Woe to them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward…
I. As RELATING TO THE FACT OF KORAH AND HIS COMPANY.
1. The nature of the faction which was raised by them.
(1) The design that was laid for that, and all other circumstances of the story, we must have resort to the account that is given of it (Numbers 16.), where we shall find that the bottom of the design was the sharing of the government among themselves. They intend to lay aside Moses, but this they knew to be a very difficult task, considering what wonders God had wrought by him in their deliverance out of Egypt, what wisdom he had hitherto showed in the conduct of them, what care for their preservation, what integrity in the management of his power, what reverence the people did bear towards him, and what solemn vows and promises they had made of obedience to him. But ambitious and factious men are never discouraged by such an appearance of difficulties. Groundless suspicions and unreasonable fears and jealousies will pass for arguments and demonstrations. Then they who can invent the most popular lies against the government are accounted the men of integrity, and they who most diligently spread the most infamous reports are the men of honesty, because they are farthest from being flatterers of the court.
(2) The persons who were engaged in it. At first they were only some discontented Levites who murmured against Moses and Aaron, because they were not preferred to the priesthood, and of these Korah was the chief. Korah, being active and busy in his discontents, had the opportunity of drawing in some of the sons of Reuben, for they pitched their tents near each other, both on the south side of the tabernacle of the congregation; and these were discontented on the account of their tribe having lost the privilege of primogeniture. Thus whatever the pretences are, how fair and popular soever in the opposition men make to authority, ambition and private discontents are the true beginners of them; but these must be covered over with the deepest dissimulation, nothing must be talked of but a mighty zeal for religion and the public interest.
(3) The colours and pretences under which these persons sought to justify the proceedings of the faction.
(a) The asserting the rights and liberties of the people in opposition to the government of Moses. There were, then, two great principles among them by which they thought to defend them selves.
(i) That liberty and a right to power is so inherent in the people that it can not be taken from them. What means, then, this outery for liberty? Is it that they would have no government at all among them, but that every one might have done what he pleased himself? If any man can imagine himself in such a state of confusion, which some improperly call a state of nature, let him consider whether the contentment he could take in his own liberty and power to defend himself would balance the fears he would have of the injury which others in the same state might be able to do him. It follows, then, that what liberty is inconsistent with all government must never be pleaded against one sort of it. But is there, then, so great a degree of liberty in one mode of government more than another that it should be thought reasonable to disturb government merely to alter the form of it? Would it have been so much better for the people of Israel to have been governed by the two hundred and fifty men here mentioned than by Moses? Would not they have required the same subjection and obedience to themselves, though their commands had been much more unreasonable than his? What security can there be that every one of these shall not be worse in all respects than him whom they were so willing to lay aside? So that the folly of these popular pretences is as great as the sin in being persuaded by them.(ii) Another principle which tends to the subverting government under a pretence of liberty is that, in case of usurpation upon the rights of the people, they may resume the exercise of power and punish the supreme magistrate himself if he be guilty of it. Than which there can be no principle imagined more destructive to civil societies and repugnant to the very nature of government. For it destroys all the obligations of oaths and compacts.
(b) Another pretence of this rebellion of Korah was the freeing themselves from the encroachments upon their spiritual privileges which were made by the usarpations of Aaron and the priesthood. This served for a very popular pretence, for they knew no reason that one tribe should engross so much of the wealth of the nation to themselves, and have nothing to do but to attend the service of God for it. This hath always been the quarrel at religion by those who seldom pretend to it but with a design to destroy it.
II. THE JUDGMENT WHICH WAS INFLICTED UPON THEM FOR IT. They had provoked heaven by their sin, and disturbed the earth by their faction; and the earth, as if it were moved with indignation against them, trembled and shook, and then with a horrid noise it rends asunder and opens its mouth to swallow those in its bowels who were unfit to live upon the face of it. They had been dividing the people, and the earth, to their amazement and ruin, divides itself under their feet. By which we see God interprets striving against the authority appointed by Him to be a striving against Himself. This was the first formed sedition that we read of against Moses. The people had been murmuring before, but they wanted heads to manage them. Now all things concur to a most dangerous rebellion upon the most popular pretences of religion and liberty, and now God takes the first opportunity of declaring His hatred of such actions, that others might hear and fear and do no more so presumptuously.
Parallel VersesKJV: Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.