Monday, January 2

Who Was Korah?

According to Ezekiel 28:15, in which Ezekiel is directing a double prophecy against both the King of Tyre and Satan (meaning "the opposer"), in this verse directed at Satan, "You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you" (TNIV). Satan's rebellion against God sparked a chain of rebellion through the ages. His rebellion began when he sought to overthrow God, make himself like God and rule the universe (Isaiah 14:13-14), and when Satan either disguised himself as a serpent or inhabited a serpent (Genesis 3; Revelation 12:9, 20:2) and proceeded to entice and tempt Eve in Eden to eat of the fruit God commanded both her and Adam not to Eve, he sparked the rebellious spirit in mankind. The first two humans disobeyed a direct command of the Creator, corrupting themselves and all of creation as well (Romans 8:20-22), and the rebellion continued with Cain, who was angry that God did not accept his sacrifice (Genesis 4:5-6). Cain responded by committing the first recorded murder (4:8). This rebellious nature is echoed in the generation destroyed by the worldwide flood, as well as afterward when people attempted to disobey God's command to spread throughout the earth, instead building a city and a tower in rebellion (Genesis 11:1-4). In each case, disobedience required justice, and to this day, disobedience toward God still occurs. (Photo credit: The Death of Korah, Dathan and Abiram by Gustave Dore, 1866 - Public Domain usage; Moses and Korah, 1466 - Public Domain usage).

During the time that Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert (c.1445-1405 BC), more than one rebellion from the people transpired. Notably, one incident stands out among the others. This rebellion was headed by a man named Korah (Hebrew: קֹרַח). Korah, or Kórach, is spelled as Core in some older English translations of the Bible, while several Eastern European translations use Korak. The name itself means baldness, ice, hail, or frost, as explained by Talmudic Rabbis. Korah was the son of Izhar (Exodus 6:21), whose father was Amram, making Korah the cousin of Aaron, Miriam and Moses (Exodus 6:18, 20). There was a Korah who was the son of Esau, and Esau also likely had a grandson named Korah. This Korah, however, is not the Korah who rebelled against Moses. Korah son of Izhar was the great-grandson Levi, who was the third son of Jacob and therefore brother of Joseph, who had been the one to save Egypt from the famine. When the priesthood of Aaron was instituted, Korah and with him 250 men who were well-known community leaders, they came to oppose Moses and Aaron to accuse them (Numbers 16:1-3). 

Moses and Aaron's cousin, Korah, did not agree with the priesthood system, particularly with Aaron at its head. Korah, Dathan and Abiram, along with the 250 men, rebelled against Moses and demanded that the former state of everything ought to be restored. Korah said to Moses and Aaron, "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD's assembly?" (Numbers 16:3).Moses proceeded to tell Korah and his followers that "In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The one he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone to far!" (Numbers 16:5-7). He then said to Korah, "Now listen, you Levites! Isn't it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD's tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?" (Numbers 16:8-11).

Moses attempted to summon the sons of Eliab - Dathan and Abiram, but they said, "We will not come! Isn't it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us? Moreover, you haven't brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves? No, we will not come!" (16:13-14). Moses became angry, crying out to God to not accept their offering. He then spoke to Korah, saying, "You and all your followers are to appear before the LORD tomorrow - you and they and Aaron. Each one is to take his censer and put incense in it - 250 censers in all - and present it before the LORD. You are Aaron are to present your censers also." (16:16-17). The following morning, "each one took his censer, put burning coals and incense into it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting" (16:18). When Korah and his followers had gathered there, "the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly. The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 'separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once" (16:19-20).

Moses, once again interceding on behalf of the people as he had done many times before, as well as Aaron "fell facedown and cried out, 'O God, God of every human spirit, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?' Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Say to the assembly, Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram'" (16:22-23). Moses got up and warned the assembly to move away from the tents of Dathan and Abiram. When they had done so, Dathan and Abiram, with their wives and offspring at the entrance of their tents. "Then Moses said, 'This is how you will know that the LORD sent me to do all these things and that it was not part of my own will: If these men die [naturally] as all people would, and suffer the fate of all, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something unprecedented, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them along with all that belongs to them so that they go down alive into Sheol [the realm of the dead], then you will know that these men have despised the LORD" (Numbers 16:28-30; HCSB). The book of Numbers records the incredible event which happened next. 

From Gustave Dore, 1866
"Just as he finished speaking all these words, the ground beneath them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, all Korah's people, and all [their] possessions. They went down alive into Sheol with all that belonged to them. The earth closed over them, and they vanished from the assembly. At their cries, all [the people of Israel] who were around them fled because they thought, 'The earth may swallow us too!' Fire also came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were presenting the incense" (Numbers 16:31-35). Eleazar the priest was told to collect the bronze censers brought by those who had been burned to death, and he had them hammered out to overlay the altar, as the LORD directed him through Moses. This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD, or he would become like Korah and his followers" (Numbers 16:39-40). The Israelites grumbled against Aaron and Moses the following day, however, saying, "You have killed the LORD's people" (Numbers 16:41).

When an assembly gathered in opposition, God descended to the tent of meeting, and conveyed to Moses and Aaron that they were to get away from the assembly, as He was going to put an end to them. The brothers fell facedown and Moses interceded for the people while Aaron burned incense in atonement. A plague had begun, but as Aaron stood among the people, the plague stopped. In the process, 14,700 people had died from the plague because of Korah. Aaron returned to the tent of meeting, where God spoke to Moses about where to go from that point. Korah, Dathan, Abram and the others had come in opposition to Moses and Aaron, but in reality they were in opposition to God Himself. As a result, God was the one who ended the rebellion. God had accepted Moses' plea for the people, sparing them, and when the people grumbled and complained about the end of Korah and his followers the following day, Moses and Aaron once again saved the Israelites. God had "done nothing... without cause" (Ezekiel 14:23), "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD" (Proverbs 21:30), "The LORD works out everything to its proper end" (Proverbs 16:4), and "Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21). We would do well to bear this in mind, particularly when it comes to rebellion against God.

Despite Korah's rebellion, whether they were too young to understand their father's rebellion or old enough that they decided not to join him, the sons of Korah were spared. According to Numbers 26:10-11, "The earth opened its mouth and swallowed [Dathan, Abiram and family] along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign. The line of Korah, however, did not die out." God had a purpose and a plan for the sons of Korah, though their father was no longer part of the equation. According to the genealogical record found in 1st Chronicles 6:31-38, seven generations after Korah, the prophet Samuel was born into the same line (cf. 1st Chronicles 38; 1st Samuel 1:1, 20). The Korahites (descendants of Korah) went on to become keepers of the threshold of the tent (doorkeepers) and custodians of the tabernacle (1st Chronicles 9:19-21), and one group of Korahites became warriors alongside David in military exploits. Another group of individuals as an example of the good which came from the bad are the Korahites during the reign of King David who became leaders in chorus and musical accomplishments, one of which was. Heman, who was a singer alongside Asaph (a Gershonite) and others.

Another important thing to note is that about twenty five of the Psalms are attributed to the sons of Korah. Some believe that the line "though the earth gives way" found in Psalm 46:2 may be an allusion to Korah's rebellion. It is also significant to understand that Korah and his followers broke at least two of God's commandments, in a way. The commandment, "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below" (Exodus 20:4) and the commandment, "You shall not covet" (Exodus 20:17) can be understood to have been broken by Korah and his followers. While they did not create a literal image to bow down to as the Israelites had done with the golden calf (Exodus 32), nor are they recorded to have coveted after their neighbor's wife, their neighbor's house or the like, nevertheless, Korah and his followers create a likeness of God which they hope for. They essentially deny who God is and what He had asked of the Israelites, and claimed that Moses and Aaron simply wanted power for themselves. Korah created a mental image of who he thought God should be like, essentially breaking one of the commandments. At the same time, by wanting (or coveting) the position of the priesthood and going at some lengths to attempt to attain that position, the act of coveting led to sin, and yet another commandment was broken.

On another note, Rabbinical literature has several interesting views and references to Korah and his rebellion. It was said that Korah possessed great wealth which he had discovered in Egypt, and it took three hundred mules to carry his wealth (Pes. 119; Sanhedrin 110). Some of Rabbinical literature notes that Korah fell on account of his wealth, which was not given by God. However, Korah is also portrayed as a wise man, the chief of the family who carried the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders (Tan., ed. Buber, Ḳoraḥ, Supplement, 5; Num. R. xviii. 2). According to one of the Midrash, Korah's wife encouraged him, saying, "See what Moses has done. He has proclaimed himself king; he has made his brother high priest, and his brother's sons priests; still more, he has made thee shave all thy hair in order to disfigure thee." Korah replied, "But he has done the same to his own sons." His wife commented, "Moses hated thee so much that he was ready to do evil to his own children provided the same evil would overtake thee" (Midr. Agadah to Num. xvi. 8; Yalḳ., Num. 750; comp. Num. R. l.c.; Tan. l.c.; Sanh. 110a).

According to other Rabbinical literature, when Korah rebelled, the earth became like a funnel, and everything that belonged to him, including linen that was at the launderer's and needles that had been borrowed by others who had been living at a distance from Korah, rolled until it fell into the great chasm (see Yer. Sanh. x. 1; Num. R. l.c.). According to some of the Rabbis, Korah faced a double punishment by being burned and buried alive (Num. R. l.c. 14; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 23). Also, it is mentioned that Korah and his followers continued to sink in the earth until Hannah prayed for them (Gen. R. xcviii. 3), and through Hannah's prayer, Korah will allegedly ascend to paradise (Ab. R. N. xxxvi.; Num. R. xviii. 11; comp. Sanh. 109b). This brings to light a bit of a controversy, as well. It seems as if the text of Numbers does not explicitly state how Korah died. Abiram and Dathan, along with their families, those associated with Korah (aside from his sons, cf. Numbers 26:11) and their possessions were swallowed by the earth, and the 250 men who were offering the incense were consumed by fire, but it is not stated how Korah died. As aforementioned, it is believed by many Rabbis that Korah faced a double-punishment of being both burned and swallowed by the earth, and Numbers 26:10 may imply that he was swallowed by the earth, but these views are not accepted by all.

Indeed, it is a rather confusing point of Numbers 16. Korah was presumably in the tent of meeting when his followers were consumed by fire, but was he consumed by fire or swallowed by the earth and taken to Sheol? "The Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) presents two more possibilities. Rabbi Yochanon says that he did not die in either manner, and Rashi explains that according to this opinion, he died in the plague that occurred after the rebellion, 17:14. This seems unlikely. He was the ringleader, and hence he should [die] with at least one of the groups of rebels. An anonymous opinion in the Talmud (also in Numbers Rabbah 18:19) argues that Korah died both through the swallowing of the earth and through the fire. Rashi explains that first the fire burned his soul and then his body rolled to where the earth had split and fell into the crevice. This is unlikely to be understood literally. Ibn Ezra (on 16:35, see also Luzzato on 16:21) argues that only Datan and Aviram were swallowed by the ground since they are the only ones explicitly mentioned, also see Devarim 11:6. Korah would have been with the group of 250 men, and died by the fire with them."[1]

"Why was he not mentioned as being with the 250 men? Ibn Ezra explains that once the text recorded that the group was burnt there was no need to mention Korah. Also he brings a proof from 17:5, which records that the fire-pans used by people would serve as a reminder that the people should not become like Korah and his group. He explains that this not becoming like Korah means not to suffer his fate to die as he did by the fire-pans. Also, he interprets that the words of Bemidbar [Numbers] 26:10 'and Korah' join with the word 'community', which would mean that Korah died with the group of 250."[2] Others believe that when Moses left the tent where incense was being offered, Korah followed him with the crowd, and hence would have stood with Dathan and Abiram when they were swallowed by an earthquake. The argument is that, if Moses had intended to include Korah in the number of those consumed by the fire, he would have numbered the men as 251 or said "Korah and the 250 men" instead of "fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense" (Numbers 16:35). In a Jewish commentary on Devarim 11:6 (Deuteronomy 11:6), it is remarked that Moses may not have included the specific form of death of Korah out of respect for his sons who were still living, whereas in Dathan and Abiram's case, their family perished with them.

The text in question is Deuteronomy 11:6, which  says, "and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them." The argument is that Moses may not have mentioned Korah specifically when delivering this speech to Israel as recorded in Deuteronomy, as directly before, the sin of the creation of the golden calf had been mentioned. Aaron, who had later become the head of the priesthood, was involved in the creation of the golden calf, and if Moses mentioned both the golden calf followed by Korah specifically, memories surely would have been dredged up of both incidents, raising further questions about Aaron's priesthood by God. By mentioning only Dathan, Abiram and their families and not Korah in particular, he would have been able to keep respect from the sons of Korah and also possibly avoid further controversy over Aaron's priesthood. 
From a 1466 Manuscript

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, concerning a narrative by Rabah bar bar Hana, "The other group of the narratives of Rabbah bar bar Ḥana includes his fantastic adventures on the sea and in the desert. In these stories one of the most conspicuous figures is the Arab who was the guide of Rabbah and his companions on their journey through the desert. This Arab knew the route so well that he could tell from the odor of the sand when a spring was near (B. B. 73b). The travelers passed through the desert in which the children of Israel wandered for forty years, and the Arab showed Mount Sinai to Rabbah, who heard the voice of God speaking from the mountain and regretting Israel's exile. The Arab likewise pointed out the place where Korah and his followers had been swallowed by the earth, and from the smoking abyss Rabbah heard the words, 'Moses is truth and his teachings are truth, but we are liars (B. B. 74a)."[3] There are of course other fantastic adventures by this man, "As an example the following one may be cited: 'Once, while on a ship, we came to a gigantic fish at rest, which we supposed to be an island, since there was sand on its back, in which grass was growing. We therefore landed, made a fire, and cooked our meal. But when the fish felt the heat he rolled over, and we would have drowned had not the ship been near' (B. B. 73b)."[4]

Korah is also referenced in the New Testament by Jude. Jude 11 says, "Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion." As such, Jude brother of James, both of whom were Jesus' brothers, evidently not only accepted Cain and Balaam as historical figures, but also seemingly accepted Korah's rebellion as a historical event. About AD 180, Irenaeus, who was familiar with Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of John the disciple, in his anti-Gnostic work, Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses), criticism was given to those who believed that biblical villains were given their power from God, saying that there were those who "declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves." Also, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the first of which was discovered in the 1940s in a cave near Qumran, references to a Korah are made, although it is uncertain which Korah. Korah is also referenced in the Qur’an (or Koran), in which he was recognized as wealthy, and that he was swallowed up by the earth.

There are those who believe that "God makes use of natural forces to execute judgment (as in the plagues of Egypt). The phenomenon [with those who died in the rebellion] may be the breaking up (perhaps by storm) of the hard crusty surface which forms over deep lakes of liquid mud in the Arabah rift valley where this incident occurred."[5] However, God's supernatural usage of the natural world should not be limited to naturalistic explanations, although it is certainly possible. The context of Numbers 16 seems to imply that God brought "about something totally new" (16:30), supernaturally creating a rift in the earth which swallowed up the people and then closed again. Archaeologically, there is little, if any evidence for Korah's rebellion, nor would we expect there to be. While the notion that the bronze censers were hammered out to overlay the altar may be considered by some archaeological evidence, the original altar has been long since destroyed. Ron Wyatt, known for making fantastic claims of biblical discoveries, also claimed to have found the site of Korah's rebellion, but few archaeologists, and indeed many Christian scientists, historians and archaeologists agree with the findings.

Korah was an interesting figure, and learned the hard way what it means to disobey the Creator and what He has set in place. When we try to intervene in God's plans, God's plans always work out to their proper end, prevailing each time over man's, as mentioned frequently in Proverbs. While we may not know exactly how Korah died, we do know that rebellion against God does not go unnoticed. Korah, like those who built the Tower of Babel in defiance of God, rebelled against God and disobeyed His direct commands. We continue to do this today, which is why only an infinite being could pay for the infinite sins of the finite beings - God in the flesh, redeeming us from our past, present and future sins. Good surely came from Korah's line - Psalms, the prophet Samuel - but we ought to learn from his mistake, and when God works, allow Him to work until He has completed His plan.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at or, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

[1] Schein, Andrew. "Bemidbar Chapter 16 (Korah) - How did Korah die?." Iobashamayim. N.p., 19 June 2009. Web. 29 Dec 2011.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bacher, Wilhelm, and Jacob Zallel Lauterbach. "RABBAH BAR BAR ḤANA." Jewish Encyclopedia . N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Jan 2012.
[4] Ibid.
[5] David and Pat Alexander. Zondervan Handbook To The Bible. Zondervan, 1999. 3rd ed. 199. Print.

[6] Lewis, C.S.. The Problem of Pain. Macmillan, 1961. 116. Print.

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