From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 16

One of the Levites, Korah, and some friends from the tribe of Reuben convinced themselves that they were people of inordinate consequence. Two hundred fifty leaders of the congregation who had major positions in the administration followed Korah and his cohorts to confront Moses and Aaron with their significance. They had the audacity to accuse Moses and Aaron of exceeding their function in the community. They presented their argument in a way that would sound to the congregation as though they were defending the people of Israel from Moses and Aaron’s dictatorship. It has been said that Korah, because he wasn’t a true leader, completely misread the condition of the nation of Israel when he said that it was holy. When he accused Moses and Aaron of pride and self-seeking he was attributing his own faults to them. The Holy Spirt of Yahweh, through the narrator, made a record of the fact that Moses was “a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth”[1] and Aaron was ordained by Yahweh to do the work of high priest. Moses’ reactions to their accusations were to through himself on the ground before Yahweh and then tell his accusers that they would wait on Yahweh to resolve the issue.

Moses told Korah and his followers to take censers to the Tent of Meeting – in the presence of their God, Yahweh – and put fire and incense in them. Remember, incense represents prayer. Remember also that the priests were the only ones allowed in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle.[2]

Moses rebuked the pride and self-seeking that prompted the challenge because he knew that their rebellion was because of ingratitude. The Levites were not thankful for the wonderful ministry Yahweh gave them to do. Rashi’s Commentary says that Dathan and Abiram, who rebelled with Korah, were close neighbors as both tribes – Reuben and Kohath – were camped in the south. Korah decided to quarrel with Moses because he envied an appointment Moses had made over the sons of Kohath – appointing the youngest son over the oldest[3]. Moses told Korah and his followers that that they were defying Yahweh. They could have remembered what happened when Nadab and Abihu brought unauthorized fire[4] into the tabernacle, and repented of their own insolence before the morning light but they didn’t.

Dathan and Abiram refused to appear before Yahweh at the Tent of Meeting and choose to accuse him of being responsible for their own evil instead. They had agitated against Yahweh and refused to go on and take the Land of Promise when he gave them the opportunity. They accused Moses of not only taking them from Egypt where they had been happy slaves in a comfortable land of plenty; but also of not giving them what he had promised. They refused to take responsibility for their own actions. As Paul told the Romans, “Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.”[5] Moses was upset and asked Yahweh not to accept their offering. Rebellion is contagious so Moses could have had them all arrested and punished but it is always better to leave the matter of punishment to the highest authority and Moses turned it over to Yahweh.

The following morning they all brought their censers filled with fire to the Tent of Meeting and Moses and Aaron did the same. The glory of Yahweh appeared before the whole community and he told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves, not only from the pretenders to the priesthood, but the whole nation. Yahweh told Moses and Aaron that he would finish with the rebellion of his people once and for all by destroying them all. Rashi says that Korah had spent the night going around the camp enticing the people – telling them how much he cared for them and was just trying to protect them from the dictatorship of Moses and Aaron.

Yahweh sent lightening to cremate the two hundred fifty men who took incense offering into the temple. He told Moses to tell Aaron’s son, Eleazar, to gather the censers and scatter the coals from them a distance away because the censers had become holy. The bronze censers of the men who had sinned were to be hammered in sheets for covering the altar to serve as a sign to Israel, evidence of what happened that day.

Eleazar did as he was told and the bronze from the censers covered the altar as a constant reminder to Israel that only the descendants of Aaron were allowed to burn incense before Yahweh and what would happen if anyone else tried it.

Moses and Aaron again threw themselves on their faces before their God, Yahweh, and pled for the sheep that followed the wolves[6]. Yahweh told them to tell the community to separate themselves from the rebels so Moses and Aaron told the chosen people to back off from the insurgents and not even touch anything that belonged to them so as not to be carried off in the flood of their sins. Yeshua told us that we would recognize these wolves by their product [7] and that creatures that produce lies would be cut down and destroyed.

The people listened to Moses’ warning and moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who were standing with their families at the entrance to their tents. They were standing out in arrogance against their God, Yahweh’s, appointed authority and their families were standing in solidarity with the men’s insubordination.

Moses faced the community and told them that if these men died a natural death the same as everyone does, they would know that he wasn’t sent to them by Yahweh. On the other hand, if Yahweh did something unprecedented and the ground opened up and swallowed them they would know he was ordained by their God. The people would also know that the men who had been trying to insight insurrection in Israel had rejected their God, Yahweh, and were wrong.

The narrator wrote that the words were hardly out of his mouth before the earth split open and swallowed the three men and their families along with everything they owned. The earth closed up over them and it was as if they had never existed.

The Israelites panicked and ran shouting in fear that they would be swallowed up alive too.

Nevertheless, the following morning people begin grumbling against Moses and Aaron again, unjustly accusing them of being responsible for “acts of God”.

Matthew Henry said, “Though they were so lately saved from sharing in the same punishment, and the survivors were as brands plucked out of the burning, yet they fly in the face of Moses and Aaron, to whose intercession they owed their preservation.”[8]

As Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph. D says, Blame is an excellent defense mechanism. Blaming Moses and Aaron helped the Israelites preserve their sense of self-esteem by avoiding awareness of their own sins. It was easier to blame Moses and Aaron than to accept their own responsibility. Blaming their leaders involved less effort than recognizing their contributions to the situation and accepting the fact that they were actually at fault – and changing so they didn’t repeat their sin.[9]

However, when the community of Israel got together against their leaders, Moses and Aaron, They saw the glory of Yahweh in the cloud over the Tent of Meeting. He told Moses and Aaron to back away from the congregation so he could eradicate them immediately. Justice demonstrated that they deserve to be destroyed in a moment, but Moses and Aaron did what they always did. They fell on their faces before Yahweh in supplication for Israel.

Instructed by Moses, Aaron took the symbol of their prayers – his censor filled with incense and fire from the Altar – and made atonement for the people’s sins. Aaron stood between the dead and the living, giving us a picture of how serious the matter of prayer is; it is no casual pursuit, no fatalistic exercise in self-improvement. Prayer moves Yahweh to stop death and to give life.

The mutiny was a repudiation of Yahweh and his leadership of Israel. Fourteen thousand seven hundred of the mutineers died that day. Two hundred fifty others along with the three instigators and their families died the day before. All of these people were part of the chosen people who rejected the Promised Land and later changed their minds and tried to take it without Yahweh and lost not only the war, but also many of their numbers in the attempt. They were rejecting the God, Yahweh, who rescued them from slavery in Egypt and offered them possession of the Promised Land, a land gushing with all things nourishing and sweet.


Summary of chapter 16

Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On turned against Moses. Korah was a Levite. Dathan and Abiram were brothers and descendants of Rueben. On was also a descendant of Rueben. These four men gathered 250 leaders from Israel together and came against Moses. They unjustly accused their leaders of taking themselves too seriously. They wanted to take over for their selves the dignified position of priests.

Moses bowed his face to the ground to show he was not being proud and told Korah and all his followers that on the morrow Yahweh would show everyone who were separated unto him. He told them to put fire and incense in censers and take them before Yahweh if they thought they were qualified to go into the presence of the Most Holy God, Yahweh. He told Korah that the Levites had gone too far and were wrong. He told them that they should be happy that the God of Israel had chosen them to assist the priests and asked them why they would try to take over the position of the priests. They knew that only the priests were allowed to burn the holy incense in the Tent of Meeting.

When Moses called Dathan and Abiram they refused to come to him. They unjustly accused him of taking them out of a land filled with many good things and bringing them to the desert to kill them. They said Moses did not give them the land Yahweh promised with the fields or the vineyards. To add to their lies, they accused him of trying to make Israel his slaves.

Moses told Korah that he and his followers were to stand before Yahweh on the morrow and Aaron would be there with them. Each of them must bring a pan, put incense in it, and present it to Yahweh. There would be 250 pans for the leaders and 1 pan for Korah and 1 pan for Aaron.

When the morning came, and they met at the Tent of Meeting, Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to step aside so he could destroy the pretenders then and there. However, Moses and Aaron bowed to the ground and cried out for their salvation.

Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to tell the people to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

Moses went to Dathan and Abiram and all the elders of Israel followed him. Moses warned the people to move away from the tents of the evil men and not even touch anything that belonged to them.

The men moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who went to their tents and stood with their families.

Moses told Israel that as proof that Yahweh sent him to lead his people; the men would die as the earth opened up and swallowed them alive. When Moses finished speaking, the ground under the men opened its mouth and swallowed them. Then the earth closed over them. The Israelites heard the cries of the men being destroyed and they all ran in different directions afraid that the earth would swallow them too.

Besides that a fire came from Yahweh and destroyed the 250 men who were offering the illegal incense. Yahweh told Moses to instruct the priest, Eleazar, to get all the incense pans from the fire and scatter the coals and ashes outside the camp. The pans became holy when people gave them to Yahweh. At Yahweh’s command they were hammered into flat sheets and used to cover the altar. This was to be a warning sign to all the Israelites to help them remember that only someone from the family of Aaron should burn incense before Yahweh. Any other person who burned incense before him would die like Korah and his followers.

Moses and Aaron were standing at the entrance to the Tabernacle the following day. The Israelites were gathered to complain against Moses and Aaron. They unjustly and falsely accused them of killing the people of Israel. When they looked toward the Tent of Meeting they saw the cloud that represented the glory of Yahweh hovering over the Sanctuary.

Yahweh told Moses to move away from the false accusers so that he could destroy them immediately. Moses and Aaron bowed with their faces to the ground. Moses told Aaron to get his censor with fire from the Altar and incense in it and hurry to the people. Sickness had already started to kill the people so Aaron stood between the living and the dead. He did what Moses said to remove their sin, and the sickness stopped there. When the terrible sickness was stopped, Aaron went back to Moses at the entrance of the Meeting Tent.


Prayer: Lord, when I remember the evil that spread through the camp of your chosen people and think of the evil that is everywhere in the world I live in today, I tremble. I know that corruption persists even among those that claim to be your people because they don’t see your glory. Israel failed to see you high and lifted up and shinning in the light of your glory then, and today I must be careful that I don’t make the same mistake. Therefore, Yahweh, my God, please open the eyes of my heart, so that I can see you high and lifted up; shining in the light of your glory. Pour out your power and love as I sing holy, holy, holy. I want to see you as you are – the great I AM, reality behind all reality – my Savior and God.



Things to think about

  1. Why do you think Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron? Did it have anything to do with covetousness?
  2. What was the first commandment that Korah and his friends broke?
  3. What does bearing false witness against one’s neighbor have to do with Korah’s actions?
  4. Was the sin of Korah and his friends greatest against Moses and Aaron or against Yahweh?
  5. Do you and I have trouble accepting the authority of our leaders? Is it easy to think since we can do as well as another that we should be able to take their place if we want to?
  6. Do you understand the “blame game”? Have you ever looked for someone to blame for the things that go wrong in your own life?
  7. What does the story of Korah and his followers tell you about the character of Yahweh? What does it tell you about human nature?



[1] Chapter 12: 3

[2] The first chamber was called the Holy Place, it contained the Table, Lampstand, and Altar of Incense. Only priests were allowed into this section.


[4] Leviticus 10:1, 2

[5] Romans 13:3

[6] Matthew 7:15; romans 16:17, 18

[7] Matthew 7:16-20




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s