Matthew Poole's Commentary
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: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.
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:They, i.e. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, last mentioned.
Rose up, i.e. conspired together, and put their seditious design in execution.
Before Moses; not privily and obscurely, but openly and boldly, not fearing nor regarding the presence of Moses, who was an eye-witness of their conspiracy.
Famous, for place and birth.
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, i.e. either Korah, and the two hundred and fifty princes, which may seem probable by comparing this with Numbers 16:12,25,27, where we find Dathan and Abiram in another place, even in their tents, whither it is likely they were gone by consent to form and strengthen their party there, while Korah and the rest went to Moses. Or, 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 special and more colourable pretences to the priesthood, and treats with them apart, and speaks what is mentioned Numbers 16:8-11; and then 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 interest and influence in the disposal of the priesthood, as may appear by the whole context, and particularly by Numbers 16:5,10,15, &c.
Ye take too much upon you, by perpetuating the priesthood in yourselves and family, with the exclusion of all others from it. Are holy; a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, as they are called Exodus 19:6; a people separated to the service of God, and therefore no less fit to present themselves before God, and to offer sacrifice and incense for themselves, than you are.
The Lord is among them, by his tabernacle and cloud, the tokens of his special and gracious presence, and therefore ready to receive all their sacriiiccs and services from their own hands.
Wherefore lift ye up yourselves; 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?
And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:Humbly begging that God would direct him, and defend and vindicate him from this false and odious imputation. See Numbers 14:5. Accordingly God answers his prayers, and inspires him with this following answer to Korah, and strengthens him with new courage, and confidence of good success.
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, Psalm 101:8 Jeremiah 21:12; and chosen by God for that work, Psalm 73:14 Isaiah 47:11 Zephaniah 3:5. 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.
And will cause him, or, and whom he will cause. To come near unto him, i.e. he will by some evident and miraculous token declare his approbation of him and his ministry.
This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;Since ye will be priests, take your censers, and act as priests, at your peril.
And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.Doth choose, i.e. declare his choice and appointment of them for that work.
And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:Consider what I say before it be too late, and repent of your great wickedness.
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?Near to himself; nearer than the other tribes, though not so near as the priests.
Unto them, i.e. in their stead and for their good. So they were the servants both of God and of the church, which was a high dignity, though not sufficient for their ambitious minds.
And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?There being at this time but very few priests, and the profits and privileges belonging to them being many and great, they thought it but fit and reasonable that they, or some of the chief of them, should be admitted to share in their work and advantages.
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, whoso minister and chosen servant Aaron is. You strike at God through Aaron’s sides. Compare 1 Samuel 8:7 Luke 10:16 John 13:20.
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:Moses sent, to treat with them, and give them, as he had done Korah and his company, a timely admonition. Which said unto the messengers sent to them by Moses,
We will not 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. See Deu 25:7 Ruth 4:1 Ezra 10:7,8. But because they would not now go up, therefore they went down quick into the pit, Numbers 16:12.
Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?i.e. Out of Egypt, a place indeed of great plenty, but to them a place of torment and intolerable slavery. They invidiously and scoffmgly use the same words wherewith God by Moses commended the land of Canaan.
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.Of these men, i.e. of those who are confederate with us, and of all the people who are of our mind. Wilt thou make them blind, or persuade them that they are blind, and 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? or wilt thou lead them about like blind men whither thou pleasest, one time towards Canaan, another time towards Egypt again?
We will not come up; we will not obey thy summons, nor own thy authority.
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.Moses was very wroth, not so much for his own sake, for he had learnt to bear indignities, Num 12, as for God’s sake, who was highly dishonoured, blasphemed, and provoked by these speeches and carriages, in which case he ought to be angry, as Christ was, Mark 3:5.
Respect not thou their offering, i.e. accept not their incense which they are now going to offer, but show 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.
Not one ass, i.e. not any thing of the smallest value, as an ass was; see 1 Samuel 12:3 neither have I injured them, nor used my power to defraud or oppress them, as I might have done; but, which is here implied, I have done them many good offices, but no hurt; therefore their crime is inexcusable, because without any cause or provocation on my part.
And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:Not in the tabernacle, which was not capable of so many persoms severally offering incense, but at the door of the tabernacle, Numbers 16:18, which place is oft said to be
before the Lord, as Exodus 29:42 Leviticus 1:11, &c.; where they might now lawfully offer it by Moses’s direction upon this extraordinary occasion and necessity, because this work could not be done in that place, which alone was allowed for the offering up of incense, not only from its smallness, but also because none but priests might enter to do this work. Here also the people, who wcrc to be instructed by this experiment, might see the proof and success of it.
And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the LORD every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.They could easily make censers in a slight manner, which would suffice for the present purpose. The
fire was taken from the altar which stood in that place, Leviticus 1:3,5, for Aaron might not use other fire, Leviticus 10:1. And it is likely the remembrance of the death of Nadab and Abihu deterred them from offering any strange fire.
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.Korah gathered the congregation, that they might be witnesses of the event, and, upon their success, which they doubted not of, might fall upon Moses and Aaron with popular rage, and destroy them. And it seems by this that the people were generally incensed against Moses, and inclined to Korah’s side.
The glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud, which then shone with greater brightness and majesty, as a token of God’s approach and presence. See Exodus 16:7,10 Le 9:6,23 Num 20:6.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.To wit, Korah and his two hundred and fifty men, and the people whom he gathered against Moses and Aaron, Numbers 16:19.
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?Of the spirits, i.e. of souls, as the word spirit in Scripture is oft used, as Psalm 31:5 77:3 Proverbs 17:22 Ecclesiastes 12:7 Luke 23:46 Acts 7:59. And this is no empty title here, but very emphatical and argmmentative, thus, Thou art the Maker of spirits, Zechariah 12:1, destroy not thy own workmanship, Isaiah 64:8. 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, Hebrews 12:9; O deal mercifully with thy own children: the Searcher of spirits, thou canst distinguish between those who have maliciously raised this tumult, and those whose ignorance and simple credulity hath made them a prey to crafty seducers.
Of all flesh, i.e. of all mankind: the word flesh is put for men, as Genesis 6:13 Job 12:10 Isaiah 40:5,6 Eze 20:48 21:4,5.
One man, to wit, Korah, the ringleader of this sedition.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.Speak unto the congregation, whom for your sakes I will spare upon the condition here following.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and On too, who is mentioned Numbers 16:1, though some think he desisted and repented, and therefore is not now mentioned.
And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.Because they refused to come to him, he goes to them to their cost.
The elders of Israel; the seventy rulers, whom he carried with him for the greater solemnity of the action, and for his own better vindication, because he lay under such calumnies, and to encourage them in their work, not-withstanding the obstinate and intractable nature of the people they were to govern.
And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.Show your dislike of them and their wicked ways by a speedy removal of your persons and tents from about them.
Touch nothing of theirs; because they and all that was theirs was under a curse, and therefore not to be touched. See Deu 13:16,17.
In all their sins; lest, being guilty of their sins, you perish together with them.
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.Their tents were not far asunder, being both on the south side of the tabernacle, as appears from Numbers 2:10 3:29.
Stood in the door of their tents; an argument of their foolish confidence, pride, and impudence, obstinacy, and impenitency, whereby they declared that they neither feared God nor reverenced man, and made themselves ripe for the approaching judgment.
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, to wit, which I have done, and for which I am traduced by these and such like wicked men, as the bringing of the people out of Egypt; the conducting of them through, and the keeping of them so long in, the wilderness; the exercising of power and authority among and over them; giving of laws to them, as about other things, so concerning the priesthood, which is the ground of the present quarrel; and, that which vexeth them most, that when they were upon the borders of Canaan, and ready to enter in, I should cause them to go back into this vast howling wilderness, and fix them there for forty years.
Of mine own mind; by pretending or usurping an authority which God gave me not; by feigning words or messages from God to establish my own inventions, and to comply with my own will or lust or interest, as I am now accused to have done. For this phrase, see Numbers 24:13 Ezekiel 13:2.
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.i.e.
If these men die by a natural death, or by plague, or sword, or some usual judgment, I am content that you take me for an impostor, falsely pretending to be sent of God. This he might well say, because he was inspired by God to say this, and infallibly assured by God that this should be done.
But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD.Make a new thing, i.e. do such a work as was never heard before.
Into the pit, i.e. into the grave which God thereby makes. The Hebrew word scheol sometimes signifies hell, and sometimes the grave, as Genesis 37:35 Psalm 55:15.
Have provoked the Lord by making his words and works to be nothing but my devices and artifices.
And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:No text from Poole on this verse.
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.i.e. 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 father’s act, or upon Moses’s intercession for them, or for some other reason. This expression may seem to intimate that Korah himself was not here, but that he continued with his two hundred and fifty men before the Lord Numbers 16:18,19, 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 a head, especially when Aaron, his great adversary, abode there still, and did not go with Moses to Dathan, &c., Numbers 16:25. And Korah may seem to have been consumed with those two hundred and fifty, Numbers 16:35, though he be not mentioned there, but is easily understood by comparing that verse with Numbers 16:16-18, and from the nature of the thing itself, there being no cause of doubt but that destruction which befell the accessaries did much more involve the principal. 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, i.e. destroyed, as they were, by fire from the Lord. And when the psalmist relates this history, Psa 106, the earth’s swallowing them up is confined to Dathan and Abiram, Numbers 16:17; and for all the rest of that conspiracy, it is added, Numbers 16:18, and a fire was kindled in their company; the flame burnt up the wicked. As for Numbers 26:10, which seems to oppose this opinion, we shall see more on that place, if God permit.
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, i.e. into the earth, which first opened itself to receive them, and then shut itself to destroy them, and transmit them to further punishment.
And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.No text from Poole on this verse.
And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.From the Lord; i.e. from the cloud, wherein the glory of the Lord appeared, Numbers 16:19, to give sentence in this cause.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Unto Eleazar, rather than to Aaron, partly because the tronblesome part of the work was more proper for him, and partlly lest Aaron should be polluted by going amongst those dead carcasses; for it is probable this fire consumed them, as lightning somethnes doth others, by taking away their lives, and leaving their bodies dead upon the place.
Out of the burning, i.e. from among the dead bodies of those men who were burnt. Burning put for those who are burnt, as captivity for the captives, Numbers 21:1, and poverty for the poor, 2 Kings 24:14.
The fire, i.e. the cinders or ashes which are left in or near their censers.
Yonder, i.e. far from the altar and sanctuary, into an unclean place, where the ashes were wont to be cast; by which God shows his rejection of their services.
They are hallowed; either,
1. By God’s appointment, because they were presented before the Lord by his express order, Numbers 16:16,17. Or,
2. By God’s just judgment, because they, together with the persons that used them, were accursed and devoted by God, and therefore were the Lord’s, and not to be employed in any profane or common use, as appears from Leviticus 27:28. But the first reason is the chief, and is rendered by God himself, Numbers 16:38.
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.Against their own souls, i.e. their own lives; who were the authors of their own death and destruction. Compare 1 Kings 2:23 Proverbs 20:2. This he saith for the vindication of God’s justice and his own ministry in this severe dispensation.
The altar, to wit, 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 further ornament and security against the fire, which was continually burning upon it.
A sign; a monument or warning to all strangers to take heed of invading the priesthood, as it follows, Numbers 16:40.
And Eleazar the priest took the brasen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar:No text from Poole on this verse.
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.As Korah, and as his company, i.e. that he do not imitate them in their sin, and therefore bring upon himself the same plague.
To him, i.e. to Eleazar. These words belong to Numbers 16:38; the meaning is, that Eleazar did as God bade him.
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.Prodigious wickedness and madness, so soon to forget such a terrible instance of Divine vengeance!
Ye have killed; you, who should have preserved them, and interceded for them, have pulled down God’s wrath upon them, for the maintenance of your own authority and interest.
The people of the Lord; so they call those wicked wretches, and rebels against God; which shows the power of passion and prejudice to corrupt men’s judgment.
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 looked, i.e. Moses and Aaron, who in all their distresses made God their refuge.
And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.To hear what God, who now appeared, would say to him.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.To beg pardon and mercy for the people, as they oft did; thus rendering good to them for evil, which the people requited with evil for their kindness.
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.Put on incense; which was a sign of intercession, Psalm 141:2, and was to be accompanied with it, Luke 1:9,10.
Go quickly unto the congregation, 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.
The plague is begun, in cutting off the people by a sudden and miraculous stroke.
And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people.Ran into the midst of the congregation; hazarding his own life to obey God, and to do this wicked people good.
And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.Whereby it may seem that this plague, like that fire, Numbers 11:1, began in the uttermost parts of the congregation, and 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.
Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.No text from Poole on this verse.