Day 114: The Sweet Redemption of the Sons of Korah (Psalm 43-45, 49, 84-85, 87)

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Psalm 84:10

Psalm 84 is one of eleven Psalms attributed to the sons of Korah. In fact, all of the Psalms we studied today are psalms of the sons of Korah. Psalm 43 is the only one that does’t have that designation in our English bibles, but most scholars believe Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one Psalm, so the heading for Psalm 42 covers both of them.

And for me, the story of the sons of Korah is one of the sweetest redemption stories in Scripture. It’s very subtle, so it’s often overlooked, but here it is.

The sons of Korah were Levites of the Koathite clan. If you go back to Numbers 4, you see that the three branches of the Levites– Koathites, Merarites, and Gershonites, were put in charge of breaking down and setting up the Tabernacle whenever the Israelites moved from place to place during their wilderness wanderings. And of those three branches, it was the Koathites who had the most sacred duties. They were to carry the ark of the covenant itself, along with plates and bowls and lamps and incense burners, and all the other most holy things. It was serious business, so much so that God gave Moses a special warning about the Koathites:

17 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 18 “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, 19 but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, 20 but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.” (Numbers 4:17-20)

It was privileged, holy work. But it was also hard work, for unlike the poles and the curtains of the Tabernacle, which could all be loaded up on ox carts, the most holy things all had to be carried by hand. Add to that the emotional burden and stress of knowing you could be struck dead on the spot if you did it the wrong way. And then, multiply that by forty years of being in the desert. Being a Koathite was hard work.

At one point, the Koathites apparently cracked under the strain. In Numbers 16, we read that a Koathite named Korah, along with his friends Dathan and Abiram, rose up against Moses and Aaron.

3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

As a Koahite, Korah was closer to the holy things than anyone else. His clan cared for the Ark and the altar and all the Tabernacle furnishings. And maybe that was part of the problem. Familiarity breeds contempt, and proximity to sacred things breeds pride and, God help me, indifference.

Korah, along with Dathan, Abiram, and all the others who joined in the rebellion were destroyed. The ground literally opened up and swallowed them. It’s fitting that Korah was swallowed by the earth. Envy, pride, entitlement—those are all things of the world. And like Korah, the world can swallow us alive.

But here is the subtle redemption story. The sons of Korah found their way back into humble service of God. A close look at 1 Chronicles 6 reveals that Samuel, the prophet who anointed Saul and David, was a Koathite (1 Chron. 6:31-38).

And a few generations later, the tabernacle was replaced by the Temple, and the Korathites became its doorkeepers (1 Chron. 9:19-21). Finally, they could lay down the burden of caring for the most holy things. Once the ark had a place to rest, so did the sons of Korah. And Psalm 84 is a picture of contentment and rest in the house of the Lord:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;

Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
    ever singing your praise! 

And verses 10-12, which become especially sweet when you think about the family history:

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you!

It took some time, but the Korahites apparently learned to praise God for the role they were given. God gave them rest from carrying their burdens, and when they laid down their resentments, they took up their instruments and praised God.

God, fill me with gratitude for the work you’ve given me to do. Renew my wonder at sacred things. And let me keep my eyes on You, and not be swallowed by comparison.

God, fill me with gratitude for the work you’ve given me to do. Renew my wonder at sacred things. And let me keep my eyes on You, and not be swallowed by comparison.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: