Feb. 18 Reading: Numbers 16-17 Commentary

Below is our Numbers 16-17 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?'” (Num. 16:3)

Numbers 16 – The Rebellion of Korah

commentaryMoses can’t catch a break. Another day, another complaint. His own family rose up against him in Numbers 12. And now he has a full-fledged rebellion on his hands from a man named Korah.

Korah and 250 allies (“leaders of the congregation…men of renown” – v. 2) were not satisfied with the duties God gave them. They should have been. His Levite family of origin, Kohath, had been tasked by God to attend to the most holy things within the tabernacle (Numbers 3). Other than the priesthood, there was no higher honor in the camp than to attend to the Ark of the Covenant and the other holy implements. 

But they did want the priesthood. So this was an attack on Aaron as well as Moses. The rebels thought the entire nation was holy and that Moses and Aaron had presumptuously assumed a leadership role (see Num. 16:3 above). Jealousy was leading them to a power grab. 

When Moses heard this he fell on his face in submission to God. Seems like that was always his first response, showing humility before the Lord. After all his encounters with God and all his prayers trying to stay God’s hand (see Exodus 32 and Numbers 14), Moses must have known judgment was coming. 

The rebellion doesn’t last long as once again God steps in, but in a way so memorable that the people must have talked about it for generations. His punishment for Korah and the other rebels gives new perspective to the phrase “buried alive.”

Moses’ Defense

Of course, Moses defends himself and Aaron against Korah and the other rebels. They hadn’t assumed leadership. God had appointed them to it. And they had done nothing but look out for the good of the people during the entire journey (v. 15).

Additionally, it must have hurt Moses to realize the people didn’t appreciate all he had done for them. Multiple times he had stood in the gap for them in their on-again, off-again relationship with God. If it hadn’t been for Moses, the people would not have made it to this point. God had expressed multiple times his desire to wipe the nation out and start over, but Moses had stayed God’s hand. Moses and Aaron actually had to do it again in this instance (v. 20-22).

Korah’s Rebellion is Squashed

Instead of wiping out the entire congregation, God ordered all the people to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, three of the main leaders of the rebellion. Moses initiates a test of sorts to solidify in the people’s mind that it was really God in charge. He 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. 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. 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.” (vv. 28-30)

No sooner were the words out of Moses mouth than the earth opened and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. 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” (v. 32-33). 

Rebellion Aftermath

The earth opening up and consuming people would have caused anyone to run in fear. That’s exactly what happened. Never before had people seen this happen and they thought they were next (v. 34).

The 250 individuals who had sided with Korah at the onset of the rebellion were burned by fire (v. 35).

And wouldn’t you know it, the next day the people complain…Again!  They directed the complaint at Moses and Aaron who they said had “killed the people of the Lord” (v. 41).

The wicked Korah and those associated with him were being viewed as spiritual martyrs by the people. Instead of recognizing Moses and Aaron as their leaders, they sided with those on the wrong side of the issue. So for the fourth time (twice in this chapter), God asks Moses to stand aside so he can consume the people (v. 44).

At that moment, a plague begins to spread through the camp. Moses quickly instructs Aaron to take a censer with fire in it and run through the camp making atonement for the people (v. 46-48).

Thanks to the quick thinking of Moses and Aaron, the plague stopped. But not before 14,700 people died.

Numbers 17 – Aaron’s Rod Buds

Numbers 16 ends with the people still not convinced of Aaron’s leadership role. Even with the judgments, the people were uncertain that Aaron had been appointed by God instead of assuming the role himself. So God prepared another test to prove once and for all Aaron and his sons were the real priests.

God instructed each tribe to bring a rod (dead stick) to the tabernacle. Aaron also brought one representing the tribe of Levi and wrote his name on it. So twelve rods in all were placed in the tabernacle overnight. The rod of the tribe leader that blossomed overnight would be the person God had chosen (vv. 2-7).

In the morning, not only had Aaron’s dead rod blossomed, but it had yielded ripe almonds. That would certainly not have been possible under any circumstances. So when the people saw it they cried:

“We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?” (vv. 12-13).

They had finally come to realize God’s will in the matter. And if they didn’t follow his instructions, they could expect extreme punishment, even death. Aaron’s rod was put in the Most Holy Place next to the Ark of the Covenant as a reminder of what had happened to the rebels (v. 10).

Questions to Consider:

Do you complain about the gifts or ministry that God has given you, like He doesn’t know what He is doing? Be thankful and use your gifts to serve Him wherever you are planted.

In Numbers 16, a priest named Korah and some followers were not satisfied with the role God gave them. They wanted more power and authority, so rebelled against Moses. How have you seen a lust for power corrupt godly men?

What other points would you want to know about in our Numbers 16-17 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.