Bamidbar Sixteen: Korah’s Rebellion

Dissension comes to the camp. Korah, along with Dathan, Abiram, and On, confronts Moses, as well as the committee of elders and chieftains who serve as the leaders of the community. “They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly (Numbers 16:2-3)?'” Now, I understand why this type of dissension and outright questioning of Moses, and by association God’s choice of leadership, is not acceptable. However, I also kind of understand the question. It has been reiterated many times that all of Israel is chosen and holy. Therefore, why does there need to be a hierarchy amongst the people?

Moses falls on his face again. He doesn’t defend himself outright, but instead tells Korah that God will make it known who is holy and chosen the next day, and that those people will be drawn closer to God. He cautions Korah against taking too much on himself, and reminds him, as a fellow Levite, that he has already been distinguished from the majority of the congregation and given a special role.

“Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, but they said, ‘We will not go up. Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you should also exercise authority over us? You have not even brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Even if you gouge out the eyes of those men, we will not go up (Numbers 16:12-14).'” This seems to be a dramatic response, but it shows the source of a great deal of the resentment that the people may have towards Moses and their current circumstances. Moses is upset, and tells God not to accept their offering, while simultaneously telling Korah to take his men and make sacrifices the next morning.

“The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, ‘Dissociate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant. They fell on their faces and said, ‘O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation (Numbers 16:20-22)?'” Even though they’re being questioned and disrespected, these men are still thinking of the good of the collective, and are trying to protect everyone, even their enemies. Moses tells the people to separate from Korah, Dathan and Abiram, so that they won’t be connected with their sins. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, as well as their families, are subsequently swallowed by the earth. “The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, and all the men who were with Korah and all the property. They, and all they possessed, descended alive into the grave; the earth covered them up, and they were lost to the assembly (Numbers 16:32-33).”

This is one of the most dramatic biblical incidents yet. The earth literally swallows people alive for their dissension. At the risk of following suit, this sounds more than slightly fascist, with questioning and alternative factions being crushed and destroyed. It’s definitely the most dramatic warning yet of what can happen to those who pursue more power than they have been given. I wonder why the wives and children of the rebels had to be punished along with their husbands, though. Why did the example need to extend to those who had nothing to do with it, as far as we are told? Is it because Korah and his followers weren’t regular people, but rather members of the Levite tribe, and therefore were seen as leaders and role models amongst the people in their own right? Was God that worried about further factions coming out of their families?

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