The Redemption of Korah: the Sons of Korah


I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.



Have you ever heard of the rebellion of Korah? How about the Sons of Korah? It turns the terms are have a connection with each other, but for very different reasons.

The rebellion of Korah occurred during the 40 years Moses led the nation of Israel in the wilderness following God’s miraculous orchestration to lead the people out of captivity in Egypt. He rose up at one point and rallied a group of people to oppose Moses.

Korah was a grandson of one of Levi’s three sons (Kohath). He was a Levite, which meant that he was involved in the Levitical duties of caring for the tabernacle and the tent of the tabernacle where God’s “presence” was encountered and honored during those days of wandering through the wilderness.

The Kohathites were specifically in charge of caring for the Ark of the Covenant, the table, lamp stand, altars, articles of the sanctuary and the curtain behind which the priests did their ritual thing. (Numbers 3) Unlike the other Levites who were allowed to transport their items in carts, the Kohathites were required to hand carry their items. Maybe they were jealous of the ease enjoyed by the other priests.

For whatever reason, Korah and several others rallied 250 men to oppose the authority of Moses publicly, claiming that all the people of Israel are “holy” and questioning why Moses and Aaron “exalted themselves” above everyone else. (Numbers 16:3)

Moses responded by challenging Korah and his followers to put the issue before God. He said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea.” (Num. 16:28)

As the story goes, they all gathered in front of the Tent of Meeting, each man with incense they burnt in censors. Moses and Aaron did the same, facing off with the unruly lot. God warned Moses, and Moses warned the larger crowd to stand back. When he finished talking, the ground opened up and “swallowed” the 250 men up alive. (Numbers 16)

So what is the deal with Korah’s sons? Why are they called out as the “sons of Korah”?

The Korah rebellion is a warning against those who would dare to usurp the authorities God has anointed in place. God had attested to the authority of Moses many times over and in the most dramatic of ways (lest we be tempted to make too much of this passage in favor of leaders that we currently support).

The fate of Korah and his followers seems rather drastic to modern minds, mine included, but this was (perhaps) the most important 40-year journey in the history of mankind. God had a plan that He could not allow to be thwarted to establish people He called, specifically, to the land He promised Abraham where He would set up a kingdom governed by His law.

Lest we be tempted to compare that kingdom to the United States (or even modern Israel), the end goal of this plan was to provide the soil from which a root would grow up and become salvation to all men – the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10), father of David, who would become the Messiah (Rom. 15:12) – Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with Us!

Jesus, himself, confirmed that Moses (the Law) and the Prophets were about him. (Luke 24:26-27) Thus, the stakes of the challenge to Moses in the wilderness were not so much about Moses, as about God’s universal plans for mankind.

(And, we shouldn’t get confused about the story of Korah’s rebellion and think that it has any specific application to leaders today, though it certainly has application, generally, to all of us. Fools should not rush in where angels fear to tread!)

But, I still haven’t gotten to the Sons of Korah, have I?

We read in the account of the rebellion of Korah one inconspicuous verse: “But the sons of Korah did not die.” (Num. 26:11) Though Korah and all the men who followed him in his rebellion were swallowed up and died, his sons lived on.

And, they didn’t just live on.

Many generations later (about 18), we read about the men King David put in charge of “the service of song in the house of the Lord after the ark rested there”, ministering with song before the tabernacle of the tent. These men included Heman, a descendant of the great prophet, Samuel, and both Heman and Samuel were descendants of Korah, who led the famous rebellion. (1 Chronicles 6:31-38)

Other descendants of Korah were doorkeepers to the tent of meeting. (1 Chron. 9:19-21). Other descendants of Korah were expert warriors in King David’s army. (1 Chron. 12:6) But the Sons of Korah are best known for their musicianship and Psalms.

Yes, Psalms. Eleven Psalms are attributed to the “Sons of Korah”.

Why attribute them to the sons of Korah? They were also descendants of the prophet, Samuel, and other great men in the lineage. Why Korah, the malcontent who was swallowed by the earth in his rebellion to God’s plans?

Maybe there is a clue in the Psalms they penned:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, my soul pants for you, my God.”

(Psalm 42)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…. Be still and know that I am God.”

(Psalm 46)

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”

(Psalm 47)

“Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.”

(Psalm 48)

“God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.”

(Psalm 49)

All of these are Psalms written by the Son of Korah. They include some of the most beautifully written Psalms of trust in God, gratitude and humility in Scripture. Psalm 84, though, maybe the most poignant of all the Psalms they wrote. Consider verse 10, in particular:

Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

This verse seems to suggest that a doorkeeper is person of lowly status in the scheme of things. Today, we might say, “I would rather by a janitor in the house of God, than dwell with the wicked.” The fact is that descendants of Korah were doorkeepers to the tent of meeting. (1 Chron. 9:19-21). This verse, therefore, was personal to them.

Korah served inside the tent of meeting. He and his brothers tended to the holiest of holy items, including the Ark of the Covenant. His sons served outside the tent of meeting as doorkeepers, yet their attitudes were different.

Psalm 84 (and the other Psalms they wrote) suggest that Korah’s descendants had embraced the opposite attitude of their ancestor, Korah. Rather than the jealousy and arrogance of Korah to challenge God’s anointed because he didn’t like the position he was given, the Sons of Korah served in humility, gratitude and honor in whatever position they were given – even as doorkeepers to the house of God.

Their legacy is the penning of some of the greatest of all the Psalms.

This story also reminds us that, though God’s judgments seem harsh, He is not arbitrary. God could not have allowed Korah’s rebellion to succeed, but he spared Korah’s children the consequences visited upon Korah. Though Korah opposed God’s grand plan, his sons were part and parcel of it.

If we might collapse this “lesson” down to individual people, we might see that God may allow us to suffer the consequences of our rebellious attitudes and actions, but He is faithful to bless us when we turn to him. We might be at times like Korah, and at times like the sons of Korah during the course of our own lives.

We may have humble, even questionable, beginnings, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Our God is a redemptive God. He desires mercy, rather than sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6) He is always there if we return to Him, even if we have wandered far away.

Most importantly, it is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to be anywhere else. I am reminded of the poor man, Lazarus, reclining at the table with Abraham, while the rich man, who had his good things in life (but refused the give the poor man the time of day), was tormented in hell. (Luke 16:19-31) I am reminded that “[n]o eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

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