Reprinted with permission from Who’s Who in the Hebrew Bible (The Jewish Publication Society).
Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab of the tribe of Reuben, were two of the leaders of Korah’s rebellion against Moses. Their brother Nemuel did not participate in the rebellion.
Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On son of Peleth, at the head of a group of 250 renowned men, accused Moses and Aaron of raising themselves over the rest of the people. Moses threw himself on the ground and said to the rebels (Numbers 16:5–7):
"Come morning, the Lord will make known who is His and who is holy, and will grant him access to Himself; He will grant access to the one He has chosen. Do this: You, Korah and all your band, take fire pans, and tomorrow put fire in them and lay incense on them before the Lord. Then the man whom the LORD chooses, he shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!"
He added (Numbers 16:8–11): "Hear me, sons of Levi. Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart from the community of Israel and given you access to Him, to perform the duties of the Lord’s Tabernacle and to minister to the community and serve them? Now that He has advanced you and all your fellow Levites with you, do you seek the priesthood too? Truly, it is against the Lord that you and all your company have banded together. For who is Aaron that you should rail against him?"
Moses called Dathan and Abiram to talk with them, but they refused to come, saying: "We will not come! Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over us? Even if you had brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and given us possession of fields and vineyards, should you gouge out those men’s eyes? We will not come (Numbers 16:12–14)."
Moses became very angry and said to God, "Pay no regard to their oblation. I have not
taken the ass of any one of them, nor have I wronged any one of them (Numbers 16:15)."
The next day, the rebels, holding their fire pans, stood in the door of the Tabernacle with Moses and Aaron, surrounded by the people. The Presence of God appeared to the whole community, and God said to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:21), "Stand back from this community that I may annihilate them in an instant!"
Moses and Aaron threw themselves to the ground, and said (Numbers 16:22): "O God, Source of the breath of all flesh! When one man sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?"
God said to them, "Speak to the community and say: Withdraw from about the abodes of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:24)."
Moses got up and went toward the tents of Dathan and Abiram, followed by the leaders of the people. He asked the people to stay away from the tents of the rebels so that they should not also be destroyed. Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrance of their tents with their wives, sons, and small children.
Moses then spoke: "By this you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all these things; that they are not of my own devising: if these men die as all men do, if their lot be the common fate of all mankind, it was not the Lord who sent me. But if the Lord brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the Lord (Numbers 16:28–30)."
As soon as he finished speaking, the earth opened, and Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their followers, with their tents and all their possessions, fell inside. The earth closed upon them, and they all perished. Eleazar the priest took the fire pans of the rebels and made with them broad plates for the covering of the altar, to remind the people that only the descendants of Aaron were entitled to offer incense to God.
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