Numbers 16:1-17:11 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Who are Korah and Dathan and Abiram? What charge do they bring against Moses? See Numbers 16:1-3 (printed below)

Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, together with several of the sons of Reuben, namely, Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, became insolent (2) and rebelled against Moses. With them were some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men, well-known leaders of the congregation, who had been chosen by the assembly. (3) They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, You take too much authority for yourselves, seeing that the whole congregation is holy, every one of them, and Jehovah is among them. Why then do you elevate yourselves above the assembly of Jehovah? (Numbers 16:1-3)

Korah (a Levite), together with Dathan and Abiram (of the tribe of Reuben), recruit a following (including 250 of the leaders in Israel) and rise up in rebellion against Moses. They accuse Moses of assuming too much authority for himself. They maintain that since the whole congregation of Israel composes the people of God, Moses has no right to elevate himself to a position of authority above them.

2. What does Moses say to Korah and his followers? See Numbers 16:7b-11 (printed below)

You have sought to take too much authority, you sons of Levi! (8) Furthermore, Moses said to Korah, Listen now, you sons of Levi, (9) does it seem insignificant to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel and brought you near to himself in order to perform the service of Jehovah’s tabernacle and to stand before the congregation and minister to them? (10) He has brought you near to himself, and all your brothers, the sons of Levi, with you. Now are you also seeking the priesthood? (11) You and all your followers have banded together against Jehovah. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him? (Numbers 16:7b-11)

Moses charges them with having gone too far, they are seeking to usurp authority that has not been entrusted to them (Numbers 16:7b). Moses reminds them of the divine calling they have received: God had separated their tribe from the nation of Israel to serve the tabernacle and minister unto the people in the name of the Lord (Numbers 16:8-10a). But they are not content with the privilege and responsibility assigned to them by God, they want more: they want to assume Aaron’s role of high priest (Numbers 16:10b). Moses informs Korah and his cohorts that they are not withstanding Aaron; they are withstanding the Lord (Numbers 16:11).

3. How do Dathan and Abiram respond when Moses summons them to meet with him? See Numbers 16:12-14 (printed below)

Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, but they said, We will not appear before you. (13) Is it an insignificant matter that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey in order to kill us in the wilderness? Must you also make yourself a ruler over us? (14) Furthermore, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you caused us to inherit fields and vineyards. Will you try to deceive these men? We will not appear before you. (Numbers 16:12-14)

Whereas Korah was a Levite who envied Aaron’s authority, Dathan and Abiram were Reubenites who resisted Moses’ authority. As descendants of the first-born son of Israel, they resented the fact that Moses (a descendant of Levi) was the head of Israel. When Moses summons Dathan and Abiram to appear before him to settle this controversy, the two of them refuse to come (Numbers 16:12). They charge Moses with poor leadership (Numbers 16:13). They refuse to admit that the reason for their present situation is due to their own unbelief and disobedience. Furthermore, they charge Moses with presumptuously seeking to make himself a ruler over them (Numbers 16:13). They neglect to remember that Moses was appointed by the Lord and they, acknowledging that fact, willingly followed him out of Egypt (Exodus 14:31).

4. What does Moses instruct Korah and his followers to do and why? See Numbers 16:5-7 (printed below) What happened the next morning? See Numbers 16:18-19,23-26,28-32,35 (printed below)

Then he spoke to Korah and all his followers, saying, In the morning Jehovah will reveal who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will cause that man to come near to him. The man whom he chooses he will cause to come near to him. (6) Do this, Korah, and all those who are his followers: Take censers (7) and tomorrow put fire and incense in them before Jehovah. The man whom Jehovah chooses will be the one who is holy. You have sought to take too much authority, you sons of Levi! (Numbers 16:5-7)

So each man took his censer, put fire and incense into it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. (19) Korah assembled the whole congregation against Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Then the glory of Jehovah appeared to the whole congregation… (23) Then Jehovah said to Moses, (24) Say to the congregation, Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. (25) Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. (26) He warned the congregation, I plead with you, move away from the tents of these wicked men and do not touch anything that belongs to them, or else you will be consumed with all their sins… (28) Then Moses said, This is how you will know that Jehovah has sent me to do all these things, for I have not done all this on my own initiative. (29) If these men die a natural death, or if they suffer the fate of all men, then Jehovah has not sent me. (30) But if Jehovah causes something totally different to happen, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive to Sheol, then you will know that these men have treated Jehovah with contempt. (31) As soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground underneath them split apart (32) and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, as well as all Korah’s followers and all their possessions…(35) Then fire came forth from Jehovah and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who had offered the incense. (Numbers 16:18-19,23-26,28-32,35)

When Korah challenges Moses and Aaron, Moses asserts that in the morning the Lord will show whom He has chosen (Numbers 16:5). Moses instructs Korah and his followers to each prepare a censor filled with incense and present it to the Lord—the Lord will make known whom He has set apart to be His divinely appointed priest and mediator (Numbers 16:6-7). The next morning, when Korah and his followers and Aaron each present their censor before the Lord, the glory of the Lord appeared (Numbers 16:15-35). The Lord instructs Moses to order the whole congregation to separate themselves from Korah, Dathan and Abiram (verses 23-24). The Lord then caused the earth to swallow up the three leaders of the rebellion and His fire devoured the 250 followers of Korah who offered their censors of incense before the Lord’s altar (verses 31-35).

5. On the following day what does the Lord instruct the leaders of the tribes to do? See Numbers 17:1-5 (printed below) What happens? See Numbers 17:8 (printed below)

Then Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, (2) Speak to the children of Israel and get staffs from them, one for each of the tribes, get a staff from the leaders of each of the tribes, a total of twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff. (3) You shall write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, for there must be one staff for the head of each tribe. (4) You shall then place them in the Tent of Meeting in front of the Testimony, where I meet with you. (5) The staff belonging to the man I choose shall sprout, and so I will rid myself of the complaining against you by the children of Israel. (Numbers 17:1-5)

The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had sprouted. It had even budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds. (Numbers 17:8)

On the following day the Lord commanded Moses to instruct the leaders of the tribes of Israel to each bring a staff to the Tent of Meeting (Numbers 17:1-2). Each tribe was to carve their name upon their staff (verse 2); Aaron’s name was carved upon the staff representing the tribe of Levi (verse 3). Then the twelve staffs were to be placed in the Tent of Meeting, with the Lord declaring that He would cause the staff of His chosen one to bud (verse 5). When Moses retrieved the staffs the next day, the Lord had caused Aaron’s staff to produce buds and blossoms and ripe almonds, thereby indicating that he was chosen and appointed by the Lord (verse 8).