The Rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16)

“The Rebellion of Korah”


Numbers 16:1-50




Jude 11 reminds us that there will be three attitudes that will characterize last days’ false teaching: the way of Cain, (salvation   by good works), the error of Balaam (reasoning that God cannot bless people unless they are without sin) and the gainsaying or rebellion of Korah (the disrespect and disregard for properly-appointed leadership). The last attitude has its basis in this portion from Numbers 16 and is practical in at least two ways: 1) to show how apostates will attempt to undermine divinely-appointed leadership and 2) to show even among the Lord’s people that disregarding and undermining the leadership of any local assembly is a serious sin and subject to the Lord’s discipline.



1.  The Speed of the Problem. (v. 1)

There was no previous indication that this insidious movement was afoot.   It involved Korah, a son of Levi (though not a priest) and Dathan and On (Reubenites) and 250 men of renown from among the congregation.   It demonstrates to us that long before a problem may arise in any assembly, the work of undermining the leadership might be going on for some time as it did in NT times in the churches of Colosse, Galatia and Corinth.


2.    The Source of the Problem (vv. 1-3)

The source of the problem was Korah, a Kohathite, a group who had a very responsible position in the transportation of the materials of the Ark of the Covenant. (vv. 9-10; Num. 4)   Dathan and On and 250 men also joined in the rebellion, yet another sin in the wilderness. The threat to leadership came from those who were the closest to leadership in the nation of Israel.   It is similar to Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 15) and Satan’s rebellion reflected by his “I will” statements (Isa. 14). The problems of this nature often come from those who are close to the “top”.


3.   The Substance of the Problem (vv. 3-10)

The reason for the rebellion is seen in these verses: Korah and his companions were desirous of even more power and were envious of the leadership position occupied by Moses.  They accused Moses of taking too much power to himself, (v. 3) when in actuality they wanted the place and prestige that was Moses and Aaron’s.   They made it seem that Moses unduly exalted himself, when actually he was reluctant to accept the call of God upon him (Ex. 3). Their claim was that the nation was holy (v.3) intimating that they did not require a mediator in Moses and a priest in the person of Aaron.   Israel’s sad record in the wilderness certainly contradicted his assessment of their holiness!  Moses used their own argument against them saying that they had taking too much upon themselves (v. 7).  Moses identified the fact that that they were aiming at the priesthood and counted it a little thing to occupy such a responsible position as they had (v.10).  


4.   The Solution to the Problem (vv. 5-18)

Moses after falling upon his face before the Lord called to Korah to come with his whole company with 250 censers to offer incense in the Tabernacle (v. 5). The offering that is accepted by the Lord would validate who are God’s true leaders (v. 7).   Moses also calls Dathan and On who refuse to come to Moses—an indication of their very strong contempt for him.   They use the same language as Moses did to cloud the issue and unbelievably charge him (not God) with bringing them out of Egypt from a land flowing with milk and honey rather than to it.   They certainly got the story wrong—or at least were trying to influence the congregation by twisting the truth.   Moses calls upon the Lord to reject their offering and is told by the Lord to distance themselves from the company who are swallowed up by the earth (v. 27).   The 250 men of renown are subsequently burned by fire (v. 35). The congregation is spared at this point because of the intercessory work of Moses and Aaron (v. 22).  The censers are recovered since they had been sanctified for the Lord’s work and are hammered out as a covering for the altar and to warn future generations of the seriousness of rebelling against God’s choice of leadership.   On the next day however, the congregation gathers against Moses charging him with the death of the “people of the Lord” (v. 41) showing just how deep this conspiracy went and how influential these men were among the Lord’s people.   Judgment from the Lord occurs but once again, many people are spared through the atoning work of Aaron who races to intercede (vv. 47-50) – a picture of Christ.   It is a serious sin to rebel or take sides against God’s leaders!  

M. Kolchin 6/04