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Basic Bible: Judgment on the Rebellion

Numbers 16:23-35

Korah’s rebellion ended with the deaths of Korah and all who supported his efforts to replace Moses (God’s chosen leader)and Aaron (God’s chosen high priest).

In the text before us, we see the deaths of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their families, and the deaths of the two hundred and fifty men of renown who offered up incense to the Lord. The manner of their deaths cannot be classified as common.

In verses 29 and 30, the Lord made it known through the words of Moses that Korah, Dathan and Abiram and all that pertained to them would be swallowed up by the earth. Immediately following their deaths, a fire from the Lord consumed the two hundred and fifty men who offered incense to the Lord (v. 35).

Moses told the people that Korah, Dathan and Abiram would be swallowed up by the earth because “these men” had provoked the Lord. The Lord was also provoked by the two hundred and fifty who offered incense before Him.

New Testament believers know why the Lord was provoked. New Testament believers know the reason that Korah, Dathan and Abiram and the two hundred and fifty gathered themselves against Moses was because they did not believe the words that Moses spoke to be of God. Evidence of their unbelief is found in their words and actions.

Note first the deaths of Dathan, Abiram, and all who appertain to Korah. In verse 26, Moses went to Dathan and Abiram and declared that those who stood with them would be consumed. On the previous day, Moses had sent word to Dathan and Abiram to come to the tabernacle of the Lord. They refused to come. They did not believe that the Lord had raised up Moses to lead the children of Israel and they did not obey. Upon hearing Moses say that the Lord would cause the earth to open up and swallow them, they stood their ground. They believed not and were swallowed up.

The unbelief of the two hundred and fifty is also evident in their actions. Korah and the two hundred and fifty were chosen by the Lord to serve in the tabernacle and to minister to all who came there to worship (see v. 9). Korah and the Levites who followed him did not believe the word of the Lord which Moses had delivered to them and to all the people. They did not believe that priestly service to the Lord was for reserved for Aaron and his sons alone. Their unbelief, however, was different from that of Dathan and Abiram.

On the previous day, Moses told Korah and the two hundred and fifty to come to the tabernacle of the Lord and to place fire upon their censers and burn incense before the Lord. They did as Moses had said to do. Unlike Dathan and Abiram, they obeyed the command of the Lord. They obeyed but, nonetheless, died an uncommon death. Why?

Why were Dathan and Abiram swallowed up by the earth while the two hundred and fifty consumed by fire? The difference in the manner of their deaths reveals a difference in the Lord’s judgment.

The two hundred and fifty placed fire upon their censers and burned incense to the Lord believing that they possessed a righteousness which they did not possess. On the previous day Moses had stated that the Lord would show them the man of His choosing and the man who shall be holy (v. 7). They heard Moses say, “ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi” but they believed not.

The two hundred and fifty offered up their incense (their sweet smelling righteousness) believing that their righteousness qualified them to stand before God. The Lord did as Moses said. The Lord revealed that every man among the two hundred and fifty assumed a righteousness which they did not possess. All were consumed by fire.

The word of God declares: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The righteousness of the two hundred and fifty was revealed by fire. All were consumed. The two hundred and fifty all believed in themselves. They did not know that their righteousness was as filthy rags.

New Testament believers, like the two hundred and fifty Levites, shall stand before our Lord and Savior. At that time, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (I Cor. 3:13). All that is not built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ shall be burned. Let no man be wise in this world because it is foolishness with God (I Cor. 3:19).

Let us declare the name of Him who is of the Father, the name of Him who is holy.