Numbers 16


‘Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” Numbers 16:1-3

Korah, Dathan And Abiram

In this chapter, we once again find certain men rising up against God’s leaders. Moses and Korah, were descendants of Kohath, but by different sons, Moses through Amram, Numbers 26:58-59, and Korah through Izhar, Exodus 6:18.

The Kohathites had the responsibility of carry the most holy things of the tabernacle, Numbers 4:15. Korah, the Levite was joined by Dathan, Abiram and On who were of the tribe of Reuben. It appears that Korah recruited 250 fellow accomplices from the tribe of Levi.

The problem was they tried to appoint themselves as leaders, hence why they questioned God’s leadership, that is Moses and Aaron. Yes, they were part of the holy assembly of Israel, but they were wrong in thinking that could simply push Moses and Aaron to the side and remove them as leaders.

Coffman, in his commentary says the following.

‘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.

‘When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!” Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?” Numbers 16:4-11

It’s not surprising when Moses found out what was happening, he fell facedown. It’s important to point out that Moses prayed first before issuing a challenge where Korah and his followers would come before the LORD, along with Moses and Aaron, so that the LORD would choose His leaders.

It’s clear that Moses had no doubts as to how this challenge would end, he was confident that God would demonstrate that Moses was right and Korah was wrong. Moses’ words were a rebuke, but also a repetition of what Korah had said to Aaron and himself.

As I mentioned earlier, Korah was seeking the priesthood, which meant he was seeking to take over as leader. Korah had obviously forgotten about what happened to Nadab and Abihu, Numbers 10:1-10.

‘Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, “We will not come! Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us! Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves? No, we will not come!” Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.” Moses said to Korah, “You and all your followers are to appear before the LORD tomorrow—you and they and Aaron. Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it—250 censers in all—and present it before the LORD. You and Aaron are to present your censers also.” So each of them took his censer, put burning coals and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly.’ Numbers 16:12-19

Dathan and Abiram were the accomplices of Korah, Numbers 16:1, they were challenging the civil leadership of Moses by ignoring the fact that they couldn’t go into the land of milk and honey because of their own rebellion against God.

Remember this new generation of leaders was prohibited by God from entering the land of promise, and thus at this time they thought they would set aside God’s appointed leadership. Dathan and Abiram wouldn’t even meet Moses, or take up his challenge, but what they do instead is accuse Moses.

It’s incredible to believe that they thought they were better of as slaves in Egypt, they almost describe Egypt as the land flowing with milk and honey. It’s even more incredible to believe that they thought Moses was trying to kill them in the wilderness.

They were accusing Moses of making himself a dictator over the people, one who lording it over them. it appears that they forgot that Moses was their leader because God chose him to be.

It’s not surprising that Moses get very angry with them, but notice what he did, he left the matter in God’s hands. Moses’ reply was that he hadn’t led them for the purpose of gain, he hadn’t taken one donkey, or did he lead them in a harsh manner. Moses’ conscience was very clear, Acts 20:26-27 / Acts 20:33 / Acts 20:35.

Yes, they were right when they said that Moses hadn’t yet brought them to the Promised Land, and yes, they were right when they said that some of the blame must lay with Moses because he agreed to the demand of the people to send spies into the Promised Land, Deuteronomy 1:19-23. However, they couldn’t put all this this blame on Moses.

Notice that God used the censers with fire and incense in this test for a good reason. A censer is a metal pot used to burn incense, and they were used in the priestly worship of God.

‘The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’” Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents. Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.” As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!” And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense. The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, to remove the censers from the charred remains and scatter the coals some distance away, for the censers are holy—the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their lives. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the LORD and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites.” So Eleazar the priest collected the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned to death and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar, as the LORD directed him through Moses. This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD, or he would become like Korah and his followers.’ Numbers 16:20-40

It appears that God has had enough of this rebellion and wants to bring the whole matter to end as quickly as possible. Moses once again pleads with God and asks that He doesn’t destroy all of Israel because of the sin of on man, that is, Korah.

Notice that the elders followed Moses, Numbers 10:16-30, which was exactly what they were supposed to do in backing up the leadership.

Moses does what God asks, in moving away from the tents of, and he pleads with the people to separate themselves from them, Titus 3:10-11 / Romans 16:17-18.

The censers were beaten flat and used to cover the main altar of sacrifice. The censers of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were holy and preserved because even though they worshipped wrongly, they worshipped the right God. The families of Korah, Dathan and Abiram were destroyed with their fathers as the judgment of God came upon them and the 250 other accomplices.

It’s important to note that Korah’s son didn’t die with him, it’s noted by some that his sons learned the lesson from their father’s mistakes, as they went on to serve as singers in the tabernacle and the temple, Numbers 26:58 / 1 Chronicles 6:18-22 / 1 Chronicles 9:9. They are also accredited with writing a number of psalms, Psalms 42-49 / Psalms 84-85 / Psalms 87-88.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following, concerning the descendants of Aaron.

‘This regulation displeased many in Israel, and when Jeroboam came to the throne of the Northern Israel, one of his sins was that of appointing priests of all the people, 1 Kings 13:33-34. It was from this basic root that the eventual destruction of the Northern Israel derived. No priesthood of Israel in any sense was ever able either to add to or to diminish from the Sacred Scriptures, because, the power to augment is also the power to diminish, and it is simply inconceivable that if any such power had pertained to Jewish priests, particularly those of Northern Israel who generally were not Aaronic in any sense, and still less any of those in Southern Israel (Judah), could ever have left in the Pentateuch (and the Prophets also) such a fantastic array of material that is detrimental to the image of that priesthood as actually found there. Aaron was an idolater in the matter of the golden calf. Nadab and Abihu were destroyed by Jehovah for disobedience. And God finally disinherited, outlawed, and cursed the whole Levitical priesthood for their sins and arrogant disobedience. ‘I will send the curse upon you: yea, I have cursed your blessings already’, Malachi 2:2.’

‘The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said. But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the tent of meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” And they fell facedown. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.” So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, for the plague had stopped.’ Numbers 16:41-50

After the death of Korah and his accomplices, Israel once again, grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They hold Moses and Aaron personally responsible for the judgment that came upon the accomplices.

They accused them of killing the Lord’s people. This tells us that the plots of Korah, Dathan and Abiram were also in the hearts of many of the people of Israel.

Because of their grumbling and accusations, God unleashed His judgment against Israel, to the point that 14,700 perished from a plague that He sent among the people. Notice, however, that the plague was stopped only when Aaron made atonement for Israel.

A censer filled with burning incense was used to stop the plague, Leviticus 16:12 / Hebrews 9:4. This implies that Aaron prayed to God, Revelation 8:3-4, and interceded on behalf of the people.

Go To Numbers 17


"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Joshua 1:9