The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)


- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:13 (Numbers 16:13)

Is it a small thing. Rather, "is it too little," as in Numbers 16:9 . A land that floweth with milk and honey. A description applying by right to the land of promise ( Exodus 3:8 ; Numbers 13:27 ), which they in their studied insolence applied to Egypt. Except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us. Literally, "that ( כִּי ) thou altogether lord it over us." The expression is strengthened in the original by the reduplication of the verb in the inf. abs; גַּם־הִשְׂתְּרֶר

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

I. The first position which we can take up with authority and certainty is the positive position that THE PRIESTHOOD OF AARON AND HIS SONS WAS THE OLD TESTAMENT TYPE AND SHADOW OF THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST CONFERRED UPON HIM IN HIS HUMAN NATURE AS THE SON OF MAN . This is argued and proved with many illustrations by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (see especially Numbers 5:4 , Numbers 5:5 ; Numbers 7:11-28 ; Numbers 8:1-4 ; Numbers 10:11-14 , Numbers 10:21 ). The elaborate comparison of the two priesthoods, the old and the new, which was also infinitely older,—and especially the assertion that the Levitical priests were many only because death deposed them from office ( Numbers 7:23 ), whilst Christ abideth for ever,—forbid us to regard any other priesthood than that of our Lord as the Christian analogue of the Jewish priesthood. As far as the type went Aaron lived on in all his priestly race, just as he had lived before in his chosen ancestor Abraham ( Hebrews 7:10 ): there was but one Jewish high-priest, and unto him corresponds in the kingdom of heaven Jesus and Jesus alone. Herein all will be substantially agreed who loyally accept the testimony of Scripture, and herein (if it be clearly and devoutly held) is the real heart of the matter, and the sufficient safeguard against superstition.

II. The second position which we can take up on purely Scriptural grounds, and which is not fairly assailable, is the negative position THAT NO ARGUMENT AGAINST MINISTERIAL OR SACERDOTAL ASSUMPTIONS OR CLAIMS IS VALID WHICH IS BASED UPON THE HOLINESS AND PRIESTLY CHARACTER OF ALL THE FAITHFUL . It is perfectly clear that Korah and his company had both Scripture and fact on their side when they said that all the congregation were holy and all were priests. They erred in taking for granted that the priesthood of all Israelites was really inconsistent with the special priesthood of Aaron. As things were, it is certain that the universal priesthood of Israel could best express itself, best translate itself into worship, through the ministerial acts of Aaron and his sons. A spiritually-minded Jew, who recognized most deeply his own priestly calling in Israel, would most devoutly give thanks for the separation of the tribe of Levi and family of Aaron, because he would feel that no one benefited so much by that separation as himself; far from standing between him and the God of Israel, it enabled him to draw nigh to God in a multitude of ways otherwise impossible. He would indeed be able to argue from the histories of Gideon, of Samuel, of Elijah, and of others of the chosen race, that the priesthood of the ordinary Israelite, although usually dormant as to outward sacerdotal functions, was always capable of being called into play by Divine permission under stress of circumstances, and he would be prepared to understand the significance of such a passage as Revelation 7:5-8 , in which Levi takes his place again (and not at all a foremost place) among the tribes, the Holy Ghost thus signifying that in the world to come all such distinctions will be merged for ever in the common priesthood of the saved. But in the mean time there was nothing antagonistic, either in doctrine or in practice, between the truth which Korah asserted and that other truth which Korah assailed: the priesthood of the many was helped, not hindered, by the special priesthood of the few. It is therefore impossible honestly to use such texts as 1 Peter 2:9 ; Revelation 1:6 , against the doctrine of a special Christian priesthood, because they only assert of Christians what the texts relied upon by Korah asserted of the Jews.

III. Abandoning the false line of argument just mentioned, we may yet so far develop the first position taken up as to maintain with confidence, THAT NO PRIESTHOOD CAN HAVE ANY EXISTENCE IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST OTHER THAN THAT OF OUR LORD HIMSELF . This is made evident, not only by the exclusive way in which his priesthood is dwelt upon in the New Testament, but (what concerns us more in this place) by the whole analogy of the Old. Aaron alone had the priesthood, and the extreme malediction of God lighted upon all, even of the separated tribe, who dared to meddle with it; but Aaron was certainly the type of Christ Himself. Any priesthood which should claim to have any independent existence, even if it professed to draw its authority from Divine appointment, would be ipso facto in direct antagonism to the solitary prerogative of Jesus Christ. Hence it follows that the upholders, not the impugners, of such a priesthood would be "in the gainsaying of Korah." It follows also that there can be no direct analogy drawn between those who rose up against Moses and Aaron, and those who rise up against any earthly ministry; it will be shown that a true resemblance may be traced under certain conditions.

IV. Admitting these principles, which ought not to be controverted, we may bring the question to a practical issue as follows:—While there cannot be set over us any other priesthood than the only, immutable, and incommunicable priesthood of the Messiah, yet there is nothing in Holy Scripture to negative a priori the idea THAT OUR LORD (being withdrawn from sight and sense) MAY CHOOSE TO PERFORM PRIESTLY FUNCTIONS UPON EARTH VISIBLY AND AUDIBLY BY THE HAND AND MOUTH OF CHOSEN MEN ; nor is there anything to negative a priori the further contention that those men were and are set apart in some special and exclusive way. Whether this be so is a matter of fact which must be decided upon the testimony, fairly and conscientiously weighed, of Scripture and of history. It depends upon the two historical questions.

1 . Whether our Lord constituted the apostles his representatives for any priestly functions.

2 . Whether the apostles transmitted such representation to others after them. In any case our Lord is the only priest, or rather has the only priesthood, although upon one view of the ease he will execute some offices of his priesthood by means of visible human agents, in whom and through whom he himself speaks and acts.

Without, therefore, entering upon any argument, we can safely conclude as to the Christian application of this passage.

1 . That it must be directly referred to the everlasting priesthood of Christ, and to assaults upon it, or infringements of it.

2 . That it may be in a secondary sense referred to a visible Christian priesthood, and to assaults upon it, on the supposition that such priesthood is in fact and in truth only the priesthood of Christ ministered in time and space by his appointment.

In point of fact there are many obvious and many subtle resemblances between the gainsaying of Korah and the popular contention against a Christian priesthood, or even against any Christian ministry, which no thoughtful student of Scripture can overlook, In the homiletics) however, which follow these are left to speak for themselves, and the deeper line of application will be followed. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT KORAH ON ONE SIDE , DATHAN AND ABIRAM ON THE OTHER , HAD HARDLY ANYTHING IN COMMON EXCEPT DISLIKE TO THE RULE OF MOSES , THE MEDIATOR OF ISRAEL AND KING IN JESHURUN ( Deuteronomy 33:5 ). His dislike was ecclesiastical, theirs was political; but this common dislike made them allies, and gave them a "tabernacle" in common (verse 27). Even so amongst the many who say, "We will not have this man to reign over us" ( Luke 19:14 ), there are to be found the most various dispositions, and the most distinct causes of complaint. As in the days of his earthly ministry, so now the opposition to him and to his sole governance is made up of the most heterogeneous, and at other times dissociate, elements.

II. THAT KORAH WAS HIMSELF A LEVITE OF SOME DISTINCTION , AND WAS THE SOUL OF THE CONSPIRACY . Even so it is hardly possible to find in history any grave assault upon the work or doctrine of Christ which has not been inspired by some one whose ecclesiastical position has given him both aptness and influence for this evil.

III. THAT KORAH REPRESENTED MOSES AND AARON IN AN INVIDIOUS LIGHT , AS MEN WHO KEPT THE PEOPLE IN SPIRITUAL SUBJECTION , AND DENIED TO THEM THEIR COMMON RIGHTS AS CHILDREN OF ISRAEL . Even so the constant clamour of unbelief is that Christianity is a system devised in the interests of tyranny and obscurantism in order to keep men in moral slavery, and to rob them of their freedom of thought, and to fetter their freedom of action.

IV. THAT KORAH ASSERTED TRUE FACTS AND APPEALED TO TRUE PRINCIPLES IN OPPOSITION TO WHAT HAD BEEN DIVINELY APPOINTED , AND WAS TO BE DIVINELY VINDICATED . Even so do men continually bring against the Truth himself facts which are undeniable, and principles which must be admitted. Herein is the real danger when war upon the Truth is waged with half-truths plausibly paraded as whole, with truths on one side confidently assumed to be fatal to the complemental truths on the other side. The liberty, e.g; of private judgment is arrayed against the authority of inspiration; the universal fatherhood of God against any distinction of the children of God, or necessity for the mediation of Christ; the fact that we are all members of one body against any mutual subordination or distribution of functions amongst those members.

V. THAT KORAH WAS PROBABLY SINCERE IN SO FAR AS HE HAD PERSUADED HIMSELF THAT HE WAS RIGHT , otherwise he would hardly have ventured upon the fatal test. Even so the leaders of opposition to Christ are commonly sincere; only vulgar intolerance brands them off-hand with hypocrisy or self-seeking. And this is their power, for men are led by personal regard and trust much more than by any ability to judge between rival systems. The only way to meet the sincerity and zeal of error is by showing a more transparent sincerity and a more ardent zeal on the side of truth ( 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 ; 1 Timothy 4:12-16 ; Titus 2:10 ).

VI. THAT WHEN MOSES HEARD THE INDICTMENT AGAINST HIMSELF AND AARON HE COULD BUT REFER IT TO THE DECISION OF THE LORD . The people were either actively or passively on the side of Korah, and argument had been unavailing. Even so when Christianity at large, or any system which we believe to be an integral part of Christianity, is assailed with popular and plausible arguments, there is really nothing to be done but to refer it to the arbitrament of God himself. Arguments convince only those that are convinced; clamours only intensify prejudice; mutual accusations only repel—Moses himself effected nothing by the angry words into which he was betrayed. And the arbitrament of God is unequivocally declared by our Lord to be the practical outcome of our religion in our lives ( Matthew 7:15 , Matthew 7:20 ; John 13:35 ). That the test is not capable of easy or of immediate application, that it has to be applied broadly, and with many allowances for disturbing causes, is true; but yet it is the test, and the only test, to which our Lord calls us. It is the test out of which Aaron, with all the weight of popular opinion against him, will ultimately come triumphant; in which Korah, with all his sincerity and plausibility, will come to nothing. And note that while religious questions must be referred to the arbitrament of God, and that arbitrament is not always distinct or immediate in this world, there is a further decision which will be absolutely certain and conclusive. "Even tomorrow the Lord will show who are his," "for the day shall declare it" ( 1 Corinthians 3:13 ), and "it shall be revealed by fire," as it was with Korah's company. Woe unto them who cannot abide, whether personally or as to their work, the test of fire. Our God is still, as then, a consuming fire ( Hebrews 12:29 ), and that fire burns and will burn against all falsity of teaching, as well as all unholiness of living ( 1 Corinthians 3:15 ; Hebrews 12:14 ). And note again that "even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him;" for although the election be not arbitrary, yet it is the election of grace, and not the personal worth or aptitude or desire, that does place any, or will place any hereafter, near unto God.

VII. THAT THE AMBITION OF KORAH WAS THE MORE TO BE BLAMED BECAUSE HE WAS HIMSELF A LEVITE , AND INTRUSTED WITH A SPECIAL MINISTRY IN HOLY THINGS . Even so is ambition or envy especially evil in a Christian man, forasmuch as he has an "unction" and an office in the body of Christ to which he cannot with all his zeal do justice, and which if faithfully used will bring him the highest possible reward (cf. Luke 22:26 ; 1 Corinthians 12:16 , 1 Corinthians 12:22 ; 1 Peter 2:5 ; 1 John 2:20 , 1 John 2:27 ; Revelation 3:21 ; Revelation 7:14 , sq. ).

VIII. THAT THE PARTICULAR OFFENCE OF KORAH AND HIS COMPANY WAS THEIR DARING TO OFFER INCENSE , WHICH AARON ALONE MIGHT DO , The incense seems to have signified not simply "prayer," but rather the intercessory and prevailing prayer of the great High Priest and Mediator. Thus the "much incense" in Revelation 8:3 , Revelation 8:4 , which is undoubtedly the intercession of Christ, is added to and rises with the prayers of all saints. Thus then the special sin reprobated in Korah is any interference with the mediatorial office of Christ, whether by endeavouring to draw near to God through other mediators, or without any mediator at all (cf. John 14:6 ; Galatians 1:8 ; 1 John 2:1 ).

IX. THAT THE COMPANY OF KORAH ( WHATEVER BECAME OF HIMSELF ) DIED BY FIRE , THE ELEMENT IN WHICH THEY SINNED . Even so he that presumptuously meddles with holy things, not being holy himself, shall perish by that very nearness which he rashly courted. The hand that is really and entirely wet can be plunged into molten metal without injury, and so he who is covered with the robe of righteousness may be a ministering servant of the consuming Fire, and live; but how great is the risk if the call be not clear.

X. THAT THESE MEN WERE " SINNERS AGAINST THEIR OWN LIVES " IN TRUTH , ALTHOUGH THEY ONLY SEEMED TO BE VINDICATING THEIR JUST RIGHTS AGAINST USURPERS . Even so is every one that seeks his supposed rights not in the spirit of meekness and of personal self-abnegation, but in a spirit of pride, contradiction, and vain-glory. To contend for oneself—albeit sometimes necessary—is of all things most dangerous, lest even in gaining our cause we lose our souls (cf. Matthew 23:12 ; 1 Corinthians 13:5 ; Philippians 2:5-7 ).

XI. THAT THEIR CENSERS WERE HALLOWED EVEN BY AN UNLAWFUL RELIGIOUS USE . Even so there is a kind of sanctity which attaches to every religious effort, however much it may be stained with pride or vitiated by error, and whatever ill results it may lead to, if it be made with sincerity. No such effort can be ignored as though it had not been made, nor cast out as wholly evil because not rightly made. Nothing which is done in the sacred name of religion (saving sheer hypocrisy) ought to be despised or neglected.

XII. THAT THE RESCUED CENSERS BECAME AN ADDITIONAL STRENGTH AND ORNAMENT TO THE ALTAR , AND A WARNING TO ALL GENERATIONS . Even so all assaults upon the faith and discipline of Christ are over-ruled for good, at the same time adding strength to some weak or neglected side of religion, and furnishing a warning against the mistakes and faults which misled their authors (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:19 ).

Consider again, with respect to the Reubenites—

I. THAT THEY WERE ANGRY WITH MOSES FOR WHAT WAS DUE TO THEIR OWN FAULT AND THE FAULT OF THE CONGREGATION , If they had not disobeyed they would have been in their own land by this time. Even so men are angry and impatient with the rule of Christ because it has not brought them peace or happiness, whereas this is wholly due to their own unfaithfulness. And so again men assail Christianity for not having reformed the world and abolished all evils, whereas they themselves will not submit to the easy yoke and light burden of Christ.

II. THAT THEY FALSELY AND WICKEDLY SPAKE OF EGYPT IN TERMS ONLY APPLICABLE TO CANAAN . Even so do the enemies of Christ speak of a state of nature, and of the life of the natural man, unvexed by fear of hell or hope of heaven, as if that had been true happiness and peace, whereas they know that it is sheer misery and slavery ( Romans 1:28-32 : Romans 6:20 , Romans 6:21 ; Ephesians 2:2 , Ephesians 2:3 ).

III. THAT THEY CHARGED MOSES WITH AMBITION AND SELF - SEEKING , AND WITH THROWING DUST IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE . Even so is Christianity commonly accounted (or at least described) by its open and more vulgar enemies as mere obscurantism intended to keep the people in darkness, and to make them an easy prey to designing men for power and profit (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:12 , 2 Corinthians 11:20 ; 2 Corinthians 12:16 , &c.;).

IV. THAT DATHAN AND ABIRAM , BEING OBDURATE , WERE SWALLOWED UP BY THE EARTH , because it was with their earthly lot that they were angry, and with their earthly ruler that they contended. Even so they that are of the earth earthy shall perish with the perishing world; it is their punishment that they are "swallowed up" in gross material cares or pleasures, and have no lot nor part in the upper air of spiritual life ( 1 Corinthians 15:48 ; Philippians 3:19 , and compare the use of "the earth" in the Apoc; as in chapter 7:1; 8:13).

Consider again, with respect to the congregation at large—

I. THAT THEY WERE IMPLICATED IN THE SIN , AND MIGHT HAVE BEEN INCLUDED IN THE PUNISHMENT , OF THESE MEN . Even so the pride and discontent which is active in a few is latent in the many, and brings danger and damage to the whole Church of Christ. The conventional restraints of Christianity prevent for the most part any open outbreak; nevertheless, it may be said almost of the mass of nominally Christian people that they have "a revolting and a rebellious heart" (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6 ; 2 Timothy 2:17 ; Hebrews 12:15 ).

II. THAT THEY WERE SAVED BECAUSE THEY GAT UP FROM THE TABERNACLE OF THESE MEN ON EVERY SIDE , AND TOUCHED NOTHING THAT BELONGED TO THEM . Even so our safety is to separate ourselves wholly from the fellowship or influence (in religious things) of such as oppose themselves to the paramount and absolute claims of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King ( Romans 16:17 ; 1 Corinthians 10:22 ; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 ; Jud 2 Corinthians 1:22 , 2 Corinthians 1:23 ).

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

I. Let us begin by taking careful note of THE RINGLEADER . Korah was, like Moses and Aaron, of the tribe of Levi and family of Kohath. He was therefore a far-off cousin of the men against whom he rebelled. That Korah was the soul of the sedition is too plain to need proof. (Compare "the company of Korah," Numbers 16:6 , Numbers 16:16 , Numbers 16:32 ; Numbers 26:9 , &c.; "the gainsaying of Korah," Jud Numbers 1:11 ). His design is not difficult to fathom. He is a man of honourable rank. But being an ambitious man, he cannot rest so long as there is in the camp any one greater than himself. He looks with envious eye on his cousins Moses and Aaron. Moses, under God, is supreme in peace and war. As for Aaron, not only has he been invested with the exclusive right to offer sacrifice and burn incense before the Lord, but his family have been set apart to form a priestly caste in Israel. These honours did not come to the brothers by birthright, but by the special gift and appointment of the Lord. It would seem that Korah was of the elder branch of the family, tie resolves to cast down both brothers from their high place. Thus far his intention is open and avowed. We need not hesitate to add that he means to vault into their place; but about this part of his intention he holds his peace for the present. So much for the man.


1 . He begins by announcing a doctrine or principle. As much as anything else in the sedition, this enables us to take the measure of Korah's genius for leadership. Movements which repose merely on brute force rarely achieve abiding results. Blood and iron are not all-sufficient. A true leader of men spares no pains to get hold of men's minds. He likes to give his followers a good watchword or rallying cry. When a nation gets thoroughly possessed with a great and sound principle, when some high and far-reaching doctrine seizes its heart, it is almost invincible. It is characteristic of Korah that he so far appreciates the importance of a great doctrine to rally round, that he casts about for some truth which may be made a handle of for his purpose. In the great oracle which was the first to be uttered at Sinai he thinks he sees what will serve admirably. "Ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" ( Exodus 19:6 ). Accordingly, he raises the cry of Equality and Fraternity! Moses and Aaron have engrossed to themselves privileges which are the inalienable right of every Israelite. They have taken too much upon them, and must be stripped of their usurped honours. A cry of this sort has often been raised, in all sincerity, by men of excitable temperament. But Korah was no enthusiast. The principle that all Israelites are kings and priests, if it had been really inconsistent (as he pretended to think) with the rule of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron, would have been equally inconsistent with the rule which he coveted for himself. Still there can be little doubt that the cry Korah raised would gain him many supporters.

2 . He organizes a band of conspirators. By one means or another he succeeds in gathering around him no fewer than 250 accomplices. Nor were these obscure men. They all belonged to the ruling class. They are entitled

3 . He diligently enlists into his company all the malcontents of the congregation. An example is seen in the Reubenites. They had a grievance. Reuben was the first-born, and as such had certain rights of priority, according to immemorial custom. These rights have been ignored, or transferred to Judah and Ephraim. The Reubenites are Korah's neighbours in the camp. He has inflamed their discontents, and held out flattering hopes. So Dathan, Abiram, and their people join him in open revolt ( Numbers 16:12-14 ).

4 . Korah does not confine his attentions to the two hundred and fifty leaders and their pronounced followers. The whole camp is pervaded with his emissaries. Things are in such a train that when the two hundred and fifty confront Moses and Aaron at the door of the tabernacle, Korah is able to "gather all the congregation" at the same time. He hopes to overawe Moses by this demonstration of popular sympathy.

We see here:—

1 . An example of fine abilities abused. What an admirable helper in the kingdom of God Korah might have been! He might have been a second Joshua. Instead of that. he leads the wretched life of a conspirator, comes to a bad end, and leaves behind him an infamous name. The lust of power—the determination to be the greatest, has been the ruin of many a richly-gifted man.

2 . An admonition to leaders in Church and State. There are leaders, not a few, who are such not of their own choice, but by the call of their brethren and by the clear appointment of Divine providence. It is natural and reasonable for them to expect the loyal support of the people. Certainly they are entitled to expect that they shall not be reviled and resisted, as if they had been ambitious and selfish usurpers. The example of Moses admonishes them not to be surprised if such reasonable expectations should be disappointed. A good conscience is an excellent companion under bitter reproach and opposition, but it will not always ward them off. Never was leader less ambitious, less selfish, than Moses; yet he could hardly have been treated worse if he had been another Korah.—B.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:4-35 (Numbers 16:4-35)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

I. HE CARRIED THE CAUSE BY APPEAL TO THE MOST HIGH . A proposal to this effect was made—

1 . To Korah and the two hundred and fifty chiefs of the conspiracy; Numbers 16:5-7 : q.d. "You challenge the legitimacy of my government and of Aaron's priesthood. You insinuate that we climbed so high by treading on the rights of our brethren. I might plead in reply that Aaron and I did not grasp at our present honours; they were thrust on us by the Lord. But let us refer the matter to the Lord's decision. Let him show who are his, who are holy, whom he hath chosen to draw near to him in his sanctuary. Take censers and present yourselves before the Lord tomorrow; I and Aaron will come likewise. Let the Lord answer by fire." Such is the proposal. To Moses the result is not doubtful. Yet his heart yearns over the misguided men. This comes out—

2 . To the Reubenites. Moses sent for them also; but they were not so bold as the two hundred and fifty, and refused to come. They sent back, instead, an insolent and reproachful reply ( Numbers 16:13 , Numbers 16:14 ). Nevertheless, in their case also Moses refers the decision to the Lord ( Numbers 16:15 ): q.d. "They accuse me of playing the prince and tyrant over them, whereas I have never exacted from them an ordinary governor's dues. So far from defrauding' them, I have not taken from them so much as an ass. The Lord judge between them and me, and respect not their offering."


1 . We are not told bow the two hundred and fifty passed the night. Some of them must have had misgivings. They could not fail to remember the tragic death of Nadab and Abihu when they drew near to the Lord with strange fire. But Korah suffered no flinching. He mustered them on the morrow. His emissaries too had been busy in the camp, for when the two hundred and fifty took their places they were surrounded with a vast congregation of eager and sympathizing spectators. This gathering it was hoped would at once confirm the resolution of the conspirators and overawe Moses and Aaron. Moses, on his part, having referred the matter to the Lord, left it in his hand; with what result need hardly be told. First the pillar of fire appeared in a way that struck dismay; and then, after a while, fire came forth and consumed Korah and his two hundred and fifty—"those sinners against their own souls."

2 . The fate of the Reubenites presented features of a still more tragic interest ( Numbers 16:23-34 ). It was resolved flint they should be made a signal example of Divine vengeance. But, in the first place, the congregation were charged to separate themselves from them (cf. Revelation 18:4 ). This might well have awakened fear, and led to repentance. But they were infatuated in their error. Instead of repenting and craving mercy, "they came out and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children." Oh these last words! What a harrowing scene they bring before the mind! Was it not enough that Dathan and Abiram and their sons should perish? Why should the women and unconscious children die? The sight is a harrowing one, but it is one that meets us every day. When a blaspheming wretch passes us on the road with his like-minded wife, and a string of little children at their heels, is not that Abiram over again, with his wife and little children? A sight not to be contemplated without fear and pity.—Read the terms in which Moses referred the decision in this case to the Lord, and the awful judgment that ensued, Numbers 16:28-34 . One can hardly help commiserating the Reubenites more than the Levites, for the Levites, one would think, must have sinned against the clearer light. Yet the facts seem to show that the Reubenites were the more aggravated sinners, or at least that their families took part more entirely in their sin. This at least is certain, that while the families of the Reubenite rebels perished with them, the family of Korah survived. Centuries after this, the sons of Korah flourished in Judah, and did honourable service as psalmists (titles of Psalms 42-49, and 84-88).

The story of Korah is an admonition to nations, and especially to churches, to "look diligently lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble them, and thereby many be defiled" ( Hebrews 12:15 ). When a society provokes God's displeasure, he does not need to send against it some external foe; there are other and more humiliating forms of chastisement at his disposal. He may suffer some root of bitterness to spring up from within; he may suffer some one of its own children to be its scourge. A Korah will work more mischief in Israel than the Egyptians and the Amalekites put together can effect.—B.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

I. THE SYMPATHY OF THE PEOPLE WITH KORAH showed itself in various ways.

1 . They did not rise and vindicate the government of Moses, as they ought to have done.

2 . In the crisis of the rebellion they gathered together in front of the tabernacle to encourage Korah and his two hundred and fifty with their countenance. Probably enough they did this with light hearts. Individuals moving with a crowd are apt to lose the sense of personal responsibility. But we shall have to answer to God for what we do, none the less because many others are doing it along with us. In the case in hand the general countenance given to the rebels was so deeply resented by God that it had almost proved fatal to the whole nation. To swell with our voice the shouts of a popular assembly may seem a trifle; but if the shouts are directed against the maintainers of truth and righteousness, we cannot take part without sin and danger.

3 . When the rebels died for their sin, the people charged Moses and Aaron with their blood ( Numbers 16:41 ). A fresh example of perversity which again had almost proved fatal to the whole nation.

II. It is a relief to turn from the perverse ungodliness of the people to THE MEEKNESS AND UNSELFISH ZEAL OF MOSES AND AARON . When the Reubenite rebels and the 250 conspirators perished, Moses did not utter a word in deprecation of their terrible doom. A signal example had become necessary. But when the whole people was threatened, he fell on his face and pleaded for it. This he did twice, he and Aaron.

1 . When the people abetted Korah and his company before the tabernacle ( Numbers 16:22 ). Twice before Moses had been tempted to desert his office of intercessor, and to separate his fortunes from those of his brethren (cf. Exodus 32:10-13 ; Numbers 14:12 ). On this third occasion, as on the two former, he refuses to do so. On the contrary, he intercedes with the energy of a man pleading for his own life. When sin abounds and judgments threaten, may the Lord always raise up among us intercessors like Moses and Aaron!

2 . When the people charged him with the death of the rebels ( Numbers 16:41 ). This time his intercession took a new form. While the people were murmuring the plague was breaking out in the camp. How shall it be stayed? Let Aaron show himself a true priest by making atonement for the people. There is no time for presenting a sin offering. Let him instead fill his censer with coals from the altar of sacrifice, and run in between the living and the dead, burning incense. It was a palpable token and demonstration of the Divine authority of the priesthood which the rebels had affected to condemn, that whereas the two hundred and fifty had by their incense-burning brought on themselves death, Aaron by his incense-burning warded off death, and that not only from himself but from the whole congregation.

General lessons:—

1 . The greatest storm of trial will not overthrow the man who makes God his strength. Moses begins, carries on, finishes his conflict against Korah with prayer ( Numbers 16:4 , Numbers 16:22 , Numbers 16:45 ). Hence his unfailing meekness.

2 . General demonstrations of sympathy with men who are the champions of error and unrighteousness bring guilt on the community, are displeasing to God, and may be expected to bring down his chastisements.

3 . Moses, in his meek endurance of obloquy and his successful intercession for those who assailed him with it, is the figure of our blessed Lord. He endured the contradiction of sinners against himself. He prayed, "Father, forgive them." And thousands of them were forgiven. Christ's priesthood which men despise, how often is it glorified in their salvation!

4 . The best answer that a Church or a ministry can give to men by whom their legitimacy is challenged or derided, is to bestir themselves like Aaron, standing between the dead and the living, and turning back the tide of destruction.—B.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-35 (Numbers 16:1-35)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

I. As PROPIETOR . "He formeth the spirit of man within him" ( Zechariah 12:1 ). The verb used is applied to a potter or a smith, and reminds us that God has modeled the human spirit, with its varied powers, according to his own ideal ( Psalms 33:15 ). Since he formed man in his own image, he is "the Father of spirits" in a sense in which he is not the Father of animals. Thus he is our Proprietor, who can say, "All souls are mine," who feels a deep interest in "the work of his own hands" ( Psalms 138:8 ), and who will use, according to his judgment, the spirits he has formed and variously endowed. See Moses' use of this truth in Numbers 27:15-17 .

II. As HEART - SEARCHER . Sin has broken into the natural relation of God to his creatures. He has to deal with them as sinners with various degrees of criminality. Hence need of discrimination which only the Creator and Searcher of hearts possesses. This truth used by Abraham ( Genesis 18:23-33 ) and by Moses and Aaron ( Numbers 27:22 ). It is only the Heart-Searcher who can righteously adjust

In this narrative we see

III. As THE SAVIOR . If God were not a Saviour there would soon be no "spirits of flesh" to be the God of ( Malachi 3:6 ). But God's salvation is for all flesh ( 2 Corinthians 5:19 ; 1 Timothy 2:6 ; 1 John 2:2 ). If God is our Saviour, then we may delight in his proprietorship of us ( Psalms 119:94 ; Psalms 116:12 ; Isaiah 43:1 ). And we can cheerfully accept any discipline which our Heart-Searcher sends ( Hebrews 12:5-10 ); for "the God of my life" is also "the God of my salvation."—P.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)



I. PERSONAL : on the sinner himself, as in the case of Korah the Kohathite, honoured as one of the ministers of God's ark. lllustration—Infection, taken unawares, may not be suspected by friends, hardly by the victim; but its effects (fever, eruption, &c.;) will be seen by and by. Sin cannot always be kept secret ( Isaiah 59:12 ; James 1:15 ). "Evil shall slay the wicked." If the consequences are not as fatal as in Korah's case, moral destruction is going on. As Alpine granite may be reduced by frost and damp to a kind of mould, so sin—some sins especially—seems to break up the moral nature and reduce it to ruins. From the personal consequences of sin the destroyer we can only be delivered by Christ the Savior ( Titus 2:14 ).

II. SOCIAL : on others. In the case of Korah and his conspirators, sin was fatal to their families. So perhaps in the case of Achan ( Joshua 7:24-26 ; Joshua 22:20 ); if not, how terrible for them to see the husband, the father, killed, and to know that he had caused the loss of thirty-six men at Ai! "Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost." We cannot sin with impunity to our family any more than Adam did. Sin propagates sin. It involves others, directly or indirectly, in its fatal consequences. Illustration—King Saul, and the catastrophe to both family and nation at Gilboa. Unrighteous statesmen. Men of high social position who are immoral or infidel. Each sinner a center of contagion ( Ecclesiastes 9:18 ). The fate of the children of Korah's company a warning to sinful parents. The children of the godless may be expected to become the parents of godless children, and thus the evil may be perpetuated from generation to generation. Mournful epitaph for a sinner's grave: "That man perished not alone in his iniquity." "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound ( Romans 5:20 , Romans 5:21 ; Romans 8:2 , Romans 8:3 ).—P.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

I. THE CONSPIRATORS . They were men of position and influence. We come upon a different kind of grievance from that of the ignorant multitude. Korah and his band may have been comparatively free from lusting after the delicacies of Egypt. Different men, different temptations. Korah was a Kohathite, joined therefore in the honourable office of bearing the ark and the sanctuary furniture ( Numbers 4:1-20 ). The others belonged to the tribe of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, and with them were 250 of the leaders in the nation. A conspiracy of men of this sort was not so easily dealt with as an outbreak of the whole people. Korah was probably a man of deep, deliberate designs, able to bide his time, and watching as he had opportunity, to draw first one and then another into his schemes. Here was a set of men seeking great things for themselves ( Jeremiah 45:5 ). They had got as far as they could get in the orderly and appointed way, but they wanted to be higher, and somehow or other Moses and Aaron blocked the way. These two men were a long way above the rest, and seemingly in an altogether different order of service, and thus the rebellious, envious spirit of Korah was excited. He was a man of the sort who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven.

II. THE PRETEXT OF ATTACK . Conspirators against rightful authority like to have a pretext of something fair and just. Thus Miriam: "Hath the Lord not spoken also by us?" And thus Korah: "All the congregation are holy, every one of them." There was something in Korah's office to furnish temptation to an envious mind. As he was engaged in the service of the tabernacle he saw Aaron going where he dare not go, touching things which he dare not touch. He heard Moses coming forward with a message professedly from God, but it was a message from the invisible. No one saw this God with whom Moses professed to hold intercourse, and doubtless Korah concluded that the messages were presumptuous inventions of Moses himself. lie considered the honours and privileges only of the leader and priest; he made no allowance for the burdens. Being a self-seeking, self-aggrandizing man, he could see no higher feeling in others. He wanted to be at the top of the tree himself, and seeing Moses and Aaron there, lie made sure they had got there by audacity and determination, and not by any appointment from God at all. "All the congregation are holy." This was a true statement, but an insufficient reason for attack. Thus the plea of all men being equal is put forth against those who hold high rank and great power. The outward eminence only is seen; the burdens of state, the ceaseless care, are all unknown. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Thus jealously Paul and Timothy were dealt with in the Church at Corinth, when they wished, not to have dominion over the faith of their brethren, but to be helpers of their joy ( 2 Corinthians 1:24 ). Little did the schismatics dream of the Apostle's trials, crowned with the thorniest of all, the care ( μέριμνα ) of all the Churches ( 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 ). Moses would have rejoiced to take Korah's place, or even the lowest place in the camp, if God had not put him where he was. But of all this inner life of Moses, Korah knew and cared nothing. In his eyes Moses was a self-exalted man, to be immediately and irretrievably abased. "Do we not all wear the fringes, and look each of us on Ms own riband of blue? Did you not tell us yourself that these were to remind us of our holiness towards God. Why then should you lave an access to God and consequent honour which are denied to us?" Thus these leaders of the people had yet to learn, as only bitter lessons would teach them, that they were under a theocracy. There was no room for a democracy, either real or pretended, in Israel. Nor is the Church of Christ now a democracy, though it is the fashion sometimes to speak of the democratic spirit in it. It does indeed make light of human distinctions, traditions, fashions, and prejudices, but only to put in place of them the authority of Christ. He has appointed his Church humbly and faithfully to execute his will. Professing Christians may indeed choose Church officials, but the real call and choice and guidance are of the Master himself.—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

II. THE QUESTION SHALL BE ADDRESSED TO GOD IN THE MOST EXPLICIT WAY . By a solemn act he shall be questioned, and by a solemn act he shall answer. Let the people be effectually tested as to this holiness of which Korah makes so much. If even he and his band are holy before God as Aaron is, then let them attempt a part of Aaron's office ( Exodus 30:1-9 ). If God accepts the service from them as from Aaron, then all that Korah says may be taken as true, and Aaron may retreat into obscurity and shame as a detected impostor. Moses was ready for the one test that should be complete. It is always open to us, if we do not believe statements made on authority, to try them for ourselves. If we do not believe that arsenic is poisonous, it is quite open to us to make the experiment on our own life. It may be a foolish experiment, but it is certainly a possible one. There was no fortified wall round the sanctuary. God did not put a guard of soldiers to keep defilers back. He himself was guard of his sanctuary. His own Divine energy resided in the holy things to avenge them against any polluted touch. Thus when men repudiate gospel truth and say, "Who is Christ, or who Paul, that we should be tied to square our future and control our hopes by their requirements?" God takes in hand the clearing of his Son and servants from all reproaches. There is nothing to prevent a man trying to please God apart from him who is appointed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth; but God in his own due time will make the trial manifest as ending in disastrous, ignominious failure. The more distinct and emphatic the challenge, the more distinct and emphatic shall the answer be.

III. MOSES SUGGESTS CERTAIN CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAY LEAD TO A TIMELY RETREAT . Moses doubtless had a prophet's premonitions of the terrible doom into which this proud band was advancing; therefore he mentions things which Korah had neglected sufficiently to consider, and which would show him that God had been honouring him as well as Moses and Aaron. Korah belonged to a tribe specially separated to the service of God. If we complain of those who stand in a higher rank than ourselves, then those who are lower may complain of us in turn. All had been by God's appointment. The tribe of Levi had no more right to complain against Moses and Aaron than any other tribe had to complain against Levi. The God who arranged one body and many members arranged tile whole body of Israel, so that every part should contribute in harmony to the whole, and receive good in return. The service of Korah was just as needful in its way as that of Moses and Aaron. Korah was clamouring for the priesthood: who then was to do Korah's work if he stepped into Aaron's shoes? Thus Moses made an appeal to whatever generous and public spirit was in him to think more seriously on the good of the whole. God could not allow any one to imperil the integrity of Israel. They were in a dangerous position, this band of rebels, yet they knew it not. It was the Lord they were gathered against, and not Moses and Aaron, and just in proportion to the greatness of their ignorance was the greatness of their peril. They had talked indeed as if it was the Lord's cause they were thinking of, but their real object, which seemed easily in their grasp, was to trample down Moses and Aaron and take their place. "What is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?" An earthen vessel is a very common, cheap, fragile thing. If it is nothing more than an earthen vessel, then you may in a moment, unhindered, dash it to pieces. But if God, to show the excellency of his power, has put his treasure in an earthen vessel, then it were safer for you to conspire against the best founded of human governments than to touch that earthen vessel with so much as your little finger.—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:12-15 (Numbers 16:12-15)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:1-40 (Numbers 16:1-40)

I. THEIR CHARGE AGAINST MOSES . Notice how all their complaints end with him. There is no word concerning Jehovah. Korah, at any rate, made a pretence of thinking of God's glory, as if Moses were not merely injuring the people, but robbing God of their service. Dathan and Abiram talk like utter atheists, as if the promises were of Moses, and not of God, and as if the non-fulfillment came from the inability or malice of Moses, and not from the righteous indignation of God. God had said that he brought them out of Egypt to be their God. Dathan and Abiram leave God altogether out of the question. It is Moses who has brought them out of a land that might be counted one of milk and honey, as compared with the wilderness. That assertion of Jehovah's appointment, favor, and protection which Moses so rejoicingly made was to them nothing but the lying of tyrannous statecraft. Men who are themselves without perceptions of the Eternal, whose thoughts are wholly within the sphere of time and sense, are fond of speaking concerning such as walk in the light of the Eternal as if they must be either fools or knaves. It is possible that Dathan and Abiram had been so blinded by the god of this world as to have persuaded themselves they were the champions of a righteous cause. The savage and heartless aims which they attribute to him. How easy it is when one's heart is so inclined, to distort into hideousness the lineaments of the most noble characters! Vindictive minds are like those spherical mirrors which alter the shape of everything presented to them. Thus did Dathan and Abiram make it out that Moses had drawn them front comparative comfort and security, to trifle with them and knock them about hither and thither at his own caprice. How differently the same things look according to the point from which we view them! How we should be on our guard against the representations of wicked, self-seeking men! how slow to credit or even to consider any slander upon God's servants! They charge him, moreover, with drawing them into the wilderness by specious promises, made only to be broken, as if, finding he could not keep these promises, he had cunningly thrown the fault on a pretended deity behind. Men will look anywhere for the reasons of disappointment save in their own headstrong and self-regarding lives. The infallible discernment which they claim for themselves. "Do you think people have only eyes for what you would have them see?" What is harder than to get the Dathans and Abirams of the world out of the supercilious egotism in which they are entrenched? It is bad enough to have eyes and yet see not, to fail in discerning the great realities of the unseen and eternal, but it is even worse to see all sorts of horrors and iniquities that have no existence. There is a sort of people in the world who suspect everybody, and the better any one seems, the more for that very reason are they doubtful. Thus Jesus is held for a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, one casting out demons by the prince of the demons; Paul is a pattern of duplicity; there is no real integrity among men, no real purity among women. The defiled minds of such pull down every other person, without hesitation, to their own level. There is no arguing with the man who believes that every face is nothing but a mask.

II. MOSES ' INDIGNANT PROTEST . He does not address the slanderers, for where would have been the use? He makes a direct appeal to God: "Respect not their offering'." Probably they were going to set up some sort of altar in their own tents, since they refused to come to the tabernacle; only to find out, as Cain did before, and many have done since, that will-worship ( Colossians 2:23 ) has no acceptance with God. Even if their offering had been made by the strictest ceremonial rules, what would have been its chance of acceptance with him to whom lying lips are an abomination? "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle?" ( Psalms 15:1-5 ). There is a claim here not only for the vindication of Aaron as the appointed priest, but of Moses also as the appointed leader, the faithful messenger, the pure channel of the pure commandments and promises of God. The man who would teach the people righteousness must be clear of the faintest suspicion that robbery or oppression clings to his own garments. He must be far different from those rulers of after days whom Isaiah denounces ( Isaiah 1:10-15 , Isaiah 1:23 ). "Moses got more in his estate when he kept Jethro's flock than since he came to be king in Jeshurun."—Y.

- The Pulpit Commentary