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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
The rebellion of Korah and his company against Moses, Numbers 16:1-3. He directs them how to try, in the course of the next day, whom God had called to the priesthood, Numbers 16:4-11. Dathan and Abiram use the most seditious speeches, Numbers 16:12-14. Moses is wroth, Numbers 16:15; and orders Korah and his company to be ready on the morrow with their censers and incense, Numbers 16:16-18. Korah gathers his company together, Numbers 16:19. The glory of the Lord appears, and he threatens to consume them, Numbers 16:20, Numbers 16:21. Moses and Aaron intercede for them, Numbers 16:22. The people are commanded to leave the tents of the rebels, Numbers 16:23-26. They obey, and Korah and his company come out and stand before the door of their tents, Numbers 16:27. Moses in a solemn address puts the contention to issue, Numbers 16:28-30. As soon as he had done speaking, the earth clave and swallowed them, and all that appertained to them, Numbers 16:31-34; and the 250 men who offered incense are consumed by fire, Numbers 16:35. The Lord commands Eleazar to preserve the censers, because they were hallowed, Numbers 16:36-38. Eleazar makes of them a covering for the altar, Numbers 16:39, Numbers 16:40. The next day the people murmur anew, the glory of the Lord appears, and Moses and Aaron go to the tabernacle, Numbers 16:41-43. They are commanded to separate themselves from the congregation, Numbers 16:44, Numbers 16:45. Moses, perceiving that God had sent a plague among them, directs Aaron to hasten and make an atonement, Numbers 16:46. Aaron does so, and the plague is stayed, Numbers 16:47, Numbers 16:48. The number of those who died by the plague, 14,700 men, Numbers 16:49, Numbers 16:50.
1Now 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:
Now Korah - took men - Had not these been the most brutish of men, could they have possibly so soon forgotten the signal displeasure of God manifested against them so lately for their rebellion. The word men is not in the original; and the verb ויקח vaiyikkach, and he took, is not in the plural but the singular, hence it cannot be applied to the act of all these chiefs. In every part of the Scripture where this rebellion is referred to it is attributed to Korah, (see Numbers 26:3, and Jde 1:11), therefore the verb here belongs to him, and the whole verse should be translated thus: - Now Korah, son of Yitsar son of Kohath, son of Levi, He Took even Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth, Son Of Reuben; and they rose up, etc. This makes a very regular and consistent sense, and spares all the learned labor of Father Houbigant, who translates יקח yikkach, by rebellionem fecerunt, they rebelled, which scarcely any rule of criticism can ever justify. Instead of בני ראובן beney Reuben, Sons of Reuben, some MSS. have בן ben, Son, in the singular; this reading, supported by the Septuagint and the Samaritan text, I have followed in the above translation. But as Eliab and Peleth were both Reubenites, the common reading, Sons, may be safely followed.
2And 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:
3And 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?
Ye take too much upon you - The original is simply רב לכם rab lachem, too much for you. The spirit of this saying appears to me to be the following: - "Holy offices are not equally distributed: you arrogate to yourselves the most important ones, as if your superior holiness entitled you alone to them; whereas all the congregation are holy, and have an equal right with you to be employed in the most holy services." Moses retorts this saying Numbers 16:7 : Ye take too much upon you, רב לכם rab lachem; Ye have too much already, ye sons of Levi; i.e., by your present spirit and disposition you prove yourselves to be wholly unworthy of any spiritual employment.
4And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
5And 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.
The Lord will show who are his - It is supposed that St. Paul refers to this place, 2 Timothy 2:19 : The foundation of God - the whole sacrificial system, referring to Christ Jesus, the foundation of the salvation of men; standeth sure, notwithstanding the rebellions, intrusions, and false doctrines of men; having this seal - this stamp of its Divine authenticity, The Lord knoweth them that are his; εγνω Κυριος τους οντας αυτου, a literal translation of וידע יהוה את אשר לו veyoda Yehovah eth asher lo; and both signifying, The Lord approveth of his own; or, will own that which is of his own appointment. And let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity, alluding to the exhortation of Moses, Numbers 16:26 : Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men.
6This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
7And 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.
8And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
9Seemeth 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?
10And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?
11For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?
12And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:
13Is 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?
14Moreover 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.
15And 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.
Respect not thou their offering - There was no danger of this: they wished to set up a priesthood and a sacrificial system of their own; and God never has blessed, and never can bless, any scheme of salvation which is not of his own appointment. Man is ever supposing that he can mend his Maker's work, or that he can make one of his own that will do in its place.
16And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:
17And 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.
18And 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.
19And 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.
20And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
21Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.
22And 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?
O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh - אל אלהי הרוחת לכל בשר El Elohey haruchoth lechol basar. This address sufficiently proves that these holy men believed that man is a being compounded of flesh and spirit, and that these principles are perfectly distinct. Either the materiality of the human soul is a human fable, or, if it be a true doctrine, these men did not pray under the influence of the Divine Spirit. In Numbers 27:16 there is a similar form of expression: Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh. And in Job 12:10 : In whose hand is the soul (נפש nephesh) of all living; and the spirit (רוח ruach) of all flesh of man. Are not these decisive proofs that the Old Testament teaches that there is an immortal spirit in man? "But does not רוח ruach signify wind or breath?" Sometimes it does, but certainly not here; for how absurd would it be to say, O God, the God of the breaths of all flesh!
23And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
24Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
25And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.
26And 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.
27So 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.
28And 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.
29If 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.
30But 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.
If the Lord make a new thing - ואם בריאה יברא יהוה veim beriah yibra Yehovah, and if Jehovah should create a creation, i. e., do such a thing as was never done before.
And they go down quick into the pit - שאלה sheolah, a proof, among many others, that שאל sheol, signifies here a chasm or pit of the earth, and not the place called hell; for it would be absurd to suppose that their houses had gone to hell; and it would be wicked to imagine that their little innocent children had gone thither, though God was pleased to destroy their lives with those of their iniquitous fathers.
31And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:
32And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
33They, 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.
They, and all that appertained to them - Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and all that appertained to their respective families, went down into the pit caused by this supernatural earthquake; while the fire from the Lord consumed the 250 men that bare censers. Thus there were two distinct punishments, the pit and the fire, for the two divisions of these rebels.
34And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.
35And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
36And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
37Speak 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.
The censers - are hallowed - קדשו kadeshu, are consecrated, i. e., to the service of God though in this instance improperly employed.
38The 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.
39And 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:
40To 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.
41But 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.
On the morrow all the congregation - murmured - It is very likely that the people persuaded themselves that Moses and Aaron had used some cunning in this business, and that the earthquake and fire were artificial; else, had they discerned the hand of God in this punishment, could they have dared the anger of the Lord in the very face of justice?
42And 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.
43And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.
44And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
45Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.
46And 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.
The plague is begun - God now punished them by a secret blast, so as to put the matter beyond all dispute; his hand, and his alone, was seen, not only in the plague, but in the manner in which the mortality was arrested. It was necessary that this should be done in this way, that the whole congregation might see that those men who had perished were not the people of the Lord; and that God, not Moses and Aaron, had destroyed them.
47And 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.
48And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague, etc. - What the plague was we know not, but it seems to have begun at one part of the camp, and to have proceeded regularly onward; and Aaron went to the quarter where it was then prevailing, and stood with his atonement where it was now making its ravages, and the plague was stayed; but not before 14,700 had fallen victims to it, Numbers 16:49.
If Aaron the high priest, with his censer and incense, could disarm the wrath of an insulted, angry Deity, so that a guilty people, who deserved nothing but destruction, should be spared; how much more effectual may we expect the great atonement to be which was made by the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Aaron was only the type! The sacrifices of living animals pointed out the death of Christ on the cross; the incense, his intercession. Through his death salvation is purchased for the world; by his intercession the offending children of men are spared. Hence St. Paul, Romans 5:10, says: If, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved Through His Life, i. e., by the prevalence of his continual intercession. 2 Corinthians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:19 : "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." By the awful transactions recorded in this chapter, we may see how jealous God is of the sole right of appointing the way and means of salvation. Had any priesthood, and any kind of service, no matter how solemn and sincere, been equally available in the sight of Divine justice and mercy, God would not have resented in so awful a manner the attempts of Korah and his company in their new service. The way of God's own appointment, the agony and death of Christ, is the only way in which souls can be saved. His is the priesthood, and his is the only available sacrifice. All other modes and schemes of salvation are the inventions of men or devils, and will in the end prove ruinous to all those who trust in them. Reader, forget not the Lord who bought thee.
49Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.
50And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.