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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Ko´rah (ice), a Levite, son of Izhar, the brother of Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron, who were therefore cousins to Korah (). From this near relationship we may, with tolerable certainty, conjecture, that the source of the discontent which led to the steps afterwards taken by this unhappy man, lay in his jealousy that the high honors and privileges of the priesthood, to which he, who remained a simple Levite, might, apart from the divine appointment, seem to have had as good a claim, should have been exclusively appropriated to the family of Aaron. When to this was added the civil authority of Moses, the whole power over the nation would seem to him to have been engrossed by his cousins, the sons of Amram. Under the influence of these feelings he organized a conspiracy, for the purpose of redressing what appeared to him the evil and injustice of this arrangement. Dathan, Abiram, and On, the chief persons who joined him, were of the tribe of Reuben; but he was also supported by many more from other tribes, making up the number of 250, men of name, rank, and influence, all who may be regarded as representing the families of which they were the heads. The private object of Korah was apparently his own aggrandizement, but his ostensible object was the general good of the people; and it is perhaps from want of attention to this distinction that the transaction has not been well understood. The design seems to have been made acceptable to a large body of the nation, on the ground that the first-born of Israel had been deprived of their sacerdotal birthright in favor of the Levites, while the Levites themselves announced that the priesthood had been conferred by Moses (as they considered) on his own brother's family, in preference to those who had equal claims; and it is easy to conceive that the Reubenites may have considered the opportunity a favorable one for the recovery of their birthright—the double portion and civil pre-eminence—which had been forfeited by them and given to Joseph.

The leading conspirators having organized their plans, repaired in a body to Moses and Aaron, boldly charged them with their usurpations, and required them to lay down their ill-gotten power. Moses no sooner heard this than he fell on his face, confounded at the enormity of so outrageous a revolt against a system framed so carefully for the benefit of the nation. He left the matter in the Lord's hands, and desired them to come on the morrow, provided with censers for incense, that the Lord himself, by some manifest token, might make known his will in this great matter. As this order was particularly addressed to the rebellious Levites, the Reubenites left the place, and when afterwards called back by Moses, returned a very insolent refusal, charging him with having brought them out of the land of Egypt under false pretences, 'to kill them in the wilderness.'

The next day Korah and his company appeared before the tabernacle, attended by a multitude of people out of the general body of the tribes. Then the Shekinah, or symbol of the Divine presence, which abode between the cherubim, advanced to the entrance of the sacred fabric, and a voice therefrom commanded Moses and Aaron to stand apart, lest they should share in the destruction which awaited the whole congregation. On hearing these awful words the brothers fell on their faces, and, by strong intercession, moved the Lord to confine his wrath to the leaders in the rebellion, and spare their unhappy dupes. The latter were then ordered to separate themselves from their leaders and from the tents in which they dwelt. The terrible menace involved in this direction had its weight, and the command was obeyed; and after Moses had appealed to what was to happen as a proof of the authority by which he acted, the earth opened, and received and closed over the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The Reubenite conspirators were in their tents, and perished in them; and at the same instant Korah and his 250, who were offering incense at the door of the tabernacle, were destroyed by a fire which 'came out from the Lord;' that is, most probably, in this case, from out of the cloud in which his presence dwelt. The censers which they had used were afterwards made into plates, to form an outer covering to the altar, and thus became a standing monument of this awful transaction (Numbers 16). On, although named in the first instance along with Dathan and Abiram, does not further appear either in the rebellion or its punishment. It is hence supposed that he repented in time: and Abendana and other Rabbinical writers allege that his wife prevailed upon him to abandon the cause.

It might be supposed from the Scripture narrative that the entire families of the conspirators perished in the destruction of their tents. Doubtless all who were in the tents perished: but as the descendants of Korah afterwards became eminent in the Levitical service, it is clear that his sons were spared. They were probably living in separate tents, or were among those who sundered themselves from the conspirators at the command of Moses. There is no reason to suppose that the sons of Korah were children when their father perished. The Korahites were appointed by David to the office of guarding the doors of the temple, and of singing praises. They, in fact, occupied a distinguished place in the choral service of the temple, and several of the Psalms (Psalms 42, 44-49, 84-85, 87-88) are inscribed to them. Heman, the master of song under David, was of this family, and his genealogy is traced through Korah up to Levi ().





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Korah'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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