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with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Numbers 16

The rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram Korah contends for the priesthood. (1-11) Disobedience of Dathan and Abiram. (12-15) The glory of the Lord appears The intercession of Moses and Aaron. (16-22) The earth swallows up Dathan and Abiram. (23-34) The company of Korah consumed. (35-40) The people murmur A plague sent. (41-50)

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The rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram Korah contends for the priesthood

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:

2 And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:

3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

4 And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:

5 And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.

6 This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;

7 And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.

8 And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:

9 Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?

10 And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?

11 For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?

Disobedience of Dathan and Abiram

12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will not come up:

13 Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?

14 Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.

15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.

The glory of the Lord appears The intercession of Moses and Aaron

16 And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to morrow:

17 And take every man his censer, and put incense in them, and bring ye before the LORD every man his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; thou also, and Aaron, each of you his censer.

18 And they took every man his censer, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood in the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with Moses and Aaron.

19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the congregation.

20 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

21 Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.

22 And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?

The earth swallows up Dathan and Abiram

23 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

24 Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

25 And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him.

26 And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of their’s, lest ye be consumed in all their sins.

27 So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.

28 And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the LORD hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind.

29 If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me.

30 But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD.

31 And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:

32 And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.

33 They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.

34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.

The company of Korah consumed

35 And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.

36 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

37 Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed.

38 The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before the LORD, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel.

39 And Eleazar the priest took the brasen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar:

40 To be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the LORD; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the LORD said to him by the hand of Moses.

The people murmur A plague sent

41 But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD.

42 And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.

43 And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.

44 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

45 Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.

46 And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun.

47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people.

48 And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.

49 Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.

50 And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Isaar was brother of Amram; and, consequently, his son was the cousin of Moses. — Core engaged the rest in his revolt. Heb. “took or replied,” interrupting Moses at the very time when he was speaking, in the name of God, and requiring that he should shew by what right he arrogated to himself alone that authority. “Core separated himself.” Chal. “He retired.” Syr. “Core spoke…and Dathan…and they rose up.” Sept. The Caathites encamped near the tribe of Ruben; and hence Core had an opportunity to engage some of them in his revolt, by insinuating that Moses occupied the post in the state which ought to belong to them, as Ruben was the first-born; while Aaron had obtained the high priesthood, and the rest of the Levites, though of equal nobility, were to be treated as his servants. It is not known when this revolt happened. Some place it at the camp of Sinai; others at that of Jetebata. Deut. x. 8.

Ver. 2. Rose up. The crime of these men, which was punished in so remarkable a manner, was that of schism, and of rebellion against the authority established by God in the Church; and their pretending to the priesthood without being lawfully called and sent: the same is the case of all modern sectaries. Ch. — Let them dread a similar punishment; not only the authors of such wicked pretensions, but those also who consent to them. Rom. i. 32. For we find that Core and all his adherents were buried in hell; (v. 33,) and those likewise who complained that their punishment was too severe, fell victims to the raging fire, v. 49. With what earnestness ought we not therefore, to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints! Jude 3. For if those be so severely punished who rise up in opposition to lawful superiors, either in church or state, what swift destruction do they not bring upon their own heads who deny God, who bought them, and make him a liar, by calling in question his most sacred truths? 2 Pet. ii. 1. H. — Core and his companions impugned not the law directly, but resisted Moses and Aaron. S. Ignat. ep. ad Magnes. They believed in the same God; yet, because they took upon themselves to sacrifice, they were forthwith punished by God, and their unlawful sacrifices could do them no service. S. Cyp. ep. i. 6. Thus we are warned to keep in the true Church, and to obey those who are set over us; and never, for any temporal consideration whatever, to encourage, by our presence, the sermons or meetings of heretics, or of schismatics, lest we perish with them, v. 26. W. — Assembly. Heb. “famous in the assembly, men of name,” and distinction, senators. It seems Hom left the rest of the conspirators, as he is mentioned no more. The princes of Ruben were desirous of obtaining the temporal power only. But the Levites aspired at that sacred pre-eminence, which had been given by God to Aaron and his sons. C.

Ver. 3. Let it be enough. Heb. rab, “too much you take upon you;” or “suffice it for you.” Sept. — Holy ones, as deserving of the priesthood as yourselves, v. 10. Why then would you treat them as your inferiors? We will throw off the yoke, and assert our just rights. C. — On the same plea, Luther (de abrog. Missa,) rejects all ecclesiastical hierarchy, and will have no distinct priesthood, because all Christians are called priests, (Apoc. i.) and a holy priesthood, 1 Pet. ii. 5. W. — But they do not take notice that the apostle immediately explains himself, by saying, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and to declare the virtues of Christ; in which sense they are also styled a kingly priesthood. ib. v. 9. H.

Ver. 5. The holy ones, whom he has chosen for the high priesthood. The psalmist, speaking of this sedition, says, they provoked…Aaron, the holy one of the Lord. Ps. cv. 16. C. See 1 Tim. ii. 19. — Only those who are chosen by God, can lawfully perform this sacred office, as the Almighty declares by a miracle. H.

Ver. 6. Censers. It was not lawful for the Levites to offer incense: but they had prepared for themselves the ensigns of the priestly power, and Moses permits them to try their success. H. — They might have brought the censers, or broad plates, bowls, or vials, (Apoc. v. 8,) out of Egypt, where every family offers incense to their domestic gods and sacred animals. In Sicily and Greece they were also very common, as well as at Babylon; where married people always purified themselves with the smoke of incense. Herod. i. 197.

Ver. 7. Lord, in his sanctuary, where the priests alone offered incense twice a day upon the altar. C. — Too much. Moses retorts upon them their own words, v. 3.

Ver. 9. To him: Heb. and Sept. “to them,” or instead of the people. God had chosen them for that post of honour, to the exclusion of all the rest, so that they ought, the least of all, to have complained. But it often happens, that those who are the most exalted, take occasion to esteem themselves deserving of still higher honours; and thus, like Lucifer, fall into the bottomless pit! H. — Core was perhaps the more irritated, because he was not at the head of the Caathites, though a descendant of the second son of Caath, while Elisaphan, sprung from a fourth son, was preferred to him. C. iii. T.

Ver. 11. Him. The injury is offered to God, who made choice of Aaron freely.

Ver. 14. Eyes. These princes of Ruben were not desirous of the priesthood, as Core was; they repined, that Moses had got possession of the sovereign authority, and therefore they endeavour to represent him as an imposter, who had promised great things, but in reality had deprived the people of all the happiness which they formerly enjoyed in Egypt, and was now disposed to exercise his tyranny upon their very persons. H. — “Do you wish that we should not see through your impostures?” Heb. “wilt thou put out the eyes of these men,” who have informed us what sort of a country Chanaan is? Sept. “thou hast blinded these men,” who are so stupid as to obey thee. C. — Chaldee, “though thou pull out our eyes, we will not come.”

Ver. 15. Very angry. This anger was a zeal against sin; and an indignation at the affront offered to God; like that which the same holy prophet conceived upon the sight of the golden calf, Ex. xxxii. 19. Ch. — Respect not. Heb. “thou wilt not have regard for their sacrifices,” as long as they continue in these sentiments of pride and of rebellion. H. — Thou knowest. Heb. “I have not,” &c. — Ass. This expression is proverbial, 1 K. xii. 3. The Samar. and Sept. read, chamod, “any thing desirable,” instead of chamor “an ass.” C.

Ver. 22. God, who givest life to all, and searchest the inmost recesses of the heart. M.

Ver. 26. Depart. If we give any encouragement to schismatics, or go to their meetings, we must expect to be involved in their sins. S. Cyp. de Lapsis 5. W.

Ver. 27. People, (frequentiâ). The Sept. generally translate tappam by aposkene, “family and effects,” of every denomination. C. — Here was a full assembly waiting for the event, between fear and hope. As these rebels would not come, when Moses sent for them, he condescended to go to them, and denounced the impending ruin, v. 14, 25. He commits his whole cause to God, and is willing to be rejected as a vile impostor, if God do not shew, by a miraculous and exemplary punishment of his opponents, that what he had hitherto done, as the head of the people, and particularly in the consecration of Aaron, was by his direction. H. — He had before proved his mission by miracles. Ex. iv. W.

Ver. 30. Hell. See Ps. liv. 16. Prov. i. 12. “They were consigned to the tomb before they were dead,” (S. Optatus, B. i.,) while their impenitent souls were buried in hell. The souls of their infant children, which had no share in the rebellion, might be exempted from the latter part of their punishment. C. — If some have the rashness to blame the severity of this judgment of God, let them shew the disparity between it and the various other accidents occasioned by earthquakes, &c. which involve millions of such “smiling infants” in destruction; or, if they do not infer from these misfortunes, that the laws of nature are unjust; neither ought they to conclude that the religion, delivered by God to Moses, was an imposture, or that the Jewish legislator was cruel. He continued a silent spectator of this transaction, which he was informed by the Spirit would surely take place, and could not be averted by his intercession, which had before rescued the less guilty multitude, v. 22. H. — “They descend into hell alive; that is, feeling their own perdition, who, imitating Core,…separate from the Church, and presently fall into heresy.” S. Aug. ep. 93.

Ver. 32. Tents. Heb. adds, “all those who belonged to (or sided with) Core, and all their riches.” Moses informs us, (C. xxvi. 10,) how some of Core’s children were miraculously preserved. Their descendants were appointed by David to sing and to guard the doors of the temple, 1 Par. ix. 19. C. — Samuel was of the same family. 1 Par. vi. 33. T.

Ver. 33. Hell. Heb. adds, “they, and whatsoever belonged to them, descended into hell, or the pit.” Sale. — The souls of the impenitent into the former, the bodies of the cattle, &c. into the bowels of the earth. H.

Ver. 35. Incense. Core had left them, and was busy in stirring up the people to rebellion, when a fire proceeding from the cloud, or from the altar, or perhaps a thunderbolt, (C.) came to arraign them before God’s tribunal, there to meet their chief, and to hear the eternal sentence of separation from all good, which was instantly pronounced upon all who died impenitent. H. — Perhaps Core might have been offering incense with his 250 men, when the fire seized him, v. 40. D.

Ver. 38. Sinners. These censers were sanctified or set apart for God’s altar: 1. By the intention of those who used them, though contrary to his will; 2. by the exemplary vengeance which he exercised upon the rash pretenders to the priesthood; 3. by being a monument of their folly, and therefore placed, by God’s order, upon the altar, to deter all others from imitating their conduct. Eleazar was commanded to take them up, and scatter the strange fire; that Aaron might not be defiled with touching the carcasses or ashes of the deceased, nor seem to exult in their death. C. — God was thus also pleased to manifest that the children of Aaron, and not of the other Levites, should succeed him. S. Aug. q. 30. W.

Ver. 39. Altar of holocausts, which was already covered with plates of brass. C.

Ver. 40. Stranger, though he be even of royal dignity. Thus Osias was afflicted with a perpetual leprosy, which rendered him incapable of exercising even the office of king, because he had attempted to offer incense, 2 K. xv. 5. 2 Par. xxvi. 17. H.

Ver. 45. Get ye out. Moses and Aaron complied with the spirit, though not with the letter of this injunction. They lay prostrate on their faces, with all humility and earnestness, begging that the Lord would preserve them, and at the same time take pity on the frailty of the multitude, who had been deluded, and had, in words at least, approved the conduct of the rebels. H. — God encourages them inwardly to persevere in prayer, in the same manner as when he said to Moses, (Ex. xxxii. 20,) Let me alone, that my wrath may be enkindled, &c.

Ver. 46. Take. Moses was inspired by God, on this extraordinary occasion, to pass over the common rules, which forbade the high priest to offer incense any where but in the tabernacle, and never to appear among the dead. C.

Ver. 49. Core. We cannot reckon less than 15,000, who perished in consequence of their adherence to this innovator. Behold the first-fruits of ambition and of rebellion. H.