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Numbers 16:20-35

Context
The Judgment on the Rebels

16:20 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: 16:21 “Separate yourselves 1  from among this community, 2  that I may consume them in an instant.” 16:22 Then they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground 3  and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all people, 4  will you be angry with the whole community when only one man sins?” 5 

16:23 So the Lord spoke to Moses: 16:24 “Tell the community: ‘Get away 6  from around the homes of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’” 16:25 Then Moses got up 7  and went to Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel went after him. 16:26 And he said to the community, “Move away from the tents of these wicked 8  men, and do not touch anything they have, lest you be destroyed because 9  of all their sins.” 10  16:27 So they got away from the homes of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram on every side, and Dathan and Abiram came out and stationed themselves 11  in the entrances of their tents with their wives, their children, and their toddlers. 16:28 Then Moses said, “This is how 12  you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. 13  16:29 If these men die a natural death, 14  or if they share the fate 15  of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 16:30 But if the Lord does something entirely new, 16  and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up 17  along with all that they have, and they 18  go down alive to the grave, 19  then you will know that these men have despised the Lord!”

16:31 When he had finished 20  speaking 21  all these words, the ground that was under them split open, 16:32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, along with their households, and all Korah’s men, and all their goods. 16:33 They and all that they had went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed over them. So they perished from among the community. 16:34 All the Israelites 22  who were around them fled at their cry, 23  for they said, “What if 24  the earth swallows us too?” 16:35 Then a fire 25  went out from the Lord and devoured the 250 men who offered incense.

1 tn The verb is הִבָּדְלוּ (hibbadÿlu), the Niphal imperative of בָּדַל (badal). This is the same word that was just used when Moses reminded the Levites that they had been separated from the community to serve the Lord.

2 sn The group of people siding with Korah is meant, and not the entire community of the people of Israel. They are an assembly of rebels, their “community” consisting in their common plot.

3 sn It is Moses and Aaron who prostrate themselves; they have the good of the people at heart.

4 tn The expression “the God of the spirits of all humanity [flesh]” is somewhat difficult. The Hebrew text says אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר (’elohey harukhot lÿkhol-basar). This expression occurs in Num 27:16 again. It also occurs in some postbiblical texts, a fact which has prompted some scholars to conclude that it is a late addition. The words clearly show that Moses is interceding for the congregation. The appeal in the verse is that it is better for one man to die for the whole nation than the whole nation for one man (see also John 11:50).

5 tn The verb is the Qal imperfect יֶחֱטָא (yekheta’); it refers to the sinful rebellion of Korah, but Moses is stating something of a principle: “One man sins, and will you be angry….” A past tense translation would assume that this is a preterite use of the imperfect (without vav [ו] consecutive).

6 tn The motif of “going up” is still present; here the Hebrew text says “go up” (the Niphal imperative – “go up yourselves”) from their tents, meaning, move away from them.

7 tn Heb “rose up.”

8 tn The word רָשָׁע (rasha’) has the sense of a guilty criminal. The word “wicked” sometimes gives the wrong connotation. These men were opposing the Lord, and so were condemned as criminals – they were guilty. The idea of “wickedness” therefore applies in that sense.

9 tn The preposition bet (בְּ) in this line is causal – “on account of their sins.”

10 sn The impression is that the people did not hear what the Lord said to Moses, but only what Moses said to the people as a result. They saw the brilliant cloud, and perhaps heard the sound of his voice, but the relaying of the instructions indicates they did not hear the actual instruction from the Lord himself.

11 tn The verb נִצָּבִים (nitsavim) suggests a defiant stance, for the word is often used in the sense of taking a stand for or against something. It can also be somewhat neutral, having the sense of positioning oneself for a purpose.

12 tn Heb “in this.”

13 tn The Hebrew text simply has כִּי־לֹא מִלִּבִּי (ki-lomillibbi, “for not from my heart”). The heart is the center of the will, the place decisions are made (see H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament). Moses is saying that the things he has done have not come “from the will of man” so to speak – and certainly not from some secret desire on his part to seize power.

14 tn Heb “if like the death of every man they die.”

15 tn The noun is פְּקֻדָּה (pÿquddah, “appointment, visitation”). The expression refers to a natural death, parallel to the first expression.

16 tn The verb בָּרָא (bara’) is normally translated “create” in the Bible. More specifically it means to fashion or make or do something new and fresh. Here the verb is joined with its cognate accusative to underscore that this will be so different everyone will know it is of God.

17 tn The figures are personifications. But they vividly describe the catastrophe to follow – which was very much like a mouth swallowing them.

18 tn The word is “life” or “lifetime”; it certainly means their lives – they themselves. But the presence of this word suggest more. It is an accusative specifying the state of the subject – they will go down alive to Sheol.

19 tn The word “Sheol” in the Bible can be used four different ways: the grave, the realm of the departed [wicked] spirits or Hell, death in general, or a place of extreme danger (one that will lead to the grave if God does not intervene). The usage here is certainly the first, and very likely the second as well. A translation of “pit” would not be inappropriate. Since they will go down there alive, it is likely that they will sense the deprivation and the separation from the land above. See H. W. Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament; N. J. Tromp, Primitive Conceptions of Death and the Netherworld in the Old Testament (BibOr 21), 21-23; and A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic, especially ch. 3.

20 tn The initial temporal clause is standard: It begins with the temporal indicator “and it was,” followed here by the Piel infinitive construct with the preposition and the subjective genitive suffix. “And it happened when he finished.”

21 tn The infinitive construct with the preposition lamed (ל) functions here as the direct object of the preceding infinitive. It tells what he finished.

22 tn Heb “all Israel.”

23 tn Heb “voice.”

24 tn Heb “lest.”

25 tn For a discussion of the fire of the Lord, see J. C. H. Laughlin, “The Strange Fire of Nadab and Abihu,” JBL 95 (1976): 559-65.



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