Revolt of the wannabe priests
Four men challenge Moses1 Four men made a pact. One was Korah, from Levi’s tribe. His father was Izhar and his grandfather was Kohath. The other three came from Reuben’s tribe. Two were brothers: Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab. The fourth was On, son of Peleth. 2 These men convinced 250 well-known Israelite leaders to take a public stand against Moses. 3 The group went to Moses and Aaron and said, “You’ve pushed too far. Who put you in charge, anyhow? We’re all equally holy, devoted to the LORD. So, what makes you think you’re better than us?”
Moses drops to the ground4 When Moses heard this, he dropped face-down on the ground. 5 Then he told Korah and the others, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show us who belongs to him. He’ll show us who is holy. The one he chooses is the one he’ll allow into his presence in sacred places. 6 Go get your incense pans ready. 7 Tomorrow you’ll burn incense in the LORD’s presence. That’s when the LORD will show everyone who’s truly devoted to him and holy. You Levites are the ones who have pushed too far.”
Moses criticizes Korah8 Moses turned to Korah and said, “Listen to me. You belong to Levi’s tribe. 9 Isn’t it enough that Israel’s God singled out your tribe above all the others to serve at his tent worship center? He chose your tribe to minister to everyone else. 10 Korah, the LORD honored you. He gave you a position close to him. Yet on top of that, you want to be a priest? 11 You might think you’re challenging Aaron, the leading priest. But he’s not the one responsible for choosing priests. You and your group are united against the LORD.”
Two men refuse to meet with Moses12 Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, Eliab’s sons. They said, “Forget it. We’re not coming. 13 Isn’t it bad enough that you took us from Egypt, where milk and honey flowed like rivers, and dragged us here to die in this wasteland. Yet you have the nerve to appoint yourself as our leader? 14 You haven’t brought us to the land where milk and honey flow like rivers. You haven’t given us any of the fields and vineyards you said we inherited. Do you think we’re going to come to you so you can treat us like rebellious servants and gouge out our eyes? We will not.” 15 That message turned Moses livid. He told the LORD, “Don’t accept any of their gifts. I haven’t. I haven’t accepted a single donkey from them. Nor have I hurt them in any way.”
Moses tells wannabe priests what to do16 Moses told Korah, “You and your group are going to present yourself to the LORD tomorrow. Aaron will be there, too. 17 Each of you—all 250—should have an incense pan you can use to burn incense in the LORD’s presence. Aaron will bring one, too.” 18 Each man did that. They loaded their incense pans with hot coals, then sprinkled incense over them and presented themselves to the LORD. Then they stood at the entrance to the Meeting Tent alongside Moses and Aaron.
God comes, people see him19 Korah brought them all. There they stood at the entrance to the Meeting Tent. Suddenly, the majestic presence of the LORD appeared. Everyone there saw it. 20 The LORD told Moses and Aaron, 21 “Step away from the group so I can kill them all now.” 22 Both men dropped face-down on the ground. They said, “Please God. Every breath we take comes from you. Would you get angry at all these men when the problem is just one sinful man?” 23 The LORD told Moses, 24 “Talk to all the people. Tell them, ‘Move away from the camping areas of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’” 25 Moses got up and walked toward the tents of Dathan and Abiram. He took the Israelite leaders with him.
Warning of unusual death ahead26 Moses addressed all the people: “Get away from the camping areas of these bad people. Don’t touch anything that belongs to them. Back away or their sins will kill you.” 27 So, the people moved back from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram stepped just outside their tents and stood by the entrances. Their families stood with them: wives, children, and babies.
28 Moses said, “What you’re about to see will show you that the LORD sent me here to do what I’ve been doing. It wasn’t my idea. 29 If these men continue to live normal lives and die normal deaths, then I’m a fraud—a man who only says the LORD sent him. 30 But if these men die a remarkable death—if the ground cracks open and swallows them and everything that belongs to them, and if they drop into their graves while they’re still alive, then you’ll know it’s because they treated the LORD with raw contempt.”
Earth swallows sinners and families31 When Moses stopped talking, the ground split open. 32 Like a giant mouth opening wide, the earth swallowed the men and their families along with Korah’s household and everything he owned. 33 These men and everything that belonged to them dropped into the grave while they were still alive. Then the earth closed its mouth upon them. They died in front of everyone else. 34 Israelites standing nearby heard the people screaming below. So, they ran away from the area crying, “The ground might open and swallow us, too.” 35 As for the 250 men holding their incense burners, the LORD lit them up with a flash fire.
36 The LORD told Moses, 37 “Tell Aaron’s son Eleazar, the priest, to recover all the incense pans from among the charred remains after the fire. They’re still holy. But tell him to get rid of the coals in the pans. Have him take them away and scatter them. 38 But collect the incense pans from these men who died for their sins because they are sacred. In the past, priests have used them to bring offerings to the LORD. Have the metal hammered flat and used to create a metal plate for the sacrificial altar. It will serve as reminder and a warning to the people. 39 Eleazer recovered the bronze pans of the men who died in the fire. He had them hammered into plates to cover the altar, just as the LORD told Moses to do. 40 It would serve as a constant reminder to the Israelites that only descendants of Aaron are allowed to burn incense offerings to the LORD in the worship center. Anyone thinking of trying it should remember that the plates on the altar came from Korah and his followers. Eleazar carried out God’s instructions to Moses.
The crowd turns on Moses41 The very next day, Israelites started criticizing Moses and Aaron again. They grumbled, “Look at what you did. You killed the LORD’s people yesterday.” 42 But as a crowd started to form, they noticed something at the Meeting Tent. The cloud covered it. Then the presence of the LORD appeared. 43 Moses and Aaron walked over to the front entrance of the Meeting Tent and stood there. 44 The LORD told Moses, 45 “Back away from those people so I can kill them now.” But Moses and Aaron both dropped face-down on the ground.
46 Moses took the initiative and told Aaron, “Hurry, get an incense pan, light it up with coals, and sprinkle on some incense. Then quickly carry it throughout the crowd to atone for their sins get them back in a good place with the LORD. Do it now because the LORD is blazing mad. He has already unleashed a killer plague.” 47 Aaron rushed and did what Moses said. He ran into the crowd and saw the plague was already hitting the people. He poured on the incense and atoned for people as he rushed his way through the crowd. 48 He created a firewall with his incense, separating the dead from the living. The plague stopped spreading. 49 The plague killed 14,700. That’s not counting the people who died because of Korah. 50 With the plague over, Aaron went back to Moses at the entrance to the Meeting Tent.
More literally, “Will you cut out the eyes of these men?” “These men” and “this man” were expressions used to talk about oneself. Gouging out eyes was something slave masters, kings, and lords did to runaway slaves and rebel servants (2 Kings 25:7).
God’s presence is often described as a physical manifestation of some kind, often shining, such as the column of smoke by day and fire by night. See Numbers 14:10.
Korah may have remained with the 250 men holding their incense burners.
This is the same kind of fire God sent to kill Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, for trying to present God with an unapproved offering they came up with on their own (Leviticus 10:2).
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