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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-3


Verses 1-3:

The exact time and place of the events of this chapter is not know. Suffice it to say that it was at some point in the thirty-eight years’ wandering.

Korah was a relative of Aaron. He was the son of Kohath, a descendant of Izhar, brother to Amram the father of Aaron and Moses. He was of the family of the Levites whose duty it was to care for and transport the Tabernacle furniture and vessels. The place they occupied in Israel’s camp was to the south of the Tabernacle, adjacent to those under the standard of Reuben.

A possible explanation for the actions of Korah, and for those Reubenites who joined him, may be seen in the family lineage. Korah was of the family of lzhar, one of Korah’s older sons. But leadership of the Kohathites was assigned to Elizaphan, descendant of Uzziel, Kohath’s youngest son. Dathan and Abiram were the tribe of Reuben, Jacob’s first born son, and leadership of the nation was assigned to Judah. This was possibly a source of jealousy, in that the elder sons were thus passed over and denied their "rights" of leadership.

The location of the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in the assigned encampment order, and could have affored opportunity to discuss the fancied injustice in the denial of their "rights." (See chart, chapter 2.)

Korah apparently took the lead in this rebellion. He persuaded two hundred and fifty prominent men in the leadership council to join his conspiracy. He disguised his sedition under the pretense of piety. His argument: the entire nation was holy to Jehovah, and thus Moses and Aaron had no right to claim exclusive spiritual leadership.

Korah’s claim was in part true. The entire nation of Israel was holy, set apart from the nations around them, Ex 19:6; Le 20:26. And each Israelite was in a sense a priest to Jehovah. This partial truth is what made Korah’s rebellion so dangerous. It was mixed with enough truth to make it acceptable on the surface, but it was a serious falsehood because it failed to recognize God’s appointment. Korah based his claim to leadership rights upon national descent and fleshly lineage. God’s appointment to leadership rights was based upon spiritual qualities and godly character. ’

Korah’s rebellion typifies the constant warfare between flesh and spirit, Ro 7:14-23; 8:5-8; Ga 5:17; 4:22-31.

Verses 4-11

Verses 4-11:

Korah’s position as a Levite and his kinship with Moses and Aaron likely gave him considerable influence. He attracted a large and powerful following.

Moses addressed Korah directly. He committed the entire matter to God, affirming that He would show conclusively who was His choice for leadership.

The test proposed involved the use of "censers," fire-pans, such as were used in priestly functions.

Moses then addressed all the "sons of Levi." This implies that there may have been a considerable amount of public opinion which favored Korah, although no mention is made of any other Levites who joined his conspiracy.

Moses reminded the Levites of the considerable honor given to them, to be chosen as the exclusive ministers of Jehovah and the custodians of the priesthood. He solemnly warned that the conspiracy was not against Aaron, but against Jehovah Himself.

This incident affirms that rebellion against God’s appointed leaders is in reality rebellion against Him.

Verses 12-14

Verses 12-14:

In verse 1, On, the son of Peleth, is listed among those who joined Korah’s rebellion. He is not included in this text; implying that he had withdrawn from the conspiracy.

Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram to appear before him, along with Korah. They refused his summons, in an insolent display of arrogance. They refereed to Egypt as a "land that floweth with milk and honey," God’s own description of the Land of Canaan. They charged Moses with personal ambition for power, to make himself a "prince" over Israel. And they accused him of deception, but not bringing them to a good and fruitful land as he had promised.

The attitude of Dathan and Abiram showed rebellion against Divinely appointed authority, and a cynical spirit toward others. This attitude is evident today, among some who refuse to submit to God-appointed authority.

Verses 15-18

Verses 15-18:

The taunts of Dathan and Abiram made Moses very angry. It appears his anger was not directed toward them personally, but toward the rebellious spirit they manifested. God Himself is angry with rebellion, and it is fitting that His child should be angry with that which angers Him.

Moses affirmed his own innocence of the charges Dathan and Abiram had made against him.

Moses ordered Korah and the two hundred fifty co-conspirators to assemble the next morning before the Tabernacle. They were to bring with them their censers (fire-pans) and incense. Aaron would meet them there with his censer.

Verses 19-22

Verses 19-22:

The extent of Korah’s rebellion was far-reaching. He was able to bring "all the congregation" against Moses and Aaron, in witness to the trial which Moses had proposed.

God’s glory shined forth from the Tabernacle, and He spoke to Moses and Aaron, warning them to stand away from the people that He might destroy them all. Moses and Aaron immediately fell on their faces in intercessory prayer for Israel. They pleaded God’s justice, that He would not destroy all the people for the sins of one man.

Verses 23-30

Verses 23-30:

Moses warned the assembled people to stand clear of the tents of the conspirators, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

The previous day, Dathan and Abiram had refused Moses’ summons to appear before him. Now, he led a procession of Israel’s elders to their tents, for a solemn confrontation. Once more Moses warned those standing by to get away from the tents of the rebels, lest they share in the judgment upon their sins.

Dathan and Abiram came out to stand in their tent doors, along with their families. It is implied that their attitude was still arrogant, that they thought Moses was powerless to do anything to them.

Moses solemnly pronounced the Divine judgment upon Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. It was: If the rebels should die a natural death, then Moses was not sent from the Lord. But if the Lord were to do something which had never before been done and would cause the earth to open up and swallow them, this would be Divine confirmation that they had sinned against the Lord and not against Moses.

Verses 31-35

Verses 31-35:

When Moses ended his speech, the judgment which was previously unheard of was executed immediately. The earth opened beneath the rebel’s tents, and swallowed them. The families of Dathan and Abiram disappeared into the earth. Korah and his servants perished in like manner. Only his sons survived, see Nu 26:10, 11.

This awesome judgment terrified the witnesses, and they fled in fear, seeking to escape the same fate.

Fire from the Lord, likely from the Tabernacle, came forth and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who had joined Korah’s rebellion.

Jude 1:11 refers to the "gainsaying of Core (Korah)," as a characteristic of many in the "last days." The term "gainsaying," antilogai, means "a speaking against," with the primary concept of rebellion. Korah’s sin is a common one today: rebellion against Divinely-appointed authority.

Verses 36-40

Verses 36-40:

This is the first recorded task assigned to Eleazar, the son of Aaron who would later succeed his father as high priest. He was to gather the censers from among the charred corpses of the two hundred and fifty men, and empty them of their coals. The censers were then to be flattened into plates which were to be used as siding or covering for the brazen altar.

The plates which covered the altar were to be a perpetual memorial and reminder that only the Divinely-appointed priests were to approach the altar to burn incense before the Lord.

Verses 41-43

Verses 41-43:

Many in Israel were not convinced by the dramatic display of judgment against Korah and his co-conspirators, that Moses and Aaron were the Divine choice for leadership. They regarded the episode as a personal conflict between two contenders for authority.

In referring to Korah and his companions as the "people of the Lord" they placed the rebels on a par with Moses and Aaron, whom they charged with murder. The people generally had not learned the lessons God intended they should. They failed to realize that their own lives had been spared solely because of the intercession of the two they were accusing of murder.

As the mob confronted Moses and Aaron, their attention was drawn to the Tabernacle once again. The cloud of God’s Presence which normally hovered above the Tabernacle had descended to cover it, indicating that Jehovah was about to speak.

Verses 44-50

Verses 44-50:

Once at Sinai (Ex 32:30-34) and again at Kadesh (Nu 14:13-19), God had announced His intention to destroy rebellious Israel. In both cases, Moses had interceded with God on their behalf, and God had altered His purpose. Now once again God determined to destroy them. There was nothing left for Moses to say. He fell on his face before the Lord, but arose quickly to see a devastating plague already beginning to sweep through the people.

Moses quickly instructed Aaron to take his censer, put incense upon it, and move among the people. Aaron did so at once. The text implies that the plague was spreading from one section of the camp to another, and Aaron stood with his censer between the living and the dead, until the plague was halted. This was vivid evidence that God had chosen Aaron as high priest, and the mediator between Israel and Himself.

The rapidity of the plague is evident in that 14,700 people died before Aaron could move among them.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 16". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-16.html. 1985.
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