Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1, 2. Now Korah, the son of Izhar--Izhar, brother of Amram
was the second son of Kohath, and for some reason unrecorded he had
been supplanted by a descendant of the fourth son of Kohath, who was
appointed prince or chief of the Kohathites
Discontent with the preferment over him of a younger relative was
probably the originating cause of this seditious movement on the part
Dathan and Abiram, . . . and On--These were confederate leaders in the
rebellion, but On seems to have afterwards withdrawn from the
Nu 16:12, 24, 25, 27; 26:9;
took men--The latter mentioned individuals, being all sons of Reuben,
the eldest of Jacob's family, had been stimulated to this insurrection
on the pretext that Moses had, by an arbitrary arrangement, taken away
the right of primogeniture, which had vested the hereditary dignity of
the priesthood in the first-born of every family, with a view of
transferring the hereditary exercise of the sacred functions to a
particular branch of his own house; and that this gross instance of
partiality to his own relations, to the permanent detriment of others,
was a sufficient ground for refusing allegiance to his government. In
addition to this grievance, another cause of jealousy and
dissatisfaction that rankled in the breasts of the Reubenites was the
advancement of Judah to the leadership among the tribes. These
malcontents had been incited by the artful representations of Korah
with whom the position of their camp on the south side afforded them
facilities of frequent intercourse. In addition to his feeling of
personal wrongs, Korah participated in their desire (if he did not
originate the attempt) to recover their lost rights of primogeniture.
When the conspiracy was ripe, they openly and boldly declared its
object, and at the head of two hundred fifty princes, charged Moses
with an ambitious and unwarrantable usurpation of authority, especially
in the appropriation of the priesthood, for they disputed the claim of
Aaron also to pre-eminence
3. they gathered themselves together against Moses and against
Aaron--The assemblage seems to have been composed of the whole band
of conspirators; and they grounded their complaint on the fact that the
whole people, being separated to the divine service
were equally qualified to present offerings on the altar, and that God,
being graciously, present among them by the tabernacle and the cloud,
evinced His readiness to receive sacrifices from the hand of any others
as well as from theirs.
4. when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face--This attitude of
prostration indicated not only his humble and earnest desire that God
would interpose to free him from the false and odious imputation, but
also his strong sense of the daring sin involved in this proceeding.
Whatever feelings may be entertained respecting Aaron, who had formerly
headed a sedition himself
it is impossible not to sympathize with Moses in this difficult
emergency. But he was a devout man, and the prudential course he
adopted was probably the dictate of that heavenly wisdom with which, in
answer to his prayers, he was endowed.
5-11. he spake unto Korah and unto all his company--They were first
addressed, not only because they were a party headed by his own cousin
and Moses might hope to have more influence in that quarter, but
because they were stationed near the tabernacle; and especially because
an expostulation was the more weighty coming from him who was a Levite
himself, and who was excluded along with his family from the
priesthood. But to bring the matter to an issue, he proposed a test
which would afford a decisive evidence of the divine appointment.
Even to-morrow--literally, "in the morning," the usual time of meeting
in the East for the settlement of public affairs.
the Lord will show who are his, . . . even him whom he hath chosen will
he cause to come near unto him--that is, will bear attestation to his
ministry by some visible or miraculous token of His approval.
6, 7. Take your censers, Korah, and all his company, &c.--that is,
since you aspire to the priesthood, then go, perform the highest
function of the office--that of offering incense; and if you are
accepted well. How magnanimous the conduct of Moses, who was now as
willing that God's people should be priests, as formerly that they
should be prophets
But he warned them that they were making a perilous experiment.
12-14. Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram--in a separate interview,
the ground of their mutiny being different; for while Korah murmured
against the exclusive appropriation of the priesthood to Aaron and his
family, they were opposed to the supremacy of Moses in civil power.
They refused to obey the summons; and their refusal was grounded on the
plausible pretext that their stay in the desert was prolonged for some
secret and selfish purposes of the leader, who was conducting them like
blind men wherever it suited him.
15. Moses was very wroth--Though the meekest of all men
he could not restrain his indignation at these unjust and groundless
charges; and the highly excited state of his feeling was evinced by the
utterance of a brief exclamation in the mixed form of a prayer and an
impassioned assertion of his integrity. (Compare
and said unto the Lord, Respect not thou their offering--He calls it
their offering, because, though it was to be offered by Korah and his
Levitical associates, it was the united appeal of all the mutineers for
deciding the contested claims of Moses and Aaron.
16-18. Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the
Lord--that is, at "the door of the tabernacle"
that the assembled people might witness the experiment and be properly
impressed by the issue.
17. two hundred fifty censers--probably the small platters, common in
Egyptian families, where incense was offered to household deities and
which had been among the precious things borrowed at their departure
[Ex 12:35, 36].
20, 21. the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying, Separate
yourselves from among this congregation--Curiosity to witness the
exciting spectacle attracted a vast concourse of the people, and it
would seem that the popular mind had been incited to evil by the
clamors of the mutineers against Moses and Aaron. There was something
in their behavior very offensive to God; for after His glory had
appeared--as at the installation of Aaron
so now for his confirmation in the sacred office--He bade Moses and
Aaron withdraw from the assembly "that He might consume them in a
22. they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits
of all flesh--The benevolent importunity of their prayer was the more
remarkable that the intercession was made for their enemies.
24-26. Speak unto the congregation, . . . Get you up from about the
tabernacle--Moses was attended in the execution of this mission by the
elders. The united and urgent entreaties of so many dignified
personages produced the desired effect of convincing the people of
their crime, and of withdrawing them from the company of men who were
doomed to destruction, lest, being partakers of their sins, they should
perish along with them.
27. the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram--Korah being a
Kohathite, his tent could not have been in the Reubenite camp, and it
does not appear that he himself was on the spot where Dathan and Abiram
stood with their families. Their attitude of defiance indicated their
daring and impenitent character, equally regardless of God and man.
28-34. Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to
do all these works--The awful catastrophe of the earthquake which, as
predicted by Moses, swallowed up those impious rebels in a living tomb,
gave the divine attestation to the mission of Moses and struck the
spectators with solemn awe.
35. there came out a fire from the Lord--that is, from the cloud. This
seems to describe the destruction of Korah and those Levites who with
him aspired to the functions of the priesthood. (See
Nu 26:11, 58;
1Ch 6:22, 37).
37-40. Speak unto Eleazar--He was selected lest the high priest might
contract defilement from going among the dead carcasses.
39, 40. the brazen censers . . . made broad plates to be a
memorial--The altar of burnt offerings, being made of wood and
covered with brass, this additional covering of broad plates not only
rendered it doubly secure against the fire, but served as a warning
beacon to deter all from future invasions of the priesthood.
41. the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron,
saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord--What a strange
exhibition of popular prejudice and passion--to blame the leaders for
saving the rebels! Yet Moses and Aaron interceded for the people--the
high priest perilling his own life in doing good to that perverse race.
48. he stood between the living and the dead--The plague seems to have
begun in the extremities of the camp. Aaron, in this remarkable act,
was a type of Christ.