Who was Korah?

In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Korah was the son (or, descendant) of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi. Ringleader of the rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16; 26:9-11); the one solitary anecdote recorded of the 38 years' wandering, uncircumcision, and shame, Not content with his honourable post as a Levite "minister" to the sanctuary, Korah "sought the priesthood also."

Associated with him in the rebellion Dathan, Abiram, and On (the last is not mentioned subsequently), sprung from Reuben, who sought to regain the forfeited primogeniture and the primacy of their own tribe among Israel's tribes (1 Chr. 5:1). The punishment answered to the Reubenites' sin, their pride was punished by "Reuben's men being made few," so that Moses prayed "let Reuben live and not die," i.e. be saved from extinction (Deut. 33:6).

Elizaphan of the youngest branch, descended from Uzziel (Num. 3:27,30), was preferred before Korah of the elder Izharite branch and made "chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites"; hence probably arose his pique against Moses. With the undesigned coincidence which characterizes truth we find the Reubenites encamped next the Kohathites, so the two were conveniently situated for plotting together (Num. 2).

Korah with "250 princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown" (not restricted to the tribe of Reuben: Num. 27:3), said to Moses and Aaron, "ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them" (compare Exo. 19:6). The Reubenites' sin was in desiring to set aside all special ministries, in which Korah to gain their support joined them ostensibly; he did not really wish to raise the people to a level with the Levites, but the Levites alone to the level of the priests.

Korah's sin answers to that of sacerdotalist ministers who, not content with the honour of the ministry (nowhere in the New Testament are Christian ministers called "sacrificing" or "sacerdotal priests," hiereis, a term belonging in the strict and highest sense to Jesus alone; restricted to Him and the Aaronic and pagan priests, and spiritually applied to all Christians: Mt. 8:4; Acts 14:13; Heb. 5:6; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6; 1 Pet. 2:5,9), usurp Christ's sacrificing and mediatorial priesthood; also to that of all men who think to be saved by their own doings instead of by His mediatorial work for us (Acts 4:12).

The Reubenites' sin answers to that of those who would set aside all ministers on the ground that all Christians are priests unto God. The fact that all Christians are "kings unto God" does not supersede the present need of kings and rulers, to whom the people delegate some of their rights and liberties. Moses gave them a respite for repentance until the morrow: "take you censers, fire, and incense before the Lord tomorrow ... the man whom the Lord doth choose ... shall be holy; ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi," retorting their own words. People often charge others with the very sin which they themselves are committing.

Upon Moses' sending for Dathan and Abiram they would not come, they retorted his own words: "is it a small thing (Num. 16:9,13) that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey ... then hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey," etc. With studied profanity they describe Egypt as that which God had described Canaan to be. "Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?" i.e. throw dust in their eyes, blind them to your non-fulfillment of your fine promises.

Dathan and Abiram, their wives and children, stood at the door of their tents as though defying Moses to do his worst, when Moses by Jehovah's command told the people to get up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, i.e. from the tabernacle which these had set up in common opposition to the great tabernacle of the congregation.

The three are mentioned here together as joined in a common cause though not now together locally. So the earth "clave asunder and swallowed up their houses and all the men (but not the sons, who probably shrank from their father's sin and escaped, Num. 26:11) belonging unto Korah," namely, all who joined him in rebellion, namely, Durban, Abiram, and their children. Korah's tent stood with the Kohathites forming part of the inner line immediately S. of the tabernacle.

Dathan's and Abiram's, as in the outer line on the same side, were contiguous to Korah's tent, yet sufficiently separate to admit of his tent not being swallowed up as was theirs. Fire from Jehovah (probably from the altar, Lev. 10:1-7) consumed Korah and the 250 incense offerers who were apart "at the door of the tabernacle" (Num. 16:18,19,33-35). In verse 27 Korah is not mentioned with Dathan and Abiram, which shows that Korah himself was elsewhere, namely, at the tabernacle door, when they were swallowed up.

Thus, the impression on a superficial reading of Num. 16, that Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and the men and goods of all three alike, were swallowed up, on a closer inspection is done away, and Num. 16 appears in minute and undesigned harmony with Num. 26:10,11. Similarly Ps. 106:17,18, distinguishes the end of Dathan and Abiram from Korah: "the earth ... swallowed up Dathan and ... the company of Abiram. And a fire was kindled in their company," namely, Korah and the 250; these, having sinned by fire in offering incense, were retributively punished by fire.

Korah had no opportunity of collecting his children about him, being away from his tent; he only had all the men of his family who abetted his rebellion along with him at the door of the tabernacle. "Despising dominion and speaking evil of dignities" is the sin of Korah and he "perished by gainsaying," i.e. speaking against Moses, a warning to all self sufficient despisers of authority.

The effect of this terrible warning on the survivors of Korah was that the family attained high distinction subsequently. Samuel was a Korhite (1 Chr. 6:22-28). Korhites under David had the chief place in keeping the tabernacle doors (1 Chr. 6:32-37), and in the psalmody (1 Chr. 9:19,33). Eleven psalms are inscribed with their name as the authors (Ps. 42; Ps. 44; Ps. 45; Ps. 46; Ps. 47; Ps. 48; Ps. 49; Ps. 84; Ps. 85; Ps. 87; Ps. 88; compare 2 Chr. 20:19).

Their subject and tone are pleasant and cheerful, free from anything sad or harsh (Origen, Homily on 1 Sam.), more sublime and vehement than David's psalms, and glowing with spirituality and unction. Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph were respectively the son, grandson, and great grandson of Korah (Exo. 6:24, compare 1 Chr. 6:22,23-37).


IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.