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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16



Verse 3


‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: where fore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?’

Numbers 16:3

I. This assertion was strictly true.—Every one of the congregation was holy—i.e. separated to the service of God from all other people (Exodus 19:6, Leviticus 20:24). The Lord, too, was amongst them, as He said, ‘I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will be their God’ (Exodus 29:45).

But though they (the rebels) spake what was quite true, they drew a totally wrong inference from it. Because all the children of Israel, all the congregation was holy, they drew the inference that there were to be no priests among them—none to stand between the Lord and the people to offer to God on behalf of the people.

Now the very same God who had separated all the people to be holy to Himself, and had made them a kingdom of priests as well as a holy nation, had separated one tribe to minister to Himself, and one family of that tribe, the family of Aaron, to be priests in a sense that no other Israelites were, and to perform functions of worship which no other Israelites could perform.

II. Now the same thing has taken place in Christian times, and by Christ’s own appointment.—He separated twelve men from the whole body of His disciples, and put a very great difference between them and His ordinary disciples. To these twelve, and these only, He said, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ To these only He said, ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.’ And He promised to be with them to the end of the world, so that the Church has always held that they live in their successors. Just, then, as the common priesthood of all the Jews did not prevent God ordaining a particular priesthood, so the common priesthood of all Christians does not undo the fact that there is an Apostolical ministry ordained more directly to represent Christ to His people. Let us then devoutly use the functions of His ministry, looking to the action of Christ in each case, giving all glory to Him alone, and we cannot be wrong. We must ask Him to enable us rightly to honour His ordinance, and He will hear our prayer.

—Rev. M. F. Sadler.


‘Aaron’s family was but a junior branch of Levi’s tribe; “therefore,” said Korah, “our right is equal to yours, and, perhaps, better. You should at least share the priesthood with us. As to the Reubenites, who should rule, if not they? Was not Reuben the first-born? Should Moses, a mere Levite, keep the power all to himself?” The true origin of this conspiracy was to be found in two secret springs:—(1) Rank Ungodliness. The human law of primogeniture is everything, but the will of God, so clearly shown in the choice of both these men, is nothing. Here is that exaltation of man’s claims, to the belittling of God’s, which degrades and poisons so much of our modern politics. (2) Rank Selfishness. They talked grandly about rights, but their real aim was place and power, the priesthood and the leadership. Here, then, in this ungodliness and selfish hypocritical ambition, is enough to account for any depths of folly and any heights of presumptuous sin. What may not happen when, God being ignored, self both usurps His place and masquerades in the garb of righteousness?’

Verses 8-11


And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi,’ etc.

Numbers 16:8-11

I. The sin of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was this: they were discontented with the arrangement made for public worship by the choosing out of Aaron and his family to be priests. The argument they used was a very plausible one, because it depended upon the great truth of the Lord’s being with all His people, consecrating and sanctifying them all, making them all in a certain sense holy to the Lord, in a certain sense priests.

II. The Mosaic history is a continual witness to the tendency which there was in the Divinely appointed order to become a caste, a perpetual record of the ways in which God was counter-working that tendency. The Aaronic family was appointed to offer the sacrifices; it was to show that God Himself was the Inventor of them. Woe to it if it tried to persuade the people that it was the inventor of them or could make them more acceptable!

III. Korah and his company were the assertors of a popular maxim.—But unhappily that popular maxim would have been destructive of the people, would have been fatal to their moral, political, spiritual, freedom. Korah would have asserted for himself and the other families of the tribe of Levi the privilege and right of offering sacrifices. Dathan and Abiram would have claimed that privilege and right for all the tribes. There was a lie in the words. They at once introduced the principle of which sacrifice is the renunciation, the principle against which the family of Aaron was the permanent protest.

IV. Since it is the tendency of a mere national organisation to become exclusive, to assert the dignity of birth or the sacredness of property above the dignity and sacredness of humanity, the business of the priest in each land will be especially to protect it against this danger. The priest presents Christ’s finished sacrifice for the whole human race—for rich and poor, high and low. He must expect to go down alive into a deeper pit than that which received Korah and his company if he shows that wealth, honours, distinctions of any kind, are the objects of his search, not remembering that he that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’

—Rev. F. D. Maurice.


‘Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest, and causest to approach unto Thee, that he may dwell in thy courts.’ Oh, that the Lord would so put his Holy Spirit upon us as to show that we are His, and that we are welcome to approach into His inner shrine! That which these conspirators demanded from a mere spirit of jealous rivalry, we ask because the love of our heart craves for nearness. How wise it was on the part of Moses to pass the controversy off himself and Aaron, and on to God! They that sin against God’s servants do in reality sin against the Master, and He will vindicate them and avenge their wrongs. It becomes us to separate ourselves from those who notoriously sin against the Lord, that we be not involved in their sin and fate. The message is a perpetual one, “Come ye out from among them, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.”’

Verse 38


‘These sinners against their own souls.’

Numbers 16:38

Words startlingly true! What had Korah’s splendid energy, and courage, and ability, used in the evil service of ungodly self, brought, but ruin and shame? But this can be said in measure of every sin. It is always a cruel wrong to oneself, a poisoning, or wounding, of one’s inner nature, and a deadly blow at true prosperity. ‘He that sinneth against Me (Wisdom) wrongeth his own soul. All they that hate Me love death.’ May this tremendous fact be written on our very hearts:—I cannot sin consciously, in deed or word or thought, without doing a wrong, haply a deadly wrong, to both my future and myself; and what can make up for that? ‘These sinners against their own souls’—it is a terrible sentence, just because it is so terribly true! Yes, the one great enemy to be feared is sin—sin in every guise. ‘The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. Lord, put Thy fear in my heart, according to Thy Word.’

I. There are many modern Korahs who insist that God is the Father of all mankind equally, and that there is no need of the Mediator, Christ Jesus, thus despising the Great High Priest whom God hath appointed. Let all such be warned by the fate of Korah and his company. Moses does not contend for himself in any way, but is entirely willing that the Lord shall decide the whole matter. ‘And he spake unto Korah and to all his company, saying, Even to-morrow the Lord will show 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.’

II. A wayward people.—One would think after this terrible experience the people would be careful how they spoke against Moses and Aaron; but it seems impossible for them to learn, and in verse 41 we read, ‘On the morrow all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron.’ They are tempting the Lord almost beyond endurance, and this time they would all have been killed had it not been for Moses and Aaron, the very men they were speaking against. Notice that they were saved by atonement made by the high priest whom they had despised, and with whom they wanted to do away. If the modern Korahs are ever saved, it will be by atonement made by the High Priest whom they have despised, and want to do away with. ‘There is none other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.’


‘What a privilege to speak with God mouth to mouth! It was the unique prerogative of Moses, hut it is the privilege of all those who, by faith, exercise their privileges in Jesus, and who are faithful in their special department in the household of faith. It is there that we learn to forgive, to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us, to bless them that curse. There is no such school for love to man as the secret place of the tabernacle of the Most High. But sin in any of God’s own, though forgiven, will delay the march of the host. Our good and our evil promote or hinder all with whom we journey.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 16:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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