Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Isaar was brother of Amram; and, consequently, his son was the cousin of Moses. — Core engaged the rest in his revolt. Hebrew, “took or replied,” interrupting Moses at the very time when he was speaking, in the name of God, and requiring that he should shew, by what right he arrogated to himself alone that authority. “Core separated himself,” Chaldean. “He retired,” Syriac. “Core spoke….and Dathan….and they rose up,” Septuagint. The Caathites encamped near the tribe of Ruben; and hence Core had an opportunity to engage some of them in his revolt, by insinuating that Moses occupied the post in the state which ought to belong to them, as Ruben was the first-born; while Aaron had obtained the high priesthood, and the rest of the Levites, though of equal nobility, were to be treated as his servants. It is not known when this revolt happened. Some place it at the camp of Sinai; others at that of Jetebata, Deuteronomy x. 8.
Ver. 2. Rose up. The crime of these men, which was punished in so remarkable a manner, was that of schism, and of rebellion against the authority established by God in the Church; and their pretending to the priesthood without being lawfully called and sent: the same is the case of all modern sectaries. (Challoner) — Let them dread a similar punishment; not only the authors of such wicked pretensions, but those also who consent to them, Romans i. 32. For we find that Core and all his adherents were buried in hell; (ver. 33,) and those likewise who complained that their punishment was too severe, fell victims to the raging fire, ver. 49. With what earnestness ought we not, therefore, to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints! (Jude 3.) For if those be so severely punished who rise up in opposition to lawful superiors, either in church or state, what swift destruction do they not bring upon their own heads who deny God, who bought them, and make him a liar, by calling in question his most sacred truths? (2 Peter ii. 1.) (Haydock) — Core and his companions impugned not the law directly, but resisted Moses and Aaron. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, ep. ad Magnes.) They believed in the same God; yet, because they took upon themselves to sacrifice, they were forthwith punished by God, and their unlawful sacrifices could do them no service. (St. Cyprian, ep. i. 6.) Thus we are warned to keep in the true Church, and to obey those who are set over us; and never, for any temporal consideration whatever, to encourage, by our presence, the sermons or meetings of heretics, or of schismatics, lest we perish with them, ver. 26. (Worthington) — Assembly. Hebrew, “famous in the assembly, men of name,” and distinction, senators. It seems Hom left the rest of the conspirators, as he is mentioned no more. The princes of Ruben were desirous of obtaining the temporal power only. But the Levites aspired at that sacred pre-eminence, which had been given by God to Aaron and his sons. (Calmet)
Ver. 3. Let it be enough. Hebrew rab, “too much you take upon you;” or “suffice it for you,” Septuagint. — Holy ones, as deserving of the priesthood as yourselves, ver. 10. Why then would you treat them as your inferiors? We will throw off the yoke, and assert our just rights. (Calmet) — On the same plea, Luther (de abrog. Missa,) rejects all ecclesiastical hierarchy, and will have no distinct priesthood, because all Christians are called priests, (Apocalypse i.) and a holy priesthood, 1 Peter ii. 5. (Worthington) — But they do not take notice that the apostle immediately explains himself, by saying, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and to declare the virtues of Christ; in which sense, they are also styled a kingly priesthood, 1 Peter ii. 9. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. The holy ones, whom he has chosen for the high priesthood. The psalmist, speaking of this sedition, says, they provoked….Aaron, the holy one of the Lord, Psalm cv. 16. (Calmet) See 1 Timothy ii. 19. — Only those who are chosen by God, can lawfully perform this sacred office, as the Almighty declares by a miracle. (Haydock)
Ver. 6. Censers. It was not lawful for the Levites to offer incense: but they had prepared for themselves the ensigns of the priestly power, and Moses permits them to try their success. (Haydock) — They might have brought the censers, or broad plates, bowls, or vials, (Apocalypse v. 8,) out of Egypt, where every family offers incense to their domestic gods and sacred animals. In Sicily and Greece they were also very common, as well as at Babylon; where married people always purified themselves with the smoke of incense. (Herodotus, i. 197.)
Ver. 7. Lord, in his sanctuary, where the priests alone offered incense twice a day upon the altar. (Calmet) — Too much. Moses retorts upon them their own words, ver. 3.
Ver. 9. To him: Hebrew and Septuagint, “to them,” or instead of the people. God had chosen them for that post of honour, to the exclusion of all the rest, so that they ought, the least of all, to have complained. But it often happens, that those who are the most exalted, take occasion to esteem themselves deserving of still higher honours; and thus, like Lucifer, fall into the bottomless pit! (Haydock) — Core was perhaps the more irritated, because he was not at the head of the Caathites, though a descendant of the second son of Caath, while Elisaphan, sprung from a fourth son, was preferred to him, chap. iii. (Tirinus)
Ver. 11. Him. The injury is offered to God, who made choice of Aaron freely.
Ver. 14. Eyes. These princes of Ruben were not desirous of the priesthood, as Core was; they repined, that Moses had got possession of the sovereign authority, and therefore they endeavour to represent him as an imposter, who had promised great things, but in reality had deprived the people of all the happiness which they formerly enjoyed in Egypt, and was now disposed to exercise his tyranny upon their very persons. (Haydock) — “Do you wish that we should not see through your impostures?” Hebrew, “wilt thou put out the eyes of these men,” who have informed us what sort of a country Chanaan is? Septuagint, “thou hast blinded these men,” who are so stupid as to obey thee. (Calmet) — Chaldean, “though thou pull out our eyes, we will not come.”
Ver. 15. Very angry. This anger was a zeal against sin; and an indignation at the affront offered to God; like that which the same holy prophet conceived upon the sight of the golden calf, Exodus xxxii. 19. (Challoner) — Respect not. Hebrew, “thou wilt not have regard for their sacrifices,” as long as they continue in these sentiments of pride and of rebellion. (Haydock) — Thou knowest. Hebrew, “I have not,” &c. — Ass. This expression is proverbial, 1 Kings xii. 3. The Samaritan and Septuagint read, chamod, “any thing desirable,” instead of chamor, “an ass.” (Calmet)
Ver. 22. God, who givest life to all, and searchest the inmost recesses of the heart. (Menochius)
Ver. 26. Depart. If we give any encouragement to schismatics, or go to their meetings, we must expect to be involved in their sins. (St. Cyprian, de Lapsis 5.) (Worthington)
Ver. 27. People, (frequentia). The Septuagint generally translate tappam by aposkene, “family and effects,” of every denomination. (Calmet) — Here was a full assembly waiting for the event, between fear and hope. As these rebels would not come, when Moses sent for them, he condescended to go to them, and denounced the impending ruin, ver. 14, 25. He commits his whole cause to God, and is willing to be rejected as a vile impostor, if God do not shew, by a miraculous and exemplary punishment of his opponents, that what he had hitherto done, as the head of the people, and particularly in the consecration of Aaron, was by his direction. (Haydock) — He had before proved his mission by miracles, Exodus iv. (Worthington)
Ver. 30. Hell. See Psalm liv. 16., and Proverbs i. 12. “They were consigned to the tomb before they were dead,” (St. Optatus, B. i.,) while their impenitent souls were buried in hell. The souls of their infant children, which had no share in the rebellion, might be exempted from the latter part of their punishment. (Calmet) — If some have the rashness to blame the severity of this judgment of God, let them shew the disparity between it and the various other accidents occasioned by earthquakes, &c., which involve millions of such “smiling infants” in destruction; or, if they do not infer from these misfortunes, that the laws of nature are unjust; neither ought they to conclude that the religion, delivered by God to Moses, was an imposture, or that the Jewish legislator was cruel. He continued a silent spectator of this transaction, which he was informed by the Spirit would surely take place, and could not be averted by his intercession, which had before rescued the less guilty multitude, ver. 22. (Haydock) — “They descend into hell alive; that is, feeling their own perdition, who, imitating Core,….separate from the Church, and presently fall into heresy.” (St. Augustine, ep. 93.)
Ver. 32. Tents. Hebrew adds, “all those who belonged to (or sided with) Core, and all their riches.” Moses informs us, (chap. xxvi. 10,) how some of Core’s children were miraculously preserved. Their descendants were appointed by David to sing and to guard the doors of the temple, 1 Paralipomenon ix. 19. (Calmet) — Samuel was of the same family, 1 Paralipomenon vi. 33. (Tirinus)
Ver. 33. Hell. Hebrew adds, “they, and whatsoever belonged to them, descended into hell, or the pit.” Sale. — The souls of the impenitent into the former, the bodies of the cattle, &c., into the bowels of the earth. (Haydock)
Ver. 35. Incense. Core had left them, and was busy in stirring up the people to rebellion, when a fire proceeding from the cloud, or from the altar, or perhaps a thunderbolt, (Calmet) came to arraign them before God’s tribunal, there to meet their chief, and to hear the eternal sentence of separation from all good, which was instantly pronounced upon all who died impenitent. (Haydock) — Perhaps Core might have been offering incense with his 250 men, when the fire seized him, ver. 40. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 38. Sinners. These censers were sanctified or set apart for God’s altar: 1. By the intention of those who used them, though contrary to his will; 2. by the exemplary vengeance which he exercised upon the rash pretenders to the priesthood; 3. by being a monument of their folly, and therefore placed, by God’s order, upon the altar, to deter all others from imitating their conduct. Eleazar was commanded to take them up, and scatter the strange fire; that Aaron might not be defiled with touching the carcasses or ashes of the deceased, nor seem to exult in their death. (Calmet) — God was thus also pleased to manifest, that the children of Aaron, and not of the other Levites, should succeed him. (St. Augustine, q. 30.) (Worthington)
Ver. 39. Altar of holocausts, which was already covered with plates of brass. (Calmet)
Ver. 40. Stranger, though he be even of royal dignity. Thus Osias was afflicted with a perpetual leprosy, which rendered him incapable of exercising even the office of king, because he had attempted to offer incense, 2 Kings xv. 5., and 2 Paralipomenon xxvi. 17. (Haydock)
Ver. 45. Get ye out. Moses and Aaron complied with the spirit, though not with the letter of this injunction. They lay prostrate on their faces, with all humility and earnestness, begging that the Lord would preserve them, and at the same time take pity on the frailty of the multitude, who had been deluded, and had, in words at least, approved the conduct of the rebels. (Haydock) — God encourages them inwardly to persevere in prayer, in the same manner as when he said to Moses, (Exodus xxxii. 10,) Let me alone, that my wrath may be enkindled, &c.
Ver. 46. Take. Moses was inspired by God, on this extraordinary occasion, to pass over the common rules, which forbade the high priest to offer incense any where but in the tabernacle, and never to appear among the dead. (Calmet)
Ver. 49. Core. We cannot reckon less than 15,000, who perished in consequence of their adherence to this innovator. Behold the first-fruits of ambition and of rebellion. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The schism of Core and his adherents: their punishment.
1 And behold Core, the son of Isaar, the son of Caath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiron, the sons of Eliab, and Hon, the son of Pheleth, of the children of Ruben,
2 Rose up against Moses, and with them two hundred and fifty others of the children of Israel, leading men of the synagogue, and who in the time of assembly were called by name.
3 *And when they had stood up against Moses and Aaron, they said: Let it be enough for you, that all the multitude consisteth of holy ones, and the Lord is among them: why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord?
4 When Moses heard this, he fell flat on his face:
5 And speaking to Core, and all the multitude, he said: In the morning the Lord will make known who belong to him, and the holy he will join to himself: and whom he shall choose, they shall approach to him.
6 Do this therefore: Take every man of you your censers, thou Core, and all thy company,
7 And putting fire in them to-morrow, put incense upon it before the Lord: and whomsoever he shall choose, the same shall be holy: you take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.
8 And he said again to Core: Hear, ye sons of Levi:
9 Is it a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from all the people, and joined you to himself, that you should serve him in the service of the tabernacle, and should stand before the congregation of the people, and should minister to him?
10 Did he therefore make thee, and all thy brethren, the sons of Levi, to approach unto him, that you should challenge to yourselves the priesthood also,
11 And that all thy company should stand against the Lord? for what is Aaron that you murmur against him?
12 Then Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiron the sons of Eliab. But they answered: We will not come.
13 Is it a small matter to thee, that thou hast brought us out of a land that flowed with milk and honey, to kill us in the desert, except thou rule also like a lord over us?
14 Thou hast brought us indeed into a land, that floweth with rivers of milk and honey, and hast given us possessions of fields and vineyards; wilt thou also pull out our eyes? We will not come.
15 Moses therefore being very angry, said to the Lord: Respect not their sacrifices: thou knowest that I have not taken of them so much as a young ass at any time, nor have injured any of them.
16 And he said to Core: Do thou and thy congregation stand apart before the Lord to-morrow, and Aaron apart.
17 Take every one of you censers, and put incense upon them, offering to the Lord two hundred and fifty censers: let Aaron also hold his censer.
18 When they had done this, Moses and Aaron standing,
19 And had drawn up all the multitude against them to the door of the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord appeared to them all.
20 And the Lord speaking to Moses and Aaron, said:
21 Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may presently destroy them.
22 They fell flat on their face, and said: O most mighty, the God of the spirits of all flesh, for one man’s sin, shall thy wrath rage against all?
23 And the Lord said to Moses:
24 Command the whole people to separate themselves from the tents of Core and Dathan and Abiron.
25 And Moses arose, and went to Dathan and Abiron: and the ancients of Israel following him,
26 He said to the multitude: Depart from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be involved in their sins.
27 And when they were departed from their tents round about, Dathan and Abiron coming out, stood in the entry of their pavilions, with their wives and children, and all the people.
28 And Moses said: By this you shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all things that you see, and that I have not forged them of my own head:
29 If these men die the common death of men, and if they be visited with a plague, wherewith others also are wont to be visited, the Lord did not send me:
30 But if the Lord do a new thing, and the earth opening her mouth swallow them down, and all things that belong to them, and they go down alive into hell, you shall know that they have blasphemed the Lord.
31 *And immediately as he had made an end of speaking, the earth broke asunder under their feet:
32 And opening her mouth, devoured them with their tents, and all their substance.
33 And they went down alive into hell, the ground closing upon them, and they perished from among the people.
34 But all Israel, that was standing round about, fled at the cry of them that were perishing: saying: Lest perhaps the earth swallow us up also.
35 And a fire coming out from the Lord, destroyed the two hundred and fifty men that offered the incense.
36 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
37 Command Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, to take up the censers that lie in the burning, and to scatter the fire on one side and the other: because they are sanctified
38 In the deaths of the sinners: and let him beat them into plates, and fasten them to the altar, because incense hath been offered in them to the Lord, and they are sanctified, that the children of Israel may see them for a sign and a memorial.
39 Then Eleazar the priest took the brazen censers, wherein they had offered, whom the burning fire had devoured, and beat them into plates, fastening them to the altar:
40 That the children of Israel might have for the time to come wherewith they should be admonished, that no stranger, or any one that is not of seed of Aaron, should come near to offer incense to the Lord, lest he should suffer as Core suffered, and all his congregation, according as the Lord spoke to Moses.
41 The following day all the multitude of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying: You have killed the people of the Lord.
42 And when there arose a sedition, and the tumult increased,
43 Moses and Aaron fled to the tabernacle of the covenant. And when they were gone into it, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.
44 And the Lord said to Moses:
45 Get you out from the midst of this multitude, this moment will I destroy them. And as they were lying on the ground,
46 Moses said to Aaron: Take the censer, and putting fire in it from the altar, put incense upon it, and go quickly to the people to pray for them: for already wrath is gone out from the Lord, and the plague rageth.
47 When Aaron had done this, and had run to the midst of the multitude, which the burning fire was now destroying, he offered the incense:
48 And standing between the dead and the living, he prayed for the people, and the plague ceased.
49 And the number of them that were slain, was fourteen thousand and seven hundred men, besides them that had perished in the sedition of Core.
50 And Aaron returned to Moses to the door of the tabernacle of the covenant, after the destruction was over.
3: Ecclesiasticus xlv. 22.; 1 Corinthians x. 10.; Jude i. 12.
31: Deuteronomy xi. 6.; Psalm cv. 17. and 18