Understanding the Old Testament

Korah's Rebellion

All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

In Numbers 16, a Levite named Korah leads a rebellion against Moses’ leadership, and is joined by Dathan, Abiram, and 250 leaders of Israel. As a Levite, Korah served the priests in the Tabernacle, and as a member of the Kohathites, he was one of those responsible for transporting the Ark and other Tabernacle furniture from place to place. (Numbers 3:31) Numbers 16:10 implies that Korah wanted to be a priest himself. Korah’s pride and jealousy led him to accuse Moses of exalting himself “above the assembly of the Lord,” arguing that Moses was nothing special because “all the congregation are holy.” (Numbers 16:3)

Korah’s accusation was laughable, for Numbers 12:3 tells us that Moses “was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” Rather than be jealous when the Lord favored other men with gifts of prophecy, Moses was happy for them. (Numbers 11:26-29)

To understand what happened next, we need to understand that Korah’s rebellion was not only against Moses and Aaron, but against God. By challenging God’s chosen leaders, as well as His plan for the Levites, Korah was defying God as well. And the same was true for those who took Korah’s side. Some of them blamed Moses for the fact that they were stuck in the wilderness (Numbers 16:13-14), even though God, not Moses, had decreed that they would wander in the wilderness for forty years because of their lack of faith.

Before Korah and his followers could lead the Israelites astray, God destroyed them: the earth opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with the families and possessions of Dathan and Abiram. 1 (Numbers 16:25-33) Then fire consumed the 250 Israelite leaders who had joined the rebellion. (Numbers 16:35)

Incredibly, the people blamed Moses and Aaron rather than the rebels for these deaths. (Numbers 16:41) So before another rebellion could break out, the Lord sent a plague which was stopped only when Aaron made atonement for the people—after 14,700 more had died. (Numbers 16:46-49)

Questions to ponder or discuss: As with Adam and Eve, disobedience toward God led to deathand in this case, the deaths were almost immediate. Is this a just result? Why or why not? Korah’s rebellion amounted to treason—which is punishable by death in many countries, including the United States until 1990. Does this alter your answer and/or opinion?

   1 Numbers 16:27 mentions only the families of Dathan and Abiram being swallowed up. And Numbers 26:11 explicitly tells us that Korah's sons did not die. (See also the heading for Psalm 88: "A Psalm of the sons of Korah.") However, Numbers does not tell us why this was so.

Copyright 2017-2018 by Don Davidson

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