Verses of Numbers 16


Numbers 16:38 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)


Num 16:38. The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar; for they offered them before the Lord; therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel.

IT is painful, in perusing the history of the Israelites, to see how constantly they were murmuring and rebelling against God. Persons who are ignorant of their own hearts are ready to conceive of them as more perverse and obstinate than the rest of mankind: but they who know what human nature is, behold in their rebellions a true picture of mankind at large. In the chapter before us we have an exact representation of a popular tumult: we see the motives and principles by which factious demagogues are actuated, and the lamentable evils which they produce. The censers of which our text speaks were formed into plates for a covering of the altar, that they might be a sign to all future generations: and, though we have not now the altar before us, they are no less a sign to us, than they were to the Israelites of old.
Let us consider,


The history before us—

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron—
[Let us mark how they proceeded. They complained that Moses and Aaron had usurped an undue authority over them: and that Moses in particular had ensnared them, and brought them into the wilderness for that very purpose [Note: ver. 13, 14.]. For the purpose of making an invidious comparison between their former situation in Egypt and their present state [Note: ver. 13, 14.], they represented Egypt as “a land flowing with milk and honey.” As to any personal interest, they disclaimed any regard to that; and professed to be actuated by a generous concern for the public welfare [Note: ver. 3.]. In a word, they were true patriots: they were enemies to usurpation and tyranny, and friends to the liberties of the people. Liberty and equality was their motto [Note: ver. 3.].

Such were their professions: and by these they imposed upon the people, and rendered them dissatisfied with the government both in church and state.
But what were their real principles? They envied the power and dignity with which their governors were invested, and were ambitious to obtain a like pre-eminence for themselves. As for any desire to ameliorate the state of the people at large, they had it not: a patriotic concern for others was a mere pretext, a popular cry raised for the purpose of gaining partisans. Korah was at the head of the Levites, and Dathan and Abiram were “men of renown among the princes of the congregation:” but they were not satisfied: they could endure no dignity superior to their own; and this was the true cause of all their discontent and clamour [Note: ver. 7.]: and if by means of this insurrection they could have obtained the distinction which they aimed at, not a word more would have been uttered on the subject of national grievances; nor would one hundredth port of the care have been taken to prevent them. It is impossible to read the history and not to see that this was the true state of the case.

What an insight does this give us into that which is usually dignified with the name of patriotism! If ever there was a mild and just governor, it was Moses. If ever there was a pious, affectionate, and diligent minister, it was Aaron. If ever there was a well-administered government both in church and state, it was at that time. If ever people had cause to be satisfied and happy, it was then. There was not a single ground of sorrow amongst all the people, except that which had arisen solely from their own perverseness, their detention in the wilderness. Yet a few factious demagogues prevail to spread dissatisfaction through the whole camp: and their oppressed state of bondage in Egypt is declared to be preferable to the grievances which they then experienced.]
But, in fact, their rebellion was against God himself—
[This is plainly declared to them by Moses [Note: ver. 11.]. What matter was there of complaint against Aaron? He did only what God had commanded him: and was he to be blamed for that? Moses forbears to make the same apology for himself: but his observation was equally applicable to himself, who had done nothing but by the express command of God. The conspirators then were in reality fighting against God himself, by whose direction every measure of the government had been taken. Moreover there was a typical design in these divine appointments, which this conspiracy was calculated to defeat. Thus, whilst envy and ambition characterized the conduct of the conspirators towards man, they betrayed also the grossest impiety and presumption towards God.]

The best estimate of their conduct may be found in the punishment inflicted for it—
[This was truly awful. Moses had obtained mercy from God for the congregation at large; but the leaders of the rebellion must be punished. Accordingly, whilst Dathan and Abiram, together with their wives, and families, and adherents, stood in the door of their tents, setting God himself, as it were, at defiance, Moses declared by what an extraordinary judgment they should perish: and no sooner had he spoken, than the judgment was inflicted: “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them all up, with all that appertained unto them.” As for the two hundred and fifty persons who presumed to make their appeal to God respecting their title to the priesthood, “a fire came forth from the Lord, and consumed them all.” Terrible was this if viewed only as a temporal judgment: but if considered in reference to the eternal world, it was awful indeed! That it might be kept in remembrance for the instruction of future ages, “the censers, in which they had offered incense, were ordered to be made into broad plates for a covering of the altar.”]
It will be proper then that we distinctly consider,


The instruction to be gathered from it—

To us, no less than to the Jews, does this event most clearly speak. It shews us,


That sin is an act of hostility against our own souls—

[These rebels might be said to sin against their governors and against God: but they were “sinners also against their own souls:” and, had the object of their desire been the destruction of their own souls, they could not have prosecuted their end by any surer means. Little is this thought of by those who live in sin: but, whatever be the sin which they commit, the effect is still the same [Note: Pro 8:36.]. If a man will only keep from sin, he may defy all the assaults either of men or devils. Men may destroy his body, but they cannot touch his soul. Satan himself cannot hurt his soul, without his own consent. Sin is the only medium by which the soul can receive any injury. But that inflicts upon it a deadly wound: that destroys its innocence and peace: that brings down upon it the wrath of an incensed God: that subjects it to everlasting misery. See how the earth swallowed up some, and how the fire consumed others; and there you will learn the fate of all who die in their sins: hell will open wide its mouth to swallow them up, and unquenchable fire will consume them as its proper and appointed fuel — — — O that men were wise, and would consider this; and turn, every one of them, from the evil of their ways!]


That opposition to constituted authorities is highly displeasing to God—

[We are far from denying that there is such a thing as real patriotism: nor do we mean to say that tyranny and oppression may not rise to such a height, as to justify the overthrow of an existing government. But this we say, that a real Christian will not be hasty to complain of grievances, even where they do exist; much less will he bear the smallest resemblance to these factious people, whose case we have been considering. The Christian is one of “them that are quiet in the land.” He regards government as God’s ordinance; and the persons who are invested with authority as God’s representatives. He considers that, in obeying them, he obeys God; and in unnecessarily and vexatiously opposing them, he opposes God: and he Knows that “God is the avenger of all such,” yea, that such persons “shall receive to themselves damnation [Note: Rom 13:1-2.]:” the government itself may justly inflict punishment upon them; and God himself will punish such conduct in the eternal world. Persons of this stamp often pretend to religion: and so they did in the days of the Apostles: but those who “despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities,” have a “woe” denounced against them: their spirit is justly marked as a compound of envy, covetousness, and ambition; and having resembled Cain and Balaam in their spirit, they shall resemble Korah in their fate: they shall be eternal monuments of God’s heavy displeasure [Note: Jude, ver. 8, 11.].

Happy would it be if persons who are of a factious and turbulent disposition would look occasionally on thesecensers,” and reap the instruction which they are intended to convey!]


That a rejection of Christ must of necessity prove fatal to the soul—

[Moses as the governor, and Aaron as the high-priest, of Israel, were types and representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Act 7:37-39; Heb 8:1-2; Heb 9:11-12.]: and in rebelling against them, they virtually rebelled against him also. Thus, amongst ourselves, how many are there who say, “We will not have this man to reign over us [Note: Luk 19:14.]!” Some complain of his authority, as imposing an insupportable yoke upon them; and others of his priesthood, as prohibiting any access to God except through him as the only Mediator. But what the issue of such rebellion will be, we are faithfully warned, and that too with some reference, it should seem, to the judgments exercised on Korah and his company [Note: Heb 10:26-27.]. At all events, if the opposers of Moses and Aaron were so fearfully destroyed, we may be sure that a far heavier judgment awaits the contemners and opposers of Christ [Note: Heb 10:28-29 with Luk 19:27.] — — — Let those who do not thankfully come to God by Christ, and unreservedly obey his holy will, be instructed by these events — — — In particular, we entreat them to act like Israel in the case before us: “All Israel that were gathered round the tents of Dathan and Abiram, fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also [Note: ver. 34.].” Could we but hear the cry of those that are in hell, we should no longer sit supine and confident. O let us realize this thought ere it be too late, and “flee in earnest from the wrath to come!”]

Verses of Numbers 16


Consult other comments:

Numbers 16:38 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Numbers 16:38 - Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Numbers 16:38 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Numbers 16:38 - Companion Bible Notes, Appendices and Graphics

Numbers 16:38 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Numbers 16:38 - Geneva Bible Notes

Numbers 16:38 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Numbers 16:38 - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)

Numbers 16:38 - Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 16:38 - The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Numbers 16:38 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Numbers 16:38 - John Trapp's Complete Commentary (Old and New Testaments)

Numbers 16:38 - The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Numbers 16:38 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)