls went into a place of torment, as in Matthew 11:23. Luke 16:23.
Numbers 16:34. All Israel fled at the cry of them. They were not even in that age, wholly ignorant of the nature of earthquakes: but this earthquake was local, special, and divine. Numbers 16:35. A fire from the Lord consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense. These men had seen the fire at the consecration of Aaron; they had seen the death of Nadab and Abihu, there could therefore be no excuse for their sin. God would not suffer the hallowed types and figures of our redemption to be gaited and marred by the revolts of men.
Carnal men do but ill support the judgments of the Lord. The enmity of their hearts is ever ready to revolt against the word, and against the servants of the Lord; and yet they always cover their designs with some popular plea. They are either seeking truth, or endeavouring to reform abuses, and befriend the people. Here, embracing a crisis of discontent, they pleaded that Moses and Aaron had deprived the firstborn of their ancient and unquestionable right of attending the altar; and they were ready, at the same time, to punish them with death for the offence. They who had not believed in the possibility of conquering Canaan, now affect to disbelieve that God had substituted the Levites for the firstborn: and expressly with a view to presignify the Messiah and his church, and to relieve them of the painful toils of being detained from their farms and families by attendance on the altar. To the patriarchs, these occasional services were easy; but the constant devotion of the nation required the regular attendance of the Lord’s anointed. And let all christians be cautious how they speak and act against faithful ministers regularly appointed by those whose right it is, and by the prayers and good wishes of the people.
Korah and his faction, instead of seeking to resume their supposed rights by counsel and prayer, endeavoured to resist Moses and Aaron by open force, and in language which indicated a wish for their destruction. Surely that was not a spirit becoming the priesthood. Language and tempers so inimical, would soon have made the sanctuary of God a desolation. The Lord’s work must always be done in the Lord’s spirit.
We learn, that the Lord will not forsake his servants when surrounded by wicked and unreasonable men. Moses, acting for God and trusting in him alone, had not surrounded his person with guards; for what has a patriarch to fear when surrounded by a nation of children, if Israel had been worthy of so faithful a father. However, he and Aaron fled to the sanctuary for refuge, and it proved to them an alsufficient refuge in the day of trouble. Dathan and Abiram, with their families who despised the Lord and his servant, sunk to rise no more. Had they obeyed, and come to the door of the tabernacle, their families would not have perished. Korah and his distinguished company, while burning incense in violation of the precept, were burnt of the Lord. Who then would not fear his judgments! Let sinners of every description tremble to violate the commands of God: for soon or late their day of visitation will surely come.
From the conspiracy of Korah, religious characters are particularly cautioned against occasioning faction and schism in the house of God. It is not necessary here to arraign the ancient schisms, because in general our information is partial. The Catharians, and the Novatians seem to have had a good cause. But it sometimes happens that one man, disappointed of preferment, or anxious to obtain some controul over his brethren, will constantly be inveighing against some Moses or Aaron. When any disorder or difference of opinion happens, which in all societies of mortal men must often be the case, instead of healing and composing the evil, he takes advantage of it to strengthen his party. The long-fostered spirit of revolt at length comes to a crisis; and finding himself then strong for battle, he openly declares all his opponents hypocrites and demons, calling aloud for their excommunication. The weak of the flock, appalled, dispersed, destroyed; a minister, and his tender family ruined, are no arguments at all with him. But whether he obtain his object, or be defeated in his design, the tempest will gradually subside; the dark clouds will clear up; the mischiefs occasioned will be appreciated; his partisans, as well as his opposers, will then fully trace his designs; and all good men will sigh at the mention of his name. Hence let ministers and members be wary and wise. Let them compose differences, and put away evils as they arise, neither fearing man, nor knowing relative or friend. And let them fear, more than death, to destroy the house of God for the accomplishment of any private object.
We are next awfully taught, that God will not only destroy the factions of the wicked and the proud, but also the roots of factions where fear does not sanctify. Scarcely had this people, accustomed to miracles, slept a single night; scarcely had the sun arose, before they were assembled in open revolt, and charging Moses and Aaron with having martyred the Lord’s people. Therefore the plague broke out, and fourteen thousand were consumed under the high displeasure of heaven. Let us never murmur at God’s judgments, as those men who were destroyed of the destroyer. 1 Corinthians 10:10. Alas, alas, will nothing humble some proud and haughty men but a consumption, an asthma, a burning. Will nothing cure them of bringing God and his word on all occasions to their bar, but the being brought to the gates of the grave. Let the faithful, forgetful of wrongs, run like Aaron to save them, when fallen vanquished at the Lord’s feet. Let them run with a censer of tears and glowing piety, if peradventure the Lord will heal them, or at least, save the soul in the day of visitation.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/numbers-16.html. 1835.
Numbers 16:1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took [men]:
Ver. 1. The son of Izhar.] And so first cousin to Moses and Aaron; for Izhar was brother to Amram their father. [Exodus 6:18]
Sons of Reuben.] Who, being next neighbours to Korah in the camp, were the sooner corrupted by him.
“ Uvaque corrupta livorem ducit ab uva. ” - Juven.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/numbers-16.html. 1865-1868.
The authors of the rebellion were Korah the Levite, a descendant of the Kohathite Izhar, who was a brother of Amram, an ancestor (not the father) of Aaron and Moses (see at Exodus 6:18), and three Reubenites, viz., Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, of the Reubenitish family of Pallu (Numbers 26:8-9), and On, the son of Peleth, a Reubenite, not mentioned again. The last of these ( On ) is not referred to again in the further course of this event, either because he played altogether a subordinate part in the affair, or because he had drawn back before the conspiracy came to a head. The persons named took ( יקּח ), i.e., gained over to their plan, or persuaded to join them, 250 distinguished men of the other tribes, and rose up with them against Moses and Aaron. On the construction ויּקוּמוּ ... ויּקּה (Numbers 16:1 and Numbers 16:2), Gesenius correctly observes in his Thesaurus (p. 760), “There is an anakolouthon rather than an ellipsis, and not merely a copyist's error, in these words, ' and Korah,...and Dathan and Abiram, took and rose up against Moses with 250 men, ' for they took 250 men, and rose up with them against Moses,” etc. He also points to the analogous construction in 2 Samuel 18:18. Consequently there is no necessity either to force a meaning upon לקח, which is altogether foreign to it, or to attempt an emendation of the text. “ They rose up before Moses: ” this does not mean, “they stood up in front of his tent,” as Knobel explains it, for the purpose of bringing Numbers 16:2 into contradiction with Numbers 16:3, but they created an uproar before his eyes; and with this the expression in Numbers 16:3, “ and they gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron, ” may be very simply and easily combined. The 250 men of the children of Israel who joined the rebels no doubt belonged to the other tribes, as is indirectly implied in the statement in Numbers 27:3, that Zelophehad the Manassite was not in the company of Korah. These men were “ princes of the congregation, ” i.e., heads of the tribes, or of large divisions of the tribes, “ called men of the congregation, ” i.e., members of the council of the nation which administered the affairs of the congregation (cf. Numbers 1:16), “ men of name ” ( שׁם אנשׁי, see Genesis 6:4). The leader was Korah; and the rebels are called in consequence “ Korah's company ” (Numbers 16:5, Numbers 16:6; Numbers 26:9; Numbers 27:3). He laid claim to the high-priesthood, or at least to an equality with Aaron (Numbers 16:17). Among his associates were the Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, who, no doubt, were unable to get over the fact that the birthright had been taken away from their ancestor, and with it the headship of the house of Israel (i.e., of the whole nation). Apparently their present intention was to seize upon the government of the nation under a self-elected high priest, and to force Moses and Aaron out of the post assigned to them by God, - that is to say, to overthrow the constitution which God had given to His people.
רב־לכם, “ enough for you! ” ( רב, as in Genesis 45:28), they said to Moses and Aaron, i.e., “let the past suffice you” ( Knobel ); ye have held the priesthood and the government quite long enough. It must now come to an end; “ for the whole congregation, all of them (i.e., all the members of the nation), are holy, and Jehovah is in the midst of them. Wherefore lift ye yourselves above the congregation of Jehovah? ” The distinction between עדה and קהל is the following: עדה signifies conventus , the congregation according to its natural organization; קהל signifies convocatio , the congregation according to its divine calling and theocratic purpose. The use of the two words in the same verse upsets the theory that יהוה עדת belongs to the style of the original work, and יהוה קהל to that of the Jehovist. The rebels appeal to the calling of all Israel to be the holy nation of Jehovah (Exodus 19:5-6), and infer from this the equal right of all to hold the priesthood, “leaving entirely out of sight, as blind selfishness is accustomed to do, the transition of the universal priesthood into the special mediatorial office and priesthood of Moses and Aaron, which had their foundation in fact” ( Baumgarten ); or altogether overlooking the fact that God Himself had chosen Moses and Aaron, and appointed them as mediators between Himself and the congregation, to educate the sinful nation into a holy nation, and train it to the fulfilment of its proper vocation. The rebels, on the contrary, thought that they were holy already, because God had called them to be a holy nation, and in their carnal self-righteousness forgot the condition attached to their calling, “If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant” (Exodus 19:5).
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/numbers-16.html. 1854-1889.
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 (1Jn 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" (1Tim 4:1-2).
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 (Gen 6:4-7).
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 (2Tim 4:3). Moses sees through what Korah wants (Num 16:10). We will be preserved from these deceivers and their flattering, seductive language when we listen to 'Moses' (cf. Lk 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 (Heb 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.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Numbers 16:1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kng/numbers-16.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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, Num_7:9, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, of the tribe of Reuben, Num_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, Exo_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.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/numbers-16.html. 1921-23.
A.THE REBELLION OF KORAH, DATHAN AND ABIRAM (THEIR ANTICIPATION OF THE UNIVERSAL PRIESTHOOD AND THEIR JUDGMENT).
1Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, [FN1]took men: 2And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the [FN2]assembly, [FN3]famous in the congregation, men of renown: 3And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, [FN4]Ye take too much upon you, 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? 4And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face: 5And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him 6 This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company; 7And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the Lord to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be holy: [FN5]ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi 8 And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: [FN6] 9Seemeth 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? 10And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also? 11For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?
12And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; [FN7]which said, We 13 will not come up: d Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make 14 thyself altogether a prince over us? Moreover, thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou [FN8]put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up 15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the Lord, Respect not thou their [FN9]offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them 16 And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord, thou, and they, and Aaron to morrow: 17And 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 18 And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood [FN10]in the door of the [FN11]tabernacle of the congregation [FN12]with Moses and Aaron 19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the htabernacle of the congregation: 20and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 21Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment 22 And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?
23And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 24Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram 25 And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him 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 [FN13]consumed in all their sins 27 So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children 28 And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; [FN14]for I have not done them of mine own mind. [FN15]29If these men die [FN16]the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me 30 But if the Lord [FN17]make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into [FN18]the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have [FN19]provoked the Lord.
31And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: 32And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods 33 They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into mthe pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the [FN20]congregation 34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also. 35And there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
Numbers 16:2. We read with Knobel וַיִּקְשׁוּ instead of וַיִקַּח, which is inexplicable, for which comp. 1 Kings 7:25; 1 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 15:10; 2 Kings 15:25; Amos 7:10. Ewald proposes וַיִקָהֵל; but, as Knobel well remarks, that does not well suit for only four men. LXX.: καὶ ἐλάλησε. Vulg.: ecce!
We do not adopt the conjecture of our translator, [viz., that given above by Pastor Fay, who in the German original translates the text of Leviticus and Numbers.Tr.]. The difficulty is more easily solved if we omit the וְ before Dathan, or take the three Vavs in connection: he took along with him both Dathan and Abiram and also On. Thus Korah is designated as the real author, as also in Numbers 16:22 he is given this prominence. Another explanation, which is also more acceptable than the above conjecture, is the assumption of Gesenius [Thes., p760] that the singular is to be read as plural: Korah, Dathan, etc., took250 men to them.
Numbers 16:11. We cannot adopt Keils construction: Therefore thou and thy faction that have joined against Jehovahand Aaron, what is Hebrews, that ye murmur against him? An Aposiopesis that is quite superfluous.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
One might call this history a prototype of conspiracy and insurrection. Various party interests, essentially and wholly diverse and mutually conflicting, combine in the element of antipathy against the princely authority of Moses, and the priestly authority of Aaron (one might say against the authority of the State and of the Church). But there rests an obscurity of confusion over this sympathetic conspiracy against the authority appointed by Jehovah, as there could not but be in interests so diverse. Koran with his following (not his sons) is a Levite. Therefore he had himself also a privileged position. But the precedence of the Aaronic priesthood is to him a thorn in the eye. Therefore in reality it is not universal right that he would insist on, but a share in the clerical prerogatives of Aaron. Dathan, Abiram and On, the descendants of Reuben, no doubt have in mind the fact that their ancestor was the first-born, but not the transference of the rights of the first-born to Judah by the Patriarch. It must be mentioned to their praise that the tribe of Judah makes no special claims, but is only drawn into sympathy in a general way. But the real princes of the conspiracy conceal their particular pretensions under the demagogical watch-word: the entire congregation is holy, and under the radical definition of the entire congregation: they all are holy (evidently the idea of the plebiscite). This watchword is supported by the reproach: why do ye exalt yourselves over the congregation of Jehovah? In this reproach the conspiracy seems to convert an element of truth into a lie. There was, it is true, a theocratic authority over the congregation, that was not mediated by a legal representation of the congregation, yet elements of mediation were still there, the elders, the princes of the tribes, the prophetic voices, enough, a potential mediation by signs of the Spirit was indeed in existence; but of course no organized one. And such an one, too, could only distantly hover before the minds of the people; what the crowd desired was the dissolution of all authority, anarchy. Still the glitter of the idol of freedom and equality was even here so influential, that the whole nation was electrified by it, and they did not notice how they were made the sport of clerical and legitimist party interests. Hence even after the first judgment, there remained still a mutinous disposition that evoked a second judgment. Perhaps, too, this mutinous disposition sprang in part from the recollection of the stern judgment of stoning inflicted on the blasphemer and on the Sabbath-breaker: for here again it is nourished by the embittered feeling at the death penalty inflicted on the conspirators, although that appeared as a divine decree. The excitement, the stormy commotion, and the confusion of the event are reflected in the intricacy of the representation, and this has occasioned no little exegetical confusion which we must try to avoid. [See Text. and Gram., Numbers 16:2].
Evidently there was first a conspiracy that brooded in secret. The original agitators, Koran, Dathan and Abiram, succeeded in drawing to their party representatives from the whole congregation, princes of the particular tribes. Thus they arose against Moses and Aaron. Their cry to these two leaders: enough for you, may not be translated by the cool language: let what has been hitherto suffice you. It is a quo usque of indignation. To it is attached pretension in quite a radical form. When Moses falls on his face it is because he is in the greatest extremity and needs a divine decision, and looks for it. And on this decision reposes his exceeding bold and surprising answer. Not he will decide, but Jehovah. Let them all present themselves before Jehovah, the next morning even, as would-be priests, with censers, in order to stand before Jehovah along with Aaron in opposition and in rivalry, then Jehovah Himself will decide. According to the law, even the sons of the priests were forbidden to offer strange fire to Jehovah, much more were mere Levites and non-Levites forbidden to sacrifice, let alone to perform the holiest act of offering which was done in the very Sanctuary of the Tabernacle. Hence Moses could not have instituted such measures as he did here, had he not regarded the law as completely broken and suspended. His expedient reminds us of the words of Jesus to Judas: that thou doest do quickly. With the congregation seduced as it was, Moses could not act with its support; the law could only be restored again by a mighty judgment of God. Still the rebels were not to be left in doubt about the great irony that lay in the admission of this candidating, hence the addition, in which he repeats the word of the Levites as a rebuking echo: it is enough with you, upon which follows a reproof. Hear, ye sons of Levi, etc., Numbers 16:8. Now he brings home to the Levites that they themselves had received from Jehovahnot from hima prerogative above that of the other tribes of Israel, by which he lays bare the contradiction in their revolutionary watch-word. He charges them with untruthfulness; it was not the universal priesthood that they wanted, but they were emulous of the high-priesthood of Aaron ( Numbers 16:9-10). Ye rebel, he says, against Jehovah Himself, not, as ye suppose, against Aaron, for he as a man signifies nothing in this business, that ye should murmur against him ( Numbers 16:11). In other words: your would-be murmuring against Aaron is a rebellion against Jehovah.
And Moses said to call Dathan, etc., Numbers 16:12 sqq. This begins the account of Moses dealing with the Reubenites. With great penetration he sees through the coalition, and deals with each faction singly, as befitted it. The Korah faction aimed specially at Aaron, and he contended with it accordingly, and, as appears, with such success that the sons of Korah held aloof from the sedition of their father ( Numbers 26:11). But the Reuben faction was primarily directed against, the princely position of Moses himself. He accordingly summons Dathan and Abiram to appear before him, (he does not, as Baumgarten supposes, call on them to make sacrifice); the third, On, appears already or later to have drawn back. Also Zelophehad, an influential man of the tribe of Prayer of Manasseh, had renounced the general craze. But the Reubenite faction answered roughly and refused obedience to Moses with malignant irony. We will not come up, they said, with reference to the tabernacle that is regarded as an exalted tent. He has brought them out of a land flowing with milk and honey, but not brought them into such a land; he has sorely deceived them, and seems as if he would bore out the peoples eyes, i.e., as if he would degrade them to absolute, blind obedience against all private judgment. This reproach, that he desired to rule over them as an absolute despot of the conscience, provoked the extremest indignation of the faithful servant of God, who could appeal to his unselfishness, whereby at the same time the sentiment is expressed that despotism of the conscience always springs from ambition and avarice. Respect not thou their offering, ( Numbers 16:15) is his prayerthe mildest form in which he could implore the divine vindication of his uprightness.
And Moses said unto Korah, etc., Numbers 16:16 sqq. Here follows the summons already mentioned in Numbers 16:6 : appear to-morrow with censers before Jehovah for rivalry with Aaron; only now it is amplified to the effect that the whole company, and as such also the third faction likewise should appear with their censers, the symbols of their pretensions. And they actually appeared. Also the250 with their censers. Thus250 censers, it is added supplementally; as if we were to say: 250 horse, or so many cowls. The250 censers instead of the one censer of Aaron is the main point. But Korah had contrived that, beside this, the whole congregation appeared before the Tabernacle, if not as his decided adherents, still with the inclination to go over to his party, that stood opposed to the two apparently helpless men, Moses and Aaron. So the crowd of people stood wavering on Carmel, inclined to apostacy, when Elijah contended with the priests of Baal, and so the mass of craven souls mostly stand in decisive crises in which fidelity has to contend with a seductive novelty. But invariably in such a situation there occurs a miraculous turn of affairs: the glory of the Lord appears. Thus it appeared as Paul went to Damascus; when Gustavus Adolphus came to Germany; when William of Orange went to England. It is not stated how in the present case it displayed itself to the whole people; how a dread of God developed within the Tabernacle as the entire crowd pressed to the Tabernacle door to profane the sanctuary.
The word of Jehovah: Separate yourselves from among this congregation that I may consume them, Numbers 16:21 sqq, was probably manifested to the people only by their seeing Moses and Aaron (likely within the Tabernacle) fall on their faces in prayer. Both act as intercessors and mediators for the erring people. Ah, great God (El), thou God of the spirits of all flesh, what may that mean? Art Thou not now their Jehovah, still Thou art the almighty God, that rules over the spirits according to their peculiarity, according to the different measures of their guilt and innocence, even if as flesh they appear in a compact mass. As the God that judges the spirits, that looks on the heart, He cannot treat all alike in a deceived people. According to Baumgarten the expression means the same as God of gods; according to Keil, it designates the spirits as creatures; according to Knobel: Author and Lord of all life. The intercession runs: the one Prayer of Manasseh, he may have sinned, wilt Thou on this account burst out on the whole congregation? With this the one man is of course surrendered to the righteous punishment of God; yet it cannot for that release the whole congregation, but all will depend on who is hardened and who not when the separation is called for between the congregation and the guilty man.
Speak unto the congregation, etc., Numbers 16:21 sqq. From this point the representation becomes difficult. It is assumed that the tents of the Levites did not lie far from those of the Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram. But from what follows it appears that we are to understand a distinction between the Korah faction, or those sacrificing before the Tabernacle, and the faction of Dathan and Abiram, an itio in partes, as indeed further on is accomplished a twofold judgment. Then the first direction reads, verse Numbers 24 : take your stand high up (far enough off) making a circuit of the tents Korah, Dathan, Abiram. In this appears already the idea of the abyss in the earth developed further on. And now there begins a flow of the people from the Tabernacle toward the dwelling of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. We leave at the Tabernacle the men burning incense, but Moses goes now to the tents of Dathan and Abiram. At the Tabernacle the Levites and the250 censers have apparently come by their rights; now also the Reubenites must be distinguished according to their claims. Korah, too, must follow this main current, which is signified when it is stated that Moses and the elders went in advance. [The omission of express mention of Korah in Numbers 16:27; Numbers 16:32, gives reason for supposing he remained at the Tabernacle.Tr.]. When the people had stationed themselves, making a circuit of the tents, a position that seemed to prepare for paying homage, then the second direction to the people follows: Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, etc. A ban is pronounced upon them, they shall perish for their sin. Meanwhile Dathan and Abiram, with their families, still stand in the door of their tent as if they expected that homage would be done them. There-upon Moses announces the decisive sign that was to attest his call ( Numbers 16:28). [Dr. Lange paints into this scene too much of what he calls irony. Nothing in the simple account justifies this idea of a mockery, of seeming to set up the250 Levites as the objects of priestly homage, and then, in their turn, the Reubenites as the objects of princely homage, while Moses himself leads the farce by setting the people around in a circuit, the whole to be turned, in the catastrophe, into a trap for the awful destruction of these parties. Touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be swept away in all their sins, shows no pretence of homage, but directly the reverse. Princes do not stand in the door of their tent with their families, even to the little babes, when they would receive homage. This was simply the posture of looking on as passive spectators of their own desertion.Tr.].
If all goes on as usual with these men, so that they die a common death and thus meet the universal fate of men, then the LORD hath not sent me, Numbers 16:29. Then the contrary condition is expressed in a manner that is quite significant: but if the Lord makes something altogether creative, new (בְּרִיאָה יִבְרָא), as it is further defined, then ye shall know that (with a happy turn of expression) these people have rejected Jehovah, i.e., not me, therefore, as this statement quite reminds us of Numbers 16:11 : ye conspire against Jehovahwhat is Aaron? Blessed men whose guilelessness gave them this assurance, that it was Gods affair that was attacked in them ( John 20:23)! How basely this assurance has been abused by hierarchs ancient and modern! But here it proceeds from the testimony of the Spirit of God. The word: if Jehovah shall do something creative, designates the miracle proper. For the miracle is something out and out new in an old familiar sphere of life; a new word as a prophecy ( Isaiah 42:9), a new fact as a miracle in the narrower sense ( Jeremiah 31:22), a new covenant as the unity of the new word and of the new fact ( Jeremiah 31:31), which is celebrated on to eternity in a new Song of Solomon, and, in respect to matter and form ( Luke 5:38) proves itself to be the new principle and the impelling power of the worlds renovation ( Revelation 21:5), and also forms the reason for the new life and the new name ( Isaiah 62:2). The new fact that Moses announces will be a miracle of punishment: the earth will open her mouth and swallow the rebels alive.And so it happened; a sudden caving in of the ground swallowed the entire space where the rebels were. The surrounding circle of the people, among whom we are to suppose were the sons of Korah, draws back with terror. It is worthy of note that here, too, the terror of the people (as attritio) has no sort of religious manifestation as its consequence. While here the earth swallowed up the greater part of the conspiracy, which is properly designated as that of Korah, in the group of false priests that were offering incense there broke out a fire from the Lord that destroyed them; as in their time Nadab and Abihu were destroyed by fire. Fire from heaven devours the men that committed sacrilege on the true priesthood, on the fire of the Spirit; but under the rebels against the God-ordained earthly power the ground under foot caves in. Moses, however, appears here, too, as the man whose wonderful presentiment becomes a miraculous prophecy by the Spirit of revelation. The discrepancies that Knobel has tried to find in this section Keil clears up.
FN#1 - conspired [?]
FN#2 - congregation.
FN#3 - called of the assembly.
FN#4 - Heb. It is much for you.
FN#5 - Heb. It is much for you.
FN#6 - Is it too small a thing?
FN#7 - And they said.
FN#8 - Heb. bore out.
FN#9 - meal-offering.
FN#10 - at.
FN#11 - Tent of Meeting.
FN#12 - and
FN#13 - swept away.
FN#14 - that it is not of.
FN#15 - Heb. bore out.
FN#16 - Heb. as every man dieth.
FN#17 - Heb. create a creation.
FN#18 - underworld [the Sheol.]
FN#19 - blasphemed.
FN#20 - assembly.
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/numbers-16.html. 1857-84.
THE REBELLION OF KORAH
The rebellion of Korah and a large company with him is significant of a dreadful revulsion against Christ both as Lord and High Priest of His people, and the awesome resulting judgment of God. This is seen in Judges 1:11 : "Woe unto them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah." What a comment it is on the wickedness of man's heart that, after many great proofs of God's kindness and after many warnings of His judgment against evil, men will still haughtily reject His authority because they themselves want to rule!
Korah was a Kohathite and therefore was blessed with the dignity of caring for the holy furniture of the tabernacle. But this was not enough for him. He enlisted three others, Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, Zebulonites, and On, a Reubenite, all of whom were willing to challenge Moses and Aaron as regards the authority God had given them. They were able also to influences 250 leaders of the congregation in resentment against Moses and Aaron (vs.1-2).
They came unitedly to Moses and Aaron and told them. "You take too much upon yourselves" (v.3). How little they understood that Moses had not wanted to be Israel's leader (Exodus 3:10-11; Exodus 4:1-13), but God absolutely required him to be. The basis of their argument is that "all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them." Did Korah really care for all the congregation? No! He wanted to be the high priest himself (vs.10-11). He accused Moses and Aaron of exalting themselves (v.3) when it was plainly God who had exalted them. But Korah wanted to exalt himself, using his followers to this end.
But in the face of such opposition the faith and dependence of Moses is beautifully seen. "He fell on his face" (v.4). should we not do the same when trouble arises? Instead of arguing he prays. Therefore God immediately gives him the insight to know what to do. He calmly tells the hostile company, "Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy" (v.5). Precious it is to wait on the Lord!
The calm deliberation of Moses in answering the hostile words of Korah and his company by telling Korah what to do on the morrow was itself sufficient warning to Korah that his rebellion was doomed to failure, though Korah was too dense to perceive this.
Moses tells them (since they want to be priests) to take priestly censers with fire and incense and bring them before the Lord the following day. They were to be tested as to whether or not they were priests. Then Moses adds significantly the same words they had used, "You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi" (v.7).
His words in verses 8 to 11 are an added appeal to their consciences This gave them opportunity, if they would listen, to reconsider their rebellious determination and withdraw their foolish demands. Moses reminds Korah that he had been given a position of honor above the congregation, along with other son of Levi, and asks him if now he was aspiring after the priesthood also. For Moses knew this was the case, as verse 11 declares. Korah's complaint was against Aaron because he wanted Aaron's position.
Moses evidently had a message also for Dathan and Abiram and he sent to call them, but they responded haughtily, "We will not come up." They accuse Moses of taking them from a land flowing with milk and honey to kill them in the wilderness, and at the same time acting as a prince over them (vs.12-14). Of course these were totally unfair accusations: they had conveniently forgotten their own rebellion against entering the land of milk and honey, so are virtually blaming Moses for their own glaring evils.
Moses was righteously angry with this attitude of bitter animosity, yet he did not have to petition God not to respect their offering (v.15). Certainly God knew that Moses had not at all oppressed the people, and God would act in perfect righteousness.
But it is Moses who gives instructions to Korah as to what he is to do. Let him and his company, as well as Aaron, bring their censers before the Lord (vs.16-17). Korah was determined to brazen his way through in spite of fore warnings as to such folly, and he and his large company presumed to act as priests at the door of the tabernacle (vs.18-19).
Then the Lord intervened, but by first speaking to Moses and Aaron, telling them to separate from the company of evil doers and leave God free to consume the congregation (vs.20-21). Yet, beautifully, Moses and Aaron were ready to intercede immediately for the congregation, pleading with God not to consume all, but to make a difference between the guilty leaders and those who were led by them (v.22).
The Lord answered their faith by telling them to warn the people to separate from the guilty leaders, Korah, Dathan and Abiram (vs.23-24). Moses immediately gave the message to the congregation, who were concerned enough to obey God's word. Korah, Dathan and Abiram came out to stand at the door of their tents, with the wives, their sons and children (v.27).
Then Moses spoke solemnly as a prophet to indicate to Israel that he had not acted of his own will in what he did, but as directed by God. He tells them that if these men died merely natural deaths, God had not spoken by Moses, but if the Lord created a new thing, making the earth to open and swallow them up, then it would be clear that these men had rejected the Lord Himself (vs.28-30).
As he finished his message, his words were fulfilled. The ground split apart under these rebels and they were swallowed up, their households and all the men with Korah (vs.31-32). There is an exception noted in Numbers 26:11, "Nevertheless, the children of Korah did not die." Evidently they were not willingly linked with his rebellion and God knew how to preserve them alive.
Fear overtook Israel and they fled from the site of the opened earth. They need not have done this, for God had limited his judgment to the guilty, but He did send out a fire to consume the 250 men who offered incense (v.35). They reaped the results of their own folly.
The Lord spoke again to Moses, telling him to tell Eleazar the son of Aaron to pick up the censers out of the ashes, because the censers were holy, though the men who dared to use them were unholy (vs.36-37). Then the censers were to be hammered into plates as a covering for the altar (v.38). They were copper censers, therefore to cover the copper altar outside the tabernacle door. This covering was to be a constant reminder to Israel that no one who was not of Aaron's line could be allowed to offer incense before the Lord. If daring to do so, they would suffer a fate similar to that of Korah and his followers (v.40).
There is surely instructive for us today. Only those who are born again are counted as priests of God. They alone can offer what is acceptable to God, but the worship of unbelievers is false.
FURTHER REBELLION AGAINST GOD
Only the next day the congregation was so foolish as to brazenly accuse Moses and Aaron of killing the people of the Lord (v.41). Moses and Aaron had not done this. It was manifestly God who had intervened in dreadful judgment such as Moses could never have done. But the people are often blinded by self-centeredness. They saw nothing but the work of the authorities in this catastrophic judgment, and people are always ready to challenge any authority. This uprising too was a general thing among all the congregation.
Moses did not have to answer the people at all. For God intervened suddenly. The cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord appeared (v.42). Moses and Aaron came there, to hear the Lord's command, "Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." In other words, their complaining, rather than helping anything, only led to further death among the people.
Moses and Aaron were first humbled in prayer (v.45), but Moses realized that God was already sending a plague of death to rapidly spread among the congregation, and he ordered Aaron to take a censer with fire from the altar, and incense, and carry it quickly to the congregation, to make an atonement for them (v.46). Korah's company had used censers with resulting death, but the censer in the prophet hands of Aaron was able to stop the scourge of death. How good to see the compassion of Moses and Aaron in the face of Israel's callous treatment of them!
As Aaron ran into the midst of the crowd with his censer, he stood between the living and the dead, and the plague was stopped (v.48). This is another illustration of the intercessory grace of the Lord Jesus, our great high Priest, who preserves His people even from the deserved results of their own folly. This would remind us too that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much " (James 5:16).
But the complaints of the people against Moses and Aaron because of the death of Korah and his rebellious company only occasioned a far greater scourge of death in the congregation, with a decimation of 14,700 people who died by this plague directly sent by God (v.49).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/numbers-16.html. 1897-1910.
|Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.||B. C. 1490.|
1Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: 2And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: 3And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, 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? 4And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face: 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 and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him. 6 This do Take you censers, Korah, and all his company 7 And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi. 8 And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: 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? 10 And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also? 11For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?
Here is, I. An account of the rebels, who and what they were, not, as formerly, the mixed multitude and the dregs of the people, who are therefore never named, but men of distinction and quality, that made a figure. Korah was the ring-leader: he formed and headed the faction therefore it is called the gainsaying of Korah, Jude 1:11. He was cousin-german to Moses, they were brothers' children, yet the nearness of the relation could not restrain him from being insolent and rude to Moses. Think it not strange if a man's foes be those of his own house. With him joined Dathan and Abiram, chief men of the tribe of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob. Probably Korah was disgusted both at the preferment of Aaron to the priesthood and the constituting of Elizaphan to the head of the Kohathites (Numbers 3:30) and perhaps the Reubenites were angry that the tribe of Judah had the first post of honour in the camp. On is mentioned (Numbers 16:1) as one of the heads of the faction, but never after in the whole story, either because, as some think, he repented and left them, or because he did not make himself so remarkable as Dathan and Abiram did. The Kohathites encamped on the same side of the tabernacle that the Reubenites did, which perhaps gave Korah an opportunity of drawing them in, whence the Jews say, Woe to the wicked man, and woe to his neighbour, who is in danger of being infected by him. And, these being themselves men of renown, they seduced into the conspiracy two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly (Numbers 16:2) probably they were first-born, or at least heads of families, who, before the elevation of Aaron, had themselves ministered in holy things. Note, The pride, ambition, and emulation, of great men, have always been the occasion of a great deal of mischief both in churches and states. God by his grace make great men humble, and so give peace in our time, O Lord! Famous men, and men of renown, as these are described to be, were the great sinners of the old world, Genesis 6:4. The fame and renown which they had did not content them they were high, but would be higher, and thus the famous men became infamous.
II. The rebels' remonstrance, Numbers 16:3. That which they quarrel with is the settlement of the priesthood upon Aaron and his family, which they think an honour too great for Moses to give and Aaron to accept, and so they are both charged with usurpation: You take too much upon you or, "Let it suffice you to have domineered thus long, and now think of resigning your places to those who have as good a title to them and are as well able to manage them." 1. They proudly boast of the holiness of the congregation, and the presence of God in it. "They are holy, every one of them, and as fit to be employed in offering sacrifice as Aaron is, and as masters of families formerly were, and the Lord is among them, to direct and own them." Small reason they had to boast of the people's purity, or of God's favour, as the people had been so frequently and so lately polluted with sin, and were now under the marks of God's displeasure, which should have made them thankful for priests to mediate between them and God but, instead of that, they envy them. 2. They unjustly charge Moses and Aaron with taking the honour they had to themselves, whereas it was evident, beyond contradiction, that they were called of God to it, Hebrews 5:4. So that they would either have no priests at all, nor any government, none to preside either in civil or sacred things, none over the congregation, none above it, or they would not acquiesce in that constitution of the government which God had appointed. See here, (1.) What spirit levellers are of, and those that despise dominions, and resist the powers that God has set over them they are proud, envious, ambitious, turbulent, wicked, and unreasonable men. (2.) What usage even the best and most useful men may expect, even from those they have been serviceable to. If those be represented as usurpers that have the best titles, and those as tyrants that govern best, let them recollect that Moses and Aaron were thus abused.
III. Moses's conduct when their remonstrance was published against him. How did he take it?
1. He fell on his face (Numbers 16:4), as before, Numbers 14:5. Thus he showed how willing he would have been to yield to them, and how gladly he would have resigned his government, if it would have consisted with his duty to God and his fidelity to the trust reposed in him. Thus also he applied to God, by prayer, for direction what to say and to do upon this sad occasion. He would not speak to them till he had thus humbled and composed his own spirit (which could not but begin to be heated), and had received instruction from God. The heart of the wise in such a case studies to answer, and asks counsel at God's mouth.
2. He agrees to refer the case to God, and leave it to him to decide it, as one well assured of the goodness of his title, and yet well content to resign, if God thought fit, to gratify this discontented people with another nomination. An honest cause fears not a speedy trial even to-morrow let it be brought on, Numbers 16:5-7. Let Korah and his partisans bring their censers, and offer incense before the Lord, and, if he testify his acceptance of them, well and good Moses is now as willing that all the Lord's people should be priests, if God so pleased, as before that they should all be prophets, Numbers 11:29. But if God, upon an appeal to him, determine (as no doubt he would) for Aaron, they would find it highly dangerous to make the experiment: and therefore he puts it off till to-morrow, to try whether, when they had slept upon it, they would desist, and let fall their pretensions.
3. He argues the case fairly with them, to still the mutiny with fair reasoning, if possible, before the appeal came to God's tribunal, for then he knew it would end in the confusion of the complainants.
(1.) He calls them the sons of Levi, Numbers 16:7, and again Numbers 16:8. They were of his own tribe, nay, they were of God's tribe it was therefore the worse in them thus to mutiny both against God and against him. It was not long since the sons of Levi had bravely appeared on God's side, in the matter of the golden calf, and got immortal honour by it and shall those that were then the only innocents now be the leading criminals, and lose all the honour they had won? Could there be such chaff on God's floor? Levites, and yet rebels?
(2.) He retorts their charge upon themselves. They had unjustly charged Moses and Aaron with taking too much upon them, though they had done no more than what God put upon them nay, says Moses, You take too much upon you, you sons of Levi. Note, Those that take upon them to control and contradict God's appointment take too much upon them. It is enough for us to submit it is too much to prescribe.
(3.) He shows them the privilege they had as Levites, which was sufficient for them, they needed not to aspire to the honour of the priesthood, Numbers 16:9,10. He reminds them how great the honour was to which they were preferred, as Levites. [1.] They were separated from the congregation of Israel, distinguished from them, dignified above them instead of complaining that Aaron's family was advanced above theirs, they ought to have been thankful that their tribe was advanced above the rest of the tribes, though they had been in all respects upon the level with them. Note, It will help to keep us from envying those that are above us duly to consider how many there are below us. Instead of fretting that any are preferred before us in honour, power, estate, or interest, in gifts, graces, or usefulness, we have reason to bless God if we, who are less than the least, are not put among the very last. Many perhaps who deserve better are not preferred so well. [2.] They were separated to very great and valuable honours, First, To draw near to God, nearer than the common Israelites, though they also were a people near unto him the nearer any are to God the greater is their honour. Secondly, To do the service of the tabernacle. It is honour enough to bear the vessels of the sanctuary, and to be employed in any part of the service of the tabernacle. God's service is not only perfect freedom, but high preferment. Thirdly, To stand before the congregation to minister unto them. Note, Those are truly great that serve the public, and it is the honour of God's ministers to be the church's ministers nay, which adds to the dignity put upon them, [3.] It was the God of Israel himself that separated them. It was his act and deed to put them into their place, and therefore they ought not to have been discontented: and he it was likewise that put Aaron into his place, and therefore they ought not to have envied him.
(4.) He convicts them of the sin of undervaluing those privileges: Seemeth it a small thing unto you? As if he had said, "It ill becomes you of all men to grudge Aaron the priesthood, when at the same time that he was advanced to that honour you were designed for another honour dependent upon it, and shine with rays borrowed from him." Note, [1.] The privilege of drawing near to the God of Israel is not a small thing in itself, and therefore must not appear small to us. To those who neglect opportunities of drawing near to God, who are careless and formal in it, to whom it is a task and not a pleasure, we may properly put this question: "Seemeth it a small thing to you that God has made you a people near unto him?" [2.] Those who aspire after and usurp the honours forbidden them put a great contempt upon the honours allowed them. We have each of us as good a share of reputation as God sees fit for us, and sees us fit for, and much better than we deserve and we ought to rest satisfied with it, and not, as these, exercise ourselves in things too high for us: Seek you the priesthood also? They would not own that they sought it, but Moses saw that they had this in their eye the law had provided very well for those that served at the altar, and therefore they would put in for the office.
(5.) He interprets their mutiny to be a rebellion against God (Numbers 16:11) while they pretended to assert the holiness and liberty of the Israel of God, they really took up arms against the God of Israel: You are gathered together against the Lord. Note, Those that strive against God's ordinances and providences, whatever they pretend, and whether they are aware of it or no, do indeed strive with their Maker. Those resist the prince who resist those that are commissioned by him: for, alas! says Moses, What is Aaron, that you murmur against him? If murmurers and complainers would consider that the instruments they quarrel with are but instruments whom God employs, and that they are but what he makes them, and neither more nor less, better nor worse, they would not be so bold and free in their censures and reproaches as they are. Those that found the priesthood, as it was settled, a blessing, must give all the praise to God but if any found it a burden they must not therefore quarrel with Aaron, who is but what he is made, and does but as he is bidden. Thus he interested God in the cause, and so might be sure of speeding well in his appeal.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/numbers-16.html. 1706.
Pride and ambition occasion a great deal of mischief both in churches and states. The rebels quarrel with the settlement of the priesthood upon Aaron and his family. Small reason they had to boast of the people's purity, or of God's favour, as the people had been so often and so lately polluted with sin, and were now under the marks of God's displeasure. They unjustly charge Moses and Aaron with taking honour to themselves; whereas they were called of God to it. See here, 1. What spirit levellers are of; those who resist the powers God has set over them. 2. What usage they have been serviceable. Moses sought instruction from God. The heart of the wise studies to answer, and asks counsel of God. Moses shows their privileges as Levites, and convicts them of the sin of undervaluing these privileges. It will help to keep us from envying those above us, duly to consider how many there are below us.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Matthew Henry Concise Commentary
on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/numbers-16.html. 1706.
NUMBERS CHAPTER 16
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram raise sedition against Moses and Aaron, Numbers 16:1-3. Moses reproving them, Numbers 16:4-11, sends for Dathan and Abiram; their refusal and answer, Numbers 16:12-14. The manneer of their punishment, Numbers 16:15-35. Their perfuming censers are kept for a memorial and warning, Numbers 16:36-40. The people murmur against Moses and Aaron, for which they are consumed by the plague, which Aaron by Moses’s order stays, Numbers 16:41-50.
Korah, the first and chief author of this rebellion, Numbers 16:11 Jude 1:11.
Izhar was Amram’s brother, Exodus 6:18, therefore Moses and he were cousin-germans. Moreover Izhar was the second son of Kohath, whereas Elizaphan, whom Moses had preferred before him, and made prince or ruler of the Kohathites, Numbers 3:30, was the son of Uzziel, the fourth son of Kohath. This, the Jewish writers say, made him malcontent, which at last broke forth into sedition.
Sons of-Reuben: these are drawn into confederacy with Korah, partly because they were his next neighbours, both being encamped on the south side, and therefore could easily communicate counsels; partly in hopes to recover their rights of primogeniture, in which the priesthood was comprehended, which was given away from their father.
Took men, to wit, those two hundred and fifty mentioned Numbers 16:2. In the Hebrew there is nothing but took, and the Hebrew words are placed and may well be rendered thus, Now Korah—took both Dathan and Abiram, &c., or took Dathan, &c., the particle vau being here superfluous, as it is Genesis 8:6, and elsewhere.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/numbers-16.html. 1685.
The chapter on which we have just been dwelling, is what may be called a digression from the history of Israel's wilderness life, except indeed the short paragraph respecting the Sabbath-breaker, It looks forward into the future, when, spite of all their sin and folly, their murmuring and rebellion, Israel shall possess the land of Canaan, and offer sacrifices of righteousness and songs of praise to the God of their salvation. In it we have seen Jehovah rising far above all the unbelief and disobedience, the pride and wilfulness exhibited in Numbers 13:1-33 and Numbers 14:1-45, and looking on to the full and final accomplishment of His own eternal purpose, and the fulfilment of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But in chapter 16 the wilderness story is resumed — that sad and humbling story, so far as man is concerned; but a bright and blessed story of the exhaustless patience and boundless grace of God. These are the two grand lessons of the wilderness. We learn what man is, and we learn what God is. The two things lie side by side on the pages of the Book of Numbers. Thus in chapter 14 we have man and his ways. In chapter 15 we have God and His ways. And now, in the chapter which opens before us, we come back to man and his ways again. May we reap much deep and solid instruction from the double lesson!
"Now Korah, the son of Ishar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: and they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, 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?" Verses 1-3.
Here then we enter upon the solemn history of what the Holy Ghost, by the Apostle Jude, terms "The gainsaying of Core." The rebellion is attributed to Korah, inasmuch as he was the religious leader in it. He seems to have possessed sufficient influence to gather around him a large number of influential men" princes, famous men, and men of renown." In short, it was a very formidable and serious rebellion; and we shall do well to look closely at its source and moral features.
It is always a most critical moment in the history of an assembly when a spirit of disaffection displays itself; for, if it be not met in the right way, the most disastrous consequences are sure to follow. There are materials in every assembly capable of being acted upon, and it only needs some restless master spirit to arise, in order to work on such materials, and fan into a devouring flame the fire that has been smouldering in secret. There are hundreds and thousands ready to flock around the standard of revolt, when once it has been raised, who have neither the vigour nor the courage to raise it themselves. It is not every one that Satan will take up as an instrument in such work. It needs a shrewd, clever, energetic man — a man of moral' power — one possessing influence over the minds of his fellows, and an iron will to carry forward his schemes. No doubt Satan infuses much of all these into the men whom he uses in his diabolical undertakings. At all events, we know, as a fact, that the great leaders in all rebellious movements are generally men of master minds, capable of swaying, according to their own will, the fickle multitude, which, like the ocean, is acted upon by every stormy mind that blows. Such men know how, in the first place, to stir the passions of the people; and, in the second place, how to wield them, when stirred. Their most potent agency — the leper with which they can most effectually raise the masses-is some question as to their liberty and their rights. If they can only succeed in persuading people that their liberty is curtailed, and their rights infringed, they are sure to gather a number of restless spirits around them, and do a vast deal of serious mischief.
Thus it was in the matter of Korah and his coadjutors. They sought to make it appear that Moses and Aaron were lording it over their brethren, and interfering with their rights and privileges as members of a holy congregation, in which, according to their judgement, all were on a dead level, and one had as much right to be active as another.
"Ye take too much upon you." Such was their charge against "the meekest man in all the earth." But what had Moses taken upon him? Surely the most cursory glance back at the history of that dear and honoured servant would have been sufficient to convince any impartial person that, so far from taking dignity and responsibility upon him, he had shown himself only too ready to shrink from them when presented, and sink under them when imposed. Hence, therefore, any one who could think of accusing Moses of taking upon him, only proved himself totally ignorant of the man's real spirit and character. Assuredly the one who could say to Joshua," Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!" was not very likely to take much upon him.
But, on the other hand, if God calls one a man into prominence — if he qualifies him for work — if He fills and fits the vessel for special service — if He assigns a man his position — then of what possible use can it be for any one to quarrel with divine gift, and divine appointment? In truth, nothing can be more absurd. "A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven." And therefore it must prove worse than useless for any one to assume to be or have anything, for all such assumption must prove hollow in the end. Men will, sooner or later, find their level; and nothing will stand but what is of God.
Korah and his company, therefore, were quarrelling with God and not with Moses and Aaron. These latter had been called of God to occupy a certain position, and to do a certain work, and woe be to them if they refused. It was not they who had aimed at the position or assumed the work; they were ordained of God. This ought to have settled the question; and it would have settled it for all save restless, self-occupied rebels, who sought to undermine the true servants of God in order to exalt themselves. This is always the way with the promoters of sedition or disaffection. Their real object is to make themselves somebody. They talk loudly and very plausibly about the common rights and privileges of God's people; But, in reality, they themselves are aiming at a position for which they are in no way qualified; and at privileges to which they have no right.
In point of fact, the matter is as simple as possible. Has God given a man his place to fill — his work to do? Who will question this? Well, then, let each one know his place and fill it — know his work and do it. It is the most senseless thing in the world for one to attempt to occupy another's post or do another's work. We were led to see this, very distinctly, when meditating on Numbers 3:1-51 and Numbers 4:1-49, It must ever hold good. Korah had his work; Moses had his. Why should one envy another? It would be quite as reasonable to charge the sun, moon, and stars with taking too much upon them, when they shine in their appointed spheres, as to charge any gifted servant of Christ therewith, when he seeks to discharge the responsibility which his gift, most surely, imposes upon him. These luminaries serve in the place assigned them by the hand of the almighty Creator; and so long as Christ's servants do the same, it is charging them falsely to say that they take too much upon them.
Now this principle is of immense importance, in every assembly, large or small — under all circumstances where Christians are called to work together. It is a mistake to suppose that all the members of the body of Christ are called to places of prominence; or that any member can select his place in the body. It is wholly and absolutely a matter of divine appointment.
This is the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. "The body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased Him." Verses 14-18.
Here lies the true, the only true source of ministry in the Church of God — the body of Christ. "God hath set the members." It is not one man appointing another; still less is it a man appointing himself. It is divine appointment or nothing, yea, worse than nothing, a daring usurpation of divine rights.
Now, looking at the subject in the light of that marvellous illustration of 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 what sense would there be in the feet charging the hands, or the ears charging the eyes, with taking too much upon them? Would not the notion be preposterous in the extreme? True, those members occupy a prominent place in the body; but why do they? Because God has set them there, as it pleased him." And what are they doing in that prominent place? They are doing the work which God has given them to do. And to what end? The good of the whole body. There is not a single member, however obscure, that does not derive positive benefit from the duly discharged functions of the prominent member. And, on the other hand, the prominent member is a debtor to the duly discharged functions of the obscure one. Let the eyes lose their power of vision, and every member will feel it. Let there be functional derangement in the most trivial member, and the most honourable member will suffer.
Hence, therefore, it is not a question of taking upon us much or little, but of doing our appointed work, and filling our appointed place. It is by the effectual working of all the members, according to the measure of every part, that the edification of the whole body is promoted. If this great truth be not seized and carried out, edification, so far from being promoted, is most positively hindered, the Holy Ghost is quenched and grieved; the sovereign rights of Christ are denied; and God is dishonoured. Every Christian is responsible to act on this divine principle, and to testify against everything that practically denies it. The fact of the ruin of the professing Church is no reason whatever for abandoning the truth of God, or sanctioning any denial of it. The Christian is always solemnly bound to submit himself to the revealed mind of God. To plead circumstances as an excuse for doing wrong, or for neglecting any truth of God, is simply flying in the face of divine authority, and making God the Author of our disobedience.
But we cannot pursue this subject further. 'We have merely referred to it here in connection with our chapter, with which we must now proceed. It is undoubtedly a most solemn page of Israel's wilderness story.
Korah and his company were very speedily taught the folly and sin of their rebellious movement. They were awfully wrong in daring to set themselves up against the true servants of the living God. As to Moses, the man against whom they were gathered together, when he heard their seditious words, ''he fell upon his face." This was a very good way to meet rebels. We have seen this beloved servant of God on his face when he ought to have been on his feet. (Exodus 14:1-31) But here it was about the best and safest thing he could do. There is never much use in contending with restless and disaffected people; better far leave them in the Lord's hands; for with Him, in reality, is their controversy. If God sets a man in a certain position, and gives him a certain work to do, and his fellows think proper to quarrel with him, simply on the score of his doing that work, and filling that position, then is their quarrel really with God, who knows how to settle it, and will do it in His own way. the assurance of this gives holy calmness and moral elevation to the Lord's servant, in moments when envious and turbulent spirits rise up against him. It is hardly possible for any one to occupy a prominent place of service, or to be pre-eminently used of God, without, at some time or another, having to encounter the attacks of certain radical and discontented men, who cannot bear to see any one more honoured than themselves. But the true way to meet such is to take the place of utter prostration and nothingness, and allow the tide of disaffection to roll over one.
"And when Moses beard it, he fell upon his face. And he spake unto Korah and all his company, saying, Even to-morrow the Lord will show [not Moses will show] who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom He hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him. This do; take you censers, Korah and all his company; 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: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi." Verses 4-7.
This was placing the matter in the proper hands. Moses gives great prominence to the sovereign rights of Jehovah. "The Lord will show" and "The Lord will choose." there is not a syllable about himself or Aaron. The whole question hinges upon the Lord's choice and the Lord's appointment. The two hundred and fifty rebels are brought face to face with the living God. They are summoned into His presence, with their censers in their hands, in order that the whole matter may be thoroughly gone into, and definitely settled before that grand tribunal from which there can be no appeal. It would, obviously, have been of no possible use for Moses and Aaron to attempt to give judgement, inasmuch as they were defendants in the cause. But Moses was blessedly willing to have all parties summoned into the divine presence, there to have their matters judged and determined.
This was true humility and true wisdom. It is always well, when people are seeking a place, to let them have it, to their hearts content; for most assuredly, the very place after which they have foolishly aspired will be the scene of their signal defeat and deplorable confusion. you may sometimes see men envying others in a certain sphere of service, and longing to occupy that sphere themselves. let them try it; and they are sure, in the end, to break down and retire covered with shame and confusion of face. The Lord will surely confound all such. There is no use in man trying to do it; and hence it is always best for such as may happen to be the objects of envious attack just to fall on their faces before God, and let Him settle the question with the malcontents. It is most sad when such scenes occur in the history of God's people; but they have occurred; they do occur; and they may occur again and again; and we feel assured that the very best plan is to let men of a restless, ambitions, disaffected spirit run to the full length of their tether, and then they are sure to be pulled up. It is, in point of fact, to leave them in the hands of God, who will most surely deal with them in His own perfect way.
"And Moses said unto Korah, hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: seemeth it but a small thing unto yon, 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? And he hath brought thee near unto him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the Priesthood also? For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against Him?" Verses 8-11.
Here we are conducted to the very root of this terrible conspiracy. We see the man who originated it. and the object at which he aimed. Moses addresses Korah, and charges him with aiming at the priesthood. Let the reader carefully note this. It is important that he should have this point clearly before his mind, according to the teaching of scripture. He must see what Korah was — what his work was — and what the object of his restless ambition was. He must see all these things if he would understand the true force and meaning of Jude's expression," The gainsaying of Core."
What then was Korah? He was a Levite, and, as such, he was entitled to minister and to teach: "They shall teach Jacob thy judgements, and Israel thy law." '' The God of Israel hath brought you near to himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them." Such was Korah, and such his sphere of work. at what did he aim? At the priesthood. "Seek ye the priesthood also?"
Now, to a cursory observer it might not have appeared that Korah was seeking anything For himself. He seemed to be contending for the rights of the whole assembly. But Moses, by the Spirit of God, unmasks the man, and shows that, under the plausible pretext of standing up for the common rights of the congregation, he was audaciously seeking the priesthood for himself. It is well to note this. It will most generally be found that loud talkers about the liberties, rights, and privileges of God's people are, in reality, seeking their own exaltation and advantage. Not content with doing their proper work, they are seeking an improper place. This is not always apparent; but God is sure to make it manifest sooner or later, for "by him actions are weighed." Nothing can be more worthless than seeking a place for oneself. It is sure to end in disappointment and confusion. The grand thing for each one is to be found filling his appointed place and doing his appointed work; and the more humbly, quietly, and unpretendingly, the better.
But Korah had not learnt this simple but wholesome principle. He was not content with his divinely appointed place and service, But aimed at something which did not belong to him at all. He aimed at being a priest. His sin was the sin of rebellion against God's high priest. This was "the gainsaying of Core."
It is important to seize this fact in Korah's history. It is not generally understood; and hence it is that his sin is charged, now-a-days, upon those who seek to exercise any gift which may have been bestowed upon them by the Head of the Church. But a moment's calm reflection upon the subject in the light of scripture would be quite sufficient to show how utterly baseless is such a charge. Take, for example, a man to whom Christ has manifestly given the gift of an evangelist. Are we to suppose him guilty of the sin of Korah because, in pursuance of the divine gift and the divine commission, he goes forth to preach the gospel? Should he preach? or should he not preach? Is the divine gift — the divine call — sufficient. Is he acting as a rebel when he preaches the gospel?
So also as regards a pastor or teacher. Is he guilty of the sin of Korah, because he exercises the special gift imparted to him by the Head of the Church? Does not Christ's gift make a man a minister? Is anything further necessary? is it not plain to any unprejudiced mind — to any one willing to be taught by scripture — that the possession of a divinely imparted gift makes a man a minister, without anything further whatsoever? And is it not equally plain that, though a man had everything else that could be had, and yet had no gift from the Head of the Church, he is no minister? We confess we do not see how these plain propositions con be called in question.
We are speaking, be it remembered, of special gifts of ministry in the Church. No doubt, every member in the body of Christ has some ministry to fulfil, some work to do. This is understood by every well-instructed Christian; and, moreover, it is clear that the edification of the body is carried on, not merely by some special prominent gifts, but by the effectual working of all the members in their respective places, as we read in the epistle to the Ephesians: "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth according to The effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." Ephesians 4:15-16.
All this is as plain as scripture can make it. But, as to any special gifts, such as that of evangelist, pastor, prophet, or teacher, it must be received from Christ alone; and the possession of it makes a man a minister, without anything further. And, on the other hand, all the education and all the human authority under the sun could not make a man an evangelist, a pastor, or teacher, unless he has a bona fide gift from the Head of the Church.
Thus much as to ministry in the Church of God. we trust enough has been said to prove to the reader that it is a very grave mistake indeed to charge men with the awful sin of Korah because they exercise those gifts which have been imparted to them by the great Head of the Church. In point of fact it would be a sin not to exercise them.
But there is a very material difference between ministry and priesthood. Korah did not aim at being a minister, for that he was. He aimed at being a priest, which he could not be. The priesthood was vested in Aaron and his family; and it was a daring usurpation for any one else, no matter who, to attempt to offer sacrifice, or discharge any other priestly function. Now, Aaron was a type of our great High Priest who is passed into the heavens — Jesus the Son of God. Heaven is the sphere of His ministry. "If he were on earth he should not be a priest." (Hebrews 8:4) "Our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood." There is no such thing as a priest on earth now, save in the sense in which all believers are priests. Thus we read in Peter, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood." (1 Peter 2:9) Every Christian is a priest in this sense of the term. The very feeblest saint in the Church of God is as much a priest as Paul was. It is not a question of capacity or spiritual power, but simply of position. All believers are priests, and they are called to offer spiritual sacrifices, according to Hebrews 13:15-16 : "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not: for with
such sacrifices God is well pleased."
This is the Christian priesthood. And let the reader note it carefully, that to aim at any other form of priesthood than this — to assume any other priestly function — to set up a certain priestly class — a sacerdotal caste — a number of men to act on behalf of their fellows — or discharge priestly service for them before God — this is, in principle, the sin of Korah. We only speak of the principle; not of persons. The germ of the sin is as distinct as possible. By and by there will be the full blown fruit.
The reader cannot possibly be too simple in apprehending this entire subject. It is, we may truly say, of capital importance, at this moment. Let him examine it only in the light of Holy Scripture. Tradition will not do. Ecclesiastical history will not do. It must be God's word alone. In the light of that word let the question be asked and answered, "Who are justly chargeable with the sin of Korah? Is it those who seek to exercise whatever gifts the Head of the Church has bestowed; or those who assume a priestly office and work which only belong to Christ Himself?" This is a very weighty and solemn question. may it be calmly pondered, in the divine presence; and may we seek grace to be faithful to Him who is not only our gracious Saviour but our sovereign Lord!
The remainder of our chapter presents a most solemn picture of divine judgement executed upon Korah and his company. The Lord very speedily settled the question raised by those rebellious men. The very record of it is appalling beyond expression. What must the fact have been? The earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the three principal movers in the rebellion; and the fire of the Lord went forth and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who undertook to offer incense.
"And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord." Verses 28-30.
Moses, in these words, makes it a question simply between Jehovah and the rebels. He can appeal to God, and leave all in His hands. This is the true secret of moral power. A man who has nothing of his own to seek — no aim or object but the divine glory — can confidently wait the issue-of things. But in order to this, the eye must be single, the heart upright, the purpose pure. It will not do to assume or affect anything. If God is going to judge, He most assuredly will expose all assumption and affectation. These things can have no place when the earth is opening her mouth, and the fire of the Lord is devouring all around. It is all very well to swagger, and boast, and speak great swelling words, when all is at rest. But when God enters the scene, in terrible judgement, the aspect of things is speedily changed.
"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; and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. 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. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also." Verses 31-34
Truly, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of his saints; and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about Him." "Our God is a consuming fire." How much better it would have been for Korah had he rested content with his Levite service which was of the very highest order. His work as a Kohathite was to carry some of the most precious vessels of the sanctuary but he aimed at the priesthood, and fell into the pit.
Nor was this all. Hardly had the ground closed over the rebels, when "there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense." It was a most terrific scene altogether — a signal and soul-subduing exhibition of divine judgement upon human pride and pretension. It is vain for man to exalt himself against God, for He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble, What consummate folly for worms of the dust to lift themselves up against the almighty God! Poor man! He is more silly by far than the moth that rushes against the blaze that consumes it.
Oh! to walk humbly with our God! to be content with His will; to be satisfied to fill a very humble niche, and to do the most unpretending work! This is true dignity, and true happiness. If God gives as a crossing to sweep, let us sweep it, as under His eye, and to His praise. The grand and all-essential point is to be found doing the very work which he gives us to do, and occupying the very post to which He appoints us. Had Korah and his company learnt this, their piercing wail would never have terrified the hearts of their brethren. But, no; they would be something When they were nothing, and hence they went down into the pit. Pride and destruction are inseparably linked together in the moral government of God. This principle always holds good, however the measure may vary. Let us remember it. Let us seek to rise from the study of Numbers 16:1-50. with a deepened sense of the value of an humble and contrite spirit. We live at a moment in the which man is pushing himself upward and onward. "Excelsior" is a very popular motto just now. Let us look well to our mode of interpreting and applying it. "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." If we are to be governed by the rule of God's kingdom, we shall find that the only way to get up is to go down. The One who now occupies the very highest place in heaven is the One who voluntarily took the very lowest place on earth. See Philippians 2:5-11.
Here is our example, as Christians; and here, too, the divine antidote against the pride and restless ambition of the men of this world. Nothing is more sad than to witness a pushing, bustling, forward, self-confident spirit and style in those who profess to be followers of Him who was meek and lowly in heart. It is such a flagrant contradiction of the spirit and precepts of Christianity, and is a sure accompaniment of an unbroken condition of soul. It is utterly impossible for any one to indulge in a boastful, pretentious, self-confident spirit, if ever he has really measured himself in the presence of God. To be much alone with God is the sovereign remedy for pride and self-complacency. May we know the reality of this in the secret of our own souls! May the good Lord keep us truly humble, in all our ways, simply leaning on Himself, and very very little in our own eyes!
The closing paragraph of our chapter illustrates, in a most striking manner, the incorrigible evil of the natural heart. One might fondly hope that after the impressive scenes enacted in the presence of the congregation, deep and permanent lessons would be learnt. Having seen the earth open her mouth — having heard the heart-rending cry of the rebels as they descended into the pit — having seen the fire of the Lord coming forth and consuming, as in a moment, two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation — having witnessed such tokens of the divine judgement — such a display of divine power and majesty — one might suppose that the people would henceforth walk softly and humbly; and that the accents of discontent and rebellion would no more be heard in their tents.
Alas! alas! man is not to be so taught. The flesh is utterly incurable. This truth is taught in every section and on every page of the volume of God. Illustrated in the closing lines of Numbers 16:1-50. "On the morrow." Think of that! It was not in a year, or a month, or even a week after the appalling scenes on which we have been dwelling, "But, on the morrow, all the congregation (no longer a few daring spirits merely) murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord. And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation. And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment." Verses 41-45.
Here is another opportunity for Moses. the whole congregation is again threatened with immediate destruction. All seems hopeless. The divine long-suffering seems at an end, and the sword of judgement is about to fall on the whole assembly. But now it appears that in that very priesthood which the rebels had despised lies the only hope for the people; and that the very men whom they had charged with killing the Lord's people, were God's instruments in saving their lives. "And Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces. Had Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, 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. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague had begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. and He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." Verses 46-48.
It is here made very apparent that nothing but priesthood — even that very priesthood which had been so despised — could avail for a rebellious and stiff-necked people. There is something unspeakably blessed in this closing paragraph. There stands Aaron, God's high priest, between the dead and the living, and from his censer a cloud of incense goes up before God — impressive type of One greater than Aaron, who having made a full and perfect atonement for the sins of His people, is ever before God in all the fragrance of His Person and work. Priesthood alone could bring the People through the wilderness. It was the rich and suited provision of divine grace. The people were indebted to intercession for their preservation from the just consequences of their rebellious murmurings. Had they been dealt with merely on the ground of justice, all that could be said was," Let me alone that I may consume them in a moment."
This is the language of pure and inflexible justice. Immediate destruction is the work of justice. Full and final preservation is the glorious and vital characteristic work of divine Grace — grace reigning through righteousness. Had God dealt in mere justice with the people, His name would not have been declared, inasmuch as there is far more in His name than justice. There is love, mercy, goodness, Kindness, long-suffering, deep and unfailing compassion. But none of these things could be seen had the people been consumed in a moment, and hence the name of Jehovah would not have been declared or glorified. "For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off..... For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another." Isaiah 48:9; Isaiah 48:11.
How well it a for us that God acts towards us, and for us for the glory of His own name How wonderful too that His glory should most fully shine — yea, could only be seen in that vast plan which His own heart has devised, in which He is revealed as "A just God and a Saviour." Precious title for a poor lost sinner! In it is wrapped up all that such an one can possibly need for time and eternity. It meets him in the depth of his need, as a guilty hell-deserving one, bears him along through all the varied exigencies, trials, and sorrows of the wilderness; and, finally, conducts him to that bright and blessed world above, where sin and sorrow can never enter.
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Mackintosh, Charles Henry. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". C. H. Mackintosh's Notes on the Pentateuch. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/nfp/numbers-16.html.
Korah and His Co-conspirators Dispute the Positions of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1-3).
‘Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men, and they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, called to the assembly, men of renown,’
Korah is mentioned first because he acted as the front man, and it was his aim that illustrated the point that the writer is concerned to get over. It is because he was connected with the tribe of Levi, and made claims on that basis, that his fuller genealogy is given. He was a Kohathite, and a distant cousin of Moses and Aaron. Thus he shared in the important task of bearing the sacred furniture of the Dwellingplace, including the sacred Ark. He should have known better than to dispute the priesthood. His sons are not said to have joined with him in the dispute.
Dathan and Abiram were closely related, being sons of Eliab. On was the son of Peleth, but he disappears from the story immediately. He was probably mentioned so as to make up a threesome, emphasising the completeness of the rebellion of the Reubenites. All three were of the tribe of Reuben. Thus they played no part in the question of the censers and the priesthood. They had a deeper motive.
It was in fact very much common sense for Dathan and Abiram, in planning their coup, to recognise that they had to consider the religious aspect. They had two obstacles to deal with, Moses the overall leader and Aaron who provided the support of the cult. No rebellion could be successful which did not succeed in both fields. Furthermore, by allowing the ambitious Korah to act as front man they could present themselves as simply wanting to honour Yahweh and see fair play. The account brings their duplicity out well.
“Took men.” The Hebrew text lacks ‘men’ which is read in. It could equally be translated ‘took up a position of treason’ or ‘took action’. Compare 2 Samuel 18:18 for a similar construction. We could more accurately translate, ‘took and rose up’.
“With certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, called to the assembly, men of renown.” With them they had ‘two hundred and fifty’ influential men of high standing. In view of the fact that large numbers were probably not used arithmetically, but were used as adjective in order to give an impression, the ‘two hundred and fifty’ probably simply means a large group strongly involved in the covenant. 5 x 5 x 10 is five doubly intensified, and 5 is the number of the covenant.
The first impression is also that these were influential men from all the tribes (‘of the children of Israel’), but in what follows Moses addresses them as ‘you sons of Levi’ (Numbers 16:7-8) and speaks of ‘your (thy) brothers, the sons of Levi’. So either (1) they were all Levites, or (2) Moses is calling them such because they were following Korah in seeking to act like sons of Levi, or (3) the phrase ‘sons of Levi’ has in mind the leaders of the two hundred and fifty who were sons of Levi and were putting forth the case for all of them. Why not then call them the sons (followers) of Korah? It may be because he was using the phrase sarcastically, “you who put yourselves forward as ‘sons of Levi’.” Some see the weight as being on the side of the suggestion that they were all Levites, and it may be that as Moses was aware that the actual sons of Korah were not involved in the dispute, he did not wish to give a wrong impression and malign innocent people. If the second view is considered correct ‘band of Israelites’ should be seen as the strict interpretation of a sarcastic ‘sons of Levi’.
‘And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much on you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Yahweh is among them. Why then do you lift yourselves up above the assembly of Yahweh?” ’
The four leaders appear to have called together an assembly in order to meet with Moses in order to level their accusations. This would probably be at the Dwellingplace, at which assemblies usually took place. And there they attacked Moses and Aaron with the claim that they were making too much of themselves.
Their argument, probably the idea of the Levite Korah, argued that as all Israelites, ‘every one of them’, were holy (Exodus 19:5-6), and now even wore tassels which declared that they were holy (Numbers 15:40), and as Yahweh was among them as a people (compare Numbers 14:14; Exodus 29:45-46; Leviticus 26:12), Moses and Aaron had no ground for claiming special holiness and ‘lifting themselves up above the assembly of Israel’. This argument was only carried through by Korah and his ‘sons of Levi’. Thus it would appear that as far as Dathan and Abiram were concerned it was only a ploy. But to the others it was deadly serious.
Moses recognised that they were intending to trespass on holy things and was distraught. He knew only too well the consequences of such behaviour. It was not he and Aaron who had done the lifting up but Yahweh. And the Levites should have known that, for while their status was lower than that of the priests, they did have a holy status that was above that of the other tribes. But he was also aware of the hostility of the Reubenites, and that this was not just a technical argument. Thus he recognised that he needed to confer with a higher authority. He no doubt told them that he would consult Yahweh, and went into the Holy Place where the Voice spoke to him from the mercy seat (Numbers 7:89). And there he fell on his face before Yahweh.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/numbers-16.html. 2013.
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."
. 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.
. 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.
. (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.
. 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.
. 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).
. 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."
. 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.
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Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/numbers-16.html. 1919.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
In this chapter we have the history of the rebellion of Korah and his company. The time and place of this event are not recorded. It is probable that it occurred in one of the early years of their penal wanderings.
Num . Korah was a Kohathite, and cousin to Moses and Aaron (Exo 6:16-21). Dathan and Abiram.… and On were Reubenites; and were probably discontented because the rights of primogeniture were taken from their tribe, and the tribe of Judah placed before them. Moreover the camps of Reuben and of the Kohathites were pitched on the same side of the tabernacle (chaps. Num 2:10; Num 3:29); thus the two families were conveniently situated for conspiring together. On is not mentioned hereafter: he probably withdrew from the conspiracy, or took only a very subordinate part in it.
Took men. The word "men" is not in the original; and the verb "took" is in the singular number. But it is not uncommon in Hebrew when the verb begins the sentence (as it does here) for it to be in the singular, even when the nominative case which follows is plural. So Gesenius would translate, And Korah.… and Dathan and Abiram.… took and rose up against Moses &c. Keil and Del. follow Gesenius here. The Jerusalem Targum supplies "counsel" after "took." If this be adopted the translation will be, And Korah.… took counsel apart with Dathan and Abiram, &c. The Hebrew literally translated is, "And Korah, son of Yizhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, took both Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth, sons of Reuben; and they rose up," &c. In this way Bp. Patrick, Drs. A. Clarke, Gill, and others construe the verse. It is suggested in the Speaker's Comm. that "probably the whole difficulty is due to an after insertion of the mention of Dathan and Abiram, and of their insurrection against Moses, into the original narrative of the sedition of Korah. This narrative would run naturally as follows: ‘Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, took of the children of Israel two hundred and fifty,' &c. In it, moreover, Korah and his company would be naturally represented as gathering themselves together against Aaron as well as against Moses (Num ). But in the expansion of this narrative with a view of making it comprise the account of the proceedings of Dathan and Abiram, it became important to mark that the outcry of the latter was directed against Moses alone; hence the introduction of the opening words of Num 16:2."
Num . Famous in the congregation. Keil and Del.: "‘Called men of the congregation,' i.e., members of the council of the nation which administered the affairs of the congregation (cf. Num 1:16)."
Men of renown. Keil and Del.: "‘Men of name' (see Gen ). These two hundred and fifty men appear to have belonged to the other tribes; this is implied in Num 27:3."
Num . Ye take too much upon you. Margin: "It is much for you." Dr. A. Clarke: "The original is simply רַב לָכֶם, ‘too much for you.'"
Num . Comp. Num 14:5.
Num . Ye take too much upon you. Moses gives back to them their own words, רַב לָכֶם.
Num . Seemeth it but a small thing unto you. The words, "seemeth it but" are not in the original. Keil and Del. translate, "Is this too little for you?"
Num . "The words of Moses in his wrath are broken. Literally the verse runs: ‘Wherefore against the Lord (not against Aaron) thou and all thy company who are gathered together, and Aaron, what is he, that ye murmur against him?' Cf. the parallel reproof of Ananias by St. Peter (Act 5:3-4)."—Speaker's Comm.
Num . A land that floweth with milk and honey. Thus insolently they apply to Egypt the very words by which Moses had described the Promised Land.
Except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us? Keil and Del.: "That thou wilt be always playing the lord over us?"
Num . Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men. Margin as in Heb.: "bore out," or dig out; "i.e., ‘blind them to the fact that you keep none of your promises,' equivalent to ‘throw dust in their eyes.'"—Speaker's Comm.
Num . The glory of the Lord appeared, &c. Comp. Num 14:10.
Num . Tabernacle of Korah. Heb.: מִשְׁכַּן, dwelling of Korah.
Num . Die the common death of all men. Margin: "Die as every man dieth," i.e., a natural death.
Num . Make a new thing. Margin: "Create a creature." בָּרָאבְרִיאָה, create a creation; i.e., work an extraordinary miracle: do such a thing as was never done before. So Dr. A. Clarke, Keil and Del. et al.
Num . And all the men that appertained unto Korah. "Appertained," is not in the original; when that is omitted the A. V. in a literal translation of the Hebrew. This does not mean his children; for it is written, "Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not" (Num 26:11); and the celebrated Korahite choir were descendants of his. Keil and Del. say that, "‘all the men belonging to Korah,' were his servants." The Speaker's Comm.: "All belonging to him who associated themselves with him in this rebellion."
It appears that Korah was not swallowed up with Dathan and Abiram. "Korah himself," says Bishop A. C. Hervey, "was doubtless with the 250 men who bare censers nearer the tabernacle (Num ), and perished with them by the ‘fire from Jehovah' which accompanied the earthquake. It is nowhere said that he was one of those who ‘went down quick into the pit' (comp. Psa 106:17-18), and it is natural that he should have been with the censer bearers. That he was so is indeed clearly implied by Num 16:16-19; Num 16:35; Num 16:40, compared with Num 26:9-10." (See a somewhat full and carefully-compiled consideration of this question in Cobbin's Evangelical Synopsis on this verse.)
Num . Comp. Lev 10:1-2.
Num . Out of the burning, i.e., from the midst of the men that were burned.
Scatter thou the fire yonder, i.e., scatter far away the burning coals in the censers.
They are hallowed. See the next ver.: "For they offered them before the Lord," &c., and comp. Lev .
Num . Sinners against their own. souls, or lives. Because of their sin their lives had been suddenly cut off. Comp. Pro 20:2; Hab 2:10.
Num . And they fell upon their faces. Comp. Num 16:4; Num 16:22; and Num 14:5.
Num . A censer. "Rather ‘the censer;' i.e., that of the High-priest which was used by him on the Great Day of Atonement; cf. Lev 16:12; Heb 9:4."—Speaker's Comm.
THE REBELLION OF KORAH AND HIS COMPANY
"The former rebellions had been mere popular tumults; but this was a regular conspiracy, headed by persons of consequence, abetted by many of the princes, and favoured by most of the congregation." In endeavouring to expound that portion of the narrative selected as our text, we take two main divisions.
I. The base rebellion of Korah and his company.
1. The leaders of the rebellion. "Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, took both Dathan," &c. Korah was a Levite, engaged in sacred services in connection with the temple and worship of the Lord, and ought therefore to have set an example of loyalty to the rightful rulers. He was also cousin to Moses and Aaron, and he ought to have found in that an additional reason for rendering to them prompt and zealous support. Yet he seems to have been the instigator and leader of the rebellion. Dathan and Abiram were leading men in the tribe of Reuben, who joined Korah in the insurrection. And with them were two hundred and fifty of the most distinguished and influential men of the nation. "A very dangerous conspiracy," says Trapp; "for as in a beast the body follows the head, so in that bellua multorum capitum, the multitude. Great men are the looking-glasses of the country, according to which most men dress themselves; their sins do as seldom go unattended as their persons; height of place ever adds two wings to sin, example and scandal, whereby it soars higher and flies much further." It is ill with a nation when its leaders are misleaders.
2. The nature of the rebellion. It was an organized effort to depose Moses from his position as the head of the civil life, and Aaron from his position as the head of the religious life of the nation. It was "against both magistracy and ministry." The rebels would have equal authority with Moses and Aaron; they would either ascend to the same level as that occupied by the two great chiefs, or they would drag the two chiefs down to their level. In its essential features this rebellion has had many successors. (a)
3. The cause of the rebellion.
(1) The ostensible cause. "They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you," &c. They alleged that Moses and Aaron had usurped the position which they now held and the authority which they wielded. An outrageous assertion when we consider how often the Lord God had manifested His presence with Moses, and used him as the instrument of His power. They also alleged that, as the worshippers of the Lord God, all the congregation were holy, and had, therefore, the right to officiate as priests, and to exercise equal authority with Moses in the government. Their position will not bear examination. It is true that "the whole congregation of Israel were holy in a sense, as being taken into covenant with God; but that which was a national privilege, shared by the meanest Israelite, gave no claim to the magistracy or the priesthood, which He had bestowed according to His pleasure." There is a sense in which all men are equal before God, yet to some He gives greater abilities and position and authority than to others. But let us mark here two things. First: The tendency of man to seek to justify himself in evil conduct. Korah and his company tried to make their case appear just and good. Men try to justify their evil conduct partly with a view of securing the co-operation, or avoiding the condemnation of others. They do it also in order to quiet their own consciences, by persuading themselves that their course of conduct is reasonable and righteous. But this attempt to justify evil is to add sin to sin. Second: The best of men in this world are liable to reproach and slander. Very few, if indeed any, abler and holier men than Moses have ever lived. And his credentials, as to his being called of God to his high position, were of the clearest and most convincing character; yet he is accused of being a domineering usurper, &c. Count it not a strange thing if you are reviled, &c. Comp. Mat .
(2) The real cause. Envy and ambition seem to have been the root of the rebellion. Korah was envious of Aaron and the priests, Dathan and Abiram envied the tribe of Judah its first rank amongst the tribes, and the two hundred and fifty princes envied Moses because of his place and power. (b) All these men were ambitious of higher rank and wider authority. "Pride, envy, ambition," says Babington, "was in their hearts, and that bred discontentment; discontentment, insurrection. If a man should call out all carpenters, none would come but such; but call for all that think themselves wise and able to govern, who will not come?" (c)
II. The noble conduct of Moses in the rebellion.
"And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face," &c. (Num ). Notice:
1. His all-sufficient resource in trouble. "When Moses heard it, he fell upon his face." By prayer he endeavoured to compose his spirit, and sought help of God. The good man may ever seek and obtain direction and help from God by prayer. Comp. Heb ; Jas 1:5.
2. His sublime confidence in God. This confidence is manifest in—
(1) His bold proposal for settling the question raised by the rebels. "This do, Take you censers, Korah, and all his company," &c. (Num ). Moses must have been directed to this expedient in answer to prayer: he would not have ventured on so daring a measure without the sanction of God.
(2) His assurance that God would vindicate both Aaron and himself. "He spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to-morrow the Lord will show who are His," &c. (Num ). Moses was convinced of the Divine authority of his own mission and the mission of Aaron, and that God would manifest to all in a manner not to be mistaken that He had chosen and called them to their respective offices.
3. His calm rebuke of the rebels. "Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi." The rebuke was deserved. They were leading a most wicked rebellion. The rebuke was appropriate. They were impugning the arrangements of the all-wise God: surely that was to take too much upon them.
(a) Democracy, we are all well aware, what is called "self-government" of the multitude by the multitude, is in words the thing everywhere passionately clamoured for at present. Democracy makes rapid progress in these latter times, and ever more rapid, in a perilous accelerative ratio; towards democracy, and that only, the progress of things is every where tending as to the final goal and winning-post. So think, so clamour the multitudes everywhere. And yet all men may see, whose sight is good for much, that in democracy can He no finality; that with the completest winning of democracy there is nothing yet won,—except emptiness, and the free chance to win! Democracy is, by the nature of it, a self-cancelling business; and gives in the long-run a net result of zero. When no government is wanted, save that of the parish constable, as in America with its boundless soil, every man being able to find work and recompense for himself, democracy may subsist; not elsewhere, except briefly, as a swift transition toward something other and farther. Democracy never yet, that we heard of, was able to accomplish much work, beyond that same cancelling of itself. Rome and Athens are themes for the schools; unexceptionable for that purpose. In Rome and Athens, as elsewhere, if we look practically, we shalt find that it was not by loud voting and debating of many, but by wise insight and ordering of a few, that the work was done. So is it ever, so will it ever be. The French Convention was a Parliament elected "by the five points," with ballot boxes, universal-suffrages, and what not, as perfectly as Parliament can hope to be in this world; and had indeed a pretty spell of work to do, and did it. The French Convention had to cease from being a free Parliament, and become more arbitrary than any Sultan Bajazet, before it could so much as subsist. It had to purge out its argumentative Girondins, elect its Supreme Committee of Salut guillotine into silence and extinction all that gainsayed it, and rule and work literally by the sternest despotism ever seen in Europe, before it could rule at all. Napoleon was not President of a Republic; Cromwell tried hard to rule in that way, but found that he could not. These, "the armed soldiers of democracy," had to chain democracy under their feet, and become despots over it, before they could work out the earnest obscure purpose of democracy itself! Democracy, take it where you will in our Europe, is found but as a regulated method of rebellion and abrogation; it abrogates the old arrangement of things; and leaves, as we say, Zero and vacuity for the institution of a new arrangement. It is the consummation of No-government and Laissez-faire. It may be natural for our Europe at present; but cannot be the ultimatum of it. Not towards the impossibility, "self-government" of a multitude by a multitude; but towards some possibility, government by the wisest, does be wildered Europe struggle. The blessedest possibility: not misgovernment, not Laissez-faire, but veritable government.—Thomas Carlyle.
(b) For Illustrations on Envy see pp. 206-208.
(c) Ambition, that high and glorious passion which makes such havoc among the sons of men, arises from a proud desire of honour and distinction; and when the splendid trappings in which it is usually caparisoned are removed, will be found to consist of the mean materials of envy, pride, and covetousness. It is described by different authors as a gallant madness, a pleasant poison, a hidden plague, a secret poison, a caustic of the soul, the moth of holiness, the mother of hypocrisy, and by crucifying and disquieting all it takes hold of, the cause of melancholy and madness.—R. Burton.
The same sun which gilds all nature, and exhilarates the whole creation, does not shine upon disappointed ambition. It is something that rays out of darkness, and inspires nothing but gloom and melancholy. Men in this deplorable state of mind find a comfort in spreading the contagion of their spleen. They find an advantage, too; for it is a general popular error to imagine the loudest complainers for the public to be moat anxious for its welfare. If such persons can answer the ends of relief and profit to themselves, they are apt to be careless enough about either the means or the consequences.—E. Burke.
WICKED AMBITION FAITHFULLY REBUKED
Moses now addresses Korah and the other rebellious Levites, probably with a view to convince them of their error and sin before the case should come on for the Divine adjudication. For Moses knew that if their audacious claims were put to the test on the morrow "before the Lord," as he had proposed, it would be at their dread peril, and that a similar fate to that of Nadab and Abihu (Lev ; Num 3:4) would probably befall them. By this remonstrance he seeks to prevent this.
In this appeal Moses makes it clear to Korah that he detected the real motives which actuated him in this movement. The enquiries, "Seek ye the priesthood also?" and "What is Aaron that ye murmur against him?" would leave no doubt on the mind of the leader of the rebels that Moses was cognisant of his real feeling and aims. Notice:—
I. The greatness of the privileges conferred upon the Levites.
"Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation," &c. (Num ). Matthew Henry's notes are so excellent in themselves and in their arrangement that we cannot do better than quote them. "He reminds them how great the honour was to which they were preferred, as Levites.
1. They were separated from the congregation of Israel, distinguished from them, dignified above them; instead of complaining that Aaron's family was advanced above theirs, they ought to have been thankful that their tribe was advanced above the rest of the tribes, though they had been in all respects upon the level with them. Note, It will help to keep us from envying those that are above us duly to consider how many there are below us. Instead of fretting that any are preferred before us in honour, power, estate, or interest, in gifts, graces, or usefulness, we have reason to bless God if we, who are less than the least, are not put among the very last. Many perhaps who deserve better are not preferred so well.
2. They were separated to very great and valuable honours.
(1) To draw near to God, nearer than the common Israelites, though they also were a people near unto Him: the nearer any are to God the greater is their honour.
(2) To do the service of the tabernacle. It is honour enough to bear the vessels of the sanctuary, and to be employed in any part of the service of the tabernacle. God's service is not only perfect freedom, but high preferment.
(3) To stand before the congregation to minister unto them. Note, Those are truly great that serve the public, and it is the honour of God's ministers to be the Church's ministers; nay, which adds to the dignity put upon them.
3. It was the God of Israel Himself that separated them. It was His act and deed to put them into their place, and therefore they ought not to have been discontented; and He it was likewise that put Aaron into his place, and therefore they ought not to have envied him."
II. The unrighteousness of the ambition cherished by them.
Their ambition involved—
1. The disparagement of their present privileges. Their privileges "seemed but a small thing unto them." Great as they were, they did not satisfy them. "Ambition," says Trapp, "is restless and unsatisfiable; for, like the crocodile, it grows as long as it lives." And M. Henry: "Those who aspire after and usurp the honours forbidden them put a great contempt upon the honours allowed them." (a)
2. Interference in the Divine arrangements. "Seek ye the priesthood also?" It was by the express arrangement and command of God that Aaron and his sons were separated to the duties and emoluments of the priesthood; and, therefore, in seeking the priesthood for themselves, Korah and the Levites who were united with him were endeavouring to set aside the arrangements of the Lord God. Their insatiable ambition had dethroned their judgment, and, for a time, mastered their conscience; it was both unreasonable and unrighteous.
III. The heinousness of the rebellion in which they engaged.
Moses points out to them concerning their rebellion that—
1. It was unreasonable. "What is Aaron that ye murmur against him?" The high-priest was merely an instrument in the hand of the Lord. Aaron was not self-appointed. He was a servant called of God to his office, with his duties and his privileges clearly apportioned unto him. How unreasonable, then, was it to murmur at him for being high-priest!
2. It was exceedingly sinful. "Thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord." "Those resist the prince who resist those that are commissioned by him." Comp. Mat ; Joh 13:20; Act 9:4.
1. Let us crush every rising of ambition which is not in harmony with wisdom and righteousness. It is of such that Shakespeare says, and says wisely—
"Fling away ambition: By that sin fell the angels; how can man then, The image of his Maker, hope to win by't?" (b)
2. Let us seek to give to our ambition a righteous and noble direction. (c)
"The true ambition there alone resides,
Where justice vindicates, and wisdom guides;
Where inward dignity joins outward state,
Our purpose good as our achievement great;
Where public blessings public praise attend,
Where glory is our motive, not our end.
Wouldst thou be famed? Have those high acts in view;
Brave men would act, though scandal would ensue."—E. Young.
(a) There is a curtain, but it is lifting, it is lifting, it is lifting; and when it is lifted, what do I see? The spirit world! 'Tis death that lifts the curtain; and when it is lifted, these present things will vanish, for they are but shadows. The world of eternity and reality will then be seen. I would summon a jury of the spirits that have passed that curtain; and they would not be long debating about the question whether Christ is worth the winning. I care not where you select them from—whether from among the condemned in hell, or from among the beatified in heaven. Let them sit—let even those who are in hell sit, and judge upon the matter, and, if they could for once speak honestly, they would tell you that it is a dreadful thing to despise Christ; now that they have come to see things in a true light—now that they are lost for ever—now that they are crushed with knowledge and feeling which have come too late to be profitable—now they wish that they had listened to the ministrations of truth, to the proclamations of the Gospel. Ah! if they could have a sane mind back again, they would shriek, "Oh! for one more Sabbath. Oh! to listen once more to an honest preacher, though his words might be clumsy and uncouth. Oh! to hear a voice once more say, ‘Come to Jesus while the day of mercy lasts.' Oh! to be once more pressed to come to the marriage feast—once more bidden to look to Jesus and to live!" I tell you, sirs, some of you who make so light of Sundays, and think preaching is but a pas-time, so that you come here to hear us as you would go to hear some fiddler on a week-night—I tell you, sirs, the lost in hell reckon these things at a very different rate, and so will you ere long, when another preacher, with skeleton fingers, shall talk to you upon your deathbed. Ah! then you will see that we were in earnest and you were the players, and you will comprehend that what we said to you demanded earnest, immediate attention, though, alas! you would not give it, and so played false to your own soul, and committed spiritual suicide, and went your way like a bullock to the slaughter, to be the murderers of your own spirits.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) How, like a mounting devil in the heart, Rules the unrein'd ambition! Let it once
But play the monarch, and its haughty brow
Glows with a beauty that bewilders thought
And un thrones peace for ever. Putting on
The very pomp of Lucifer, it turns
The heart to ashes, and with not a spring
Left in the bosom for the spirit's lip
We look upon our splendour and forget
The thirst for which we perish.
N. P. Willis.
(c) There are few men who are not ambitions of distinguishing themselves in the nation or country where they live, and of growing considerable with those with whom they converse. There is a kind of grandeur and respect which the meanest and most insignificant part of mankind endeavour to procure in the little circle of their friends and acquaintance. The poorest mechanic, pay, the man who lives upon common alms, gets him his set of admirers, and delights in that superiority which he enjoys over those who are in some respects beneath him. This ambition which is natural to the soul of man, might, methinks, receive a very happy turn; and, if it were rightly directed, contribute as much to a person's advantage as it generally does to his uneasiness and disquiet.—J. Addison.
"Ambition is the vice of noble souls!"
If 'tis a vice, then let those souls beware.
Thrice noble though they be, and passing fair
In the world's eye, and high upon the scrolls.
Her favour'd minions where the world enrolls.
Lest it conduct to shame! Be thine the care,
Soldier of Christ, that nobler strife to dare,
Which the rash spirit of the world controls,
And makes ambition virtue! Be it thine
To win thy bright unfading diadem
By works of love! Around his brows shall shine
In heaven from glory's source the purest beam,
Whose aspect here, with beauty most divine,
Reflects the image of the GOOD SUPREME.
THE SIN OF USURPING THE OFFICE OF THE PRIESTHOOD
"Seek ye the priesthood also?"
The Papists say that Korah, Dathan and Abiram are like unto Protestants, and that as they perished for their rebellion against Moses and Aaron so Protestants for leaving "the Catholic Church," as they call it, will perish for ever in hell. But High Church clergy and writers of like kind compare Korah and his company to the Dissenters; they say that like as Korah, Dathan and Abiram rebelled against Moses and Aaron, so Dissenters presuming to have preachers of their own establish a mock ministry different from that which has the apostolic commission. What a perverting of the truth! So far from it being true that Protestants or Dissenters are shadowed forth, it is not difficult to perceive rather that it shadows forth themselves. What was the crime of Korah, Dathan and Abiram? It was an attempt to put themselves in the place of Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron were mediators between God and Israel, and therefore types of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Moses as lawgiver and Aaron as priest were types of Jesus; their office was sacred and peculiar to themselves; no man could, with God's permission, perform the duties of their office but themselves. No man on any consideration was to usurp the office of priest; no, not even Jesus Christ Himself, as you see in Heb . So sacred was the office of priest that not even Jesus Himself might take it until called to it by God Himself. This was the very crime of Korah and his company.… Now what is the conduct of the Papists and of High Church clergy? Is it more like the conduct of Korah and his company, or is that of Dissenters or Protestants more like it? Surely, it requires very little sense to see which are like unto Korah and his company. High Churchmen say that they are priests, that they offer sacrifices, that in the Supper of the Lord they really do present the body of Christ to God, that they are sacrificing priests between God and the people; this is the great point which they maintain. Whereas there is known in the Bible but one priest, in that sense, in the present dispensation, namely Jesus, the great High Priest, who has gone to appear in the presence of God to present His sacrifice and offer His intercession. He carries the blood and presents the incense on behalf of His Church.
The wickedness of claiming to be a priest is seen more plainly when we consider the effect of it; it is absolutely to set Jesus Christ aside, and shut a man out from salvation. This illustration very plainly shows this. Notice, first, that the priest offered the blood of the sacrifice; and what was that blood offered for? It was God's chosen means whereby He would avert punishment and deliver from danger. If they had done wrong and provoked Him to punish them, or if they were brought in the providential dealings of God, into danger of enemies or other evil; if they shed the blood of the sacrifice and presented it before the mercy seat, or at the altar, it would be accepted, judgment averted, and evil removed. That was the national character of the Jewish religion; "without shedding of blood there was no remission;" and national mercies were given in consequence of their observing their national rites, and national evils were removed because of the offering of that blood. But, mark, the priest alone was to offer it; it would have been in vain if any other man had attempted to present the blood, God would not have accepted it, and the punishment would have been poured out. It was the priest who confessed the sins of the people and presented the sacrifice, and then mercy was vouchsafed. Now, what was done by the priest for Israel is what is now actually done by our High Priest for the Church. Observe how it is asserted that one was typical of the other (Heb ). Thus you see Christ is both priest and victim, as it is again in Heb 9:11-12. How great then the office of Christ!.… How awful the iniquity for any miserable man calling himself a priest to thrust Christ aside, and take upon himself the very work which here we read in God's holy Word Jesus is exalted to heaven to carry on!
Again observe, under the Old Testament law, the priest offered the incense also; it was not acceptable to God if offered by any other man. Christ's intercession was typified by the burning incense going up in a cloud of smoke together with the prayers and praises of the people; and no man might offer that except the priest. In like manner it is Jesus, and Jesus alone, who intercedes in the presence of God for His people (Rom ). Hence we offer prayer "through Jesus Christ our Lord," "through Jesus Christ our Saviour." Just as under the old law no man might offer incense himself but must give it to the priest, so in this dispensation no prayer is acceptable to God but by and through Jesus Christ. "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." How great then the wickedness of those who would presume to put themselves in the place of Christ, the great High Priest, and say that they are mediators through whom the prayers of the people are to be offered! What says the Holy Ghost again on this point of incense by the mouth of the beloved Apostle? 1Jn 2:1.… It may be well indeed that ministers should pray for their people, and people for their ministers; but it is not well that ministers should pretend to put themselves as mediators between God and the people, and represent themselves as successors of the Jewish High Priests; in a word, supplanting Jesus Christ Himself; this is not well.
Trust to the only Priest. Have confidence in that Man who because "He continueth ever hath an unchangeable priesthood."—R. W. Dibdin, M.A.
AUDACITY IN WICKEDNESS
Having finished his address to Korah and the Levites, Moses sent messengers to Dathan and Abiram, who during that address seems to have departed to their own tents, to call them to appear before him. With outrageous insolence they not only refused to obey his summons, but preferred the most unjust and impudent charges against him. Their audacity in wickedness is manifest—
I. In their defiance of the authority of the ruler appointed by God.
They absolutely and daringly refused to obey the summons of Moses. Twice they said, "We will not come up." "They denied his power," says Gill, "despised his authority, and would not obey his orders, and therefore refused to come up to the tabernacle, or to the tent of Moses, or to the Court of Judicature, wherever it was; perhaps the first is best." "Sturdy rebels," says Trapp, "ripe for destruction." See Pro .
II. In their reviling the ruler appointed by God.
They proceed to charge Moses with—
1. Having injured them in their circumstances. "Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey?… Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards." The statement concerning Egypt was not truthful. Moreover, as Bp. Patrick observes, "nothing could be more insolent and ungrateful than to describe Egypt in the very same language in which God had often spoken of the Land of Promise." Their deliverance from Egypt, instead of being resented as an injury, should have been regarded by them as a priceless blessing. And whose fault was it that they were not in possession of the Promised Land? They charge Moses with that for which they alone were to blame.
2. Attempting to tyrannise over them. "Thou make thyself altogether a prince over us." They speak as though Moses were in the habit of lording it over them as a usurping tyrant, when he was really devoting himself to their service.
3. Endeavouring to deceive them. "Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?" They insinuate that Moses was trying to blind the congregation as to the true character of his doings and designs.
4. Aiming at their destruction. "Thou hast brought us.… to kill us in the wilderness." Farther than this injustice and falsehood surely cannot go. If they were doomed to fall in the wilderness it was because of former rebellions of their own. As for Moses he had sought their good, and only their good. Is not the audacity of their wickedness terrible?
III. In the solemn appeal to God which their conduct called forth from the ruler which He had appointed.
"And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the Lord, Respect not Thou their offering," &c. Notice:
1. His righteous anger. "Moses was very wroth." Anger is not always sinful. "Be ye angry, and sin not." There are times when it would be a sin not to be angry. There is a deep principle of wrath in the Divine nature. Our Lord looked upon the wicked Pharisees "with anger" (Mar ). In proportion as we regard holiness with affection we must regard wickedness with indignation. There is much in this world at present to awaken wrath in godly souls. The anger of Moses was a righteous thing: it was the antagonism of his pure and noble soul against the base wickedness of Dathan and Abiram. (a)
2. His truthful self-vindication. "I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them." "Moses was not one of them," says Trapp, "that follow the administration of justice as a trade only, with an unquenchable and unconscionable desire of gain. This is but robbery with authority, and justifies the common resemblance of the courts of justice to the bush, whereto while the sheep flies for defence in weather, he is sure to lose part of his fleece." Moses could truthfully appeal to the Lord that although he was their ruler he had taken no tribute whatever from them or oppressed them in any way or degree. Comp. 1Sa .
3. His solemn prayer. "Moses said unto the Lord, Respect not Thou their offering." Comp. Gen . It may at first sight appear that in this request Moses manifests an unworthy spirit. But really "he craveth of God no more than to show and make manifest his own innocency and uprightness, which was to be decided by that offering."
1. That man, having entered upon an evil course, unless arrested by some restraining force, proceeds to greater daring in and deeper depths of wickedness. So Dathan and Abiram grew bold and insolent in sin. "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse," &c. Character is never stationary. It grows either towards perfection or towards perdition. In the case of the wicked their dread progress in wickedness is not difficult of explanation.
(1) The heart becomes hardened; less susceptible to good influences; less amenable to conscience, &c. (b)
(2) The propensity to evil increases in power. As the soul falls the momentum with which it falls increases.
(3) The circumstances into which they bring themselves by sin urge them onward. One sin seems to make other sins necessary. Shakespeare clearly expresses the idea in Macbeth—
"I am in blood Stept in so far, that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er." (c)
Guard against entering on wicked, or even questionable, courses.
2. The best of men are liable to the vilest misrepresentations. There was not the shadow of reason for these charges against Moses. He was the last man to play the lord over any people. "Those often fall under the heaviest censures who have merited the highest applause."
3. The good man when suffering from misrepresentation can carry his cause to the Great Vindicator. Moses appealed to God from the misrepresentations of Dathan and Abiram. So did Job from the false charges of his "miserable comforters." So did David from the slanders of his enemies. Comp. Job ; Job 23:10-12. So may we when falsely accused. "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. And He shall bring forth Thy righteousness as the light, and Thy judgment as the noon-day."
(a) There is a great difference between the sin of one who is angry, and the cruelty of one who holds another in hatred. For even with our children are we angry; but who is ever found to hate his children? Among the very cattle, too, the cow, in a sort of weariness, will sometimes in anger drive away her suckling calf; bat anon she embraces it with all the affection of a mother. She is in a way disgusted with it when she butts it; yet, when she misses it, she will seek after it. Nor do we discipline our children otherwise than with a degree of anger and indignation; yet we should not discipline them at all but in love to them.
So far, then, is every one who is angry from hating, that sometimes one would be rather convicted of hating if he were not angry; for suppose a child wishes to play in some river's stream, by whose force he would be like to perish. If you see this and patiently suffer it, this would be hating—your patient suffering him in his death. How far better is it to be angry and correct him, than by not being angry to suffer him to perish! Great is the difference, indeed, between one's exceeding due limits in some words through anger, which he afterwards wipes off by repenting of it, and the keeping an insidious purpose shut up in the heart.—Augustine.
There is an anger that is damnable: it is the anger of selfishness. There is an anger that is majestic as the frown of Jehovah's brow: it is the anger of truth and love. If man meets with injustice, it is not required that he shall not be roused to meet it; but if he is angry after he has had time to think upon it, that is sinful. The flame is not wrong, but the coals are.—H. W. Beecher.
High and gusty passions that sweep through the soul are sometimes like fierce summer storms that cleanse the air, and give the earth refreshment by strong winds and down-pelting rains. Men are better for knowing how to be angry, provided the sun does not go down on their wrath, and provided it is justified by the occasions of it.—Ibid.
(b) Wilful disobedience to God's commands tends most powerfully to harden the heart; for after we have once disobeyed, it becomes more easy to repeat the disobedience. But this is not all. If you disobey, you must assign some excuse to justify your disobedience, or your conscience will reproach you, and render you uneasy; if no plausible excuse occurs, you will seek one; if none can readily be found, you will invent one. And when God proceeds to enforce His commands by frowns and threatenings, and to press you with motives and arguments, you must fortify your minds against their influence, and seek other arguments to assist you in doing it. This also tends most powerfully to harden the heart. A man who is frequently employed in seeking arguments and excuses to justify his neglect of religion, soon becomes expert in the work of self-justification. He is, if I may so express it, armed at all points against the truth; so that in a little time, nothing affects him, no arrow from the quiver of revelation can reach his conscience. Urge him to what duty you will, he has some plausible excuse in readiness to justify himself for neglecting to perform it. But if, as is sometimes the case, his excuses prove insufficient, and his understanding and conscience become convinced that he ought to hear God's voice to-day, he can avoid compliance only by taking refuge in an obstinate refusal, or by resolutely diverting his attention to some other object, till God's commands are forgotten, or by a vague kind of promise that he will become religious at some future period. Whichsoever of these methods he adopts, the present impression is effaced, and his heart is hardened. He has engaged in a warfare with his reason and conscience, and has gained a victory over them. He has resisted the force of truth, and thus rendered it more easy for him to resist it again. In a word, he has less religious sensibility; he has become more inaccessible to conviction, and less disposed to yield to it than before.—E. Payson, D.D.
(c) It is somewhere fabled in ancient literature that a certain stag and horse were at variance; they battled for some time fiercely with each other. At length the strength of the horse failed him, and he sought the help of a man. The man complies, gets on his back, and chases the stag to death. So far the noble steed overcame the difficulty of his position, and gained his point; but the very means he adopted placed him in a far worse position afterwards. With a bit in his mouth and saddle on his back, he continued to the end of his days the slave of the man whose assistance he obtained. It is thus with those who seek to overcome a difficulty or avoid a danger by recourse to immoral expedients. This, alas! is often done. In business a man contracts obligations. He finds that his credit, reputation, and position are in danger unless they are fully met. The hour comes when those obligations heavily press upon him. He struggles honourably with them for a time. At length he gives way, and has recourse to forgeries, falsehoods, or some other wicked device. For the moment he seems to succeed; but the immorality he called in to serve him for the hour becomes his master and his tyrant, uses him as the man did the horse in the fable—as a wretched beast of burden, the victim of the bit, the saddle, and the spur.—The Clerical Year Book.
THE REBELLION MAINTAINED IN THE VERY PRESENCE OF GOD
I. The test proposed by Moses to the rebels.
"And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord," &c. (Num ). Moses here repeats the challenge which he had previously made (Num 16:5-7), with this addition, he states that Aaron also shall be there, and submit to the test. The test includes three clauses, or articles.
1. That Korah and his company shall assemble at the tabernacle and burn incense. This was a function reserved to the priesthood: they had claimed equality with the priesthood: thus let their claim be put to proof.
2. That they should burn incense in sight of God. All things transpire beneath His eye (Pro ; Heb 4:13); but Moses gives special prominence to the fact that the trial of their claims was to take place "before the Lord." In this renewal of the challenge he twice mentions this solemn fact (Num 16:16-17). Will they dare the awful experiment in His holy presence?
3. That they should burn incense in the sight of God with a view to His interposition for the settlement of the question which they had raised. This was the great object which they had in view in this business, and was clearly stated by Moses when he first proposed this method of testing their claims. Truly a very serious, and indeed awful proposal. How will the rebels treat it?
II. The test accepted by the rebels.
On the morrow "they took every man his censer, and put fire in them," &c. (Num ). Notice:
1. The awful presumption involved in their conduct. It was but recently that they had witnessed Nadab and Abihu burnt to death by fire from the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, and yet they presume with unconsecrated hands and in a rebellious spirit to burn incense in the door of the tabernacle before the Lord. Terrible is their sinful hardihood! (a)
2. The infatuation of Korah in sin. He "gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." He seems entirely confident of success. Not a grain of prudence seems left to him. Quos Deus vult perdere dementat prius. "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
III. The interposition of the Lord God.
"And the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation. And the Lord spake," &c. (Num ; Num 16:21). The interposition of the Lord was characterised by—
1. The manifestation of His glory. "The glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation." (See notes on Num, p. 248.)
2. The declaration of His judgment. He called upon Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation that He "may consume them in a moment." By rallying to the tabernacle at the call of Korah the people had made common cause with the rebels and become sharers in their guilt, and God threatens to destroy them instantly.
3. His care for His faithful servants. He "spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Separate yourselves from among this congregation," &c. Excellent are the notes of Trapp on this: "Good men are taken away from the evil to come. When God pulls away the pillars, what will become of the building? Lot was no sooner taken out of Sodom, but Sodom was taken out of the world." Comp. Gen . (b)
IV. The intercession of Moses and Aaron for the congregation.
"And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God," &c. (Num ).
1. Its object. The aim of the intercession of Moses and Aaron was to avert the threatened destruction of all the congregation.
2. Its pleas. These are—
(1) The relationship of God to man. "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh." God is the creator and sustainer of human life. "He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." "The Father of spirits." Will He not then have mercy upon these misguided spirits, of which He was the author and preserver? "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth," &c. (Psa ). "Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of Thine own hands." Comp. Isa 64:8-9. (c).
(2) The justice of God. "Shall one man sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?" As compared with Korah, the author of the rebellion, the great multitude of the people were almost innocent. Would God sweep them all away in the same judgment? Comp. Gen ; Gen 18:25.
Mark the magnanimity of Moses and Aaron in thus interceding for the people. The people were ever ready to join in any rebellion against their leaders, yet those leaders were ever ready to entreat God for them. "The good man," says a Hindoo epigram, "goes not upon enmity, but rewards with kindness the very being who injures him. So the sandal-wood while it is felling, imparts to the edge of the axe its aromatic savour."
(a) Every presumption is properly an encroachment, and all encroachment carriage in it still a farther and a farther invasion upon the person encroached upon. It enters into the soul as a gangrene does into the body, which spreads as well as infects, and with a running progress carries a venom and a contagion all over the members. Presumption never stops in its first attempt. If Cæsar comes once to pass the Rubicon, he will be sure to march farther on, even till he enters the very bowels of Rome, and breaks open the Capitol itself. He that wades so far as to wet and foul himself, cares not how much he trashes farther.—Robert South, D D.
(b) "No doubt," said the Rev. J. Brown, of Haddington, "I have met with trials as well as others, yet so kind has God been to me, that I think if He were to give me as many years as I have already lived in the world, I should not desire one single circumstance in my lot changed except that I wish I had less sin. It might be written on my coffin, ‘Here lies one of the cares of Providence, who early wanted both father and mother and yet never missed them.'"—"The Sunday School Teacher."
(c) The Creator is faithful. He abides by His creation, neither deserting, nor repudiating it. Though nature has become a madhouse of fierce passions and deadly strife, His devotion to it knows no abatement. He will not fail nor be discouraged until He has put down all evil, and established righteousness, even "everlasting righteousness." "A faithful Creator" involves the idea of a tender Redeemer.—John Pulsford.
God never loses sight of any one thing. He has created, and no created thing can continue either to be, or to act independently of Him. His eye is upon every hour of my existence. His spirit is intimately present with every thought of my heart. His inspiration gives birth to every purpose within me. His hand impresses a direction on every footstep of my goings. Every breath I inhale is drawn by an energy which God deals out to me. This body, which, upon the slightest derangement, would become the prey of death, or of woful suffering, is now at ease, because He at this moment is warding off from me a thousand dangers, and upholding the thousand movements of its complex and delicate machinery. His presiding influence keeps by me through the whole current of my restless and ever-changing history. When I walk by the way-side, He is along with me. When I enter into company, amid all my forgetfulness of Him, He never forgets me. In the silent watches of the night, when my eyelids have closed and my spirit has sunk into unconsciousness, the observant eye of Him who never slumbers is upon me. I cannot fly from His presence. Go where I will, He tends me, and watches me, and cares for me; and the same Being who is now at work in the remotest domains of nature and of Providence, is also at my right hand to eke out to me every moment of my being, and to uphold me in the exercise of all my feelings and of all my faculties.—Thomas Chalmers, D.D., LL.D.
THE SPIRIT AND THE SOVEREIGN OF MAN
"The God of the spirits of all flesh."
These words suggest three considerations.
I. The grand distinction of human nature.
The glory of human nature is not in anything physical, e.g., the upright form, the steady and penetrating glance of the eye, &c.; but in the fact of its spirituality. Man is a spirit in a vesture of flesh. "There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." (a). Concerning the human spirit consider—
1. Its attributes.
(1) Unity. The body is composed of an indefinite number of separate and separable parts. But the spirit is one and indivisible. We are conscious of our individuality as thinking, feeling, acting beings.
(2) Voluntary activity. Bodies have no power of spontaneous motion; being at rest, they will remain so for ever, unless acted upon by some power which is not inherent. But the spirit acts independently; man is gifted with volition, he chooses and rejects, &c.
(3) Thought. The body does not think; after the death of the body the brain may remain perfect, but it does not reflect. But the spirit thinks, reflects, compares, judges. How wonderful is this power! and how great and glorious are its achievements!
(4) Sensation. It is not the mere body which feels: when life has departed from it you may subject the body to any treatment whatsoever, but you will not discover in it any sign of sensation. But the spirit feels: it is capable of the deepest, intensest misery, and of the most exquisite and unspeakable joy.
(5) Religiousness. Bodies are incapable of admiration or veneration; but spirits have capabilities of worship and an instinct or instincts for worship. By his very nature man is a worshipper; his spirit wonders, admires, loves, adores. How great, then, are the capacities and faculties of the human spirit! Moreover the spirit acts without weariness. The bodily organs through which in our present state it acts are speedily tired, but the spirit seems untiring in its activities. And further, it appears to be capable of indefinite growth and progress. All the material forms of life with which we are acquainted advance and grow to a certain point, and then begin to decay. But the spirit seems to possess innate capabilities for never-ending growth. How wonderful and sacred are our spirits, possessing, as they do, such attributes as these!
2. Its relationships. It is related—
(1) To angels. With holy angels it has relations. "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them." "He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" These holy and heavenly spirits minister to human spirits upon earth. The human spirit has relations with evil angels also. We are one with them in the fact that we are rebellious spirits. These evil angels act malignantly on human spirits; they tempt them to sin; they seek their utter and irretrievable ruin. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers," &c. (Eph ). "The prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience."
(2) To God. "God is a Spirit." "The Lord formeth the spirit of man within him" (Zec ). He is "the Father of spirits" (Heb 12:9). "We are also His offspring" (Act 17:28). He is "the God of the spirits of all flesh." We were created in His image. His great redemptive purpose is to renew us into His image again. We may receive communications from Him; may commune with Him; may be "workers together with Him"; may participate in His joy, &c. We are called into this high fellowship through Jesus Christ. He restores the human spirit to those relations to God which sin had ruptured. "No man cometh unto the Father but by Him." How exalted and august are these relations of the human spirit to God!
3. Its destiny. At death the body "shall return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." From the body the spirit passes into the presence of God as the great Judge; and from His presence it passes to its own place of retribution, either to the Paradise of God or to the prison of the lost. (b)
Here, then, is the grand distinction of man that he is spirit with such wondrous faculties, &c. Amongst all God's works in this world he stands alone in this; for if we allow a spiritual principle to animals it is greatly and obviously inferior to the human spirit.
Man reverence thy spirit—reverence thyself!
II. The supreme Sovereign of human nature.
"The God of the spirits of all flesh." God's relations of Creator and Sustainer of man were most probably present to the mind of Moses in this appeal. We have already spoken of Him as the Creator of spirits. He is also their Sustainer. "In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind" (Job ). "He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (Act 17:25). His sovereignty over human spirits rests upon these relations which He sustains to them, and it is manifest:—
1. In the claims which He makes upon the human spirit. He requires the sincere worship and the supreme affection of man: He claims the throne of our being. Comp. Deu ; Deu 10:12; Eze 18:4; Luk 10:27.
2. In the power which He exercises over the human spirit. We have seen that He is its Creator; and its departure from this world is in His hands. He summons the spirit hence when He pleases. Comp. Job ; Job 14:20; Ecc 8:8; Rev 1:18.
III. The inspiring hope of human nature.
Because God is "the God of the spirits of all flesh" Moses was encouraged to plead with Him that He would not destroy "all the congregation" because of the rebellion of Korab and his company. For the creatures whom He has created and whom He sustains He must have a kind regard. Towards the spirits of which He is the Father He must be gracious and merciful. "Thou wilt have a desire to the work of Thine hands" (Job ). Comp. Psa 103:13-18; Psa 138:8; Isa 64:8-9.
From the relations which He sustains to our spirits we have a good hope that He will ever deal graciously with us. Comp. Lam .
Should we not leave the future destinies of men (about which so many minds are now much exercised) calmly and confidently to "the God of the spirits of all flesh"? It is absolutely certain that He will deal righteously and kindly with His creatures in this and in all things.
Realise the greatness and dignity of your being. You are a spirit, created in the image of God, redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and destined for immortality. The time comes on apace when you will realise the unspeakable importance of your spirit. Let your great concern be to secure its well-being. (c)
(a) To say there is no such thing as matter would be a much less absurd inference, than to say there is no such thing as mind. The very act of inferring, as we do by reasoning, that the object which effects our senses exists apart from ourselves, is wholly incapable of giving us any knowledge of the object's existence, without, at the same time, giving us a knowledge of our own that is, of the mind's existence. An external necessarily implies an internal. That there may be anything beyond or without, there must necessarily be something beyond or without which it is said to exist. That there may be a body which we feel abiding separate from us, namely our own body, one part of which gives us sensations through another part, there must be a WE, an US, that is, A MIND. If we have a right to call spirit, or soul, or mind, a mere negation of the qualities of matter; surely this might just as well be retorted by saying that matter is only a negation of the qualities of mind. But in truth the materialists cannot stir one step without the aid of that mind whose existence they deny.… The truth is that we believe in the existence of matter because we cannot help it. The inferences of our reason from our sensations impel us to this conclusion; and the steps are few and short by which we reach it. But the steps are fewer and shorter, and of the self-same nature, which lead us to believe in the existence of mind: for of that we have the evidence within ourselves, and wholly independent of our senses. Nor can we ever draw the inference, in any one instance, of the existence of matter, without, at the same time, exhibiting a proof of the existence of mind; for we are, by the supposition, reasoning, inferring, drawing a conclusion, forming a belief: therefore, there exists somebody, something, to reason, to infer, to conclude, to believe; that is, WE, not any fraction of matter, but a reasoning, inferring, believing being; in other words, a Mind. If scepticism can have any place in our system, assuredly it relates to the existence of matter, far more than of mind.—Lord Brougham.
(b) Nothing is more difficult than to realise that every man has a distinct soul—that every one of all the millions who live or have lived, is as whole and independent a being in himself as if there were no one else in the whole world but he. To explain what I mean.… When we read history, we meet with accounts of great slaughters and massacres, great pestilences, famines, conflagrations, and so on; and we are accustomed to regard collections of people as single individuals. We cannot understand that a multitude is a collection of immortal souls. I say immortal souls. Each of those multitudes not only had, while he was upon earth, but has a soul, which did in its own sure but return to God who gave it, and not perish, and which now lives unto Him. All those millions upon millions of human beings who ever trod the earth, and saw the sun successively, are at this moment in existence all together. Every one of those souls still lives. They had their separate thoughts and feelings when on earth; they have them now. They had their likings and pursuits, they gained what they thought good, and enjoyed it; and they still somewhere or other live, and what they then did in the flesh surely has its influence upon their present destiny. They live, reserved for a day which is to come, when all nations shall stand before God.… All the names we see written on monuments in churches or churchyards; all the writers whose names and works we see in our libraries; all the workmen who raised the great buildings far and near, which are the wonder of the world, they are all in God's remembrance—they all live.
Moreover, every one of all the souls which have ever been on earth, is in one of two spiritual states, so distinct from one another that one is the subject of God's favour, and the other under His wrath; the one in the way to eternal happiness, the other to eternal misery. This is true of the dead, and is true of the living also. All are tending one way or the other; there is no middle or neutral state for any one, though as far as the sight of the external world goes, all men seem to be in a middle state common to one and all. Yet, much as men look the same, and impossible as it is for us to say where each man stands in God's sight, there are two, and but two, classes of men, and these have characters and destinies as far apart in their tendencies as light and darkness. This is the case even of those who are in the body, and it is much more true of those who have passed into the unseen state.—J. H. Newman, D.D.
(c) Endeavour then, my brethren, to realize that you have souls, and pray God to enable you to do so. Endeavour to disengage your thoughts and opinions from the things that are seen; look at things as God looks at them, and judge them as He judges. Pass a very few years, and you will actually experience what as yet you are called on to believe. There will be no need of the effort of mind to which I invite you. When you have passed into the unseen state, there will be no need of shutting your eyes to this world, when this world has vanished from you, and you have nothing before you but the throne of God, and the slow but continual movements about it in preparation of the Judgment. In that interval, when you are in that vast receptacle of disembodied souls, what will be your thoughts about the world which you have left? How poor will then seem to you its highest aims, how faint its keenest pleasures, compared with the infinite aims, the infinite pleasures, of which you will at length feel your souls to be capable! O, my brethren! let the thought be upon you day by day, especially when you are tempted to sin. Avoid sin as a serpent; it looks and promises well; it bites afterwards. It is dreadful in memory, dreadful even on earth; but in that awful period, when the fever of life is over, and you are waiting in silence for the Judgment, with nothing to distract your thoughts, who can say how dreadful may be the memory of sins done in the body? Then the very apprehension of their punishment, when Christ shall suddenly visit, will doubtless outweigh a thousandfold their gratification, such as it was, which you felt in committing them; and if so, what will be the proportion between it and that punishment, if, after all, it be actually inflicted? Let us lay to heart our Saviour's own most merciful words. "B, not afraid," He says, "of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear. Fear Him which after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yes, I say unto you, fear Him."—Ibid.
THE PREPARATION FOR JUDGMENT
In this section of the narrative we have the final steps before the infliction of punishment upon the rebels.
I. The complete separation of the people from the rebels.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram," &c. (Num ). ln these instructions we have—
1. A manifestation of the justice of God. In his intercession Moses had pleaded the justice of God; and this is the Divine answer to his prayer. God will not consume all the congregation because of the sin of a portion of that congregation. "All His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He." "The just Lord will not do iniquity: every morning doth He bring His judgment to light, He faileth not" (a)
2. An illustration of the peril of evil associations. The people that were in the immediate neighbourhood of the rebels were in danger of sharing their dread fate. "Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men," &c. (Num ). Lot's residence in Sodom well nigh ruined him. Jehoshaphat's partnership with the wicked Ahaziah ended in disaster (2Ch 20:35-37). "The companion of fools shall be destroyed." (b)
3. An illustration of the necessity of human effort in the attainment of salvation. If the people would avoid the doom of Dathan and Abiram they must hasten away from the tents of those wicked men. Lot had to make a speedy departure from Sodom. If the sinner would be saved from the punishment and power of sin, he must "flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before him." (c)
The people obeyed the word of the Lord spoken by Moses: "They gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram on every side." The instinct of self-preservation would urge them to swift compliance with the Divine instructions. Thus the rebels and their families were separated from the rest of the people.
II. The final statement concerning the decision of the question which the rebels had raised.
"And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me," &c. (Num ). It has been well said by Dr. Kitto: "From the beginning of the world unto this day, no man ever made so bold and noble an assertion of Divine approval, or subjected his claims in the presence of a nation to a test so immediate and so infallible." And Matthew Henry: "The judgment itself would have been proof enough of God's displeasure against the rebels, and would have given all men to ‘understand that they had provoked the Lord'; but when it was thus solemnly foretold and appealed to by Moses beforehand, when there was not the least previous indication of it from without, the convincing evidence of it was much the stronger, and it was put beyond dispute that he was not only a servant but a favourite of Heaven, who was so intimately acquainted with the Divine counsels, and could obtain such extraordinary appearances of the Divine power in his vindication." How extraordinary and sublime was the confidence of Moses in all this! Calmly he makes this remarkably bold declaration, and leaves the issue in the hands of the Lord God. He knew well that he was not seeking his own in any respect; that his great aim was to promote the glory of God in the service to which He had appointed him; and, therefore, he could confidently leave the issue with his great Lord.
III. The final opportunity afforded to the rebels of turning from their evil course.
The warning which was given to the people to separate themselves from the tents of the rebels, and the final statement of Moses as to the settlement of the question in dispute, afforded the rebels another opportunity of desisting from their rebellion, acknowledging the authority of their rightful leaders, &c. The Lord is slow to anger. He affords to the greatest sinners many opportunities of turning from their sin, before He smites them in wrath. The Divine mercy in this case is the more conspicuous, inasmuch as Dathan and Abiram having refused to go to Moses and the elders, Moses and the elders go to them. Dathan and Abiram may yet be saved if they will. How great is the longsuffering of God! (d)
IV. The persistent and terrible audacity of the rebels.
"Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children." "As outfacing Moses," says Trapp, "and scorning the judgment threatened. Hardened sinners make no more of God's dreadful threatenings than Behemoth doth of iron weapons, which he esteemeth as straws." "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
(a) Here we open the Bible, in which we find that to whom much is given, from him shall much be required, and that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for nations which enjoyed a fuller revelation of Divine purpose and requirements. The heathen are a law unto themselves. Five talents are expected to produce more then two. The Divine plan of judgment, therefore, is not arbitrary, but moral. If we lose hold of this principle, we shall see confusion where we might see the order of righteousness. First of all, and last of all, it must be our settled and unalterable conviction that God must do right or He is no longer God. Everything must perish which opposes this law. We are not, however, to look at incomplete cases, and regard them as final criteria by which to test the wisdom and righteousness of the Almighty. In many cases we shall have to repress our impatience, and calmly to wait until fuller light is granted.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) Be cautious with whom you associate, and never give your company or your confidence to persons of whose good principles you are not certain. No person that is an enemy to God can be a friend to man. He that has already proved himself ungrateful to the Author of every blessing, will not scruple, when it will serve his turn, to shake off a fellow-worm like himself. He may render you instrumental to his own purposes, but he will never benefit you. A bad man is a curse to others; as he is secretly, notwithstanding all his boasting and affected gaiety, a burden to himself. Shun him as you would a serpent in your path. Be not seduced by his rank, his wealth, his wit, or his influence. Think of him as already in the grave; think of him as standing before the everlasting God in judgment. This awful reality will instantly strip off all that is now so imposing, and present him in his true light, the object rather of your compassion and of your prayers than of your wonder and imitation.—Bp. Coleridge.
(c) If a man knew that the ship in which he and his family were sailing, and which contained all his property, was leaking day and night, do you suppose he would be careless about it? Would he not be constantly baling out the water lest it should sink the vessel with its precious freight? If a man understood that a spark from the flue of the furnace had set fire to the timber of his dwelling, and that, smothered, it was creeping along and charring the wainscoting and partition, do you suppose he would content himself merely with saying, "I have no doubt that this house is on fire, and that it is dangerous?" Would he not do something? Many men read the Bible, and say, "My dear children, we are all sinful; we are sold in sin; may God lead us out of our sinfulness, and draw us toward Him!" and yet put forth no effort to reform their lives. Meanwhile their sinfulness increases, and envelops them and consumes them. Thousands and thousands of men have died in that way, and been utterly destroyed. If a man is wise, no sooner does he have the slightest intimation that there is fire threatening the destruction of his house and all that are in it, than he calls for men, and sets them to work to put an end to the mischief. And when a man is touched by the Spirit of God, and he is made conscious that the fires of hell are in him, with what earnestness does he enter upon a course of repentance! How does he say, "God have mercy on me. Help me; teach me; lead me!"—H. W. Beecher.
(d) He doth often give warning of judgments, that He might not pour out His wrath. He summons them to a surrender of themselves, and a return from their rebellion, that they might not feel the force of His arms, He offers peace before He shakes off the dust of His feet, that His despised peace might not return in vain to Him to solicit a revenge from His anger. He hath a right to punish the first commission of a crime, but He warns men of what they have deserved, of what His justice moves Him to inflict, that by having recourse to His mercy H, might not exercise the rights of His justice. God threatens Nineveh, by the prophet, with destruction, that Nineveh's repentance might make' void the prophecy. He fights with men by the sword of His mouth, that He might not pierce them by the sword of His wrath. He threatens, that men might prevent the execution of His threatening; He terrifies, that He might not destroy, but that men by humiliation might lie prostrate before Him, and move the bowels of His mercy to a louder sound than the voice of His anger. He takes time to whet His sword, that men may turn themselves from the edge of it. He roars like a lion, that men, by hearing His voice, may shelter themselves from being torn by His wrath. There is patience in the sharpest threatening, that we may avoid the scourge. Who can charge God with an eagerness to revenge, that sends so many heralds and so often before He strikes, that He might be prevented from striking? His threatenings have not so much of a black flag as of an olive branch. He lifts up His hand before He strikes that men might see it and avert the stroke (Isa ).—Charnocke.
THE DUTY OF SEPARATION FROM THE WICKED
The statement of this duty needs to be very guarded.
This duty is different from the self-righteousness of the Pharisee described by our Lord in Luk . Comp. Isa 65:5.
This duty is not binding as regards the legitimate transactions of business with wicked men. "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
This duty does not preclude association with the wicked with a view to their spiritual good. As followers of Jesus Christ it is our duty to endeavour to turn the wicked from his wickedness.
But it is our duty to avoid all voluntary and friendly association with the openly and defiantly wicked, all such association as may appear to countenance their wickedness. The testimony of the Sacred Scriptures on this question is unmistakable. See Psa ; Pro 1:10-16; Pro 4:14-15; Pro 9:6; Act 2:40; 2Co 6:17-18; Rev 18:4.
Moreover, our text insists on the thoroughness of this separation. "Touch nothing of theirs" We must separate ourselves from their
(4) customs, &c. In enforcement of this duty consider, that by friendly association with such wicked persons—
I. We countenance them in their sins.
It is the duty of every man to discourage evil; to wage determined and incessant warfare against wickedness; to agree to no truce with the devil. If we would discourage wickedness, we must separate ourselves from notorious evil-doers; we must not allow them any reason to suppose that we consent even by silence to their sins. Comp. 1Co ; Eph 5:11; 2Th 3:14. (a)
II. We are in peril of being drawn into their sins.
The contagion of their example may take hold upon us. Friendly association with the wicked is full of danger to our own spiritual health. Comp. Isa . Such association also makes us partakers of their sins. Comp. 2Jn 1:10-11 (b)
III. We are in peril of the judgment which will fall upon them for their sins.
This was the peril of the congregation about the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They must speedily get away from those tents "lest they be consumed." This was the peril of Lot in Sodom. "A companion of fools shall be destroyed." Comp. Jer ; Jer 51:45; Rev 18:4.
(a) Every person is most sacredly bound, in times of prevailing degeneracy, to act an open, firm, and decided part in favour of virtue and religion; and resolutely endeavour, by his example, to discountenance vice and impiety in every shape. In an especial manner should he avoid the very appearance of those evils which are most prevalent around him, and practice with double care and diligence those virtues which are most generally neglected and despised.… It has been justly remarked, that when God confers on us the power to do good and repress evil, He lays us under an obligation to exert that power. Agreeably, the Apostle informs us, that to him who knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. Hence it follows that we are accountable for all the good which we might, but have not done; and for all the evil which we might, but have not prevented. By conniving at the sins of others, therefore, we make them our own. If the name of God be profaned, if His holy day be dishonoured, if a fellow-creature by intemperance render his family wretched, spread a snare in the path of his children, destroy his health, and finally plunge himself into eternal ruin, when we, by proper exertions, might have prevented it, a righteous God will not hold us guiltless, nor will rivers of tears, shed in secret over these sins, wash out the guilt thus contracted.—E. Payson D D.
(b) There is but one resource for innocence among men or women, and that is, an embargo upon all commerce of bad men. Bar the window! bolt the door! nor answer their strain, if they charm never so wisely! In no other way can you be safe. So well am I assured of the power of bad men to seduce the erring purity of man, that I pronounce it next to impossible for man or woman to escape, if they permit bad men to approach and dally with them.—H. W. Beecher.
Let no young man or woman go into a social circle where the influences are vicious or hostile to the Christian religion. You will begin by reproving their faults, and end by copying them. Sin is contagious. You go among those who are profane, and you will become profane. You go among those who use impure language, and you will use impure language. Go among those who are given to strong drink, and you will inevitably become an inebriate. There is no exception to the rule. A man is no better than the company he continually keeps. It is always best to keep ourselves under Christian influences. It is not possible, if you mingle in associations positively Christian, not to be made better men or women. The Christian people with whom you associate may not be always talking their religion, but there is something in the moral atmosphere that will be life to your soul. You choose out for your most intimate associates eight or ten Christian people. You mingle in that association; you take their counsel; you are guided by their example, and you live a useful life and die a happy death, and go to a blessed eternity. There is no possibility of mistaking it; there is not an exception in all the universe or ages—not one.—T. de Witt Talmage, D.D.
CHRIST'S DEATH A PROOF OF HIS DIVINITY
We wish simply to take the fact that an uncommon death, a "visitation, which is not after the visitation of all men," was made a sign or evidence of the Divine mission of Moses. We wish to see whether a precisely similar sign or evidence may not be urged for the Divine mission of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We mean to assert that our blessed Saviour did not "die the common death of all men;" and from and by this very circumstance we strengthen our belief in His having been the Son of God; yea, God as well as man. We wish you to well examine whether there were not powerful indications in the mode in which our Lord and Saviour submitted to His last sufferings, that He did not die as an individual man, but as a sacrifice for the sins of this creation.
Three out of the four Evangelists make express mention of Christ's crying with a loud voice, immediately before He gave up the ghost. And this loud cry preceding almost instantaneously His decease, produced in the centurion who stood by, the persuasion that Jesus was indeed the Son of God (Mar ). Now let us see what it was which thus wrought on the centurion. There was before him a Being nailed to a cross, dying in a manner as lingering as it was painful. The thing to be expected was that the victim would gradually sink, growing weaker and weaker, until exhausted nature gave way and the soul escaped from the body. Since this mode of executing malefactors was ordinarily so tedious that the legs of the sufferers were broken in order to hasten their dissolution, we must conclude that no crucified person would have naturally died, unless through the slow process of exhaustion, life having ebbed away as though drop by drop, till there was nothing more for the torture to exact. It was therefore quite unnatural that our Lord should have had strength to utter a loud cry at the very moment of the separation of the soul from the body. He showed that there was nothing like an exhaustion of nature; and yet the mode of death was such, that it was only through exhaustion of nature that dissolution could take place. Indeed, we have additional testimony that Christ's dying as He did might justly be called unnatural, for He died long before those who were crucified with Him—in a time so unusually short, that when Joseph of Arimathea applied for leave to take the body, Pilate marvelled if he were already dead, and would not believe it till he had called the centurion and obtained certain information. Our Lord, though crucified did not die in strict truth through the effects of crucifixion: He did not die, as the thieves did, through any necessity of nature, or because His enemies had been able to reach the citadel of life. And it was the manifest voluntariness of the death of Christ which overcame the centurion. He could not but perceive that, through some mysterious ordinance or prerogative, our Lord had His life entirely in His own keeping; so that in place of being subjected to death, He seemed to have literally the lordship over life. Comp. Joh 10:17-18. It may sound like a paradox, but it is nevertheless a truth, that death had no power over Christ even when He died. He breathed His last only because choosing to suspend that animation, of which, as Himself alone the author, Himself alone could be the destroyer. And if, then, Christ did not "die the common death of all men," who can wonder that the centurion was confounded at the spectacle, or that he broke into an exclamation which showed that he felt the Sufferer was something more than a mere man? "Of a truth this Man was the Son of God."
But now let us take a wider survey, and accompany our Redeemer through the scenes of His agony. We have on other occasions pointed out to you the striking and almost inexplicable contrast between the deportment of Christ, and that of numbers of His followers, as the hour drew nigh of departure from earth. It is a contrast which seems all in favour of the disciple rather than the Master; for whilst there has been tranquility, and even triumph, in those who have been dying in the faith of the Redeemer, there was perturbation and anguish in that Redeemer Himself. The bold defender of truth has gone up to the stake or the scaffold rejoicing in being thought worthy to suffer for his Lord, and cheered by bright glimpses which he caught of immortality. How different was the demeanour of Christ when anticipating death from the hands of His enemies! I see Him casting Himself on the ground, praying that "if it be possible the cup might pass from Him;" &c. I hear Him uttering the most touching and thrilling complaints, as though His spirit were sorely disquieted and actually deserted of God. Yes, Christ is evidently not dying "the common death of all" Christians.
But let us see whether on this very account there be not reason for concluding Him to be God's own Son. For what are the causes which commonly make death terrible to men? In the first place, to a perfectly righteous individual nothing would make death so terrible as uncertainty with respect to the immortality of the soul. To the good man the thought of annihilation would be utterly insupportable.
But now let us view Christ as nothing more than an eminently righteous man who is about to submit to death to confirm the doctrines which he had taught. Died there ever the man so certified of the great truth of the soul's immortality? Had He not been Himself the preacher of that truth? (2Ti ).… But what are we to say when we behold Him literally overcome with terror, manifesting a perturbation which could not be exceeded if the future were all darkness, or there were even a knowledge that the soul perished with the body? Oh! we can only say that the agony of the Mediator proves Him less than man, or more than man. It is what no mere man, at least no mere Christian man, passing from one world to another, with just his own account to make up and his own pains to undergo, ever had, or could have, to sustain. We think ourselves warranted in calling upon you to apply the reasoning of our text; and to conclude that God had sent Christ as a propitiation for sin, forasmuch as He does not "die the common death of all men;" and is not "visited after the visitation of all men."
We go on to observe, that however assured a man might be as to the soul's immortality, he might be harrassed with doubts as to his acceptance with God; and this would necessarily produce a painful shrinking from the act of dissolution. In ordinary cases it is just herein that the distressing thing lies. This is true in the case of the righteous. We cannot be surprised if they are sometimes daunted as they view death at hand.
But now, can you think that there ever lived the man so persuaded of the favour of God, so secure of happiness at death, as Jesus of Nazareth? Had He not been pure in thought, and word, and deed; so that there could be no place for repentance, as there had been none for sin? And was He not thoroughly certain that He was about to enter on a recompense such as had never been awarded to any created being? (Heb ). Who then shall meet death composedly—who triumphantly—if not Jesus Christ?.… But how is the expectation answered? That afflicted and agitated Man, prostrated on the ground, trembling and astonished and convulsed—is this the Being who has everything in His favour, and over whom we have felt it impossible that death could exert any terrifying power?.… What account do we give of this? This should make you feel that He must be sustaining some lofty and responsible character—that in the scene which is so counter to expectation. He has to bear some vast burden which that character entails. We contend that the doctrine of the atonement—the doctrine that Christ died as a sin-offering and propitiation for the offences of the world—furnishes the only explanation of the anguish and the horrors of the sufferer.
Blessed be His name! we may meet death with confidence, because He met it in terror; for "by His stripes we are healed." He took away the sting of death, but it was by bearing that sting in His own soul; He scattered the darkness of the grave, but it was by Himself enduring the eclipse of the face of His Father.—Henry Melville, B.D.
THE EXECUTION OF JUDGMENT
These verses warrant the following observations:—
I. That God vindicates the character of His faithful servants from the misrepresentations by which they may be assailed.
By this stern judgment on the rebels, Jehovah fulfilled the word of His servant Moses, and splendidly vindicated the character and calling of both Moses and Aaron. By it He also honoured the extraordinary confidence which Moses had exercised in Him, in the calm and unshaken declaration which he made that God would manifest in a certain miraculous manner whether He had commissioned him or not. God always honours the faith of His servants; and they may confidently leave the vindication of their character and call to Him. Such vindication may be delayed, but it is certain. Comp. Psa .
II. That the Divine threatenings are certain of fulfilment.
"And it came to pass, as He had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder under them," &c. The declarations of His judgment against sin are spoken not merely in terrorem. His threatenings are as true as His promises. If any soul will persist in rebellion against God he will find to his cost that the punishment denounced against sin will be inflicted, (a)
III. That everything in the universe may be employed by God as the instrument of His judgments.
In this history we find that the earth and the forces that are at work within it were the instruments of His judgment upon Dathan and Abiram, and the fire upon Korah and the two hundred and fifty who burnt incense. (b)
IV. That the wicked often involve those who are innocent of their sins in the consequences of such sins.
"The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods," &c. (Num ). Thus these rebels brought destruction upon others. Some of the penalties of sin seldom fall merely upon the sinner. One man sins, and others suffer by reason of his sins. (See notes on this point on pp. 34 and 264.) This fact—
1. Shows the heinousness of sin.
2. Should act as a restraint from sin.
V. That hardened rebels are prone to cry out when the judgment of God falls upon them.
When the judgment of God fell upon them the rebels cried out so lamentably that the people who were round about fled in alarm lest the same judgment should overtake them. A little while ago they were bold and defiant; now they are terror-stricken. "Who may stand in Thy sight when once Thou art angry?"
1. Their cries were selfish. They were the expression of terror, not of repentance.
2. Their cries were too late. They should have cried before, while mercy might have been obtained; but now their cries are utterly in vain. Comp. Pro . (c)
VI. That the judgments of God occasion alarm amongst men.
"And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also." "Others' ruins should be our warnings." Generally the alarm which is awakened by the Divine judgments speedily passes away (as it did in this case) and leaves no good result. "Law and terrors do but harden."
Here is very solemn warning to impenitent sinners. "Because there is wrath, beware lest He take these away with His stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee." (d)
(a) Is God all-mighty, all-mighty? Then do not imagine you can escape His judgments. His lightnings find us out. His sharp spear penetrates our secrecy. You have evaded Him now fifty years, and you think you can do it fifty more. Believe me as speaking the word of the Lord. you cannot. Has the ox that has been driven into the fat pasture escaped the knife? Look at the nob'e animal there. Look at the rich grass or clover, and see the sunshine falling upon the scene, and the ox says, "I am at rest, I have escaped the knife of the slayer," not knowing that the pasture is on the way to the slaughter-house, and that next to its death stands the rich blessing of its life. There are many oxen that are being prepared for the slaughter when they little think.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) Mark here, how all creatures obey their Creator, and are at His commandment: when God willeth the earth to open her mouth, it openeth: when He willeth it to swallow, it swalloweth up: when He willeth it to close again, it closeth: when He willeth the fire to come down, it cometh: and to consume, it consumeth. The sounding of the rams' horns threw down the high walls of Jericho at His commandment. The waters of the Red Sea stood still, and Jordan fl d back at His word. The fire could not burn, nor the lions devour when it pleased the Almighty. Acknowledge therefore His infinite power for our instruction; and let us rest upon it in all dangers for our consolation.—Attersoll.
God is not confined to one method of punishment. He toucheth a man's bones, and they melt; He breathes upon a man's brain, and henceforth he is not able to think. He comes in at night-time, and shakes the foundations of man's most trusted towers, and in the morning there is nought but a heap of ruins. He disorganizes men's memories, and in an instant they confuse all the recollections of their life-time; He touches man's tongue, and the fluent speaker becomes a stammerer. He breaks the staff in twain, and he who was relying upon it is thrown down in utter helplessness,—Joseph Parker, D.D.
For another illustration on this point see p. 252.
(c) Now these rebels begin to cry, but they cry out and howl when it is too late: they should have cried unto God for mercy and forgiveness while it was time and pardon was offered. Thus no doubt did many men of the old world cry out when they were in the water, but then the acceptable time was past; they should have watered their hearts with the tears of repentance when Noah preached unto them. The Sodomites no doubt cried out when fire and brimstone was come down upon them, but they should have cried to God when He cried to them by Lot whom He sent among them. But then was the time of judgment; the time of mercy was gone and past. So it was with Esau, when he had sold his birthright, and lost his blessing, he cried with a great cry and a bitter, but it was too late. Heb ; Gen 27:38. So did the rich man, being in hell in torments, Luk 16:23; then he called for mercy, but; mercy was departed from him. Here is time and place for mercy, but there is no mercy to be had in hell. The earth is the school of instruction; hell is the house of correction. There the reprobate cry and yell, where is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth, but it is without ease, without end, without profit. They that could shed never a tear to God in this life, shall be constrained to shed abundance of tears in the pit of destruction. The tears of repentance that we pour out ascend up unto heaven, and are kept in a bottle of remembrance; but the arstuat are wrung from the reprobate in hell, are never gathered up, nor regarded of God, and are utterly unprofitable to ourselves. Let it therefore be our wisdom to make use of the time of God's mercy and patience, and know that there is no place of repentance after this life.—Attersoll.
(d) When the death-thirst is in your throat, what do you think you will do without God? To die in God's presence, is simply to let life blossom into something better than life; but to die without God must be horrible! You will not want your boon companions then. The drink will not pacify you then. Music will have no charms for you then. The love of a tender and gentle wife can yield you but sorry comfort then. You may have your money bags at your side, but they will not calm your palpitating heart then. You will hear the booming of the waves of the great sea of eternity; you will feel your feet slipping into the dreadful quicksand; you will clutch about for help, but there will be none! Instead thereof invisible hands shall begin to pull you down and down through the dark sea you must descend to those darker depths, where dread despair will be your everlasting heritage.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE JUDGMENT OF KORAH
A reference to the words of Moses recorded in Num, will show that the death of these men was a supernatural event. Moses foretells the exact manner in which it should take place; he calls it "a new thing;" he stakes his Divine commission upon it—"Hereby shall ye know that Jehovah has sent me." It was new as the dividing of the Red Sea had been new, or the standing still of the sun in after days in obedience to the command of Joshua, and was as miraculous as either of those events God alone could have given such an attestation to the mission of a man; the death of Korah was an emphatic and terrible answer to the charges which had been brought against Moses; and its following so immediately upon his words adds another supernatural element to the event. We may learn from it and from what led to it—
1. That the human character which most approaches perfection, and the most qualified leader of men, may be falsely accused by those to whom he is a blessing. Probably Moses never had a superior either in character or ability, yet to him it was said, "Ye take too much upon you" (Num ).
2. It must depend upon the character and not upon the number of the people whether their voice is to be taken as the voice of God. Nearly all Israel, it appears (Num ), were with Korah and his associates, yet Moses, although almost alone, had God and right on his side.
3. That God will, sooner or later, vindicate those of His servants who have been falsely accused. False charges have rested upon many for centuries, and at the end of that time the truth has come to light. There is to be a day which shall "declare it" (1Co ). The Son of God lived and died under false accusation, but He was vindicated by His resurrection; and when He shall be revealed from heaven "with ten thousands of His saints" (Jude 1:14), He will bring to light men's hidden motives, and make manifest the counsels of the heart.—From "Outlines of Sermons on the Miracles and Parables of the Old Testament."
A MEMORIAL OF JUDGMENT
These verses teach the following important truths:—
I. That things appropriated to religious uses should be reverently regarded.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning; for they are hallowed … for they offered them before the Lord; therefore they are hallowed." Comp. Lev . For notes and an illustration on this point, see pp. 56, 57. (a)
II. That the designs and doings of wicked men are overruled by God for the accomplishment of His purposes.
"The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar." In this way "God's altar was protected by the means which had been used to violate its sanctity." "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee." We have a striking illustration of this in the sins of Joseph's brethren, and the way in which they were used by God for the carrying out of His gracious designs. Comp. Gen .
III. That he who Sins against God injures himself.
"These sinners against their own souls," or, "against their own lives." By sin man injures himself physically. When the laws of health are violated disease and misery follow. By sin man injures himself morally. Sin blunts the spiritual sensibilities, stifles the aspirations, and quenches the hopes of the soul, &c. "He that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul." "Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death." (b)
IV. That the judgments of God should be remembered and heeded.
These broad plates for a covering of the altar were to "be a sign unto the children of Israel.… a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company." Man is prone to think that he may sin, and escape the punishment of his sin, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence against such a notion; hence the importance of memorials such as this. The sternest judgments of God are speedily lost sight of by those who most need to keep them in mind; therefore this memorial was fitted to answer a useful end in reminding the people of this judgment, and so deterring them from sin. "All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition." "Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."
Seeing that God is so concerned to guard us against sin, it surely behaves us to flee from it as from our worst foe.
(a) The Christian dispensation, although it is a dispensation of universality, and bases all its promises and sanctions upon the fact of spiritual service, has not annulled the seemly and the sacred in connection with the worship of God. The false pride of Gerizim is humbled by its superior light. The haughtiness which would build an exclusive altar at Jerusalem is rebuked by every word of its inspired lips. It proclaims that everywhere where need compels, and where hearts prompt, and where the wealth of love constrains the offering, man may build a temple and look for acceptance and blessing. But it nowhere approves the idea that all places are equally sacred, or that God has ceased to visit Zion, and to dwell in its tabernacles with His manifestations of peculiar regard. There is a sentimental devotion that has become very fashionable now-a-days, a sort of spurious spirituality, minced out commonly from the lips of most unspiritual people—a kind of domestic pantheism, whose flame of devotion is too subtle to be kindled in houses made with hands. They tell us—and it is true—that the heart which God has touched will find Him every where, in every gracious prodigality of nature, and in every bounteous ministry of life; that to His tuned spirit the wild heatherbells sing Sabbath knells. Well, it is true; but it is true also—a profounder truth in theory and a commoner experience in fact—that God has special honour's for the places that are devoted to His worship; and it is true, too, that the spirit tuned to the music of the sanctuary is the keenest in its recognition of those tremulous airs of worship-song which are floating all the universe around.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.
(b) You have heard of the Spartan youth who concealed a stolen fox under his garment, and although it was eating into his bowels, he would not show it, and therefore died through the creature's bites. You are of that sort, sinner; you are carrying sin in your bosom, and it is eating out your heart. God knows what it is, and you know what it is. Now, you cannot keep it there and be unbitten, undestroyed. Why keep it there? Oh, cry to God with a vehement cry, God save me from my sin! Oh, bring me, even me, to the foot of Thy Son's cross, and forgive me, and then crucify my sin, for I see clearly now that sin must perish or I must.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE COVERING OF THE ALTAR, AND ITS TEACHINGS
Let us inquire what these plates on the altar would teach the people.
I. How futile it is for any one to oppose God, and how God can make the opposition of men helpful to His cause.
How easily God brings down the pride of man! No weapon that is formed against Him can prosper. (Job .) "He is wise"—man cannot outwit Him: "He is mighty in strength"—man cannot overcome Him. To oppose Him is only to place thorns and briers before a consuming fire: the attempt is foolish, fruitless, and destructive. Angels rebelled, and it was their ruin. Pharaoh opposed God, and he was destroyed. It was the same with the people in the Wilderness. These plates would be lasting witnesses of the madness and the futility of opposing God.
Further, they teach that God can make use of the very opposition, and turn whet was meant to be destructive to be helpful to His cause. These censers were designed to be rivals to those of Aaron; the avowed object of the rebels was to take the priesthood from the family of Aaron and to make the altar common property. What did God do? He caused these very censers to be made into plates for a covering of the altar, so as to preserve it from the action of the fire that was ever burning on it. God permits evil, but He ever controls it (Psa ). We should never tremble for the success of God's work. As a matter of fact no opposition has ever hurt His work. "The blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the Church." In all history we see Him working out His own wise, great, and good purposes from the tangled web of human life.
II. That God wishes one age to learn from another.
His treatment of men is not only punitive, but educational. These plates were for a memorial; they were to "be a sign," &c. God did not want the event to be forgotten. He teaches us through human life. The Bible to a great extent is made up of biography—brief records of human lives. God shows us how one prospers, and where another fails; and He means one age to learn from another. The wrecks we meet with in society, by drunkenness, gambling and other sins (as with these plates), God holds them up to "be a sign unto" us.
III. That sacred things must be treated reverently.
"They offered them before the Lord, therefore they are hallowed." God was then teaching the people by practical illustrations, and not by the mere announcing of principles. Thus here He taught them and us the importance of dealing reverently with sacred things. There is need of this lesson in the present day; for there is a tendency to "pooh pooh" many things which our fathers held sacred. Human reason is enthroned: Divine things are brought to its bar, and are very freely and irreverently handled. It is so in respect of the Bible, the Lord's day, the fundamental truths of Christianity, &c. "Hands off" these sacred things! they are hallowed to the Lord; let us not treat them as if they were ordinary things.
IV. That the sinner ever injures himself.
God speaks of these men as "sinners against their own souls," or lives. They had brought ruin on themselves. These plates would teach the people that "the way of transgressors is hard," and "the soul that sinneth it shall die," and "he that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul." Sin robs God, does harm to others, but it ruins none but the doer of it. Every sin of man is a wrong to his own nature: we see it so physically, mentally, and morally. Every sin is a transgression of some law, and the broken law insists on its penalty. Sin hardens the soul, deprives it of good, alienates it from God, defiles it, shuts it from heaven, makes it only fit for hell, and exposes it to the eternal curse. Through these plates God cries to the sinful, "Do thyself no harm."
1. What folly is a life of sin! The Biblical definition of a sinner is—a Fool.
2. To obey God and to please Him is true wisdom. He ever seeks our good, knows what is best for us, so in obeying Him we do ourselves the greatest possible good.—David Lloyd.
THE AGGRAVATED REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE, THE EFFECTUAL INTERCESSION OF THE GOOD, AND THE JUSTICE AND MERCY OF GOD
I. The aggravated rebellion of the people
"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." In this fresh outbreak of rebellion we have—
1. Terrible disregard of Divine warnings. These people had witnessed judgment after judgment because of rebellion; only yesterday they had seen Dathan and Abiram swallowed up by earthquake, and Korah and his company consumed by fire from the Lord, yet today they break out into rebellion again. Warnings seem to be utterly lost upon them. "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck," &c. (Pro ).
2. Base ingratitude to Moses and Aaron. "They murmured against Moses and against Aaron," &c. It seems as if the people believed "that Moses and Aaron had used some cunning in this business, and that the earthquake and fire were artificial; else, had they discerned the hand of God in this punishment, could they have dared the anger of the Lord in the very face of justice?" Their charge against Moses and Aaron was utterly unjust and basely ungrateful. It was owing to the intercession of these holy men (Num ) that the whole congregation was not consumed; yet, &c.
3. Profane characterization of the wicked as the people of God They speak of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their confederates, as "the people of the Lord." Thus they justify the ungodly; they canonise the most stout hearted rebels as saints of the Lord. This rebellion seems to us the worst which has arisen in the history of this rebellious people. The time of its occurrence—immediately after most awful judgments; the form which it assumed, this malicious charge against Moses and Aaron; and its reason, their sympathy with hardened rebels whom God had destroyed, render this rebellion one of fearful aggravations How powerless are the sternest judgments to change men's sinful hearts, or effectually to restrain from sin! Only the grace of God can do this.
II. The speedy interposition of Jehovah.
"And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared," &c. (Num ). Thus God interposes by:—
1. The manifestation of His glory. "The cloud covered the tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord appeared." "As the cloud rested continually above the tabernacle during the time of encampment (Num sqq.; Exo 40:38), we must suppose that at this time the cloud covered it in a fuller and much more conspicuous sense, just as it had done when the tabernacle was first erected (Num 9:15; Exo 40:34), and that at the same time the glory of God burst forth from the dark cloud in a miraculous splendour."—Keil and Del. This was done for—
(1) A security to His servants.
(2) A check to the rebeis.
2. The declaration of the desert of the rebels. "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment." Had they been so consumed, who could have questioned the righteousness of their doom?
III. The effectual intercession of Moses and Aaron.
When God spake to Moses about consuming the congregation, he and Aaron "fell upon their faces" in humble and earnest prayer to Him for the guilty people. Moses discovered that the plague had begun; he directed Aaron to "take a censer and put fire therein from off the altar," &c. (Num ). Notice here:—
1. The kindness of Moses and Aaron. The congregation had risen up in rebellion against them; this plague was the punishment inflicted by God because of the rebellion; yet Moses and Aaron entreated God to spare the rebellious people. Freely they forgive them. Their conduct reminds us of Him who prayed, "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." (a)
2. The courage of Aaron. He feared neither the excited people who were embittered against him, nor the pestilence which was smiting down the people by thousands; but "ran into the midst of the congregation," &c.
3. The zeal of Aaron. He was now an old man, yet he "ran into the midst," &c. An example for Christian ministers.
4. The success of Aaron. "The plague was stayed." His intercession was accepted by God, and it availed to arrest the advance of the pestilence. In this we have very striking confirmation of his priesthood. "Compare the censer of Aaron here with ‘the censers of those sinners against their own souls.' Those provoked God's anger, this pacified it; those destroyed men's lives, this saved them; no room therefore is left to doubt of Aaron's call to the priesthood."
How great is the power of prayer! (Jas ). (b)
If God thus respected the sacrifice and intercession of Aaron, how great must be the efficacy of the sacrifice and intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ!
IV. The exercise of the justice and mercy of God.
1. Here is an impressive display of Divine justice. "They that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred." (c)
2. Here is an encouraging manifestation of Divine mercy. Notwithstanding the aggravated and oft-repeated provocations of the people, they were not all destroyed. It was of the Lord's mercies that they were not all consumed. (d)
1. The heinousness of sin.
2. The great value of a faithful ministry.
3. The readiness of God to forgive sin.
(a) A forgiving spirit is a noble, generous Christian virtue. It takes its rise in that love of God and man which is the fruit of the Spirit and the fulfilling of the law; it is made up of love and forbearance, united with the tenderness of compassion towards those who have injured us, and fortified by some just sense of our own sinfulness and need of forgiveness from God. In the full sense of the thing itself, it consists of the inward spirit of forgiveness and the outward act of reconciliation. It belongs to the heart, just as every other grace has its seat in the inner man. In this view of it, it is the opposite of revenge, which angrily seeks redress for injuries by inflicting injuries in return. It is the inward exercise of kindness and goodwill towards our enemies and those who have wronged us. It is an abhorrence of their wrong, yet a kind regard for the wrongdoer. It cannot be genuine unless it be accompanied by these benevolent emotions, and at a great remove from all bitterness and wrath. God requires that we forgive from the heart. This inward spirit ought to be always in exercise, whatsoever may be the character of those who have injured us, and whatever their present and future conduct. We may feel benevolently towards them, without at all committing ourselves in favour of their conduct or character. They may repeat the injury they have done us every day of their lives, but this does not warrant in us the spirit of malignity or unkindness. We should love them still, and do them good as we have opportunity.—Gardiner Spring, D.D.
(b) The conduct of the eminent and justly celebrated Francke, in the establishment of the hospital and school for the poor, at Halle, near Glaucha, in Saxony, is well known. Having no permanent funds to meet the expenses, it may be easily supposed that the good man would be frequently reduced to great difficulties; at such times the interpositions of the Providence of God were truly remarkable. About Easter, 1696, he knew not where to obtain money for the expenses of the ensuing week; but when their food was reduced to the very last morsel, one thousand crowns were contributed by some entirely unknown person. At another time, all their provisions were exhausted, and the good minister wisely presented his requests to the God of mercy, who careth even for the ravens when they cry. When prayer was over, just as he was taking his seat, a friend from a distance arrived with fifty crowns, which was shortly followed by twenty more. At another period, the workmen wanted thirty crowns, when he remarked that he had no money, but that he trusted in God; scarcely had he uttered the sentence, when, in this moment of necessity, the precise sum arrived. "Another time," says Francke, "all our provision was spent; but in addressing myself to the Lord, I found myself deeply affected with the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily bread;' and my thoughts were fixed in a more special manner upon the words ‘this day,' because on the very same day we had great occasion for it. While I was yet praying, a friend of mine came before my door in a coach, and brought the sum of four hundred crowns."—R. Arvine, A M.
(c) Goodness may punish; nay, it must punish the ill-deserving. A good law punishes; a good judge punishes; and the more certainly because they are good. However inclined to forgive the Divine Lawgiver may be, and however strongly moved to acts of mercy by the tenderness of His own kind nature, justice has claims as well as clemency and compassion. And what shall countervail these righteous demands? Reason cannot; conscience dare not. The whole history of the Divine government is proof that sin cannot go unpunished. The nature of the Deity forbids it; because He is just and righteous as well as good and kind. His law forbids it, and stands forth a pledge to the universe that it knows no such thing as impunity for crime. It is essential to the character of God as Law-giver, that wherever the claims of the law are violated. His authority be enforced by the infliction of its penalty; otherwise it is no longer law, and He no longer Lawgiver.—Gardiner Spring. D D.
(d) The Scriptures everywhere magnify the mercy of God, and speak of it with all possible advantage, as if the Divine nature, which does in all perfections excel every other thing, did in this perfection excel itself. And of this we have a farther conviction, if we but lift up our eyes to God, and then, turning them upon ourselves, begin to consider how many evils and miseries that every day we are exposed to, by His preventing mercy are hindered, or, when they were coming upon us, stopped or turned another way. How oft our punishment has He deferred by His forbearing mercy; or, when it was necessary for our chastisement, mitigated and made light! How oft we have been supported in our afflictions by His comforting mercy, and visited with the light of His countenance, in the exigencies of our soul, and the gloominess of despair! How oft we have been supplied by His relieving mercy in our wants, and, when there was no hand to succour, and no soul to pity us, His arm has been stretched out to lift us from the mire and clay, and, by a providential train of events, brought about our sustenance and support! And, above all, how daily, how hourly, how minutely we offend against Him; and yet, by the power of His pardoning mercy, we are still alive! For, considering the multitude and heinousness of our provocations, "it is of His mercy alone that we are not consumed, and because His compassions fail not. Who so is wise will ponder these things, and He will understand the loving-kindness of the Lord."—Archbishop Tillotson.
THE SIN OF MAN AND THE SALVATION OF GOD
"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Israel's judgments were recorded for our warning; Israel's mercies, for our encouragement. What Israel was, we are; what Israel suffered, we deserve; what Israel enjoyed, in the way of mercy, we may hope for.
The principle of all this is very plain. Human beings placed in the same circumstances act very much in the same manner. They have the same hopes and the same fears, they display the same obduracy and the same guilt; and they can only be saved in the same mysterious manner. And, accordingly, God's methods of grace towards them are essentially the same in all ages. The censer and the incense and the atonement of Aaron may fitly remind us of the work and intercession of our great High Priest.
I. There is an awful controversy between a holy God and a rebellious world.
"There is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun." A sentence of death has been passed upon every soul of man. Many have already perished, &c. The world some of us deem so fair and happy, is nothing better than the camp of Israel;—a scene of mercy, it is true; but yet a scene of misery, terror, and death. Our sin resembles theirs in many aspects, and has the same aggravations.
1. As it directly strikes against the authority and the grace of God, whatever be the form it assumes. Israel professedly murmured against Moses and Aaron, but God viewed it as rebellion against Himself. How different often is sin from what sin appears. "Ye have killed the people of the Lord;" but it was not Moses that killed them, but God Himself.… God struck a blow which no human arm could have inflicted to punish them for their murmurings, and in a moment fourteen thousand and seven hundred die of the plague by His omnipotent hand.
Learn that all sin, whatever form it assumes, is in reality committed against God. When the undutiful child rises against his parent, he rebels against God. When we complain of our circumstances and lot in life, we rebel against God. When we refuse the messages of His mercy, and neglect the great salvation, we rebel against God If the office of Moses and Aaron were so much to be regarded, how much more the work and office of God's beloved Son! Comp. Heb .
Often when we complain of second causes in our afflictions we sin against God. We must take heed how we push God out of His own world. He will be acknowledged in our afflictions as well as in our mercies. Comp. Job . Israel failed here. In reality they justified Korah and his companions in their rebellion, and secretly condemned the judgment of God against them as severe and harsh. But God will be justified when He speaks, and be clear when He judges. He will be acknowledged in the judgments that desolate our families and wring our souls with anguish, as in the mercies which yield unmixed gladness and delight.
2. As it is often committed in the face of frequent and awful warnings. Many deem it hard to believe this obduracy of Israel, and would think it almost too bad to be true. But the man who knows himself believes it all. Which of us has not despised His warnings, trembling one day at His judgments and making light of them the next? in the hour of sickness binding ourselves by solemn vows to His service, and upon the return of health rising to greater heights of iniquity than before?
3. As it is heightened by the experience of God's preserving and upholding mercy.
II. There is at hand a prescribed and Divinely approved remedy.
When wrath was gone out from God, Moses was quick-sighted to discern it, and as prompt to apply the remedy. Yet observe, Moses does not take upon him this reconciliation; he calls upon Aaron to do so. I know not which to admire more, the courage or the mercy of Aaron.
1. That our only escape from threatened wrath is through the mediation and advocacy of our High Priest. As the trembling Israelites found in Aaron an interposer and deliverer, so may we find in Christ a Saviour.
2. That the plan of Salvation by Faith is as efficacious in reality as it is simple in its mode of application.
3. That an immediate application to it is our only protection against certain ruin. "Go quickly."—The late Samuel Thodey.
AN AWFUL PLAGUE AND A SURPRISING REMEDY
The solemn duties devolving upon the ministers of religion can never be too deeply contemplated by themselves, or too seriously considered by their hearers. It is of consequence to us, that we may clearly apprehend our duty; of consequence to them, that by estimating our responsibility they may judge of their own. If both speakers and hearers could see things now as they must see them very soon, when Death has done his office, when the trumpet shall sound, and the books be opened, and the retributions of eternity shall take place, what a change would be produced both in our ministrations and in your worship. (a)
A very noble spirit displayed by Moses and Aaron. They had been deeply injured, yet, &c.
I. An awful spectacle exhibited.
"There is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun." It was awful in itself—awful in its causes—its concomitants—its issues; for after death, the judgment. Awful to see the thousands of Israel in high rebellion against God, to see the countenance maddened with rage, suddenly smitten with disease, then convulsed with anguish, then numbered with the dead.
It was the more awful, as it was not a cursory thing following in the ordinary course of events, but it was a direct judgment immediately following the sin—a fearful visitation tremendously signalising the most hardened and obdurate sinners. What a circle is here of sins and judgments! because the people rose up against Moses and Aaron, therefore God consumed them; and because God consumed them, therefore they rose up against Moses and Aaron; and now their third rebellion draws down a more awful visitation. "Though hand join in hand," &c.
O what has sin done! It has turned angels into demons, man into an heir of wrath, Paradise into a wilderness, &c. Other evils are limited—the destructive forces of nature, the earthquake, the volcano, the deluge, the wide-wasting conflagration, know their bound; they have their period and their issue and their appointed range; but sin has none; it lays waste not here and there a country, but a world. The pestilence fastened only upon the body, and after that had no more that it could do; but sin destroys the soul, by separating it from the Source of Life—nay, it casts both soul and body into hell.
Mark one impressive circumstance. Moses marks the wrath in its very commencement, sees the beginnings of the pestilence, when no other man discerns or suspects it, even as the physician sees disease in what appears to be the ripe bloom of health, or the veteran sailor marks the prelude of the storm before the heavens have lost their brightness. Moses had heard the word of God in the Tabernacle, &c. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him," &c.
There are signs in the moral world of the commencement of evil, and the going forth of wrath, which the wise observer cannot mistake. "The plague is begun." When the man first restrains prayer—when the spirit of the world creeps into the mind of Christians—when they begin to lessen their fear of sin, and to compromise principle, to seek a more accommodating system of religion, to lengthen the creed and shorten the Decalogue—when private prayer is a task, and the minor moralities of life begin to be disregarded—there are fearful symptoms of decay and declension. "The plague is begun."
II. The surprising remedy found.
"Take a censer," &c. Where is the physician who would have recommended this as a cure for the plague? Who would have thought that the appearance of a single priest amidst the dying and the dead should have stopped the progress of the pestilence? Yet the incense and the fire and the oblation accomplish that for Israel which all the wisdom of the Egyptians could never have achieved. Who does not, in like manner, rebel against God's appointed method of pardon? or question the mysterious virtue of Christ's atoning blood, and doubt the efficacy of faith, repentance, and prayer? Who does not say with Naaman, "Are not Abana and Pharpar" &c.?
Mark the promptitude and self-votion of Aaron. He does not pause, does not cavil at the insufficiency of the means, but thrusts himself into the post of danger. He stands boldly between the living and the dead, as one who will either die with them or have them live with him. Type of Him who on Calvary said, "Father forgive them." How promptly He came!
Mark the principles illustrated. There is no cure for the evils which sin has introduced but by a sacrifice of atonement. "Without shedding of blood," &c. And as a new offering could not be presented, he was to take the fire from the altar, the ashes of the morning sacrifice, and put incense upon that in the golden censer. If Aaron's sacrifice be thus accepted, how much more the offering of the great High Priest? "If the blood of bulls and of goats," &c. (Heb .)
But it is not enough that the sacrifice be presented, but prayer must be offered. Beautiful to see, wherever Aaron moved, Death retire and Hope revive. More so to see the spiritually dead quickened (Eph ).
III. A practical application demanded.
1. What infinite solemnity attaches to all the offices of religion. Death and life are involved. The two hundred and fifty men that offered incense perished: their spirit was bad. What if we bring strange fire! Aaron's offering saves life. If awful to preach, so also to hear.
2. How dreadful if the plague be in the heart, and we, unconscious of danger, neglect the remedy. "Examine yourselves."
3. What need ministers have for the prayers and sympathies of their people. The whole camp looks to Moses and Aaron. We have all the infirmities of which you complain; we are exposed to the infection. &c.
4. Rejoice in the absolute sufficiency of salvation applied by the Spirit.—Samuel Thodey.
(a) I know not what others think of these concerns, but for my own part I am ashamed of my insensibility, and wonder at myself that I deal no more with my own and other men's souls as becomes one who looks for the great day of the Lord. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smites me that I have not been more serious and fervent. It is no trifling matter to stand up in the face of a congregation and deliver a message of salvation or damnation as from the living God in the name of the Redeemer: it is no easy thing to speak so plainly that the most ignorant may understand; so seriously that the deadest heart may feel; and so convincingly that contradictory cavillers may be silenced and awakened.—Richard Baxter.
THE HIGH PRIEST STANDING BETWEEN THE DEAD AND THE LIVING
I desire to use the picture before us as a great spiritual type of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for that erring multitude of the sons of man who "like sheep have gone astray, and have turned every one to his own way."
I. Look at Aaron as the lover of the people.
In this case he was the aggrieved party. The clamour was made against Moses and against Aaron, yet it was Moses and Aaron who interceded and saved the people. The old man with generous love hastened into the midst of the people, &c. Is not this the very picture of our Lord Jesus? Had not sin dishonoured Him? &c. Yet He becomes the Saviour of His people.
"Down from the shining seats above, With joyful haste He fled," &c.
Aaron in thus coming forward as the deliverer and lover of the people, must have remembered that he was abhorred by this very people. They were seeking his blood, &c. But into the midst of their crowd he boldly springs (comp. Joh ). Jesus transcends Aaron; Aaron might have feared death at the hands of the people; Jesus Christ did actually meet it, and yet there He stood even in the hour of death, waving His censer, staying the plague, &c.
Again, Aaron might have said, "But the Lord will surely destroy me also with the people; if I go where shafts of death are flying they will reach me." He exposes his own person in the very forefront of the destroying one.… The plague which Jesus kept from us slew Him. "The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all."
Aaron deserves much commendation from the fact that he ran into the host. That little fact of his running is highly significant, for it shows the greatness and swiftness of the divine impulse of love that was within. And was it not so with Christ?.… While I look with admiration upon Aaron, I must look with adoration upon Christ.
II. View Aaron as the great propitiator.
Wrath had gone out from God against the people on account of their sin, &c.
Aaron as the Propitiator is to be looked at as bearing in his censer that which was necessary for the propitiation. Even though God's high priest, he must take the censer, &c. Behold the Great High Priest! His incense consists first of His positive obedience to the Divine law. Then mixed with this is His blood, &c. Our faith is fixed on perfect righteousness and complete atonement.
Besides that, Aaron must be the ordained priest; for mark, two hundred and fifty men fell in doing the act which Aaron did. Aaron's act saved others; their act destroyed themselves. So Jesus, the propitiator, is to be looked upon as the ordained One, &c. Comp. Heb . None but Jesus; all other priests and offerings we disdain.
We must look upon Aaron as being ready for his work. The people were ready to perish, and he was ready to save. Oh, my hearer, Jesus Christ stands ready to save thee now. Trust Him.
III. View Aaron as the interposer.
The old Westminster Annotations say upon this passage, "The plague was moving among the people as the fire moveth along a field of corn." Aaron wisely puts himself just in the pathway of the plague, interposing himself between the darts of death and the people. Just so was it with Christ. Wrath had gone out against us. "The stripes must fall on Me," He cries. There is nothing between me and hell save Christ. But He is enough. There is nothing which can save the soul of man, save Jesus Christ standing between that soul and the just judgment of God.
IV. View Aaron as the saviour.
It was Aaron, Aaron's censer, that saved the lives of that great multitude. Aaron, and especially the Lord Jesus, must be looked upon as a gracious Saviour. It was nothing but love that moved Aaron, &c. If Christ hath saved us He is a gracious Saviour indeed. There is nothing in any man to commend him to God, &c.
Aaron was an unaided saviour. He stands alone! And herein is he a great type of Christ, who could say, "I have trodden the winepress alone," &c. "There is none other name under heaven," &c.
Aaron as a saviour was all-sufficient. Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour, able to save; you cannot save yourself, but He can save you. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool," &c.
V. Aaron as the divider.
Aaron the anointed one stands here; on that side is death, on this side life; the boundary between life and death is that one man.… The one great division between those who are God's people and those who are not, is Christ. A man in Christ is a Christian: a man out of Christ is dead in trespasses and sins. On which side, then, art thou to-day?
As Christ is the great divider now, so will He be in the day of judgment. He shall divide them the one from the other, &c. Oh! on which side shall I be when all these transitory things are done away with? &c.—C. H. Spurgeon.
AARON STAYING THE PLAGUE
Open with a brief account of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and the awful punishment which befel them from God. The people on the next day as rebellious as before. The plague begun. Aaron's intercession;—
I. The willingness of Aaron to intercede.
He "ran into the midst," &c., though at this time of great age, above one hundred years. And this willingness will be more manifest, if we observe that he was—
1. Regardless of the plague; he feared not the contagion.
2. Regardless of the people's enmity; he dreaded not their malice; and forgave the injuries they had done him.
Show how in these respects Aaron was an eminent type of the Lord Jesus. The plague of sin had laid hold of our race; yet see the willingness of Jesus to come (Psa ). "Lo, I come."
1. He shrank not from us because of our pollution (Rom ; Heb 2:14-17). Nay, He took upon Him our curse (Gal 3:13; Isaiah 53). Our guilt and perishing condition that which moved His compassion.
2. He did not abandon His work because of our enmity, but though continually despised, rejected, &c., endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself (Heb ; Rom 15:3), and would not be turned from His purpose of love.
II. The nature of Aaron's intercession.
He took fire from the altar of burnt offering, where the fire was always burning; and he put incense upon the fire, that a sweet savour of atonement might ascend to God. So Jesus offers the sacrifice of His own most precious blood, and perfumes it with the incense of His all-sufficient merit. The sacrifice of Jesus ever new; the fire always burning. Jesus interposes between the wrath of God and the perishing sinner. "Father forgive them," &c. "He made intercession for the transgressors." Enlarge upon the intercession of Jesus,—its constancy, its freeness—spontaneous.
III. The success of Aaron's intercession.
Aaron's incense more powerful to procure pardon, than the people's guilt to call down punishment. The Lord smelled a sweet savour, and turned away His wrathful indignation.
Observe, the plague was stayed. Aaron did not give over interceding until the plague had ceased. So Jesus will never give over interceding for a penitent believer, until the plague of sin is perfectly done away. And will never give over interceding for His Church, until every member of it has entered glory.
1. Let us tremble at the wrath of an offended God. Address the sinner. "Who can stand before this HOLY LORD GOD?" What wilt thou do in the day of visitation? No intercessor then.
2. Let us rejoice in the intercession of our Great High Priest. What need we any other mediators besides Him? Look at Korah and his company; were their intercessions received? And why not? They were not the appointed mediators. Why, then, go to saints and angels—the Virgin Mary?—J. D. Lane, M.A.
THE PLAGUE STAYED
I. The evil.
Murmuring against God. Dissatisfaction with God—His government, &c. Now this is the essence of all sin. Holiness is harmony—agreement with God. Sin, disagreement and murmuring. So it was with the first sin, and every sin since. This leads to irreverence, complaining, and audacious presumption. How these abound—
1. In profane swearing,—horrid imprecations.
2. In Sabbath profanation. Counted as no sin.
3. In gross intemperance.
4. In general profligacy.
5. In scepticism. Denying God's government, &c.
6. In recklessness—amidst Divine judgments.
What a sight for a holy God to behold! I come back to the first idea:—All sin is contrariety to God—dissatisfaction with God; and hence, rebellion against His government.
II. The punishment.
1. Divine. God did it. No magistrate. No human pain or penalty. God immediately did it. Often sin mediately is its own punishment; but sometimes direct, &c.
2. It was by the plague. We do not know precisely what it was. Some sudden disease, which swept all before it. It was, however, evidently—
(1) Fatal. Destroyed life.
(2) Speedily so. Like a blast of wind, &c.
(3) Invariably so. No one knew of a remedy.
How analogous is the nature and effect of sin!
(1) Sin is the disease of the soul.
(2) It is deadly in three senses—temporal, spiritual, and eternal.
(3) There is for it no human remedy. All human skill, &c. failed.
III. The remedy.
1. In itself, not apparently adapted. Doubtless, the air was charged with death. But the incense was not possibly adapted to decompose, and change, and purify.
2. It was connected with pious intercession. In which there was confession of sin, admission of the justice of God, and the Divine mercy was implored. It was a direct appeal to God.
3. It was intercession grounded on sacrifice. By the priest, in view of the victims presented to God.
4. It was efficient. Completely. At once.
Let us now turn to the great remedy for sin. It is,
(1) Not what human philosophy would have recommended.
(2) It is essentially connected with the priestly work of Christ. His obedience, sacrifice, resurrection, ascension, intercession.
(3) It is effectual. The curse removed, wrath averted, mercy published, life offered. None need now die, no, not one. The connecting link between a guilty world and the remedy is, on God's part, the preaching of the Word; on our part, believing the Word so preached; by which repentance, humiliation of soul, and devotedness to God, are secured. Learn,—
1. The extreme evil of sin.
2. The riches of the grace of God.
3. The immediate duty of the sinner; to call earnestly on the Lord.—Jabes Burns, D.D.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/numbers-16.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
This is a most interesting Chapter, not merely as an historical relation of man's rebellion and GOD'S awful judgments following, but principally as herein we behold as glorious a representation, typically considered, as perhaps the Old Testament scripture contains of JESUS, represented by Aaron exercising his priestly office of intercessor, and by his person and righteousness making atonement for the sins of his people. In the perusal of this Chapter throughout, let the Reader remember our motto, Moses wrote of JESUS. The Chapter contains the rebellion of Korah and his company, in contending for the priesthood: the awful inference of GOD: the dreadful visitation on the rebels, by the LORD'S doing a new thing and causing the earth to open her mouth and swallow up the insurgents; and by fire at the same time consuming those that had dared to take upon them the priestly office of burning incense. The Chapter further relates, that these judgments having tended to harden the minds of the rebels, and their ill-conduct breaking out afresh, the LORD smote them by pestilence. Aaron is commanded by Moses to offer incense for the people until the plague was stayed.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/numbers-16.html. 1828.
Korah was head of a family as well as Dathan and Abiram; and as they were joined by no less than 250 princes of the assembly of the highest order of the people, the rebellion became of consequence the more formidable. Alas! in the rebellions of our nature against the LORD and his righteous government, how often do we discover or may discover, that our highest faculties are engaged on the side of sin. The prophet was commissioned by the HOLY GHOST to sketch the character of the church, in this prostitution of divine gifts to the very reverse of what they ought to have been dedicated to, when she ascribed to the gift of her sinful lovers and not to the LORD her husband, her water, and wool, and flax, and oil, and drink. See the prophet's account of it: Hosea 2:5-8.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/numbers-16.html. 1828.
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.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/numbers-16.html. 1857.
Korah . . . Dathan, and Abiram . . . gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
I. The rebels.
II. Their sin. Rebellion against the authority of God which was invested in Moses.
1. Cause in Korah (see Numbers 3:30); whence it appears that for some unexplained cause a younger relative was appointed to the headship of the Kohathites. Korah was descended from the second son of Kohath (Numbers 6:18), whilst the present head was descended from the fourth son.
2. Cause in Dathan and Abiram. The priesthood transferred from the first-born of every family to one particular tribe, and that a branch of the house of Moses. But this was done by command of God, not of Moses alone.
3. Cause in the two hundred and fifty. Their own assumed rights might be interfered with, so they thought.
4. Cause in their followers. General dissatisfaction. They charged upon Moses the effects of their own selfishness. Pride in all of them.
III. Their punishment.
1. Of Divine selection. Left on both sides to Divine arbitration. On the part of the rebels, a defiance; on the side of Moses, humble agreement.
2. Manifest. All should see it, and know thereby the Divine will.
3. Of Divine infliction. God took the matter into His own hands. It was a rebellion against Him, more than Moses.
All pertaining to them perished. God could do without men who had thought so much of themselves. Learn:
1. “Our God is a consuming fire.” “A fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
2. Beware of resisting Divine authority. “How shall ye escape,” &c.
3. Have we not all rebelled?
4. God was in Christ, making reconciliation, &c. (J. C. Gray.)
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
The particular characters of these three men, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, are not given in Scripture; but they seem to represent generally all those who rise up against the powers ordained of God: Korah the Levite against Aaron; Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben against Moses; but both conspiracies being combined together, indicates that it is the same temper of mind which rejects the ordinances of God whether it be in Church or State. Their sin was like that of the fallen angels who from envy, it is supposed, arose against the Son of God. But let us consider how far the case is applicable to ourselves now; as it is in some degree peculiar; for Moses and Aaron had their authority all along confirmed of God by outward signs and miracles. Add to which that their characters were such as less than any other to justify opposition or envy. For Moses was the meekest of men; and Aaron was inoffensive in all his conduct toward them. Their pre-eminence, too, was in hardship rather than in wealth or worldly power: in journeyings in the wilderness, not in the riches of Canaan. But these circumstances do not in fact prevent the application to ourselves; for the Pharisees afterwards had no miracles to prove their authority from God; and moreover they were great oppressors, covetous and cruel: yet our Lord says of them, “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do”; and this He says at the very time when He is cautioning His disciples against their wickedness. They had to obey the ordinance of God, though it had neither outward sign nor holiness to support it. Nor indeed is the presence of God denied by the company of Korah as being vouchsafed to them under the guidance of Moses and Aaron; they say that “the Lord is among them,” as He was seen in the pillar of fire and the cloud, in the holy tabernacle, in the manna from heaven: but what they complained of was the want of visible fruits and enjoyments, “Thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey”; “Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?” as men may say now, “We see not our tokens”; where are our spiritual privileges? where is the fulfilment of all the glorious things which the prophets have spoken of the Christian Church? But if this case is of universal application and for general warning, then the question will arise, are there no allowances, no limitations, to be made; and is there no relief in the case of oppressive governors and bad pastors? must all resistance be like that of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, displeasing to God? and is it never without sin? Let us consider this a little more particularly. If such powers are of God, then He gives such as are suitable to the people over whom they are placed; not necessarily such as they like, but such as are good for them to have, and such as they deserve. For instance, the Roman emperors during the early days of Christianity, were many of them monsters of cruelty and wickedness; but when we come to inquire into the character of the people over whom they were placed, we find the corruption of morals so deep and extensive that they were as bad as the tyrants that governed them. And it was to these Romans and living under some of the worst of these governors that St. Paul says, “Let every one be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.” And St. Peter unto Christians under the same rule, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him.” Moreover, in consequence of this, we find in Scripture that kings and people are often together condemned and visited alike. Pharaoh and Egypt both together oppressed Israel; both hardened their hearts; both were cut off together. The same order of Divine providence applies also to spiritual governors; it is so with the Church of God in all times and places; the angels of the Churches and the Churches themselves are tended on, and in each case addressed together as one by their Lord, who has the seven stars in His hand, while He walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. We may therefore consider it as a general law of God’s providence, that their rulers both spiritual and temporal will be such as the people are worthy of; that if they need better rulers, the only way in which this can be produced efficiently and effectively, is by becoming better themselves. But a case of difficulty which may arise is this, if a signal repentance should take place among the people, the spirit of grace and supplication should be poured out upon them, and there should be a general awakening; then the deficiency of their pastors and rulers will come before them in a striking light; and then will be their great temptation to take the amendment of such things into their own hands. But yet not well nor wisely. Surely no reformation can be equal to that which took place suddenly and simultaneously, when the disciples of Christ were yet under the Scribes and Pharisees, yet He said, as they sat in Moses’ seat they must be obeyed. Or again, when the apostles wrote to Christians, that they must submit themselves to the powers that be, while those powers were the most corrupt of heathen governments. It is true that the change had not then become extensive, or leavened the general state of society, but the law of God’s providence was the same, for it was the gradual progress of that change which would bring over them in God’s own good time their own true governors, such as were meet for them. And in the meanwhile those evil rulers formed a part of that discipline of faith by which they were perfected and established, being purified thereby as gold in the fire. Moreover, it is observed that the Church of God has flourished more under heathen than under its own Christian rulers. This consideration may allay our impatience; we are at best so weak and frail that we need the iron rod more than the golden sceptre; in our present state the Cross is more suited for us than the crown. In prosperity we lean on an arm of flesh, and are weakened; in adversity we lean on God, and are strengthened. But then it may be said that there is a case far more grievous than this, that of evil ministers in the Church itself, whether it be of chief pastors, or of those in their own nearer and subordinate sphere. These are trials peculiarly heavy to a good man; and there are some cases which can only be considered as severe visitations of God, and the scourge of sin. But if God does not afford the power of remedying this great evil, then the same law of patience must be applied. In one ruler or pastor you may read God’s wrath, in another His love. You cannot reject either; take His wrath in meekness, and He may show you His love. And in the meanwhile, with regard to any particular case of great trial, we must practise forbearance, and God will remember us in His own good time. This duty of meekness and patience applies to a case so far as it is one we cannot remedy, like any evil or scourge that comes to us from God’s hand, we must take it as our punishment from Him. But then it may be said, when the case is one that implies grievous sin, an example which dishonours God, corrupts Christ’s little ones, and poisons the fount of life, are we to acquiesce in this? Does not the love of God constrain us not to resign ourselves to such evil--to lift up our voice and cry--to move heaven and earth? This is most true: for surely there is a remedy with God. When He has forbidden one way of redress, He has pointed out another and a better. Our Lord has pointed out the one and only way, and that is the way of prayer. He did not even Himself send forth apostles without it. Many are cast down because the Church is in bonds. It can neither appoint for itself suitable pastors, nor set aside evil ministers, nor manage its own affairs, and the government of it is falling into the hands of its enemies. But these are not the g, eat evils to be feared; the one great cause for apprehension is this, whether in the body of the Church at large the spirit of prayer is sufficiently strong to cast off all these impediments; for where prayer is, all such evils from without are thrown off, even as in the spring of the year nature throws off all the chains of winter. The imprisoned eagle may even yet soar aloft, and unfold her wing in the free expanse of heaven. (Isaac Williams, B. D.)
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
I. The sin.
1. A jealousy of the privileges and positions of God’s appointed priesthood.
2. A lack of reverence for sacred things.
3. An unauthorised and presumptuous intrusion into Divine mysteries.
II. The conviction.
1. Moses acted wisely.
III. The punishment.
1. It destroyed the guilty.
2. It involved the innocent.
3. It was deterrent in its tendency.
1. The fatal consequences of extreme irreverence.
2. Before we find fault with others we should take heed to ourselves.
3. All who attempt to get to heaven through their own efforts, instead of by the merits of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, shall share the fate of these wicked men. (Preacher’s Analyst.)
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
I. The sin of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was this: they were discontented with the arrangement made for public worship by the choosing out of Aaron and his family to be priests. The argument they used was a very plausible one, because it depended upon the great truth of the Lord’s being with all His people, consecrating and sanctifying them all, making them all in a certain sense holy to the Lord, in a certain sense priests. It also flattered the vanity of the people, and strengthened them in the notion that they were oppressed by their rulers.
II. The answer to this argument was that Moses and Aaron had not lifted themselves up at all; the Lord had lifted then up. This was the answer which was ultimately given, with very terrible emphasis, by the swallowing up of Korah and his company. Korah and his company had laid great stress on the fact that all the congregation of the Lord were holy. Moses and Aaron might very well have replied, that they for their part by no means questioned the fact. Moses had never represented the choice of Aaron and his family as a declaration that they only of the people were holy. Nothing could be a greater mistake on the part of the people than to take this view of the priestly consecration.
III. Between our own priesthood and that of the Israelites there is still the great common ground of ministry before God in behalf of others which must be at the basis of every religion. Hence both priest and people may learn a lesson. The priest may learn that his office does not imply that he is holier or better than his brethren, but that it does imply greater responsibility, greater opportunities of good, greater sin if he does evil. And the people may learn to be gentle and considerate to those who are over them in the Lord, not to be ready to find fault and condemn, but rather to be charitable, and forbearing, and gentle. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
God has brought the Israelites out of Egypt. One of the first lessons which they have to learn is, that freedom does mean license and discord--does not mean every one doing that which is right in his own eyes. From that springs self-will, division, quarrels, revolt, civil war, weakness, profligacy, and ruin to the whole people. Without order, discipline, obedience to law, there can be no true and lasting freedom; and therefore order must be kept at all risks, the law obeyed, and rebellion punished. Now rebellion ought to be punished far more severely in some cases than in others. If men rebel here, in Great Britain or Ireland, we smile at them, and let them off with a slight imprisonment, because we are not afraid of them. They can do no harm. Bat there are cases.in which rebellion must be punished with a swift and sharp hand. On board a ship at sea, for instance, where the safety of the whole ship, the lives of the whole crew, depend on instant obedience, mutiny may be punished by death on the spot. And so it was with the Israelites in the desert. All depended on their obedience. The word must be, Obey or die. As for any cruelty in putting Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to death, it was worth the death of a hundred such--or a thousand--to preserve the great and glorious nation of the Jews to be the teachers of the world. Moses was not their king. God brought them out of Egypt, God was their king. That was the lesson which they had to learn, and to teach other nations also. And so not Moses, but God must punish, and show that He is not a dead, but a living God, who can defend Himself, and enforce His own laws, and execute judgment, without needing any man to fight His battles for Him. And God does so. The powers of nature--the earthquake and the nether fire--shall punish these rebels; and so they do. Men have thought differently of the story; but I call it a righteous story, and one which agrees with my conscience, and my reason, and my experience also of the way in which God’s world is governed until this day. What, then, are we to think of the earth opening and swallowing them up? This first. That discipline and order are so absolutely necessary for the well-being of a nation that they must be kept at all risks, and enforced by the most terrible punishments. But how hard, some may think, that the wives and the children should suffer for their parents’ sins. We do not know that a single woman or child died then for whom it was not better that he or she should die. And next--what is it, after all, but what we see going on round us all the day long? God does visit the sins of the fathers on the children. But there was another lesson, and a deep lesson, in the earthquake and in the fire. “Who sends the earthquake and the fire? Do they come from the devil--the destroyer? Do they come by chance, from some brute and blind powers of nature?” This chapter answers, “No; they come from the Lord, from whom all good things do come; from the Lord who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt; who so loved the world that He spared not His only-begotten Son, but freely gave Him for us.” Now I say that is a gospel which we want now as much as ever men did; which the children of Israel wanted then, though not one whit more than we. You cannot read your Bibles without seeing how that great lesson was stamped into the very hearts of the Hebrew prophets; how they are continually speaking of the fire and the earthquake, and yet continually declaring that they too obey God and do God’s will, and that the man who fears God need not fear them--that God was their hope and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore would they not fear, though the earth was moved, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. And we, too, need the same lesson in these scientific days. We too need to fix it in our hearts, that the powers of nature are the powers of God; that He orders them by His providence to do what He will, and when and where He will; that, as the Psalmist says, the winds are His messengers and the flames of fire His ministers. And this we shall learn from the Bible, and from no other book whatsoever. God taught the Jews this by a strange and miraculous education, that they might teach it in their turn to all mankind. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
God was pleased under the old, as He has done under the present dispensation, to constitute the priesthood of His Church, in accordance with that principle of orderly arrangement which runs through all His ways, in a threefold order, with a regular distribution and gradation of powers from the lowest to the highest. But the wisdom of men does not quietly acquiesce in God’s wisdom when it goes counter to the interests, impulses, and aspirations of self-love. Men are easily brought to doubt the divinity of a system that sets others over them, and assigns them only an inferior station, even though that be honourable and good. The spirit of discontent and rebellion broke out even in the life of Aaron, and during the sojourn in the wilderness. Even thus early did the presumption of man dare to criticise and amend the institutions of God, and under the guise of a zeal for liberty and for right, the favourite pretext of ambition and selfishness, to break the order which God had established, and substitute devices of its own creation. Korah was a Levite, but he aspired also to be a priest, and could not acquiesce in those limitations, which, what he may have called the accident of birth and the arbitrary restraints of the Law, imposed upon him. And he easily drew to him associates in his nefarious enterprise. The sedition was wide-spread, and threatened the most fatal consequences. Jealousy of power and place is contagious, and always finds an answering sentiment in many hearts. Broach it once among any body of men, and it will run “like sparks among the stubble.” Equality and the lowering of eminence and distinction, and disregard of law, are popular doctrines, and easily clothe themselves in specious forms. It is alleged that all society is sacred; there is, there ought to be, no special sacredness in any in eminent place, which inferiors in office or men in private condition are bound to recognise and respect. Thus the bonds of social order in the Church, in the State, are loosened and destroyed. We stand on the dignity of human nature, and the spiritual equality of all Christians: we can have no rulers, we will brook no superiors, we will obey no restrictions--the spurious pleas of presumptuous self-will and ambition, in the State and in the Church, in all ages. God, however, quickly interfered in this instance, to vindicate and protect His own appointments, and keep that sacred polity which His wisdom had provided for His Church from being trampled on and destroyed. What, then, is this “gainsaying of Core” to us? and what may we learn from it that is profitable for admonition and instruction in righteousness?
1. We learn the sacredness of the ministry, and of its divinely appointed order Every man was to know his place and to keep it, and to do the duty of his place and none other, and not, on some specious plea of a higher fitness or a larger usefulness, intrude on work which God had given to others. Now, here are great principles, and these are applicable to the Church in all her periods and in all her forms. There is a ministry now in the Church, and it is there not because man made it, but God. “Let a man,” says St. Paul, “so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” They hold their place, if they are really anything at all, by a Divine commission. Without a ministry recognised as truly Divine, there will never be religious stability, nor long, religious life and true Christian morals. And when these are gone, civil liberty and political order will not last long. And the first, the fatal step towards these dreadful losses is taken when that constitution of the ministry which Christ appointed is changed, and the sacred office begins to be looked upon as a thing which men may mould and alter to their convenience and their fancy.
2. But we must spare a little space for the broader lesson which this “gainsaying of Core” teaches us, namely, that in the social system, we all, ministers and laymen, especially ministers, have our place, which is appointed us of God, and our true wisdom and happiness lie in knowing what it is, and keeping in it. Korah had a place, and a very good place, but he did not like it. He sought a better by unlawful means, and he lost all, and “left his name for a curse unto God’s chosen.” He forgot that God had assigned him his place, and that contentment in it was a part of his religious obedience, the service that God required at his hands. How full this world is of restless and uncomfortable aspirings! Men see around them higher places, happier ones as they think; places that are certainly grander, that shine more, that seem to contain a greater plenitude of good, and to open larger sources of pleasure and enjoyment. They are discontented. They are envious. They get very little comfort from what they have by reason of their uneasy hankerings after what they have not. The true antidote of this great evil is faith; faith in God and in His overruling Providence; faith in the Divine order into which we find ourselves wrought, faith in the social economy under which we live as a Divine structure and appointment; faith in our own assignment to that place and those relations in it, which, whatever we may think of them, are the mind of God concerning us, the work of that great fashioning Hand which “ordereth all things in heaven and earth,” and which appoints to all inferior agents their place and their work, not in caprice, not in cruelty, not in partiality, not in a reckless disregard of their rights and their welfare, but in wisdom, in equity, in benevolence, for His glory and the greatest good of the greatest number of His creatures. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Whatsoever evil men do, they are ready to justify it
When evil men have committed evil, they are ready to justify their evils that they may seem good. We see this in Saul, 1 Samuel 13:11; 1 Samuel 31:12; 1 Samuel 15:15; John 12:5-6. Judas pretended the poor and his great care of them; albeit he cared not for them, but for himself.
1. For men are affected to their actions as they are to themselves. Though they be corrupt, yet they would not be thought to be so; and therefore they seek excuses for themselves, as Adam did fig leaves to cover his shame and his sin.
2. If they should pretend nothing, all would be ready to condemn them; therefore, to blind the eyes of others, they cast a mist before them as jugglers used to do that they may not be espied.
1. This serveth to reprove divers sorts that go about to varnish their actions with false colours, thereby to blind the world and to put out their eyes. These show themselves to be rank hypocrites.
2. We are to judge no otherwise of all such as transgress the law of God, whatsoever their allegations be. How many men are there that think even palpable sins to be no sins at all, because they can blanch and colour them over! (W. Attersoll.)
Elevated character exposed to violence
Some years ago I went to see the lighthouse which, standing on Dunnet Head--the Cape Orcas of the Romans--guards the mouth of the Pentland Firth. On ascending the tower, I observed the thick plate-glass windows of the lanthorn cracked--starred in a number of places. I turned to the keeper for an explanation. It appears that is done by stones flung up by the sea. The wave, on being thrown forward against the cliff, strikes it with such tremendous force as to hurl the loose stones at its base right up to the height of 300 feet. So are the great light-bearers, by the exposure of their position, and in spite of the elevation of their character, liable to be cracked and starred by the violence of the world. (T. Guthrie.)
Seek ye the priesthood also?--
Wicked ambition faith fully rebuked
I. The greatness of the privileges conferred upon the Levites.
II. The unrighteousness of the ambition cherished by them. Their ambition involved--
1. The disparagement of their present privileges. Their privileges “seemed but a small thing unto them.” Great as they were, they did not satisfy them. “Ambition,” says Trapp, “is restless and unsatisfiable; for, like the crocodile, it grows as long as it lives.”
2. Interference in the Divine arrangements. “Seek ye the priesthood also?”
III. The heinousness of the rebellion in which they engaged. Moses points out to them concerning their rebellion that--
1. It was unreasonable. “What is Aaron that ye murmur against him?” The high priest was merely an instrument in the hand of the Lord.
2. It was exceedingly sinful. “Thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord.” “Those resist the prince who resist those that are commissioned by him” (comp. Matthew 10:40; John 13:20; Acts 9:4).
1. Let us crush every rising of ambition which is not in harmony with wisdom and righteousness.
2. Let us seek to give to our ambition a righteous and noble direction. (W. Jones.)
The privileges of the Levites
1. They were separated from the congregation of Israel, distinguished from them, dignified above them; instead of complaining that Aaron’s family was advanced above theirs, they ought to be thankful that their tribe was advanced above, the rest of the tribes, though they had been in all respects upon the level with them. Note, it will help to keep us from envying those that are above us, duly to consider how many there are above whom we are placed. Many perhaps who deserve better are not preferred so well.
2. They were separated to very great and valuable honours.
3. He convicts them of the sin of under valuing these privileges, “Seemeth it a small thing unto you?” It ill becomes you, of all men, to grudge Aaron the priesthood, when at the same time that he was advanced to that honour, you were designed to another honour dependent upon it, and shine with rays borrowed from him. Note:
4. He interprets their mutiny to be a rebellion against God (Numbers 16:1). While they pretended to assert the holiness and liberty of the Israel of God, they really took up arms against the God of Israel: “Ye are gathered together against the Lord.” Note, those that strive against God’s ordinances and providences, whatever they pretend, and whether they are aware of it or no, do indeed strive with their Maker. Those resist the prince who resist those that are commissioned by him. For alas! saith Moses, “What is Aaron that ye murmur against him?” If murmurers and complainers would consider that the instruments they quarrel with are but instruments whom God employs, and that they are but what He makes them, and neither more nor less, better nor worse, they would not be so bold and free in their censures and reproaches as they are. They that found the priesthood, as it was settled, a blessing, must give all the praise to God; but if any thought it a burden, they must not therefore quarrel with Aaron, who is but what he is made, and doth as he is bidden. Thus he interested God in the cause, and so might be sure of speeding well in his appeal. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Separation for nearness to God
I. God’s separation of His servants.
1. The demand for this may come with the first Divine call of which the soul is conscious. To one living a worldly life there comes a conviction of the folly of this, which is really a Divine call to rise and pass from it, through surrender to Christ, to the number of the redeemed. But that call is not easy to obey at first. The influences under which we have grown hold us where we are; aims to which we have been devoted, and in which we have much at stake, refuse to be lightly abandoned; old associations and pleasures throw their arms about us, like the family of Bunyan’s pilgrim, detaining us when we would flee; the world’s beauty blinds us to the greater beauty of the spiritual, and we fear to cast ourselves into the unknown.
2. This demand is repeated by God’s constant requirement of His people. For it is the law of spiritual life to “die daily,” to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts”; and what is that but to sever ourselves for Christ’s sake from objects to which the natural man would cleave!
3. And this demand of God is supplemented by His frequent providence. He calls us to voluntary separation, He also separates us whether we will or no. Evidently spiritual life needs much loneliness.
II. This separation is for nearness to Himself.
1. For apprehending God, we need separation from what is wrong. Every turning, however little, towards the world from the demand of conscience is a turning a little more away from God, till He is behind us and we lose sight of Him, and live as though He were not. Yea, sin not only turns the back on Him, it dims the eye to the spiritual so that though He stand before us we are blind to His presence.
2. Besides this, for communion with God we need separation from engrossing scenes and tasks. “How rare it is,” said Fenelon, “to find a soul still enough to hear God speak!”
3. Moreover, for God’s tenderest ministry we need separation from other joys.
III. This is the answer to the spirit of murmuring. Then is the time to think how we are separated for nearness to God, and to hear the question in the text, “Seemeth it but a small thing unto you?”
1. Let it comfort us in enforced severance from what we love. When we reflect on what we are severed from, let us reflect on the rare compensation--what we are severed to. God is the sum of joy, it is heaven to serve Him and to see His face, all else is nothing compared with conscious nearness to Him, and that is our desire and prayer.
2. Let this impel us to seek Divine nearness in the time of our separation. For nearness has not always followed separation in our experience: on the contrary, the seasons of isolation we have referred to have sometimes left us farther from God than we were. May not that be due to the fact that fellowship with Him requires that we go to Him for reception?
3. And let this give us victory over the temptation to cleave to evil. For when we first hear the call to relinquish sin the demand seems too great, as though we were to leave all for nothing. And after our Christian course has begun, it seems impossible to give up many an object we suddenly find forbidden. From what, then, we are called to leave, let us turn to think of what we are called to have. “Fear not, Abram,” God said to the patriarch, who had refused the spoil at the slaughter of the kings, “Fear not, Abram, I am thy exceeding great reward!” And so He says to us, adding, as we waver, Lovest thou these more than Me; are they more to you than My favour, My fellowship, Myself? (C. New.)
The greater our means are to prevent sin, the more we offend if we reject those means
We learn hereby that the more helps we have to prevent sin, the greater our sin is if we break these bands and east these cords from us. The sins of the Israelites are often aggravated, because the Lord had sent His prophets among them (Jeremiah 7:13-14; Jeremiah 11:7-8; Jeremiah 35:14; Psalms 78:17; Psalms 78:31; Psalms 78:35; Psalms 78:56; Matthew 11:21-24; Daniel 9:5-6). The reasons:
1. First, because those men sin against knowledge, having the Word to inform them and their own consciences to convince them.
2. Secondly, it argueth obstinacy of heart; they have many strokes given them, but they feel none of them. For such as transgress in the midst of those helps that serve to restrain sin do not sin of infirmity, but of wilfulness. Now, the more wilful a man is, the more sinful he is.
1. This convinceth our times of much sinfulness, and in these times some places, and in those places sundry persons to be greater sinners than others. And why greater? Because our times have had more means to keep from sin than other times have had. What hath not God done for us and to us to reclaim us? Thus do we turn our blessings to be our bane, and God’s mercies to be curses upon us.
2. Secondly, it admonisheth all that enjoy the means of preventing sin as benefits and blessings, the Scriptures and Word of God, His corrections, His promises and threatenings, His patience and longsufferance, that they labour to make profit by them and to fulfil all righteousness, lest God account their sin greater than others.
3. Lastly, learn from hence that the Word is never preached in vain, whether we be converted by it or not (see Isaiah 55:10-11). (W. Attersoll.)
Every man in his place
In all the departments of life there are men who are as Moses and Aaron. Take any department of life that may first occur to the imagination. Shall we say the department of commerce? Even in the market-place we have Moses and Aaron, and they cannot be deposed. Where is the man who thinks he could not conduct the largest business in the city? Yet the poor cripple could not conduct it, and the greatest punishment that could befall the creature would be to allow him to attempt to rule a large and intricate commercial concern. But it seems to be hard for a man to see some other man at the very head of commercial affairs whose word is law, whose signature amounts to a species of sovereignty, and to know that all the while he, the observer, is, in his own estimation, quite as good a man--a person of remarkable capacity, and he is only waiting for an opportunity to wear a nimbus of glory--a halo of radiance--that would astound the exchanges of the world. But it cannot be done. There are great business men and small business men: there are wholesale men and retail men, and neither the wholesale nor the retail affects the quality of the man’s soul, or the destiny of the man’s spirit; but, as a matter of fact, these distinctions are made, and they are not arbitrary: in the spirit of them there is a Divine presence. If men could believe this, they would be comforted accordingly. Every preacher knows in his inmost soul that he is fit to be the Dean of St. Paul’s, or the Dean of Westminster--every preacher knows that; but to be something less--something officially lower--and yet to accept the inferior position with a contentment which is inspired by faith in God, is the very conquest of the Spirit of heaven in the heart of man, is a very miracle of grace. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Leaders of disaffection
It is always a most critical moment in the history of an assembly when a spirit of disaffection displays itself; for, if it be not met in the right way, the most disastrous consequences are sure to follow. There are materials in every assembly capable of being acted upon, and it only needs some restless master spirit to arise, in order to work on such materials, and fan into a devouring flame the fire that has been smouldering in secret. There are hundreds and thousands ready to flock around the standard of revolt, when once it has been raised, who have neither the vigour nor the courage to raise it themselves. It is not every one that Satan will take up as an instrument in such work. It needs a shrewd, clever, energetic man--a man of moral power--one possessing influence over the minds of his fellows, and an iron will to carry forward his schemes. No doubt Satan infuses much of all these into the men whom he uses in his diabolical undertakings. At all events, we know, as a fact, that the great leaders in all rebellious movements are generally men of master minds, capable of swaying, according to their own will, the fickle multitude, which, like the ocean, is acted upon by every stormy wind that blows. Such men know how, in the first place, to stir the passions of the people; and, in the second place, how to wield them when stirred. Their most potent agency--the lever with which they can most effectually raise the masses--is some question as to their liberty and their rights. If they can only succeed in persuading people that their liberty is curtailed, and their rights infringed, they are sure to gather a number of restless spirits around them, and do a vast deal of serious mischief. (C. H. Mackintosh.)
Discontent a rebellion against God
God counts it rebellion (cf. Numbers 17:10). Murmuring is but as the smoke of a fire; there is first a smoke and a smother before the flame breaks forth: and so before open rebellion in a kingdom there is first a smoke of murmuring, and then it breaks forth into open rebellion. Because it has rebellion in the seeds of it, it is counted before the Lord to be rebellion. When thou feelest thy heart discontented and murmuring against the dispensation of God toward thee, thou shouldest check thy heart thus: “Oh! thou wretched heart! What I wilt thou be a rebel against God?” (J. Burroughs.)
A fern told me that it was too bad to be always shut up in a shady place, and float; it wanted to grow beside the red rose in the garden. The fern said, “I have as much right to be out in the sunshine as the rose has, and I will be out.” I transplanted the little malcontent, and in one hot day the sun struck it dead with his dart of fire. Now, if we be where Christ means us to be, in shade or in light, and will grow according to His will, it shall be well with us, but if we touch that which is forbidden, we shall be made to remember that it is written, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
Every man should walk as he is called of God
As in an orchard there is variety of fruit, apple trees, pear trees, plum trees, &c., and every tree endeavours to suck juice answerable to his kind, that it may bear such a fruit; and an apple tree doth not turn a plum tree, nor a plum tree a cherry tree, &c.; but every tree contents itself to be of its own kind: so in the Church and commonwealth there are varieties of callings, pastors, people, magistrates, subjects; some higher, some lower. And here now every man is to walk as he is called of God, and learn what belongs thereunto, not to encroach or intermeddle with that which belongs to others: for the saying of that Roman general to the soldier that kept the tents, when he should have been fighting in the field, “Non amo nimium diligentem,” will be one day used of God, if He calls us to one possession, and we busy ourselves about another; if He set us on foot, and we will be on horseback; if He make us subjects, and we must needs be superiors. God will not be pleased with such busybodies. (J. Spencer.)
Respect not Thou their offering.
The resentment of Moses against sinners
Moses, though the meekest man, yet finding God reproached in him, was very wroth; he could not bear to see a people ruining themselves for whose salvation he had done so much. In this discomposure--
1. He appeals to God concerning his own integrity; whereas they basely reflected upon him as ambitious, covetous, and oppressive in making himself a prince over them. God was his witness--
2. He begs of God to plead his cause and clear him by showing His displeasure at the incense which Korah and his company were to offer, with whom Dathan and Abiram were in confederacy. “Lord,” said he, “respect not Thou their offering.” Wherein he seems to refer to the history of Cain, lately written by his own hand, of whom it is said that to him and his offering God had not respect (Genesis 4:4). These that followed the gainsaying of Korah walked in the way of Cain (they are put together, Jude verse 11), and therefore he prays they might be frowned upon as Cain was, and put to the same confusion. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
A fire from the Lord.--
No man is indispensable to God. These men had no business to offer incense. God will not have the order of the Church or the order of the universe disturbed without penalty. Things are all fixed, whether you like it or not; the bounds of our habitation are fixed. He who would upset any axiom of God always goes down into the pit, the earth opens and swallows him up. That will be so until the end of time. It is so in literature, it is so in housekeeping, it is so in statesmanship, it is so in preaching. The whole order of creation is God’s; why can we not simply, lovingly accept it, and say, Good is the will of the Lord? Why this chafing against the bars of the cage? Why this discontent with the foundations of things? The Lord placed me here, it is the only place I am fit for, or I have been qualified by Divine compassion and love for this position: good is the will of the Lord! Better that incense be not offered than that it be offered by unworthy hands. There is really nothing in the incense; it is in the motive, in the purpose, it is in the honest handling of the censer, that good is done by any service or by any ceremony. No bad man can preach. He can talk, he can say beautiful words, but he does not preach so as to get at the heart and at the conscience, and so as to bless all the deeper and inner springs of human life and human hope. Officialism is not piety. A man may have a censer, and yet have no right to it. A man may be robed in the clothes of the Church, but be naked before heaven, and be regarded by high heaven as a violator and an intruder. Whoever uses a censer gives himself more or less of publicity: by so much does he become a leader; and by so much as a man is a leader does God’s anger burn hotly against him when he prostitutes his leadership. How many men were there? Two hundred and fifty. That was a great numerical loss. Yes, it was: but numerical losses may be moral gains. The congregation must be weighed as well as numbered. Some churches would be fuller if they were emptier. The Church of Christ would be stronger to-day if all nominal professors were shed off, if the earth would open and swallow them up every one. These were two hundred and fifty trespassers. Whatever they were outside the Church, they had no right to be within it in the sense which they now represent by this action. No true man was ever cut off, let me say again and again. The whole emphasis is upon the word “true.” He may not be a great man or a brilliant man, he may be nothing of a genius, but if he be true, that is the only genius God desiderates as fundamental and permanent. (J. Parker, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 16:1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/numbers-16.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 16:1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/numbers-16.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/numbers-16.html. 1801-1803.
KORAH, DATHAN, AND ABIRAM
Numbers 16:1-50; Numbers 17:1-13
BEHIND what appears in the history, there must have been many movements of thought and causes of discontent which gradually led to the events we now consider. Of the revolts against Moses which occurred in the wilderness, this was the most widely organised and involved the most serious danger. But we can only conjecture in what way it arose, how it was related to previous incidents and tendencies of popular feeling. It is difficult to understand the report, in which Korah appears at one time closely associated with Dathan and Abiram, at other times quite apart from them as a leader of disaffection. According to Wellhausen and others, three narratives are combined in the text. But without going so far in the way of analysis we clearly trace two lines of revolt: one against Moses as leader; the other against the Aaronic priesthood. The two risings may have been distinct; we shall however deal with them as simultaneous and more or less combined. A great deal is left unexplained, and we must be guided by the belief that the narrative of the whole book has a certain coherency, and that facts previously recorded must have had their bearing on those now to be examined.
The principal leader of revolt was Korah, son of Izhar, a Levite of the family of Kohath; and with him were associated two hundred and fifty "princes of the congregation, called to the assembly, men of renown," some of them presumably belonging to each of the tribes as is shown incidentally in Numbers 27:3. The complaint of this company-evidently representing an opinion widely held-was that Moses and Aaron took too much upon them in reserving to themselves the whole arrangement and control of the ritual. The two hundred and fifty, who according to the law had no right to use censers, were so far in opposition to the Aaronic priesthood that they were provided with the means of offering incense. They claimed for themselves on behalf of the whole congregation, whom they declared to be holy, the highest function of priests. With Korah were specially identified a number of Levites who, not content with being separated to do the service of the tabernacle, demanded the higher sacerdotal office. It might seem from Numbers 16:10-11, that all the two hundred and fifty were Levites; but this is precluded by the earlier statement that they were princes of the congregation, called to the assembly. So far as we can gather, the tribe of Levi did not supply princes, "men of renown," in this sense. While Moses deals with Korah and his company, Dathan, Abiram, and On, who belong to the tribe of Reuben, stand in the background with their grievance. Invited to state it, they complain that Moses has not only brought the congregation out of a land "flowing with milk and honey," to kill them in the wilderness, failing to give them the inheritance he promised; but he has made himself a prince over the host, determining everything without consulting the heads of the tribes. They ask if he means "to put out the eyes of these men,"-that is, to blind them to the real purpose he has in view, whatever it is, or to make them his slaves after the Babylonian fashion, by actually boring out the eyes of each tenth man, perhaps. The two hundred and fifty are called by Moses to bring their censers and the incense and fire they have been using, that Jehovah may signify whether He chooses to be served by them as priests, or by Aaron. The offering of incense over, the decree against the whole host as concerned in this revolt is made known, and Moses intercedes for the people. Then the Voice commands that all the people shall separate themselves from the "tabernacle" of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, apparently as if some tent of worship had been erected in rivalry of the true tabernacle. Dathan and Abiram are not at the "tabernacle," but at some little distance, in tents of their own. The people remove from the "tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram," and on the terrible invocation of judgment pronounced by Moses, the ground cleaves asunder and all the men that appertain unto Korah go down alive into the pit. Afterwards, it is said, "fire came forth from the Lord and devoured the two hundred and fifty men that offered the incense." "The men that appertained unto Korah" may be the presumptuous Levites, most closely identified with his revolt. But the two hundred and fifty consumed by the fire are not said to have been swallowed by the cleaving earth; their censers are taken up "out of the burning," as devoted or sacred, and beaten into plates for a covering of the altar.
On the morrow the whole congregation, even more disaffected than before, is in a state of tumult. The cry is raised that Moses and Aaron "have killed the people of Jehovah." Forthwith a plague, the sign of Divine anger, breaks out. Atonement is made by Aaron, who runs quickly with his burning censer "into the midst of the assembly," and "stands between the dead and the living." But fourteen thousand seven hundred die before the plague is stayed. And the position of Aaron as the acknowledged priest of Jehovah is still further confirmed. Rods or twigs are taken, one for each tribe, all the tribes having been implicated in the revolt; and these rods are laid up in the tent of meeting. When a day has passed, the rod of Aaron for the tribe of Levi is found to have put forth buds and borne almonds. The close of the whole series of events is an exclamation of amazed anxiety by all the people: "Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Every one that cometh near unto the tabernacle of Jehovah dieth: shalt we perish all of us?"
Now throughout the narrative, although other issues are involved, there can be no question that the main design is the confirmation of the Aaronic priesthood. What happened conveyed a warning of most extraordinary severity against any attempt to interfere with the sacerdotal order as established. And this we can understand. But it becomes a question why a revolt of Reubenites against Moses was connected with that of Korah against the sole priesthood of the Aaronic house. We have also to consider how it came about that princes out of all the tribes were to be found provided with censers, which they were apparently in the habit of using to burn incense to Jehovah. There is a Levitical revolt; there is an assumption by men in each tribe of priestly dignity; and there is a protest by men representing the tribe of Reuben against the dictatorship of Moses. In what way might these different movements arise and combine in a crisis that almost wrecked the fortunes of Israel?
The explanation supplied by Wellhausen on the basis of his main theory is exceedingly laboured, at some points improbable, at others defective. According to the Jehovistic tradition, he says, the rebellion proceeds from the Reubenites, and is directed against Moses as leader and judge of the people. The historical basis of this is dimly discerned to be the fall of Reuben from its old place at the head of the brother tribes. Out of this story, says Wellhausen, at some time or other not specified, "when the people of the congregation, i.e., of the Church, have once come on the scene," there arises a second version. The author of the agitation is now Korah, a prince of the tribe of Judah, and he rebels not only against Moses but against Moses and Aaron as representing the priesthood. "The jealousy of the secular grandees is now directed against the class of hereditary priests instead of against the extraordinary influence on the community of a heaven-sent hero." Then there is a third addition which "belongs likewise to the Priestly Code, but not to its original contents." In this, Korah the prince of the tribe of Judah is replaced by another Korah, head of a "postexilic Levitical family"; and "the contest between clergy and aristocracy is transformed into a domestic strife between the higher and inferior clergy which was no doubt raging in the time of the narrator." All this is supposed to be a natural and easy explanation of what would otherwise be an "insoluble enigma." We ask, however, at what period any family of Judah would be likely to claim the priesthood, and at what post-exilic period there was "no doubt" a strife between the higher and inferior clergy. Nor is there any account here of the two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, with their partially developed ritual antagonistic to that of the tabernacle.
We have seen that according to the narrative of Numbers seventy elders of the tribes were appointed to aid Moses in bearing the heavy burden of administration, and were endowed with the gift of prophecy that they might the more impressively wield authority in the host. In the first instance, these men might be zealous helpers of Moses, but they proved, like the rest, angry critics of his leadership when the spies returned with their evil report. They were included with the other men of the tribes in the doom of the forty years’ wandering, and might easily become movers of sedition. When the ark was stationed permanently at Kadesh, and the tribes spread themselves after the manner of shepherds over a wide range of the surrounding district, we can easily see that the authority of the seventy would increase in proportion to the need for direction felt in the different groups to which they belonged. Many of the scattered companies too were so far from the tabernacle that they might desire a worship of their own, and the original priestly function of the heads of tribes, if it had lapsed, might in this way be revived. Although there were no altars, yet with censers and incense one of the highest rites of worship might be observed.
Again, the period of inaction must have been galling to many who conceived themselves quite capable of making a successful assault on the inhabitants of Canaan, or otherwise securing a settled place of abode for Israel. And the tribe of Reuben, first by birthright, and apparently one of the strongest, would take the lead in a movement to set aside the authority of Moses. We have also to keep in mind that though Moses had pressed the Kenizzites to join the march and relied on their fidelity, the presence in the camp of one like Hobab, who was an equal not a vassal of Moses, must have been a continual incentive to disaffection. He and his troops had their own notions, we may believe, as to the delay of forty years, and would very likely deny its necessity. They would also have their own cultus, and religiously, as well as in other ways, show an independence which encouraged revolt.
Once more, as to the Levites, it might seem unfair to them that Aaron and his two sons should have a position so much higher than theirs. They had to do many offices in connection with sacrifice, and other parts of the holy service. On them, indeed, fell the burden of the duties, and the ambitious might expect to force their way into the higher office of the priesthood, at a time when rebellion against authority was coming to a head. We may suppose that Korah and his company of Levites, acting partly for themselves, partly in concert with the two hundred and fifty who had already assumed the right to burn incense, agreed to make their demand in the first instance, that as Levites they should be admitted priests. This would prepare the way for the princes of the tribes to claim sacerdotal rights according to the old clan idea. And at the same time, the priority of Reuben would be another point, insistence upon which would strike at the power of Moses. If the princes of Reuben had gone so far as to erect a "tabernacle" or mishcan for their worship, that may have been, for the occasion, made the headquarters of revolt, perhaps because Reuben happened at the time to be nearest the encampment of the Levites.
A widespread rebellion, an organised rebellion, not homogeneous, but with many elements in it tending to utter confusion, is what we see. Suppose it to have succeeded, the unity of worship would have been destroyed completely. Each tribe with its own cultus would have gone its own way so far as religion was concerned. In a very short time there would have been as many debased cults as there were wandering companies. Then the claim of autonomy, if not of right to lead the tribes, made on behalf of Reuben, involved a further danger. Moses had not only the sagacity but the inspiration which ought to have commanded obedience. The princes of Reuben had neither. Whether all under the lead of Reuben or each tribe led by its own princes, the Israelites would have travelled to disaster. Futile attempts at conquest, strife or alliance with neighbouring peoples, internal dissension, would have worn the tribes piecemeal away. The dictatorship of Moses, the Aaronic priesthood, and the unity of worship stood or fell together. One of the three removed, the others would have given way. But the revolutionary spirit, springing out of ambition and a disaffection for which there was no excuse, was blind to consequences. And the stern suppression of this revolt, at whatever cost, was absolutely needful if there was to be any future for Israel.
It has been supposed that we have in this rebellion of Korah the first example of ecclesiastical dissension, and that the punishment is a warning to all who presumptuously intrude into the priestly office. Laymen take the censer; and the fire of the Lord burns them up. So, let not laymen, at any time in the Church’s history, venture to touch the sacred mysteries. If ritual and sacramentarian miracle were the heart of religion; if there could be no worship of God and no salvation for men now unless through a consecrated priesthood, this might be said. But the old covenant, with its symbols and shadows, has been superseded. We have another censer now, another tabernacle, another way which has been consecrated for ever by the sacrifice of Christ, a way into the holiest of all open to every believer. Our unity does not depend on the priesthood of men, but on the universal and eternal priesthood of Christ. The co-operation of Aaron as priest was needful to Moses, not that his power might be maintained for his own sake, but that he might have authority over the host for Israel’s sake. It was not the dignity of an order or of a man that was at stake, but the very existence of religion and of the nation. This bond snapped at any point, the tribes would have been scattered and lost.
A leader of men, standing above them for their temporal interests, can rarely take upon him to be the instrument of administering the penalty of their sins. What king, for instance, ever invoked an interdict on his own people, or in his own right of judging for God condemned them to pay a tax to the Church, because they had done what was morally wrong? Rulers generally have regarded disobedience to themselves as the only crime it was worth their while to punish. When Moses stood against the faithless spirit of the Israelites and issued orders by way of punishing that bad spirit, he certainly put his authority to a tremendous test. Without a sure ground of confidence in Divine support, he would have been foolhardy in the extreme. And we are not surprised that the coalition against him represented many causes of discontent. Under his administration the long sojourn in the desert had been decreed, and a whole generation deprived of what they held their right-a settlement in Canaan. He appeared to be tyrannising over the tribes; and proud Reubenites sought to put an end to his rule. The priesthood was his creation, and seemed to be made exclusive simply that through Aaron he might have a firmer hold of the people’s liberties. Why was the old prerogative of the headmen in religious-matters taken from them? They would reclaim their rights. Neither Levi nor Reuben should be denied its priestly autonomy any longer. In the whole rebellion there was one spirit, but there were also divided counsels; and Moses showed his wisdom by taking the revolt not as a single movement, but part by part.
First he met the Levites, with Korah at their head, professing great zeal for the principle that all the congregation were holy, every one of them. A claim made on that ground could not be disproved by argument, perhaps, although the holiness of the congregation was evidently an ideal, not a fact. Jehovah Himself would have to decide. Yet Moses remonstrated in a way that was fitted to move the Levites, and perhaps did touch some of them. They had been honoured by God in having a certain holy office assigned to them. Were they to renounce it in joining a revolt which would make the very priesthood they desired common to all the tribes? From Jehovah Himself the Levites had their commission. It was against Jehovah they were fighting; and how could they speed? They spoke of Aaron and his dignity. But what was Aaron? Only a servant of God and of the people, a man who personally assumed no great airs. By this appeal some would seem to have been detached from the rebellion, for in Numbers 26:9-11, when the judgment of Korah and his company is referred to, it is added, "Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not." From 1 Chronicles 6:1-81 we learn that in the line of Korah’s descendants appeared certain makers and leaders of sacred song, Heman among them, one of David’s singers, to whom Psalms 88:1-18, is ascribed.
With the Reubenites Moses deals in the next place, taking their cause of discontent by itself. Already one of the three Reubenite chiefs had withdrawn, and Dathan and Abiram stood by themselves. Refusing to obey the call of Moses to a conference, they stated their grievance roughly by the mouth of a messenger; and Moses could only with indignation express before God his blamelessness in regard to them: "I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them." Neither for his own enrichment, nor in personal ambition had he acted. Could they maintain, did the people think, that the present revolt was equally disinterested? Under cover of opposition to tyranny, are they not desiring to play the part of tyrants and aggrandise themselves at the expense of the people?
It is singular that not a word is said in special condemnation of the two hundred and fifty because they were in possession of censers and incense. May it be the case that the complete reservation of the high-priestly duties to the house of Aaron had not as yet taken effect, that it was a purpose rather than a fact? May it not further be the case that the rebellion partly took form and ripened because an order had been given withdrawing the use of censers from the headmen of the tribes? If there had as yet been a certain temporary allowance of the tribal priesthood and ritual, we should not have to ask how incense and censers were in the hands of the two hundred and fifty, and why the brass of their vessels was held to be sacred and put to holy use.
The prayer of Moses in which he interceded for the people, Numbers 16:22 is marked by an expression of singular breadth, "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh." The men, misled on the fleshly side by appetite (Numbers 16:13), and shrinking from pain, were against God. But their spirits were in His hand. Would He not move their spirits, redeem and save them? Would He not look on the hearts of all and distinguish the guilty from the innocent, the more rebellious from the less? One man had sinned, but would God burst out on the whole congregation? The form of the intercession is abrupt, crude. Even Moses with all his justice and all his pity could not be more just, more compassionate, than Jehovah. The purpose of destruction was not as. the leader thought it to be.
Regarding the judgments, that of the earthquake and that of the fire, we are too remote in time to form any proper conception of what they were, how they were inflicted. "Moses," says Lange, "appears as a man whose wonderful presentiment becomes a miraculous prophecy by the Spirit of revelation." But this is not sufficient. There was more than a presentiment. Moses knew what was coming, knew that where the rebels stood the earth would open, the consuming fire burn. The plague, on the other hand, which next day spread rapidly among the excited people and threatened to destroy them, was not foreseen. It came as if straight from the hand of Divine wrath. But it afforded an opportunity for Aaron to prove his power with God and his courage. Carrying the sacred fire into the midst of the infected people he became the means of their deliverance. As he waved his censer, and its fumes went up to heaven, faith in Jehovah and in Aaron as the true priest of Jehovah was revived in the hearts of men. Their spirits came again under the healing power of that symbolism which had lost its virtue in common use, and was now associated in a grave crisis with an appeal to Him who smites and heals, who kills and makes alive.
It has been maintained by some that the closing sentences of chapter 17 should follow chapter 16 with which they appear to be closely connected, the incident of the budding of Aaron’s rod seeming to call rather for a festal celebration than a lament. The theory of the Book of Numbers we have seen reason to adopt would account for the introduction of the fresh episode, simply because it relates to the priesthood and tends to confirm the Aaronites in exclusive dignity. The symbolic test of the claim raised by the tribes corresponds closely to the signs that were used by some of the prophets, such as the girdle laid up by the river Euphrates, and the basket of summer fruits. The rod on which Aaron’s name was written was of almond, a tree for which Syria was famous. Like the sloe it sends forth blossoms before the leaves; and the unique way in which this twig showed its living vigour as compared with the others was a token of the choice of Levi to serve and Aaron to minister in the holiest office before Jehovah.
The whole circumstances, and the closing cry of the people, leave the impression of a grave difficulty found in establishing the hierarchy and. centralising the worship. It was a necessity-shall we call it a sad necessity?-that the men of the tribes should be deprived of direct access to the sanctuary and the oracle. Earthly, disobedient, and far from trustful in God, they could not be allowed, even the hereditary chiefs among them, to offer sacrifices. The ideas of the Divine holiness embodied in the Mosaic law were so far in advance of the common thought of Israel, that the old order had to be superseded by one fitted to promote the spiritual education of the people, and prepare them for a time when there shall be "on the bells of the horses, HOLY UNTO THE LORD and every pot in Judah shall be holy unto the Lord of hosts, and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them and seethe therein." The institution of the Aaronic priesthood was a step of progress indispensable to the security of religion and the brotherhood of the tribes in that high sense for which they were made a nation. But it was at the same time a confession that Israel was not spiritual, was not the holy congregation Korah declared it to be. The greater was the pity that afterwards in the day of Israel’s opportunity, when Christ came to lead the whole.people into the spiritual liberty and grace for which prophets had longed, the priestly system was held tenaciously as the pride of the nation. When the law of ritual and sacrifice and priestly mediation should have been left behind as no longer necessary because the Messiah had come, the way of higher life was opened in vain. Sacerdotalism held its place with full consent of those who guided affairs. Israel as a nation was blinded, and its day shone in vain.
Of all priesthoods as corporate bodies, however estimable, zealous, and spiritually-minded individual members of them may be, must it not be said that their existence is a sad necessity? They may be educative. A sacerdotal system now may, like that of the Mosaic law, be a tutor to bring men to Christ. Realising that, those who hold office under it may bring help to men not yet fit for liberty. But priestly dominance is no perpetual rule in any church, certainly not in the Kingdom of God. The freedom with which Christ makes men free is the goal. The highest duty a priest can fulfil is to prepare men for that liberty; and as soon as he can he should discharge them for the enjoyment of it. To find in episodes like those of Korah’s revolt and its suppression a rule applicable to modern religious affairs is too great an anachronism. For whatever right sacerdotalism now has is purely of the Church’s tolerance, in the measure not of Divine right, but of the need of uninstructed men. To the spiritual, to those who know, the priestly system with its symbols and authoritative claim is but an interference with privilege and duty.
Can any Aaron now make an atonement for a mass of people, or even in virtue of his office apply to them the atonement made by Christ? How does his absolution help a soul that knows Christ the Redeemer as every Christian soul ought to know Him? The great fault of priesthoods always is, that having once gained power, they endeavour to retain it and extend it, making greater claims the longer they exist. Affirming that they speak for the Church, they endeavour to control the voice of the Church. Affirming that they speak for Christ, they deny or minimise His great gift of liberty. Freedom of thought and reason was to Cardinal Newman, for example, the cause of all deplorable heresies and infidelities, of a divided Church and a ruined world. The candid priest of our day is found making his claim as largely as ever, and then virtually explaining it away. Should not the vain attempt to hold by Judaic institutions cease? And although the Church of Christ early made the mistake of harking back to Mosaism, should not confession now be made that priesthood of the exclusive kind is out of date, that every believer may perform the highest functions of the consecrated life?
The Divine choice of Aaron, his confirmation in high religious office by the budding of the almond twig as well as by the acceptance of his intercession, have their parallels now. The realities of one age become symbols for another.
Like the whole ritual of Israel, these particular incidents may be turned to Christian use by way of illustration. But not with regard to the prerogative of any arch-hierarch. The availing intercession is that of Christ, the sole headship, over the tribes of men is that which He has gained by Divine courage, love, and sacrifice. Among those who believe there is equal dependence on the work of Christ. When we come to intercession which they make for each other, it is of value in consideration not of office but of faith. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." It is as "righteous" men, humble men, not as priests they prevail. The sacraments are efficacious, "not from any virtue in them or in him that administers them," but through faith, by the energy of the omnipresent Spirit.
Yet there are men chosen to special duty, whose almond twigs bud and blossom and become their sceptres. Appointment and ordination are our expedients; grace is given by God in a higher line of calling and endowment. While there are blessings pronounced that fall upon the ear or gratify the sensibility, theirs reach the soul. For them the world has need to thank God. They keep religion alive, and make it bourgeon and yield the new fruits for which the generations hunger. They are new branches of the Living Vine. Of them it has often to be said, as of the Lord Himself, "The stone which the builders rejected the same has become head of the corner; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/numbers-16.html.
VINDICATION OF THE AARONIC PRIESTHOOD.
THE GAINSAYING OF KORAH (Numbers 16:1-40).
Now Korah … took men. וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח. The word "took" stands alone at the head of the sentence in the singular number. This does not by itself confine its reference to Korah, because it may be taken as repeated after each of the other names; at the same time, the construction suggests that in its original form Korah alone was mentioned, and that the other names were afterwards added in order to include them in the same statement. The ellipsis after "took" (if it be one) may be filled up by "men," as in the A.V. and in most versions, or by "counsel," as in the Jerusalem Targum. The Septuagint has in place of יִקַּח ἐλάλησε, representing apparently a different reading. Some commentators regard it as an anacoluthon for "took two hundred and fifty men … and rose up with them;" others, again, treat the "took" as a pleonasm, as in 2 Samuel 18:18 and elsewhere; but the change of number from וַיִּקַּח to וַיָּקוּטוּ makes it difficult. It seems best to say that the construction is broken and cannot be satisfactorily explained. Indeed there can be no question that the whole narrative, like the construction of the opening verses, is rely confused, and leaves on the mind the impression that it has been altered, not very skillfully, from its original form. The two parts of the tragedy, that concerning the company of Korah, and that concerning the Reubenites, although mingled in the narrative, do not adjust themselves in the mind, and the general effect is obscure. It is sufficient to point out here that no one can certainly tell what became of the ringleader himself, who was obviously the head and front of the whole business. Some are strenuously of opinion that he was swallowed up alive, others as strenuously that he was consumed with fire; but the simple fact is that his death is not recorded in this chapter at all, although he is assumed to have perished. The obscurity which hangs over this passage cannot be traced to any certain cause; the discrepancies and contradictions which have been discovered in it are clue to mistake or misrepresentation; nor can any evil motive be plausibly assigned for the interpolation (if it be such) of that part of the story which concerns the Reubenites. If, for some reason unknown to us, an original narrative of Korah's rebellion was enlarged so as to include the simultaneous mutiny of the Reubenites and their fate; and if, further, that enlargement was so unskillfully made as to leave considerable confusion in the narrative, wherein does that affect either its truth or its inspiration? The supernatural influence which watched over the production of the sacred narrative certainly did not interfere with any of those natural causes which affected its composition, its style, its clearness or obscurity. Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi. On the genealogy of the Levites see Exodus 6:16-22, and above on Numbers 3:17-19. It is generally supposed that some generations are passed over in these genealogies. Korah belonged to the same Kohathite sub-tribe as Moses and Aaron, and was related to them by some sort of cousinship; his father (or ancestor) Izhar was the younger brother of Amram and the elder brother of Uzziel, whose descendant Elizaphan had been made chief of the Kohathites. Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. Eliab himself was apparently the only son of Pallu, the second son of Reuben (Numbers 26:5, Numbers 26:8). If the word "son" is to be literally understood in all these cases, then Korah, Dathan, and Abiram would all be great-great-grandsons of Jacob himself. On, the son of Peleth. It is one of the strange obscurities of this narrative that On, who appears here as a ringleader, is never mentioned again either in this chapter or elsewhere. Sons of Reuben. Reubenites. The encampment of their tribe was on the south side of the tabernacle in the outer line (Numbers 2:10), while that of the Kohathites was on the same side in the inner line. Thus they were to some extent neighbours; but see below on Numbers 3:24.
And they rose up before Moses. It is suggested that the Reubenites were aggrieved because their father had been deprived of his birthright in favour of Judah, and that Korah was aggrieved because the Uzzielites had been preferred in the person of Elizaphan to the Izharites (Numbers 3:30). These accusations have nothing whatever in the narrative to support them, and are suspicious because they are so easy and so sure to be made in such cases. In all ecclesiastical history the true reformer, as well as the heretic and the demagogue, has always been charged with being actuated by motives of disappointed ambition. Without these gratuitous suppositions there was quite enough to excite the anger and opposition of such discontented and insubordinate minds as are to be found in every community. With certain of the children of Israel. These were gathered front the tribes at large, as implied in the statement that Zelophehad a Manassite was not amongst them (Numbers 27:8). Famous in the congregation. Literally, "called men of the congregation." Septuagint, σύγκλητοι βουλῆς, representatives of the host in the great council (cf. Numbers 1:16; Numbers 26:9).
They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. They had risen up before Moses, i.e; made a tumult in his presence, because they regarded him (and rightly) as the actual ruler of Israel in religious as well as in secular matters. At the same time, the attack of Korah and his company (with whom alone the narrative is really concerned here) was directed especially against the ecclesiastical rule which Moses exercised through his brother Aaron. Ye take too much upon you. רַב־לָכֶם, "much for you," probably in the sense of "enough for you" (cf. the use of רַב in Genesis 45:28), i.e; you have enjoyed power long enough; so the Targum Palestine. It may, however, be taken with the following כִּי as meaning, "let it suffice you that all the congregation," &c.; and so the Septuagint, ἐχέτω ὑμῖν ὅτι, κ. τ. λ. The Targum of Onkelos renders it in the same sense as the A.V. All the congregation are holy, every one of them. This was perfectly true, m a sense. There was a sanctity which pertained to Israel as a nation, in which all its members shared as distinguished from the nations around (Exodus 19:6; Le Exodus 20:26); there was a priesthood which was inherent in all the sons of Israel, older and more indelible than that which was conferred on Aaron's line—a priesthood which, apart from special restrictions, or in exceptional circumstances, might and did assert itself in priestly acts (Exodus 24:5, and compare the cases of Samuel, Elijah, and others who offered sacrifice during the failure of the appointed priesthood). It Moses had taken the power to himself, or it he had (as they doubtless supposed) restricted active priestly functions to Aaron because he was his brother, and wholly under his influence, their contention would have been quite right. They erred, as most violent men do, not because they asserted what was false, but because they took for granted that the truth which they asserted was really inconsistent with the claims which they assailed. The congregation were all holy; the sons of Israel were all priests; that was true—but it was also true that by Divine command Israel could only exercise his corporate priesthood outwardly through the one family which God had set apart for that purpose. The same God who has lodged in the body certain faculties and powers for the benefit of the body, has decreed that those faculties and powers can only be exercised through certain determinate organs, the very specialization of which is both condition and result of a high organization. The congregation of the Lord. There are two words for congregation in this verse: קָהָל here, and עֵדָה before. The former seems to be used in the more solemn sense, but they are for the most part indistinguishable, and certainly cannot be assigned to different authors.
He spake unto Korah. That Korah was the mainspring of the conspiracy is evident (cf. Numbers 16:22; Numbers 27:3; Jud Numbers 1:11). It may well be that his position as a prominent Levite and a relation of Moses gave him great influence with men of other tribes, and earned him a great name for disinterestedness and liberality in advocating the rights of all Israel, and in denouncing the exclusive claims and privileges by which he himself (as a Levite) was benefited. It is often assumed that Korah was secretly aiming at the high-priesthood, but of this, again, there is not a shadow of proof; his error was great enough, and his punishment sore enough, without casting upon him these unfounded accusations. It would be more in accordance with human nature if we supposed that Korah was in his way sincere; that he had really convinced himself, by dint of trying to convince others, that Moses and Aaron were usurpers; that he began his agitation without thought of advantage of himself; that, having gained a considerable following and much popular applause, the pride of leadership and the excitement of conflict led him on to the last extremity. The Lord will show who are his. אֶת־אַשֶׁר־לוּ, the meaning of which is defined by the following words, "whom he hath chosen." Moses refers the matter to the direct decision of the Lord; as that decision had originated the separate position of Aaron, that should also vindicate it.
Take you censers. מַחְתּוֹת. Septuagint, πυρεῖα. Translated "fire-pails" in Exodus 27:3. From the number required, they must have been either household utensils used for carrying fire, or else they must have been made in some simple fashion for the occasion. The offering of incense was proposed by Moses as a test because it was a typically priestly function, to which the gravest importance was attached (Le Exodus 10:1; Exodus 16:12, Exodus 16:13), and because it was so very simply executed.
Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi. רַב־לָכֶם, as in Numbers 16:3. The exact meaning of this tu quoque is not apparent. Perhaps he would say that if he and Aaron were usurpers, the whole tribe of Levi were usurpers too.
Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi. No son of Levi is mentioned in the narrative except Korah, and this address itself passes into the second person singular (Numbers 16:10, Numbers 16:11), as though Korah alone were personally guilty. It is possible enough that behind him was a considerable body of public opinion among the Levites more or less decidedly supporting him; but there is no need to impute any general disloyalty to them.
Seemeth it a small thing to you. Rather, "is it too little for you." חַמְעַט מִכֶּם.
For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together. It does not follow that Korah was seeking an exclusive dignity for himself; or for his tribe. His "company" apparently included representative men from all the tribes, or at least from many (see on Numbers 16:2). They were seeking the priesthood because they affirmed it to be the common possession of all Israelites. Against the Lord. It was in his name that they appeared, and to some extent no doubt sincerely; but since they appeared to dispute an ordinance actually and historically made by God himself, it was indeed against him that they were gathered. And what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him? The construction is broken, as so often when we have the ipsissima verba of Moses, whose meekness did not enable him to speak calmly under provocation. The sentence runs, "For which cause thou and all thy company who arc gathered against the Lord,—and Aaron, who is he, that ye murmur against him?" It was easy to represent the position of Aaron in an invidious light, as though they were assailing some personal sacerdotal pretensions; but in truth he was only a poor servant of God doing what he was bid.
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram. The part really taken by these men in the agitation is very obscure. They were not of the two hundred and fifty, nor were they with them when they gathered together against Moses and Aaron—perhaps because they took no interest in ecclesiastical matters, and only resented the secular domination of Moses. Neither can we tell why Moses sent for them at this juncture, unless he suspected them of being in league with Korah (see below on Numbers 16:24). We will not come up, i.e; to the tabernacle, as being spiritually the culminating point of the camp.
Is it a small thing. Rather, "is it too little," as in Numbers 16:9. A land that floweth with milk and honey. A description applying by right to the land of promise (Exodus 3:8; Numbers 13:27), which they in their studied insolence applied to Egypt. Except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us. Literally, "that ( כִּי) thou altogether lord it over us." The expression is strengthened in the original by the reduplication of the verb in the inf. abs; גַּם־הִשְׂתְּרֶר
Moreover thou hast not brought us. According to the promises (they meant to say) by which he had induced them to leave their comfortable homes in Egypt (Exodus 4:30, Exodus 4:31). Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? i.e; wilt thou blind them to the utter failure of thy plans and promises? wilt thou throw dust in their eyes?
And Moses was very wroth. The bitter taunts of the Reubenites had just enough semblance of truth in them to make them very hard to bear, and especially the imputation of low personal ambition; but it is impossible to say that Moses did not err through anger. Respect not thou their offering. Cf. Genesis 4:4. It is not quite clear what offering Moses meant, since they do not seem to have wished to offer incense. Probably it was equivalent to saying, Do not thou accept them when they approach thee; for such approach was always by sacrifice (cf. Psalms 109:7). I have not taken one ass from them. Cf. 1 Samuel 12:3. The ass was the least valuable of the ordinary live stock of those days (cf. Exodus 20:17). The Septuagint has here οὐκ ἐπιθύμημα οὐδενὸς αὐτῶν εἴληφα, which is apparently an intentional paraphrase with a reference to the tenth commandment ( οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις κ. τ. λ.). Neither have I hurt one of them. As absolute ruler he might have made himself very burdensome to all, and very terrible to his personal enemies. Compare Samuel's description of the Eastern autocrat (1 Samuel 8:11-17).
And Moses said unto Korah. After the interchange of messages with the Reubenites, Moses repeats his injunctions to Korah to be ready on the morrow to put his claims to the test, adding that Aaron too should be there, that the Lord might judge between them.
Stood in the door of the tabernacle, i.e; at the door of the court, so that they were visible from the space outside.
And Korah gathered all the congregation against them. It does not follow that the whole congregation was actively or deliberately on Korah's side. But a movement ostensibly in behalf of the many as against the few is sure to enlist a general, if not a deep, sympathy; nor is it to be supposed that Moses and Aaron could escape a large amount of unpopularity under the grievous circumstances of the time. The thoughtless multitude would have hailed their downfall with real though short-lived satisfaction. The glory of the Lord appeared. As before (Numbers 14:10), filling the tabernacle probably, and flashing out before the eyes of all
That I may consume them in a moment. Literally, "and I will consume them." The same thing must be said of this as of Numbers 14:11, Numbers 14:12.
O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh. אֵל אֱלֹחֵי הָרוּחֹת לְךָ־בָּשָׂר. The ruach is the spirit of life which the Creator has imparted unto perishable flesh, and made it live. In some sense it belongs to beasts as well as to men (Ecclesiastes 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:21); but in the common use of the word men only are thought of, as having received it by a special communication of a higher order (Genesis 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Moses, therefore, really appeals to God, as the Author and Giver of that imperishable life-principle which is lodged in the mortal flesh of all men, not to destroy the works of his own hands, the creatures made in his own image. Here we have in its germ that idea of the universal fatherhood of God which remained undeveloped in Jewish thought until Judaism itself expanded into Christianity (cf. Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8, Isaiah 64:9; Acts 17:26, Acts 17:29). Shall one man sin. Rather, "the one man ( הָאִישׁ) hath sinned," i.e; Korah, who had misled all the rest.
The Lord spake unto Moses. No direct answer was apparently vouchsafed to the remonstrance of Moses and Aaron, but it was tacitly allowed.
Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The word "tabernacle" (mishcan) is the same word which is so translated in Numbers 16:9, but not the same which is used in Numbers 16:18,Numbers 16:19; it properly signifies "dwelling-place." It is certainly the natural conclusion, from the use of this expression here and in Numbers 16:27, that this mishcan was something different from the "tents" ( אָהָלֵי) mentioned in Numbers 16:26, Numbers 16:27, and was some habitation common to the three rebels (see below on Numbers 16:31). The Septuagint, in order to avoid the difficulty, omits the names of Dathan and Abiram, and has only ἀπὸ τῆς συναγωγῆς κορέ.
Touch nothing of theirs. Because they, and all that belonged to them, were anathema, devoted to destruction. Compare the case of Achan (Joshua 7:1).
And Dathan and Abiram … stood in the door of their tents. To see what Moses would do. Nothing is said of Korah.
Nor I have not done them of mine own mind. Literally, "that not of my heart", כִּי־לֹא מִלִּבּי. Septuagint, ὅτι οὐκ ἀπ ἐμαυτου
If they be visited after the visitation of all men. פָקַד is of somewhat doubtful meaning; it seems to answer to the ἐπίσκεψις and ἐπισκοπὴ of the Septuagint,, and to our "oversight," or "visitation"
, which is regarded, according to the general instinct of mankind, as being "under the earth" (cf. Philip. Numbers 2:10 b; Revelation 5:13). They were to go down "quick" into Sheol, because they were still alive at the moment that they were lost to sight for ever.
The ground clave asunder that was under them. As it sometimes does during an earthquake. In this case, however, the event was predicted, and wholly supernatural. The sequence of the narrative would lead us to suppose that the earth opened beneath the tents of Dathan and Abiram in the camp of Reuben. It is difficult to think of the gulf as extending so far as to involve the tent of Korah in the Kohathite lines in the same destruction, while there is nothing to suggest the idea that the earth opened in more than one place. It is true that the camps of the Reubenites and of the Kohathites were more or less contiguous; but when it is remembered that there were 46,500 adult males in the former, and 8600 males in the latter, and that a broad space must have been left between the two lines of encampment, it is obviously improbable that Korah's tent was in a practical sense "near" to those of Dathan and Abiram, unless indeed he had purposely removed it in order to be under the protection of his Reubenite partisans. It is very observable that not a word is said here as to the fate of Korah himself. It is implied in Numbers 16:40 that he had perished, and it is apparently asserted in Numbers 26:10 that he was swallowed up with Dathan and Abiram (see the note there). On the other hand, Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalms 106:17 speak of the engulfing of the other two without any mention of Korah himself sharing their fate; and while "all the men that appertained unto Korah" perished, his own sons did not (Numbers 26:11). On these grounds it is held by most commentators that Korah died by fire among those who offered incense (Psalms 106:35). This, however, is untenable, because "the two hundred and fifty men who offered incense" are distinctly mentioned as having been his partisans (Psalms 106:2), and are always counted exclusive of Korah himself. On the whole, while it is certain that the narrative is very obscure, and the question very doubtful, it seems most agreeable to all the testimonies of Holy Scripture to conclude—
1. That Korah had left his own place, and had some sort of dwelling (mischan) either in common with Dathan and Abiram, or hard by their tents.
2. That the earth opened and swallowed up the mishcan, of Korah, and the tents of Dathan and Abiram.
3. That Korah's men (see next verse) and their property were swallowed up with his mishcan, and (as far as we can tell) Korah himself also. If this be correct, then the much disputed heading of the chapter in the A.V. will be right after all.
And their houses, i.e; their families, as in Numbers 18:13. And all the men that appertained unto Korah. Literally, "all the men who to Korah." Whether it means his dependants, or his special partisans, is uncertain: Perhaps some had clung to his fortunes in blind confidence when the rest gat up from his mishcan.
At the cry of them. לְקֹלָם, "at the noise of them;" at the mingled sound of their shrieks and of the natural convulsion amidst which they disappeared.
There came out a fire from the Lord. The fire probably flashed out from the sanctuary with the destructive force of lightning. The two hundred and fifty men. These had remained swinging their censers before the gate of the tabernacle while Moses and (presumably) Korah himself had gone to the camp of Reuben.
Speak unto Eleazar. This is the first time that any special duty is assigned to Eleazar, who was destined to succeed to the high-priesthood. We may suppose that he was sent instead of his father because the duty of gathering up the censers could hardly have been carried out without incurring legal defilement by contact with the dead. Out of the burning. Or, "out of the burnt." Septuagint, ἐκ μέσου τῶν κατακεκαυμένων. From amongst the charred and smouldering corpses. Scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed. The censers had been made holy even by that sacrilegious dedication, and must never revert to any common uses; for the same reason the live coals which still remained in them were to be emptied out in a separate place.
These sinners against their own souls, בְּנַפְשֹׁתָם, "against their own lives." The thought is not that they had ruined their souls, but that they had forfeited their lives. The Pentateuch does not contemplate any consequences of sin beyond physical death. The same phrase occurs in Proverbs 20:2. For a covering of the altar. The altar of burnt incense. The censers were no doubt brazen pans, and when beaten out would form plates which could be affixed to the boards of which the frame of the altar was composed.
That he be not as Korah. וְלֹא־יִחְיֶח. That he do not meet with the same fate as Korah.
THE TRUE AND ONLY PRIESTHOOD
It is quite clear that the homiletic application of this passage turns upon a question which is strongly controverted—a question which it is alike impossible (save at the cost of honesty and truth) to shirk, or to take for granted one way or the other. That the rebellion of Korah was directed under specious pretences against a divinely-ordained priesthood vested in one man and his successors is of course undenied, but is of little interest or value apart from its application to our own times and circumstances. The practical question which immediately arises, and arises only to be disputed, is this, What priesthood now corresponds to that assailed in Aaron? It may no doubt be said that there is nothing which now answers to it, nothing of which that was a shadow and a type; that Judaism was a sacerdotal religion, but that Christianity is not. If that were true then Korah was after all right; his only error was that he held opinions in advance of his age. But apart from that, such a position simply robs both the incident and record of any value for ourselves, and is point-blank opposed to the Apostolic teaching in such places as 1 Corinthians 10:11, and Jud 1 Corinthians 1:11. In the latter the "gainsaying of Korah" is specified as one of those typical acts of wickedness in which a virulent form of moral evil active in the days of the apostle had been anticipated both as to sin and punishment; the bad men of whom he speaks (1 Corinthians 1:4, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:10) had already met their doom in a figure when Korah and his company perished. It is clear that Holy Scripture recognizes, both generally and specifically, a teaching value for Christian times in this record. The most useful and honest plan will therefore be to set forth the elements of the question impartially, and to leave them to the consideration of the reader. Some points will come out with sufficient clearness to command general (if not universal) assent; and others will at least be cleared of misleading arguments and false associations.
I. The first position which we can take up with authority and certainty is the positive position that THE PRIESTHOOD OF AARON AND HIS SONS WAS THE OLD TESTAMENT TYPE AND SHADOW OF THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST CONFERRED UPON HIM IN HIS HUMAN NATURE AS THE SON OF MAN. This is argued and proved with many illustrations by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (see especially Numbers 5:4, Numbers 5:5; Numbers 7:11-28; Numbers 8:1-4; Numbers 10:11-14, Numbers 10:21). The elaborate comparison of the two priesthoods, the old and the new, which was also infinitely older,—and especially the assertion that the Levitical priests were many only because death deposed them from office (Numbers 7:23), whilst Christ abideth for ever,—forbid us to regard any other priesthood than that of our Lord as the Christian analogue of the Jewish priesthood. As far as the type went Aaron lived on in all his priestly race, just as he had lived before in his chosen ancestor Abraham (Hebrews 7:10): there was but one Jewish high-priest, and unto him corresponds in the kingdom of heaven Jesus and Jesus alone. Herein all will be substantially agreed who loyally accept the testimony of Scripture, and herein (if it be clearly and devoutly held) is the real heart of the matter, and the sufficient safeguard against superstition.
II. The second position which we can take up on purely Scriptural grounds, and which is not fairly assailable, is the negative position THAT NO ARGUMENT AGAINST MINISTERIAL OR SACERDOTAL ASSUMPTIONS OR CLAIMS IS VALID WHICH IS BASED UPON THE HOLINESS AND PRIESTLY CHARACTER OF ALL THE FAITHFUL. It is perfectly clear that Korah and his company had both Scripture and fact on their side when they said that all the congregation were holy and all were priests. They erred in taking for granted that the priesthood of all Israelites was really inconsistent with the special priesthood of Aaron. As things were, it is certain that the universal priesthood of Israel could best express itself, best translate itself into worship, through the ministerial acts of Aaron and his sons. A spiritually-minded Jew, who recognized most deeply his own priestly calling in Israel, would most devoutly give thanks for the separation of the tribe of Levi and family of Aaron, because he would feel that no one benefited so much by that separation as himself; far from standing between him and the God of Israel, it enabled him to draw nigh to God in a multitude of ways otherwise impossible. He would indeed be able to argue from the histories of Gideon, of Samuel, of Elijah, and of others of the chosen race, that the priesthood of the ordinary Israelite, although usually dormant as to outward sacerdotal functions, was always capable of being called into play by Divine permission under stress of circumstances, and he would be prepared to understand the significance of such a passage as Revelation 7:5-8, in which Levi takes his place again (and not at all a foremost place) among the tribes, the Holy Ghost thus signifying that in the world to come all such distinctions will be merged for ever in the common priesthood of the saved. But in the mean time there was nothing antagonistic, either in doctrine or in practice, between the truth which Korah asserted and that other truth which Korah assailed: the priesthood of the many was helped, not hindered, by the special priesthood of the few. It is therefore impossible honestly to use such texts as 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6, against the doctrine of a special Christian priesthood, because they only assert of Christians what the texts relied upon by Korah asserted of the Jews.
III. Abandoning the false line of argument just mentioned, we may yet so far develop the first position taken up as to maintain with confidence, THAT NO PRIESTHOOD CAN HAVE ANY EXISTENCE IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST OTHER THAN THAT OF OUR LORD HIMSELF. This is made evident, not only by the exclusive way in which his priesthood is dwelt upon in the New Testament, but (what concerns us more in this place) by the whole analogy of the Old. Aaron alone had the priesthood, and the extreme malediction of God lighted upon all, even of the separated tribe, who dared to meddle with it; but Aaron was certainly the type of Christ Himself. Any priesthood which should claim to have any independent existence, even if it professed to draw its authority from Divine appointment, would be ipso facto in direct antagonism to the solitary prerogative of Jesus Christ. Hence it follows that the upholders, not the impugners, of such a priesthood would be "in the gainsaying of Korah." It follows also that there can be no direct analogy drawn between those who rose up against Moses and Aaron, and those who rise up against any earthly ministry; it will be shown that a true resemblance may be traced under certain conditions.
IV. Admitting these principles, which ought not to be controverted, we may bring the question to a practical issue as follows:—While there cannot be set over us any other priesthood than the only, immutable, and incommunicable priesthood of the Messiah, yet there is nothing in Holy Scripture to negative a priori the idea THAT OUR LORD (being withdrawn from sight and sense) MAY CHOOSE TO PERFORM PRIESTLY FUNCTIONS UPON EARTH VISIBLY AND AUDIBLY BY THE HAND AND MOUTH OF CHOSEN MEN; nor is there anything to negative a priori the further contention that those men were and are set apart in some special and exclusive way. Whether this be so is a matter of fact which must be decided upon the testimony, fairly and conscientiously weighed, of Scripture and of history. It depends upon the two historical questions.
1. Whether our Lord constituted the apostles his representatives for any priestly functions.
2. Whether the apostles transmitted such representation to others after them. In any case our Lord is the only priest, or rather has the only priesthood, although upon one view of the ease he will execute some offices of his priesthood by means of visible human agents, in whom and through whom he himself speaks and acts.
Without, therefore, entering upon any argument, we can safely conclude as to the Christian application of this passage.
1. That it must be directly referred to the everlasting priesthood of Christ, and to assaults upon it, or infringements of it.
2. That it may be in a secondary sense referred to a visible Christian priesthood, and to assaults upon it, on the supposition that such priesthood is in fact and in truth only the priesthood of Christ ministered in time and space by his appointment.
In point of fact there are many obvious and many subtle resemblances between the gainsaying of Korah and the popular contention against a Christian priesthood, or even against any Christian ministry, which no thoughtful student of Scripture can overlook, In the homiletics) however, which follow these are left to speak for themselves, and the deeper line of application will be followed. Consider, therefore—
I. THAT KORAH ON ONE SIDE, DATHAN AND ABIRAM ON THE OTHER, HAD HARDLY ANYTHING IN COMMON EXCEPT DISLIKE TO THE RULE OF MOSES, THE MEDIATOR OF ISRAEL AND KING IN JESHURUN (Deuteronomy 33:5). His dislike was ecclesiastical, theirs was political; but this common dislike made them allies, and gave them a "tabernacle" in common (verse 27). Even so amongst the many who say, "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14), there are to be found the most various dispositions, and the most distinct causes of complaint. As in the days of his earthly ministry, so now the opposition to him and to his sole governance is made up of the most heterogeneous, and at other times dissociate, elements.
II. THAT KORAH WAS HIMSELF A LEVITE OF SOME DISTINCTION, AND WAS THE SOUL OF THE CONSPIRACY. Even so it is hardly possible to find in history any grave assault upon the work or doctrine of Christ which has not been inspired by some one whose ecclesiastical position has given him both aptness and influence for this evil.
III. THAT KORAH REPRESENTED MOSES AND AARON IN AN INVIDIOUS LIGHT, AS MEN WHO KEPT THE PEOPLE IN SPIRITUAL SUBJECTION, AND DENIED TO THEM THEIR COMMON RIGHTS AS CHILDREN OF ISRAEL. Even so the constant clamour of unbelief is that Christianity is a system devised in the interests of tyranny and obscurantism in order to keep men in moral slavery, and to rob them of their freedom of thought, and to fetter their freedom of action.
IV. THAT KORAH ASSERTED TRUE FACTS AND APPEALED TO TRUE PRINCIPLES IN OPPOSITION TO WHAT HAD BEEN DIVINELY APPOINTED, AND WAS TO BE DIVINELY VINDICATED. Even so do men continually bring against the Truth himself facts which are undeniable, and principles which must be admitted. Herein is the real danger when war upon the Truth is waged with half-truths plausibly paraded as whole, with truths on one side confidently assumed to be fatal to the complemental truths on the other side. The liberty, e.g; of private judgment is arrayed against the authority of inspiration; the universal fatherhood of God against any distinction of the children of God, or necessity for the mediation of Christ; the fact that we are all members of one body against any mutual subordination or distribution of functions amongst those members.
V. THAT KORAH WAS PROBABLY SINCERE IN SO FAR AS HE HAD PERSUADED HIMSELF THAT HE WAS RIGHT, otherwise he would hardly have ventured upon the fatal test. Even so the leaders of opposition to Christ are commonly sincere; only vulgar intolerance brands them off-hand with hypocrisy or self-seeking. And this is their power, for men are led by personal regard and trust much more than by any ability to judge between rival systems. The only way to meet the sincerity and zeal of error is by showing a more transparent sincerity and a more ardent zeal on the side of truth (2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 1 Timothy 4:12-16; Titus 2:10).
VI. THAT WHEN MOSES HEARD THE INDICTMENT AGAINST HIMSELF AND AARON HE COULD BUT REFER IT TO THE DECISION OF THE LORD. The people were either actively or passively on the side of Korah, and argument had been unavailing. Even so when Christianity at large, or any system which we believe to be an integral part of Christianity, is assailed with popular and plausible arguments, there is really nothing to be done but to refer it to the arbitrament of God himself. Arguments convince only those that are convinced; clamours only intensify prejudice; mutual accusations only repel—Moses himself effected nothing by the angry words into which he was betrayed. And the arbitrament of God is unequivocally declared by our Lord to be the practical outcome of our religion in our lives (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 7:20; John 13:35). That the test is not capable of easy or of immediate application, that it has to be applied broadly, and with many allowances for disturbing causes, is true; but yet it is the test, and the only test, to which our Lord calls us. It is the test out of which Aaron, with all the weight of popular opinion against him, will ultimately come triumphant; in which Korah, with all his sincerity and plausibility, will come to nothing. And note that while religious questions must be referred to the arbitrament of God, and that arbitrament is not always distinct or immediate in this world, there is a further decision which will be absolutely certain and conclusive. "Even tomorrow the Lord will show who are his," "for the day shall declare it" (1 Corinthians 3:13), and "it shall be revealed by fire," as it was with Korah's company. Woe unto them who cannot abide, whether personally or as to their work, the test of fire. Our God is still, as then, a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and that fire burns and will burn against all falsity of teaching, as well as all unholiness of living (1 Corinthians 3:15; Hebrews 12:14). And note again that "even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him;" for although the election be not arbitrary, yet it is the election of grace, and not the personal worth or aptitude or desire, that does place any, or will place any hereafter, near unto God.
VII. THAT THE AMBITION OF KORAH WAS THE MORE TO BE BLAMED BECAUSE HE WAS HIMSELF A LEVITE, AND INTRUSTED WITH A SPECIAL MINISTRY IN HOLY THINGS. Even so is ambition or envy especially evil in a Christian man, forasmuch as he has an "unction" and an office in the body of Christ to which he cannot with all his zeal do justice, and which if faithfully used will bring him the highest possible reward (cf. Luke 22:26; 1 Corinthians 12:16, 1 Corinthians 12:22; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 7:14, sq.).
VIII. THAT THE PARTICULAR OFFENCE OF KORAH AND HIS COMPANY WAS THEIR DARING TO OFFER INCENSE, WHICH AARON ALONE MIGHT DO, The incense seems to have signified not simply "prayer," but rather the intercessory and prevailing prayer of the great High Priest and Mediator. Thus the "much incense" in Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4, which is undoubtedly the intercession of Christ, is added to and rises with the prayers of all saints. Thus then the special sin reprobated in Korah is any interference with the mediatorial office of Christ, whether by endeavouring to draw near to God through other mediators, or without any mediator at all (cf. John 14:6; Galatians 1:8; 1 John 2:1).
IX. THAT THE COMPANY OF KORAH (WHATEVER BECAME OF HIMSELF) DIED BY FIRE, THE ELEMENT IN WHICH THEY SINNED. Even so he that presumptuously meddles with holy things, not being holy himself, shall perish by that very nearness which he rashly courted. The hand that is really and entirely wet can be plunged into molten metal without injury, and so he who is covered with the robe of righteousness may be a ministering servant of the consuming Fire, and live; but how great is the risk if the call be not clear.
X. THAT THESE MEN WERE "SINNERS AGAINST THEIR OWN LIVES" IN TRUTH, ALTHOUGH THEY ONLY SEEMED TO BE VINDICATING THEIR JUST RIGHTS AGAINST USURPERS. Even so is every one that seeks his supposed rights not in the spirit of meekness and of personal self-abnegation, but in a spirit of pride, contradiction, and vain-glory. To contend for oneself—albeit sometimes necessary—is of all things most dangerous, lest even in gaining our cause we lose our souls (cf. Matthew 23:12; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:5-7).
XI. THAT THEIR CENSERS WERE HALLOWED EVEN BY AN UNLAWFUL RELIGIOUS USE. Even so there is a kind of sanctity which attaches to every religious effort, however much it may be stained with pride or vitiated by error, and whatever ill results it may lead to, if it be made with sincerity. No such effort can be ignored as though it had not been made, nor cast out as wholly evil because not rightly made. Nothing which is done in the sacred name of religion (saving sheer hypocrisy) ought to be despised or neglected.
XII. THAT THE RESCUED CENSERS BECAME AN ADDITIONAL STRENGTH AND ORNAMENT TO THE ALTAR, AND A WARNING TO ALL GENERATIONS. Even so all assaults upon the faith and discipline of Christ are over-ruled for good, at the same time adding strength to some weak or neglected side of religion, and furnishing a warning against the mistakes and faults which misled their authors (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:19).
Consider again, with respect to the Reubenites—
I. THAT THEY WERE ANGRY WITH MOSES FOR WHAT WAS DUE TO THEIR OWN FAULT AND THE FAULT OF THE CONGREGATION, If they had not disobeyed they would have been in their own land by this time. Even so men are angry and impatient with the rule of Christ because it has not brought them peace or happiness, whereas this is wholly due to their own unfaithfulness. And so again men assail Christianity for not having reformed the world and abolished all evils, whereas they themselves will not submit to the easy yoke and light burden of Christ.
II. THAT THEY FALSELY AND WICKEDLY SPAKE OF EGYPT IN TERMS ONLY APPLICABLE TO CANAAN. Even so do the enemies of Christ speak of a state of nature, and of the life of the natural man, unvexed by fear of hell or hope of heaven, as if that had been true happiness and peace, whereas they know that it is sheer misery and slavery (Romans 1:28-32 : Romans 6:20, Romans 6:21; Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 2:3).
III. THAT THEY CHARGED MOSES WITH AMBITION AND SELF-SEEKING, AND WITH THROWING DUST IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE. Even so is Christianity commonly accounted (or at least described) by its open and more vulgar enemies as mere obscurantism intended to keep the people in darkness, and to make them an easy prey to designing men for power and profit (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:12, 2 Corinthians 11:20; 2 Corinthians 12:16, &c.).
IV. THAT DATHAN AND ABIRAM, BEING OBDURATE, WERE SWALLOWED UP BY THE EARTH, because it was with their earthly lot that they were angry, and with their earthly ruler that they contended. Even so they that are of the earth earthy shall perish with the perishing world; it is their punishment that they are "swallowed up" in gross material cares or pleasures, and have no lot nor part in the upper air of spiritual life (1 Corinthians 15:48; Philippians 3:19, and compare the use of "the earth" in the Apoc; as in chapter 7:1; 8:13).
Consider again, with respect to the congregation at large—
I. THAT THEY WERE IMPLICATED IN THE SIN, AND MIGHT HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN THE PUNISHMENT, OF THESE MEN. Even so the pride and discontent which is active in a few is latent in the many, and brings danger and damage to the whole Church of Christ. The conventional restraints of Christianity prevent for the most part any open outbreak; nevertheless, it may be said almost of the mass of nominally Christian people that they have "a revolting and a rebellious heart" (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Timothy 2:17; Hebrews 12:15).
II. THAT THEY WERE SAVED BECAUSE THEY GAT UP FROM THE TABERNACLE OF THESE MEN ON EVERY SIDE, AND TOUCHED NOTHING THAT BELONGED TO THEM. Even so our safety is to separate ourselves wholly from the fellowship or influence (in religious things) of such as oppose themselves to the paramount and absolute claims of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King (Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 10:22; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; Jud 2 Corinthians 1:22, 2 Corinthians 1:23).
HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE
1. The ringleader and his policy. Of all the seditious movements which embittered the heart of Moses and wrought trouble in Israel during the forty years' wanderings, the rebellion of Korah was by far the most formidable. The anxious tone of the narrative betrays a consciousness of this, and it is confirmed by the facts narrated. The other seditions were either confined to a few individuals, like the sedition of Miriam and Aaron, or, like the disturbances at Marah, and Kibroth-hataavah, and Kadesh. they were the confused movements of a crowd without definite aims, without leaders, without organization. In this sedition of Korah there is not only a general ferment of rebellious feeling, but there is an organized conspiracy, with a resolute and able man at its head—a man who knows exactly what he would be at, and is consummately skilful in turning to account all the floating elements of discontent that exist in the congregation.
I. Let us begin by taking careful note of THE RINGLEADER. Korah was, like Moses and Aaron, of the tribe of Levi and family of Kohath. He was therefore a far-off cousin of the men against whom he rebelled. That Korah was the soul of the sedition is too plain to need proof. (Compare "the company of Korah," Numbers 16:6, Numbers 16:16, Numbers 16:32; Numbers 26:9, &c.; "the gainsaying of Korah," Jud Numbers 1:11). His design is not difficult to fathom. He is a man of honourable rank. But being an ambitious man, he cannot rest so long as there is in the camp any one greater than himself. He looks with envious eye on his cousins Moses and Aaron. Moses, under God, is supreme in peace and war. As for Aaron, not only has he been invested with the exclusive right to offer sacrifice and burn incense before the Lord, but his family have been set apart to form a priestly caste in Israel. These honours did not come to the brothers by birthright, but by the special gift and appointment of the Lord. It would seem that Korah was of the elder branch of the family, tie resolves to cast down both brothers from their high place. Thus far his intention is open and avowed. We need not hesitate to add that he means to vault into their place; but about this part of his intention he holds his peace for the present. So much for the man.
II. HIS POLICY.
1. He begins by announcing a doctrine or principle. As much as anything else in the sedition, this enables us to take the measure of Korah's genius for leadership. Movements which repose merely on brute force rarely achieve abiding results. Blood and iron are not all-sufficient. A true leader of men spares no pains to get hold of men's minds. He likes to give his followers a good watchword or rallying cry. When a nation gets thoroughly possessed with a great and sound principle, when some high and far-reaching doctrine seizes its heart, it is almost invincible. It is characteristic of Korah that he so far appreciates the importance of a great doctrine to rally round, that he casts about for some truth which may be made a handle of for his purpose. In the great oracle which was the first to be uttered at Sinai he thinks he sees what will serve admirably. "Ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). Accordingly, he raises the cry of Equality and Fraternity! Moses and Aaron have engrossed to themselves privileges which are the inalienable right of every Israelite. They have taken too much upon them, and must be stripped of their usurped honours. A cry of this sort has often been raised, in all sincerity, by men of excitable temperament. But Korah was no enthusiast. The principle that all Israelites are kings and priests, if it had been really inconsistent (as he pretended to think) with the rule of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron, would have been equally inconsistent with the rule which he coveted for himself. Still there can be little doubt that the cry Korah raised would gain him many supporters.
2. He organizes a band of conspirators. By one means or another he succeeds in gathering around him no fewer than 250 accomplices. Nor were these obscure men. They all belonged to the ruling class. They are entitled
3. He diligently enlists into his company all the malcontents of the congregation. An example is seen in the Reubenites. They had a grievance. Reuben was the first-born, and as such had certain rights of priority, according to immemorial custom. These rights have been ignored, or transferred to Judah and Ephraim. The Reubenites are Korah's neighbours in the camp. He has inflamed their discontents, and held out flattering hopes. So Dathan, Abiram, and their people join him in open revolt (Numbers 16:12-14).
4. Korah does not confine his attentions to the two hundred and fifty leaders and their pronounced followers. The whole camp is pervaded with his emissaries. Things are in such a train that when the two hundred and fifty confront Moses and Aaron at the door of the tabernacle, Korah is able to "gather all the congregation" at the same time. He hopes to overawe Moses by this demonstration of popular sympathy.
We see here:—
1. An example of fine abilities abused. What an admirable helper in the kingdom of God Korah might have been! He might have been a second Joshua. Instead of that. he leads the wretched life of a conspirator, comes to a bad end, and leaves behind him an infamous name. The lust of power—the determination to be the greatest, has been the ruin of many a richly-gifted man.
2. An admonition to leaders in Church and State. There are leaders, not a few, who are such not of their own choice, but by the call of their brethren and by the clear appointment of Divine providence. It is natural and reasonable for them to expect the loyal support of the people. Certainly they are entitled to expect that they shall not be reviled and resisted, as if they had been ambitious and selfish usurpers. The example of Moses admonishes them not to be surprised if such reasonable expectations should be disappointed. A good conscience is an excellent companion under bitter reproach and opposition, but it will not always ward them off. Never was leader less ambitious, less selfish, than Moses; yet he could hardly have been treated worse if he had been another Korah.—B.
2. How the rebellion was encountered and put down, Moses was the meekest of men. There were circumstances of aggravation in the rebellion of Korah which would have exhausted the meekness of most men, but they failed to break down that of Moses. The much-enduring patience of the servant of the Lord never shone out more brightly than in the way in which he encountered the sedition of his bold, unscrupulous kinsman.
I. HE CARRIED THE CAUSE BY APPEAL TO THE MOST HIGH. A proposal to this effect was made—
1. To Korah and the two hundred and fifty chiefs of the conspiracy; Numbers 16:5-7 : q.d. "You challenge the legitimacy of my government and of Aaron's priesthood. You insinuate that we climbed so high by treading on the rights of our brethren. I might plead in reply that Aaron and I did not grasp at our present honours; they were thrust on us by the Lord. But let us refer the matter to the Lord's decision. Let him show who are his, who are holy, whom he hath chosen to draw near to him in his sanctuary. Take censers and present yourselves before the Lord tomorrow; I and Aaron will come likewise. Let the Lord answer by fire." Such is the proposal. To Moses the result is not doubtful. Yet his heart yearns over the misguided men. This comes out—
2. To the Reubenites. Moses sent for them also; but they were not so bold as the two hundred and fifty, and refused to come. They sent back, instead, an insolent and reproachful reply (Numbers 16:13, Numbers 16:14). Nevertheless, in their case also Moses refers the decision to the Lord (Numbers 16:15): q.d. "They accuse me of playing the prince and tyrant over them, whereas I have never exacted from them an ordinary governor's dues. So far from defrauding' them, I have not taken from them so much as an ass. The Lord judge between them and me, and respect not their offering."
II. THE APPEAL WAS HEARD AND JUDGMENT WAS PRONOUNCED.
1. We are not told bow the two hundred and fifty passed the night. Some of them must have had misgivings. They could not fail to remember the tragic death of Nadab and Abihu when they drew near to the Lord with strange fire. But Korah suffered no flinching. He mustered them on the morrow. His emissaries too had been busy in the camp, for when the two hundred and fifty took their places they were surrounded with a vast congregation of eager and sympathizing spectators. This gathering it was hoped would at once confirm the resolution of the conspirators and overawe Moses and Aaron. Moses, on his part, having referred the matter to the Lord, left it in his hand; with what result need hardly be told. First the pillar of fire appeared in a way that struck dismay; and then, after a while, fire came forth and consumed Korah and his two hundred and fifty—"those sinners against their own souls."
2. The fate of the Reubenites presented features of a still more tragic interest (Numbers 16:23-34). It was resolved flint they should be made a signal example of Divine vengeance. But, in the first place, the congregation were charged to separate themselves from them (cf. Revelation 18:4). This might well have awakened fear, and led to repentance. But they were infatuated in their error. Instead of repenting and craving mercy, "they came out and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children." Oh these last words! What a harrowing scene they bring before the mind! Was it not enough that Dathan and Abiram and their sons should perish? Why should the women and unconscious children die? The sight is a harrowing one, but it is one that meets us every day. When a blaspheming wretch passes us on the road with his like-minded wife, and a string of little children at their heels, is not that Abiram over again, with his wife and little children? A sight not to be contemplated without fear and pity.—Read the terms in which Moses referred the decision in this case to the Lord, and the awful judgment that ensued, Numbers 16:28-34. One can hardly help commiserating the Reubenites more than the Levites, for the Levites, one would think, must have sinned against the clearer light. Yet the facts seem to show that the Reubenites were the more aggravated sinners, or at least that their families took part more entirely in their sin. This at least is certain, that while the families of the Reubenite rebels perished with them, the family of Korah survived. Centuries after this, the sons of Korah flourished in Judah, and did honourable service as psalmists (titles of Psalms 42-49, and 84-88).
The story of Korah is an admonition to nations, and especially to churches, to "look diligently lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble them, and thereby many be defiled" (Hebrews 12:15). When a society provokes God's displeasure, he does not need to send against it some external foe; there are other and more humiliating forms of chastisement at his disposal. He may suffer some root of bitterness to spring up from within; he may suffer some one of its own children to be its scourge. A Korah will work more mischief in Israel than the Egyptians and the Amalekites put together can effect.—B.
Numbers 16:19-22, Numbers 16:41-50
3. How the congregation abetted the rebels, and were only saved through the intercession of Moses and Aaron. Bold and crafty as Korah was, he could not have done so much mischief if elements of mischief had not been everywhere rife in the camp. Many things conspire to show that his policy was to inflame and turn to bad account discontents previously existing among the people. The existence of these discontents is not inexplicable. A crowd of bondmen are not to be transferred into a nation of reasonable free men all at once. Moreover, the circumstances of the congregation at Kadesh Barnea were not fitted to make the task of Moses an easy one. After having reached the threshold of Canaan, the people had been turned back and condemned to pass the rest of their days in the wilderness. To be sure they had no one but themselves to blame; but this did not mend the matter. The consciousness that the ditch into which a man has fallen is a ditch of his own digging does not always move a man to take his fall meekly. Penitent hearts may be silent under God's chastisement; but impenitent hearts blaspheme him the more for what they suffer. We need not marvel, therefore, that there were many in the congregation, besides his active coadjutors, who were ready to lend their countenance to Korah in his rebellion.
I. THE SYMPATHY OF THE PEOPLE WITH KORAH showed itself in various ways.
1. They did not rise and vindicate the government of Moses, as they ought to have done.
2. In the crisis of the rebellion they gathered together in front of the tabernacle to encourage Korah and his two hundred and fifty with their countenance. Probably enough they did this with light hearts. Individuals moving with a crowd are apt to lose the sense of personal responsibility. But we shall have to answer to God for what we do, none the less because many others are doing it along with us. In the case in hand the general countenance given to the rebels was so deeply resented by God that it had almost proved fatal to the whole nation. To swell with our voice the shouts of a popular assembly may seem a trifle; but if the shouts are directed against the maintainers of truth and righteousness, we cannot take part without sin and danger.
3. When the rebels died for their sin, the people charged Moses and Aaron with their blood (Numbers 16:41). A fresh example of perversity which again had almost proved fatal to the whole nation.
II. It is a relief to turn from the perverse ungodliness of the people to THE MEEKNESS AND UNSELFISH ZEAL OF MOSES AND AARON. When the Reubenite rebels and the 250 conspirators perished, Moses did not utter a word in deprecation of their terrible doom. A signal example had become necessary. But when the whole people was threatened, he fell on his face and pleaded for it. This he did twice, he and Aaron.
1. When the people abetted Korah and his company before the tabernacle (Numbers 16:22). Twice before Moses had been tempted to desert his office of intercessor, and to separate his fortunes from those of his brethren (cf. Exodus 32:10-13; Numbers 14:12). On this third occasion, as on the two former, he refuses to do so. On the contrary, he intercedes with the energy of a man pleading for his own life. When sin abounds and judgments threaten, may the Lord always raise up among us intercessors like Moses and Aaron!
2. When the people charged him with the death of the rebels (Numbers 16:41). This time his intercession took a new form. While the people were murmuring the plague was breaking out in the camp. How shall it be stayed? Let Aaron show himself a true priest by making atonement for the people. There is no time for presenting a sin offering. Let him instead fill his censer with coals from the altar of sacrifice, and run in between the living and the dead, burning incense. It was a palpable token and demonstration of the Divine authority of the priesthood which the rebels had affected to condemn, that whereas the two hundred and fifty had by their incense-burning brought on themselves death, Aaron by his incense-burning warded off death, and that not only from himself but from the whole congregation.
1. The greatest storm of trial will not overthrow the man who makes God his strength. Moses begins, carries on, finishes his conflict against Korah with prayer (Numbers 16:4, Numbers 16:22, Numbers 16:45). Hence his unfailing meekness.
2. General demonstrations of sympathy with men who are the champions of error and unrighteousness bring guilt on the community, are displeasing to God, and may be expected to bring down his chastisements.
3. Moses, in his meek endurance of obloquy and his successful intercession for those who assailed him with it, is the figure of our blessed Lord. He endured the contradiction of sinners against himself. He prayed, "Father, forgive them." And thousands of them were forgiven. Christ's priesthood which men despise, how often is it glorified in their salvation!
4. The best answer that a Church or a ministry can give to men by whom their legitimacy is challenged or derided, is to bestir themselves like Aaron, standing between the dead and the living, and turning back the tide of destruction.—B.
HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT
ENVY AND ITS BITTER FRUITS
I. A CONSPIRACY OF SLANDEROUS REBELS.
1. They begin by blowing up the flame of envy in one another's hearts. The vicinity of the Reubenites to the Kohathites in the camp gave opportunities for this. "Woe to the wicked man, and woe to his neighbour," is a Jewish saying perhaps derived from this incident.
2. Their sin the more serious because they were "men of renown.'' Influential sinners particularly dangerous.
3. Korah's sin especially grievous
4. Their conduct condemns their motives also as bad. They envied the power or privileges, perhaps even the provision, made for the priests, as being somewhat better than that of the Levites. "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not."
5. They bring a false charge against Moses (Numbers 16:3), which recoils on themselves (Numbers 16:7). God had "lifted up" Moses; they were seeking to lift up themselves.
6. They will not avail themselves of "space for repentance" till the morrow, when God will decide. They will not "sleep over it" with any advantage to themselves.
7. They are unmoved by the reminder that their murmuring is really against God (Numbers 16:11).
8. They meet the friendly interposition of Moses by a fresh conspiracy of grievous falsehoods: of ambition (Numbers 16:13), deception (Numbers 16:14 : "Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?"), and responsibility for the evils they had brought on them by their own sins (Numbers 16:13, Numbers 16:14 : "to kill us;" "thou hast not brought us," &c.).
9. They persist in the most audacious defiance of God till the very last. Sketch Korah and his company with their censers at the door of the tabernacle, while Dathan, Abiram, and their kindred are recklessly waiting the issue at the doors of their tents, in spite of the warning of Numbers 16:26. This last act of sin one element also of their punishment.
II. A FEARFUL RETRIBUTION FROM AN ANGRY GOD.
1. The infatuation of the rebels one part of the judgment. The madness of hardened sinners their own guilt, but God's punishment (cf. Exodus 4:21; 1 King's 1 Kings 22:19-23; Acts 28:23-27).
2. New, strange sins call for a new, "strange work" of judgment (Numbers 16:31-33; Proverbs 29:1).
3. Those who unbidden handled sacred fire in their censers perished by the fire of God. Learn hence the guilt and peril of murmuring,against the appointments of God in regard to the methods of his government, or the means of acceptable approach to him through our Divine High Priest. Teachers and rulers in God's Church are to be honoured and followed (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Hebrews 13:17), and Christ is to be recognized as "the head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:10), and the one and only medium of acceptance with God (Psalms 2:12; John 5:22, John 5:23; John 14:6).—P.
THE GOD OF THE SPIRITS OF ALL FLESH.
This name of God reminds us of some of the relations in which God stands to us his creatures, who are immortal spirits in mortal flesh. We select three, and speak of him—
I. As PROPIETOR. "He formeth the spirit of man within him" (Zechariah 12:1). The verb used is applied to a potter or a smith, and reminds us that God has modeled the human spirit, with its varied powers, according to his own ideal (Psalms 33:15). Since he formed man in his own image, he is "the Father of spirits" in a sense in which he is not the Father of animals. Thus he is our Proprietor, who can say, "All souls are mine," who feels a deep interest in "the work of his own hands" (Psalms 138:8), and who will use, according to his judgment, the spirits he has formed and variously endowed. See Moses' use of this truth in Numbers 27:15-17.
II. As HEART-SEARCHER. Sin has broken into the natural relation of God to his creatures. He has to deal with them as sinners with various degrees of criminality. Hence need of discrimination which only the Creator and Searcher of hearts possesses. This truth used by Abraham (Genesis 18:23-33) and by Moses and Aaron (Numbers 27:22). It is only the Heart-Searcher who can righteously adjust
In this narrative we see
III. As THE SAVIOR. If God were not a Saviour there would soon be no "spirits of flesh" to be the God of (Malachi 3:6). But God's salvation is for all flesh (2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). If God is our Saviour, then we may delight in his proprietorship of us (Psalms 119:94; Psalms 116:12; Isaiah 43:1). And we can cheerfully accept any discipline which our Heart-Searcher sends (Hebrews 12:5-10); for "the God of my life" is also "the God of my salvation."—P.
THE DESTRUCTIVENESS OF SIN
Some things are very much dreaded because so destructive. E.g; locusts, war, pestilence. But there is nothing so destructive as sin. As "no man liveth," so no man sinneth, "to himself." Of Korah, as of Achan or of other transgressors, it may be said, "That man perished not alone in his iniquity" (Joshua 22:20). The destructive effects of sin are twofold—
I. PERSONAL: on the sinner himself, as in the case of Korah the Kohathite, honoured as one of the ministers of God's ark. lllustration—Infection, taken unawares, may not be suspected by friends, hardly by the victim; but its effects (fever, eruption, &c.) will be seen by and by. Sin cannot always be kept secret (Isaiah 59:12; James 1:15). "Evil shall slay the wicked." If the consequences are not as fatal as in Korah's case, moral destruction is going on. As Alpine granite may be reduced by frost and damp to a kind of mould, so sin—some sins especially—seems to break up the moral nature and reduce it to ruins. From the personal consequences of sin the destroyer we can only be delivered by Christ the Savior (Titus 2:14).
II. SOCIAL: on others. In the case of Korah and his conspirators, sin was fatal to their families. So perhaps in the case of Achan (Joshua 7:24-26; Joshua 22:20); if not, how terrible for them to see the husband, the father, killed, and to know that he had caused the loss of thirty-six men at Ai! "Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost." We cannot sin with impunity to our family any more than Adam did. Sin propagates sin. It involves others, directly or indirectly, in its fatal consequences. Illustration—King Saul, and the catastrophe to both family and nation at Gilboa. Unrighteous statesmen. Men of high social position who are immoral or infidel. Each sinner a center of contagion (Ecclesiastes 9:18). The fate of the children of Korah's company a warning to sinful parents. The children of the godless may be expected to become the parents of godless children, and thus the evil may be perpetuated from generation to generation. Mournful epitaph for a sinner's grave: "That man perished not alone in his iniquity." "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20, Romans 5:21; Romans 8:2, Romans 8:3).—P.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
THE REBELLION OF KORAH. THE CONSPIRATORS AND THEIR PRETEXT
Here is now the sin of Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:1-16) on a larger scale. Aaron, who had been inveigled into troubling Moses, is now joined with Moses in suffering from the pride and envy of others.
I. THE CONSPIRATORS. They were men of position and influence. We come upon a different kind of grievance from that of the ignorant multitude. Korah and his band may have been comparatively free from lusting after the delicacies of Egypt. Different men, different temptations. Korah was a Kohathite, joined therefore in the honourable office of bearing the ark and the sanctuary furniture (Numbers 4:1-20). The others belonged to the tribe of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, and with them were 250 of the leaders in the nation. A conspiracy of men of this sort was not so easily dealt with as an outbreak of the whole people. Korah was probably a man of deep, deliberate designs, able to bide his time, and watching as he had opportunity, to draw first one and then another into his schemes. Here was a set of men seeking great things for themselves (Jeremiah 45:5). They had got as far as they could get in the orderly and appointed way, but they wanted to be higher, and somehow or other Moses and Aaron blocked the way. These two men were a long way above the rest, and seemingly in an altogether different order of service, and thus the rebellious, envious spirit of Korah was excited. He was a man of the sort who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven.
II. THE PRETEXT OF ATTACK. Conspirators against rightful authority like to have a pretext of something fair and just. Thus Miriam: "Hath the Lord not spoken also by us?" And thus Korah: "All the congregation are holy, every one of them." There was something in Korah's office to furnish temptation to an envious mind. As he was engaged in the service of the tabernacle he saw Aaron going where he dare not go, touching things which he dare not touch. He heard Moses coming forward with a message professedly from God, but it was a message from the invisible. No one saw this God with whom Moses professed to hold intercourse, and doubtless Korah concluded that the messages were presumptuous inventions of Moses himself. lie considered the honours and privileges only of the leader and priest; he made no allowance for the burdens. Being a self-seeking, self-aggrandizing man, he could see no higher feeling in others. He wanted to be at the top of the tree himself, and seeing Moses and Aaron there, lie made sure they had got there by audacity and determination, and not by any appointment from God at all. "All the congregation are holy." This was a true statement, but an insufficient reason for attack. Thus the plea of all men being equal is put forth against those who hold high rank and great power. The outward eminence only is seen; the burdens of state, the ceaseless care, are all unknown. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Thus jealously Paul and Timothy were dealt with in the Church at Corinth, when they wished, not to have dominion over the faith of their brethren, but to be helpers of their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). Little did the schismatics dream of the Apostle's trials, crowned with the thorniest of all, the care ( μέριμνα) of all the Churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Moses would have rejoiced to take Korah's place, or even the lowest place in the camp, if God had not put him where he was. But of all this inner life of Moses, Korah knew and cared nothing. In his eyes Moses was a self-exalted man, to be immediately and irretrievably abased. "Do we not all wear the fringes, and look each of us on Ms own riband of blue? Did you not tell us yourself that these were to remind us of our holiness towards God. Why then should you lave an access to God and consequent honour which are denied to us?" Thus these leaders of the people had yet to learn, as only bitter lessons would teach them, that they were under a theocracy. There was no room for a democracy, either real or pretended, in Israel. Nor is the Church of Christ now a democracy, though it is the fashion sometimes to speak of the democratic spirit in it. It does indeed make light of human distinctions, traditions, fashions, and prejudices, but only to put in place of them the authority of Christ. He has appointed his Church humbly and faithfully to execute his will. Professing Christians may indeed choose Church officials, but the real call and choice and guidance are of the Master himself.—Y.
THE REPLY OF MOSES TO KORAH
I. KORAH'S QUESTION IS ONE FOR GOD TO ANSWER. It brings an accusation to which Moses had no answer in any language or conduct of his own. He was in a humbler way like Jesus before his enemies. When Jesus spoke of his relation to the Father, his complete dependence on the Father's will, and obedience to it, and of himself as the sole revealer of the Father, these enemies sneered and threatened; and no reply was effectual except that in which the Father glorified the Son by raising him from the dead. And even this was denied by those so enamoured of lies that it was impossible for them to receive the truth. Moses here could but wait an answer in some effectual and crushing way out of the great Invisible. Thus we have the impressive sight of a man who knows he is falsely accused and can wait serenely for the justifying word. If be had been guilty of self-seeking, as Korah was, and with the stain of it on his conscience, he could never have appealed in this way. It was not an empty call upon God, a mere rhetorical device. The challenge to Korah and his band is definite, and expresses a sure confidence in God as vindicator of his servants. "An honest cause fears not a trial, fears not a second trial, fears not a speedy trial." An innocent person needs do nothing in rashness, nor will he seek causes of evasion and delay. Let there be time for decent preparation, and on the morrow a decisive answer shall be given.
II. THE QUESTION SHALL BE ADDRESSED TO GOD IN THE MOST EXPLICIT WAY. By a solemn act he shall be questioned, and by a solemn act he shall answer. Let the people be effectually tested as to this holiness of which Korah makes so much. If even he and his band are holy before God as Aaron is, then let them attempt a part of Aaron's office (Exodus 30:1-9). If God accepts the service from them as from Aaron, then all that Korah says may be taken as true, and Aaron may retreat into obscurity and shame as a detected impostor. Moses was ready for the one test that should be complete. It is always open to us, if we do not believe statements made on authority, to try them for ourselves. If we do not believe that arsenic is poisonous, it is quite open to us to make the experiment on our own life. It may be a foolish experiment, but it is certainly a possible one. There was no fortified wall round the sanctuary. God did not put a guard of soldiers to keep defilers back. He himself was guard of his sanctuary. His own Divine energy resided in the holy things to avenge them against any polluted touch. Thus when men repudiate gospel truth and say, "Who is Christ, or who Paul, that we should be tied to square our future and control our hopes by their requirements?" God takes in hand the clearing of his Son and servants from all reproaches. There is nothing to prevent a man trying to please God apart from him who is appointed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth; but God in his own due time will make the trial manifest as ending in disastrous, ignominious failure. The more distinct and emphatic the challenge, the more distinct and emphatic shall the answer be.
III. MOSES SUGGESTS CERTAIN CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY LEAD TO A TIMELY RETREAT. Moses doubtless had a prophet's premonitions of the terrible doom into which this proud band was advancing; therefore he mentions things which Korah had neglected sufficiently to consider, and which would show him that God had been honouring him as well as Moses and Aaron. Korah belonged to a tribe specially separated to the service of God. If we complain of those who stand in a higher rank than ourselves, then those who are lower may complain of us in turn. All had been by God's appointment. The tribe of Levi had no more right to complain against Moses and Aaron than any other tribe had to complain against Levi. The God who arranged one body and many members arranged tile whole body of Israel, so that every part should contribute in harmony to the whole, and receive good in return. The service of Korah was just as needful in its way as that of Moses and Aaron. Korah was clamouring for the priesthood: who then was to do Korah's work if he stepped into Aaron's shoes? Thus Moses made an appeal to whatever generous and public spirit was in him to think more seriously on the good of the whole. God could not allow any one to imperil the integrity of Israel. They were in a dangerous position, this band of rebels, yet they knew it not. It was the Lord they were gathered against, and not Moses and Aaron, and just in proportion to the greatness of their ignorance was the greatness of their peril. They had talked indeed as if it was the Lord's cause they were thinking of, but their real object, which seemed easily in their grasp, was to trample down Moses and Aaron and take their place. "What is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?" An earthen vessel is a very common, cheap, fragile thing. If it is nothing more than an earthen vessel, then you may in a moment, unhindered, dash it to pieces. But if God, to show the excellency of his power, has put his treasure in an earthen vessel, then it were safer for you to conspire against the best founded of human governments than to touch that earthen vessel with so much as your little finger.—Y.
DATHAN, ABIRAM, AND MOSES
Dathan and Abiram seem to have been absent from the interview, as if to show their particular and utter contempt for Moses. It was a sort of crime against the new authority to have any dealings with him, to treat him with any civility. But Moses does not treat them as they treat him. It is good to stoop to rebels even, and show them a way of being reconciled—a way all in vain, however, so far as these two were concerned. What contempt they had silently shown by their absence is now made clear in unmistakable words. A free vent is found for all the rage and scorn pent up in their hearts, and one can see a sort of sidelong rebuke to Korah for condescending to make any terms with such a deceiver.
I. THEIR CHARGE AGAINST MOSES. Notice how all their complaints end with him. There is no word concerning Jehovah. Korah, at any rate, made a pretence of thinking of God's glory, as if Moses were not merely injuring the people, but robbing God of their service. Dathan and Abiram talk like utter atheists, as if the promises were of Moses, and not of God, and as if the non-fulfillment came from the inability or malice of Moses, and not from the righteous indignation of God. God had said that he brought them out of Egypt to be their God. Dathan and Abiram leave God altogether out of the question. It is Moses who has brought them out of a land that might be counted one of milk and honey, as compared with the wilderness. That assertion of Jehovah's appointment, favor, and protection which Moses so rejoicingly made was to them nothing but the lying of tyrannous statecraft. Men who are themselves without perceptions of the Eternal, whose thoughts are wholly within the sphere of time and sense, are fond of speaking concerning such as walk in the light of the Eternal as if they must be either fools or knaves. It is possible that Dathan and Abiram had been so blinded by the god of this world as to have persuaded themselves they were the champions of a righteous cause. The savage and heartless aims which they attribute to him. How easy it is when one's heart is so inclined, to distort into hideousness the lineaments of the most noble characters! Vindictive minds are like those spherical mirrors which alter the shape of everything presented to them. Thus did Dathan and Abiram make it out that Moses had drawn them front comparative comfort and security, to trifle with them and knock them about hither and thither at his own caprice. How differently the same things look according to the point from which we view them! How we should be on our guard against the representations of wicked, self-seeking men! how slow to credit or even to consider any slander upon God's servants! They charge him, moreover, with drawing them into the wilderness by specious promises, made only to be broken, as if, finding he could not keep these promises, he had cunningly thrown the fault on a pretended deity behind. Men will look anywhere for the reasons of disappointment save in their own headstrong and self-regarding lives. The infallible discernment which they claim for themselves. "Do you think people have only eyes for what you would have them see?" What is harder than to get the Dathans and Abirams of the world out of the supercilious egotism in which they are entrenched? It is bad enough to have eyes and yet see not, to fail in discerning the great realities of the unseen and eternal, but it is even worse to see all sorts of horrors and iniquities that have no existence. There is a sort of people in the world who suspect everybody, and the better any one seems, the more for that very reason are they doubtful. Thus Jesus is held for a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, one casting out demons by the prince of the demons; Paul is a pattern of duplicity; there is no real integrity among men, no real purity among women. The defiled minds of such pull down every other person, without hesitation, to their own level. There is no arguing with the man who believes that every face is nothing but a mask.
II. MOSES' INDIGNANT PROTEST. He does not address the slanderers, for where would have been the use? He makes a direct appeal to God: "Respect not their offering'." Probably they were going to set up some sort of altar in their own tents, since they refused to come to the tabernacle; only to find out, as Cain did before, and many have done since, that will-worship (Colossians 2:23) has no acceptance with God. Even if their offering had been made by the strictest ceremonial rules, what would have been its chance of acceptance with him to whom lying lips are an abomination? "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?" (Psalms 15:1-5). There is a claim here not only for the vindication of Aaron as the appointed priest, but of Moses also as the appointed leader, the faithful messenger, the pure channel of the pure commandments and promises of God. The man who would teach the people righteousness must be clear of the faintest suspicion that robbery or oppression clings to his own garments. He must be far different from those rulers of after days whom Isaiah denounces (Isaiah 1:10-15, Isaiah 1:23). "Moses got more in his estate when he kept Jethro's flock than since he came to be king in Jeshurun."—Y.
THE DESTRUCTION OF KORAH AND HIS COMPANY
I. THE APPLICATION OF THE TEST.
1. Moses and Aaron put themselves on a perfect outward equality with the rest. They humbled themselves that they might be exalted. Aaron, already chosen of the Lord, stands with his censer and incense in the midst of the company of rebels, as if he were but a candidate waiting for approval. Such is not the way of the dignitaries of the world. Their pomp and honour is mostly a mere convention; strip them of their titles and gauds, and you would scarcely notice them in the street. But Aaron was the priest of God wherever he went, and howsoever he was surrounded. Therefore, without fear or shame, he could take the lowest place, sure that he would presently be addressed, "Come up hither." So Jesus was numbered with the transgressors, reduced to the level of criminals, crucified instead of Barabbas. Christians have often had to stand among the ranks of evil-doers, but in due time they have gone out from them, because they were not of them (1 Peter 2:19-23).
2. Korah shows unquailing audacity to the last, i.e; up to the appearing' of the glory. The more the servants of God humbled themselves, the higher and more confident were his enemies in their pride. Korah was at his very highest before he fell. Aaron, whom he had so often seen going where he was forbidden, stands now on a level with the ordinary Levite; nay, more, he is as low as the other tribes. The congregation too has gathered round Korah in sympathy and expectation, for doubtless he has promised them such things as they love. And even as God had allowed rebellious Israel to go on even to the lifting of stones against Caleb and Joshua (Joshua 14:10), so here he allows the pride of Korah to swell to its fullest extent. And hence God's people should ever gain confidence in the times when he seems to be inactive. We are not to be discouraged because the wicked go on from strength to strength. The Jews rejected Christ; they consulted to slay him; they seized him; they put him through an examination in their own court; they handed him to Pilate: he was mocked, scourged, crucified; yet God did not intervene. And who now does not see that all this time he was in process of answering the prayer, "Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee"? (John 17:1). Korah, rising, was lifting Moses and Aaron with him. He fell; they remained.
3. The first expression of Divine wrath. A general destruction is threatened, without mitigation or delay. And if we only consider, we shall see how fitting it was that the first word should be a menace of complete and terrible destruction. The holiness of God is a great reality, keenly sensitive to any sin. How much then was it outraged by such a daring attempt as that of Korah and his company! And the whole congregation had shown a sad alacrity in their support. Why, even we ourselves, when we hear of some great crime in which many are engaged, do not stop to make distinctions between principals and accomplices. We feel that our first, word must be one of utter abhorrence and condemnation with respect to all who had part in such great wickedness. It is only because we are so little sensitive to the evil of sin, that we find difficulty in understanding the menace of verse 21.
4. Moses and Aaron promptly intercede. God has already shown what a distance separates them from the rest of the people. Now they proceed to show it themselves. It was the hour of exaltation and triumph but, like truly humble and holy men, they were occupied with intense pity for the great multitude suddenly exposed to the full wrath of God. Was there any in that great multitude who would thus have thought of them? Their position towards God and men comes out in something like its completeness. If Moses had much on behalf of God to say to men, so he had much on behalf of men to say to God. And Jesus is put before us as the great High Priest. If the sinful Aaron could be touched with a feeling of the infirmities of his brethren, not less is the same true of the sinless Jesus. Amid the threatening penalties of sin, and with the growing consciousness of our own helplessness, we can look to him for intercessory services, even. those which he came to earth specially to render. His Father, who is God of the spirits of all flesh, sent him not to destroy men's lives, but to save them (Luke 9:56).
II. THE AWFUL PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCE.
1. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are devoted to destruction. The intercession of Moses and Aaron, earnest and prevailing as it is, has a limit in the request and the result. "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it" (1 John 5:16). The people are first of all included in menace with the three chief rebels that presently they may be separated front them. Leaders and followers are both guilty, but there are degrees in wickedness as in holiness. It is perhaps of great significance, if only we will consider that God in this manifestation of his wrath came not only with three separate punishments, but three different modes of punishment. He seems to shadow forth something of degrees of punishment in the eternal world. If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the pit; but surely the woe of a deeper fall is to those presumptuous blind who drag others with them. Here were those who would not admit that Moses and Aaron had been Divinely separated for a peculiar service, and now in their towering pride they are separated for a peculiar doom. If they had not climbed so high they would not have fallen so far.
2. As we see the people falling away from Korah, we notice what a feeble bond unites the wicked. Only a few minutes ago the people were pressing admiringly on him as he bearded Moses in the very door of the tabernacle; now they flee from him and the other two as if they infected the air with death. The bond that looks so firm is but a rope of sand. It will not hold when anything' appears that looks like a peril to individual selfishness. We may be reminded indeed of "honour among thieves," hut this at the most can only mean that wicked men may act together till the last, not that they may be trusted to do it. There is no such coherency possible amongst the wicked as amongst the good. They have no entirely common purpose; each has his own advantage to seek, and so one may easily thwart all the rest. The Jews in the hour of their triumph over Jesus are chagrined by the inscription which obstinate Pilate puts on the cross.
3. Notice the reference to the elders in verse 25. They had been appointed, seventy of them, to help Moses in the burden which had become so grievous (Joshua 11:1-23). Where then had they been all this time? Men with the Spirit of God upon them should surely have sided boldly with Moses, even before the glory appeared. Perhaps indeed they were on his side; and we must not infer too much from silence, else Caleb and Joshua would appear in a dubious light. But this much at all events may be said, that even though they were select and judicious men, and God took of the spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon them, all this was insufficient to help Moses in his extremest needs. We may take their appointment rather as an expression of regard and sympathy, something fitted to teach the elders themselves to be fall of consideration and attention towards Moses. The great crowning needs of life cannot be met by human help, even when sanctified; we must still, like Moses, fall on our faces before God. Not until God has appeared, vindicated his servant, and scattered the unfriendly crowd, do we hear that the elders of Israel followed him.
4. The carrying out of the judgment on Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Moses announces that the mode of their death was to have great evidential value with respect to himself. Those who had been foremost as accusers and slanderers shall now be chief witnesses on his side, speaking more loudly for him in their death than ever they had spoken against him in their life. It had been their charge against Moses that he had assumed undue authority; therefore, to show how much he was in the secrets of the Divine government, he announces, not only that God himself would take in hand the execution of a righteous sentence, but would execute it in a way hitherto unheard of. And this very way Moses proceeds to indicate. What a point of faith he here reaches! what a perfect community of thought with God! for scarcely has he spoken when that happens which he said would happen, and in exactly the same way. Death and burial are included in the same act. No one was made unclean by these three men or any of their belongings.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/numbers-16.html. 1897.
- 26:9,10; 27:3; Exodus 6:18,21; Jude 1:11
- sons of Reuben
- Genesis 49:3,4; 1 Chronicles 5:1,2
- took men
- As the word men is not in the text, some read "took counsel;" and some "took courage." Houbigant renders yikkach, rebellionem fecerunt, "they rebelled;" which scarcely any rule of criticism can ever justify. Dr. Geddes' translation is, "Another insurrection was raised against Moses by Korah," etc. Others think that it may mean, "behaved with insolence." But, as Dr. A. Clarke observes, the verb wyyikkach, "and he took" which though at the end of the sentence in English, is the first word in Hebrew, is not in the plural, but the singular; and hence cannot be applied to the acts of all these chiefs. In every part of the Scripture, where this rebellion is referred to, it is attributed to Korah, therefore the verb here belongs to him; and the whole verse should be translated, "Now Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, he took even Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth, son of Reuben, and they rose up," etc.; reading, with some MSS., the Samaritan, and Septuagint, ben, son, instead of beney, sons.
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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/numbers-16.html.
Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
The son of Izhar — Amram's brother, Exodus 6:18, therefore Moses and he were cousin germans. Moreover, Izhar was the second son of Kohath, whereas Elizaphan, whom Moses had preferred before him, and made prince or ruler of the Kohathites, Numbers 3:30, was the son of Uzziel, the fourth son of Kohath. This, the Jewish writers say, made him malcontent, which at last broke forth into sedition.
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.
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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/numbers-16.html. 1765.
1.Korah was a Levite of the family of the Kohathites, whose service was the transportation of the sacred furniture of the tabernacle. He was probably a first cousin of Moses and Aaron. See Exodus 6:18, and Numbers 4:18, note. The prince who stands next to the throne is most tempted to supplant the king.
Dathan and Abiram — Reubenites of the family of Pallu. Numbers 26:8-9. On, also a Reubenite, is not mentioned again. The rabbinical tradition is, that he was prevailed upon by his wife to withdraw from his accomplices after Moses spoke with them. Josephus omits the name of On, but retains that of his father in the form of Phalous, thus identifying him with Pallu. Numbers 26:5, note. These may have felt sore because the birthright and headship of Israel had been taken away from their ancestor on account of his crime. See Numbers 2:3, note.
Took men — In the original the verb “took” has no object. “There is an anakolouthon rather than an ellipsis, and not merely a copyist’s error in these words, ‘took and rose up against Moses with two hundred and fifty men,’ for they took two hundred and fifty men, that is, gained them over to the conspiracy, and rose up with them,” etc. Dr. A. Clarke forgets a plain principle of Hebrew syntax when he makes Dathan, etc., the objects and Korah the sole subject of “took” because it is singular. When the verb stands before several subjects it often agrees only with the first.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 16:1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/numbers-16.html. 1874-1909.
the Third Sunday after Easter