Numbers 16 - Korachs Rebellion

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Numbers 16:1-35 - Rebellion / Submission


In summary this chapter of Numbers concerns rebellion against Moses, who was God’s chosen to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

A definition of rebellion is described as “uprising, or insurrection is a refusal of obedience or order. [1] It may, therefore, be encompassing a range of behaviours aimed at destroying or taking over the position of an established authority such as a government, governor, president, political leader, financial institution, or person in charge”

This chapter also is a good explanation of God’s grace in not destroying all the Israelites as later in the chapter we are told

Numbers 16:45 - Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment


What is hard to comprehend is the fact that the Israelites were still rebelling even after they had seen divine intervention. They were not rebelling against Moses but God himself.

There were several rebellions taking place and some commentaries see two hundred and fifty rebellions taking place.

  1. One against Moses leadership from Korach

  2. Three against Aharon’s appointment as the head of the Levites from Dathan and Abiram and On.

  3. The two hundred and fifty leaders who each with their own motives and reasons for going against the joint leadership of Aharon and Moses.



Korach was also a firstborn of the second born son Izhar and if you look at the genealogy or structure of the Kohanites, they were Moses and Aharon’s cousin. Korach was head of the clan that had the authority and responsibility for transporting the ark of the covenant and other Tabernacle furnishings. He had a very important and religious role as nobody else could touch the ark and it was a physical representation of God. It contained;

Hebrews 9:4- Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.

Korach was Pharaohs’ s treasurer and was probably wealthy. Korach means ‘bald head’ and in this case, the word head could be a metaphor for a leader i.e. head of the clan. His name means to rise up above the head and be cut off. His character was very calculating as he knew what he was he acted like a politician who claimed to represent the people.


Dathan, Abiram and On

Within this chapter they were commonly known as co-conspirators and it is interesting On is not discussed again. They would not even meet with Moses and chose to accuse him instead acted as back seat drivers who God doesn’t put in control for that very reason of their incorrect choices. They did not consider themselves under Moses authority, so whose authority were they under if Moses was God’s appointed? Dathan, Abiram and On were descended from Reuben and some commentators see because of this they would have resented Moshe’s leadership. There is what is known as the vexing where Reuben the firstborn has been replaced by the Levites and by the sons of Joseph, so they were made redundant in their duties.


The other Two Hundred and Fifty Leaders

They were a cross section of the tribes and various leaders within the Israelites and they were respected leaders from the twelve tribes but mostly consisted of the Reubenites

They attacked Moses from several viewpoints and as leaders they had their own individual gripes with Moses. They now sat back and did nothing by not taking sides and in summary followed the crowd and joined in and did not make a stand.

It is interesting that the description of them is the same as in Genesis 6:4 and compare against Numbers 16:2 – “men of renown”



Aharon was the older brother of Moses and was called in Hebrew the ‘Kohen Gadol’ or commonly known as the chief priest.



It is interesting to point out that Moses was unafraid of the outcome as there was no doubt or hesitation implied in the scriptures in his actions or words. It is also interesting that we see evidence of Moses pride as he states what their punishment will be in verse 30.

Moses was passionate about flock the Israelites and the potential wolves attacking and dividing his flock. In Hebrew the word Ro’ah is both a noun and a verb i.e. a Noun as shepherd as well as a verb as into shepherd or to pasture. It is used here within the following context to show relationships between religious leader and his people and as a reference to Feeding on folly. It also represents a companionship or friendship and an intimate relationship with our Father. In John 10 there are three types of shepherd discussed and these were a Good shepherd, a bad one or a hireling.


Why did they rebel?

Firstly, they were rebelling against God and not Moses, when you rebel against Gods chosen one, you rebel against the one who chose him. The people had seen Moses deliver them from the wilderness and it was through their own wickedness that they stayed in the desert and it is very explicit in the following verse;

Numbers 32:13 And the LORD'S anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed. 

Secondly from a legalistic point the rebellion of Korach was rooted in him opposing the laws or Torot in Hebrew which are the plural of Torah. Korach wanted recognition even though he was not the recognised leader in the Lords eyes. Moses in Exodus had been appointed and selected as the Israelites leader and he wanted honour which is respect somebody is due when they are in a leadership role.

Thirdly, Korach, Dathan and Abiram wanted attention for themselves as they did this in front of the whole congregation and he used some underhanded and deceitful ways in verse 3 by stating God doesn’t need one man and  he can speak to everybody and said the Israelites didn’t need leadership, just at exactly the time they did. 

Finally or fourthly, Korach also played upon the fact that the Israelites were tired and weary of going through the wilderness and threw this back in Moses face and wanted to go back to Egypt i.e. they inversed the truth and made out Egypt where they had been in captivity was the land of milk and honey in Wilderness of Zin.


Gods punishment

In order to explain Gods punishment, let us look at unauthorised fire. Only the priests could offer incense as with Aharon’s sons and the swift reprisal from foreign fire introduced by Aharon’s deceased sons, recorded in

Leviticus 10:1-2 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.

2. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.


The Israelites had seen this and witnessed, and this was disobedience of a Priestly rite. If you look at verse 12 there is some irony of what they “We will not come up” so they were sent down by God. Korach’s fate is not clear and he could have been swallowed up with his family or destroyed by God’s fire as part of the leaders in the later part of the chapter and some commentaries believe both these punishments occurred i.e. he was burnt and then buried alive.The question arises as to why did God destroy Dathan and Abiram’s family? The BIBLE is not specific but there are clues in other verses in Old Testament where breaking ritual law is more severe as this is a violation against God. Those who encounter the offenders are tainted by it as with Achan who took spoils from Jericho which were meant for destruction by the Lord and he coveted them:

Joshua 7:25 - And Joshua said, why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.  


It is interesting to point out that God was very gracious with the Israelites and one aspect of this is God did not destroy Korach’s children as it explicitly says so in verse as in Numbers 26:12 and they are mentioned in some of Psalms and thought to have written eleven of the Psalms and Psalm Forty two is dedicated to them.


What does this message mean for us?

If you think about the subject of rebellion who the ultimate rebel was in Hebrew is known as “heleyl” which ironically means the "shining one". He was an angel, high above the other angel’s verse which highlight this is …….

Ezekiel 28:17 - Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee


There is a direct comparison with the rebels i.e.  Korach who wanted to rise “above the head”, he seems to have been blinded as to his actual capabilities and his role with pride. Satan’s big sin was one of pride and we are told to be wary of pride within yourself as Paul says in Timothy:

1 Timothy 3:6- Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.


Pride is described as self- importance, egotism or superiority. The bible uses many words and there are two hundred and seventy-seven occurrences of this word in the bible which is also known as;

  • Haughtiness

  • Arrogance

  • Conceit

  • Pride



If we look at what is the opposite of rebellion, is the concept of compliance as well as submission and one of the best verses to illustrate this is where Moses fell on his face at the start of the chapter. We are told to do this in our Christian life with God as in

James 4:7 - Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.


Be careful who you rebel against

Moses was God’s anointed chosen leader and God was very specific with Moses and assignment of his role.

Exodus 3:17 - And I have said , I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.


Moses had repeatedly proven he was the chosen leader; the Israelites had seen God answering Moses prayers many times in the desert and think about the Red Sea and the snakes when they were healed. An interesting note here is that Moses could have had the rebels put to death at his command, but he chose to ask God to do it i.e. the Israelites were a burden to him.



We are told in the New Testament to stay away from divisive people, you have an idea who people are, and they always seem to disagree with people as Paul warns in:

Romans 16:17 - I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them


It is interesting that from experience, divisive people usually see their work as the Lords work, and they can lead us to destruction as with Korach and his band.


Gods view

Ultimately God will not be mocked as in:

Galatians 6:7 - Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap


Punishment was meted out upon Korach along with his Dathan and Abiram families and I believe from this story that’s Gods timing is perfect as he needed the conspirators to come out and show themselves otherwise they would have been hidden within the community. Sometimes in life it takes bad events to get people to show themselves for who they really are, as the bible talks about separating the wheat from the chaff.


Don’t become like your enemies

In life, we must be careful that life doesn’t wear us down and we become affected as with Moses whose self-inflation led to his punishment i.e. not being able to enter the promised land of Israel.

Numbers 11: 23 - (CJB) Adonai answered Moshe, “Has Adonai’s arm grown short? Now you will see whether what I said will happen or not!”


As well as in Numbers 13:17-20 where God asked Moses to scout out the land of Israel, Moses questioned whether rather than how and ultimately doubted God.



We know we all rebel against God in life by sinning and say “I” will do what I want which is why personal pride is so closely linked to Sin. What letter is at the centre of sin and pride?

We are told not to let Pride come between you and the Lord God through his son Jesus who humbled himself and became man and made the ultimate sacrifice and took our place on the cross. Search yourself and submit to God and ask God to search your heart today.

Psalm 139:23-24 - Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

24. And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.