(A·biʹram) [Father Is High (Exalted)].
1. A Reubenite, the son of Eliab and brother of Dathan and Nemuel. He was a family head and one of the principal men in Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.
Abiram and his brother Dathan supported Korah the Levite in his rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron. A third Reubenite, named On, is also included in the initial stage of the rebellion but thereafter receives no mention. (Nu 16:1) Having gathered a group of 250 chieftains, who were “men of fame,” these men accused Moses and Aaron of arbitrarily elevating themselves over the rest of the congregation. (Nu 16:1-3) From Moses’ words to Korah it is clear that Korah and his followers among the Levites sought the priesthood that had been conferred on Aaron (Nu 16:4-11); but this was evidently not the case with Abiram and Dathan, who were Reubenites. Moses dealt separately with them, and their rejection of his call for them to appear before him contains accusations directed solely against Moses, with no mention made of Aaron. They decried Moses’ leadership of the nation and said that he was ‘trying to play the prince over them to the limit,’ and that he had failed in making good the promise of leading them into any land flowing with milk and honey. Moses’ prayer to Jehovah in answer to these accusations likewise contains a defense of his own actions, not those of Aaron.
From this it would appear that the rebellion was two-pronged and aimed not only at the Aaronic priesthood but also at Moses’ position as administrator of God’s instructions. (Ps 106:16) The situation may have seemed opportune for organizing popular sentiment toward a change, since shortly before this the people had severely complained against Moses, had talked of appointing a new head to lead the nation back to Egypt, and had even talked of stoning Joshua and Caleb for upholding Moses and Aaron. (Nu 14:1-10) Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son but lost his right to the inheritance as such because of wrong action. (1Ch 5:1) Thus, Dathan and Abiram may have been expressing resentment at Moses the Levite’s exercise of authority over them, because of desiring to regain the lost primacy of their forefather. Numbers 26:9, however, shows that their struggle was not only against Moses and Aaron but also “against Jehovah,” who had divinely commissioned Moses and Aaron to occupy positions of authority.
Since the family of the Kohathites (in which Korah’s family was included) encamped on the S side of the tabernacle, the same side as did the Reubenites, it is possible that Korah’s tent was nearby those of Dathan and Abiram. (Nu 2:10; 3:29) At the time of God’s expression of judgment, Dathan and Abiram stood at the entrances of their tents, while Korah and 250 rebel supporters were gathered at the entrance of the tent of meeting with their incense holders in their hands. Then, following Moses’ call to the rest of the people to withdraw from around the tents of the three ringleaders of the rebellion, God manifested his condemnation of their disrespectful course by causing the ground to open up beneath the tents of these men, swallowing up Dathan and Abiram, and their households. (Nu 16:16-35; De 11:6; Ps 106:17) Korah’s household, with the exception of his sons, likewise perished. Korah himself died with the 250 rebels, destroyed by fire before the tabernacle. (Nu 16:35; 26:10, 11) Thus the rebellion against divinely assigned authority came to a swift termination, and for his share in it, Abiram’s name was wiped out of Israel.
2. The firstborn son of Hiel the Bethelite. At Joshua 6:26 Joshua’s oath is recorded concerning the destroyed city of Jericho, foretelling that whoever should rebuild it would do so at the loss of his firstborn son. Abiram’s father, Hiel, ignored this oath and, during the reign of King Ahab (c. 940-920 B.C.E.) some five centuries after Joshua’s time, he laid Jericho’s foundations. Abiram, his son, died, evidently prematurely as a historically recorded fulfillment of the prophecy.