1. Now this life of the Hebrews in the wilderness was so disagreeable and troublesome to them, and they were so uneasy at it, that although God had forbidden them to meddle with the Canaanites, yet could they not be persuaded to be obedient to the words of Moses, and to be quiet; but supposing they should be able to beat their enemies, without his approbation, they accused him, and suspected that he made it his business to keep in a distressed condition, that they might always stand in need of his assistance. Accordingly they resolved to fight with the Canaanites, and said that God gave them his assistance, not out of regard to Moses's intercessions, but because he took care of their entire nation, on account of their forefathers, whose affairs he took under his own conduct; as also, that it was on account of their own virtue that he had formerly procured them their liberty, and would be assisting to them, now they were willing to take pains for it. They also said that they were possessed of abilities sufficient for the conquest of their enemies, although Moses should have a mind to alienate God from them; that, however, it was for their advantage to be their own masters, and not so far to rejoice in their deliverance from the indignities they endured under the Egyptians, as to bear the tyranny of Moses over them, and to suffer themselves to be deluded, and live according to his pleasure, as though God did only foretell what concerns us out of his kindness to him, as if they were not all the posterity of Abraham; that God made him alone the author of all the knowledge we have, and we must still learn it from him; that it would be a piece of prudence to oppose his arrogant pretenses, and to put their confidence in God, and to resolve to take possession of that land which he had promised them, and not to give ear to him, who on this account, and under the pretense of Divine authority, forbade them so to do. Considering, therefore, the distressed state they were in at present, and that in those desert places they were still to expect things would be worse with them, they resolved to fight with the Canaanites, as submitting only to God, their supreme Commander, and not waiting for any assistance from their legislator.
2. When, therefore, they had come to this resolution, as being best for them, they went against their enemies; but those enemies were not dismayed either at the attack itself, or at the great multitude that made it, and received them with great courage. Many of the Hebrews were slain; and the remainder of the army, upon the disorder of their troops, were pursued, and fled, after a shameful manner, to their camp. Whereupon this unexpected misfortune made them quite despond; and they hoped for nothing that was good; as gathering from it, that this affliction came from the wrath of God, because they rashly went out to war without his approbation.
3. But when Moses saw how deeply they were affected with this defeat, and being afraid lest the enemies should grow insolent upon this victory, and should be desirous of gaining still greater glory, and should attack them, he resolved that it was proper to withdraw the army into the wilderness to a further distance from the Canaanites: so the multitude gave themselves up again to his conduct, for they were sensible that, without his care for them, their affairs could not be in a good condition; and he caused the host to remove, and he went further into the wilderness, as intending there to let them rest, and not to permit them to fight the Canaanites before God should afford them a more favorable opportunity.
1. That which is usually the case of great armies, and especially upon ill success, to be hard to be pleased, and governed with difficulty, did now befall the Jews; for they being in number six hundred thousand, and by reason of their great multitude not readily subject to their governors, even in prosperity, they at this time were more than usually angry, both against one another and against their leader, because of the distress they were in, and the calamities they then endured. Such a sedition overtook them, as we have not the like example either among the Greeks or the Barbarians, by which they were in danger of being all destroyed, but were notwithstanding saved by Moses, who would not remember that he had been almost stoned to death by them. Nor did God neglect to prevent their ruin; but, notwithstanding the indignities they had offered their legislator and the laws, and disobedience to the commandments which he had sent them by Moses, he delivered them from those terrible calamities which, without his providential care, had been brought upon them by this sedition. So I will first explain the cause whence this sedition arose, and then will give an account of the sedition itself; as also of what settlements made for their government after it was over.
2. Corah, a Hebrew of principal account, both by his family and by his wealth, one that was also able to speak well, and one that could easily persuade the people by his speeches, saw that Moses was in an exceeding great dignity, and was at it, and envied him on that account, [he of the same tribe with Moses, and of kin to him,] was particularly grieved, because he thought he better deserved that honorable post on account of great riches, and not inferior to him in his birth. So he raised a clamor against him among the Levites, who were of the same tribe, and among his kindred, saying, "That it was a very sad thing that they should overlook Moses, while hunted after and paved the way to glory for himself, and by ill arts should obtain it, under the pretense of God's command, while, contrary to laws, he had given the priesthood to Aaron, the common suffrage of the multitude, but by his own vote, as bestowing dignities in a way on whom he pleased." He added, "That this concealed way of imposing on them was harder to be borne than if it had been done by an open force upon them, because he did now not only their power without their consent, but even they were unapprised of his contrivances against them; for whosoever is conscious to himself that he deserves any dignity, aims to get it by persuasion, and not by an arrogant method of violence; those that believe it impossible to obtain honors justly, make a show of goodness, and do not introduce force, but by cunning tricks grow wickedly powerful. That it was proper for the multitude to punish such men, even while they think themselves concealed in their designs, and not suffer them to gain strength till they have them for their open enemies. For what account," added he, "is Moses able to give, why he has bestowed the priesthood on Aaron and his sons? for if God had determined to bestow that honor on one of the tribe of Levi, I am more worthy of it than he is; I myself being equal to Moses by my family, and superior to him both in riches and in age: but if God had determined to bestow it on the eldest be, that of Reuben might have it most justly; and then Dathan, and Abiram, and [On, the son of] Peleth, would have it; for these are the oldest men of that tribe, and potent on account of their great wealth also."
3. Now Corah, when he said this, had a mind to appear to take care of the public welfare, but in reality he was endeavoring to procure to have that dignity transferred by the multitude to himself. Thus did he, out of a malignant design, but with plausible words, discourse to those of his own tribe; when these words did gradually spread to more people, and when the hearers still added to what tended to the scandals that were cast upon Aaron, the whole army was full of them. Now of those that conspired with Corah, there were two hundred and fifty, and those of the principal men also, who were eager to have the priesthood taken away from Moses's brother, and to bring him into disgrace: nay, the multitude themselves were provoked to be seditious, and attempted to stone Moses, and gathered themselves together after an indecent manner, with confusion and disorder. And now all were, in a tumultuous manner, raising a clamour before the tabernacle of God, to prosecute the tyrant, and to relieve the multitude from their slavery under him who, under color of the Divine laid violent injunctions upon them; for had it been God who chose one that was to perform the office of a priest, he would have raised person to that dignity, and would not produced such a one as was inferior to many others nor have given him that office; and that in he had judged it fit to bestow it on Aaron, he would have permitted it to the multitude to bestow it, and not have left it to be bestowed by his own brother.
4. Now although Moses had a great while ago foreseen this calumny of Corah, and had seen the people were irritated, yet was he not affrighted at it; but being of good courage, because given them right advice about their affairs, and knowing that his brother had been made partaker of the priesthood at the command of God, and not by his own favor to him, he came to the assembly; and as for the multitude, he said not a word to them, but spake as loud to Corah as he could; and being very skillful in making speeches, and having this natural talent, among others, that he could greatly move the multitude with his discourses, he said, "O Corah, both thou and all these with thee [pointing to the two hundred and fifty men] seem to be worthy of this honor; nor do I pretend but that this whole company may be worthy of the like dignity, although they may not be so rich or so great as you are: nor have I taken and given this office to my brother because he excelled others in riches, for thou exceedest us both in the greatness of thy wealth; 1 nor indeed because he was of an eminent family, for God, by giving us the same common ancestor, has made our families equal: nay, nor was it out of brotherly affection, which another might yet have justly done; for certainly, unless I had bestowed this honor out of regard to God, and to his laws, I had not passed by myself, and given it to another, as being nearer of kin to myself than to my brother, and having a closer intimacy with myself than I have with him; for surely it would not be a wise thing for me to expose myself to the dangers of offending, and to bestow the happy employment on this account upon another. But I am above such base practices: nor would God have overlooked this matter, and seen himself thus despised; nor would he have suffered you to be ignorant of what you were to do, in order to please him; but he hath himself chosen one that is to perform that sacred office to him, and thereby freed us from that care. So that it was not a thing that I pretend to give, but only according to the determination of God; I therefore propose it still to be contended for by such as please to put in for it, only desiring that he who has been already preferred, and has already obtained it, may be allowed now also to offer himself for a candidate. He prefers your peace, and your living without sedition, to this honorable employment, although in truth it was with your approbation that he obtained it; for though God were the donor, yet do we not offend when we think fit to accept it with your good-will; yet would it have been an instance of impiety not to have taken that honorable employment when he offered it; nay, it had been exceedingly unreasonable, when God had thought fit any one should have it for all time to come, and had made it secure and firm to him, to have refused it. However, he himself will judge again who it shall be whom he would have to offer sacrifices to him, and to have the direction of matters of religion; for it is absurd that Corah, who is ambitious of this honor, should deprive God of the power of giving it to whom he pleases. Put an end, therefore, to your sedition and disturbance on this account; and tomorrow morning do every one of you that desire the priesthood bring a censer from home, and come hither with incense and fire: and do thou, O Corah, leave the judgment to God, and await to see on which side he will give his determination upon this occasion, but do not thou make thyself greater than God. Do thou also come, that this contest about this honorable employment may receive determination. And I suppose we may admit Aaron without offense, to offer himself to this scrutiny, since he is of the same lineage with thyself, and has done nothing in his priesthood that can be liable to exception. Come ye therefore together, and offer your incense in public before all the people; and when you offer it, he whose sacrifice God shall accept shall be ordained to the priesthood, and shall be clear of the present calumny on Aaron, as if I had granted him that favor because he was my brother."