33. KORAH, DATHAN, ABIRAM BURIED ALIVE
In this lecture we will be looking at the greatest rebellion in the history of the children of Israel. We will be going through the events text by text and then we will do in-depth study of this strange phenomenon of which we are so familiar.
May God be gracious unto us in our struggle against the sin of rebellion and bitterness.
Numbers 16:1,2 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
Who were these very important people? And what was their case?
The judgments visited upon the Israelites served for a time to restrain their murmuring and insubordination, but the spirit of rebellion was still in the heart and eventually brought forth the bitterest fruits.
If you have some unresolved bitterness in your heart, this sad event in the history of Israel may help you to get rid of it.
Korah was a descendant of Levi (Ex. 6:16, 18, 21; 1 Chron. 6:37, 38), The Korahites encamped on the south side of the tabernacle, near the Reubenites.
The children of Korah were assigned to the ministry of music and song at the sanctuary services. Psalms 42, 44 to 49, 84, 85, 87, 88 start with the words: To the chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah.
But besides the music of heaven there was heavy metal of Lucifer in his heart.
Dathan and Abiram.
The name Dathan is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. The father of these two men was the son of Pallu, the second son of Reuben (26:5, 8, 9).
On. This person is never mentioned again. Some have thought this may indicate that he withdrew from the conspiracy, refusing any active part in it.
Sons of Reuben.
Dathan and Abiram, princes of the tribe of Reuben, claimed for themselves, as descendants of Jacob’s first-born, the right of civil leadership in Israel.
Verse 2 And they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown.
What does the Bible mean when it says: Rose up before Moses?
Literally, “against the faces of Moses,” that is, openly and defiantly.
Verse 3 They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”
Congregation is holy.
That is, qualified to be priests. This expression may have reference to the fact that before Moses’ time every one might offer sacrifices in his own family.
But now this office was confined to one family, and that one enjoyed all the benefits that came from the privilege. It is true, of course, that in a sense the whole congregation was holy, in that the people were chosen by God and separated from the surrounding nations (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 20:26).
But God had now ordained that the theocratic church should exercise its outward priestly function through the one family that had been set apart for that purpose.
The Lord is among them.
Particularly, in the pillar of cloud and in the sanctuary. The rebels suggested that aside from Jehovah no other leader was necessary (see Ex. 29:45).
Verses 4,5 So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; 5 and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him.
To come near. It is possible that the meaning here is to approach the altar to minister there. This expression is commonly used of the priests (Lev. 21:17; Eze. 40:46).
Verses 6,7 Do this: Take censers, Korah and all your company; 7 put fire in them and put incense in them before the LORD tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the LORD chooses is the holy one. You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi!”
Korah and the men with him were invited to carry out a most important duty of the office to which they aspired.
Verses 8-10 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: 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 work of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; 10 and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking the priesthood also?
Korah and the Levites in his company already possessed great privileges beyond those of the other tribes, but were not satisfied.
They desired to have the same prerogatives as the family of Aaron. For them to seek the priesthood was a most flagrant presumption. Do I nurture some spiritual jealousy?
Verse 11 Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD. And what is Aaron that you complain against him?
The rebellion was not against Aaron, but God
Verse 12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, but they said, “We will not come up!
Having challenged Korah, the leader, and his Levite followers, to a test on the morrow (5–7), Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the Reubenite conspirators.
These men refused to submit their case to arbitration in court. The expression “to come up” is the Hebrew term for appearing before a court of law (see Deut. 25:7; Judges 4:5). They denied the legal authority of Moses.
Verses 13,14 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, that you should keep acting like a prince over us? Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!
Have you ever had to deal with insubordinate people? Selfishness makes us proud. Unselfishness makes us humble.
Verse 15 Then Moses was very angry, and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them.”
“Exceedingly sad” says the Septuaging.
Nor have I hurt.
Moses had not practice any kind of oppression whatever; to the contrary, he had not spared himself in doing good.
Verses 16,17 And Moses said to Korah, “Tomorrow, you and all your company be present before the LORD—you and they, as well as Aaron. 17 Let each take his censer and put incense in it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty censers; both you and Aaron, each with his censer.”
They had to appear in the court of the tabernacle. That is before the Lord, the Judge of all people.
Verse 18 So every man took his censer, put fire in it, laid incense on it, and stood at the door of the tabernacle of meeting with Moses and Aaron.
From where did they get the fire?
The altar of burnt offering, which stood in the court
Verse 19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.
It moved from the most holy place where it usually abode.
This must have been a most amazing spectacle. The unthinking majority of the people were in agreement with Korah.
Verses 20,21 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.”
At times we have to separate ourselves from rebellious people otherwise we will perish with them
Verses 22-24 Then they fell on their faces, and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?” 23 So the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’ ”
Verses 25,26 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men! Touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins.”
That is, the 70 elders who had been appointed to assist Moses (ch. 11:16). It is evident that Moses had the support of the official leaders of the people.
Consumed in all their sins.
Literally, “swept away with all their transgressions.”
Verse 27 So they got away from around the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, with their wives, their sons, and their little children.
Their little children. The root word translated “little children” means “to take quick steps,” “to trip along,” and refers to children who are old enough to walk about safely on their own.
God did not impose this death penalty upon small children. But, as often happens, innocent children suffered for the obstinacy of their elders, who refused to repent or even to heed the warning to flee.
Did some of Korah’s children survived? Yes. (Num. 26:11; Ex. 6:24).
Verse 28 And Moses said: “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will
Verse 29 If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me.
Verse 30 But if the LORD creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the LORD.”
Moses was asking for an extraordinary manifestation that could not be accounted for aside from divine intervention.
Verse 31 Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them
A remarkable vindication of Moses in that the words were scarcely out of his mouth when God acted to confirm them and vindicate him.
Verse 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods.
An instantaneous act of God to prevent the spread of a rebellious spirit that had already perverted the entire congregation.
Verse 33 So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly
What a remarkable testimony to direct divine intervention.
Verse 34 Then all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up also!”
Though the people were at a distance, having removed themselves (v. 27), the sound of the convulsion of the earth engulfing the rebels and of the victims’ shrieks of fear and dismay, caused them to flee still farther away.
Verse 35 And a fire came out from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 37 “Tell Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, to pick up the censers out of the blaze, for they are holy, and scatter the fire some distance away.
The censers had been used for offering incense to the Lord, and had held sacred fire from off the altar
Verse 38 The censers of these men who sinned against their own souls, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar. Because they presented them before the LORD, therefore they are holy; and they shall be a sign to the children of Israel.”
The censers of Korah and of the company with him were made of bronze (Num. 16:39). In the time of Solomon censers were made of gold (1 Kings 7:50; 2 Chron. 4:22).
Verse 39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned up had presented, and they were hammered out as a covering on the altar, 40 to be a memorial to the children of Israel that no outsider, who is not a descendant of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the LORD, that he might not become like Korah and his companions, just as the LORD had said to him through Moses.
Verse 41 On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.”
It would be difficult to find a more outstanding example of rebellion after so impressive a demonstration of divine disapproval as had been witnessed.
Verse 42 Now it happened, when the congregation had gathered against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tabernacle of meeting; and suddenly the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.
Verse 43 Then Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of meeting.
Why? To receive instruction from God and to rest under His protection.
Verses 44,45 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces.
Why? They were pleading for mercy for people who deserved judgment
Verse 46 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the LORD. The plague has begun.”
The incense of the censor was a symbol of mediation and intercession: Psalms 141:2 Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
The incense was regularly offered only at the golden altar within the sanctuary. But there was no time to choose and sacrifice an animal.
Atonement was made by means of the incense in the censer, for the plague was already rampant among the people.
Verse 47 Then Aaron took it as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the assembly; and already the plague had begun among the people. So he put in the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living; so the plague was stopped.
Aaron was here a type of Christ, who came down among sinful men and made Himself an offering for them (Eph. 5:2).
Verse 49 Now those who died in the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died in the Korah incident.
Whole families were no doubt wiped out, a terrible example of the evils of rebellion against God’s expressed will. This was in addition to those “that died about the matter of Korah”; perhaps, all told, not less than 15,000 people perished.
Verse 50 So Aaron returned to Moses at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, for the plague had stopped.
After the break we will come back to this matter of rebellion. Do you know who the name of the first rebel?
I invite you to surrender your rebellion to the One who died for you on Calvary