Numbers 16-18: Rebellion

Korah and a few others lead a rebellion against Moses and Aaron.


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The Israelites have been rebelling against God, suffering His wrath, and repenting in an almost predictable cycle throughout the books of law, but from Numbers 16-18, we read about a rebellion that occurs within the nation. This time, the rebellion is not against God, but against Moses and Aaron. Essentially, this is rebellion against government.

The Beginning

Korah, the grandson of Kohath (a Levite), is the one to start the rebellion. He is joined by sons of Reuben: Dathan, Abiram, and On. Together, they rise up against Moses, accusing him of appointing both himself and Aaron. The Rebels doubt that God has appointed Moses and Aaron, which I find to be quite interesting. The rebels don't doubt God exists, they doubt Moses. This is yet another section that implies the Israelites already had a relationship with God before they left Egypt. Their forefathers had passed down knowledge of God and the Israelites, while they may have strayed from His laws, never doubted God's existence. This says a lot. It also makes you wonder what made them doubt Moses' and Aaron's position since God was holding up His end of the bargain...

Another interesting point stems from their motivation. The sons of Reuben would naturally think someone from the tribe of Reuben should be in charge since Reuben was the first born. Presumably, they would believe the prince of Reuben should have leadership. This would have been Elizur, not the 3 men who were stirring up trouble with Korah. What doesn't make sense is how and why Korah became the leader of this rebellion. As a Levite, his tribe was favored by God. He didn't want to turn that favor over to the tribe of Reuben, he wanted more power for himself and the Kohathites. So how did the 4 of them end up in this rebellion together?

Regardless of how they determined to work together, the 4 men would have witnessed God working through Moses. There are plenty of instances where God's power is put on display through Moses, what did they think that meant? Why were they so blind to this? People today are no different! Many churches (at least 2 or 3 on just the road I grew up on) have split simply because members disagree. These people don't include God in the discussion, they simply follow their own heart.

In Korah's case, the Kohathites were already exalted above the Levites, and the Levites above the other tribes. Likely, he believed he was to be in a higher position than the sons of Amram because his father was older.[2] Their greed for power led them away from God's Word and the obvious, yet on the surface, it would have appeared they were trying to get closer to God. They would have sounded as though they were concerned that the right person was speaking for God, which may have swayed people to their side. This is what false preachers do today. We are not told if these men were fully aware of their actions and trying to get power, or if they really believed they were right. This same dilemma applies to many people teaching what they claim is the Word of God today. It may seem like a person means well, but if it doesn't stand up to what God has already said, it isn't right. Praying over contested issues is always the first step in determining the best solution.


An interesting but slightly off topic note is that in the movie, The Ten Commandments, there is a character named Dathan who is an overseer/informant and traitor to the Jews. I only point this out to show how easily bits of the Bible get distorted in Hollywood. I never paid the character any attention, though I did wonder why he had such a big part for someone not mentioned in the Bible. More than likely someone just recycled the real Dathan's name to provide a "realistic" name for the character. Just like the Biblical Dathan, movie Dathan is power seeking and not a fan of Moses, however there are differences. While I don't necessarily see any harm coming from this particular distortion, it's always good to be aware. As believers we should know the Biblical story and be able to recognize deviations; those seemingly minir deviation are how the devil steers people away from God.

God's Reaction

God's anger peaks when the Kohathites offer incense to God, who shows up angry and ready to destroy the whole nation of Israel. This should had been further proof to Korah and the others that the correct order was already set; God didn't get angry when Aaron brought forth offerings. Moses and Aaron fall on their faces—a sign of respect and adoration for God—where they plead for God's mercy. This is yet another reoccurring theme; Moses and Aaron are constantly interceding to convince God not to harm the Israelites after they sin. As the new high priest, Jesus took over this job. God tells them that His chosen saints will die natural deaths, but those who challenged them would be swallowed by the pit.

After God speaks these words, the ground opens and swallows those who rebelled against Moses. The homes of those who rebelled are also swallowed by the pit. I believe this punishment only happened to Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, because we are told the men who offered incense reaped a different punishment. Fire rained down to destroy them (which actually sounds worse, unless the fire was hot enough for instantaneous death). Strangely, the censors they used become holy after all of this. They are used as a cover for the altar by Elizear. I think the reason for their holiness is probably to serve as a reminder to the remaining Israelites and future generations.


The pit is also known as Sheol and is the realm of the dead. Sheol is home to both good and bad souls.[1] The mentioning and existence of Sheol tells us a lot about the after life, actually. Today, Many people seem to think when someone dies, they are judged and sent to Heaven or Hell right that moment. Of course, when it comes to friends and family, they always say the person is in Heaven. So, often you hear the phrase "they're looking down on me from Heaven" or "they're in a better place now." However, Revelation 20 discusses the resurrection of the dead to face judgement—meaning they haven't been judged yet and aren't already in Heaven. There is a 1st resurrection for those who believed and are given eternal life, followed by a 2nd resurrection for those who did not believe, which are cast out to die a final death. The mentioning of Sheol in the Old Testament only reinforces the order, because we are told that the dead exist in the same place regardless of their faith or actions. The punishment for the rebels was not Sheol itself, the way people try to make Hell out to be, but the fact that they would never have the chance to convince God they were worthy of Heaven. Therefore, they will likely be resurrected during the 2nd resurrection and be denied entry to God's Kingdom.

The Blame Game

You would think that after seeing all of this occur, the Israelites would have been convinced that God was standing for Moses as their leader and Aaron as their high priest. This would have settled the matter and everything would have gone back to normal, however, that is not what the people thought after witnessing this. Instead, they blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths of the rebels. In reality, the rebels rebelled against the order God had set, thus rebelling against God Himself, and caused their own demise. We see this type of illogical behavior today as well. People will get mad when believers stick to the Word of God. In fact, even outside of faith we see people get upset when a wrongdoer is punished for their crime. The Israelites who engage in this behavior are also punished for passing the blame to those who were in the right. This is an example of calling good evil and evil good.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!Isaiah 5:20 KJV

Settling the Matter

God knows that He must settle the matter to stop the Israelites from rebelling so He tells them to each take a rod according to the house of their fathers and each man was to write his name on his rod. Aaron was to be the one to enter a rod from the tribe of Levi. All of the rods were placed before the Ark of the Testimony. God promised to make the rod of the chosen one blossom, which would squelch any doubt and settle the dispute once and for all.

God Chooses

We already know that Aaron is the chosen one, so there is no mystery to whose rod blooms. In addition to blooming, the rod yields almonds. They set the rod before the Ark of the Testimony as a token and reminder of God's decision. This settle the matter for the Israelites, who then understand they are not to approach the tabernacle like the rebelling Kohathites did.

Duties of the Chosen

As God's chosen representative, Aaron bore the responsibility of both the tabernacle and the priesthood. This responsibility would pass down through Aaron's son. In addition, God reminds the Levites that they are chosen to perform the services of the tabernacle. Every clean male from the priestly lineage was to eat of the offerings, which were reserved for them. Tithes and redemption money were also to go to the Levites; this payment replaced their inheritance. The idea of a 1/10th tithe partially stems from Numbers 15:21-26, where the Israelites are required to give 1/10th of everything in Israel to the Levites as a tithe. From the Levite's 1/10th, 1/10th was to be given to God.


  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 261. 2014
  2. "Numbers 16". Bible Study Tools. 2014

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