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received a command to have it inflicted in the presence of the congregated people, and by their act; that is, without doubt, by the agency of a sufficient portion of them, understood to be proceeding in their name, and by their joint authority.
The chapter concludes with a brief direction to adopt a certain peculiarity of national costume, which should be, to the wearer, a perpetual memento of his obligations, as a member of the favored community whose badge was upon him. It is a familiar principle of our nature which is here appealed to; the same, through which the soldier is reminded by his gay uniform, and the Quaker by his modest dress, of the duties and sentiments with which the characteristic attire of each is associated in his mind.t
The condition, in which the Israelitish affairs now were, supposing the record in the sixteenth chapter to relate to a time not long subsequent to the abandonment of the design of an immediate invasion of Canaan, was precisely that in which we should expect to read of conspiracies, if, at any time, they were to occur. The arrangement of the political and sacred administration was still recent. Of course, it had not been organized, without creating disappointment and dissatisfaction on the part of some, who had supposed their claim to be as good as that of those who had been preferred to them; and there had not yet been opportunity for
* Numb. xv. 32-36. Compare Lev. xxiv. 12-14. If we are to understand the words “in the wilderness” (32), as a reference to Numb. xii. 16, which is not an unnatural interpretation, the place and time of this incident, and of the promulgation of the laws recorded in the previous part of the chapter, are fixed. Compare Deut. i. 46.
+ Numb. xv. 37 – 41. --- Le Clerc, ad loc. suggests, that the selection of the color of the High Priest's robe (Ex. xxxix. 22) for that of the badge, may have been designed for an intimation to the wearer, that he belonged to a “ kingdom of priests, an holy nation."
time and the habit of subordination to assuage their discontent, or for the partiality of their retainers and partisans to learn acquiescence in the established order of things. On the other hand, the people were depressed and uneasy, and in a fit state to be tampered with by factious leaders. Mortified as they must have been by the recollection of their late unworthy conduct, and goaded by the thought of having been condemned, in consequence, to renounce the hope of a speedy occupation of their promised home, the time must have been favorable for engaging them in a rebellious movement. They would then have been ready, if ever, to lend an open ear to the assurance, that, under the auspices of other leaders than those who had lately denounced against them the sentence of such a weary delay, they might be able forthwith to prosecute the enterprise, on which their hearts had been so fondly set.*
If the circumstances of the time favored the designs of conspirators, the conspiracy of which we read was formed by precisely the persons, whom we might expect to find taking advantage of any prevailing discontent, to propose extreme measures. The writer, who betrays no solicitude whatever for the credit of his narrative, abstains from any exposition of the circumstances, to which I here refer; but a little consideration brings them evidently to light. There are two parties to the plot; and they are of those, whose jealousy would be most likely to be excited by the recent arrangements; who would most easily persuade themselves, and who could with the best pretence maintain, that there had been a violation of their rights. Korah was a Kohathite, descended from a brother of the progenitor of Aaron, perhaps an older son of the common ancestor;
and if any ambitious aspirant was to look with an envious eye upon the possessor of the highest sacerdotal dignity, his position marked him out as a subject for that temptation.* Dathan, Abiram, and On, were descendants from Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob; and so belonged to the tribe, whose pride must bave been most wounded (considering how much the rank of primogeniture was, among that people, a point of honor,) by the precedence given to Judah, in the encampments and on the march.
Moreover, the situation of these two parties in relation to one another, when in camp, was such as to afford them all facilities for exciting one another's passions, and maturing the plot. The allotted place of the tents of Reuben, was on the south side of the Court; and between them and the Tabernacle, was the encampment of the Kohathites, the division of the Levitical family, to which Korah belonged.
In respect to any imagined incredibility, in the concocting of such a plot, on the part of persons, who had seen miraculous attestations of the divine favor to those whose authority they were proposing to subvert, I conceive that it would be enough to say, that the difficulty, be it greater or less, consists in the supposition of men's ever acting against their fixed convictions of duty and safety; that the opposition, in conduct, to the persuasions of one's mind, is the unaccountable thing, (as far as any thing is unaccountable,) the method in which such a persuasion has been produced, whether natural or supernatural, not diminishing or increasing the marvel, except as the strength of the persuasion is increased; and that the fact of men's acting against their convictions of what is right and safe is one of too familiar experience to admit of being denied. I add, however, that with the imperfect views of the Deity which these conspirators must be supposed to have entertained, it is by no means improbable, that they may have partly persuaded themselves as well as others, that Moses and Aaron had acquired their precedence by some indirection, or that the wonders which had been wrought for the common benefit, had no necessary permanent connexion with their authority, and that, if the people should declare themselves in favor of other rulers, their Divine guide might consent to a transfer of their power. Certain it is, that the language of Korah and his associates is as distinctly that of recognition of Jehovah, as of oppugnation to the lawgiver and high-priest.*
* Compare Numb. xvi. 9-11.
The insurrection was of a formidable character. It had engaged a large number of considerable men. It was not to be suffered to succeed; to suppose this, is to suppose that the divine plan for the accomplishment of great objects was to be frustrated, or to be furthered henceforward by departure from a course of operation, which hitherto had been deliberately pursued. It was not to be suffered to be repeated; this would be to permit the infant state to be subject to perpetual hazards, machinations, and broils. Advantage was taken of the occasion to enforce a lasting lesson, repressing the tendency to such baleful manifestations of private ambition and popular discontent, till the early time of weakness and danger should be past. To effect the object thoroughly, a severe supernatural punishment is inflicted. An earthquake “swallowed up all the men that appertained unto Korah, and their houses, and all their goods”; and, the discontent not being yet allayed, but breaking out in complaints on the following day, a further visitation of divine displeasure, apparently in the form of sudden disease, swept off the assailants by hundreds, till, by Moses' direction, Aaron presented himself in their behalf, in the act of performing a function of his office; and then “the plague was stayed,” a second divine testimony to him being thus given by its withdrawal, as the first had been by its infliction.*
* Numb. xvi. 3; compare 5, 7, 28.
censers &c. (Numb. xvi. 6, 7); that is, if you, Korah, aspire to be high-priest in Aaron's place, and your retainers to be priests instead of his sons, present yourselves to-morrow with censers and incense, (that is, prepared to execute the priestly office, compare Ex. xxx. 8,) if your claim should be approved. (Compare 5, 10, 17, 40.) You will then see that it is not I, that forbid you, but God. — “Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men ?" (14); wilt thou make us pretend not to see what we do see, viz. that thy promises are not kept ?— Verse 15 is Moses' appeal to God; quasi, thou knowest that they have no ground for discontent in any injustice suffered by them at my hands. — From Korah's presenting himself with a numerous retinue (19), and the manifestation of divine power, with which this movement was immediately followed, (compare Ex. xxxiii. 9; Numb. xii. 5; xiv. 10,) it is natural to infer that he had meditated a forcible establishment of his claim. — With verses 20 - 22, compare Ex. xxxii. 7 – 14, and the remarks thereupon, at pp. 218, 219. But, perhaps, by “this congregation” (21), was meant Korah's company, and the command "separate yourselves,” was intended for the rest of the people, agreeably to 24 - 26; in which case, however, it would appear (22) that Moses and Aaron misunderstood the first direction. - From verse 24, it appears that there was a tent, which was a place of rendezvous to the leaders of the revolt, and which is accordingly called “the Tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram,” though the dwelling of Korah, as a Levite, was in a place different from that of his Reubenite associates, and though at present they were apart, he being, with his immediate retainers, before the Tabernacle (19), and they at the door of their own tents, which they had refused to leave at Moses' invitation. (12, 27.) Whether by “the elders of Israel” (25), are meant the confederated princes (compare 2), or leaders who adhered to Moses, might be doubted; but it is reasonable to suppose, that both these descriptions of persons followed him, the scene of the contest being changed by his departure from before the Tabernacle. - Dr. Graves (“ Lectures on the Pentateuch," Vol. I. p. 115 et seq.) understanding that the families of Dathan and Abiram were destroyed with them in the earthquake, (27, 32,) while that of Korah was spared, (Numb. xxvi. 11; 1 Chron. vi. 22; ix. 19,) very well explains the fact, by remarking, that Dathan and Abiram were at their tents, the dwellings of their families, while Korah was absent from his, which was in the