Numbers 16:1
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:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XVI.

(1) Now Korah, the son of Izhar . . . —Some suppose that the copula before “Dathan and Abiram” should be omitted, and that the verse should be rendered thus: Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, took Dathan and Abiram, &c. The rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram is the only important event which is recorded in connection with the protracted wandering in the desert. The time and place of its occurrence cannot be positively determined. The circumstances out of which it appears to have arisen render it probable that it took place during one of the early years of the wanderings in the wilderness, either during the abode at Kadesh or subsequently to the departure from it. In favour of the supposition that the occurrence took place during the sojourn at Kadesh, it may be urged—(1) that the history of the Israelites between the first and the second encampments at Kadesh appears to be designedly regarded and treated as a blank; and (2) that during that interval they appear to have been dispersed over the face of the wilderness, whilst the narrative of the rebellion of Korah seems to assume the concentration of the people in one place. The whole of the narrative bears the clear impress of historical truth. The leaders of the rebellion, amongst whom Korah holds the most conspicuous place (comp. Numbers 16:1; Numbers 26:9; Jude 1:11), belonged to the tribes of Levi and Reuben. Korah, as the descendant of Izhar, the brother of Amram, who was the father (or. as some maintain, the more distant ancestor) of Moses and Aaron, may well be supposed to have been jealous of the peculiar prerogatives of the priestly family, and also of the leadership of Elizaphan, the son of Uzziel (Numbers 3:30), who appears to have been the youngest son of Kohath, whilst the name of Izhar stands next to that of Amram (Numbers 3:19). Dathan and Abiram, moreover, as the sons of Eliab, the son of Pallu, the son of Reuben (Numbers 26:5-9), who was the eldest son of Jacob, may, on like grounds, be supposed to have been discontented on account of the transference of the birthright, and the consequent loss of the leadership which had been possessed by their tribe, and which was now held by the tribe of Judah. It is possible that they may have regarded the priesthood also as amongst the prerogatives of the firstborn which should have descended to them. The proximity of the Kohathites to the Reubenites—for both were encamped on the south side of the Tabernacle—afforded opportunity for their common deliberations; and it has been inferred by some, from Numbers 16:24-27, that they had erected a tabernacle in rivalry with the Tabernacle of the Congregation. No further mention is made of the name of On, nor is he expressly included in the account of the final punishment.

Numbers 16:1-2. The many ample testimonies, nay, the astonishing miracles, whereby God had established the authority of Moses as chief governor, and of Aaron and his family as priests, were not sufficient to restrain the ambition of mutinous and designing men. Korah, cousin-german to Moses and Aaron, a man of some note among the Levites, thinking himself undervalued, it seems, by the post he was in as a mere Levite, and being left without hopes of arriving at the priesthood, as things now stood, resolves upon a mutiny against them, and attempts to raise himself to the priesthood, by forcing them to change their measures, or else putting them down from their authority. 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. 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.16:1-11 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.Amram and Izhar were brothers (compare Exodus 6:18), and thus Korah, the "son," i. e. descendant of Izhar, was connected by distant cousinship with Moses and Aaron. Though being a Kohathite, he was of that division of the Levites which had the most honorable charge, yet as Elizaphan, who had been made "chief of the families of the Kohathites" Numbers 3:30, belonged to the youngest branch descended from Uzziel Numbers 3:27, Korah probably regarded himself as injured; and therefore took the lead in this rebellion. Of the others, On is not again mentioned. He probably withdrew from the conspiracy. Dathan, Abiram, and On were Reubenites; and were probably discontented because the birthright had been taken away from their ancestor Genesis 49:3, and with it the primacy of their own tribe among the tribes of Israel. The Reubenites encamped near to the Kohathites (compare Numbers 2:25 and plan), and thus the two families were conveniently situated for taking counsel together. One pretext of the insurrection probably was to assert the rights of primogeniture - on the part of the Reubenites against Moses, on the part of Korah against the appointment of Uzziel. CHAPTER 16

Nu 16:1-30. The Rebellion of Korah.

1, 2. Now Korah, the son of Izhar—Izhar, brother of Amram (Ex 6:18), 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 (Nu 3:30). Discontent with the preferment over him of a younger relative was probably the originating cause of this seditious movement on the part of Korah.

Dathan and Abiram, … and On—These were confederate leaders in the rebellion, but On seems to have afterwards withdrawn from the conspiracy [compare Nu 16:12, 24, 25, 27; 26:9; De 11:6; Ps 106:17].

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 (Jude 11), 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 [Nu 16:3].Korah, Dathan, and Abiram raise sedition against Moses and Aaron, Numbers 16:1-3. Moses reproving them, Numbers 16:4-11, sends for Dathan and Abiram; their refusal and answer, Numbers 16:12-14. The manneer of their punishment, Numbers 16:15-35. Their perfuming censers are kept for a memorial and warning, Numbers 16:36-40. The people murmur against Moses and Aaron, for which they are consumed by the plague, which Aaron by Moses’s order stays, Numbers 16:41-50.

Korah, the first and chief author of this rebellion, Numbers 16:11 Judges 1:11.

Izhar was 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, and therefore could easily communicate counsels; partly in hopes to recover their rights of primogeniture, in which the priesthood was comprehended, which was given away from their father.

Took men, to wit, those two hundred and fifty mentioned Numbers 16:2. In the Hebrew there is nothing but took, and the Hebrew words are placed and may well be rendered thus, Now Korah—took both Dathan and Abiram, &c., or took Dathan, &c., the particle vau being here superfluous, as it is Genesis 8:6, and elsewhere.

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi,.... A great grandson of Levi's, and own cousin to Moses and Aaron, being brothers children; for Amram the father of Moses and Aaron, and Izhar the father of Korah, were own brothers, both of them the sons of Kohath, and Amram the eldest, and Izhar the next, Exodus 6:16; this man is mentioned first, being the contriver, and plotter, and ringleader of the following sedition, and which is called "the gainsaying of Core", Jde 1:11; when this was made is not certain; Aben Ezra thinks this affair happened in the wilderness of Sinai, when the firstborn were exchanged, and the Levites were separated for holy service, Numbers 3:1; but, according to the Targum of Jonathan, it was after the law concerning the fringes was given, which it here follows, and was on that account; for it says, that Korah took his coat, which was all blue, and that the men with him rose up, and in the face of Moses taught the rite concerning the blue ribbon; when Moses declared he had it from God, that the fringe should be of white, and one thread of blue should be in it; but Korah and his company made their coats and fringes all of blue, which the Lord commanded not: but what Korah is said to take is either himself, or men, or both, and not clothes, as follows:

and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth,

sons of Reuben, took men; which men are described in Numbers 16:2, even princes of the assembly, &c. or he, Korah, took himself, as Ben Melech, or divided himself, as Onkelos, separated himself from the congregation, and set himself at the head of a party he gathered together; and the "vau" or "and" before "Dathan" may be additional or superfluous, as Chaskuni observes, and so Abendana; and then the sense is, that Korah took Dathan, Abiram and On, apart by themselves, and entered into a consultation and confederacy with them against Moses and Aaron, with whom he was offended on account of the priesthood being bestowed on the latter by the former; and these men he associated to him, being the sons of Reuben, who would the rather listen to him, and join with him, because the right of the firstborn was taken from them, and the camp of Judah was placed before them; and with these men he could more easily commune, because the camp of Reuben and the Kohathites lay on the same side of the tabernacle, Numbers 2:10; Eliab, the father of Dathan and Abiram, was the son of Pallu, the second son of Reuben, Numbers 26:5; but as for On, no mention is made of him elsewhere, nor any more in this place; it is thought he separated from his company after he had heard what Moses said to them; and the Rabbins say, his wife delivered him out of their hands, as Abendana observes.

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:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Numbers 16:1. and Dathan and Abiram] These words are from the opening of the J E narrative, and the verb which belongs to them is ‘rose up’ in Numbers 16:2.

and On, the son of Peleth] The name On does not appear again in the narrative, or anywhere else in the O.T. In Numbers 26:8 f. Dathan and Abiram are called sons of Eliab the son of Pallu. If Peleth is a corruption of Pallu, ‘and On’ (ואון)1 [Note: Before the final ן came into use the letter נ would be easily written for ב, and the letters י and ו are frequently interchanged.] may have arisen from an accidental repetition of יאב, the last three consonants of Eliab; in which case the words should run the sons of Eliab the son of Pallu, sons of Reuben.

took men] In the Heb. the object of the verb is absent, and it is unlikely that ‘men’ is the right word to be supplied. Perhaps read ויקם for ויקח, ‘and Korah rose up,’ in which case the beginning of the Korah narrative corresponds to the beginning of the other narrative.Verse 1. - Now Korah... took men. וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח. The word "took" stands alone at the head of the sentence in the singular number. This does not by itself confine its reference to Korah, because it may be taken as repeated after each of the other names; at the same time, the construction suggests that in its original form Korah alone was mentioned, and that the other names were afterwards added in order to include them in the same statement. The ellipsis after "took" (if it be one) may be filled up by "men," as in the A.V. and in most versions, or by "counsel," as in the Jerusalem Targum. The Septuagint has in place of יִקַּח ἐλάλησε, representing apparently a different reading. Some commentators regard it as an anacoluthon for "took two hundred and fifty men... and rose up with them;" others, again, treat the "took" as a pleonasm, as in 2 Samuel 18:18 and elsewhere; but the change of number from וַיִּקַּח to וַיָּקוּטוּ makes it difficult. It seems best to say that the construction is broken and cannot be satisfactorily explained. Indeed there can be no question that the whole narrative, like the construction of the opening verses, is rely confused, and leaves on the mind the impression that it has been altered, not very skillfully, from its original form. The two parts of the tragedy, that concerning the company of Korah, and that concerning the Reubenites, although mingled in the narrative, do not adjust themselves in the mind, and the general effect is obscure. It is sufficient to point out here that no one can certainly tell what became of the ringleader himself, who was obviously the head and front of the whole business. Some are strenuously of opinion that he was swallowed up alive, others as strenuously that he was consumed with fire; but the simple fact is that his death is not recorded in this chapter at all, although he is assumed to have perished. The obscurity which hangs over this passage cannot be traced to any certain cause; the discrepancies and contradictions which have been discovered in it are clue to mistake or misrepresentation; nor can any evil motive be plausibly assigned for the interpolation (if it be such) of that part of the story which concerns the Reubenites. If, for some reason unknown to us, an original narrative of Korah's rebellion was enlarged so as to include the simultaneous mutiny of the Reubenites and their fate; and if, further, that enlargement was so unskillfully made as to leave considerable confusion in the narrative, wherein does that affect either its truth or its inspiration? The supernatural influence which watched over the production of the sacred narrative certainly did not interfere with any of those natural causes which affected its composition, its style, its clearness or obscurity. Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi. On the genealogy of the Levites see Exodus 6:16-22, and above on Numbers 3:17-19. It is generally supposed that some generations are passed over in these genealogies. Korah belonged to the same Kohathite sub-tribe as Moses and Aaron, and was related to them by some sort of cousinship; his father (or ancestor) Izhar was the younger brother of Amram and the elder brother of Uzziel, whose descendant Elizaphan had been made chief of the Kohathites. Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. Eliab himself was apparently the only son of Pallu, the second son of Reuben (Numbers 26:5, 8). If the word "son" is to be literally understood in all these cases, then Korah, Dathan, and Abiram would all be great-great-grandsons of Jacob himself. On, the son of Peleth. It is one of the strange obscurities of this narrative that On, who appears here as a ringleader, is never mentioned again either in this chapter or elsewhere. Sons of Reuben. Reubenites. The encampment of their tribe was on the south side of the tabernacle in the outer line (Numbers 2:10), while that of the Kohathites was on the same side in the inner line. Thus they were to some extent neighbours; but see below on verse 24. The History of the Sabbath-Breaker is no doubt inserted here as a practical illustration of sinning "with a high hand." It shows, too, at the same time, how the nation, as a whole, was impressed with the inviolable sanctity of the Lord's day. From the words with which it is introduced, "and the children of Israel were in the wilderness," all that can be gathered is, that the occurrence took place at the time when Israel was condemned to wander about in the wilderness for forty years. They found a man gathering sticks in the desert on the Sabbath, and brought him as an open transgressor of the law of the Sabbath before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation, i.e., the college of elders, as the judicial authorities of the congregation (Exodus 18:25.). They kept him in custody, like the blasphemer in Leviticus 24:12, because it had not yet been determined what was to be done to him. It is true that it had already been laid down in Exodus 31:14-15, and Exodus 35:2, that any breach of the law of the Sabbath should be punished by death and extermination, but the mode had not yet been prescribed. This was done now, and Jehovah commanded stoning (see Leviticus 20:2), which was executed upon the criminal without delay.
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