Numbers 16 – Korah’s Rebellion


Numbers 16


A Kohathite, discontent with merely carrying the holy things, leads a rebellion of Levites and Reubenites against Moses and Aaron.


Korah, a Kohathite Levite, raised a rebellion of Levites and Reubenites (their neighbors in the camp – see Numbers 2 & 4) against Moses, arguing that Moses and the priests had elevated themselves above the rest of the people, who were also holy. Moses devised a test for the Levites to evaluate their claim to priesthood. He told them to offer incense just as a priest would, and Aaron would do the same. Fire devoured the 250 counterfeit priests, and the earth opened up on the south side of the congregation to swallow Kohathite tents and the tents of the Reubenites who collaborated with the Kohathites. 

The next day, the people murmured against Moses and Aaron because of the deaths of so many Israelites who questioned Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. A plague broke out among the Israelites. God told Moses to stand aside from the people so that they would be consumed. But Moses disobeyed God, and instead, told Aaron to grab his incense censer and to run between the living and the dead. The plague stopped when it reached Aaron, who made atonement for the people. 

A key issue here is Moses and Aaron twice refusing to give up on the people when God told them to abandon them (Numbers 16:21-22 and 16:45-46). Moses and Aaron work together to use their intimacy with God to atone for the people and protect them from the consequences of their own sins.