Who are The Sons of Korah?

June 30, 2016  |  Anthony Gee

If you’ve been reading our Psalms Summer Reading List, you may have noticed a lot of the Psalms from this week’s reading as being of or by The Sons of Korah.  Until this week, I had no idea who they were, so I did some research because I wanted to know the background of the authors of these wonderful Psalms.  As I started doing some research, I began to realize that their back story was quite extensive and interesting. It’s actually a long story, involving a lot of family members.

It all starts with Korah’s grandfather named Kohath. Now Kohath lived in the time of Moses.  You’ll find him mentioned in the book of Numbers.  Back in those days God gave different kinds of jobs to the people of God, (also known as Israel) to different families within Israel.  The Levites, were the descendants of an Israelite named Levi, and their job was essentially to be in full time service to God.  They were kind of like the clergy of ancient Israel.  One of Levi’s descendants, was Aaron (Moses’ Brother), and only he and his descendents could act as priests.  They were the ones who organized worship to God, and perhaps even more significantly, they made the various sacrifices to God on Israel’s behalf.

Still tracking with me? That was a lot, but any good story, has a lot of family history.  Back then, one of the places where God manifested his presence, and where the people worshipped God, as well as sacrificed to God, was in something called The Tabernacle, This was sort of a mobile church, or a temple, moving with the Israelites from place to place.

Remember Levi? His descendents were the Levites or clergy so to speak, so that’s who also would be the ones to move the tabernacle from place to place. Levi’s sons in particular, were in charge of this.  His sons names were Gershon, Merari, and Kohath. The tabernacle was basically a really big tent, and Gershon and his family were in charge of moving all the curtains, cloth, and anything related to the curtains that were part of the tabernacle.  Merari and his family were in charge of moving the frame of the tabernacle, the wooden posts, rods, cross bars, anything like that.  And finally, Kohath’s family, were in charge of moving the really Holy stuff.  The Ark of the covenant, some other curtains, the altars, and the Table of the Bread of The Presence.

Gershon’s family, and Merari’s family could use oxcarts to move the tabernacle items they were in charge of moving from place to place.  Kohath’s family, however, had to carry it on their shoulders.  What’s more is they had to wrap special cloths, around these sacred items, because if they touched the items as they were, they would die!  With any family business (actually I don’t think this is really a business but you get the idea) there will always be drama.  Especially when one part of the family has to carry stuff on their back, and if they touch it they will die.  Personally I probably would have been complaining on day one. But this was God’s command to the Kohathites, so they did it.

After two generations of hauling this stuff around.  Kohath’s grandson Korah arrives on the scene.   My bet, is Korah really didn’t like the hard work that he was born into or forced into depending on when Korah was born.  So, Korah gathered 250 other “well known men” of the congregation in rebellion toward Moses and Aaron.  You can find the story of this rebellion in Numbers 16, but I will give you the gist of it.

Korah’s main complaint was that Moses and Aaron were not any better than he was.  He didn’t understand why only Aaron and his family could be priests?  In fact he felt that Moses was really just making himself a prince over Israel.

In my opinion, Korah didn’t get it.  He didn’t quite believe in the true God of the universe.  The God of Israel who rescued them from Egypt.  It seems like he thought Moses, and Aaron, were just running Israel the way they wanted, and that they weren’t really listening to God.  I wonder if Korah really even believed in God. I think he probably did on some level, but he certainly didn’t trust God.

Well anyways, Moses tells Korah, how about we both petition God?  If he listens to you, you are the one he wants in the priesthood, if he listens to me, then we are the ones God ordained.  Korah of course agrees.  And he and his 250 men all pray together.

God then tells Moses, to tell Israel, that they better back away from Korah, if they want to live.  And then God opens up the earth, and swallows up Korah, and some of his family, my guess is it’s all the rebellious ones, with Korah.  And then God uses fire to kill to the 250 men who at the time were lighting incense to God.

And just like that, no one in Israel every complained again.  Only kidding of course, the Bible doesn’t quite work like fairy tales that teach a lesson on how to live. However, we don’t have time to talk about that. So let’s continue.

With that, Korah’s part of the story comes to an end.  But what about his sons?  We find out later in Numbers, that God did not kill Korah’s sons.  They are alive! For generations, they continued to serve God.  After about seven more generations we even see that the prophet Samuel himself is a great (times seven) grandson of Korah.  We see these great (also times seven) grandsons doing all sorts of work for the Lord now.  One group of great grandsons help King David in battle. Most Korahites, (now named that because of their infamous great grandfather), worked as door keepers and custodians of the tabernacle.

If you look closely at some places in the book of Chronicles, (1 Chronicle 9:33 in particular) you will see that these sons of Korah have become singers, and worshipers in the temple.  These great grandsons, or sons of Korah, got together, and wrote songs, so beautiful and true to God, that they’re included in the book of Psalms.

Why though did they sign these beautiful Psalms, as the Sons Of Korah? Why not use one of their other ancestors? I think they were very much unlike their great grandfather Korah, they trusted and believed God.  They knew who the God of the universe was. They had an intimate relationship with God.  And because of that relationship, they realized just how kind and gracious and merciful God is.  Perhaps they kept the title Sons of Korah as a reminder that God was so merciful to them, even though their “father” was evil.

Throughout the Psalms that they wrote, you see that they remember God’s great works.  That they remember that God rules on his throne, that God is to be thirsted after like a deer pants for water, that God is our fortress and refuge, that he is worthy of all praise and a king over all the earth.  Ironically in Psalm 46:2 the Sons of Korah sing; “therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way”.  I would be surprised if they hadn’t thought of Korah, and how the earth swallowed him up, as they penned that line.

The Psalms written by the Sons of Korah, are a reminder to us that we have a God who redeems.  The name Korah was infamous for many generations.  Known as one who rebelled against God.  But we have a God, constantly in the business of redeeming, and he took a name associated with rebellion and distrust, and made it a name associated with praise, and love of God.  So let’s remember that the same God that the Sons of Korah sang to, is the same one we sing to, and he has redeemed us, just as he has redeemed them.  We don’t learn a lesson from Korah, or his sons, as much as we learn about who God is.  Praise his name that we get to even know him and be redeemed by him!