Numbers 16
Benson Commentary
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:
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.

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?
Numbers 16:3. They — Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and the rest, who were all together when Moses spake these words, (Numbers 16:5-7,) but after that, Dathan and Abiram retired to their tents, and then Moses sent for Korah and the Levites, who had more colourable pretences to the priesthood, and treats with them apart, and speaks what is mentioned, Numbers 16:8-11. Having despatched them, he sends for Dathan and Abiram, (Numbers 16:12,) that he might reason the case with them also apart. Against Aaron — To whom the priesthood was confined, and against Moses — Both because this was done by his order, and because, before Aaron’s consecration, Moses appropriated it to himself. For whatever they intended, they seem not now directly to strike at Moses for his supreme civil government, but only for his influence in the disposal of the priesthood. Ye take too much upon you — Hebrew, רב לכם, Rab-lachem. It is much or sufficient for you, as the same phrase is used Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 2:3. Their meaning seems to be, that Moses and Aaron ought not to confine the priesthood to their family alone, but be satisfied with being upon a level with their brethren, who were all holy, they said, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, as they are called, Exodus 19:6; a people separated to the service of God, and, therefore, no less fit to offer sacrifices than you are. The same phrase is retorted upon these rebellious Levites by Moses, Numbers 16:7. The Lord is among them — By his tabernacle and cloud, the tokens of his gracious presence, and therefore ready to receive sacrifices from their own hands.

Ye — Thou, Moses, by prescribing what laws thou pleasest about the priesthood, and confining it to thy brother; and thou, Aaron, by usurping it as thy peculiar privilege.

And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
Numbers 16:4. Moses fell upon his face — Humbly begging that God would direct and vindicate him. Accordingly God answers his prayers, and strengthens him with new courage, and confidence of success.

And 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.
Numbers 16:5. To-morrow — Hebrew, In the morning; the time appointed by men for administering justice, and chosen by God for that work. Some time is allowed, partly that Korah and his company might prepare themselves and their censers; and partly to give them space for consideration and repentance. He will cause him — He will, by some evident token, declare his approbation of him and his ministry.

This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
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.
And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
Numbers 16:8-11. Ye sons of Levi — They were of his own tribe; nay, they were of God’s tribe. It was therefore the worse in them thus to mutiny against God and against him. To minister to them — So they were the servants both of God and of the church, which was a high dignity, though not sufficient for their ambitious minds. Against the Lord — Whose chosen servant Aaron is. You strike at God through Aaron’s sides.

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?
And he hath brought thee near to 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?
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:
Numbers 16:12. Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram — To treat with them, and give them, as he had done Korah and his company, a timely admonition. We will not come up — To Moses’s tabernacle, whither the people used to go up for judgment. Men are said in Scripture phrase, to go up to places of judgment.

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 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 put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.
Numbers 16:14. Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men — Of all the people who are of our mind? wilt thou make them blind, or persuade them that they do not see what is visible to all that have eyes, to wit, that thou hast deceived them, and broken thy faith and promise given to them?

And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.
Numbers 16:15. Respect not their offering — Accept not their incense which they are now going to offer, but show some eminent dislike of it. He calls it their offering, though it was offered by Korah and his companions, because it was offered in the name and by the consent of all the conspirators, for the decision of the present controversy between them and Moses. I have not hurt one of them — I have never injured them, nor used my power to defraud or oppress them, as I might have done; I have done them many good offices, but no hurt; therefore their crime is without any cause or provocation.

And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:
Numbers 16:16. Be thou and thy company before the Lord — Not in the tabernacle, which was not capable of containing so many persons severally offering incense, but at the door of the tabernacle, where they might offer it by Moses’s direction upon this extraordinary occasion. Indeed, this work could not be done in that place, which alone was allowed for the offering up of incense; not only for its smallness, but also because none but priests might enter to do this work. Here also the people, who were to be instructed by this experiment, might see the proof and success of it.

And 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.
And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.
Numbers 16:18. They put fire in them — Taken from the altar which stood in that place, for Aaron might not use other fire. And it is likely the remembrance of the death of Nadab and Abihu deterred them from offering any strange fire.

And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the congregation.
Numbers 16:19. Korah gathered all the congregation — That they might be witnesses of the event, and, upon their success, which they doubted not of, might fall upon Moses and Aaron. And it seems by this that the people were generally incensed against Moses, and inclined to Korah’s side. The glory of the Lord appeared — In the cloud, which then shone with greater brightness and majesty, as a token of God’s approach and presence.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.
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?
Numbers 16:22. The God of the spirits of all flesh — And this is no empty title here, but very emphatical. Thou art the Maker of spirits, destroy not thy own workmanship. O thou who art the preserver of men, and of their spirits, the Lord of spirits, (Job 12:10,) who, as thou mayest justly destroy this people, so thou canst preserve whom thou pleasest; the Father of spirits, the souls. Deal mercifully with thy own children: the Searcher of spirits, thou canst distinguish between those who have maliciously raised this tumult, and those whose ignorance and simple credulity hath made them a prey to crafty seducers. Of all flesh — Of all mankind: the word flesh is often put for men. One man — Korah, the ringleader of this division.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
Numbers 16:24-25. Speak unto the congregation — Whom, for your sakes, I will spare upon the condition following. Unto Dathan — Because they refused to come to him. The elders — The seventy rulers, whom he carried with him for the greater solemnity of the action, and to encourage them in their work, notwithstanding the obstinate and untractable nature of the people they were to govern.

And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.
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 consumed in all their sins.
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.
Numbers 16:27. Stood in the door — An argument of their foolish confidence, obstinacy, and impenitence, whereby they declared that they neither feared God nor reverenced man.

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.
Numbers 16:28. All these works — As the bringing of the people out of Egypt; the conducting of them through the wilderness; the exercising authority among them; and giving laws to them concerning the priesthood.

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.
Numbers 16:29. The death of all men — By a natural death. The visitation of all men — By plague, or sword, or some usual judgment. The Lord hath not sent me — I am content that you take me for an impostor, falsely pretending to be sent of God.

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.
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.
Numbers 16:32. All that appertained unto Korah — That is, all his family that were there, women, children, and servants; but his sons, who were spared, (Numbers 26:11; Numbers 26:58; 1 Chronicles 6:22; 1 Chronicles 6:37,) were absent either upon some service of the tabernacle, or upon some other occasion, God so ordering it by his providence, either because they disliked their father’s act, or upon Moses’s intercession for them. Korah himself, it seems, was not here, but continued with his two hundred and fifty men before the Lord, where they were waiting for God’s decision of the controversy. Indeed, it is not probable that their chief captain would desert them, and leave them standing there without a head, especially when Aaron, his great adversary, abode there still, and did not go with Moses to Dathan. Korah was probably consumed with those two hundred and fifty, as seems to be intimated, Numbers 16:40. Accordingly, when the psalmist relates this history, (Psalms 106.,) the earth’s swallowing them up is confined to Dathan and Abiram, (Numbers 16:17,) and for all the rest of that conspiracy, it is added, (Numbers 16:18,) And a fire was kindled in their company, the flame burned up the wicked.

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.
And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
Numbers 16:35. From the Lord — From the cloud, wherein the glory of the Lord appeared.

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.
Numbers 16:38. Their own souls — That is, their own lives; who were the authors of their own destruction. The altar — Of burnt-offerings, which was made of wood, but covered with brass before this time, (Exodus 27:1-2,) to which this other covering was added for further ornament, and security against the fire, continually burning upon it. A sign — A warning to all strangers to take heed of invading the priesthood.

And Eleazar the priest took the brasen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar:
To be 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: as the LORD said to him by the hand of Moses.
But 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.
Numbers 16:41. On the morrow — Prodigious wickedness and madness, so soon to forget such a terrible instance of divine vengeance! The people of the Lord — So they call those wicked wretches and rebels against God! Though they were but newly saved from sharing in the same punishment, and the survivers were as brands plucked out of the burning, yet they fly in the face of Moses and Aaron, to whose intercession they owed their preservation.

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. And they fell upon their faces.
Numbers 16:45-46. They fell upon their faces — To beg mercy for the people; thus rendering good for evil. Put on incense — Which was a sign of intercession, and was to be accompanied with it. Go unto the congregation — He went with the incense to stir up the people to repentance and prayer, to prevent their utter ruin. This he might do upon this extraordinary occasion, having God’s command for his warrant, though ordinarily incense was to be offered only in the tabernacle.

And 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 was 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.
Numbers 16:48. Between the dead and the living — Whereby it may seem that this plague, like that fire, (Numbers 11:1,) began in the uttermost parts of the congregation, and so proceeded destroying one after another in an orderly manner, which gave Aaron occasion and direction so to place himself as a mediator with God on their behalf. In this action Aaron was a most eminent type of Christ, and the effect of Aaron’s oblation of incense an expressive emblem of the efficacy and happy fruits of the interposition of our great High-Priest.

Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.
And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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