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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 35–40
Verses 35–40

We must now look back to the door of the tabernacle, where we left the pretenders to the priesthood with their censers in their hands ready to offer incense; and here we find,

I. Vengeance taken on them, Num. 16:35. It is probable that when the earth opened in the camp to swallow up Dathan and Abiram a fire went out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men that offered incense, while Aaron that stood with them was preserved alive. This punishment was not indeed so new a thing as the former, for Nadab and Abihu thus died; but it was not less strange or dreadful, and in it it appeared, 1. That our God is a consuming fire. Isa. thunder a sensible indication of the terror of his voice? Lightning is also the power of his hand. We must see in this his fiery indignation which devours the adversaries, and infer from it what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God, Heb. 10:27-31. 2. That it is at our peril if we meddle with that which does not belong to us. God is jealous of the honour of his own institutions, and will not have them invaded. It is most probable that Korah himself was consumed with those 250 that presumed to offer incense; for the priesthood was the thing he aimed at, and therefore we have reason to think that he would not quit his post at the door of the tabernacle. But, behold, those are made sacrifices to the justice of God who flattered themselves with the hopes of being priests. Had they been content with their office as Levites, which was sacred and honourable, and better than they deserved, they might have lived and died with joy and reputation; but, like the angels that sinned, leaving their first estate, and aiming at the honours that were not appointed them, they were thrust down to Hades, their censers struck out of their hands, and their breath out of their bodies, by a burning which typified the vengeance of eternal fire.

II. Care is taken to perpetuate the remembrance of this vengeance. No mention is made of the taking up of their carcases: the scripture leaves them as dung upon the face of the earth; but orders are given about their censers, 1. That they be secured, because they are hallowed. Eleazar is charged with this, Num. 16:37. Those invaders of the priesthood had proceeded so far, by the divine patience and submission, as to kindle their incense with fire from off the altar, which they were suffered to use by way of experiment: but, as soon as they had kindled their fire, God kindled another, which put a fatal final period to their pretensions; now Eleazar is ordered to scatter the fire, with the incense that was kindled with it, in some unclean place without the camp, to signify God’s abhorrence of their offering as a polluted thing: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. But he is to gather up the censers out of the mingled burning, God’s fire and theirs, because they are hallowed. Having been once put to a holy use, and that by God’s own order (though only for trial), they must not return to common service; so some understand it: rather, they are devoted, they are an anathema; and therefore, as all devoted things, they must be made some way or other serviceable to the glory of God. 2. That they be used in the service of the sanctuary, not as censers, which would rather have put honour upon the usurpers whose disgrace was intended; nor was there occasion for brazen censers, the golden altar was served with golden ones; but they must be beaten into broad plates for a covering of the brazen altar, Num. 16:38-40. These pretenders thought to have ruined the altar, by laying the priesthood in common again; but to show that Aaron’s office was so far from being shaken by their impotent malice that it was rather confirmed by it, their censers, which offered to rival his, were used both for the adorning and for the preserving of the altar at which he ministered. Yet this was not all; this covering of the altar must be a memorial to the children of Israel, throughout their generations, of this great event. Though there was so much in it astonishing, and though Moses was to record it in his history, yet there was danger of its being forgotten in process of time; impressions that seem deep are not always durable; therefore it was necessary to appoint this record of the judgment, that the Levites who attended this altar, and had their inferior services appointed them, might learn to keep within their bounds, and be afraid of transgressing them, lest they should be made like Korah and his company, who were Levites, and would have been priests. These censers were preserved in terrorem, that others might hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously. Thus God has provided that his wonderful works, both in mercy and judgment, should be had in everlasting remembrance, that the end of them may be answered, and they may serve for instruction and admonition to those on whom the ends of the world are come.