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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 16

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-50



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 Jude 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.



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).

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 16". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/numbers-16.html. 1897-1910.
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