Numbers 16

Chapter 16

Korah’s Rebellion. 1 Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and some Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth took action 2 and rose up against Moses. With them were some of the people of Israel, two hundred fifty leaders of the assembly, well known in the assembly and men of renown. 3 They gathered together against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole assembly is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why, then, do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”[a]

4 When Moses heard this he fell on his face 5 and he spoke to Korah and his company, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will reveal who belongs to him and who is holy when he allows him to approach him. He will allow the one whom he has chosen to approach him. 6 Do this: you and Korah and all his followers are to take censers 7 before the Lord tomorrow and put fire and incense in them. The man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, you Levites!”

8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you Levites, 9 is it not enough that the God of Israel has set you apart from the assembly of Israel to bring you onto himself, to minister in the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the assembly serving them? 10 He has brought you and all your brethren, the Levites, onto himself, and still you seek the priesthood too? 11 For this you and all your company have gathered together against the Lord. Who is Aaron that you should complain about him?”

12 Rebellion of Dathan and Abiram. Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. They responded, “We will not come up! 13 Is it not enough that you brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert? Now you are going to make yourself a prince over us? 14 Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Are you going to gouge out the eyes of these men? No, we will not come up!”

15 Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I harmed any of them.” 16 Then Moses said to Korah, “You and your company are to appear before the Lord tomorrow, you, and them, and Aaron. 17 Each of you is to bring your censer and put incense in it. Each of you is to bring his censer before the Lord, two hundred and fifty censers. You and Aaron will also each bring a censer.” 18 [b]So each took his own censer, put fire and incense in them, and stood at the entrance to the tent of meeting along with Moses and Aaron. 19 The whole assembly gathered against them at the entrance to the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord appeared to the whole assembly.

20 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 21 “Move away from this assembly so that I can destroy them at once.” 22 But Moses and Aaron fell down upon their faces and said, “O God, O God of the spirits of all flesh,[c] will you be angry with the whole assembly because of the sin of one person?”

23 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the assembly, saying, ‘Draw back from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’ ”

25 Punishment of Dathan and Abiram. Then Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, followed by the elders of Israel. 26 He spoke to the assembly, saying, “Draw back from the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything that belongs to them, or else you will be swept away in all their sin.” 27 So they backed away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram came out and stood in the entranceway of their tents along with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. 28 Moses said, “By this you shall know that the Lord sent me to do all these things, for they are not of my own doing. 29 If these men end up dying a natural death and are visited by every person’s fate, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new and the earth opens up and swallows them and all that belongs to them and they go down alive into Sheol,[d] then you will understand that they have treated the Lord with contempt.”

31 As soon as he finished saying these things, the ground split apart underneath them. 32 The earth opened up its mouth and swallowed them and their households as well as the men who were with Korah and all their possessions. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol and the earth closed over them. They perished from the assembly. 34 All of Israel that had gathered around them fled at their outcry for they said, “The earth might swallow us up too!” 35 Fire came out from the Lord and swallowed up the two hundred and fifty who had offered incense.

36 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 37 “Speak to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, and have him gather up the censers[e] from the blaze for they are holy. Scatter the burning coals over there. 38 The censers of these sinners will bear witness against them. Hammer them into sheets to cover the altar, for they have been presented to the Lord and they are therefore holy. They will be a warning to the people of Israel.”

39 Eleazar took the bronze censers with which the men who had been destroyed by fire had made their offering, and they hammered them into sheets to cover the altar. 40 They were to be a reminder to the people of Israel that no one other than a descendant of Aaron was to draw near to offer incense to the Lord lest what happened to Korah and his company happen to them. He did this as the Lord had commanded him through Moses.

41 The very next day the whole assembly of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron saying, “You have killed the Lord’s people.” 42 When the assembly had gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron, they looked up toward the tent of meeting and, behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared.

43 Moses and Aaron stood in front of the tent of meeting 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Stand away from this assembly so that I can quickly put an end to them.” Then they fell down on their faces. 46 Moses said to Aaron, “Take a censer and put fire from the altar in it and put incense in it. Go out quickly to the assembly to make atonement for them, for anger has gone out from the Lord and the plague has begun.”

47 So Aaron did what Moses had commanded him and he ran out into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already begun among the people. He put in incense and made atonement for the people. 48 He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague halted. 49 There were fourteen thousand and seven hundred who died in the plague (not counting those who died on account of Korah). 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting for the plague had been halted.


  1. Numbers 16:3 Several different rebellions are combined in this section. The one that is most prominent is based on Korah’s accusation against Moses and Aaron of abusing their roles as spiritual leaders.
  2. Numbers 16:18 Korah and 250 false priests who stood with Moses and Aaron with fire in their censers at the tent of meeting are fittingly put to death by the Lord’s fire (perhaps lightning).
  3. Numbers 16:22 God of the spirits of all flesh: the Creator of every living being.
  4. Numbers 16:30 Sheol: the dwelling place of the dead, where, according to the ancient idea of things, all the dead, without any distinction between the good and the wicked, lead a minimal kind of existence, as though they were shadows of themselves. Only as the Christian era draws near will teaching on the afterlife become clearer.
  5. Numbers 16:37 Gather up the censers: the bronze censers of the deceased sinful priests were hammered together into sheets for the altar as a reminder of their evil ways.

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