Who was Dathan in the Bible?

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By BibleAsk Team


Who was Dathan in the Bible?

Dathan was a figure in the Bible known for his role in the rebellion against Moses and Aaron during the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. Along with Abiram and Korah, Dathan led a revolt challenging the leadership and authority of Moses and Aaron, as detailed in the Book of Numbers, chapter 16. The rebels accused Moses and Aaron of exalting themselves above the congregation of the Lord. In response to this defiance, God caused the ground to open up and swallow Dathan, Abiram, Korah, and their followers, along with their households and possessions, as a punishment for their rebellion. This dramatic event served as a clear demonstration of God’s chosen leadership and a warning against insubordination within the Israelite community.

What happened to Dathan and Abiram?

Dathan (along with Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben) spoke against the leadership of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Numbers 16). God had ordained that the theocratic system should exercise its outward priestly function through the one family that had been set apart for that purpose, the family of Aaron. But the rebels suggested that, aside from Jehovah, no other leader was necessary (Exodus 29:45).   

Dathan and the other men brought 250 Israelite leaders to challenge Moses’ right of leadership. They said, “The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Numbers 16: 3). 

Although offering incense was to be done only by God’s appointed priests, Moses asked Dathan and the other men to carry out a most important duty of the office to which they aspired. They were to come before him the next morning with censors full of incense and hot coals to offer to the Lord because they claimed they should have the same privilege as Moses and Aaron. Moses’ asked the Lord to show them who are His appointed priests.   

Korah and the Levites in his company already had special privileges beyond those of the other tribes but they were not content. They wanted to have the same prerogatives as the family of Aaron. The Levites had already been selected to the holy service; therefore, for them to want the priesthood also was a most blatant expectation, which was similar to Lucifer’s desire to be like the Most High, God (Isaiah 14:13,14).     

Having challenged Korah, the leader, and his Levite followers, to a test on the morrow (verses 5–7), Moses summoned the Reubenite conspirators (Dathan and Abiram) to reason with them (Numbers 16:8–11). But these men refused to submit their case to arbitration (Deuteronomy 25:7; Judges 4:5). Dathan and Abiram denied the legal authority of Moses. And they said that Moses exercised autocratic power over them (verses 12:14). But Moses had not done any kind of oppression; to the contrary, he had always interceded before the Lord on their behalf.   

The following morning, the rebels came to the tabernacle with censers in hand. The Lord, angry about their rebellion, asked Moses and Aaron to step aside so He could destroy them, but Moses interceded on their behalf, so the Lord brought judgment only on the ones who had stirred up the rebellion. Dathan, Abiram, and Korah with their families and possessions appeared at the entry to their tents, and the Lord made the ground to open and swallow them (Numbers 16:31–33).

This was an instantaneous act of God to stop the spread of a rebellious action that had already defiled the whole congregation. “Then all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up also!” And a fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense” (Numbers 16:34,35).  Later, God told Eleazar the priest to gather the censers and “hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the Lord and have become holy” (Numbers 16:38). This was to “be a sign to the Israelites” of God’s judgement against sin.   

Shockingly, on the next day, all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron. And they accused them that they had killed Dathan and the others calling the rebels “the people of the Lord.” It would be difficult to find a clearer example of rebellion after such a great demonstration of divine disapproval.   

So, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron to get away from among the congregation, that He may consume them. But Moses asked Aaron to take a censer with fire to atone for the people from God’s justice and His plague that already started among the people. So, Aaron stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped. In so doing, Aaron was a type of Christ, who came to atone for sinful people and made Himself an offering for them (Ephesians 5:2).

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