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Num 16:1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men-
Korah is presented as the ringleader of the rebellion (Jude 11). But his sons apparently survived, dissociating themselves from their father, becoming the "sons of Korah" who were musicians in the sanctuary. As we see throughout the Biblical records, good men have bad sons and vice versa. Spirituality is in the end totally individual and personal. The Kohathites pitched on the same side of the tabernacle as the Reubenites. So we see the simple takeaway lesson- watch whom you mix with, even amongst the people of God. For people tend to lead each other into sin.

Num 16:2 and they rose up before Moses with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, men called to lead the assembly, men of renown-
We note that Korah was a firstborn, and Reuben was a deposed firstborn. Possibly there was some discontent about the firstborn of Israel being exchanged for the Levites. The rejected Israelites had wanted a captain to lead them back to Egypt. We are told that they in their hearts returned there. So it is likely that this putsch was in order to take Moses and Aaron out of leadership positions, so that the people could be led back to Egypt.

Num 16:3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, You take too much on yourself, since all the congregation are holy, each one of them, and Yahweh is among them. Why then lift yourselves up above the assembly of Yahweh?-
The complaint may have been that Moses was exalting his own immediate family to the priesthood, and Korah and the Levites were subservient to them. Perhaps Korah led the rebellion against Moses because he objected to how Elzaphan son of Uziel had been appointed over the Kohathites (Num. 3:30). Kohath had four sons, Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uziel (Ex. 6:18). Amram's sons, Moses and Aaron, had already received high honour in ruling over all Israel. So Korah, as the firstborn son of the next born son Izhar, thought that he ought to have been over the Kohathites. But instead, the son of Uziel, Kohath's youngest son, had been made prince of the Kohathite clan. This is typical of how God appoints those who are least qualified and strong in secular terms. But Korah disliked this. He felt he was next in line to be the leader of the Kohathites.


Num 16:4 When Moses heard it, he fell on his face-
We see here his humility. A challenge to power and status is usually met by anger and a show of force. But Moses falls on his face in humility and in pleading with them not to sin.


Num 16:5 and he spoke to Korah and to all his company, saying, In the morning Yahweh will show who are His, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. Even him whom He shall choose He will cause to come near to Him-
LXX implies that God had already made the choice of Moses: "And he spoke to Core and all his assembly, saying, God has visited and known those that are his and who are holy, and has brought them to himself; and whom he has chosen for himself, he has brought to himself". This is alluded to in 2 Tim. 2:19 "the Lord knows them that are His". Paul is therefore arguing that all God's people are now as Moses was personally. He often does this- for Moses was seen in Judaism as an unapproachable icon, whereas Paul wants every Christian convert to see Moses as a pattern to be realistically followed. 

Paul in 2 Tim. 2:24,25 makes a series of allusions to Moses, which climax in an invitation to pray like Moses for the salvation of others:
“The servant of the Lord [A very common title of Moses] must not strive [As Israel did with him (Num. 26:9)] but be gentle unto all [The spirit of Moses] apt to teach [As was Moses (Ex. 18:20; 24:12; Dt. 4:1,5,14; 6:1; 31:22)], patient [As was Moses], in meekness [Moses was the meekest man (Num. 12:3)] instructing those that oppose themselves [at the time of Aaron and Miriam’s self-opposing rebellion] if God peradventure will give them repentance [i.e. forgiveness] [“Peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin” (Ex. 32:30)]"- and he prayed 40 days and nights for it. And note too: 2 Tim. 2:19 = Num. 16:5,26; 2 Tim. 2:20 = Num. 12:7; 2:21 = Num. 16:37; 2 Tim. 2:22 = Num. 12:2; 16:3; 2 Tim. 2:26 = Num. 16:33. This is quite something. The height of Moses’ devotion for His people, the passion of his praying, shadowing as it did the matchless intercession and self-giving of the Lord, really is our example. It isn’t just a height to be admired. It means that we will not half-heartedly ask our God to ‘be with’ brother x and sister y and the brethren in country z, as we lie half asleep in bed. This is a call to sustained, on our knees prayer and devotion to the salvation of others. For the Judaists, an appeal to be like Moses, to emulate him in teaching, was blasphemous; for they considered Moses at such a level that he could never be imitated. Yet Paul urges timid Timothy and all teachers to realistically be Moses to our audience.


Num 16:6 Do this: take censers, Korah, and all his company-
Censers were for offering incense, which was exactly how Nadab and Abihu were slain (Lev. 10:2). So this was the kind of leading into temptation which we are to pray shall not happen to us (Mt. 6:13). Their path to repentance was being offered to them, but the consequences of refusing it were now higher. The intended response was 'No. We give in. To offer incense like that and come near to the incense altar in the holy place is not for us. We would rightly be slain for doing so. So, we give in and retreat from our position'. But human pride was in the way. And they took up the offer, leading to their justifiable destruction. For by knowingly doing what they knew would lead to destruction, they were committing the sin of presumption which forms a context to this account (Num. 15:30,31). Balaam was put in a similar position- he was told to go with the elders of Moab, but only speak God's word. The intention was that he fall down and repent, and refuse to go with them. But he went with them, ostensibly in obedience to God's word of command which was leading him to self destruction. See on :29.


Num 16:7 and put fire in them, and put incense on them before Yahweh tomorrow; and it shall be that the man whom Yahweh chooses, he shall be holy. You have gone too far, you sons of Levi!-
As explained on :6, they were being invited to either repent, or go forward to self destruction. The Hebrew seems to imply that Yahweh had already chosen a holy one, and it was not them. The command to "put fire in them" was because they had "gone too far". So that they were being led down the path to destruction, unless they dropped everything and repented. God likewise works with people today.


Num 16:8 Moses said to Korah, Hear now, you sons of Levi!-
As discussed on :6,7, they were on a fast track to self destruction. And so Moses desperately appeals to them: "Hear now...", i.e. 'Be obedient to God's word'. For that is the sense of the word for "hear". And it was urgent- "now", because they had been commanded to offer incense when doing so would lead to their destruction. They needed to urgently repent.


Num 16:9 Is it a small thing to you, that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of Yahweh, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them-
They didn’t consider servanthood within the family of God to be a very great honour; they wanted leadership and personal honour from those they would be over. This is the great paradox, the acme of humility, that serving is actually an honour. But there are so few who really grasp this. Leadership, like respect, is something which can never be demanded nor sought after if we are truly God’s people. Notice that to serve others in God’s family is to come “near to [God] Himself”.

"Come near before Yahweh" is usually translated "offer [sacrifice] before Yahweh", and is translated that way multiple times. Although rarely (Ex. 16:9; Lev. 9:5) it is used of the congregation coming near before Yahweh. But the congregation didn't generally want to come before Yahweh, and so He chose just the Levites to come before Yahweh (Num. 8:10; 16:9 s.w.). It was God's intention that all Israel should be His servants, a nation of priests. But He changed and ammended His approach, and chose just the Levites for this. We see here how open God is to change, so that by all means He may have relationship with His people. Under the new covenant, all believers are part of a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5) as He initially intended even under the old covenant. And yet there is always the tendency to leave the priestly work to specialists rather than perceiving our personal call to do it.


Num 16:10 and that He has brought you near, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? Do you seek the priesthood also?-
Coming near to Yahweh was something which should have been done on will and initiative of the people. But just as God brought Israel out of Egypt when they wanted to remain there, so He caused the Levites to come near to Him. This is an example of how His Spirit works upon human lives, to bring people unto Him when otherwise they would not have made the required distance of movement towards Him.


Num 16:11 Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against Yahweh; and Aaron, who is he that you murmur against him?-
See on Num. 26:9. Israel’s rejection of Moses was a rejection of the God who was working through Moses to redeem them. Thus Korah and his followers “strove against Moses... when they strove against Yahweh” (Num. 26:9 cp. 16:11). Moses understood that when Israel murmured against him, they murmured against Yahweh (Ex. 16:2,7; Num. 17:5; 21:5). They thrust Moses away from them (Acts 7:27,39) - yet the same word is used in Rom. 11:2 concerning how God still has not cast away Israel; He has not treated them as they treated Him through their rejection of Moses and Jesus, who manifested Him.


Num 16:12 Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; and they said, We won’t come up-
They perceived that by offering incense they were indeed on a path to self destruction, as Nadab and Abihu had been. See on :6,7. So they wanted to pull back from that, and yet wanted to save face. And so they twist the turn of their argument. But repentance in this case simply had to involve loss of face. And there was no way it could be compromised as they wished.


Num 16:13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but you must also make yourself a prince over us?-
Stephen in Acts 7 stresses the way in which Moses was rejected by Israel as a type of Christ. At age 40, Moses was "thrust away" by one of the Hebrews; and on the wilderness journey the Jews “thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt" (Acts 7:27,35,39). This suggests that there was far more antagonism between Moses and Israel than we gather from the Old Testament record- after the pattern of Israel's treatment of Jesus. It would seem from Acts 7:39 that after the golden calf incident, the majority of Israel cold shouldered Moses. Once the point sank in that they were not going to enter the land, this feelings must have turned into bitter resentment. They were probably unaware of how Moses had been willing to offer his eternal destiny for their salvation; they would not have entered into the intensity of Moses' prayers for their salvation. The record seems to place Moses and "the people" in juxtaposition around 100 times (e.g. Ex. 15:24; 17:2,3; 32:1 NIV; Num. 16:41 NIV; 20:2,3; 21:5). They accused Moses of being a cruel cult leader, bent on leading them out into the desert to kill them and steal their wealth from them (Num. 16:13,14)- when in fact Moses was delivering them from the house of bondage, and was willing to lay down his own salvation for theirs. The way Moses submerged his own pain is superb; both of their rejection of him and of God's rejection of him from entering the Kingdom. The style of Moses' writing in Num. 20:12-14 reveals this submerging of his own pain. He speaks of himself in the third person, omitting any personal reflection on his own feelings: "The Lord spake unto Moses... Because you believed me not... you shall not bring the congregation into the land... and Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the King of Edom...". Likewise all the references to “the Lord spake unto Moses” (Lev. 1:1). Moses submerged his own personality in writing his books. 

Num 16:14 Moreover you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards-
Israel came to describe the Egypt they had been called out from as the land flowing with milk and honey, and denied that they could experience this in God's Kingdom in Canaan. And so we have the same tendency to be deceived into thinking that the kingdoms of this world, the world around us, is effectively the Kingdom of God, the only thing worth striving after.

Will you put out the eyes of these men? We won’t come up-
GNB "And now you are trying to deceive us", understanding this as an idiom for covering the eyes of another in deception.


Num 16:15 Moses was very angry, and said to Yahweh, Don’t respect their offering-
Yet he was the humblest man on planet earth at the time (Num. 12:3). Anger isn’t advisable for us, as it can easily lead us into sin; but of itself, anger isn’t necessarily incompatible with humility. Yet here Moses' faith slipped for a moment; because his spirit was provoked by Israel, so that he spoke unadvisedly with his lips and was therefore barred from entering the land (although maybe such an apparently temporary slip was the reflection of deeper problems?). Yet it does seem uncharacteristic, a tragic slip down the graph of ever rising spirituality. There must have almost been tears in Heaven. Being easily provoked was one of Moses' characteristics; consider how he turned himself and stormed out from Pharaoh (Ex. 10:6; 11:8); how his anger waxed hot when he returned from the mount, how he went out from Pharaoh in great anger, how he first of all feared the wrath of Pharaoh and then stopped fearing it; how Moses was "very wroth" at Israel's suggestion that he was appropriating the sacrifices for himself; how he was "angry" with Eleazer (Ex. 32:19; 11:8; Num. 16:15; Lev. 10:16,17). This temperament explains his swings of faith. Was the Lord Jesus likewise afflicted?

I have not taken one donkey from them, neither have I hurt one of them-
Paul alludes to these words: "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel" (Acts 20:33); and Paul maybe had these words in mind again in 2 Cor. 7:2: "We have hurt no man... we have defrauded no man". Always we are to be looking out for similarities between our experiences and those of Biblical characters. For it is in this way the we through patience and comfort of the scriptures have hope; and the Bible becomes a living word speaking to us directly. LXX "I have not taken away the desire of any one of them" could mean they were implying he had messed with their wives (Ez. 24:16). Sexual slander is always a cheap shot taken at any religious leader, and Moses was surely liable to it, seeing the people hated him so much and were always murmuring at him. 


Num 16:16 Moses said to Korah, You and all your company go before Yahweh, you, and they, and Aaron, tomorrow-
As explained on :6,7 this was effectively a command which would lead them to their deaths. For there were many commands about the incense and who could offer it, warning that any who offered otherwise or who weren't priests, or came near to offer incense when they weren't qualified, were to die. Their path to repentance was being offered to them, but the consequences of refusing it were now higher. The intended response was 'No. We give in. To offer incense like that and come near to the incense altar in the holy place is not for us. We would rightly be slain for doing so. So, we give in and retreat from our position'. But human pride was in the way. And they took up the offer, leading to their justifiable destruction.


Num 16:17 and let each man take his censer, and put incense on them, and each man bring before Yahweh his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; you also and Aaron, each his censer-
Each prince offered 21 animals in total at the dedication of the altar in Num. 7, and there were 12 princes, making a total of 252 animals. When the princes rebelled, the 250 rebellious princes were asked to bring their censers before Yahweh, along with the censers of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:17), making a total of 252 censers. That this number is again associated with the princes of Israel cannot surely be chance. There is the simple message that the hand of God was present throughout the whole narrative.


Num 16:18 They each took his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood at the door of the Tent of Meeting with Moses and Aaron-
As discussed on :6,7,16 they refused to back down and were now committing the sin of presumption, challenging God to strike them down.


Num 16:19 Korah assembled all the congregation against them to the door of the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the congregation-
"The congregation" therefore refers to all Israel and it was therefore all of Israel who were to be slain (:21).


Num 16:20 Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying-
Moses and Aaron know Yahweh well enough to as it were disobey the command to separate themselves from the condemned sinners. They do not do so immediately, but instead beg Him not to destroy all the congregation.


Num 16:21 Separate yourselves from among this congregation that I may consume them in a moment!-
Twice in quick succession God wishes to do this and is talked out of it, as it were, by Moses' intercession (:21,45). We get the impression of a fast moving, intense relationship between God and Moses. "This congregation" apparently referred to all Israel (:19); because in :22-26 we see the intercession of Moses and Aaron, and their obtaining of deliverance for "this congregation" so long as they literally separated themselves from the rebels. God wished to destroy the entire congregation, as He wished to at the time of the golden calf. But again, the intercession of Moses leads to a radical change of heart in God Almighty. Such is the power of prayer and intercession for others.


Num 16:22 They fell on their faces, and said, God, the God of the spirits of all flesh-
Biblically, a man or woman is identified with their spirit in the sense of their mind or way of life. Heb. 12:23 speaks of the spirits of just men, with whom the believer ought to associate. This means that we ought to identify ourselves with the way of life, the spirit of life, of “just men” of the past. God is “the God of the spirits of all flesh” (Num. 16:22; 27:16) in the sense that He is the God of all humanity. So “spirits in prison” can refer to people who, in their spiritual lives, are imprisoned.

Shall one man sin, and will You be angry with all the congregation?-
It’s clear from the record in this chapter that the architect of the rebellion was Korah, the “one man” whom Moses referred to (see too :40,49; Jude 11). But he influenced others to sin, and they were still guilty for their sin. Although God doesn’t count people as guilty merely by association, He expects us not to identify ourselves with sinful behaviour- hence verses 23-25 are God’s response to Moses’ concern that God might be indiscriminately applying the unfair principle of ‘guilt by association’. Moses is pleading with God in the spirit of Abraham, who likewise pleaded for a change in the outworking of God's purpose and stated intentions- on the same basis, that the innocent should not perish with the righteous. But Moses here seems over generous in considering that Korah was the "one man" who had sinned; those who had followed him into the sin of presumption still had to be punished.


Num 16:23 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
As at the time of the golden calf, God had likewise insisted that He would destroy the congregation of Israel and make a great nation from Moses. Situations at times repeat in our lives, and here Moses again is called to intense, immediate intercession in order to avert this. And Aaron joins in this time; it was God's intention that he should rise up to the intensity of Moses, and indeed Aaron saved Israel again when the plague broke out which would otherwise have destroyed the congregation. This is the power God is willing to give to the prayers of third parties for others' salvation. There is a gap between Yahweh's prophetic pronouncements, and their fulfillment. And in that gap there is the possibility for repentance. This is what gives intensity to our prayers and repentance, knowing we too live in such a gap. And here again, God 'repents' of His intention to destroy the entire congregation, and instead tells them to get away from the tabernacle of Korah and thereby be saved from the threatened destruction (:24). 

Num 16:24 Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get away from around the tent of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram!’-
The usage of the word "tent" here is misleading. The word mishkan is used, the usual term for the tabernacle, and a different word for ordinary dwelling tents is used in :26,27. It seems that Korah had his own religious system which he had established near to the tabernacle of Yahweh. The singular "tent / tabernacle" cannot refer to the ordinary tent of the three men, for they would not all have normally lived in the same tent. Acts 7:43 informs us that Israel carried the tabernacle of other gods with them through the wilderness, as well as Yahweh's tabernacle. So we see the extent of the apostacy. The desire to replace the leadership of Moses and Aaron was of the same spirit as the desire to appoint another "captain" who would lead them and their pagan tabernacle back to Egypt where they had taken it from. It could be that whilst this showdown was happening at the tabernacle of Yahweh, the "congregation" were worshipping idols at the apostate tabernacle of Korah. I will suggest on Num. 18:1; 19:7,11 that in fact the priests bowed to pressure and allowed some of the rebellious Levites and even other Israelites to enter the sanctuary at this time, and this required the red heifer ritual to be cleansed from. Perhaps they took part of the furnishings of the true tabernacle and erected them in their own tabernacle. 


Num 16:25 Moses rose up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him-
We note that Moses went to Dathan and Abiram, not Korah. Clearly this was one last desperate appeal to them; for as noted on :22, Moses had the impression that Dathan and Abiram had been drawn into the sin of "one man", Korah. But it seems they still didn't heed even the desperate appeals of Moses.


Num 16:26 He spoke to the congregation, saying, Depart, I beg you, from the tents of these wicked men-
This is the normal word for "tents", as in tents which are lived in; hence the plural. And it is a different word to the word for "tabernacle", in the singular, used in :24. That word refers to some paganic, idolatrous mishkan, a fake tabernacle. "I beg you" shows Moses' earnest desire for the salvation of those who despised him, grumbled about him constantly, and at times sought to slay him and certainly depose him from leadership. 

And touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins!-
"Touch" is better 'to lay the hand on'. The idea was that the others were not to grab hold of any of the idols in the tents of these men, associated with their paganic tabernacle discussed on :24. The idea is not of 'guilt by association' through touch, but rather of actual participation in idolatry. Especially since idols were often made from precious stones and metals, and would have been valuable. If they did, then they would "be consumed in [the coming judgment for] all their sins". We each stand in the position of that surrounding congregation; for 2 Cor. 6:17 alludes to this historical moment in bidding each believer to "touch not" idolatry and the things of the temple / tabernacle of idols.


Num 16:27 So they went away from the tent of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side; and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood at the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little ones-
The genealogy of the sons of Korah, the gatekeepers of the temple, is recorded in 1 Chron. 9:17-19. It can be shown from the genealogies that they were brought up by their second cousin, Phinehas. They obeyed the command to leave the tents of their father Korah when he was consumed in the earthquake. Num. 16:27 mentions Dathan and Abiram's children standing outside their tents at this time, but there is the pointed omission of Korah's children; they had left the tents. We can therefore build up a picture of Phinehas as a zealot for the purity of God's Truth (Num. 25), yet mixed with compassion, as shown by the way he took those children of Korah under his wing, and brought them up soundly in the Truth, with the result that wrote at least 11 of the Psalms and protected the purity of temple worship. It should be noted that Samuel was a Korahite (1 Chron. 6:33-38).


Num 16:28 Moses said, Hereby you shall know that Yahweh has sent me to do all these works; for they are not from my own mind-
Num. 16:28 LXX: “Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of myself”. The ideas of know, sent me, do these works, not of myself are so frequent in John's Gospel and are alluding here: Jn. 13:35; 8:28,42; 7:3,28; 5:30,36; 10:25,37; 14:10; 15:24; 17:4. “The works… The Son can do nothing of himself” recalls Moses' words: “All these works… I have not done them of my own mind” (Num. 16:28 AV). The Lord was claiming to be as Moses, and a prophet greater than Moses; but not God. This verse is the basis of  “I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me” (Jn. 8:28).

 

Num 16:29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then Yahweh hasn’t sent me-
This describes "the common death of all men" as being "visited after the visitation of all men"; visiting is very much Angelic language, and thus indicates that an Angel consciously causes a man to die (by taking his breath away). This happened with Moses.

As discussed on :6,7, the idea was that these men had been challenged by God through Moses to offer incense with their censors, which was priestly work, to which these men claimed to be fitted. If they did, then they would be slain, according to the law. Their only alternative was to either go ahead and do so to their destruction; or fall on their faces and repent. And so Moses is alluding to this when he says that if they were slain by direct Divine action, then his whole position about them would be justified. If they weren't, then they were indeed qualified to be priests, even though Moses' law said they weren't. and Moses would have been a false prophet of God's words.

Ps. 106:18 says that God kindled a fire to destroy them, but in reality, they  kindled that fire themselves (Is. 9:18; Hos 7:6). Lev. 10:2 uses the same term for fire from Yahweh devouring Nadab and Abihu as in Num. 16:35 about the destruction of Korah's rebels. They were clearly aware of what had happened to those rebels, and were daring God to repeat it. It was truly the sin of presumption.


Num 16:30 But if Yahweh make a new thing, and the ground open its mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain to them, and they go down alive into Sheol-
"The Angels that sinned" in 2 Pet. 2:4 allude to these men. “Angel” can mean “minister”, “messenger” (as John’s disciples were messengers or ministers to him, Lk. 7:24). Numbers 16:9 describes the rebels as “ministers” of the congregation. The Septuagint uses the word aggelos for “ministers”, which is the same Greek word translated “Angel” in 2 Peter 2:4. They left their first, or original, “principality” (Jude 6, A.V. margin); the rebels were princes, but wanted to be priests as well (Num. 16:2,10). Because of this, the ground opened and swallowed them (Num. 16:31–33), as a dramatic example to everyone of the fate of those who rebel against the Word of God. It was especially dramatic in that it is emphasized that this was the first time that such a thing had happened (Num. 16:30). Thus they are now dead, “in everlasting chains under darkness”, in the heart of the earth, to be resurrected and judged at “the judgment of the great day”. Jude 8 implies that “likewise”, i.e. like the angels that sinned, the Judaizers “speak evil of dignities”, e.g. Jesus and Paul. The rebels spoke evil of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:11–14).

A case could be made that the whole record of Israel’s rejection from entering the land of Canaan is framed to adduce a reason for this as the fact they chose to believe that the land was inhabited by an evil dragon who would consume them there. This was a slander of the good land, and the whole point was that if they had believed in the power of God, then whatever ‘adversary’ was in the land, in whatever form, was ultimately of no real power (Num. 13:32; 14:36; Dt. 1:25). And yet it was not God’s way to specifically tell the people that there was no such dragon lurking in the land of Canaan – instead He worked with them according to their fears, by making the earth literally open and swallow up the apostate amongst them (Num. 16:30) – emphasizing that by doing this, He was doing “a new thing”, something that had never been done before – for there was no dragon lurking in any land able to swallow up people. And throughout the prophets it is emphasized that God and not any dragon swallowed up people – “The Lord [and not any dragon] was as an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel” (Lam. 2:5 and frequently in the prophets). The people of Israel who left Egypt actually failed to inherit Canaan because they believed that it was a land who swallowed up the inhabitants of the land (Num. 13:32), relating this to the presence of giants in the land (Num. 13:33). As Joshua and Caleb pleaded with them, they needed to believe that whatever myths there were going around, God was greater than whatever mythical beast was there. And because they would not believe that, they failed to enter the land, which in type symbolized those who fail to attain that great salvation which God has prepared.

Then you shall understand that these men have despised Yahweh-"Despised" as in Num. 14:11 is s.w. provoke or blaspheme. It is specifically associated with turning to other gods (Dt. 31:20; 32:19; Is. 1:4). And that appears to be the context. The Israelites decided not to enter the land and instead to follow the gods of Egypt back to Egypt (Num. 14:11,23).


Num 16:31 It happened, as he made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground split apart that was under them-
Mot, the god of death, was thought to have jaws encompassing the earth and swallowing up people at their death into the underworld. But Job rejected that myth – he saw God as the swallower, and death as a return to the dust, albeit in hope of bodily resurrection at the last day (Job 19:25–27). Perhaps Job is also alluding to the myths about Mot when he speaks of how “Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering” (Job 26:6 R.S.V.); and in that context speaks as if God is the real attacker, not, therefore, Mot or any other such being. Note too how Num. 16:31–35 describes God as swallowing up Korah, Dathan and Abiram into death in the earth – as if to deconstruct the idea that Mot did things like this.

Num 16:32 and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who appertained to Korah, and all their goods-
Korah’s sons didn’t die (Num. 26:11); they separated themselves from their father and his supporters in time. There are times when our loyalty to the Lord will result in us having to experience some kind of separation from family members who choose not to go the Lord’s way; Jesus foretold this would happen frequently (Mt. 10:34-37). The men who "appertained to Korah" were therefore his religious followers rather than his immediate sons and family. "Their goods" may well have involved idol worship paraphernalia; see on :26.


Num 16:33 So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed on them, and they perished from among the assembly-
“Chains of darkness” is rendered “pits of darkness” in 2 Pet. 2:4 R.V., which is a New Testament commentary upon this. The Greek word serius (pits) indicates an underground granary or prison, which corresponds with Korah, Dathan and Abiram’s destruction when they “went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them; and they perished” (Num. 16:33). I suggested on :32 that "all that appertained to them" referred to their religious followers and idol worship paraphernalia; see on :26.


Num 16:34 All Israel that were around them fled at their cry; for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up!-
These people who “were around them” were saved by grace, considering the warning of :24-26, that whoever stood near those men would also perish. All the time in the Old Testament we are seeing examples of people breaking God’s law and yet being saved by grace.


Num 16:35 Fire came forth from Yahweh, and devoured the two hundred and fifty men who offered the incense-
Destruction by fire was an appropriate judgment for those who had offered strange fire. Judgment is related to the crime because men are self condemned more than being condemned by God. For saving, rather than destroying, is God's passion. Ps. 106:18 says that God kindled a fire to destroy them, but in reality, they  kindled that fire themselves (Is. 9:18; Hos 7:6). Lev. 10:2 uses the same term for fire from Yahweh devouring Nadab and Abihu as in Num. 16:35 about the destruction of Korah's rebels. They were clearly aware of what had happened to those rebels, and were daring God to repeat it. It was truly the sin of presumption. See on :6,7,29.

Num 16:36 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The command to Eleazar (:37) was presumably because Aaron as High Priest ought not to defile himself with dead bodies.

Num 16:37 Speak to Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter the fire yonder, for they are holy-
They were "holy" in the sense that they were dedicated or set apart for a specific purpose, i.e. plating upon the altar (:38). They were not to be taken by the people and used for secular purposes.


Num 16:38 even the censers of these sinners against their own lives-
Often the Spirit points out that the sinner is only harming himself by his actions- and yet he earnestly pursues his course, in the name of self-interest and self-benefit (Num. 16:38; Prov. 19:8; 20:2; Hab. 2:20; Lk. 7:30). Sin is therefore associated by God with utter and derisable foolishness (e.g. Num. 12:11; 2 Tim. 3:9); but this isn't how man in his unwisdom perceives it at all. Indeed, to him self-denial is inexplicable folly and blindness to the essentials of human existence. "This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah (pause to meditate)" (Ps. 49:13). The folly of sin is only fully evident to God.


Let them be made beaten plates for a covering of the altar; for they offered them before Yahweh, therefore they are holy; and they shall be a sign to the children of Israel-
That they were destroyed and were not left alive is shown by a comment on this incident in Psalm 73. Here Asaph describes how “my steps had well nigh slipped” (v. 2) because the wicked seemed to be prospering so much. Then, “I went into the sanctuary (tabernacle) of God; then understood I their end” (v. 17). This was because the brass censers of the 250 rebels were melted down after their death and beaten into plates with which the altar was covered – another example of the angels that sinned being publicly “set forth as an example” (Jude 7). Asaph would have seen these and reflected on the fate of the wicked men. Thus he reflects upon the rebels, the angels that sinned, “surely thou didst set them in slippery places: Thou castedst them down (by the earth swallowing them) into destruction” (v. 18) – therefore they are not alive, but in the same way as Sodom was destroyed with eternal fire, i.e. totally, so, too, were these “angels” (Jude 6,7). The example of sinners from previous generations ought to be a warning to us. Asaph in Psalm 73 explains how he struggled with the fact that sinners appear to have a blessed life and the righteous suffer; but when he entered the sanctuary, “then understood I their end” (Ps. 73:17), probably a reference to him beholding the plates on the altar made from the censers of these sinners.

 
Num 16:39 Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burnt had offered, and they beat them out for a covering of the altar-
It was a Divine principle that the altar should be made of earth and not of any human craftsmanship (Ex. 20:21). If the plates were fixed onto the sides of the altar, then every thoughtful Israelite would have wondered whether this was a contradiction of the spirit of the commandments about altars. And the answer would be that this was an exception in order to remind everyone of the sin of Korah and his followers. Or we can understand "covering" as referring not to plates on the sides of the altar, but a kind of canopy over the altar, perhaps to shield the sacrifices from wind and rain.


Num 16:40 to be a memorial to the children of Israel, to the end that no stranger, who isn’t of the seed of Aaron, comes near to burn incense before Yahweh; that he not be as Korah, and as his company - as Yahweh spoke to him by Moses-
Uzziah expressly ignored this warning and offered incense (2 Chron. 26:19). The lesson of the copper plates was lost on him; he saw them as mere history and refused to learn the intended lessons as he offered his incense. Uzziah is typical of so many. There is a deep sense in human beings that history is bunk, or at best of merely passing historico-cultural interest, which the hurrying man of modern life has little serious time for. This is where Biblical history is so different; and it's why God's word in the Bible is in a sense all history, a living word speaking to us. But it is history to live by, moment by moment. 


Num 16:41 But on the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, You have killed Yahweh’s people!-
The Hebrew for "murmur" is the word for "stop", and is usually translated in that way. The idea is that they didn't want to go further on the journey; they wanted to return to Egypt. Korah's plan had been to lead the people back to Egypt, and they were angry that Moses had 'stopped' the people doing what they wanted to. Despite the wonder of the Red Sea deliverance. Their hearts truly were in Egypt. This sense of not wanting to go onwards towards the Kingdom, to put a brake on God's saving process, is the same temptation which in essence afflicts all God's people who have started the journey with Him.


Num 16:42 It happened, when the congregation was assembled against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the Tent of Meeting; and behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of Yahweh appeared-
LXX has: "And it came to pass when the congregation combined against Moses and Aaron, that they ran impetuously to the tabernacle of witness; and the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared".


Num 16:43 Moses and Aaron came to the front of the Tent of Meeting-
The Angel stood there or just inside the veil of the tent. It was to this Angel that they returned after interceding; see on :50.


Num 16:44 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
God again wants to destroy Israel and make of Moses' family a new people. Again, for the third time, Moses knows God well enough, he has enough faith, enough humility and enough true love for Israel... to again ask God- successfully- to relent from this. That God wanted to do this three times shows His great love for Moses.


Num 16:45 Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment!-
Twice in quick succession God wishes to do this and is talked out of it, as it were, by Moses' intercession (:21,45). The same words were used at the time of the golden calf (Ex. 33:5), and Moses had learned from that that God was open to intercession and changing His expressed intentions. We get the impression of a fast moving, intense relationship between God and Moses.

They fell on their faces-
Moses was specifically told to go away from the congregation, and yet he ran towards them in order to make atonement for them (Num. 16:45,47). Moses was so close to God that he could apparently 'disobey' Him because Moses knew there was a chance of changing God's intentions. He was so close to God- and in this case, God did indeed change His intentions. He had only just changed them over another matter, in relenting from destroying all Israel due to Korah's rebellion- because Moses prayed for the people (Num. 16:21,22).


Num 16:46 Moses said to Aaron, Take your censer, and put fire from off the altar in it, and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation, and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from Yahweh! The plague has begun-
The fire of the altar was ideally intended to be that kindled at the time of Lev. 9:24 when the tabernacle was consecrated. It was to be kept perpetually burning by the sacrifices being continually placed upon it, a lamb every morning and every evening. The fire which never went out or was 'quenched' (Lev. 6:13). is a double symbol. The phrase is used multiple times with reference to the wrath of God in condemning sinners; it is the basis of the idea of eternal fire which will not be quenched. Rather like the cup of wine from the Lord being a symbol of either condemnation or blessing. So we have a choice- be consumed by the eternal fire now as living sacrifices, or be consumed by it anyway at the last day. Wrath, the command to destroy, had gone forth from Yahweh- but in the gap between the statement of destruction and the execution of it, God is open to persuasion to change. This points up the power and possibilities in intense mediation before Him.


Num 16:47 Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly; and behold, the plague has begun among the people: and he put on the incense, and made atonement for the people-
See on :45.
The NT not only encourages us to all be priests; but we can even aspire to the High Priesthood, in a certain sense. The veil was torn down so that we might all enter in to the most holy, doing the work of the High Priest for others. James 5:16 speaks of the need to pray for one another, that we may be healed. This is an undoubted allusion back to mighty Moses praying for smitten Miriam, and to Aaron staying the plague by his offering of incense / prayer (Num. 16:47). Surely James is saying that every one of us can rise up to the spirit of the High Priest in this way. The provision for Naziriteship encouraged the average Israelite to enter into the spirit of the High Priest by imposing some of the regulations governing his behaviour upon them.


Num 16:48 He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed-
Aaron ought to have died for his flouting of the first commandment in making the golden calf; but Moses’ intercession alone saved him. And afterwards, deeply conscious of his experience, Aaron made successful intercession for the salvation of others (Num. 14:5; 16:22). The way he holds the censer with fire from the altar of incense, representing his prayers, and “stood between the dead and the living [as a mediator]” (Num. 16:48) is a fine picture of the height to which he rose. We too are to intercede for others on the basis of our experience of the Lord's intercession for us.


Num 16:49 Now those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, besides those who died about the matter of Korah-
We get the impression that these people died very quickly (:46,47). The plague must have been spreading fast and would indeed have consumed all Israel had not Aaron interceded. I have discussed elsewhere how the terms "thousand" and "hundred" may refer to groups of people, especially families, rather than being numerical values. 


Num 16:50 Aaron returned to Moses to the door of the Tent of Meeting, and the plague was stayed-
Again we see Moses acting on his own initiative to persuade God to change His intended plan. Moses and Aaron could only have brought about this change of mind in God by intense, fervent prayer and desire- and it was for people who had just tacitly supported a revolution against them. No matter how much we are slandered and manipulated against by our brethren, they are still God’s people and we should respect them and intercede for them as that.

We enquire why we read that "the plague was stayed" when Aaron and Moses were together again at the door of the tabernacle. For it was "stayed" by Aaron earlier. Perhaps the reference of "the plague" here is to the Angel of death who was in the tabernacle, who stood at the door of it in :43, and who now was finally restrained by Moses and Aaron. Such is the power God allows to the prayers and intercession of men.