Numbers 16 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Numbers 16)

Verse 1

[1] 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:

The son of Izhar — Amram's brother, Exodus 6:18, therefore Moses and he were cousin germans. Moreover, Izhar was the second son of Kohath, whereas Elizaphan, whom Moses had preferred before him, and made prince or ruler of the Kohathites, Numbers 3:30, was the son of Uzziel, the fourth son of Kohath. This, the Jewish writers say, made him malcontent, which at last broke forth into sedition.

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.

Verse 2

[2] 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:

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.

Verse 3

[3] 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?

They — Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and the rest, who were all together when Moses spake those 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 dispatched 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 — By perpetuating the priesthood in yourselves and family, with the exclusion of all others from it.

All are holy — A kingdom of priests, an holy nation, as they are called, Exodus 19:6, a people separated to the service of God, and therefore no less fit to offer sacrifice and incense, than you are.

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.

Verse 4

[4] And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:

On 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.

Verse 5

[5] 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.

To-morrow — Heb. 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.

Verse 8

[8] And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:

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.

Verse 9

[9] 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?

To minister to them — So they were the servants both of God and of the church, which was an high dignity, though not sufficient for their ambitious minds.

Verse 11

[11] For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?

Against the Lord — Whose chosen servant Aaron is. You strike at God through Aaron's sides.

Verse 12

[12] And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:

Dathan and Abiram — To treat with them and give them, as he had done Korah and his company, a timely admonition.

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.

Verse 14

[14] 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.

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?

Verse 15

[15] 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.

Respect not their offering — Accept not their incense which they are now going to offer, but shew 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.

Verse 16

[16] And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:

Before the Lord — Not in the tabernacle, which was not capable of 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. 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.

Verse 18

[18] 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.

Fire — Taken from the altar which stood in that place, for Aaron might not use other fire. And it is likely the rememberance of the death of Nadab and Abihu deterred them from offering any strange fire.

Verse 19

[19] 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.

Against them — 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 appeared — In the cloud, which then shone with greater brightness and majesty, as a token of God's approach and presence.

Verse 22

[22] 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?

The spirits — 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 mayst 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 railed 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 sedition.

Verse 24

[24] Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

The congregation — Whom for your sakes I will spare upon the condition following.

Verse 25

[25] And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.

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.

Verse 27

[27] 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.

Stood in the door — An argument of their foolish confidence, obstinacy and impenitency, whereby they declared that they neither feared God, nor reverenced man.

Verse 28

[28] 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.

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.

Verse 29

[29] 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.

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 imposter, falsely pretending to be sent of God.

Verse 32

[32] 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.

All that appertained unto Korah — That is, all his family which were there, women, children, and servants; but his sons, who were spared, Numbers 26:11,58; 1 Chronicles 6:22,37, 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 fathers act, or upon Moses's intercession for them. This expression may intimate, that Korah himself was not here, but that he continued with his two hundred and fifty men before the Lord, where they were waiting for God's decision of the controversy. Nor is it probable that their chief captain would desert them, and leave them standing there without an head, especially, when Aaron his great adversary, abode there still, and did not go with Moses to Dathan. And Korah may seem to have been consumed with those two hundred and fifty. And so much is intimated, Numbers 16:40, that no stranger come near to offer incense before the Lord, that he be not as Korah, and as his company, that is, destroyed, as they were, by fire from the Lord. And when the Psalmist relates this history, Psalms 106:17-18, the earth's swallowing them up is confined to Dathan and Abiram, Psalms 106:17, and for all the rest of that conspiracy it is added, Psalms 106:18. And a fire was kindled in their company, the flame burnt up the wicked.

Verse 33

[33] 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.

Into the pit — Into the earth, which first opened itself to receive them, and then shut itself to destroy them.

Verse 35

[35] And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.

From the Lord — From the cloud, wherein the glory of the Lord appeared.

Verse 37

[37] 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.

To Eleazer — Rather than to Aaron, partly because the troublesome part of the work was more proper for him, and partly lest Aaron should be polluted by going amongst those dead carcasses; for it is probable this fire consumed them, as lightning sometimes doth, others, by taking away their lives, and leaving their bodies dead upon the place.

Out of the burning — From among the dead bodies of those men who were burnt.

Yonder — Far from the altar and sanctuary, into an unclean place, where the ashes were wont to be cast: by which God shews his rejection on of their services.

They are hallowed — By God's appointment, because they were presented before the Lord by his express order, Numbers 16:16,17.

Verse 38

[38] 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.

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 farther ornament, and security against the fire, continually burning upon it.

A sign — A warning to all strangers to take heed of invading the priesthood.

Verse 40

[40] 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.

To him — To Eleazer. These words belong to Numbers 16:38, the meaning is, that Eleazer did as God bade him.

Verse 41

[41] 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.

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! Tho' they were but newly saved from sharing in the same punishment, and the survivors were as brands plucked out of the burning, yet they fly in the face of Moses and Aaron, to whose intercession they owe their preservation.

Verse 42

[42] 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.

They — Moses and Aaron, who in all their distresses made God their refuge.

Verse 43

[43] And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.

Moses and Aaron came — To hear what God, who now appeared, would say to them.

Verse 45

[45] Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.

They fell upon their faces — To beg mercy for the people; thus rendering Good for Evil.

Verse 46

[46] 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.

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.

Verse 48

[48] And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.

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 to God on their behalf.