Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The date of this rebellion cannot be determined, but Num 16:13-14 probably point to a period not much later than that of the rebellion at Kadesh.
Amram and Izhar were brothers (compare Exo 6:18), and thus Korah, the "son," i. e. descendant of Izhar, was connected by distant cousinship with Moses and Aaron. Though being a Kohathite, he was of that division of the Levites which had the most honorable charge, yet as Elizaphan, who had been made "chief of the families of the Kohathites" Num 3:30, belonged to the youngest branch descended from Uzziel Num 3:27, Korah probably regarded himself as injured; and therefore took the lead in this rebellion. Of the others, On is not again mentioned. He probably withdrew from the conspiracy. Dathan, Abiram, and On were Reubenites; and were probably discontented because the birthright had been taken away from their ancestor Gen 49:3, and with it the primacy of their own tribe among the tribes of Israel. The Reubenites encamped near to the Kohathites (compare Num 2:25 and plan), and thus the two families were conveniently situated for taking counsel together. One pretext of the insurrection probably was to assert the rights of primogeniture - on the part of the Reubenites against Moses, on the part of Korah against the appointment of Uzziel.
The "princes" appear to have belonged to the other tribes (compare Num 27:3).
All the congregation are holy - Compare the marginal reference. Korah's object was not to abolish the distinction between the Levites and the people, but to win priestly dignity for himself and his kinsmen Num 16:10. This ultimate design is masked for the present in order to win support from the Reubenites by putting forward claims to spiritual equality on behalf of every Israelite.
"Seemeth" is not in the original. Render it as: Is it too little for you, i. e. "is it less than your dignity demands?"
The words of Moses in his wrath are broken. The Aaronic priesthood was of divine appointment; and thus in rejecting it, the conspirators were really rebelling against God.
With perverse contempt for the promises, Dathan and Abiram designate Egypt by the terms appropriated elsewhere to the land of Canaan.
Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? - i. e. "blind them to the fact that you keep none of your promises;" "throw dust in their eyes."
The tent, "the tabernacle" of Korah, as a Kohathite, stood on the south side of the tabernacle of the Lord; and those of Dathan and Abiram, as Reubenites, in the outer line of encampment on the same side. Yet though the tents of these three were thus contiguous, they did not share the same fate. Korah and his company who dared to intrude themselves on the priestly office were destroyed by fire from the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the Lord Num 16:35; the Reubenites, who had reviled Moses for the failure of the promises about the pleasant land, were suddenly engulfed while standing at their own tent-doors in the barren wilderness Num 16:31-33.
Stood in the door of their tents - Apparently in contumacious defiance.
All the men ... - Not his sons (see Num 26:11), but all belonging to him who had associated themselves with him in this rebellion.
Compare the marginal references The fire came out from the sanctuary or the altar.
Aaron as High Priest and as one of those that offered incense Num 16:17, could not be defiled by going among the dead.
The censers were not to be used again for censers, nor the coals on them for kindling the incense to be offered before the Lord. Yet neither of them could fittingly be employed for common purposes. The censers therefore were beaten into plates for the altar; the coals were scattered at a distance.
These sinners against their own souls - That is, "against their own lives." By their sin they had brought destruction upon themselves.
They fell upon their faces - In intercession for the people; compare Num 16:22; Num 14:5.
A censer - Rather, the censer. i. e. that of the high priest which was used by him on the great Day of Atonement: compare Lev 16:12; Heb 9:4.
A striking proof of the efficacy of that very Aaronic priesthood which the rebels had presumed to reject. The incense offering which had brought down destruction when presented by unauthorised hands, now in the hand of the true priest is the medium of instant salvation to the whole people. Aaron by his acceptable ministration and his personal self-devotion foreshadows emphatically in this transaction the perfect mediation and sacrifice of Himself made by Christ.