The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Numbers 16

Num 16:1

Num 16: "More trouble occurs in Israel. Following the nation's revolt at Kadesh (Num 14), and the unnamed disobedient sabbath-breaker (Num 15), now there is the revolt against Yahweh's appointment by the leaders of the "ecclesia" (Num 16). The disappointment of the people, the defeat of Num 14:45, the general murmuring and disturbed state of the nation, became a fruitful ground for sedition. Korah seized the opportunity. Josephus rates this sedition as the most serious of any nation, and describes Korah as prominent, wealthy and a remarkable orator. He was a prominent man in the family of the Kohathites, first cousin to Moses and Aaron. Evidently that Aaron, who was only his equal in rank, should be high priest. A revolt was inspired by Korah, who gained the support of Dathan, Abiram and On. On perhaps withdrew (v 12), but further support was gained from 250 princes, from the tribe of Levi (vv 8,10). The rebellion spread from this group of rebels until ultimately 14,700 died (v 49). The censors, or fire-pans, had evidently been manufactured especially for the revolt, so that they were ready to take over the priesthood. It is a type of the continuing contest between those of flesh and those of spirit in the divine worship. The record recounts: [1] A spirit of rebellion is heard: vv 1-3. [2] The challenge of the Levites accepted: vv 4-11. [3] Dathan and Abiram reject Moses: vv 12-14. [4] Moses' integrity: v 15. [5] The contest with Korah: vv 16-19. [6] Divine intervention: vv 19-21. [7] Intercession: v 22. [8] Divine judgment: vv 23-25. [9] Moses' counter-challenge: vv 26-30. [10] The earth opens: vv 31-35. [11] The memorial of the altar: vv 36-40. [12] Further murmuring: vv 41-43. [13] 14,700 destroyed by plague: vv 44-50" (GEM).

Num 16: "If we were to make a parable out of the rebellion of these ancient Levites -- if we were to write of brethren M and A as the most prominent members of a little community, and brethren K, D, and A as disaffected members of the same ecclesia -- if we were to put the words of rebellion into modern style, it is to be feared that the circumstances might be recognized in several centres as a sarcastic account of their own local trouble. The parable might even be extended for the benefit of the country as a whole. The man who agitates for the sake of agitation, and changes the nature of his complaints as soon as any attempt is made to pacify him would be recognized by many observers" (See "What are your aims, agitator?" (IC in Xd 52:308).

"One of the most serious threats to the unity of the nation... was the affair of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. It arose directly because a purely fleshly reasoning caused the men concerned to press their personal importance to the detriment of the good of the nation as a whole. They fell into the error of 'not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God' (Col 2:19). Their action was based upon premises that seemed sound enough: 'All the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them' (Num 16:3). These were the words on the lips of the '250 princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown', men who according to the record, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram 'took'. Much lies concealed behind those words! One can imagine the secret meetings, the passing on of information from mouth to mouth, the fomenting of trouble, the sowing of discord, and all because Korah, being a son of Levi, desired to play the part assigned to others of his tribe, and Dathan and Abiram thought their tribe, the tribe of Reuben, deserving of greater pre-eminence than that to which God had called them!

"What is the relation of all this to ourselves as a community?... Our heritage is no less [than that of Israel], for the same God is working towards unity in Christ in the Ecclesia, which is both a body and a commonwealth....The people of Israel had a history of fragmentation and division which began in the wilderness and for which there are two principal reasons: Firstly, they had no sense of devotion to the Lord, whose Name was revealed in His mighty acts of power and compassion on their behalf....Their loss of the vision of the Divine glory caused them to yearn for Egypt, and ultimately to refuse to believe that they were the people whom God would bring into the land of His promise. They fragmented because they had no faith in the purpose of their calling.

"The other reason for their disunity was their failure to keep in mind, much less to comprehend the concept of the unity of their people, or to realize that the purpose of God was not with individuals or with tribes as such, but with 'all Israel', to whose wellbeing individuals and tribes contributed by playing each their several and necessary parts. Any fellowship other than that which acknowledges that one is our Head and all we are brethren is still, as it has always proved to be, a fellowship of opposition which leads to further fragmentation within the dissident group itself. As far as we can tell from a survey of our own history and that of Israel, there is no exception to this principle" (AHN, Xd 115:42,43).

Cp 1Pe 4:2,3; 2Pe 2:4; Jud 1:11: rebellion, pride, jealousy. Blind allegiance, divisive ecclesial spirit.

KORAH: Of same family as Moses and Aaron.

CERTAIN REUBENITES: Tribe of Reuben was situated next to Korah's group, on south side. (Reuben, being firstborn tribe, might expect preeminence.)

The names of Korah the Levite and Dathan and Abiram of Reuben stand high on any list of the troublers of Israel. Much can be learned, however, of a negative nature from these men; their sins -- rebellion, pride, and jealousy, leading to a divisive, condemning spirit within God's people -- are common enough among men.

The jealous feeling entertained by Aaron and Miriam against Moses (Num 12) culminated in the punishment of leprosy upon the prophetess. Even this striking lesson does not seem to have quelled the rebellious spirit among several prominent men in the congregation of the Lord. Korah, a leading Levite, and two princes of the tribe of Jacob's firstborn son, leading a formidable delegation, strode boldly before Moses and his brother. "Wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?" (Num 16:3). The challenge was the offspring of ambition; these were men who aspired to leadership but did not possess the required qualities: men who to gratify their own whims of self-importance rend apart united bodies, blind leaders of blind followers who can in one day destroy the work of years of patient building.

Num 16:2

...AND ROSE UP AGAINST MOSES: "The Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes" (Dan 5:21). We can be sure that whatever leaders we have, whether they be the rulers of the nation, our bosses at work, teachers at school, or leaders and elders in our ecclesia, that God has raised up those people for the position they have been put in (cp Exo 22:28; Acts 23:5).

Yet, even when we know these things, we are very often tempted to fall into the same sin as Korah, Dathan and Abiram and the crowd that followed them. They opposed Moses, the man God had raised up to lead his people from Egypt to the Promised land, accusing him of setting himself up as leader and grumbling against him.

Num 16:3

13 murmurings: Exo 5:21; 14:10; 15:24; 16:2; 17:2; 32:1; Num 11:1,4; 12:2; 14:2; 16:3; 20:2; 21:5. Cp Joh 6:41-43.

Num 16:4

WHEN MOSES HEARD THIS, HE FELL FACEDOWN: He must have realized, this man of God, what havoc their presumption would work among an impressionable nation. He naturally feared that the catastrophe he had personally averted on the summit of Sinai, when Israel had rebelled against God's authority, would now break forth afresh and bring to ruin God's work in the wilderness.

Num 16:5

IN THE MORNING THE LORD WILL SHOW WHO BELONGS TO HIM AND WHO IS HOLY: There is no suggestion that Moses knew what would transpire on the following day. But he must have been confident that in some way God's will would be made known. The test proposed was an arraying of the rival leaders with their censers on one side, and the meek Moses and his family on the other. It seems that Korah was eager and confident, feeling that in such a show of numbers, headed by his dignified and impressive self, the easily swayed congregation could not help but choose him and his allies as their new rulers.

"It would seem that this apostasy of Korah had already brought into existence a rival system of worship to that centred in the Tabernacle. Two hints in the narrative point to such a conclusion. The leaders of Korah's company -- two hundred and fifty of them -- were already each equipped with a censer for the burning of incense, which was the morning and evening duty of the priest only and never of the Levite or the layman. So the organization of another system of worship must already have proceeded to a dangerous extent. There is also repeated reference to 'the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.' This is the technical word 'mishkan', used of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, and quite distinct from the ordinary word for an ordinary tent (Num 16:27)" (HAW, Tes 32:306).

Num 16:6

V 6...: A rival system of worship! (HAW, Tes 32:306).

Num 16:27

Psa 84:10: For sons of Korah: "Rather a doorkeeper in house of God, than to dwell in tents of wickedness." (Korah's children did not die: Num 26:11.)

TENTS: Or "tabernacle". The rival system of worship Korah et al were setting up (cp vv 6,17).

Num 16:35

AND FIRE CAME OUT FROM THE LORD AND CONSUMED...: Judgment of the wicked described as a sacrifice: Rev 20:9; Gen 19:24; 2Ki 1:10-14; Psa 37:20; Eze 39:6,17-22.

Num 16:46

Imitating the action of High Priest on Day of atonement (Lev 16:12,13): "that he die not".

Num 16:48

One man stood between the living and the dead [the role of the mediator!], and turned the tide!

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