Thoughts on Numbers Chapter 16
While reading the Book of Numbers chapter 16 (I have the full text shown below) accompanied by a commentary detailing the events of Korah’s rebellion, I came upon this passage in the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament1, the Book of Numbers:
The leader was Korah; and the rebels are called in consequence “Korah’s company” ( Numbers 16:5, Numbers 16:6; Numbers 26:9; Numbers 27:3). He laid claim to the high-priesthood, or at least to an equality with Aaron (Num_16:17). Among his associates were the Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, who, no doubt, were unable to get over the fact that the birthright had been taken away from their ancestor, and with it the head ship of the house of Israel (i.e., of the whole nation). Apparently their present intention was to seize upon the government of the nation under a self-elected high priest, and to force Moses and Aaron out of the post assigned to them by God, – that is to say, to overthrow the constitution which God had given to His people.2
and I was jolted by the comparison between Korah’s rebellion and the American insurrection on January 6th, 2021 at the U.S Capital. Truly there is nothing new under the sun, Ecclesiastes 1:9.
The pride and gall of Korah and those 250 souls he inspired to follow him in his revolt against the leadership of Moses and the high priesthood of Aaron is really quite breathtaking. Not being satisfied with the honor he and his family were given, that is, the responsibility of the service of the Tabernacle he fostered an atmosphere of perceived injustice targeted at Moses and Aaron, whom God Himself had appointed the political and spiritual leaders of this new nation, Israel. He also unjustly accused Moses of being proud and lording his stature over everyone, when indeed, he was an extremely humble man, who on many occasions interceded with the Lord in protecting his sinful and rebellious people so that God would not wipe them out and make a new nation from Moses. It takes a humble and caring person to say no to being the father of a nation and pleading for his nation.
Here are four correlations that I could find between the insurrection of “Korah and his company” and the insurrection instigated by current ex-President Trump after he lost the presidential election of 2020. An insurrection the direct and immediate consequence of which was the storming of the U.S. Capitol attempting to stop the certification of the national election.
1) Both Korah and Trump had delusions of grandeur claiming power they neither had nor were permitted to have, and believed they were, and deserved to be, above the law. It takes a delusional mind to manufacture the belief that one deserves to have his own way in spite of lawful rules and regulations made to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power. But when the rules don’t apply to you because you alone can fix things then you can assume whatever power you desire.
2) Both sought to subvert the law and overturn an election and their government. Behavior belies intent, and if you stoke the flames of discontent, in spite of your advisors confirming you lost the election, and deliberately lie and mislead and use subterfuge to impose your own personal reality on everyone else, you only foster chaos and turmoil. The outcome is always a disaster.
3) Both enlisted the aid of conspirators to help them accomplish their objectives. If you were only a conspiracy of one individual then the movement would die out soon enough. But enlisting the aid of an army of people to plot, plan, scheme, and intimidate to further your objective, then inertia can be a powerful thing. It can foster a mob to attach the institutions you want to bend to your own will and the consequences can be devastating. People can and do die for their unthinking obedience to the autocrat.
4) Both were incapable of accepting the truth of the actual events of their day. Some people are so self-centered and narcissistic that they can see the truth, preferring the lie in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in spite of all those around you contradicting their vision.
The results of Korah’s attempt to assume the priesthood and claim an office to which he was not appointed or elected was disastrous to his and everyone of his conspirators. When Moses told him and his followers that the ground would open up and swallow them it happened immediately with devastating effect. In the case of the January 6th insurrection the consequences have not been that swift, but justice will be certain, as the number of perpetrators already jailed is large and growing. It’s just a shame one delusional individual should cause such national chaos and turmoil.
Num 16:2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.
Num 16:3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”
Num 16:4 When Moses heard this, he fell on his face;
Num 16:5 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 bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself.
Num 16:6 “Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company,
Num 16:7 and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the LORD tomorrow; and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!”
Num 16:8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi,
Num 16:9 is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of 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 to them;
Num 16:10 and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also?
Num 16:11 “Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD; but as for Aaron, who is he that you grumble against him?”
Num 16:12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come up.
Num 16:13 “Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us?
Num 16:14 “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. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!”
Num 16:15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.”
Num 16:16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your company be present before the LORD tomorrow, both you and they along with Aaron.
Num 16:17 “Each of you take his firepan and put incense on it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty firepans; also you and Aaron shall each bring his firepan.”
Num 16:18 So they each took his own censer and put fire on it, and laid incense on it; and they stood at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with Moses and Aaron.
Num 16:19 Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.
Num 16:20 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
Num 16:21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.”
Num 16:22 But they fell on their faces and said, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?”
Num 16:23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 16:24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'”
Num 16:25 Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him,
Num 16:26 and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.”
Num 16:27 So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones.
Num 16:28 Moses said, “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing.
Num 16:29 “If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me.
Num 16:30 “But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.”
Num 16:31 As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open;
Num 16:32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions.
Num 16:33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
Num 16:34 All Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, “The earth may swallow us up!”
Num 16:35 Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.
Num 16:36 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 16:37 “Say to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, that he shall take up the censers out of the midst of the blaze, for they are holy; and you scatter the burning coals abroad.
Num 16:38 “As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered sheets for a plating of the altar, since they did present them before the LORD and they are holy; and they shall be for a sign to the sons of Israel.”
Num 16:39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers which the men who were burned had offered, and they hammered them out as a plating for the altar,
Num 16:40 as a reminder to the sons of Israel that no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near to burn incense before the LORD; so that he will not become like Korah and his company–just as the LORD had spoken to him through Moses.
Num 16:41 But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’S people.”
Num 16:42 It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared.
Num 16:43 Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting,
Num 16:44 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 16:45 “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Then they fell on their faces.
Num 16:46 Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!”
Num 16:47 Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.
Num 16:48 He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked.
Num 16:49 But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah.
Num 16:50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked.
1 this passage can be located on p. 1135 in the pdf file that can be downloaded here. Look for the entry listed as: Keil and Delitzsch – Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 – Genesis to Deuteronomy (1885).
2 Keil, C.F. and Delitszch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume I – The Pentateuch (1864–1874; reprint Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), comment on Numbers ch. 16, p.
[Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org]