Numbers 16

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took some men. 2 They rose up before Moses, with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, called to the assembly, men of renown. 3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much on yourself, since all the congregation are holy, everyone of them, and the LORD is amongst them! Why do you lift yourselves up above the LORD’s assembly?” 4 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face. 5 He said to Korah and to all his company, “In the morning, the LORD will show who are his, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him. Even him whom he shall choose, he will cause to come near to him. 6 Do this: take censers, Korah, and all his company; 7 and put fire in them, and put incense on them before the LORD tomorrow. It shall be that the man whom the LORD chooses, he shall be holy. You have gone too far, you sons of Levi!” 8 Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi! 9 Is it a small thing to you, that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do the service of the LORD’s tabernacle, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that he has brought you near, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? Do you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore you and all your company have gathered together against the LORD! What is Aaron that you murmur against him?” 12 Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; and they said, “We won’t come up! 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14 Moreover you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We won’t come up.” 15 Moses was very angry, and said to the LORD, “Don’t respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, neither have I hurt one of them.” 16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your company go before the LORD, you, and they, and Aaron, tomorrow. 17 Each man take his censer, and put incense on them, and each man bring before the LORD his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer.” 18 They each took his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense on it, and stood at the door of the Tent of Meeting with Moses and Aaron. 19 Korah assembled all the congregation opposite them to the door of the Tent of Meeting. The LORD’s glory appeared to all the congregation. 20 The LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 21 “Separate yourselves from amongst this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment!” 22 They fell on their faces, and said, “God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” 23 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get away from around the tent of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram!’” 25 Moses rose up and went to Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 He spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins!” 27 So they went away from the tent of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side. Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood at the door of their tents, with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. 28 Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works; for they are not from my own mind. 29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they experience what all men experience, then the LORD hasn’t sent me. 30 But if the LORD makes a new thing, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belong to them, and they go down alive into Sheol; then you shall understand that these men have despised the LORD.” 31 As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split apart. 32 The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, all of Korah’s men, and all their goods. 33 So they, and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol. The earth closed on them, and they perished from amongst the assembly. 34 All Israel that were around them fled at their cry; for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 Fire came out from the LORD, and devoured the two hundred and fifty men who offered the incense. 36 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 37 “Speak to Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter the fire away from the camp; for they are holy, 38 even the censers of these sinners against their own lives. Let them be made beaten plates for a covering of the altar, for they offered them before the LORD. Therefore they are holy. They shall be a sign to the children of Israel.” 39 Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burnt had offered; and they beat them out for a covering of the altar, 40 to be a memorial to the children of Israel, to the end that no stranger, who isn’t of the offspring of Aaron, would come near to burn incense before the LORD, that he not be as Korah, and as his company; as the LORD spoke to him by Moses. 41 But on the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the LORD’s people!” 42 When the congregation was assembled against Moses and against Aaron, They looked towards the Tent of Meeting. Behold, the cloud covered it, and the LORD’s glory appeared. 43 Moses and Aaron came to the front of the Tent of Meeting. 44 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from amongst this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment!” They fell on their faces. 46 Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire from off the altar in it, and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation, and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the LORD! The plague has begun.” 47 Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the middle of the assembly. Behold, the plague has begun amongst the people. He put on the incense, and made atonement for the people. 48 He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. 49 Now those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, besides those who died about the matter of Korah. 50 Aaron returned to Moses to the door of the Tent of Meeting, and the plague was stopped.

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Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

Verses 1–11

Pride and ambition occasion a great deal of mischief both in churches and states. The rebels quarrel with the settlement of the priesthood upon Aaron and his family. Small reason they had to boast of the people’s purity, or of God’s favour, as the people had been so often and so lately polluted with sin, and were now under the marks of God’s displeasure. They unjustly charge Moses and Aaron with taking honour to themselves; whereas they were called of God to it. See here, 1. What spirit levellers are of; those who resist the powers God has set over them. 2. What usage they have been serviceable. Moses sought instruction from God. The heart of the wise studies to answer, and asks counsel of God. Moses shows their privileges as Levites, and convicts them of the sin of undervaluing these privileges. It will help to keep us from envying those above us, duly to consider how many there are below us.

Verses 12–15

Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram to bring their complaints; but they would not obey. They bring very false charges against Moses. Those often fall under the heaviest censures, who in truth deserve the highest praise. Moses, though the meekest man, yet, finding God reproached in him, was very wroth; he could not bear to see the people ruining themselves. He appeals to God as to his own integrity. He bade them appear with Aaron next morning, at the time of offering the morning incense. Korah undertook thus to appear. Proud ambitious men, while projecting their own advancement, often hurry on their own shameful fall.

Verses 16–22

The same glory of the Lord that appeared to place Aaron in his office at first, Le 9:23, now appeared to confirm him in it; and to confound those who set up against him. Nothing is more terrible to those who are conscious of guilt, than the appearance of the Divine glory. See how dangerous it is to have fellowship with sinners, and to partake with them. Though the people had treacherously deserted them, yet Moses and Aaron approved themselves faithful shepherds of Israel. If others fail in their duty to us, that does not take away the obligations we are under to seek their welfare. Their prayer was a pleading prayer, and it proved a prevailing one.

Verses 23–34

The seventy elders of Israel attend Moses. It is our duty to do what we can to countenance and support lawful authority when it is opposed. And those who would not perish with sinners, must come out from among them, and be separate. It was in answer to the prayer of Moses, that God stirred up the hearts of the congregation to remove for their own safety. Grace to separate from evil-doers is one of the things that accompany salvation. God, in justice, left the rebels to the obstinacy and hardness of their own hearts. Moses, by Divine direction, when all Israel were waiting the event, declares that if the rebels die a common death, he will be content to be called and counted an imposter. As soon as Moses had spoken the word, God caused the earth to open and swallow them all up. The children perished with their parents; in which, though we cannot tell how bad they might be to deserve it, or how good God might be otherwise to them; yet of this we are sure, that Infinite Justice did them no wrong. It was altogether miraculous. God has, when he pleases, strange punishments for the workers of iniquity. It was very significant. Considering how the earth is still in like manner loaded with the weight of man’s sins, we have reason to wonder that it does not now sink under its load. The ruin of others should be our warning. Could we, by faith, hear the outcries of those that are gone down to the bottomless pit, we should give more diligence than we do to escape for our lives, lest we also come into their condemnation.

Verses 35–40

A fire went out from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense, while Aaron, who stood with them, was preserved alive. God is jealous of the honour of his own institutions, and will not have them invaded. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. The censers are devoted, and, as all devoted things, must be made serviceable to the glory of God. This covering of the altar would remind the children of Israel of this event, that others might hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously. They brought destruction on themselves both in body and soul. Thus all who break the law and neglect the gospel choose and love death.

Verses 41–50

The gaping earth was scarcely closed, before the same sins are again committed, and all these warnings slighted. They called the rebels the people of the Lord; and find fault with Divine justice. The obstinacy of Israel notwithstanding the terrors of God’s law, as given on mount Sinai, and the terrors of his judgments, shows how necessary the grace of God is to change men’s hearts and lives. Love will do what fear cannot. Moses and Aaron interceded with God for mercy, knowing how great the provocation was. Aaron went, and burned incense between the living and the dead, not to purify the air, but to pacify an offended God. As one tender of the life of every Israelite, Aaron made all possible speed. We must render good for evil. Observe especially, that Aaron was a type of Christ. There is an infection of sin in the world, which only the cross and intercession of Jesus Christ can stay and remove. He enters the defiled and dying camp. He stands between the dead and the living; between the eternal Judge and the souls under condemnation. We must have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins. We admire the ready devotion of Aaron: shall we not bless and praise the unspeakable grace and love which filled the Saviour’s heart, when he placed himself in our stead, and bought us with his life? Greatly indeed hath God commended his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Ro 5:8.

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